One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of Donald Trump entering the presidential race, it is worth looking back. Before Trump, it was possible for right-leaning Americans to take comfort in the principles that inform conservatism. Ours was the side of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and ordered liberty. Theirs was the side of state central planning, coercive mandates and regulations, and identity politics. Our team was lining up a deep bench of accomplished and impressive presidential candidates, while they were talking themselves into a robotic, uninspiring and corrupt Hillary Clinton.

On June 16th, 2015 Donald Trump entered the arena and proceeded to destroy every illusion conservatives held about the Republican Party. GOP voters nominated a candidate who they believe speaks for them, someone who says out loud and in public the things they are too cowed by political correctness to say. Were this the sole explanation for Trump’s support, it would be easier to dissect: backlash against political correctness is indeed warranted and worthwhile.

Alas, the Trump movement is more than rage against the establishment machine; embedded within the celebrity-fueled movement is an identifiably left-of-center policy agenda causing consternation among conservatives. The most visible aspect of this agenda (because it is what Trump talks about on the stump more than anything else) is protectionism, the belief that free trade and the global economy have been net negatives for Americans, a view that until Trump was associated almost entirely with the anticapitalist left. Opposition to free trade is rooted in Bastiat’s timeless counsel concerning the “seen and the unseen.” As a 2013 Mercatus study declares: “The benefits of free international trade are often diffuse and hard to see, while the benefits of shielding specific groups from foreign competition are often immediate and visible.” Efficient supply chains resulting in broader access to cheaper goods are not as readily apparent as decaying towns and rotting factories. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of economics or, failing that, minimal imaginative capability, to grasp Bastiat’s meaning and thus shed the adolescent belief in government’s capacity to manage society’s problems. 

Trump is suspect on his commitment to the first two amendments in the Bill of Rights (he likely doesn’t know what is contained in the rest), which should be disqualifying for any Republican candidate for President. He advocates for higher minimum wage laws, possesses no understanding of religious liberty or pro-life sentiments, believes “the rich” ought to pay more taxes, is the definition of a crony capitalist, and is indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders on trade. His army of followers include a toxic minority of vile racists and white nationalists who have drunk so deeply the left’s cultural messaging that they proudly adopt skin-deep identity politics, clamoring not for smaller government but for a redistribution of government spoils to the white working class.

This amounts to a final capitulation to another of Bastiat’s warnings: a free society’s descent into a will-to-power fight between factions, each using an ever-expanding law to obtain spoils, applying the force of the state to expropriate from its opposition. The Trump movement is a giant white flag surrender to Big Government that effectively substitutes the Tea Party/libertarian-infused brief against Leviathan with factional populism demanding its share from “Daddy” Government.   

These painful realizations confronting conservatives and right-libertarians since Trump’s emergence lead to the depressing conclusion that the American right is not the principled defender of small government that we wanted to believe. Instead it is an angry, frustrated mob reaching for the shiniest object it can as a salve to feelings of impotence, futility and betrayal. The early Tea Party represented a return to principle, a call to reduce spending, to halt the expansion of government, and to restore the Constitutional order and separation of powers gradually deteriorating under both parties. It is a shame that such an opportunity was squandered.

And yet… while I will not vote for Trump, neither will I vote for Hillary. The progressive ethos animating the Democratic Party is orders of magnitude worse than Trumpism. Riddled with contradictions and confusion, progressivism is about deception. Secular preachers of social justice insist they have “the facts” and “science,” but actually they are nothing more than a fashionable clique of Sneetches, preening and strutting and signaling, all to convey their tolerance. Ironically, the highest virtue in the cult of diversity is conformity.

And that conformity begets a unified worldview based on lies.

The left lies routinely about guns, abortion, Islam, the minimum wage, climate change, rape culture, unemployment, healthcare, the effects of the welfare state, and much besides. I’ve no doubt that a significant chunk of Trump’s support is fueled by angry reaction to these lies. I am sympathetic. I only wish we had the good sense to hold in our minds competing truths: political correctness and progressivism are a scourge on society, and Donald Trump is unfit to be the avatar of our opposition against it.

All that remains is to enlist in our little platoons.

Reagan and Rand

It is easy to forget that Ronald Reagan was a radical. He was guided by conviction rather than consensus. Reagan is remembered for revitalizing the economy and for his bold determination against the Soviet Union, while less is said of his intellectual and philosophical foundations. Free markets, the moral supremacy of capitalism to socialism and an insistence that the citizen is above the state; these ancient principles had been steadily traduced over time by those who believed them anathema to egalitarianism. They were radical principles for their time because in order to reverse the postwar drift towards democratic socialism, radical change was needed.

In many respects, the modern conservative revolution was a visceral backlash to the systematic undermining of the American ideal. The “postwar consensus” that reigned in the western world until 1979 centered around managed economies and massive state subsidization. Democratic capitalism had only served to unleash dangerous elements of nationalism and profit-seeking which inevitably culminated in disastrous war. This idea was so prevalent among elites that the thought of a different way never really emerged. In Britain and the Unites States, this consensus led to stagnation, inflation, and loss of confidence. A neutral observer would have been hard pressed to conclude during the seventies that the Soviet Union was destined for defeat.

The left reacted to the Reagan agenda with horror because they understood that it was different from prior Republican agendas. Unlike his predecessors, Reagan sought to weaken progressive government creations such as the punitive income tax rate and activist regulation. His proposal to freeze domestic discretionary spending went against the very fiber of bureaucratic being. “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” was an indictment of the administrative state, and as a result the left were painfully aware that the Reagan agenda was an assault on decades of progressive achievement.

Time has dampened the decibels of Reagan outrage and we are now far enough removed from the eighties that defiance has been replaced by begrudging acceptance. Outside of Bernie Sanders, no one in the Democratic Party is clamoring for a return to the seventies and its high inflation, gas shortages, price controls and general malaise. No one on the left openly complains about the west’s triumph in the cold war or makes nuclear weapons a cri de coeur. “Reagan Democrats” has no modern corollary with the right, much as our media would like to rewrite history to include a corollary in the form of Clinton or Obama Republicans. But they don’t exist. Naysayers like Paul Krugman continue to distort the legacy, but for the most part the left has abandoned its Reagan defamation project and settles now for another narrative besides Reagan the Failure. Now it is Reagan the Moderate.

