For years, the (old) left has been agog trying to discover the deep meaning of the number-one 1971 smash hit “American Pie.” Was it the end of America, or more profoundly of idealism, when “the music died”?
Neither music nor America died, but today there’s little left of idealism. Don McLean himself materialistically sold his handwritten “Pie” lyrics for $1.2 million. And capitalism’s big bank is still here, at least for now.
The all-powerful Federal Reserve, called by securities pro Ruchir Sharma “the world’s bank,” has just shown the world it cannot summon the willpower necessary to raise interest rates from 0.5 to 0.75 percent. Apparently, the extra 0.25 points would panic investors and maybe even threaten Hillary Clinton’s election.
But as two investment advisors who have consistently predicted the course of the post-crash market—Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein of FirstTrust Advisors—responded, setting the rates is meaningless anyway. The only magic the Fed does that counts fiscally concerns money.
Rates are Dumbo’s magic feather to make the elephant fly. The Fed under Janet Yellen has been panicked that raising rates, even by micro-measures, would be like taking the feather away from the big investors, who would otherwise crash right to the ground. Former chairman Ben Bernanke even whispered that “maybe this is one of those cases where you can’t go home again,” fearing ever to raise rates again.
Rates make no difference economically, but they do matter politically. As Sharma demonstrates with real data, “the S&P 500 has gained 699 points since January 2008 and 422 of those points came on the 70 Fed announcement days.” This is new. Between 1960 and 1980, Fed announcements had little effect, and between 1980 and 2007, Fed announcements had only half of today’s clout when it came to moving markets. When real estate value is added to securities, current asset valuations have never been higher over 50 years than they are today. Sharma concludes we now are witnessing an asset bubble that has been caused directly by the Fed’s easy money.
With the price-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 60 percent higher than its historic average, the economist Martin Feldstein fears that raising rates would cause the overvalued assets to fall and pull the economy down with them. But given that 60 percent of stock-market gains have come on dates the Fed has made a policy announcement, if the economy did fall, the cause would be the panic from a Fed political pronouncement rather than underlying economic reality.
I know as little about money and markets as about popular music, but perhaps I could translate economic gobbledygook into English relying upon Wesbury and Stein. First, the delusion: “The Federal Reserve has convinced itself, and many others, that it has ultimate control over the economy.” It does not. All the Fed can do is create or destroy bank reserves “by buying or selling bonds to or from banks. When the Fed buys bonds, it pays banks by creating new deposits” and through the money-multiplier effect creates growth in the money supply. “If the Fed sells, the process reverses and money tightens.” Thus, “when the Fed prints money it boosts spending because there is more money to spend,” but it is worth less, which is called inflation.
This is important. Rate hikes do not tighten money, because the Fed “has signaled it has no intention of selling any of the bonds it holds”—it will have the same $2 trillion in reserves whether it raises rates or not. It is more costly to borrow if rates increase, but two-tenths of a point frightens few when the core inflation rate has been 2.3 percent the past year so that actual rates are negative. As a result of Fed policy and growth-restricting regulations like Dodd-Frank, “all new money has been clogged up in the system and has not created [substantial] inflation or acceleration in economic activity.”
The bottom line is that “Negative interest rates are back-firing because you can’t force banks to lend when few good loans are available and as customers choose to hold cash instead of bank deposits” that pay little or no interest. Wesbury and Stein want the Fed to start raising rates gradually to reduce the political rather than economic power of the Fed, but they consider the “debate about when rates may rise” “a waste of time.”
The only solution is for the Fed to reduce its reserves (slowly), and Congress and the president must cooperate in reducing the government spending and destructive regulation that are crowding out productive investment. Wesbury and Stein are eternal optimists and hope somehow the government may wake up and at least slow spending and regulation so that what they call the current “plow horse” economy can at least struggle through, as it has for the past seven years of “recovery.”
For pessimists, it might just be bye, bye American pie.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies and the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
Outrageous hyperbole is often essential in stimulating the brain.
Such is the case with an anonymous piece posted on the Claremont Review of Books website under the nom de plume Publius Decius Mus. The essay ricocheted around the conservative internet so quickly that it overwhelmed the site on its first day.
In many ways the piece is outrageous, even somewhat offensive, but it asks conservatives the right question. Sure, Donald Trump is difficult and is not a conservative in the old Bill Buckley/Frank Meyer fusionist sense. I myself made that case back in 2015. But that almost does not matter now.
The Claremont author’s thesis is simple. The 2016 election is like United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11, where the passengers decided to attack the hijackers because there was no other choice. The traditional right is in a similar position today. If American society is still headed in the wrong direction despite all our efforts over this past half century, and if the election of Hillary Clinton is guaranteed make things even worse—perhaps irreversibly—what choice is there?
Forgive me for quoting at length, but it is necessary to give the sense of Decius’s passion:
If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff. But it’s quite obvious that conservatives don’t believe any such thing, that they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff.
He concedes that conservative solutions like decentralization, federalization, and civic renewal are great—but they are “utopian and unrealizable” today, especially under a Clinton. Something more fundamental is required, since the “whole trend of the West is ever-leftward.”
Also: “The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.” That is the future for conservatives on the current path to a President Clinton.
Publius Decius identifies “the fundamental issues of our time” as trade, war, and immigration. “Trump-the-alleged-buffoon,” he writes, “not merely saw all three and their essential connectivity, but was able to win on them.” Our anonymous author concedes, “Yes, Trump is worse than imperfect,” but adds, “So what?”
He recognizes that at least a few never-Trumpers, such as the impeccable David Frisk, are correct to be concerned by Trump’s character—but, he argues, it is not as if all presidential candidates have been sound. This is true: I even heard a BBC commentator on NPR the other day admitting Jack Kennedy could not have been elected president if the public knew of his sexual adventures and true health status. How about Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon?
But not all concerns about Trump can be dismissed with “So what?” As George Washington University professor and American Conservative contributor Samuel Goldman worries, with traditional conservatism so weak, Trump could redefine the right according to “ethno-class solidarity,” which “is a form of identity politics that emphasizes the culture and interests of downscale whites.” And yet Trump seems to have no real program to help downscale whites: future immigration restrictions will not change the demographic balance and less trade will not save blue-collar jobs. In that context, “Mainstreaming of white identity politics would almost certainly come at the expense of civil peace,” which no one should favor.
This isn’t to say the status quo on the right is acceptable; all of the critics today agree that conservatism has become rigid and passé. To take just one illustrative example, Heritage Action made some sound points against the labor and environmental aspects of the Pacific trade agreement as foisting terrible U.S. policies on the rest of the world, but the Wall Street Journal dismissed them in an editorial without even stating any substantive objections. The label of “free trade” put to rest any concerns about the actual substance of the treaty. As Goldman notes, such defensive “boundary-policing” creates a “conservatism of striking narrowness and rigidity.”
Goldman quotes George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism as saying that Buckley/Meyer conservatism involved a “process of exclusion, as unsuitable ideas and characters were driven out.” Paradoxically, in Goldman’s paraphrase of Hawley, this ideological policing left behind three ideas that “have no necessary connection”: “limited government, an assertively anti-communist foreign policy, and quasi-Christian moralism.”
But our problem today likely comes from stretching the meaning of conservatism too far, rather than contracting it. Frank Meyer himself—whose philosophy of fusionism largely defined conservatism from Goldwater to Reagan—thought neoconservatism could not be connected logically to conservatism’s core principles because it was too narrow. But political minimization of differences to win elections, rather than philosophical compatibility, became the goal after Meyer and William F. Buckley stepped back from leading the movement. The result then became a conservatism so bland and formulaic that Trump could overwhelm those carrying its pale modern political banner.
And actually, contra Hawley, Meyer did make a philosophically “necessary connection” in a very broad synthesis between the “historic pillars” in his writings: the traditionalist and libertarian dimensions of conservatism do fit together. But Meyer’s politics was more successful than his philosophy. As historian George Nash put it (reversing his order of emphasis), “as a formula for political action and as an insight into the actual character of American conservatism, his [Meyer’s] project was a considerable success”; but “as a purely theoretical construct, Meyer’s fusionism did not convince all his critics, then or later.” Reinvigorating that broad construct should become today’s conservative challenge.
In considering the 2016 election, as Publius Decius asks so dramatically, what other choice is there? Of course, conservatives must be willing to stand up to Trump too. But as TAC editor Daniel McCarthy put it, “the only way that some entrenched policies may change is with a change of the class in power.”
Trump potentially represents such change, but he will need philosophically moored conservatives willing to rush the cockpit to build a decent alternative.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
The latest media shock from the polls is that millennials have given up on democracy.
A quarter century ago only one-sixth of those between 16 and 24 years of age said democracy was “fairly bad” or “very bad.” But today that has increased to almost one-quarter among millennials, according to the World Values Survey as reported by Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk in a recent edition of the Journal of Democracy.
The main reason was that millennials do not think they can influence policy under democracy.
Why the surprised reaction? If the national candidates refuse to discuss the most important issues and keep repeating similar inanities to avoid unpopular realities, wouldn’t cynicism be the proper response?
Donald Trump has endorsed an increase in the minimum wage, following Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—and apparently everyone else in a national consensus to raise the minimum rate of pay.
At the same time, the most liberal city in the U.S. issued a study it commissioned on the effects of raising its minimum wage. Seattle increased its rate from $9.47 to $11 an hour last year and found that the average hourly wage for workers has now gone up from $9.96 to $11.14, which sounds good (although wages also improved for everyone else due to increased prosperity in the city generally).
Still, the same old fly was in the ointment. Those who remained employed did get more per hour but they worked fewer hours and so received less overall pay. Estimates for them varied on whether total earnings increased or decreased by a mere $5 a week. The really bad news was that the universal finding by economists was confirmed: unemployment increased, resulting in 1.2 percent fewer jobs for former minimum wage rate employees.
The tooth fairy did not deliver. So naturally with the labor participation rate the lowest in 30 years, everyone nationally is on board for even higher minimum wages.
How about everybody’s favorite government program, Social Security? Bernie and Hillary have pledged to increase spending for the popular seniors program and The Donald is “gonna save your Social Security without making cuts. Mark my words.”
Spoilsport financial columnist Allan Sloan returned to his Washington Post haunt about that time to present the same old news that Social Security has been in the red since 2012, with more funds going out than coming in. This red ink will widen every year into the foreseeable future if no reforms are adopted. In this case there is some excuse for the popular view that all is rosy, since the government rather hides the facts by claiming the system’s trust fund bonds keep it solvent.
Sloan concedes the trust fund balance is at an all-time high and will not run dry until 2030. Unfortunately, one cannot trust the trust funds. The bonds only count if the government cashes them in and to do this costs the government big money. The Treasury in fact had to borrow $214 billion over the past three years to keep the checks going out. The government reported a $23 billion surplus last year but it actually had to borrow $70 billion to redeem its own bonds, with no free lunch here either.
And the unfunded liability of Medicare dwarfs Social Security’s, and adding other popular entitlements, there is a 30 year deficit of $100 trillion—compared to only $120 trillion in total assets today. Trump’s response is to promise to spend and borrow “at least double” Clinton’s $275 billion on infrastructure. This is the debt former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen called “the most significant threat to our national security,” more than terrorism.
The Commerce Department has reported that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product of all goods and services produced in the U.S. grew by an inflation-and-seasonally-adjusted 1.2 percent in the second quarter. The experts had predicted a 2.6 percent increase. The consumer spending that accounts for two-thirds of the index increased by 4.2 percent but future-leaning business investment decreased to produce the net loss. Indeed, business investment has been negative for three straight quarters. The Wall Street Journal calls it business “on strike.”
At the Democratic Convention, President Obama had just assured that the economy was “stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started.” Compared to what? The George W. Bush “recovery” increased GDP at a 2.8 percent level and everyone considered it a recession. Previous recoveries increased GDP from a 3.6 percent low to a 7.6 percent high.
Government spending—which both candidates want to increase—led to an economic decline of 0.10 percent of GDP this past quarter. Trade—which everyone wants to decrease—accounted for one of the few gains in the report, a 0.23 percent increase in national wealth.
Perhaps the all-powerful wizards at the Federal Reserve will fix it all. Morgan Stanley chief global strategist Ruchir Sharma calls the Fed “the central bank of the world” but finds its “loose policies” building up vast reserves makes it unable to act. “Now every time the Fed tries to tighten, the dollar starts to strengthen and global markets seize up, forcing the Fed to retreat.” Since even Sharma is “unclear” what to do, no wonder the campaigns are silent. One thing is for sure: the little guy that both candidates are going to protect cannot save with a zero interest rate.
