Arm the Syrian Rebels?

The level of John McCain and Lindsey Graham agitation over any given foreign policy issue should have an inverse correlation with the general public’s perception of what amounts to a good idea.

In the case of arming the “vetted” Syrian rebels, each successive shrieking bleat for more urgency in the matter of placing sophisticated weaponry in the hands of “moderate Islamist” militants should cause a respective dose of pump the breaks among public opinion.  The Free Syrian Army, whose virtues McCain, Graham, Jen Rubin, Bill Kristol and the rest of the neocon amen chorus never tire of extolling, is in fact a Muslim Brotherhood operation. But you wouldn’t know that from the way the political class talk about them. In the eyes of the always-already interventionists, there is always a ready force of Jeffersonian freedom fighters just waiting to be aided by the benevolent American liberators. The reality is more like having a disparate arrangement of angry Sunnis who tilt closer to the jihad than to pluralism or liberty. And they are likelier to view US assistance as reckless and clumsy machinations from the world’s most visible hand. And just as unwelcome meddling by the state corrupts the market, so does muddled policy in a sectarian conflict elicit only resentment and treachery among those we are ostensibly helping.

We cannot possibly know who the “good guys” are in Syria. Some rebel factions are only interested in toppling Assad, while others are committed to fight ISIS. Many are just waiting to see how things shake out and then will fall in with the whoever the victors are. The so-called moderates that inhabit the Free Syrian Army are just as fond of beheadings as ISIS. They possibly sold Steven Sotloff to ISIS, who ultimately decapitated him. Now there are signs they have signed a cease-fire with ISIS so they can concentrate on battling Assad, though they of course deny that. (Not much prospect of getting free US-made RPGs and MANPADS if a pact with ISIS leaks). The clear takeaway is that Syria is riddled with chaos that cannot be easily navigated or solved. The sectarian conflict within Islam has been going on for close to 1500 years, yet our genius foreign policy mandarins in Washington think they can waltz in and fix everything, yet again. We’re only three years into the fallout from the Tunisia and Cairo affairs igniting the Arab Spring, an event that has seen secular autocrats deposed in favor of a toxic vacuum from which only chaos and jihad could ever have sprung. But the neocons can’t bring themselves to admit that there is no amount of top men capable of turning that region of the world into a peaceful democratic redoubt.

Lately I’ve been especially bothered by the conservative hawk tendency to mirror perfectly the follies of progressivism. It’s the fatal conceit applied to foreign policy. Neocons believe they are the only ones equipped to address the problem of radical Islam. Dan Henninger (who I otherwise like in matters not related to foreign policy) went so far as to assert that the world is too dangerous to allow the Democratic Party to be in charge. I would agree wholeheartedly if the brief against allowing progressive reign was to do with their economic agenda; but I can’t rightly get behind a platform that thinks its stewardship of foreign policy under George W. Bush is the beacon from which all future American foreign policy must shine. No thanks. That is not to say the progressives have a better vision or policy regarding America’s place in the world; they absolutely do not. The point is that on matters of state in regions rife with sectarian hatred living under a religion yet to undergo its much awaited Reformation, there simply aren’t any easy answers, if there are answers at all. The worst thing a democratic republic of free people can do is sanction their government’s insistence that they know – this time – they know exactly how to solve impossible problems.

Is that isolationist? Of course not. For starters, isolationism implies a reluctance to trade with the world as well as an ignorant suspicion of global markets and free movement of capital around the planet. Neither is it a call for doing nothing. By all means, work with allies, build a coalition, get consent and authorization from Congress and then hit ISIS where they can be hit from the sky. The special ops ground forces will undoubtedly be asked yet again to perform heroic acts while undermanned, but that is the unfortunate yield from last decade’s wars of occupation and incompetence: a thorough “No Mas!” from the citizenry back home regarding the insertion of whole new brigades into Iraq. And in Syria, the situation is far more confusing, dangerous, and not worth our investment, especially if infantrymen are going to be asked to clear corners and go door-to-door in urba warfare as they did in Fallujah, as they would no doubt have to in Aleppo and Raqaa. It can’t be done, at least not as efficiently and smoothly as the hawks so offensively suggest.