It is an irresistible trolling device for partisans out to make conservatives squirm. Saying “Reagan couldn’t get elected in today’s Republican Party” because of the extremism of the Tea Party is guaranteed to gall the right, not because it is an uncomfortable truth difficult to square with Reagan mythology but because it is a lie. When Reagan challenged incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 GOP primary, the establishment freak-out was immense. Reagan was the standard-bearer for the Goldwater remnant, that leftover segment of stubborn holdouts to mid-century collectivism that balked at every bipartisan expansion of government. Needless to say, Goldwater conservatism did not enjoy establishment cache. It did not play well in 1964 – this ad might have had something to do with it – but neither did defeat signal its doom. Reagan’s bold ruffling of establishment feathers in ’76 likewise did not achieve overnight success, but it planted an ideological flag in the ground. By the time he reached the Oval Office Reagan’s conservative agenda finally proved accessible thanks to the tumult of the seventies amounting to one long primal scream for a different course. The electorate’s embrace of Reagan’s message was not a product of the candidate moderating his positions or of “moving to the center” but an explicit endorsement of the radical experiment on offer.

Rand Paul’s agenda for 2016 is as radical as Reagan’s in 1980. It commits to eliminating elements of the Washington Leviathan; not curbing, not managing more efficiently, not making leaner at the margins, but eliminating. The mission is to make parts of the administrative state go the way of the parrot. Among those agencies that will cease to be in a Rand Paul administration are the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. Expect the IRS, EPA and Departments of Labor, Agriculture and Interior to do with smaller budgets and fewer workers. Beyond the paring of departments and bureaucracy, Paul proposes a 14.5% flat tax with only a couple deductions as well as elimination of the payroll tax. He aims to “turbocharge the economy” by lowering the tax burdens for all while ending crony privilege and special interest prominence. Paul is not a perfect embodiment of the free market ideal, but neither was Reagan. However, each represents the vanguard of conservative rebellion at their respective times and speaks on behalf of intellectual and grass roots conservatives. Ultimately, what makes Rand the modern version of Reagan is the moral imperative threaded through his government critique.

Nowhere is this moral clarity more on display than in Paul’s focused drive to rehabilitate the Bill of Rights in popular Americana. Libertarians hold the founding principles particularly dear for their discrete, almost obsessive concern over the separation of powers. Far from the greedy landed gentry of progressive fever dreams, the founders were consumed by questions of unchecked authority. The point of the constitutional project was to limit the powers of the state. It was not to proscribe what freedoms Americans could enjoy at the mercy of the state. The ninth amendment to the Bill of Rights is an explicit reminder that American freedoms extend beyond that list of prohibitions on government action and intrusion. From this philosophical tradition do libertarian-minded conservatives like Paul derive their convictions and through this lens should Paul’s efforts at unconventional outreach be judged. Despite being a target for attack from both sides, there can be no doubt that on matters from criminal justice to the regulatory state to surveillance to education, Rand Paul is sincere. No candidate in recent memory has shined such a focused spotlight on the Bill of Rights, and even in this cynical age the reception he gets when addressing fundamental nonpartisan American freedoms shows the sustainability of constitutionalism. Liberal Joe Klein is impressed enough by Paul to note admiringly that “by the time his 15-minute stump speech is over, he has delivered a tutorial about the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth and 10th amendments to the Constitution.”

True convictions are not welcome in Washington, where elites hew to the dubious wisdom of Lord Keynes: in the long run we’re all dead. While Keynes’ pithy comment was in regard to his economic theory, it applies just as well to an establishment ethos which elevates short term considerations of lobbyists and interest groups while ignoring real exigencies such as debt and slow growth. Call it the normalcy bias; the tendency to shrug off systemic long run concerns afflicts establishments on both sides and perpetuates a status quo beneficial only to the connected.

Reagan is beloved by conservatives because he fought against this bias and won. But it was no cakewalk and, as Jeffrey Lord wrote in 2010, he faced as much opposition from his own party as from the left. “They didn’t like him. To be more precise, they thought him an extremist, un-electable, an ultra-right wing nut, dumb, ignorant and, more to the point, not one of their crowd. One out of six was absolutely correct. Ronald Reagan was not one of their crowd. Ever.” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley decided to work for the RNC in 1982 at the behest of Reagan allies concerned that the organization was dominated by George H.W. Bush loyalists, the same cohort that looks askance at Rand Paul today. Reagan’s agenda was so unsettling to the guardians of the status quo that Beltway Republican reaction to Reagan popularity was similar to Paulene Kael’s vexation that Reagan could win when she “did not know a single person who voted for him.” By going full speed ahead with his agenda and in the process convincing large swaths of the public on the merits, Reagan led a revolution. By the ’84 election there was little doubt his agenda had been a smashing success.

In times of economic uncertainty restless citizens tend to forego tribal passions and seek brave, articulate “political athletes” to rouse the country from its doldrums. In his failed bid for the White House Goldwater paved the way for radical conservative solutions the country was not yet ready to embrace. Reagan’s triumph built on the Goldwater gambit and thus upended the existing order for close to thirty years. The conservative rabble had finally heisted the keys to the kingdom from the establishment squishes, who remained in the shadows of the Reagan Revolution quietly dismayed by the sudden loss of power and prestige. Given the longevity of cabinet officials like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Reaganites who became establishment, it is understandable that conservatives and libertarians would accuse the Bush presidencies of squandering the Reagan era. Today’s Tea Party-establishment contretemps is not a new phenomenon, but what is remarkable is the degree to which the Bush family has stood at the vanguard of establishment Republicanism since the seventies, usually in mild to open defiance of the Reagan ethos. No one understands this better than Rand Paul.

Paul attended the GOP convention as a thirteen year old in ’76 when the rancor over Reagan challenging an incumbent was at its peak. Sitting with his father in the Texas Reagan delegation, Paul witnessed first hand how passionately party bigwigs worked against the principled conservative in the race. It showed him that the powers that be on his own side were not exactly keen on returning to a focused free market constitutionalism. Is it any wonder then that Paul seems to relish taking on the same forces today that bedeviled the likes of Goldwater and Reagan in the past?

Rand Paul will not be alone in claiming Reagan lineage during the primary, but there is no candidate who better wears the label of principled rebel outsider. Like Reagan, Rand has establishment and partisan forces arrayed against him, left and right. Like Reagan, Rand has a passionate and growing following inspired by classical liberal principles and an appreciation for market supremacy over the distorting whims of the state. Like Reagan, Rand understands that not every fight is our fight, but you better believe we will retain the world’s strongest defense in perpetuity. Above all, Rand most resembles Reagan because he approaches the problems of the day with the most clear-eyed and radical prescriptions for our afflicted republic. Cronies and bureaucrats who are comfortable with the system the way it is will screech and bawl over Rand’s proposals just as they did Reagan’s. Like Reagan, Rand is best equipped to make an impassioned, articulate, inspiring case that persuades the electorate.