Bored with economic issues? A British Medical Journal study found that the third leading cause of death in the United States is medical error, 700 deaths a day or 9.5 percent of all annual deaths. Physician Ben Kocher, who worked with the president on health insurance reform, now opposes the enlargement of facilities under that law as less medically safe. The U.S. suicide rate is now the tenth leading cause of death, increasing 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Alex Crosby traces this mainly to family background—child abuse, parental substance abuse, incarceration, and mental illness. Are health matters worth discussion beyond repealing or increasing Obamacare (if any private firms will keep offering it)?
Major Cities Chiefs Association police statistics for America’s largest cities showed increased homicides in two dozen major cities, with especially large increases in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Las Vegas. The Brennan Center for Justice found higher rates for Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington. FBI Director James B. Comey noted the “perception” that “police are less likely to do the extra marginal policing that suppresses crime” in the wake of reaction against police racial shootings might have some truth.
One candidate blames foreign Muslims and the other says black lives matter. There is no discussion of how current national racial policy exacerbates already difficult local situations.
And of course, there is foreign policy. Is Putin on the warpath or can he be dealt with? How about China, the Middle East, or terrorism?
The silence on the campaign trail is deafening. It all seems about a wall, immigration, emails, empty words about breaking sexual barriers, and more failed national programs to assist the winsome poor—and of course insults, which all are good for TV but make for meaningless elections.
Why should anyone be surprised that millennials are frustrated about democracy? They cannot influence important decisions when no one discusses them, or lies about the reality when they do. Indeed, Aristotle warned us 2,000 years ago that this was the fate of democracies when they learn they must sugarcoat the truth.
Donald Devine is a senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, is the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
The British vote to leave the European Union may just be the biggest shock to English bureaucratic government since the American Revolution.
After the Black Plague destroyed the medieval order, Europe began its 15th-century consolidation with England’s Henry VII’s War of Roses, Ferdinand and Isabela’s Spain, Ivan’s Russia, and Louis’s France, followed by the larger dreams of the Napoleonic, colonial, Soviet, and Reich empires. Centralization has marched through Europe for the last 600 years. It has now suffered its most resounding defeat.
There have been previous dissents: the Scottish almost voted for separation in 2014. Catalans, Basques, Flemish, North-Italians, and new-right parties across the continent today demand autonomy or separation. Norway and Sweden did in fact divide in 1905, as did the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Yet, with success in Brexit, the world’s fifth-largest economy changes everything. It will be followed by many others, and not only in Europe.
The problem is the same everywhere: the inability of an expert, centralized state bureaucracy to serve a wide variety of cultural preferences when these are given the freedom to exercise their variety. The experts in finance, banking, stock markets, the economy, and the rest all forecast disaster if Britain left, but the voters said: so what? We can weather a fiscal crisis, but not the loss of our native values. The overweening, isolated expert bureaucrats in Brussels simply had to go.
A comparison with the U.S. is inevitable. The Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders phenomena shake the same assumptions. Still, establishmentarian Hillary Clinton will presumably prevail in the end, and America’s expert bureaucracy will certainly survive and flourish under her tenure.
And yet, there is a Brussels aroma arising from America’s expert bureaucracy. The official U.S. Government Accountability Office recently surveyed the work-evaluation documents of 1.2 million federal employees and found that 99.6 percent were rated “fully successful” in their performance. This exceeds even the Ivory-soap standard of 99.44 percent pure. A mere 0.3 percent were rated as “minimally successful” and 0.1 percent as “unsuccessful,” a marvelous group of supermen and wonder women.
David Cox Sr., president of the largest federal-government union, the American Federation of Government Employees, explained how this remarkable performance was achieved: “Could it be that the careful scrutiny and open competition among applicants for federal jobs produces a workforce of highly skilled, responsible, productive employees?” he asked the Washington Post. “If agencies take care to hire the best possible people and in turn almost all of those people do at least everything they are asked to do in a satisfactory manner, where is the problem?”
William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, was a bit more modest, saying he thought the percentages were “a little high.” No problem. They are the best people.
Cox was more optimistic about the value of current recruitment practices than was the agency in charge. Questioning the efficacy of the self-evaluation “tests” used in federal employment today, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is trying to introduce a new hiring process called USAHire that actually measures competence, with less-than-enthusiastic support from the unions.
Even with the best people, U.S. agencies concede there are problems. Bureaucratic rules do not result in expected gains. Citizens complain, and many rules are widely evaded. Like Brussels, more power seems necessary. A study by American Transparency found that the number of non-defense federal workers authorized to make arrests and carry firearms today is 200,000, higher than the number of U.S. Marines. Only 75,000 federal workers were armed as recently as 1996.
One assumes the change must be terrorism-related until one realizes the Internal Revenue Service has 2,316 agents spending $11 million on guns and military-style equipment. Veterans Affairs has 3,700 enforcers, with $2.3 million spent on body armor and $200,000 for night-vision equipment, although it had no authorized firearms as recently as 1995.
The Animal and Plant Life Inspection Service spent $4.7 million on military-type equipment, and the Food and Drug Administration was backed up by 183 armed special agents. The Environmental Protection Agency has spent $800 million since 2005 on criminal enforcement. Plants, food, and pollution must be more dangerous than they seem.
Congressional oversight is minimal. There are just too few legislators to follow too many bureaucrats in a confusing multiplicity of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions. In frustration, it has turned over many of its legislative duties to the bureaucracy. It writes vague laws that sound like they will solve problems but leave all the tough details to the agencies. There are only hundreds of laws per year but tens of thousands of regulations issued by the bureaucracy. As Competitive Enterprise Institute government-administration expert Clyde Wayne Crews notes in a new report, executive actions such as Ronald Reagan’s order for presidential review of regulations are essential but cannot take the place of congressional action.
Better legislative and presidential oversight of bureaucratic actions may help, but there simply is no integrity in the bureaucratic performance appraisal system and no incentive to change it. When everyone is rated the same, there is no real evaluation and good work is rewarded the same as bad. A similar situation existed before President Jimmy Carter worked with both parties to pass the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to tighten the appraisal system and relate performance to pay. President Reagan implemented the new law when he came into office in 1981, but it fell apart soon after he left and remains in pieces.
Still, with all those great bureaucrats, what could go wrong?
Only the people: the polls show that a majority of Americans think pretty much like the Brits. The Pew Research Center found in 2015 that 22 percent in the U.S. say they are “angry” at the federal government; 57 percent are “frustrated,” and only 18 percent say they are “basically content.” Just 42 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans say the government does a good job of lifting people out of poverty.
Eighty-nine percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats say they can seldom, if ever, trust the federal government. Six in ten say the government needs “very major reform,” up from 37 percent in 1997. Forty percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say that government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.
On the other hand, Americans like their local and state governments. Gallup shows 62 percent trust in state government and 72 percent in local government today, and has repeated found higher levels of support for lower levels of government since it began measuring in 1972.
Maybe it is time for a decentralization revolution in the U.S. too. America may not be as far from Europe as most people believe.
Donald Devine is a senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies and the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution. He was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
No matter what one thinks about the rise of Donald Trump, it does make one think—or rage, in the case of our cultural and intellectual elite.
Take Washington Post regular Richard Cohen:
Donald Trump has taught me to fear my fellow American. I don’t mean the occasional yahoo who turns a Trump rally into a hate fest. I mean the ones who do nothing. Who are silent. Who look the other way. If you had told me a year ago that a hateful brat would be the presidential nominee of a major political party, I would have scoffed. Someone who denigrated women? Not possible. Someone who insulted Mexicans? No way. Someone who mocked the physically disabled? Not in America. Not in my America.
After years of dictating what constitutes “my America,” of deciding what is allowed as free speech and free exercise, the U.S. elite is having a hissy fit. Cohen is a bit more fervent than his fellows among mainstream-media progressives and neoconservative TV stars, but he expresses their torment perfectly. They can hardly come up with enough epithets.
Commenting on new polling showing that large numbers of Republicans and independents believe men and women should play different societal roles, even a thoughtful progressive like William Galston can write this about himself and his fellow liberals:
We had assumed that some beliefs had moved so far beyond the pale that those who continued to hold them would not dare to say so publicly. Mr. Trump has proved us wrong. His critique of political correctness has destroyed many taboos and has given his followers license to say what they really think.
Imagine, having the nerve to say what one really thinks in the good old USA!
The new candor in Trump’s wake has even reached progressives. Some of them told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof what they really thought when he suggested that the lack of conservative voices on campus was leading to intellectual stagnation on the left:
I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point. “Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi. “The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle. “Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”
It is all almost enough for a conservative to welcome Trump as the Republican nominee for president—almost. He is driving the right people crazy, and in the unlikely case he is actually elected, he might even crack their cultural monopoly over speech.
The dilemma on the conservative side is that if one does not support the comic he is stuck with the crook, or, as even Dana Milbank calls her, Hunkered Hillary. She just cannot tell the truth. She might deep down even be more conservative than Trump, but she will be pushed to the far left by the base and the cultural elite, especially if Democrats take Congress. So she will certainly move the country further down into the social and economic void, while The Donald could do anything.
So, on balance, support for the TV comedian is inevitable, even if it leads to an historic defeat. That is, if he is actually nominated at the convention, which in this crazy year is no sure thing.
But there should be no illusions. He promises not to touch insolvent Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements. He will enhance protectionism and encourage fellow crony capitalists at the expense of markets. Given his mixed record, social conservatives would gain only by chance, having proven themselves politically powerless. Originalist judges? That is not quite what he promised. On foreign policy, he might put America first, but he also keeps threatening big guys like China and neighbors like Mexico. After Barack Obama’s use of his phone and executive-order pen, it is improbable Trump would not continue the tradition, especially with a likely Democratic Senate, becoming the Americas’ northernmost caudillo.
Well, no one is perfect.
In another sense, it makes little difference in the long run. Both candidates have promised to protect entitlements and open the spending spigots. As the indispensable Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest makes clear, debt has brought down as many civilizations as has war, indeed more in recent years.
I am the last to deny Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II credit for undermining the Soviet Union, but (with reservations on many of his other points) Robert Skidelsky’s Road from Serfdom makes a convincing case that the proximate cause was bankruptcy. Debt also had an underappreciated role in the other cultural collapses of the modern era: war reconstruction and open welfare-state spigots prepared the way for the fall of the English and French empires after World War II, and German debt and inflation prepared the way for Hitler. The same can be said for Italy on the way to Mussolini, and even for ancient Rome and Ming China.
Ferguson is most perceptive in demonstrating that the end can come quickly. In disputing Edward Gibbon’s claim of a long decline for the Roman Empire, he argues that the presumed causes—barbarian invasions, epidemics, economic crises, rival empires, and the rest—were pretty much historical norms. Ferguson puts the beginning of the end in AD 406, with the advance of the Germanic tribes across the Rhine and into Italy—which was followed by Rome’s sacking by the Goths in 410, Genseric’s conquest of North Africa’s breadbasket between 429 and 439, and the loss of Britain and most of Spain and Gaul. By 476, Rome was gone, a fiefdom of the Scirii, accomplished in a mere 70 years.
In the modern era, England and France ended World War I as victors with a large slice of the world as colonies. Thirty-eight years later, President Dwight Eisenhower blithely dismissed them as inconsequential and waved them out of Suez. The Soviet Union ended even quicker: From March 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed general secretary of the Politburo over a USSR the CIA thought richer than the U.S., to 1991, when Boris Yeltsin ended the attempted Communist Party coup, required a mere six years.
What is the situation for the U.S.? Based on Congressional Budget Office data, Ferguson estimated that U.S. debt could reach 90 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2021, 150 percent by 2031, and 300 percent in 2047. This compares with 175 percent in bankrupt Greece, and it does not include state debt or the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security, and other government (or government-insured) pensions.
In my last book, I raised a comparison between America and Weimar Germany with great trepidation, fearing to appear overly melodramatic. Now, with one U.S. political party dreaming of recreating an already-failed European democratic socialism and the other explicitly repudiating its traditional limited-government policies, that prognosis seems prophetic. As Ferguson noted, all it takes is one wild circumstance to start a run, even on the world’s only true financial power.
It could take years, but “one day a seemingly random piece of bad news, perhaps a negative report by a rating agency,” could reach beyond the experts to panic the public at large or spook investors abroad, where half of U.S. public debt resides. One-fifth is owned by a fearful China alone, which already has referred to the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” as “financial protectionism.” A worldwide panic over U.S. debt would have no backstop.
In the U.S., sufficient liabilities are already on the books, and both major parties are determined not to disturb public or ideological blindness. Hillary Clinton promises more, and should the Democrats win control of Congress as well, she could easily plunge the country joyfully into bankruptcy. In the less likely case of Trump’s election, policy becomes totally subject to the leader’s whims, which almost certainly do not include austerity—so even with good appointees (he is the boss), the best one could expect would be some rearguard blocking from the House.
Traditional, limited-government conservatives would be left with the small consolations that their understanding of the fundamental weakness of human nature had proven correct, that no battle is forever won or lost, and that their ultimate goal is in another world anyway.