The sardonic hilarity that one can glean from this whole episode is this: due to unbridled hubris on the part of Dick Cheney and the neocons, we have spent eleven years poking our big stick in the world’s biggest pile of fire ants, and arguing over the welts on our ankles as we stand idly in the ant hill, clumsily and futilely swinging the stick where and when it suits us. But we continue to be bit. And is there a more stark manifestation of this parable than in our Air Force now having to launch airstrikes against our own vehicles and weaponry, stolen by ISIS from the Iraqi Army that we spent a decade equipping and training?

Let’s not arm the Syrian rebels, because we’re just as likely to have to face our own weaponry at some point in the future.

Halbig

The only way to describe the conservative state of mind vis a vis modern liberalism is exasperation. It is just plain exasperating to observe the conduct of the American left in today’s political, economic and cultural landscapes. Nary a day goes by without some segment of the left issuing grave warnings to its special-interest, identity-obsessed base about all the looming threats to things the government has granted them. Yet again, we see an example of the devious ways the left obscures the concept of liberty: instead of things the government cannot do to you (negative liberty), today it is all about what can the government do for you (positive liberty). But then this is mere semantics to your average millennial, union worker, feminist, bureaucrat or little green fascist. The “coalition of the ascendant” has been thoroughly indoctrinated – by culture, academe, default human understanding – to believe that government is the altruist amid the morass of greedy, for-profit, one-percenters. Worse, they don’t really care one iota about philosophical treatises on governing, the market, or…anything, really. All that this coalition cares about is culture and the need to wrench it away from the kulaks and wreckers, er, conservatives and libertarians on which they project their hunger for centralized power and control (who, it bears mentioning, want the opposite of concentrated power and control).

The left is a pathetic joke in today’s America, which is why anyone not affiliated can only be exasperated as witness to their folly. From climate to taxes, guns to bureaucracy, welfare to Harry Reid, the left have created a perpetual motion machine of stupid and cynical policies and attitudes that serve only to grow the size and influence of both the Democratic Party and their fourth branch allies in the administrative state.

The latest bit of theater comes courtesy of two opposing rulings (Halbig v. Burwell) in circuit courts on the technical wording of the Affordable Care Act. See, in their infinite wisdom the Democrats wrote Obamacare in haste for political reasons in 2009 (Scott Brown’s surprise win for Dead Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts sent Dems into panic mode) and, being the legal scholars and overall geniuses that they are, worded the language of the exchanges in such a way as to make void any Obamacare subsidies going out to customers in states with non-state exchanges, never in their wildest imaginations entertaining the possibility that a host of red states might not be thrilled about being coerced into setting up disruptive exchanges while also adding millions to their own medicaid roles. But that is exactly what happened, which opened a crucial window for libertarians like Michael Cannon of Cato to get to work on a lawsuit challenging the legality of federal exchanges allowed to offer subsidies, which the plain language of the law prohibits.

In spite of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling that nothing is amiss because we all know what Democrats “intended” and the further complication that the Halbig case will likely face an en banc DC Circuit hearing in front of the full 11 member panel (four of which are newly minted Democratic-appointed judges only at their posts thanks to Harry Reid’s use of the nuclear option to annul the filibuster of judicial nominees), this case is still going to the Supreme Court, where it is likely (fingers-crossed) we will win. After the en banc panel does as expected and overturns today’s DC Circuit ruling holding the law up as written (and by extension damning it) and tries to mount some lame legal rationale or precedent for doing so, SCOTUS is gonna issue cert and hear the case. And then it’s on.

But oh, the exasperation! How does one deal with the left when today they are actually arguing that the intention of Congress is what matters, not the plain letter of the law. The law only matters when it serves the left’s interests like, say, this 2008 Child Trafficking law we hear so much about that supposedly prohibits full stop the deportation of any of the minors currently languishing in holding pens and military barracks in Texas and Arizona. Democrats have proved that they don’t really care about the law in the Obama era, whether it’s the Executive branch writing and ignoring laws on a whim, the President ignoring a Senate pro-tem session and making recess appointments anyway (SCOTUS slapped him down 9-0 on that one), Harry Reid’s shameful and unprecedented stewardship of the Senate, or Nancy “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it!” Pelosi just being Nancy. That 2008 law by the way? They only cite it ad nauseum because they desperately want these kids to stay in country. Not for any empathetic reason, mind you. Just politics.