If conservatives wish to do more than just talk about the perils of the administrative state, the runaway executive under both parties and the costs of big government to human ingenuity and dignity, they need to move beyond reminiscing about Reagan and go ahead and nominate the guy who is the closest incarnation. If Republicans wish to emulate Reagan boldness in order to meaningfully win again, they should look to Rand Paul.

The Party of Science?

American politics are becoming increasingly absurd. The only word that describes the ongoing project of American progressives is “unreality.” There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of leftwing media to pridefully advance arguments that have nothing to do with observable reality. Now, the great philosophical question of our age is the degree to which committed partisans of the left genuinely subscribe to the narrative versus those who do so purely as a means to an end. Regardless of their sincerity, progressives everywhere agree that a counter-narrative to the status quo forces of oppression must be passionately sustained via the pent-up anxieties of the oppressed.

The left’s Marxist flame – their one and only “big idea” – finally petered out at the end of the 20th century, at least officially. Communism and collectivism were declared dead, the “end of history” pronounced, and it was assumed that the long bickering over classes and accumulation and distribution were settled. History however, does not cleanly dispatch with the “losing side” in almost any conflict. Within a generation of losing their claim on the colonies, the United Kingdom was back to burn down the White House and lay waste to Washington and Baltimore. The American South was not exactly docile in defeat, nor were they keen on sudden and immediate implementation of the 14th amendment, leading to their utter annihilation. The failed German revolutionaries of 1848 decamped to the American Midwest intent on importing the nouveau fads of progressivism and the welfare state into the American psyche. So it was with the Marxists and the class-warriors and the otherwise ignorant elites of the 20th century who decidedly did not abandon their ideological presumptions in response to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Whether the newly homeless Marxists migrated en masse to environmentalism or divvied it up so that elements of their tribe could be present in almost every facet of public life (the bureaucracy, the academy, the media, the Hollywood) is not really the point. What matters is that there was nothing approaching accountability. There was no mea culpa from elite liberal media for being wrong about totalitarian socialism. To this day the left refuses to acknowledge that the Soviets had an active and operational spy network in the United States during the Cold War, and pretend not to know of Alger Hiss. For the left, the number one priority is making their opposition look bad. Consistency and sound logic are subordinate to demonizing and discrediting. “So and so DESTROYS [conservative politican X]!!!” is a staple of fever swamp progressive internet because to the emotional and insecure for whom politics determines identity, it is more important to feel superior to your opponent than it is to be right on a given issue.

Status-signaling has replaced thinking on the left. Standing opposed to Israel or misogyny or bigotry is the price of admission into the cool cliques of campus or coastal liberalism. After purchasing yourself some coveted status as a tolerant and enlightened non-conservative, all you have to do is stick to the script. Master the hashtag and learn how it’s about feelings over facts. Thus will you arrive on the battlefield backed by an army of groupthinkers to slay the latest exhibition of privilege.

The dust-up over vaccines brings this tendency to bare. Rather than a sober mining of the data about who, exactly, are these Americans refraining from vaccinating their children, leftist partisans jumped on the comments from Chris Christie and Rand Paul as an opportunity to impugn Republicans – yet again – as the Neanderthal party of “science deniers.” Never mind the minute detail that the anti-vaxxer craze is predominantly a feature of the left, particularly the well-heeled, coastal enclave left. Upwards of 50% of kindergarteners are not vaccinated for MMR at schools in San Diego and Marin counties. Oregon and Vermont have the highest per-capita populations of anti-vaxxers. Yes, elements of the libertarian and home-school right are wary of government assurances on vaccinations. But to pretend that this is a phenomenon only of the right whereas the left sits on the side of empiricism and reason is just too much. By itself it is nothing, a meaningless and annoying distraction of white noise coming from the left about how Republicans are such morons. With the performance of the institutional left of late, it probably helps the cause of anti-statism for leftists to continue insisting how awesome and smart they are and how stupid and hopeless we are, for the simple reason that logic has a way of prevailing in the long run and all logic would suggest that these people are just charlatans with an agenda, hell bent on lying to the masses they so disdain in order to fool them into acquiescence. At some point, the ruse will reach its sell-by date and the tempest of lies and distortions will at long last wear itself out.

Until then, we will have to endure more attacks and more distortions, likely of an increased intensity. Hell hath no fury like a smug elitist challenged. The left operates under an unspoken assumption that they will always hold the loudest public megaphone due to their permanent residence on the moral high ground. Their moral righteousness is an illusion, however, and deep down they know it. At the heart of the progressive project is hatred of capitalism. They view that system of voluntary cooperation with suspicion and contempt and cast themselves as quasi-holy warriors out to eradicate injustice through the exalted Hegelian state, where the state exists as a metaphysical entity and possesses a metaphysical conscience by which the enlightened will erect plans and designs for the greater good. It is much harder in 2015 to hold this position with a straight face, after the failures of the collectivist experiment last century. Even for the most committed socialist, it is difficult to deny this history. And yet the left shows every sign it intends only to buff the lens and retain its ridiculous perspective of the world. A left that knows in its bones that the collectivist project is dead yet nevertheless retains its hatred of capitalism is going to look ridiculous. Further, the evolution of the left since Marx has seen it place its emphatic hatred not just on capitalism but on conservatives. It’s not so much the system but the proponents of the system who need to be fought and defeated. It is not hard to see how a philosophy that focuses on personal antagonism more than the system supposedly manufacturing oppression itself will eventually lose its focus.

Today’s left is the natural progression. They are thoroughly and obsessively concerned with what conservatives are saying and doing and basically agnostic on whether or not their prescribed solutions and programs have any efficacy whatsoever. All they are interested in is claiming the moral highground and ascendance appears to be promised only when all the wrong-thinking right wingers are defeated and/or silenced. They get really mad when conservatives have the temerity to point out when they run afoul of reason, logic and reality. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in matters of science.

On medicine, climate and biology the left is on the wrong side of the science. Kevin Williamson loves pointing out the amount of pseudo-science hokum that has wide popularity in leftist enclaves, from acupuncture and homeopathy to astrology and phobias about genetically modified food. You can throw Scientology and yoga in that mix as well. All perfectly harmless activities to which I have no objections other than that they are not backed up by science.