Trump dominates the moment, but Konrad Adenauer may be the better long-term guide for the right. The Christian Democratic legislator survived the Weimer economic crash and endured a decade in and out of jail under Hitler, after which he was still able, at age 73, to become the conservative chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany—and to serve for the next 14 years re-institutionalizing markets, sound financial policies, moral traditions, democracy, a fair and restrained judiciary, meaningful federalism, and economic prosperity.
Not a bad survival vantage point.
Donald Devine is a senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, is the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
Reflecting on the coming nomination of Donald Trump, former Ronald Reagan associate Peggy Noonan hits where it hurts: “A large portion of the Republican base no longer sees itself as conservative, at least as that has been defined the past 15 years by Washington writers and thinkers.”
The no less perceptive progressive intellectual William Galston described the nomination of Trump as “the third major revolution in the Republican Party since World War II.”
Noonan believes Trump’s success was in reaction to George W. Bush’s attachment to neoconservatism and Barack Obama’s to “international climate change agreements and leftist views of gender, race and income inequality,” both of which ideologies came across as indifference to real people’s problems. Trump represented himself as being “on America’s side,” humanizing both abstractions and eschewing traditional ideologies, standing against both obviously failed alternatives.
It has been apparent for years that the problem is more basic than Trump. It is mostly us. Three years prior to running for president, Trump was introduced as a compatriot at the premier Conservative Political Action Conference, after making a $50,000 donation. Trump was on Fox and Friends Monday mornings for several years, received extended exposure from his 30-year friend on the O’Reilly Factor, and appeared on Hannity 41 times. Of course, that is dwarfed by the $2 billion of free TV Trump received from the mainstream media, including Fox, during the nomination process (three times that of second place Hillary Clinton). But his airtime started with presumed conservatives.
Conservatives have spent the last eight years complaining about President Obama with slogans and personal invective, but without answering populist angst. To some extent this was rational, since most people do not have time for long explanations and therefore could not have been convinced by sophisticated alternatives anyway. A successful message would require newsworthiness and time. There was an opportunity for Congressional Republicans and conservative leaders to make news. If they used Obama’s whole eight years, citing constant examples of government failure and striking alternatives, they might have been able to make a message sink in.
Every day the Washington Post provides the material, bursting with stories about government programs that do not work. People avoid this because they want to believe that inefficient government is caused by a bad person or the wrong party. Only constant examples to demonstrate a pattern of failure can overwhelm this prejudice. Citizens knew the status quo did not work, but it required examples to prove the larger reality that the welfare state itself was the problem. Unfortunately, both conservative politicians and policy leaders split into two camps, those who wanted to govern and those who wanted to send messages. The former were playing into Obama’s hand and the later played to Fox News and talk radio rather than to the unconvinced electorate.
It’s understandable that public officials want to be part of the governing process. Voters want to hear that all is right or at least that it can be easily fixed, and are encouraged by a simplistic and unsympathetic media seeking advertising revenue, which very much includes Fox. Public officials were easily coopted. However, those opposed to a governing strategy in favor of messaging also proposed too-easy solutions that linked them to a failing status quo.
The one exception was Obamacare. It is the one example where a majority is still basically on the Republican side. Even there much of the argument was too personal against Obama and alternatives were not provided or explained. On other policies, the failure was that virtually all Republicans in Congress and their support systems insisted on “governing” when the president had no intention of cooperating with them. Governing becomes a co-conspirator with the president when it expects that a tweak here and there will make things right.
The public is not so easily fooled. The result was eight years of losing battles against Obama without educating the public or even the base, which was promised success and then inevitably disappointed. Trump then picked up the pieces. Even if Trump were not the nominee, the likely result would still be eight more years of tweaking at the edges, and failure. With him, Democrats may gain control of both houses of Congress and force both “governing” Republicans and conservative revolutionaries into total policy irrelevance.
The progressive welfare state is now firmly established and will become more so with the election of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Centralized government, however, is dead on its feet and nothing Trump or Clinton can do will address the fundamental problem: Washington cannot manage the complex morass now and both candidates’ solutions for doing more will only make things worse.
This actually presents a great opportunity for conservatives. It is time to learn from Trump what politics is supposed to be about—to have a message and know how to communicate it. The difficulty is that conservatives no longer have a coherent message and even if they did, they think policy position papers are how to communicate one.
Conservatives who do have a message are split across the board: reform conservatives who think better national programs will make it all work and federalists who think only decentralization will change the dynamics; protectionists who fear trade and those who consider it essential to world prosperity; believers in markets and those who believe in central regulation; those for the U.S. as world policeman and those for a limited role; those who would have the Supreme Court force secular “freedom” on provincial rubes and those who find religious freedom an absolute right. There is no coherence at all.
First, conservatives—or at least some of them—must agree on a new synthesis. Once there is some coherent message, Trump can teach conservatives a great deal about communications: act like one believes what one says; do not back down to get universal approval; act boldly with some irreverence and good humor; smile or even laugh.
Then, assuming markets are part of the new synthesis, begin with the minimum wage. It is the Democrats’ number one priority even though most of its intellectuals know that too high a rate puts people out of work. Trump supports it too. How about a Trump-like teachable moment? Up his and Hillary Clinton’s $15 an hour minimum to $100 or $1,000 to really help folks get higher wages and higher unemployment. Call them cheap and heartless when they demur.
Or how about confronting the universal solution of “jobs”? Take some of the enormous funds otherwise wasted on election ads and have the Koch brothers bet Trump a million dollars for each U.S. job lost or gained if he limits trade?
Or challenge Trump or Hillary on why anyone would believe their 76th jobs program will work when none of the previous 75 did? Make them promise to resign for making false promises if the jobs do not appear after two years in office.
Or demand to know why the uncaring candidates are not being bold enough to propose mandatory single-sex open bathrooms and showers for all?
Finally, demand elimination of all federal taxes. Economics Professor Dwight Lee proposes collecting no national taxes but requiring that states give 25 percent of every dollar they raise to the Feds (to be elaborated in a forthcoming Mercatus Center publication). This would solve the Articles of Confederation problem that the states did not give funding to the national government and would shift most federal programs back to the states where the Founders believed they belong. It would be popular and drive even Trump crazy.
Critics need to get into the flow of the new Trump world and play the game. The new rules are not about governing—but call for winning supporters joyfully with better ideas.
When conservatives are neither snarling nor wimpish but having fun with politics, the public will get it. That will allow time to quietly re-do the message and build a new movement on ideas and good humor. This way conservatives can prepare for the day when Trump or Hillary fails, since voting against either possibility is a sucker’s bet.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, and the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution. He was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
Sheldon Richman has just given readers of The American Conservative a superb review of McGill University Professor Jacob T. Levy’s very important new book Rationalism, Pluralism and Freedom—but both are so good they require further elaboration.
Richman provides an insightful presentation of Levy’s argument that two seemingly opposed “strains” within liberalism, which he calls rationalism and pluralism, are actually both necessary to achieve freedom. Rationalism uses expertise to develop centralized laws that promote justice and positive freedom for society. Pluralism prefers free associations that develop multiple choices for their members, promote their various group interests, and act between the individual and state as barriers against government control of their freedoms.
Pluralism developed first in the Middle Ages but was eventually overwhelmed by the 14th-century divine right of kings. These state claims to total power were confronted by appeals to ancient constitutionalism to restore past group rights, culminating in the powerful writings of Montesquieu, who Levy sets as the first true pluralist. His opposite founding rationalist is Voltaire, who viewed these intermediate associations as the source of the ignorance and superstition that frustrated the social progress and freedoms implemented by the rational “enlightened absolutism” of Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, and Henry VIII.
This progress was thwarted by the French Revolution and Napoleon, but ultimately was superseded by the rise of the modern liberal state under the two “unarguably” modern liberal theorists, John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville. The former is set as the archetypical rationalist liberal and the latter the ideal pluralist. By the latter 19th and 20th centuries Mill’s rationalist view had won the day with nation-states dominating their parochial associations to produce the rationality, law, rights, and freedoms of the modern world.
Levy writes that his “personal preference” was for the pluralist side but concedes these same groups can limit their members’ freedom through their internal rules and can lobby outside to have them inculcated as state policy. Therefore, rationalists like Voltaire had good reason to fear powerful plural associations like the church being allowed to provide education, for example. Indeed, both modern secular France and religious India have justified state control of education as a means to preserve a liberal order. The state likewise had reason to fear the family inculcating non-liberal ideas (about women for example). On the other hand, it is clear centralized state rationalism can go too far in restricting these freedoms.
After a scrupulously detailed history of both strains, Levy concludes that while the two advance freedom, both the central state of modern rationalism and the intermediate associations of classical pluralism have internal dynamics that “are more likely to threaten freedom than to protect it.” While the two are logically irreconcilable, they each need the insights of the other. Neither “complete congruence” with general state norms nor full group autonomy work. A “more nuanced” position is required.
Levy’s solution was to set associational freedom as the norm within general rational state oversight but to allow certain exceptions to group autonomy: first for size and extent, such as in a company town, the Mormons in Utah, or Catholic and Orthodox Christianity in certain places; and also for group actions that could undermine the “basic structure of society,” such as families perpetuating inequality, public accommodations denying access to outsiders, and private schools and housing covenants frustrating justice (as in the South to escape desegregation).
Richman was even more favorable toward the pluralist strain but conceded Levy made a powerful case for the necessity of both. As important as pluralist freedom is, it sometimes needs to be restricted by higher authority. He decided that if both are essential, the only solution can be “eternal vigilance”—especially against the much greater power of the centralized state. But he mischievously concluded by adding, “But how feasible is that?”
Richman wisely leaves it there, but there is more that needs to be said.
Strains of What?
Levy spends his final chapters arguing the impossibility of synthesizing the “genuine tension” between plural freedom of association and the rationalized freedom that requires the “possibility of freedom being enhanced by outside intervention.” The only solution is “living with a degree of disharmony in our social lives.” Yet, Levy implicitly accepts that some type of synthesis exists by assuming both strains exist within the whole he labels “liberalism.”
One can agree with him that Hegel’s synthesis—in the sense of absorption of competing theses into something fully new and rational—can only be achieved by defining the distinctions away. But this is only one understanding of synthesis, which can also be understood as a tension between certain values that are only reconcilable when one is forced to make a choice in concrete situations demanding a decision, rather than in Hegelian absorption. But does even this degree of cohesion exist between the presumed two strains of liberalism?
Consider Levy’s argument against pluralism’s claim that possible abuses of power by leaders over members are tenable as long as “exit” is available from such restrictions on freedom. However, not only do large size and geographical extent restrict exit, but decisions originally free can accumulate to allow “no place to go to exit the groups into which they are born.” One generation can freely choose, but its children may be trapped if the cult becomes very popular over extensive territorial ground. His main example is the medieval Catholic Church, although in another place he also pictured the Church as a complex institution with some means of exit.
Or consider the family, which presents an even greater restriction on exit since young children are unable to leave at all or to escape the benefits or disadvantages transferred from generation to generation by its strengths and weaknesses. Education or its lack has the same consequence. The poor, biologically limited, marginalized, or broken child has little “exit” across generations. The same applies to many other areas of life.
What is left of associational freedom when the exceptions are to religion, family, education, property, housing, and public accommodations? Using these examples to legitimize state control of group freedom simply reprises Plato’s Republic.
There is much positive about Levy’s insights into freedom. But at bottom his insistence on two strains does not work.
Consider Levy’s term, “rationalism.” Richman basically treats it as a synonym for rationalist centralization, as opposed to plural decentralization, both ranging along that one-dimensional orientation. It is easy to overlook, but Levy emphasizes at the very beginning that he uses the term rational as Max Weber did, in the sense of “bureaucratic rationalization.” He even warns the reader to keep this meaning in mind while reading the book. But why not use the term rationalization rather than rationalism, which to some extent misleads even Richman?
Even more confusing is the concept that holds his whole project together, the term “liberalism.” He concedes that even using the word liberalism is disputed until the time of Mill and de Tocqueville—but then he traces the proper use of the term back to Montesquieu’s pluralism and Voltaire’s rationalism anyway. Startlingly, he even says that “rationalism” and “pluralism” exist within conservatism and socialism too. So what makes these liberal conceptions?
Although he modifies this somewhat, Levy concludes that terms like liberalism, conservatism and socialism are “nothing but a party platform.” The “political program of liberalism is one about how to direct and limit the power of the modern state in ways that are only comprehensible after the state has taken form, the wars of religion have ended and the attractions of commerce came into focus.” Therefore he does not “think it makes sense to talk about liberalism before about 1700,” which he identifies with “the early modern Weberian state,” “all of which makes sense only in a world of strong executive and security capacity.”
