UK Foreign Secretary William Hague—who was leader of the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001—made a statement in the House of Commons that suggests how realist Republicans in the U.S. might look at the Iran deal. He said in part:
Mr Speaker, reaching this interim agreement was a difficult and painstaking process, and there is a huge amount of work to be done to implement it. Implementation will begin following technical discussions with Iran and the IAEA and EU preparations to suspend the relevant sanctions, which we hope will all be concluded by the end of January. A Joint Commission of the E3+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of these first-step measures, and it will work with the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues.
But the fact that we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program, should give us heart that this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained.
On an issue of such complexity, and given the fact that to make any diplomatic agreement worthwhile to both sides it has to involve compromises, such an agreement is bound to have its critics and opponents.
But we are right to test to the full Iran’s readiness to act in good faith, to work with the rest of the international community and to enter into international agreements.
If they do not abide by their commitments they will bear a heavy responsibility, but if we did not take the opportunity to attempt such an agreement then we ourselves would be guilty of a grave error. Read More…
The Senate majority leader and 51 other Democrats voted today to change the chamber’s rules—departing from over 200 years of tradition—to make a 51-vote majority sufficient to confirm most presidential nominees, though notably not those for the Supreme Court. It’s arguably the biggest change to the institutional character of the Senate since the ratification of the 17th amendment. Consensus-seeking collegiality had already broken down, but now the formal incentive to seek it is gone. That incentive, it need hardly be said, hadn’t proved very effective lately.
In theory you might now get more intensely partisan nominees and greater polarization of the federal bench, as well as cabinets that are even less aware of the need to build more-than-majority-support for policies that affect everyone. American government has generally not been a thing of bare majorities, which tend to be unstable, and the political problems of Obamacare—quite apart from its policy and technological ones—are a product of a short-lived Democratic majority trying to make a great change without securing even grudging support from the other side. This all-at-once approach cost the Democrats their House majority in the following election and set the stage for years of acrimony.
Other changes in the way the Congress operates, under Republicans and well as Democrats, have similarly chipped away at the consensual—or at least supermajoritarian—character of the federal government: without earmarks and the old committee system, the wheeling and dealing that could be used to build consensus across party lines has been made much more difficult. Even earlier, reforms to the appropriations process in 1974 paved the way for Congress to become an “incompetent bureaucracy,” as this Bruce Bartlett piece explains, unable to pass budgets in anything like a reliable manner.
Reid’s change to the filibuster rules, and the conditions that prompted it, are another chapter in a decades-long tale of institutional decay. The book still has many pages to go, but one can guess how it ends. In 1776 Americans were so passionate about the idea of representative government that they were willing to fight a revolution for it. Nowadays Congress is lucky if its approval ratings hover just above the single-digit range.
There are three kinds of victories that Ted Cruz and his Tea Party admirers might have won in the government shutdown. The first is a victory in policy—defunding or delaying Obamacare or else securing significant cuts to government.
The second is a victory in the court of public opinion—coming out of this with the electoral prospects for small-government conservatives enhanced.
The third, a victory that might be salvaged from the wreck of the other two, is psychological—a strengthening of the Tea Party’s own willingness to fight and win another day.
Take an objective look at the score.
The shutdown did not extract policy concessions from Obama. The Affordable Care Act is funded and in effect. Instead of shrinking government, the shutdown grew it, directly costing taxpayers $3.1 million. “Although furloughed workers will get their back pay, taxpayers won’t see the products,” ABC News notes. Whatever projects the furloughed workers were undertaking are still being pursued, of course, only now the workers have had a paid vacation, albeit one that most of them would rather not have had.
Not only did the shutdown not get the policy results its supporters wanted, but Cruz’s tactic itself wasted millions of dollars of other people’s money. In public opinion, meanwhile, the shutdown plunged Republicans to record-low approval ratings. That won’t cost someone like Cruz his seat, but it also won’t make other politicians more eager to support his positions in the future.
That leaves the question of psychology. There lies the biggest defeat of all because Cruz’s actions turned the Tea Party against its own small-government ideals. Read More…
The measure of a party’s commitment to limiting government is what it does in power. In opposition a party can do a few things, but obviously not as much as when it wields both executive and legislative authority.
By that criterion, what is one to make of the Republican Party?