The climate change arena is riddled with groupthink and populated by anticapitalist ideologues. The much-touted “consensus” of scientists on the subject of Earth’s dire climate is great if you value consensus opinion that is thoroughly and comprehensively wrong. None of the models from the most renowned scientists have tracked even moderately close to the reality of climate over the past 20 years. That they only go back to the late nineteenth century to cull data while projecting their biased assumptions onto the millennia that came before it in order to produce the scary “hockey stick” projection of rising temperatures should be enough at the outset to question the infallibility of their data. With the “climategate” scandal at Britain’s East Anglia University revealing how scientists scheme to manipulate data to facilitate preferred outcomes, the petty “defamation” lawsuit brought by climate charlatan Michael Mann against Mark Steyn and CEI, and the recent revelation that Earth’s temperatures have remained flat the last 15 years, the green movement is exposed. The farce that is the State Department’s six year (and ongoing) review of the plans for the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than a nod by the administration to their wacko environmental base, which has tried repeatedly to offer scientific objections to the pipeline but which have all failed. The few reports that State has issued on the plan have all said that there is no environmental risk, but that has not caused the green left to relent, nor was it intended to. No one in the progressive orbit of Democratic politics is willing to allow the pipeline’s construction and none of their objections have to do with science. It is purely an aesthetic and ideological stance. Coastal elites think oil is yucky, yada yada yada, therefore the pipeline is an intrinsic evil.

Finally, the left stands in stark opposition to human biology, whether on the issue of abortion, gender, or human nature. In an sense this is understandable, as the left has always believed that man is malleable and can be shaped to function in their idea of the good society. But certain things in nature are non-negotiable. Science has essentially proven that babies in the womb can feel pain at 20 weeks and are able to survive outside the womb at that point. The science even suggests that viability perhaps occurs even earlier. But tell this to a pro-choice zealot and he will shriek and squeal about what a scoundrel you are for daring to suggest that a woman’s body is not in fact her own when there is another human inside it. This is virtually beyond scientific dispute now, yet the left won’t so much as countenance a discussion on it. In fact, they are more likely to echo the infamous Barbara Boxer line: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights.”

So babies are not yet human and not yet possessing of natural rights until they arrive home from the Hospital? How very sciency of you Barb.

The left claims the mantle of science for the sole reason that it can be used as a cudgel against conservatives. But the facts on the ground in 2015, allowing for the young-Earth creationists and the anti-vaxxers of the right (even though that contingent is most present in deep blue areas), are such that it would be impossible to designate the American left as “the party of science.” If the scientific method has life anywhere in American politics, it surely does not reside on the left. You can’t be the party of science if you think truth and reality are subjective. The persistent elevation of narrative inevitably leads to perspectives that end up only sneering at the truth.

Like Clockwork

Rand Paul penned an op-ed in The Daily Beast on Monday that lays out his overarching critique of expansive government. For Paul, the most egregious sins of the past two administrations involve the reckless expansion of executive power. For the founders, the separation of powers and the checks and balances that maintain them were arguably the most important paradigm for representative government. They were surely the most sacred. Though a man of sweeping intellect and depth, James Madison left a singular legacy in his dogged advocacy for diffuse, separate and opposed factions across government; federal, state and local.

That legacy served conservatives (Jeffersonian Democrats, Whigs, Republicans) well until the end of World War II, when a new internationalism emerged with Dwight Eisenhower’s triumph over Senator Robert Taft in the race to define the future of the Republican Party. Since then, it has been a festival of bipartisan abuses of executive power and expansion, as Taft’s defeat meant the end of any meaningful right wing foreign policy based on realism and restraint. It is not wholly outrageous that the spectre of the menacing USSR caused Americans of all stripes to adopt a utilitarian approach to the Cold War, ditching principle and tradition in the name of security from existential annihilation. After 70 years of this approach, is it not sensible to reflect and consider an alternative strategy?

Every time Rand Paul attempts to enunciate his foreign policy, one or two neoconservatives affiliated or aligned with the last Bush administration lashes out with a vicious, often unhinged diatribe against the Senator and his supposed “isolationism.” That Jennifer Rubin is Queen of The Demagogues, let there be no doubt. But Michael Gerson, Pete Wehner, Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, David Frum, Stephen Hayes, Jonathan Tobin, David Adesnik and Elliott Abrams (and more!) also love to fling “isolationism” around with the same justification that progressives have when shouting “science!” No Valerie Jarrett style enemies’ lists here, just an objective identification of the culprits behind what is an orchestrated, dishonest smear campaign against someone with whom they disagree. That kind of behavior deserves to be called out and evidence is easy to find because, like clockwork, a new hit piece is guaranteed almost every day.

Today’s entry comes from John Yoo, the lead legal apologist for every last ounce of executive abuse and expansion undertaken by President Bush, where he says “Congress enacted in 2001 an authorization to use force against any group connected to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks. If the Islamic State is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as it appears to be (though this depends on the facts), they fall within the AUMF.” He goes on to belittle Paul and suggest he should remain in the Senate and should never be President. The tone of the piece is desperate and angry. The substance is even worse. Is anyone else flabbergasted that we have an impenetrable elite bipartisan consensus in Washington surrounding the AUMF’s authorization of force? The document from thirteen years ago which had nothing to do with third-generation offshoots of Al Qaeda but actually and explicitly only pertained to… Al Qaeda?  I really shake my head when I read the WSJ or some other reputable conservative outlet make this case; that the resolution we passed in the wake of 9/11 somehow relates to today. I understand their argument about asymmetric warfare and how “we don’t get to decide” when the war is over and all that. Yes, yes. But it is categorically not too much to ask that we fight this interminably long war by adhering to our standards and our rules. And I don’t care how Orwellian the foreign policy fetishists on the right go in their zeal to convince me that 2+2 = 5, I can never be convinced that Article II of the Constitution is more important than Article I.

The looming big debate over foreign policy will be a lot more productive and enlightening if it is conducted with civility and forthrightness. Unfortunately, the opponents of any reevaluation of the status quo have signaled that they have zero intention to play nice with Rand Paul. They genuinely hate his father, and are projecting their worst fever dream scenarios onto Rand and insisting all will be lost and the locusts shall plague us should the man who believes in the Constitution and separation of powers come to be Commander-in-Chief.

Below is my response to John Yoo and his fellow travelers in the conservative movement, based on an advanced reading of George Will’s column tomorrow, which I posted in the comments of his piece at National Review Online.