Two Incompatible Views
So “liberalism” is associated with the rise of the Weberian nation-state. But Levy does not leave that impression unqualified. Therefore, he prefaces this discussion with a “prehistory of liberalism” and its “tremendous proliferation” of independent organizations such as universities, cities, the papacy, bishops, regional churches, monasteries, and other independent organizations such as guilds and feudal institutions and independent military orders, starting with the Cluniac reforms and blooming after 1050. On the other hand, he concedes this is the prehistory of conservatism too. So why is this pluralism considered a strain of liberalism at all?
Levy’s personification of rationalism, J.S. Mill, describes in On Liberty “regularly” allowing his “permanent interests as a progressive being” to “trump his commitments to individual freedom.” He found small group loyalties and customs stultifying to the interests of man’s development as a moral and cognitive person. Commenting on de Tocqueville’s pluralism, after offering vaguely positive statements on decentralization, Mill’s Representative Government made it the “principal business of the central authority” to instruct and “the local authority to apply it.” Does this not suggest more than “a degree” of disharmony?
The reference to the great sociologist Max Weber is the key. He is the father of American scientific administration, one of the “eminent German writers” Woodrow Wilson gave credit for his new rationalized liberalism. The word rationalization is critical. This term is easily associated by Americans (and Mill) with progressivism. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is an attempt by Levy to introduce pluralism into the dominant ideology of modern rationalistic Weberian progressivism, a fine project but confusing nonetheless.
Is Montesquieu chosen as a founder of pluralist liberalism to force his opposite to be the less attractive rationalist Voltaire, rather than de Tocqueville contrasted against the more attractive Mill? Voltaire in his stress on expertise and centralization is clearly the antecedent to Mill, Weber, and Wilson, but extolling “enlightened absolutism” is not really the best way to the modern progressive heart. Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, Henry VIII, and the other predecessors of the modern progressive welfare state are all pretty tough to defend these days.
As laudable as is Levy’s noble fiction, considering the two “strains” as related ultimately fails. That both use the term “freedom” is not sufficient. As George Orwell showed, its meaning is infinitely malleable. Levy mentions the great theorist F.A. Hayek as an inspiration in writing his book but he criticizes Hayek (referencing his Constitution of Liberty but not his more sophisticated “Kinds of Rationalism”) for insisting upon an absolute distinction between the two concepts.
Hayek has the better argument. Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and the other pluralists did not lack a central government to sometimes restrict subsidiary institutions (as Richman conceded), but they rejected the all-controlling, expert bureaucratic rationalization of Voltaire and Weber. The latter is a specific form of control requiring full convergence with a state definition of freedom that uniformly restricts all subgroups as the norm. Pluralism concedes a role for central authority but it is limited, requiring a plurality of independent institutions freely to do the rest.
Simply, one can find a central government compatible with freedom without having to concede the necessity for a Weberian bureaucratic state to rationalize all under a unitary conception of progressive freedom.
Donald Devine, senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, and the author of America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, was director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during Ronald Reagan’s first term.
Donald Trump may now be the presumed Republican candidate, but the party convention is not scheduled to close until July 21, and there will not be a nominee until then. Two and a half months is an eternity in this 24/7 media environment. There have been 22 contested party conventions since 1876, one lasting 103 ballots. The fat lady has not sung.
The GOP has survived Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Progressive Teddy, and George W. Bush—and it will survive Trump too.
The Republican Party is an independent association recognized by the Supreme Court as such, able to set its own rules and procedures. And its ultimate rule is that the delegates elected to its convention every four years are in charge, just as state electoral votes are in the general election.
Trump will undoubtedly have 1,237 delegates pledged to him beforehand but that must be confirmed by actual votes from delegates.
After Indiana, the AP has Trump with 1,053 delegates. Forty or so of these are unbound to him and could change their mind. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich have 905 delegates, none of whom have been released. The AP cannot figure how another 69 elected delegates will vote. There are 445 delegates yet to be selected.
It is no secret that Cruz has been electing delegates in many states where Trump won the presidential preference but was too lordly to recruit mere party delegates. One estimate is that a third or more of Trump’s delegates really want someone else, giving the anti-Trumps a strong majority of delegates at the convention. Most are conservative or party activists who neither Trump nor the party establishment can control.
Does not Republican Rule 16(a)(2) say that if a delegate tries to vote for someone other than the candidate that won a binding primary that vote shall “not be recognized” by the secretary of the convention? Yes, but the delegates select the secretary.
Rules expert Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland believes that Rule 37(b) trumps (sorry) 16(a) so that delegates can demand a roll call and vote any way they want. Who will decide? The chairman of the convention, who also is selected by the delegates, will make that decision.
The current rules moreover are only the temporary rules of the convention. Who decides what the permanent rules will be? The delegates do, of course.
Delegates control the credentials committee too. In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower establishment forces challenged three state delegations and that was enough to sink traditionalist conservative Sen. Robert Taft. Maybe turnabout would be fair play.
There would be riots? When the Democrats did that to Hubert Humphrey in 1968, he almost won the election anyway.
That may be unlikely but the delegates could easily choose whomever they desired for vice president, no matter what the nominee wanted, and they should. Liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson was forced to accept conservative Sen. John Sparkman as vice presidential nominee in 1952 and threw the VP nomination open in 1956 too.
Just as important, the convention should set its own platform for this convention and at least the rules for the next convention as well. And they should insist upon featuring House and Senate candidates in prime time in the hope of minimizing Trump taking down Congress with him in the coming loss in November.
Won’t all this be fought by Trump and party forces? Yes, but party activists defeated even a sitting president on rules in 1972 and won major concessions on platform and rules in 1976 from another. In both cases fear of bad TV and the threat of a walkout led those interested in the presidency to concede the lesser evil of letting the delegates have their way.
A party convention is not bean bag and delegates should not blink at the challenge. It matters who sits in the White House and Congress especially in these days of supine legislatures and overactive courts.
An open convention in Cleveland with the Republican activist base in charge would be real party democracy at work, and it would be great spectacle too.
Relax. It is too early for hara-kiri. I was in the middle of the action at both of the last contested GOP convention votes and it took a few years—but there was a happy ending in the nomination of Ronald Reagan.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and was a senior consultant for his presidential campaigns.
Donald Trump, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party?
How could a non-conservative become the nominee of the conservative party when he clearly is not one at all? The uncomfortable fact is that conservative intellectuals and leaders have been working for years to make the term become meaningless, so some charlatan was inevitable.
What is the public face of conservatism today? A bunch of angry men and peevish women on Fox News speaking in the three second soundbites required for admission into celebrity space with slogan answers anyone could predict before they open their mouths. Talk radio at least allows a few minutes for some depth but even many of the magazines are mostly aimed at Twitter level.
It is all meaningless slogans: anti-taxes, anti-government, pro-life, pro-defense—who could disagree—or really care?
What message are they sending? Audience-building anger, first at President Obama, at almost anything he does. Then, anger at all groups supporting the president. Then anger at Republicans in Congress because they do not defeat that president, from those who also claim to be Constitutionalists but ignore the presidential veto and that Congress lacks the votes to impeach him. And anger at the Supreme Court for operating as a super-legislature by those who failed to complain when Republican presidents appointed them.
Now there is much to be angry about—entitlements threatening bankruptcy, courts becoming the supreme national legislature to determine the culture, regulations killing the economy and jobs, the Federal Reserve undermining the currency, a bureaucracy so overwhelmed its stasis frustrates all useful work, even Republican leaders not intelligently confronting Obama. But these do not fit on Twitter. Sloganeering is the easier course.
So when a Donald Trump comes along and is angry using the same catchphrases, why not support him? He was a celebrity par excellence and no one told ordinary conservatives what the mantras mean. So the uninformed and the inert rose to support him. Trump likes big government programs and might even increase entitlements as they near bankruptcy? Obamacare is not all that bad? He likes Planned Parenthood although they sell fetus parts? Free trade is not all it is cracked up to be? He wants more power for the president?
Who cares? He is angry against the right bad guys and he knows enough slogans to get by.
How did Trump get his conservative bona fides anyway? National Review was the founding magazine of the conservative movement. But its current editor initially welcomed Trump into the presidential race as filling a vacuum to speak out on controversial issues, although he later called him a “philosophically unmoored political opportunist.”
A former chairman of the American Conservative Union gave Trump a preeminent speaking platform at the leading conservative forum, the Conservative Political Action Conference, following a $50,000 contribution from the mogul to the organization. After these two endorsements, who could say Trump was not conservative?
Liberalism could correctly brag that conservatism barely existed in the U.S. until the success of Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom in 1944, making the first intellectual case for modern conservatism. It was read by William F. Buckley Jr. and other early National Review editors such as Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk, who created an intellectual journal in the 1950s to translate the philosophy into politically relevant form.
Buckley explained that his role in founding the magazine and the movement was simply to bring the leading right-of-center intellectuals together and force them to synthesize each other’s ideas into a more-or-less coherent whole.
The early adherents ranged from monarchists to anarchists but somehow after prolonged serious intellectual debate they had created the modern conservative movement. Their disciples founded think tanks and other cultural and political institutions, published additional books and magazines and created activist organizations that developed the cadre that won the Republican nomination in 1964—and finally the presidency under an early adherent, Ronald Reagan.
It had its successes but it has been obvious for years that conservatism had lost its moorings. Trump simply sealed the movement’s end. He has already proved the slogans have no overall coherence and the mainstream media trumpeted the charade as the essence of conservatism. It turns out the media gave Trump $2 billion in free media (Hillary Clinton only got half that amount) to do the job.
Take the mantra of Republican leaders that “we all agree upon” reducing taxes. But remember what Reagan said about them. Right at the beginning of his presidency, he proclaimed he was not reducing spending and taxes primarily to save money but to return power to the states and people. There was a broader philosophy behind the slogan. That is what has been lost.
A serious conservatism needs to turn from the allure of power and celebrity and get back to serious deliberation, re-learning how to synthesize conservatism’s traditionalist and libertarian elements for today’s world. Inventing showy abbreviated conservatisms—neo, social, paleo, reform—distract from the fundamental necessity of synthesis. While Buckley and Reagan still have much to teach the movement, things have changed and new fusions of principles and events have become essential.
Indeed, the best thing about Trump’s success is that conservative intellectuals seem to be starting to think again, realizing slogans are not enough. With a bit of luck The American Conservative and other serious forums just may find the way back.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and one of his campaign strategists.
Contrary to wishful thinking, the results of Iowa and New Hampshire only confirm the same stark reality that has haunted the Republican nomination process from the beginning: Party rules are a tragic accident waiting to happen.
The most obvious result of the opening contests is that selecting a nominee will be a drawn out affair. Donald Trump gets bragging rights for a big victory in New Hampshire but so does Ted Cruz for Iowa. Yet Trump underperformed by winning only a third of the vote when the polls predicted he would win more. He gained no new votes over the course of the campaign and the polls in South Carolina show him around the same one-third total. He will not run away with the nomination.
Cruz cannot dominate either, even after relatively strong showings in the first two contests. His 4 percentage point margin in Iowa was impressive since he was opposed by the entire state establishment for his opposition to ethanol subsidies, the supposed third-rail issue in Iowa. The popular sitting governor and the whole state agricultural industrial sector proclaimed that Cruz must lose to save the state. The fact he won against this headwind, to say nothing of Trump and a talented field of others, does show remarkable strength. But he did come in third in New Hampshire behind John Kasich.
What stops Cruz from opening a commanding lead as he heads into nine southern states that should be his natural base? The first obstacle is that the Washington Republican establishment simply loathes him. They recognize Cruz as someone who actually represents change that will threaten their privileged position of power in the nation’s capital. They will fight him with all it takes as long as it takes. The fact they prefer even Trump as one with whom they can cut deals demonstrates the strength of their convictions against a Cruz candidacy of principle.
Even that barrier to Cruz’s nomination is superseded by the threat from the new Republican Convention rules. The Southern Super Tuesday primaries and the other Southern contests before March 15 are required for the first time to award their primary delegates by proportional representation where each candidate wins only the percentage of delegates he receives from the popular vote, rather than the first-place candidate winning all delegates. That method guarantees no candidate will be able to build a commanding lead until after March 15 when winner-take-all nomination contests become possible.
Southern states have held Super Tuesday nomination contests since 1988 as a means to give the region more importance in deciding who will become the presidential nominee and to some extent it has worked. But until now they were not required to split their delegate votes. This year the southern state parties recognized that setting the dates before March 15 would dilute their importance but went ahead anyway in favor of winning mere media attention at the cost of real power, which is in delegate votes. As a result, not only will there be no bandwagon effect for a southern favorite like Cruz but the decision basically turns regional power to the Midwest, Northeast, Florida, and California, a moderate establishment’s dream for a Kasich or Jeb Bush.
Even if Cruz wins every southern state by 5 percent or more, he will only win a few more delegates than the second, third, or even fourth-place candidate. Even if he does well later, he and the rest of the candidates will most probably only be able to limp into a contested convention.