With one house of one branch of government under its control, the GOP is fighting desperately to stop an expansion of social insurance—Obamacare—and might like to cut non-defense spending as well. Because holding the House of Representatives is not enough to repeal legislation, the GOP has to resort to more drastic steps—refusing to pass a continuing resolution to fund government if Obamacare is part of the CR. And now the party is signaling a refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless it gets something in return. Without a debt-ceiling hike, the federal government begins to default in about a week.
But no problem: shouldn’t a small-government party be happy to close the government for a while, showing everyone just which employees are “essential”? And isn’t the national debt something a small-government party wants to see capped and paid down, not constantly raised? Read More…
Senator Cruz represents no new thinking on the part of the GOP—quite the contrary, his whole public persona is based on amplifying the existing Republican stereotype. He’s the perfect movement conservative: articulate, combative, dramatic, but not particularly effective. He frames the conflicts he rides into as showdowns between freedom and socialism—Obama “is moving us day-by-day to being closer to a European socialist nation,” he once said—or, as in the Hagel confirmation hearings, between muscular patriotism and un-American subversion.
He’s avoided taking a clear stand on foreign policy, signaling at times that he thinks Obama isn’t aggressive enough in places like Syria—”We need to be developing a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the [chemical] weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right,” he said in June—at other times saying that America should not act as “al-Qaeda’s air force.” He’s a hawk who will strike a dovish pose if a particular intervention, proposed by a Democratic president, isn’t popular.
This buys him some credit with young Ron/Rand Paul supporters who want to think the best of him because they like his posturing on domestic issues, but in an important sense he’s more dangerous to noninterventionists than an open enemy like John McCain or Lindsey Graham is, since Cruz encourages the antiwar right to be complacent and overlook the differences between someone who’s willing to stick his neck out on foreign policy—as both the former congressman and the present senator Paul have been willing to do—and someone whose foreign policy is basically defined by his Republican partisanship. Cruz deserves credit for the good things he’s done, including joining Senator Paul’s drone filibuster, but that credit should not extend to making any mistake about the man’s fundamental character.
Paul’s filibuster was also symbolic, but there’s a tremendous difference between the educational effect of what Paul did—his message was not just aimed at the Republican base—and Cruz’s pitch to the true believers. Cruz’s position is that the Republican Party only needs to be more Republican, as “Republican” has been defined by the talk-radio right in the past 20 years. Read More…
On a media call to discuss the war just now, Senator Paul said, “I can’t image that we won’t require 60 votes on this. Whether there’s an actual standing filibuster, I have to check my shoes, and I have to check my ability to hold my water.”
Phone calls to his office are running more than 10 to 1 against intervention.
The Washington Free Beacon is the neoconservative answer to the Daily Caller, and it made its dubious mark earlier this year with a sustained stream of attacks against Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. Why the Free Beacon would devote so much attention to Hagel is no secret: Hagel was a somewhat late but nonetheless prominent critic of the Iraq War and America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
The Free Beacon is now giving the same treatment to Jack Hunter, who has written for The American Conservative and today serves as Sen. Rand Paul’s director of new media. Coincidentally or not, Hunter has also been an eloquent critic of the foreign policy supported by the Free Beacon’s ideological family.
Free Beacon’s attack on Hunter involves cherry-picking quotes, many over a decade old, and referencing his career as the “Southern Avenger,” a pro-wrestling persona, complete with luchador mask, that Hunter adopted as an on-air radio personality and as a columnist for the Charleston City Paper. Did a left-leaning alternative newspaper think they were employing a hate-fueled neo-Confederate? Not hardly: Hunter’s columns were provocative and conservative, but anyone who reads them, while finding plenty to disagree with—he’s an independent thinker—will not find hate. Naïveté, yes, and a certain obtuseness about minorities that’s long been characteristic of the right. Over the five years that I’ve known him, however, Jack has re-examined his thinking and confronted questions of fairness that the right has too often avoided. He’s done this while remaining devoted to the canons of Russell Kirk’s conservatism.