George Will has a column tomorrow (available online now) headlined “Rethinking US Foreign Policy” in which he tiptoes close to endorsing Rand Paul’s position without actually doing so. But he does offer this for Mr. Yoo to consider:

“The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history, coincided with mission creep (“nation building”) in Afghanistan. Both strengthened what can be called the Republicans’ John Quincy Adams faction: “[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

The Wilsonian-Bush approach to foreign policy is past its sell-by date, and the level of unhinged vitriol spewing from establishment (mostly from the Bush cabinet) organs towards Rand Paul is evidence of this. Any wonder why the factions currently losing the argument screech and squeal the loudest? Just look at the progressive left right now. But the fervor with which the Bush people have tried to knock down Rand Paul (and have so far failed at every turn) speaks to how cornered they feel. They wish that everyone would shut up and be scared of Islamists to the point that we forget the follies of their agenda and just blame Obama enough that the Bush Boys over at Commentary get to waltz back into power like nothing’s changed.

There wasn’t supposed to be an articulate voice against the uber-interventionists while Obama was in office. To their eternal chagrin, Rand shows up and starts moving people and changing the debate. No doubt George Will gets some stern emails for having the gall to give Rand a hearing before writing him off based on lame, hysterical arguments such as Yoo’s.

“Harry Reid Should Apologize”

This from Joe Scarbrough this morning, on Harry Reid’s crusade against the Koch Brothers and their supposed “un-American” and “immoral” spending of money on politics, which Morning Joe decided to delve into, ever thankfully.

Turns out, the Koch Brothers don’t even crack the top five big spenders in politics in 2013-14, according to opensecrets.org. The number one spender? Harry Reid’s “Senate Majority PAC.”

Oh the hypocrisy.

photo (4)

Reid and the progressive left have waged verbal jihad against the libertarian billionaire brothers for over a year, claiming that Koch Industries threatens our sacred democracy with nefarious dark money in effect “buying elections.”  One would think if Democrats went all out to impugn the character of a couple of private citizens that they would first be certain to check that the optics were right on their side. But here we have concrete evidence that Reid’s own Senate Majority PAC is the number one spender on politics all the while he and his party devote hours of air time and gallons of ink to crying about the urgent need to get money out of politics.

Yet another piece of evidence that progressives are at root nothing more than hypocrites and liars.

 

Climate Sanity

Shikha Dalmia of Reason has an excellent piece today on how ideology colors our engagement with the climate change issue:

Why do Republicans so stubbornly resist the climate change story? It’s not like when a tornado touches down, it spares them, targeting only Democrats. Conversely, why are liberals so eager to buy the climate apocalypse? It’s not like they can insulate themselves from rising energy prices or job losses that a drastic energy diet would produce. The answer is that each side is driven by concerns over whether this issue advances or impedes its broader normative commitments, not narrow self-interest.

The right’s chief commitment (which I share) is to free enterprise, property rights, and limited government that it sees as core to human progress. So when the market or other activities of individuals harm third parties or the environment, they look for solutions in these principles. If overgrazing threatens a pasture, to use a classic example, the right’s answer is not top-down government diktats to ban or ration use. Rather, it is to divvy up the pasture, giving ownership to farmers—or privatizing the commons. The idea is that what individuals own, they protect; what they don’t, they abuse.

But there is no pure free market or property rights solution to global warming. There is no practical way to privatize the Earth’s atmosphere or divvy up pollution rights among the world’s seven billion inhabitants in 193 countries. This creates a planet-sized opening for the expansion of the regulatory state. Hence, right-wingers have an inherent need to resist the gloomy global warming narrative.

This is a massive conservative blind spot. But it is, in many ways, matched by liberals’ tunnel vision.

It is no secret that liberal commitment is less to promoting individual liberty and more to curbing capitalistic greed, which the left views as the great enemy of social justice and equality. At first blush, environmentalism and egalitarianism appear in conflict given that the environment is something of a luxury good that rich folks generally care about more than the poor.

Indeed, this conflict is why the 1960s New Left, driven primarily by humanistic concerns such as eradicating poverty and eliminating racism, shunned the emerging environmental movement for over a decade, according to University of Wisconsin’s Keith M. Woodhouse. Many in the New Left condemned the first Earth Day in 1970 as “the white liberal’s cop out” and believed that a preoccupation with overpopulation, for example, was “racist hysteria.”

Lefties and enviros merged into the modern-day progressive movement only when the New Left was persuaded that environmental degradation and social injustice were manifestations of the same greed-ridden system. Global warming, in a sense, combines this twin critique of capitalism on the grandest possible scale, indicting the rich West for bringing the world close to catastrophe by hogging a disproportionate amount of the global commons, leaving less for the developing world.

This is why, despite the demonstrated impossibility of imposing a global emission-control regime after the failure of the Kyoto treaty, liberals continue to demand that the West unilaterally cut emissions, even though this will arguably make little difference to global temperatures. It is a matter of cosmic justice, as far as they are concerned.

  Indeed, if there is any doubt that liberal alarmism no less than conservative skepticism is driven by ideological commitments—and not a realistic assessment of actual risk and achievable solutions—research by Dan Kahan of Yale University ought to put it to rest. He found that when geo-engineering—pumping sulfates into the atmosphere to deflect heat—is offered as the solution to climate catastrophe instead of emission restrictions, liberals become far more questioning of global warming science. Why? Because, presumably, it does nothing to curb Western greed. Conversely, geo-engineering makes conservatives far more accepting of the science, likely because it avoids Big Government.

Yes, skeptics succumb to ideology when we question the big government solutions they propose, but for good reason. A not-insignificant share of the global environmental movement is comprised of the Communist refugees who had no ideological home following the fall of the Berlin Wall until they wandered into the environmental movement, which was quite happy to welcome such a sudden influx of committed leftists. Check out James Delingpole’s Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colors if you wish to dive deeper into the “green on the outside, red on the inside” thesis.  None of which is to say the debate is “settled” (that kind of language is the sole property of the left) or that we shouldn’t have robust debates about carbon and energy. But what we’re having today is far far removed from anything resembling an honest and open inquiry. What we have today is a demand from our cultural betters to conform to their latest trendy orthodoxy, or else. And it is the unhinged left that flings words like “denier” and “anti-science” around with all the care with which they deploy “racist.”  It is growing very tiresome.

The Vox News Channel

So Ezra Klein has finally launched his new media venture Vox, a glossy news website that looks intent on melding the progressive punditry of his former Wonkblog with the snazzy interface of a Slate Explainerreplete with “flash cards” and helpul FAQs for those of us who find it useful when consuming news to also have said news “explained” to us by a bunch of arrogant leftists offering to guide us through the muck of the modern news cycle.

I actually like Ezra Klein, not because of anything he says or believes politically, but because he is a talented and ambitious entrepreneur who has successfully built and cultivated his own personal and unique brand among the morass of Washington “journalists.” That the brand portrays him as a sophisticated wonk when in reality Klein is merely a banal partisan steeped in the dark arts of linguistic obfuscation and manipulative data mining is beside the point. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Klein is exceedingly skilled at the game, which is why his foray into these hitherto uncharted waters known as “explaining the news” has caused much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments across the media landscape.