Republican party chairman Reince Priebus is confident that there will be no contested convention. He recently told Time magazine: “I know the rules pretty well, I’m pretty confident in how delegates are allocated, I helped write a lot of the rules and I believe that clarity will come very soon” as to who will win the nomination. The current plethora of candidates “doesn’t mean that, by the end of March or mid-April, the end of April, that it isn’t going to be very clear. There’s only so much money to go around, there’s only so long everyone can keep fighting.” He claimed he was prepared for a contested convention but based on his expertise did not expect one, “so it’s not like I need some sort of expert help to understand our own governing rules or how our convention might run.”
Priebus did help write the rules, but he vastly underestimates the dangers they represent. Trump has spent almost nothing thus far, so why can’t he go on forever? Certainly, the establishment candidate will not lack funds and neither would a competitive Cruz.
Virginia National Committeeman and rule expert Morton Blackwell went to the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee to warn the party’s ruling body between elections of the danger represented by other rules that might affect the nomination even more if there is a contested convention. He reminded them that
at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, a great many Delegates’ votes were not counted in the convention’s tally of the ballot for the presidential nomination. After loud cries of outrage from the convention floor in Tampa, hundreds of Delegates went home furious at the Romney campaign. As the national Rules of the Republican Party now stand, something similar would certainly happen again at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. This time, even more Republicans would be mad at their party. Perhaps worse, as the Rules of the Republican Party now stand, the 2016 Republican National Convention could nominate a candidate who does not receive the votes of a majority of the duly elected Delegates.
Blackwell explained that the procedural rules of the convention were changed years ago to accommodate TV by not allowing frivolous “favorite son” candidates to eat up valuable air time at the expense of the actual nominee. The rules were thus changed to require any candidate to have “substantial support” from several states to qualify for nominating speeches and floor demonstrations. At the last convention, “the Romney campaign amended the rules as the convention began in Tampa and changed the requirement from having a plurality of the delegations in five states to having a majority of the delegate votes in at least eight states. They knew that this rules change would prevent a nominating speech and a floor demonstration for Ron Paul or anyone else except Mitt Romney.” The rules were changed to prohibit “even the recording or tallying of delegate votes” for any candidate who did not meet the new threshold.
The critical action was that the Convention Chairman and the Convention Secretary held
that Rule 40(b), as adopted by the 2012 national convention, required that only candidates who had the support of a majority of the delegate votes in at least eight states could be formally placed in nomination as our presidential candidate and that, therefore, under new Rule 40(d), votes could not be counted for any candidate not meeting the threshold of eight states. To repeat this abusive procedure at the Cleveland convention would be a national scandal and would certainly damage the Republican ticket. At no time, not even at the 2012 convention, when any such threshold requirement was proposed, debated, passed, or amended, was there any suggestion that the national rules would prohibit the casting, recording, and counting of the votes of duly elected Delegates who cast their votes according to their state party rules and their state law. Yet the votes of delegates voting for Romney were the only votes announced by the 2012 Convention Secretary and counted in the final tally.
Here is what Blackwell calculates could happen at this year’s Republican Convention.
Assume that Candidate A wins 38% of the delegate votes at the national convention, then that Candidate B wins 39% of the delegate votes, and that candidates C, D, E, F, and G among them win the remaining 23% of the delegate votes. With many states binding their delegate votes proportionally to their presidential primary votes, this could happen.
Assume also that none of the five candidates whose numbers made up that 23% of the convention votes won the majority of delegate votes in at least eight states. That would be likely.
Then assume that a big majority of the Delegates whose votes were bound to Candidates C, D, E, F, and G would vote for Candidate A on a second ballot. That couldn’t happen because there wouldn’t be a second ballot. Under the current rules, the votes for Candidates C, D, E, F, and G wouldn’t be counted. Candidate B would receive the presidential nomination with the votes of only 39% of the duly elected Delegates, although a majority of the total number of Delegates preferred Candidate A over Candidate B.
Blackwell’s reform proposal was defeated by the RNC, to a great extent in deference to Priebus’s expertise, which insisted this chaotic scenario could not take place. But in fact, this remains a possibility.
One theory is that the Republican establishment does not care if there is a chaotic convention if Cruz would become the nominee since the negative reaction to such a convention would surely end in his loss of the general election and the establishment soon back in control of their party. The more ominous scenario would be for the establishment to manipulate the Republican Party mechanics that run the convention to have the secretary simply declare either Trump or the establishment candidate the winner by only counting those votes they deemed legitimate. Of course, the conservative base would be infuriated and the GOP would lose the general election, but the party would again be back in the hands of the establishment.
Heads we win, tails they lose.
This may all appear implausible in today’s modern media age, but this rules expert was himself a prime participant in the rules shenanigans at the last contested convention in 1976, assisted in the dramatic rules changes at the 1972 convention, managed several contested state conventions, and can testify that this possibility is not mere fable. Indeed, the 1952 Republican Convention did in fact refuse to count the delegate votes from Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana on key rules, votes denying the nomination to conservative favorite Robert Taft.
It happened before and it can happen again. Only this time it could be easier since the Republican National Committee has signaled beforehand that the convention secretary and chairman might just be able to settle the matter all on their own.
And the chairman will be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and one of his campaign strategists.
All of the Republican presidential candidates compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. But almost every media outlet from the mainstream to the blogosphere predicts that Reagan would not even be able to win the Republican nomination if he were running for president today.
The Washington Post highlighted a study from the liberal Center for American Progress claiming to show how Reagan’s policy positions differed from those of today’s Republicans. He raised taxes 11 times, including on the rich; increased government size and spending; signed immigration reform legislation including a path to citizenship; advocated the Brady gun control law; agreed to a treaty on climate; signed a treaty to reduce nuclear arms with the Soviet Union; and took many other positions that would not pass muster with the right today. Back when he was governor of California, he even supported abortion.
Former Reagan appointee Bruce Bartlett took Reagan’s support for these positions as justifying abandoning today’s Republican Party altogether, claiming the real Reagan:
was not a radical who made extravagant claims or sought to destroy government, as most Republicans appear willing to do today. He believed in conservative governance and getting things done, and if bending on principle was necessary, then so be it. I think Republicans would be better off emulating the real Ronald Reagan and less demanding rigid adherence to unachievable principles.
There obviously is some truth to these claims. But they tend to ignore the fact that many of these differences were not positions Reagan supported. Instead, they were forced upon him by more moderate Republican and Democratic Congresses as compromises to obtain something he considered more important. Any Republican who might become president next year will be subject to similar constraints no matter what they say, or even think, today.
In fact, Reagan clearly did not support higher taxes or more domestic spending and would not consider making them part of his platform. He did raise them as part of much larger budget bills to obtain other goals. His largest increase was supposed to result in two dollars of reduced spending for every dollar of increased taxes. He later said it was the worst mistake he made as president. In fact, by the appropriate measure called Budget Authority, Reagan did reduce nondefense discretionary spending by almost 10 percent over his two terms. There is no ideological gap with today’s Republicans on what they desire regarding spending and taxes.
On guns, Reagan was an avid firearms supporter and even carried his own weapon once on a trip to the Soviet Union. He merely supported a waiting period for arms purchases, which is hardly gun control. He supported a climate treaty regarding world ozone levels but it only eliminated a few easily substitutable chemicals, nothing like reducing energy consumption. His conversion from his earlier abortion views was dramatic. On the other hand, Reagan did differ on foreign policy and immigration compared to today’s candidates, as Reagan was indeed less interventionist on foreign policy and more liberal on immigration than most of today’s Republican candidates.
Immigration was very important to Ronald Reagan. He saw the U.S. as a nation of immigrants including him and his family. He actually used the idea of a North American accord between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. as a major proposal in announcing his 1976 presidential candidacy and positioned his 1984 campaign kick-off across from the Statue of Liberty noting her “golden door” open to immigrants. Yet he was also concerned about abuses resulting from the 1965 immigration act, especially chain-migration (where endless non-nuclear family members of one legalized person can become citizens too). Reagan actually supported Teddy Kennedy’s amnesty immigration bill in 1986 as a means to control those abuses. He was later chagrined when the enforcement aspects of the bill proved ineffective.
On foreign policy Reagan was clear about his anticommunism and supported an active role in world affairs. He described the U.S. Cold War with the Soviet Union as “we win, they lose.” He called the USSR evil. While he cut domestic spending, he increased defense spending dramatically. On the other hand, he signed a nuclear reduction treaty with the Soviets that led to the destruction of 2,692 nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, the largest reduction ever. He supported a large defense but hoped that made it less necessary to commit troops. Margaret Thatcher said he won the Cold War but added “without firing a shot.” A study at the Naval Historical Center shows Reagan committed fewer U.S. ground troops abroad than any recent president other than Jimmy Carter. As Martin and Annelise Anderson demonstrate, peace and nuclear arms control were lifetime passions of the former president.
How do these views compare to those of today’s presidential candidates? The nonpartisan CROWDPAC website has created an empirical measure of issue positions and group support to compare today’s candidates in a more objective manner. Fortunately, it calculated a Reagan score too. The measures can be faulted but seem unbiased, supporting its mission to put data in citizen hands and allow them to make informed decisions. They rate on a 20-point scale from the most liberal Bernie Sanders at 8.7 and Hillary Clinton at 6.5 liberal to the zero scale point with George Pataki (0.9) and Donald Trump (1.5), then moving toward the more establishment conservative end with Graham, Santorum, Bush and Kasich with four-point conservative ratings, followed by Rubio, Florina and Huckabee all with 6.0. Reagan earned a 7.0 out toward the conservative end with Ben Carson (8.4), Ted Cruz (9.6) and Rand Paul (10).
Reagan, of course, was the most conservative of the plausible Republicans in the races in 1976 and 1980. On the basis of the scores, if he ran today Reagan would still be toward the right end of the candidate spectrum, perhaps perfectly positioned. All of the Republicans above a score of 6.0 (except Huckabee on economic issues) pretty much agree with Reagan on domestic issues, especially the three at the right end, with Carson most like Reagan on personality. What about on the two policies where Reagan was most different, immigration and defense? Only Rubio and Paul seem close to Reagan on immigration. Only Cruz and Paul seem as pragmatic on foreign policy, with the latter taking the most heat on the issue from the others.
A fair analysis suggests Reagan could be a credible candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016 if such a thing were possible. Several candidates have similar scores to Reagan’s, which might leave them well positioned. Yet Trump is least like Reagan and he leads in the polls. Actually the CROWDPAC scoring represents Reagan after he became president. Candidate Reagan would be much further to the right, perhaps all the way with Paul, who is also most like him on the two outlying issues. On the other hand, Paul lags in the polls.
Whether a Reagan or those like him today could win these days is another matter. We shall soon see. While principles may be immutable, situations change. Sixteen years of pretty much ignoring Reaganism has turned the electorate very sour.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and one of his campaign strategists.
The real shock of the terrorist mass murders in Paris and San Bernardino is the lack of seriousness in the responses from America’s ruling class, on both the left and right. They let political correctness get in the way of sensible homeland-security policies, and since they misunderstand the relationship between various branches of Islam, our leaders seem unlikely to mount a realistic campaign against the Islamic State.
Last week, in the wake of the attacks, President Obama tried to reassure the nation, but presented no new strategy other than blaming Republican gun-rights activists for refusing to enact tougher national laws, even though the San Bernardino massacre took place in the state with the most gun regulations. He urged that we not “turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam” but asked for those merely under suspicion on the no-fly list to be prohibited from purchasing firearms. Republicans responded with an undefined greater toughness and no additional gun control.
Regarding the Islamic State killing of 130 Parisian innocents, Obama labeled it a “terrible and sickening setback” but then angrily turned the blame to Republicans. “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s coming out of here during the course of this debate.” He accused them of “hysteria,” an “exaggeration of risks” and for creating “fear and panic” among Americans. He labeled it offensive and discriminatory that some conservatives suggested accepting Christian refugees over Muslims.
Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responded with legislation to delay acceptance of the 10,000 Syrian refugees proposed by the president until “certified” by the intelligence agencies as terrorism-free and then—bowing to the president—promised that there would be no “religious discrimination” favoring any group over another. But why did both party leaders think it was improper to notice that in the Middle East, Christians and other minorities (such as Yazidis and Jews) are the ones being beheaded and crucified and have no recent history of jihad?
President Obama blithely insisted that intelligence data and interviews could determine which refugees were safe. But FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress last month that “a number of people who were of serious concern” slipped through the screening of Iraq war refugees, including two arrested on terrorism-related charges. “There’s no doubt that was the product of a less than excellent vetting,” he admitted.