Even worse than the desperate attempts to make chicken salad out of it are the progressives who admit that this is a blow, but then confidently and arrogantly insist that it won’t matter because Harry Reid already took care of that with the nuclear option. Now they can just sit back and relax as the full panel of the DC Circuit overturns themselves and orders all Americans to kindly STFU and stop complaining about government. That’s how many of them are acting anyway, and it’s sort of hard to know if it’s a deflection tactic or if they are really so confident that the Supreme Court won’t find just four judges needed to certify an appeal that they’re truly not worried. But they should be worried. Not just about the fate of the ACA, but of their entire mission, to say nothing of their credibility. People are waking up to the awfulness of big government. As yet this feeling is nowhere near reaching critical mass, partly because dissatisfaction with government leads to all kinds of heterodox attitudes and prescriptions (see: Tea Party vs Occupy Wall St: similar grievances against cronyism; wildly different solutions), and partly because no leader or party has been able to crystallize for the public in digestible terms the urgent need to genuinely dismantle much of the federal bureaucracy, and explain why such a subtraction would actually serve as an addition; to the economy, the budget and the dynamism of the American people. Addition-by-subtraction applies to the welfare state as well. Though we wish to see it shrunk drastically, a case is there to be made that a smaller welfare state with fewer agencies and social workers aiming to “serve” you could actually lead to a more efficient dispersal of benefits. People need to be reminded of Reagan’s famous axiom about the nine most dangerous words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

We’re a long way from turning this ship around. Hopefully Halbig is a small victory for the team standing athwart shouting stop.

Marxist Millennials?

There’s nothing more embarrassing than the left’s periodic flirtation with Marxism. Anytime a skeptical critique of capitalism is given a quasi credible veneer, the left goes nuts and forgets that their most successful (and cynical) tactic of the past hundred years has been to hide their very real and very confused hostility towards capitalism and markets.

So enter Thomas Piketty, who claims that inequality can only get worse with capitalism in his new book Capital in the 21st Century and leftist morons screech “See!!! Inequality is the only thing that matters!!! We don’t know anything about economics but we’re still certain that income inequality is a scourge because, well, because the proposed measures for addressing it involve expanding the reach of the federal government.”

Leftists hate the free market because a) the extent to which they comprehend it is roughly analagous to the depth of Hodor’s vocabulary and b) because free markets and a premium on individualism undermine the left’s sacred fantasy that society can be planned and managed and shaped to fit the majority’s will. The statist mind chooses not to accept the obvious superiority of free market capitalism over all the others because the statist believes, like a child, that perfection is possible in this life and utopia is attainable.

Utopia is impossible. Greed and avarice are innate characteristics of human beings. The least bad method for harnessing humanity’s fallible nature is to allow for maximum individual freedom. The absolute worst method for harnessing productive instincts in society is to concentrate power centrally; to trust other fallible human beings with “expertly” administering a just and equal state is to completely ignore all of human history. Leftists refuse to learn the most important lesson: that power corrupts absolutely, that there are no angels among men, and that central planners don’t fail because they have the wrong plan, but because planning (scientific, Marxist, Keynesian, etc) itself cannot work. Ever.

Are the progressives right to be so in thrall to Piketty’s work? Is their assumption that millennials and minorities will forever stay wedded to the tribe of identity politics and cultural conformity? Progressives used to genuinely champion freedom of thought and expression, but those days are over. In their pursuit to establish an unassailable culture of “tolerance,” the left has so convinced itself of possessing the moral high ground that it takes for granted that it has become indifferent to its own cynicism. This is how you get scores of bright young intellectuals at places like Mozilla and Brandeis acting like intolerant clowns by reviving timeless leftist traditions like censorship and the thought police. When you carry as an article of faith the smug certainty of your own right-thinking benevolence, you are more likely to turn a blind eye on obnoxious conduct so long as the culprits are on the right “team.” It’s all a long way of saying that I have no idea what the fate of millennial politics is. However, I suspect that Marx is the furthest thing from their minds in 2014, especially when Democrats and their Marxist-sympathizing base have had the run of the capitol for the past six years, and their ideas continue to get worse. As technology makes us more individualistic and libertarian every day, millennial lusting for a return of Marx strikes me as the left’s latest iteration of adorable wishful thinking. More likely, when the economy ultimately improves (a development sure to be delayed until our current regime steps down) and jobs are being created and filled by the chronically unemployed youth, millennials will begin to awaken from their stretched-thin hypnotism and absorb the wisdom that comes to all men with age: that government is incapable of delivering on its promises. Every effort to fulfill its promise serves to crowd out the productive private sector, which slows the economy and prolongs stagnation.