For a guy who believes (on faith, mind you) that an increase in the minimum wage is good for the poor, that “capital injections” stimulate economies because the Keynesian models say so, or that government’s “consumer protections” outweigh the negatives of market distortion, Klein has shown that while he may not have the slightest clue about capitalism writ large, he is a black belt capitalist when it comes to his personal career. Most successful people will tell you that timing is either everything, or at least very important. When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post last year, Ezra Klein was arguably among the paper’s top assets. His popularity and easy demeanor allowed him to leverage his already-large profile into his own, independent organization. The timing was perfect, but it was also largely of Klein’s own making. The ability to drive traffic and command attention in the modern media landscape is simultaneously the easiest and hardest thing to do well for today’s self-promoting pundit. Klein managed his successful Wonkblog and twitter feed by cultivating a credible, likable, just-the-facts-ma’am presence that served to masque his ideological fervor. Still, no one on the left or right is confused as to Klein’s affiliation: he is a dedicated, down-for-the-cause true progressive believer, which helps explain much of the angst over Vox.

Conservatives are alarmed at the creation by a committed leftist ideologue of an entire new medium of news, one that purports to “explain” it all to the casual, the busy, and the ADDled. His debut contribution, which reads like a Vox mission statement, confirms the worst of these fears. Here is this non-threatening twenty-something with smart glasses and gigs on all the trendy MSNBC shows telling his audience how “politics makes us stupid” not because we lack crucial information, but because we have too much of it. “Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become,” says Klein. David Harsanyi at The Federalist takes great exception with Klein’s notion that were it not for the abundance of unfiltered data lingering in the ether, politicians and voters alike would be able to avoid the constant contretemps that define our supposedly “dysfunctional” government. Harsanyi seizes on the absurdity of Klein’s inference that politics would run smoother and with less gridlock if only the chaos of information could be corralled and packaged into easily digested sound bytes, and takes Klein to task for justifying presenting the news in this way as a means for alleviating the misunderstandings that arise between us due to the chaos and confusion of unfiltered information:

Vox may be here to teach us a thing or two, but the fear of us “misunderstanding” each other is no more an underlying theory of American politics than it is “coursing” through the text of the Constitution. The idea that we can stop “fighting” doesn’t sit “hopefully” at the base of our national debate; it exists in the disagreeable imaginations of technocrats. Because “fighting” – or what people commonly refer to as “debating” — is driven by regional, historical, religious, cultural, philosophical, personal, and generational disagreements. Diversity. The Founders created checks on the state because they understood that some of these disagreements would be intractable, and we only exacerbate the “fighting” with coercive centralized government.

But Ezra is here to stop us from fighting with each other because he has access to “cutting edge research” that will clear everything right up (because his research always seems to confirm progressive sensibilities) whereas we conservatives are hopelessly wedded to our echo chamber and, lacking as it is in any recognized “cutting edge research,” we are left to wallow in confusion and despair, for want of anything even halfway enlightened as Vox to explain to our fellow lizard brains just what it is the news actually means. It’s as if Klein and his cohort are so consumed by confirmation bias that they assume everybody operates this way; that we all must forever be on the hunt for anecdotes and data that only confirm our worldviews while our wise and enlightened betters toil in the web weeds to bring us the kind of news humans have sought since Gutenberg. This is how they actually think. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

As much as Klein has caught flak from the right for substantive concerns over what Vox’ role might be in an evolving media landscape, the left has trained their (f)ire on Vox for petty personnel reasons. Put simply, they don’t like some of Klein’s hires because some of Klein’s hires don’t kowtow to progressive orthodoxy. Brandon Ambrosino, a gay writer who attended Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and takes the socially conservative skeptical stance towards marriage equality, has been the subject of repeated attacks from the left solely on the basis of his against-the-grain opinion on homosexuality. But it wasn’t just the hires that invited the left’s rage, it was who wasn’t hired too. Ezra had to answer to the PC police who didn’t like the racial configuration of his new organization. Not enough diversity, obviously! Since the left is wholly consumed by race “in the twenty-first century” (to steal one of their most inane and meaningless phrases), Klein had to suffer widespread indignation from his ideological allies because they didn’t like the physical make-up of his staff. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of today’s left is its self-congratulatory stand for “diversity” when the truth is they are only interested in the superficial diversities of skin, gender and sexuality, because actual diversity – of thought – is the last thing they want. The left wants cultural and ideological conformity, and Ezra Klein intends to facilitate just that with his new venture that is going to “explain” the news to the masses so they can better comprehend the glories of a progressive policy agenda.

And that sounds wonderful to the left, just so long as it’s not a bunch of straight white males doing the noble business of collectivist agitprop; that is a job anyone can do. I believe Ezra Klein is a decent guy who genuinely believes that good outcomes will materialize with progressive policies and expansive, managerial government secured. I think he’s short-sighted, living in a bubble, and criminally negligent on understanding the free market or its incentives and individual preferences. But I don’t hold these ignorant views against him, per se. Lots of confused progressives believe what Klein believes. What scares me about Vox isn’t the content so much as the premise behind it: that a tidier, quicker, here’s-the-context delivery of news is meeting a broad demand in the information market. It’s not. Contrary to popular belief, held by both conservatives and liberals, voters are not ciphers in need of being spoon-fed important news; in fact, most individuals are quite capable of sorting wheat from chaff in this complex world of ubiquitous information, and they are even more capable of making up their own minds. The problem in politics is not too much information that nobody knows what to do with. The problem in politics is parties and partisans bending over backwards to mold and shape (I would say “distort”) the news of the day to fit preconceived narratives. Klein appears to believe that a vast market exists for a sleek, condensed site that presents its news in ways equivalent to the “previously on” segments of prestige cable dramas. So let’s get to those sexy flash cards! Forward!