Comey insisted the process has “improved dramatically” since, but that Syrian refugees will be even harder to check because, unlike in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have not been on the ground collecting information about the local population. “If we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data,” he said. “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.” And the one characteristic easiest to use to verify those less likely to bomb Westerners, religion, is disallowed by both political party leaders as improper discrimination rather than common sense.
Nor, as Chris Christie has charged, were Republicans who supported limits on government surveillance activities negligent. France has fewer limitations on domestic spying, and that did not prevent the Paris attacks.
A Refresher Course on the Politics of Islam
Fourteen years after 9/11, U.S. leaders still cannot even identify the enemy. Obama, imitating his supposedly incompetent predecessor, rejects any reference to Islam and only decries “terrorists,” as does most of the media. In his White House address, he correctly said that “ISIL does not speak for Islam” but only identified the attackers as those “embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West,” saying “an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities,” without naming it. Interestingly, he then reversed himself in less than a month and called for “stronger screening” for visas, noting that the “female terrorist” had entered the country through a waiver.
In contrast, the hawkish neoconservatives insist on calling the enemy “Islamic extremists.” Islam, however, is not a unitary religion, no more than is Christianity. All have had divergent sects almost from the very beginning. The New York Times reported last year that the top FBI counterterrorism chief could not distinguish between the two main divisions of Islam, Sunni and Shia. It is not Islam but Sunni Islam, or more particularly Salafi Sunni Arab Islam—or even Wahhabi Sunni Salafi Islam or Deobandi Asian Islam (evolved from Sunni and today Wahhabi) that have been the source of most of the terrorism, almost all of it lately against Americans.
The San Bernardino killings shocked conventional wisdom when it was reported that Tashfeen Malik shot first and was only followed by her more reluctant husband Syed Farook. We learned more not from the FBI or the president but from a single Washington Post reporter who interviewed the female terrorist’s best friend in Pakistan, who said Malik became radicalized while going “nearly every day” to a madrassa school that “belongs to the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.” Still the rest of the media remained fixated upon some amorphous notion of “terrorism.”
Who specifically has attacked the U.S.? It was, of course, al-Qaeda that was responsible for the horrendous attack on 9/11 that opened the current phase of attacks. Its founder Osama bin Laden was a Saudi Arabian Sunni Wahhabi. Salafist-derived Wahhabism is a Sunni puritan school that idealizes the early Muhammad and his first associates and rejects any later liberalization or technical or moral modernizing, which it considers as the cause of Islam’s modern decline. Bin Laden, following Salafi Abdallah ‘Azzam’s teaching that every Muslim is obliged to defend Islamic lands against infidels and their teachings, objected violently to U.S. presence on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.
Having accused the Saudis of insufficient zeal against infidels, bin Laden was forced into exile in Sunni Sudan. Expelled from there under U.S. pressure in 1996, he moved to Afghanistan to secure the protection of the Deobandi Sunni Taliban. From his exile, he issued “a declaration of war” and armed struggle against U.S. troops stationed in Arabia and for harming Sunnis in Iraq by sanctioning Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the 1996 explosions in Dhahran, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen, saying they were a warning to avenge the collusion between the Saudi regime and the “Zionist-Crusade” alliance.
Al-Qaeda continues in Syria today under the name al-Nusra and is probably still the next most effective force in the region, and of course is still Sunni Salafi. What is now known as the Islamic State (or ISIL or ISIS) separated from al-Qaeda by claiming to be the “commander of the faithful,” intending to then claim the Caliphate, including the power to decide what is and is not Sunni. Its Salafi roots have not been mitigated by the fact that former Saddam military officers became a critical part of the its leadership and perhaps to some extent manipulated the true believers. But if there was manipulation, it was in the context of Sunni Wahhabi doctrine.
Sunni and Shia forces have been competing since the seventh century. Their war against each other shapes all events in the region. Because al-Qaeda and ISIL are Sunni, they regard Shi’ites as heretical. But while al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan underplayed the differences between Sunni and Shia, its Iraqi branch—the group that transmuted into ISIL—insisted on war with Shi’ites generally, demanding that all Sunnis in Iraq attack Shi’ite civilians and holy sites. Iraq’s Shia majority struck back with equal ferocity against the Sunni minority. Thus when ISIL, which had gathered strength in Syria, marched back into Iraq in force in 2014, the Sunni population first greeted it as its protector.
Syria’s Sunni majority had rebelled against the Shi’ite-related Alawite dictator Bashar Assad beginning in 2011. Iran, the one and only Shia power, went to Assad’s aid, along with its Lebanese Shia ally, Hezbollah. Together they saved the Assad regime’s hold in Syria. ISIL, however, took control of the Sunni-majority northeast and erased the border with Iraq. Thus, ISIL runs what one might call the Sunni-stan that stretches from Raqqa to Ramadi.
The U.S. government’s response has been to try straddling the Sunni/Shia divide, confusing and infuriating both sides. The U.S. allied with a self-described Sunni, Saddam Hussein, in the Iran-Iraq war. By overthrowing Saddam in the following Iraq war, it allied de facto with Shi’ites. Now the U.S. has allied with Sunnis again in the former Syria (and former Iraq) in the forlorn hope that they will fight ISIL for us. This is unlikely to work with their fellow Sunni Salafi.
At a minimum, we must identify who the enemy is now—not all Islam, although all of it is affected to some degree by its early militaristic orientation. Shi’ites in Iran did take U.S. embassy staff hostage in the 1970s, were involved in the bombing of U.S. troops in Lebanon in 1983, and some militias fought sporadically against Americans in Iraq. The U.S. may still owe them some retribution for these attacks but that is not today’s pressing business. Shi’ites certainly had nothing to do with 9/11 or Paris or Syria or the recent attacks in Europe or America. The current enemy from the West’s perspective cannot be Shi’ites or even all Sunnis but is—and must be clearly labeled—Salafi Jihadism or Wahhabi Jihadism, sects which unfortunately are embedded in the Sunni world, making U.S. alliances with Sunnis difficult.
A Realistic Challenge to the Islamic State
Once the competing forces are identified, one must look carefully at the facts on the ground in Syria. One careful evaluation comes from Senator Rand Paul, who last month argued:
There may be no good guys in this war. You have ISIS on one side and Assad on the other. Really, part of the problem is ourselves [since allies] Saudi Arabia and Qatar poured millions of tons of weapons into that civil war. That pushed Assad back and allowed ISIS to grow. Remember, only a year or two ago, President Obama, Hillary Clinton and many Republicans wanted to bomb Assad. I think had we done that, ISIS may well now be in control of all Syria. We need to think before we act and understand that intervention doesn’t always achieve the intended consequences.
President Obama and even “hawks in our party” supported giving arms indiscriminately to the so-called Syrian moderates, Paul continued. Both groups made Assad the primary enemy and the U.S. almost went to war against him. The U.S.-trained Syrian moderates crumbled at their first engagement, abandoning weapons that were “snapped up by ISIS,” as Paul put it last May. He was criticized then by neoconservative Charles Krauthammer for supposedly not realizing that Assad was in cahoots with ISIS in agreeing not to attack each other—even though ISIS took the city of Palmyra from Assad’s forces the next week.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s discussions in Vienna proposing a Syrian ceasefire at least include Assad supporters Russia and Iran, but the United States is still insisting with Saudi Arabia and Turkey that Assad must be removed immediately, rejecting Russia’s suggestion of even an 18-month transition until the next presidential election in Syria. No Syrians were invited to the discussions of their own fate.
In fact, other than the Syrian Kurds, Assad and his Iranian surrogates are the only troops on the ground fighting effectively against ISIL. Expecting Sunni Turkey or especially Wahhabi Saudi Arabia to send troops against their fellow sectarians is naïve. At best the latter might be convinced to stop arming al-Nusra and the former from attacking the Kurds. All of the participants on both sides are less than perfect and Europe does not have the firepower to be effective. Twenty French bombs as a first response to the attack on their capital city was a pathetic admission of weakness, and even that required U.S. assistance. At least Russia has real air power. But as the deep underground tunnels in liberated Sinjar demonstrated, air is not enough.
Obama allows his ideology to get in the way of recognizing that as “evil” as Senator Paul said Assad was, the Syrian president represents the lesser of two evils in Syria. The Islamic State attacked Paris and set Washington D.C. as the next target. The horrific group is today’s problem. It is even more evil and is directly threatening the U.S. with its own promised attack. While ISIL’s threat was only to Western “crusaders,” they target all Westerners—even the most secular atheists. Assad, on the other hand, tends to protect or at least not persecute Jews and Christians. And Assad and his allies at least have ground troops. By not understanding that such distinctions between evils are the essence of statecraft, Obama proves that he simply is not up to the job. There is no solution without Assad forces.
While the pacifist left might think that all would be fine if America had stayed home (and I did write a column in late 2002 opposing the coming Iraq invasion), the present reality finds the U.S. mired down. President Obama may think that if the West makes nice with Islam the majority of Sunnis “who share our values” will defeat the terrorists and Assad will somehow just go away because he is a bad guy. This is delusional. They certainly do not share our values.
Neoconservatives and liberal interventionists are just as mistaken for calling for U.S. ground forces “for as long as it takes.” Robert Kagan’s plan is to send 30,000 troops to establish a “safe zone” for refugees and 10,000 to 20,000 more to “uproot” Islamic State from Syria and Iraq. Then he would apply pressure to remove Assad and Russia, just as the U.S. has used its muscle to create today’s “liberal world order” these “past 70 years.” Once this is successful, French, Turkish, NATO and Arab forces would replace U.S. forces. Good luck with that given Kagan’s own admission that NATO has no replacement forces and that Arabs will help only when we fully subdue the region. And after fourteen years in the Middle East, Americans are not likely to accept Kagan’s insistence on “keeping a lid on things” indefinitely. This is a dream world.
The U.S. must show some response to the horrific Paris and San Bernardino attacks and especially the ISIL threat to attack Washington D.C. First, Salafi Jihadism and its branches must be identified as the problem, then confronted and properly distinguished from Islam generally.
The only military solution, without years of massive numbers of American boots on the ground, is to continue the limited U.S. role, but with perhaps more air power. We must start cooperating with Russia, and supporting Assad and Kurdish land forces against the Islamic State barbarians. Only then can the U.S. consider becoming a less prominent ingredient in the Middle East cauldron, where ancient vendettas continue to poison the region.
Millennials entered the popular imagination in 2008, when pollsters found people born between 1980 and 2000 were overwhelmingly supportive of Barack Obama for president. While the term had been used earlier, the dramatic election results that year permanently established the new designation. Millennials voted for Obama by an impressive two-to-one margin, 66 to 32 percent, higher than any group other than African-Americans. As a result they were labeled as ideological left-liberals, a solid base for Democratic victories for as far as the eye could see.
This view of millennials as left-leaning was reinforced by the more recent gay marriage debate, where polls found millennials supporting same sex marriage much more than other generational cohorts, at 70 percent, 10 percent higher than the next most supportive generation. As millennials surged this year to become America’s largest generation, this solidified the view of them as Democrats-forever, especially by a media with liberal predilections.
But this characterization has always been a myth.
A Reason-Rupe Poll last year presented a more nuanced view. A majority of millennials did tell pollsters they preferred a larger government with more liberal services. But when asked about such a government if it required higher taxes to pay for the services, 57 percent preferred a smaller conservative government with fewer services. Almost two-thirds not only thought government was usually wasteful but preferred free markets to a regulating government. Yet, substantial majorities supported government to provide for the poor, build public housing, support college education, and guarantee living wages (although the question did not mention the level of government required to achieve such goals).
Two-thirds of millennials did self-identify as moderate or strong liberals on social issues, generally were opposed to government restrictions on lifestyle matters, supported same-sex marriage legalization, and opposed government restrictions on abortion. Yet, as on economic issues, there were qualifications. Only one-quarter of millennials favored legalizing abortion “in all cases,” but most would restrict them only under some circumstances. Even for same-sex marriage legalization, only 25 percent said they felt so strongly about the matter that they would vote against a candidate on those grounds alone, as opposed to 20 percent who would not vote for a candidate who favored such marriages.
Even politically, Pew found that millennials changed over time, being rather evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in the 2000 election, zooming to 53 to 37 percent toward Democrats in 2004, and up again to 62 to 30 percent for Obama in 2008; but they were back down to 54 to 43 percent Democratic in 2014.
Way back in 2010, when the Pew Research Center first popularized the category, millennials were asked open-ended questions about what were the “most important things in their lives.” The five most spontaneously-mentioned priorities were: becoming a good parent (52 percent), having a successful marriage (30 percent), helping others (21 percent), owning a home (20 percent), and living a religious life (15 percent); only then followed by having a high-paying career (15 percent) and having more free time (9 percent). Millennials reported closer relationships with their families and were much more supportive of a responsibility to care for elderly parents than earlier generations. These do not seem to be wildly leftist views.