Want proof? Read The American Conservative’s Jack Hunter archive. Read this piece, in which Jack, who supports same-sex marriage, respectfully disagrees with its comparison to the Civil Rights struggle, whose magnitude and sacrifices exceed anything else in the past century. As ever with a good columnist, not everyone is going to agree with the argument, but the respect and good-faith that characterize it will be obvious. The luchador mask was a lark while Jack was in his 20s; today he’s tackling the right’s, and the country’s, most difficult questions in a serious and open way. More conservatives should be like him—not media personalities or provocateurs, but thinkers who apply conservatism to uniting a country riven by ideological, economic, and yes racial divides. Jack Hunter has grown, where too many others have only stagnated.
This has been a season of loss for the conservative mind, with George Carey’s death June 21 and Kenneth Minogue’s just a week later—this past Friday. John O’Sullivan remembers Minogue at National Review. The New Zealand-born, Australia-based political theorist—whose most important work, The Liberal Mind is freely available thanks to the good offices of the Liberty Fund—was writing till the end and had recently published a review of Anthony Padgen’s The Enlightenment for the Wall Street Journal. Not long before, he had a very fine essay on Hobbes in the New Criterion.
Here at TAC, Paul Gottfried reviewed Minogue’s The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life in 2011. Earlier Minogue himself appeared in our pages to write about his friend Michael Oakeshott.
This classic “Firing Line” clip gives a flavor of his mind—and his impatience with casual allusions to George Orwell.
The Supreme Court’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (struck down) and California’s Proposition 8 (the court disclaimed jurisdiction) were about the only rulings one could expect from a court of four liberals, four conservatives, and Anthony Kennedy. It would have overturned everything we think we know about Kennedy if the court had upheld DOMA. But an expansive ruling on Prop 8 effectively legalizing same-sex-marriage nationwide would have been remarkable from a court that earlier this week curtailed affirmative action in higher ed and the Voting Rights Act. The justices in the majority on Proposition 8 might seem surprising—Roberts and Scalia joined liberals Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan—but if one may attribute political motives to the bench (surely not?), I’d suggest Scalia and Roberts were trying to limit the precedent while Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan were going for what they could get.
DOMA had defined marriage, for the federal government’s purposes, as only the union of one man and one woman. The law seems to have been widely misunderstood: it did not tell states one way or another what they could or could not recognize as marriage. Now same-sex marriages recognized by state governments must also be recognized by the federal government—that’s the basic significance of the ruling, anyway. There will inevitably be legal strategies that try to use DOMA’s defeat to strengthen the case against state-level prohibitions on same-sex marriage, as well as other repercussions. It’s a win for marriage equality, but leaves the question primarily, for now, at the state level. There are libertarians and federalist conservatives who are happy to see DOMA go. Read More…
A decade ago James Bovard warned about additional powers that might be added to the Patriot Act, powers that would increase the scope of federal surveillance of citizens:
Section 101 of the proposed bill, titled “Individual Terrorists as Foreign Powers,” would revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to permit the U.S. government to label individuals who are suspected terrorists—including American citizens—as “foreign powers” for the purpose of conducting total surveillance of their activities. This alteration nullifies all Fourth Amendment rights of the target, allowing the government to tap phones, search computers, and read e-mail—even when there is no evidence that a citizen is violating any statute. If Section 101 becomes law, the more people the feds wrongfully accuse of being terrorists, the more power federal agents will receive.
Americans suspected of gathering information for a foreign power could be subject to FISA surveillance even though they were violating no law and the information gathered did not pertain to national security. The administration’s confidential explanation of proposed Section 102 notes, “Requiring the additional showing that the intelligence gathering violates the laws of the United States is both unnecessary and counterproductive, as such activities threaten the national security regardless of whether they are illegal.” But, as the ACLU noted, “This amendment would permit electronic surveillance of a local activist who was preparing a report on human rights for London-based Amnesty International, a ‘foreign political organization,’ even if the activist was not engaged in any violation of law.”
Prism, the NSA program Edward Snowden has revealed, does not (so far as we know) extend to reading the electronic communications exhaustively cataloged by the agency, but in other respects it vastly exceeds the data-grabbing Bovard described. And Prism is a program that a relatively low-level employee of a government contractor had access to; there’s sure to be much more above Snowden’s pay grade.
Bovard’s own work amounts to citizen surveillance of abusive government, and this seems like a good time to bone up on it, with books Terrorism and Tyranny and Attention Deficit Democracy—as well as Bovard’s Kindle-only memoir, Public Policy Hooligan, my short take on which can be found here.