 

Politics of Vilification

“The left is exhausted.”
-Paul Ryan, CPAC 2014

Wouldn’t you be? Delivering revolutionary change while pretending that nothing is up and there is nothing to see here is bound to drain the energy from even the most enthusiastic political operation. What the Obama progressives have been doing the past five years is a thoroughly postmodern attempt to effectuate dramatic changes to the United States government, but in the process to be seen as unaffiliated with said change. It’s basically a vindication of the Limbaugh Theorem, which asserts in the grandiose timbre of the world’s preeminent blowhard that President Obama’s chief accomplishment has been to present himself as perpetually removed from the nuts and bolts of governing, thereby exempting himself from prolonged or intense scrutiny from the national media. According to Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, the media has been more than happy to play the role of Obama Protection Society rather than serve as combative investigative journalists. Here’s Tobin:

While most journalists have been reliably liberal in their politics for decades, the culture of the profession has always valued an “agin’ the government” mentality in which all politicians are viewed with cynicism. So long as even liberal journalists regard it as their duty to ferret out stories about corruption, mismanagement and failure within the government, we can feel safe that no administration, even one that is favored by the left, will escape the scrutiny necessary to provide accountability.

But there is little doubt that this has begun to change since Obama came to office. After the media hammered both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush throughout their presidencies, Obama has had it relatively easy. Part of it is due to the special hold that this historic president has over liberals… The culture at CBS and like-minded outlets is to see any aggressive reporting about the president and his policies as evidence of wrong thinking rather than part of their obligation to ask uncomfortable questions and speak truth to power.

Is there any doubt that a vast majority of American media fall into this category? Is it any wonder that most of these Ivy-educated, Beltway-bred, coastal elitists who were so keen to speak truth to power (when power had an (R) next to it) are now willing participants in state-sanctioned ideological propaganda? Of course there are scores of principled leftists like Kevin Gosztola, William Saletan and (perhaps) David Sirota, but the bulk of progressives in media today are more likely to be animated by hostile caricatures of the right and to seek out “evidence of wrong thinking” than by actual truth. As I’ve recounted before, the left is complicit in government propaganda because exaltation of big, activist government is the only direction their ideology leads. It remains their Big Idea despite the fact that the intellectual and practical justifications for it were eviscerated by… well, the twentieth century.

Kevin Williamson of National Review perfectly captures the aimless cynicism of a progressive movement unmoored from meaningful ideas:

I do not much blame the Left for hesitating to talk about Big Ideas. The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people, give or take, and not in Mr. Klein’s projecting-abstractly-from-a-CBO-study way but in the concentration-camps-and-hunger-terror way. Marxism was the Left’s Big Idea for the better part of a century, and its collapse — which was moral, economic, political, and complete — left a howling void in the Left’s intellectual universe. Nothing has quite managed to fill it: In the immediate wake of the collapse of Communism, the anticapitalists sought shelter in a variety of movements, few of which grew to be of any real consequence, with the exception of the environmentalist movement. But the lenten self-mortification implied by a consistent environmentalist ethic has limited that movement’s appeal as a governing philosophy and an individual ethic both, hence its fragmentation into a motley sprawl of mini-crusades. It is easy to be anti-fracking when that does not require you to give up anything, easy to oppose the expansion of the Keystone pipeline network when you can be confident that the gas pumps in your hometown will always be full, easy for well-off Whole Foods shoppers to abominate varieties of grain that are possessed by evil spirits or cooties or whatever it is this week.

The intellectual decline of the Left has been something to see. I am reminded of a joke that P. J. O’Rourke once made about my hometown: “There’s also a whiff of highbrow in Siberia. For a hick town, Irkutsk had too many opera houses, theaters, museums, and academic institutes. This is because, for hundreds of years, the smarty-pants reformers, annoying idealists, and know-it-all do-gooders were sent here for life. It’s as though everyone who voted for George McGovern was packed off to Lubbock, Texas.” You could not make the same joke about Obama voters or Occupiers — or, especially, about Jon Stewart’s audience — because nobody expects any of them to start an opera house or an academic institute. They are busy watching an ersatz Beavis and Butt-Head for psychology majors who enjoy having their modest intellects flattered and their perceived enemies “destroyed.”

Williamson earns my Hero of the Moment award (and not for the first time) for astutely calling out Jon Stewart as “the leading voice of the half-bright Left because he is a master practitioner of the art of half-bright vitriolic denunciation,” which can just as easily be used to describe the left-at-large. Robbed of their Big Ideas (don’t get any), the left plays a politics of vilification. Without much of an intellectual or philosophical foundation to rely on, the left operates almost entirely out of pragmatic rather than principled concern. Sure, vague paeans to “equality” and “social justice” can be mistaken for principled stances, but do not be fooled; the left’s drive for egalitarianism is always premised on the notion that society is unjust and only government (with the right experts – themselves – at the helm) can eradicate the injustice. Thus the welfare state and redistribution programs that sound like principled desires for a “fair” society are really just the pragmatic means for producing the ultimate end: power.

As to the question of what progressives want with power, the ends are up for debate, but the means never are. People like myself who look askance at progressives assume (not without justification) that a not-insignificant cadre wishes to use government solely to grab power. This group knows that the left’s “coalition” of voters who are susceptible to promises of government-as-panacea must be consistently pandered to, whereas other progressives indeed wish to bring about positive change with their power but unfortunately lack the wherewithal to deliver. The disparate factions of progressivism envision different ends, yet they embrace the same means, the means of vilification.

Which brings us to Paul Ryan.

In a radio interview last week, Ryan had this to say on the culture of work in American inner cities:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

As we all know, there is only one appropriate response here: RAAAAAACIST!!!!! Never mind that Ryan is stating what should be an uncontroversial and obvious truth, and never mind that nowhere does he mention race. If you are a conservative and you offer a critique of any kind (implicit, explicit, oblique) of the welfare state’s failure to curtail poverty, you are a racist as far as the left is concerned, plain and simple. Instead of engaging on this crucially important topic and trading ideas on how to address pervasive poverty in urban areas, the left vilifies any would-be reformer as heartless and racist. As Pete Wehner notes, the true motive behind this incessant vilification of their opposition is the left’s insecurity about their own record:

Liberals who have complicity in the problems plaguing America’s inner cities are attempting to make an honest conversation about poverty impossible. They are signaling that they intend to try to take out Republicans who want to address some of the root causes, the behavioral causes, of poverty.