What is most obvious about millennials is that they are less trusting of individuals and less comfortable with social institutions, including government. A mere 19 percent told Pew in 2014 that most people can be trusted compared to twice that level of trust among seniors that year. Half called themselves independents rather than identifying as Republican or Democrat, compared to only a third of their elders. And while they were three times less attached to institutional religion as seniors, still only 29 percent said they did not belong to a religion at all.
Pew found fewer millennials considered themselves religious, patriotic, or environmentalist than any earlier generation. Still, 86 percent said that they believed in God, although with less certainty than older Americans, and only 11 percent said they did not believe at all. All in all, the only convincing support for the liberal typecast was that only 26 percent of millennials were married compared to 36 percent of Generation Xers and 48 percent of Boomers.
Even the marriage stereotype might be premature. A new forecast by Recent Demographic Intelligence notes that when the oldest of the millennials reached marriageable age in their twenties the economy was just recovering from the Great Recession, a time when all groups were delaying marriage or having children, married or not. Now, as the millennials are nearing their 30s, 59 percent of children born to them had married parents in 2015, which RDI forecasted will rise to 77 percent over the next decade. More are getting married, having children, and buying homes. Pew estimated that while the marriage rate of millennials will remain below earlier generations, in the end only one quarter will remain unmarried.
Why do millennials seem to be settling down like earlier generations, especially when a recent study in Germany by Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskyla found that married people with children are sadder than those without? Self-described “Gay Uncle” Brett Berk—who considered himself happier because he and his partner never had children—questioned why so many prefer having children anyway. He concluded that other studies do show that longer-term life satisfaction is higher among those who have children, because at the end they “feel they have accomplished something meaningful.” They “feel supported in their old age by the close community of relatives they’ve created.” Apparently millennials came to the same conclusion.
In sum, millennials seemed perhaps a bit more liberal on social and economic issues than the population but not much. A prediction: as millennials mature they will become increasingly conservative and indeed, with the younger millennial unemployment rate still double the overall rate, will probably even vote Republican in the 2016 presidential election, undermining the myth entirely.
Ryan T. Anderson has written what will become the standard argument for traditional marriage. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom is his rational explanation of what marriage is, why it is essential to society, and why it is necessary to enshrine the traditional position in law.
His most important contribution is to identify the two fundamentally competing views of marriage that uncomfortably co-exist in America today. The first is the traditional view of the permanent, exclusive union of one man and one woman inherently aimed at the rearing of children. The competing “consent” version of marriage, in contrast, does not require monogamy, exclusivity, or permanence—only deep consensual romantic attachment.
The foundation of Anderson’s argument for traditional marriage is that it is natural, based in human nature, and required for the procreation and development of children within a protective environment. The second type of union puts the “emotional commitment” of the partners before all else and could characterize a heterosexual, homosexual, or other relationship.
Of course, not all traditional marriages produce children, but it remains possible in a male-female relationship through changes in desires for children, natural recovery from periods of sterility, or new technologies. Until “about the year 2000” the idea of marriage as only between one man and one woman “has been nearly a human universal.” The basic fact is that it “takes two to make a baby.” Here the “lovemaking act is also the life-giving act.” It requires exclusivity and permanence to keep the “comprehensive community” of union together, including the wider community of the extended family, all for the protection and development of children.
When a child is born a mother is naturally there. Having a husband “increases the odds the father of the child will be committed” to the mother and child. Anderson argues there is no such thing as “parenting” but merely mothering and fathering, with different but complementary “gifts to the parenting enterprise.” Citing social science research he argues mothers bring feeding, understanding of infants, and comfort. Fathers bring discipline, play, and social challenge. Research finds the importance of marriage clearest when it breaks down: “Being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.”
The rival, emotional type of union is open to any set of individuals who desire to be in union, gay or straight, monogamous or multiple, or otherwise. While children may be produced, they are secondary. The only criterion of union is love and desire. The difference between the traditional and consent relationships is most clear when it comes to gay unions and conflicts over the right to the term “marriage” and its meaning in law. Anderson quotes activists such as Masha Gessen arguing that the whole point of legalizing gay marriage is to supersede the idea of traditional marriage, which she does not believe should even exist. Andrew Sullivan predicts the lower rate of sexual exclusivity in same-sex unions will lead to the same “openness” in traditional marriages. E.J. Graff acknowledges same-sex marriage changes the meaning of marriage from “sex and diapers” to “sexual choice.”
The traditional or “comprehensive” view of marriage is not anti-gay but is conceived as the natural means of most effectively raising children from ancient times until today. Anderson argues that limiting marriage to one man and one woman does not violate anyone’s rights. Same-sex relationships have been legal for a decade everywhere in the U.S., may even be consecrated by a religion, and most employers will grant them equal benefits.
The government, of course, settled the debate by imposing the consensual definition of marriage from above, indeed through the courts with little public involvement. Anderson recognizes that the breakdown of the traditional marriage culture and the adoption even by many straight marriages of the consent ethic long preceded the court decision. Permanence, exclusivity, and monogamy had all broken down with the rise of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, non-marital childbearing, recreational sex, and pornography—promoted by a counter-cultural media, Hollywood, and intellectual elite. Reversing this “judicial tyranny” and culture requires a powerful opposition movement, one that creates and funds numerous traditional institutions to confront and challenge consensual marriage in both culture and law.
Anderson sets a fourfold mission for his most important institutions in this battle, the churches: they must frame an appealing case for traditional sexuality; create ministries and meaningful non-marital relationships for those with same-sex attractions; defend their own and others’ religious liberties; and provide guidance for those forced to choose between following their faith and the law. Church members must find ways to “live out the truth about marriage and human sexuality” in mutual faithfulness for themselves, their children and their religion.
Such a counter-movement would need dedicated individuals. “So the first thing we need to do is live the truth about marriage ourselves.” He asks each individual to become a “countercultural witness” using reasoned debate and Christian-like “discipleship” to change the moral climate of America. His model for such an ambitious goal is the success of Christianity worldwide with all its faults, changing the world for the better.
Anderson views religion as an inherent natural right to act on individual “judgments of what truth demands.” Thus he objects to activists who would use nondiscrimination laws to penalize those not wishing to participate in gay weddings, to force Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services, and to threaten private religious colleges and schools if they do not accept gay organizations. This differs from government anti-discrimination laws against racism, since anti-black bias was deeply entrenched by years of slavery and segregation law that required significant limits on private actions. He supports the proposed First Amendment Defense Act, which would forbid discrimination against supporters of traditional marriage in government grant-making.
But beyond political organizing, how will the government adopt such laws when they are the source of the threats he wants it to correct? Although Anderson sets religious freedom as a right to act on its truths, he is forced to add “within the limits of justice and the common good,” which will be defined by the government. While he correctly recognizes the danger government presents to traditional marriage, his program is caught in its web. In any event, it is clear that organizing a counter movement will take time, perhaps a very long time when the opposition controls the culture (even, he concedes, Fox News). That means gay marriage will become institutionalized. He might have explored what might be done at more local levels.
First, the states will all have to rewrite their laws. Much can be accomplished by understanding how children are to be treated under different parental relationships. Actually, government has done little to regulate marriage itself and that will continue. But the fact of children cannot be ignored. Court cases at the state level already have had to deal with the children of gay couples differently, especially in custody cases after divorce. There is a natural equality in two biological parents seeking custody that does not exist in gay relationships since in the latter both did not participate equally in the creation. So two streams of law will naturally evolve for each type of union and this development will help elaborate natural differences.
Second, as gay unions become institutionalized in law, some distinction can be kept between the two versions socially. While civil and religious marriage have been interwoven over the years of common definition, it is no longer possible when the basic conceptions diverge. Most evangelical churches; the Catholic, Orthodox, and even some mainline Protestant churches; and Jewish and Islamic orthodoxies actually require a distinction. These faith communities can separate civil marriage from their religious rites and resign from being state agents certifying civil marriages. Requiring a separate certificate would probably reduce religious marriages but would preserve their definition and keep their ministers from participating in a practice proscribed by their faiths. Such religious marriages might even change their terminology to use the word “matrimony” to affirm the distinction. For Catholics the term is already in their catechism.
For Anderson, the urgent need is re-focusing marriage on children. If marriage is not about “sex and diapers,” what happens to the kids? Today, “we have seen the unfettered desire of the strong—adults, the affluent—pursued at the expense of the vulnerable—children, the poor.” Two thousand years of Western history gives him hope that a richer sense of human life, including traditional marriage—which has been history’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children—can be recovered if those who agree have the courage of their convictions.
It was long ago, but the scene is burned in my memory. My Army drill sergeant informed us how lucky we were that a previous recruit had died on the infantry range. The drill instructors (DIs) had been told to loosen procedures so as not to kill any more of “you college boys.” We were mostly New York City wise-guy reservists taking basic training after university graduation.
Our DI sure seemed to push the edge anyway and, struggling as I did, I always wondered how tough the previous training must have been. Later I had the opportunity to learn that the training loosened even more over the years to accommodate what Arnold Schwarzenegger called the increasing number of “girlie men” in our times.
By 2010, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, told the New York Times that “the soldiers we’re getting in today’s Army are not in as good shape as they used to be.” The percentage of male recruits who failed the most basic fitness test at his training center rose to “more than one in five in 2006, up from just 4 percent in 2000.” In 2002, only three recruits suffered stress fractures. But last year the number rose to 39 and the percentages were “higher” for women.
The Army’s solution was to deemphasize “traditional sit-ups,” for more agility and balance training, while increasing the difficulty more gradually and setting up a multi-week course of linked exercises, rather than offering separate drills. There were fewer sit-ups, different kinds of push-ups, and fewer long runs, which may be good for building strength and endurance but also increased injuries. The new procedures also did not necessarily prepare soldiers for carrying heavy packs or sprinting short distances. “We haven’t eliminated running,” General Hertling said. “But it’s trying to get away from that being the only thing we do.”
Physical requirements have been gradually sliding downhill for a long time. When I was personnel director for the U.S. civilian government, recommendations for reducing physical qualifications for demanding occupational classifications such as firefighters, police, welders, masons, press operators, carpenters and the like were a constant during my tenure.
This summer’s controversy surrounding the successful completion of Ranger training by two women—Army Capt. Kristen Griest and First Lt. Shaye Haver—has been brewing for a very long time and is only incidentally about sex. There is no question that these are remarkable women whose determination should inspire anyone. But the Army had to explain that these first two female Ranger school graduates had twice failed the physically demanding first phase of the training but were allowed to take it a third time, together with the remaining phases, at which time they successfully completed the requirements. The spokesman conceded it was “rare” to allow a soldier to be allowed to start over from the beginning after failing the same phase twice. Reporters were assured that the two women met all of the requirements the third time.
Major Jim Hathaway, the number two official in the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, modified this explanation a bit, taking to Facebook to respond to the criticism:
The women were not afforded any advantage on recycles. They went through Darby Phase, recycled and were Darby inserts. Upon a second failure they were offered a Day 1 recycle. This means they started Day 1 and had to complete the Ranger Assessment Phase a second time. There is no advantage to this. Would any of you volunteered to go through RAP week twice and take a Day 1 recycle? Most people would not as evident by the several men who were also offered a Day 1, but declined. The Day 1 recycle precedent has been in place for many years, and is nothing new. Unless you have been part of the [Ranger Training Brigade] leadership … and have sat on the academic boards you would not know how common it actually is.
William Sabata, a former Ranger, 25-year soldier, and military science professor, was unconvinced, pointing to “the overwhelming amount of effort put into getting women into the course” and getting two to finish it:
Even before the 20 women were selected, there was a concentrated effort to prepare them and the cadre at the school. Once these arrangements were in place and 19 of the 20 women arrived, there were multiple failures in passing course requirements that led to an attrition rate of 90 percent, and the women who graduated from the 62-day program had recycled through several phases and took an additional 67 days to finish.
Sabata also cited the “pressure on the officers of the training brigade,” with “higher commands … scrutinizing and evaluating the actions at the school.” These officials “expected results (read graduates) and would not look kindly on the failure to graduate at least some women from the course.”
Lieutenant Michael Janowski took the course with the two women and defended them. He told a press conference that he was the gunner for a M320 grenade launcher for one long march in the mountains during the training test. “I had a lot of weight on me, and I was struggling, so I stopped and asked at the halfway point, ‘Hey, can anyone help take some of this weight?’” His fellow male Ranger trainees responded with “a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks,” he said. “Shaye was the only one who volunteered to take that weight. She took the weight off me, she carried it for the last half of that ruck.” That act “literally saved me,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for Shaye.”
But of course the men were acting like soldiers while the woman allowed compassion to trump the others’ refusal. Should a soldier who needed such help be graduated? Interestingly, Janowsky had “med-ed” out of Ranger training twice before due to what turned into stage IV testicular cancer. His determination and courage are commendable. But why are those with serious medical conditions like cancer needed in Ranger school? Were the other “common” recycles that Hathaway mentioned due to medical issues? The are no reports on whether the women had medical problems.