Maybe they won’t arrive at this revelation en masse, and maybe it will take longer than I hope for my generation to finally open their eyes to the awful truth of collectivism, but I will be more than a little surprised (and profoundly dismayed) should the millennial generation sustain its dalliance with the identity politics left that demands total fidelity to every aspect of the cause, with heretics put on permanent notice.

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.

On Delusion

In examining progressivism today, it is impossible not to marvel at a fascinating phenomenon: the pronounced delusion of the collective leftwing media. This is not a phenomenon isolated to the left. Neoconservatives and mainstream Republicans were similarly delusional about the reality of their political fortunes amid the drawn-out Iraq war quasi-quagmire. Resorting to cheap nationalism and cynical “with us or against us” rhetoric by the time the “Mission Accomplished” banner had faded from memory, the Bush administration demonstrated an unseemly instinct to wield “patriotism” as a cudgel against anyone not displaying the requisite enthusiasm for foreign nation-building.Substitute “Iraq” with “Obamacare” and you see the same delusions infecting the progressives as happened to the neocons almost a decade ago. While substantively different (obvi), Iraq and Obamacare are similar political issues because they are both immense crosses to bear for the party who brought them forth. Each stands today as a symbol of political overreach and as a bleating warning to its respective partisans of which road not to hoe. And today’s Democrats are following gloriously in the deluded footsteps of yesterday’s Republicans by studiously emulating the latter’s stubborn denial about what the Iraq war was doing to its credibility and pretending that Obamacare is not likewise shepherding their party into a single-issue ditch.

The left is essentially undergoing a psychological pep rally and its most committed media denizens are trying to convince themselves that Obamacare is fine. This is no small feat, as progressives from the New Republic to the Daily Kos are wringing their hands over the potential political cataclysm that awaits them in November. Debacle, thy name is Obamacare. Still, there are already signs that some of the loudest progressive cheerleaders are turning the page and moving on. Breathless reporting of “nothing to see here” has predictably flowed from Ezra Klein, Alec MacGillis, Kevin Drum, Michael Tomasky and, of course, the cadre of statist enthusiasts at MSNBC. I share Jonah Goldberg’s delight in discovering the word fremdschämenwhich describes the feeling one gets from watching people embarrass themselves while oblivious to the fact that they are embarrassing.

Delusional people acting delusionally are usually going to be embarrassing, and by the very act of deluding themselves into believing an alternate reality, they lose all capacity for self-awareness or psychoanalysis. I defy any sane person to eschew fremdschämen when listening to someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz say something like this. It is easy to assume that much of the inanities spewing from the mouths of the delusional do not in fact reflect a confused mind but rather an intentionally malicious and deceptive one. But that underestimates the powerful effect of collective delusion. With so much at stake in a country divided into separate factions over a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the liberal society, it does not require a genius to understand the urgency of partisan politics (particularly in a de facto two-party system such as ours). However, it should be equally obvious that institutional parties might succumb to self-deception on occasions when their political mission loses its mandate with the voters. Nothing sparks a bout of collective delusion like a threat to power. Like Republicans in 2006 seeing the writing on the wall but refusing to read it, the Democrats today know that Obamacare is crippling their hold on power, they just refuse to admit it.

Political inertia is a powerful thing; stagnation lingers longer than it should because things at rest tend to stay at rest. Once motion of the sort that Obamacare is creating gets started, there is little to slow it down, let alone stop it. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. The pandora’s box that Democrats were too cocky and hubristic to care that they were opening has unleashed a powerful torrent of voter animosity and hostility directed at President Obama and the Democrats. Lying tends to arouse passions in people, who knew? Mass delusion is the inevitable byproduct of a party’s massive screw-up. Whether it’s the launching of a silly hegemonic foreign adventure or the arrogant attempt to remake 17% of the national economy by placing government at the center of healthcare, colossal errors that point to guaranteed defeat cause people in both parties to behave like children and to deny the obvious consequences looming in a cold November not too far on the horizon.

Here’s to the next apocalyptic mistake resulting in mass confession and apology, rather than denial and delusion.