As a posterchild for the left’s psychotic narrative that says Republicans hate the elderly, the poor, the middle class, women, the gays, minorities, puppies, ice cream and orgasms, Ryan knows how the left operate when they have someone in their crosshairs. As the primary budget scion among House conservatives, Ryan is persona non grata for progressives because he represents a sober, green eye-shade accounting of their fiscal failures, and they will do whatever they can to forestall the reckoning. This is how Ryan is cast as He Who Throws Granny Off Cliff or as factually challenged or even as equivalent to the evil British purveyors of the Irish Potato Famine. The left trashes Ryan and “fact-checks” him into oblivion because they are terrified of his policies ever seeing the light of day since a Ryan fiscal reform would mean the beginning of the end of the progressive project. If Ryan is successful in restoring a baseline of sanity to Washington-as-usual (and “baseline budgeting” is a great place to start), the left’s budget gimmicks and procedural theatrics will no longer matter once actual accounting is again the standard. They know this, so they react accordingly, with wave after wave of dishonest attack, in the same vein as they went after Romney. I’ve learned not to underestimate the capacity of the modern left to defame genuinely good and decent men like Ryan and Romney, who because of the threat they posed to the immoral and unsustainable government gravy train, had to have their characters assassinated. Nothing is more important than the ultimate agenda, and if a little shameless vilification of decent people is needed to keep the progressive train on the tracks, so be it. And yet there was Paul Ryan at CPAC, proudly proclaiming that the left is exhausted because they are out of ideas. The left hasn’t really had any ideas since the official failure of their Big Idea almost twenty-five years ago. They are resigned to playing identity politics and pandering for votes until such time as free-thinking citizens wise up and hand them a decisive defeat, or else until they run out of other people’s money.

Rand Paul’s Filibuster

One year ago today, Rand Paul captivated much of the country with his filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to the CIA. The 13 hour marathon went spectacularly viral on social media and was responsible for CSPAN’s largest ratings in a while. By now very few Americans are unfamiliar with the Kentucky senator’s passionate rebuke of our clandestine drone program, and that is due to Paul’s political instinct for latching on to broad populist concerns that generally transcend partisan lines. Whether it’s reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, advocating government (state and federal) exit from marriage contracts, suing the NSA for domestic spying or championing drug war reform and felon voting rights, Paul has shown he is virtually peerless at applying his libertarian message to issues that garner broad support and thus enhance the appeal of libertarian ideas overall. Still, for all his policy entrepreneurship in just three years in the Senate, Paul is known most for his stance on drones.

As much as the filibuster was about drones, it was also about much more. It was about the wider War on Terror, as well as a plea for a restored reverence for the Bill of Rights, especially the fifth amendment. Most of all though, the filibuster was a disquisition on checks and balances and constitutional separation of powers. Rand used the hypothetical threat of an American being killed via drone strike on American soil without due process as a vivid entry point through which his audience could begin to appreciate the distorted power distribution within the branches of government.

Since Woodrow Wilson progressives have believed that government power should be concentrated in the executive branch and that the presidency demanded a “vision.” George Will describes the Wilsonian impulse as a desire for the president to interpret the constitution in a way that comports with the wishes and wants of the people and to be the voice that affirms these wants. Wilson’s view of the American founding and of separation of powers would become the legacy sentiment of the American left for a hundred years: not good enough. For Wilson and his ascendant progressive cohort, science was becoming the dominant and indisputable truth; bolstered by Darwin’s theory of evolution in biology, they set out to apply the science of evolution to human behavior. Wilson believed that government’s purpose was to efficiently guide humanity towards its inevitable endpoint of societal evolution. The perfect society would be attainable once the experts were put in charge. You know, top men

F.A. Hayek famously disparaged this inclination to impose scientific plans on a society the fatal conceit. The idea that you can acquire enough knowledge to plan an economy through the expertise of administrators is essentially the definition of hubris. That you would attempt such a project in a polity expressly founded in opposition to this conceit is nigh treasonous. And yet there was Woodrow Wilson, the first American president to directly challenge the very nature of our government’s structure and the idea that power should be diffuse and majorities neutered. Our Madisonian construct is meant to consist of constantly shifting majorities among competing segments of government, while factions are to be constrained by being discouraged on large scales, the idea being that the inevitable rise of small factions within civil society would harness productive resolutions among competing interests. Wilson and the progressives declared all this nonsense, said “Hail Science!” and went to work on a century long project to gradually erode checks and balances by growing the executive to a scale fit to house a legion of expert administrators, aka “unelected bureaucrats.”

This was the subversive message of Rand Paul’s filibuster. The crucial issue he really meant to highlight was embedded inside his bombastic portrayal of an immediate threat to our natural rights posed by drones. That is not to say that Paul was not sincere about his clarion call for reform to both overseas and domestic drone protocols. Rand is nothing if not a rabid defender of all of the Bill of Rights, and his alarm at the vague guidelines, oversight and legality of the government’s drone program was about protecting various parts of our fourth, fifth and sixth amendment rights. More than anything to do with drones though, the crux of the filibuster was about drawing attention to the bipartisan abuse of executive power.

Paul is fond of quoting Montesquieu (really, who isn’t?), the French political philosopher whose principal contribution to politics was the idea of separation of powers. A merger between executive and legislative branches would mean no liberty, according to Montesquieu’s revolutionary tripartite concept under which our government was conceived. Likewise, as Paul offered repeatedly throughout his filibuster, a combination of the executive and the judiciary can yield no justice. Paul was rightly tying the concern over due process and extrajudicial assassinations to the broader discussion of an overreaching executive. The presidency has simply become too big, with too many agencies and bureaucracies under its aegis. Congress has gradually and steadily forfeited much of its authority to the executive on everything from war powers to educational administration (as if that should be a role of the federal government at all). I believe Rand Paul was sincere when he said he would have stood and raised the same objections regardless of who was occupying the White House. This was not a partisan attack on Barack Obama, but a larger critique of the subtle degradation to our constitutional prerogative to live under three coequal branches of government.

Before Wilson, Congress had far more authority than it enjoys today and the roles of the branches were unambiguous: the legislature writes the laws, the executive branch executes the laws, and the judicial branch determines the constitutionality of the laws. But with the rise of our imperial presidency – brought to you unapologetically and enthusiastically by progressives and their presidential “visionaries” – the executive branch has become Leviathan, buttressed by unaccountable battalions of expertise known as executive agencies, able to cast the tentacled nets of the administrative state across the land, unimpeded and with little input from the other branches. Our government as currently construed is not very far from completing the progressive vision of having a benign dictator administer an expert plan for the country. As the executive branch grows and grows, and with it the number of petty authoritarians manning the cubicles at EPA, IRS, DOE, HHS, and wherever else the executive agencies have usurped power, the ability of Congress and the Supreme Court to effectively check its authority diminishes. We know who is responsible for this. Paul’s meta-narrative was not to affix blame for the bloated, corrupt, too-powerful presidency, but to cast a bright shining light on it and to spend thirteen hours subtly lamenting the fact that not enough Americans in the 21st century seem to care that government today is not functioning as it was designed.

And what better way to jar Americans out of complacency than to warn them that an unchecked executive might drop a drone through their roof. That was the real point of the filibuster, to wake Americans up to the perils of absolute power.