The Progressive Agenda: 2014

Not since Toto pulled on the curtain has one been so exposed. If the dramatic reveal of the wizard as a fraud and a liar shocked the audience, President Obama’s unmasking in 2013 only served to confirm its suspicions. For anyone paying attention, Obama has always been a dishonest broker, someone who cynically marginalizes and defames his opposition while countenancing no accountability of his own. But for a majority of Americans Obama was a noble if flawed man whose great ideas were subject to continual and unprecedented “obstruction” from his “enemies.” The rollout of Obamacare shattered the president’s reputation as honest and trustworthy and shredded what credibility Democrats had left. Amid the euphoria of government shutdown fallout redounding negatively for Republicans, progressives believed the “fever” of their opposition would break and the public would be eager to put liberals back in charge of the House of Representatives after seeing such extremism undertaken by conservatives. What actually transpired was the stuff of progressive nightmares rather than the wet dream of unopposed politics they promised themselves. The entire progressive agenda was suddenly in jeopardy, all due to Obamacare’s inconvenient flair for highlighting government incompetence. But where sane and sober-minded people would use this moment of intense adversity as an opportunity to take stock and reevaluate their agenda and look for fixes where their policy went off the rails, progressives are seemingly stuck in a perpetual Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor movie where deafness and blindness are the only possible explanations for their agenda moving forward. If nothing else, the progressive agenda for 2014 amounts to that kind of comedy.

So let’s dive in to the morass and swim in the muck and dredge up some more mixed metaphors to convey how gross and icky the progressive agenda really is.

Before we outline what it actually will consist of, let’s establish what the progressive agenda would look like if Democrats were to control the government as they did in ’09-’10 with no pertinent legislative opposition. Obviously there would be a spate of tax increases on the wealthy as the first order of business, followed immediately by a laundry list of new regulations to be enforced by a phalanx of newly hired bureaucrats. Domestic energy production would finally meet its maker and become the stuff of legend and nostalgia. A stimulus at least double the size of the first would undoubtedly be spent on bullet trains and public union pensions while card check and compulsory union membership gain momentum after a federal law or ruling or edict explained that government’s hostility towards employers was really just about “fairness.” And entrepreneurs should be content to outsource their HR to Washington and better not complain of anything so quaint as a loss of autonomy or agency. The government knows better than the employer how to manage the personnel of the employer’s enterprise, naturally. Universal preschool, blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, comprehensive student-loan forgiveness, aggressive expansion of transfer payment programs and social obsessions like gay marriage, abortion rights and the comprehensive banning of things people enjoy are items on the progressive wish-list that have no chance of materializing without an iron-clad Democratic grip on the Congress.

Since Democrats are not going to regain the House of Representatives next November, and in fact quite likely are going to lose the Senate, the reality for the progressive agenda in ’14 is not encouraging. Having heretofore shown exactly zero interest in working with or even trying to understand its opposition, progressives are clearly not inclined to begin constructive dialogue with conservatives now. Were they to harbor genuine intellectual curiosity instead of demonizing their opponents, progressives would discover that we don’t in fact wish to wage a war on women or consign the poor to starve in the streets. Compromises that served the national interest rather than the short-term sustenance of our ruling elites could actually emerge. This would only be possible if the political party most enamored with demagoguery and cynicism morphed into one that cherished tolerance; not just of physical attributes in people, but of ideas and ideology as well.

Thus the agenda does not include anything resembling an olive branch to Republicans because how could the progressives champion a policy that has any buy-in from conservatives? The right is the enemy and so the powerful tribal sensation one gets from knowing and identifying the enemy is enough to keep millions of deluded Americans in the progressive herd. Progressivism is essentially a cause; against injustice and unfairness. Every cause needs a villain, and to progressive eyes there just so happens to be a perfect nominee perpetually auditioning for the role.

Sometimes the villain succumbs to the righteous outrage. Here are three agenda items I expect the progressives to agitate and whine about this year, as they hope to shame Republicans into action using cheap appeals to emotionalism.

Immigration

Both sides of the debate largely disgust me on this issue, as the right too often traffics in apparent xenophobia while the left doesn’t even try to conceal that their true intention is to legalize large swaths of future Democratic voters. As a libertarian I subscribe to the freedom of movement concept, in which humans are free to live their lives according to their own dictates, location among them. As a Texan I subscribe to the realist line that the border cannot be fenced or walled, nor should it be, practically or morally. The border from Tijuana to Laredo is nearly two thousand miles of rough desert and river terrain; not exactly talking about Jerusalem or Berlin here where walls have succeeded in partitioning societies and elevating misery and contempt for those on the wrong side as a result. A fence is just not practical, and any conservative who clamors for one is either ignorant to the details or overtly hostile to Latino immigration. This is not to say that “open borders” is the answer either, utopian and perfect as they would be in theory. We should embrace a lenient and welcoming immigration policy that commits itself anew to the rule of law. The driver of conservative immigration anxiety is the current progressive inclination to view the law the way a card shark views a slot machine: as a quaint relic that only rubes concern themselves with. In the wake of Obamacare, the likelihood of another multi-thousand page piece of legislation that no one understands getting through Congress is identical to my chances of marrying Natalie Portman. When a majority of the country believes the president and his party are dishonest actors and are still simmering hot over being lied to about their medical circumstance, there is no way they are going to enlist the same incompetent government to manage a gargantuan immigration overhaul, because they just won’t trust the government to obey whatever the law says.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage movement is bubbling up once again among progressives who think Elizabeth Warren is awesome and believe Bill DeBlasio is magically going to turn New York into an egalitarian fairy tale. Rags from Slate to The New Republic to Salon have all recently jumped on the bandwagon with pieces claiming that the minimum wage increase is “good economics.” How does one escape this Bizarro World in which people are allowed to state such lies without repercussions? There is simply no good economic reason for the minimum wage to exist, let alone increase. An increase in the cost of labor necessarily means an increase in prices or a decrease in labor, unless the employer is a progressive altruist who abhors profit and enjoys losing money. The cacophony that will ring from coast to coast about the minimum wage in 2014 is probably a precursor to the even more hilarious progressive fantasy desire of a federal living wage for all. You know, the one where the government just gives every American a check? The logical endpoint of every slapdash progressive economic scheme is just more redistribution. Forced egalitarianism, also known as totalitarian socialism. The proggies will get back to their native ideological foundation eventually; just give them time.

Climate Change

If progressives think they have an ace card to play in 2014, it will likely come from their climate change fear-mongering deck on issues like fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. Following the same playbook used to gin up angst about inequality, progressives will deploy apocalyptic language flanked by a hodgepodge of unintelligible and misleading data in order to confuse and distort the issue to the point that it feels morally bankrupt to stand opposed. Hammering dystopic visions of melted ice caps and smoldering hellscapes into the collective subconscious of the population is bound to raise the urgency of climate change in the mind of the average voter. And to the unwashed ranks who remain stubbornly unconvinced that a massive warming of our planet is even occurring, let alone merits an alarm call for radical global economic makeover, the cult of climate belittles us and points haughtily at their sacred “consensus.” Science is supposed to be about inherent skepticism and prolific experimentation; consensus is what matters to a group of friends debating where to have lunch. That “95% of scientists agree…” on anything as mysterious, unpredictable and unknowable as the Earth’s historic climate patterns is enough to pronounce their consensus wrong. Because there simply cannot be consensus on this issue, at least not without political and monetary motivations. At this point I think it quite uncontroversial to assert that with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the crumbling of Communism as a viable governing ideology, it is no coincidence that we see the rise of environmentalism so soon on the heels of the collapse of communism. For all the pomp and celebration by free marketers at the end of the Soviet Union (Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History in ’89 – a bit prematurely – to aggrandize the triumph of capitalism and liberty the world over) the allure of collectivism did not die. Instead it found a new home in the burgeoning environmental movement. And almost every initiative of the greens and the radical environmentalists consists of moving the planet incrementally toward global governance on emissions, regulations and taxation, a communist aim if ever there was one.

Fortunately, the green movement remains rather impotent. Bill McKibben draws headlines for silly stunts like chaining himself to the White House fence to protest Keystone, green groups are disconcertingly influential within the EU and UN, and Al Gore is still somehow respected. But overall the movement is listless and creatively challenged: if protesting a pipeline and the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas (both of which are cleaner technologies than coal and more efficient than renewables) are the best the environmental movement can come up with, I’m afraid they’re dooming themselves to a constant state of pissing into the wind.

Still, they’ll bring all their righteous anger and sentimental nonsense to the fore in 2014. I don’t think it will matter though, as climate change is the least likely of all progressive projects to move out of Congress this year. Republicans could ostensibly get browbeaten into some kind of motion on immigration and minimum wage, but not on climate. My money is on none of the above seeing any legislative action this year, but you can set your watch to the fact that the progressives will surely try.