My comments as a long-ago reservist grunt for six years are more blunt than the (few) professional soldiers who have spoken on the matter. Any soldier knows when a high-ranking officer sends a work product back, one had better be sure it is done right the second time. If it is returned a second time, the officer will get whatever he wants on the third try, at least in any army I know.
Most serious defenders of women in special forces say they only support them if standards are maintained. Yet standards have already been bent generally, and particularly when allowing both men and women to retake the test three times. As Hathaway admitted this is “common”–even in Ranger training!
I write this with little expectation that women will not be allowed into the infantry and all special forces. More general grade officers have been disciplined for transgressing sexual standards than for all military actions combined. No officer with any expectation of a career will say a word. No politician will dare speak to be accused of sexism by those who place ideology over facts.
I am not really looking for policy change, but only to offer commiseration for the decline of a great institution, the U.S. Army, and in the future, all special forces.
Patrick Buchanan gets right to the core of the phenomenon called Donald Trump with his headline, “The Rebirth of Nationalism.”
Because of America’s two-party system and the dominance of individualistic libertarians and social conservatives in one party and left-egalitarians and interest-group liberals in the other, we forget the basics. As the late great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky taught us years ago there are four fundamental political types: egalitarians, individualists, social conservatives, and—the ones we forget about—what he called “fatalists.”
We tend to forget the fatalists because they tend not to vote. They view the world as foreign, chaotic, ephemeral, dangerous, on the edge of falling into bedlam. He used the analogy that their world is like a marble rolling unsteadily on a glass surface, rolling and pitching who knows where. Government has some control but is run by an untouchable, all-powerful elite acting in its own interest. Such a world can only be tamed by something enormously powerful and masterful, and only during a crisis. Then a strong central government supported by angry, patriotic nationalists and led by a popular Napoleon on his white horse can arrest the anarchy. Trump’s autobiography is titled Think Big and Kick Ass.
Buchanan tapped into the same world—although with vastly more intellect and subtlety—but he learned Wildavsky’s lesson. Fatalists do not vote, except perhaps enough to win a primary or two, and the elite strike back hard. It is difficult to sustain the anger, although Buchanan came closer than many remember. Trump may turn out to be more fortunate since popular resentment has risen to a boil this time. Bernie Sanders taps into it too, and when fatalists do vote they might go for either party. But the Vermont socialist has no horse; Trump has billions and the celebrity, willingness, and audacity to ride them.
Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.
Political analyst Tom Charles Huston predicts the establishment Republican presidential candidates will sputter—Trump quipped Jeb Bush puts his audiences to sleep—and the business “donor class” elite will desert them, happy to support Hillary or Joe Biden to advance their crony capitalism rather than moving to a conservative with an edge who might be able to confront Trump—and them.
If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to see any opponent who could rally South Carolina two weeks later, or Nevada. Then on March 1 a half-dozen Southern states with many fatalists (remember Huey Long) will split the opponent’s ranks further. On March 15 Bush could be ousted by Marco Rubio in Florida, with John Kasich winning by a smaller than expected margin in Ohio. Trump could win by losing, saying they were only favorite sons. No one would be left anyway. If he wins either state, it is all over.
So what was impossible a few weeks ago now becomes a real possibility.
The willfully blind establishment in Italy did not think Benito Mussolini or even Silvio Berlusconi could win, either; both succeeded because the reasonable right floundered. The latter became prime minister three times. How does President Trump sound? Or President Hillary?
With the House passing a bill to limit the federal role in K-to-12 schooling and a unanimous Senate committee doing the same, it might look as if there is finally some progress in fixing the broken over-centralized national educational system.
The bill is the brainchild of education committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, who claims it would “ban the federal government from mandating any sort of education standards, Common Core or otherwise.” If it becomes law, “it would lessen federal control in the education system and help calm heated debates about Common Core standards. Rather than the Feds making the decisions, the bill would allow states to create their own accountability systems and determine how much standardized tests should account for student and faculty evaluations.”
Alexander predicts he has the votes to pass the whole Senate based upon the overwhelming support of his committee, ranging from Elizabeth Warren to Rand Paul. Sen. Patty Murray is the co-sponsor. Of course, that means things have been compromised quite a bit, but it is headway made against federal control. The fact that the progressive Center for American Progress fears that the bill will weaken national standards and allow states to change one-size-fits-all “maintenance of effort” funding standards suggests things are going in the right direction.
Of course, in federal education policy, nothing is that simple. Obama officials are resisting and so are some conservative representatives who want to allow states to opt-out of federal education controls entirely without any financial penalty. House Education Committee Chairman John Kline says he supports the concept of the conservative amendment and allowed a vote on it, but it failed. The bill passed the House without a single Democrat—who objected to the loss of federal control—and was opposed by two dozen Republicans, who said the bill did not go far enough in limiting control. Kline hopes a conference with the Senate might eliminate the test mandates and work out the other details.
The House bill would make some major changes. While, like the Senate version, it would still require states to hold annual standardized tests in reading and math from third to eighth grades and once again in high school, and publish data on results, it would allow students to opt out of tests without loss of federal funds. It would largely allow states to spend federal money as they pleased and would not require them to meet federal benchmarks for success. States would still be required to intervene in local schools that need improvement, but the type and number of interventions would be up to the states. A new provision called “portability” would allow federal funds to “follow the child” if he or she transferred to a school not covered by current law.
Alexander’s response, in a The Hill newspaper interview, to conservatives who think the bill does not go far enough was, “If you leave No Child Left Behind like it is, you are leaving in place a national school board and a Common Core mandate. From a Republicans or conservative point of view, I would think you would want to move away from that.”
It will be a tough call for conservatives who have been at the forefront of the twin activities that have led to Congressional willingness to consider reform: the movements to limit the national education standards regime called Common Core, and the one in the states promoting charter schools, often at the urging of governors, are now overwhelmingly Republican. While touted as originating in the states, Common Core sputtered until President Obama used his Race To The Top legislation to promise to moderate some No Child Left Behind Act burdens and to acquire new financial grants if states adopted Common Core standards. In 2010, Obama ordered that all federal education grants be conditioned on adopting the standards. Even with this pressure, bipartisan majorities in Congress and in many states have now soured on Common Core.
The other grassroots reform of offering charter alternatives to traditional public schooling has become almost mainstream. Today, a majority of students in the overwhelmingly Democratic District of Columbia have escaped failing public schools to enroll in charters. Even Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has supported raising the limit on the number of charter schools, which has been the main teacher association strategy to stifle the idea. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Democratic majority in the New York lower legislative body, and the teachers unions are the last holdouts against reform even in the Empire state. Even President Obama concedes American education is failing. There is a growing understanding that bureaucratization, union self-interest, and method-over-substance do not work.
One of the pioneers of entrepreneurial education and advocates for lifting governmental restrictions on innovation argues the movement must now go further. Bob Luddy, chairman and founder of a $300 million commercial kitchen ventilation company, CaptiveAire, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, created one of the state’s early charter schools, Franklin Academy, in 1998. He started with a handful of students in a single location. Franklin now has 1,650 students at five locations in two K-2 schools, two 3-8 schools, and a $9 million high school. With a 1,500 student waiting list, Franklin has perhaps the largest demand for admission in the country. After making his own charter school a success, Luddy was instrumental in increasing North Carolina’s numerical limit on charters to make similar opportunities available for other parents and their children.
Although less regulated than traditional public schooling, charters are subject to pressure from well-funded education lobbyists interested in limiting charter competition to their union-dominated public school clients. Unfortunately, they have been more successful than not. Frustrated by such charter restrictions, Luddy concluded that true reform must free itself from state bureaucratization. With the knowledge garnered by previously founding a religious private high school called St. Thomas More Academy with 180 students, he launched a classical curriculum private school he called Thales Academy, named for the Greek philosopher. Today Thales Academy boasts 1,700 students and 150 faculty in three K-5 locations and two 6-12 locations in the greater Raleigh area, with an average growth rate of 15 percent per year.
Luddy’s educational philosophy parallels that of his business: keep overhead low and deliver quality to customers. Administrators are few and sports are de-emphasized. As Luddy told the American Spectator, “A lot of people say you shouldn’t talk of education as a business, but the reality is, it is a business.” The weakest elements he sees in current education are rules that limit innovation, weak curricula, and high costs. Private education is the answer to the first, rigorous classical education to the second, and business acumen to the third. Luddy provided all three.
Thales’ test scores are higher than even charter schools. Where the average building cost for a new public school nears $100 million, Thales delivered it for $10 million. Student tuition is $5,300 per year for kindergarten through fifth grade and $6,000 for sixth through 12th grades at Thales, compared to $11,000 for the average local private school and $9,000 (in per pupil cost) for public schooling. Now Luddy wants to take his idea national. “My idea was that parents should have hundreds of choices, whereas currently if they go to the public school system, they have one maybe two. They have precious few choices. Once you open up competition, the choices will be abundant.”
It is a long road from Alexander’s first steps away from centralized administration, content-less curriculum and vanilla character training, and expensive and politicized teacher-oriented rather than student-focused education today to Luddy’s ideal of thousands of private schools offering choice by actually educating America’s youth. But, at last, there is some sense of hope.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule that defining marriage to be only between one man and one woman denies equal protection under the law and is therefore unconstitutional. The court could even rule that opposition to same-sex rights is generally discriminatory under the civil rights laws. That will be the law—and that is that.
Those with religious objections will be expected to forget about it and get on with their lives. But will they be able to do so?
When Barronelle Stutzman, the Southern Baptist owner of Arlene’s Flowers, was asked to cater a gay wedding in Washington state, she held hands with the customer, pleaded she could not religiously attend such a function, and referred the customer to three other florists. Still, she was fined $1,000 for discrimination and the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers demanded such high legal fees that the business went bankrupt. The florist was still ordered to perform these services she found religiously objectionable for any future such weddings.
Photographer Elaine Huguenin politely declined to photo a gay wedding and was ordered to appear before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission even though a replacement photographer had been hired. The Commission ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act exemption for religion did not apply to any business open to the public and the state supreme court concurred. In a unanimous verdict the court ruled: “When Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.” The cost for such discrimination was $6,637.94 in fines and attorneys’ fees.
In 2013 Oregon, Aaron and Melissa Klein asked to be excused from baking a cake for a lesbian wedding as being against their Christian beliefs and were threatened with a $135,000 anti-discrimination fine for “emotional distress” inflicted on the gay couple. When the Klines went on the “crowdfunding” web GoFundMe, they raised much of the fine but were denied further blog space by GoFundMe after complaints of discrimination. In a Colorado case its commission ordered a baker with religious objections to cater a gay wedding, with one commission member proposing “reeducation” to cleanse the baker and his staff of their “despicable” discriminatory language implying gay inequality.
So, the choice for those with religious concerns may be between violating their religious beliefs and being fined and ordered to comply in any event. The response of the most important institutions opposing this possibility—headed by the influential Family Research Council—is to insist upon a religious exception to discrimination charges based upon the First Amendment right to “free exercise of religion.” Yet, the presumption in such cases would still be against discrimination, requiring a special religious exemption, which in a secular legal (as opposed to legislative) culture might seem unwarranted. The probable Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton seems suspicious of such an exemption. In a speech to the “Women in the World Summit” she argued that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” for women to have free access to their rights, specifically criticizing the family firm Hobby Lobby for refusing contraception coverage to its employees on religious grounds.
Recognizing the limits of appeals to religious rights to those indisposed to them, religious leaders led by James Dobson and Franklin Graham responded with a Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage proclaiming,
Experience and history have shown us that if the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. The precedent established will leave no room for any limitation on what can constitute such a redefined notion of marriage or human sexuality. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch.
The signers pledged “obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law” in redefining marriage and rights, reflecting back to Martin Luther King’s “civil disobedience,” refusing to obey unjust laws that are “out of harmony with the moral law.” It is true, as critic James Poulos notes, that such an appeal by religious conservatives will be seen as ideological and partisan unlike King’s appeal to universal conscience; but he assumes the goal would be to change public opinion. Such a strategy would more follow Charles Murray’s recommended course of action against excessive economic regulation, to clog the administrative machinery of government and force the authorities to concede, which come to think of it was also a large part of King’s success.
Federalism could be a resource too. Texas State Rep. Cecil Bell introduced a bill to prohibit state and local officials from using state funds “to issue, enforce, or recognize a marriage license … for a union other than a union between one man and one woman.” The gay group Equality Texas claimed the bill sought “to subvert any ruling this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court” and could at least tie the issue in litigation for years. The end of its legislative session stalled the bill but the sponsor claimed he had majority support and would be back next session to try again.
Facing a U.S. court order finding Alabama’s law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman unconstitutional, the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered probate judges under his supervision not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The federal court modified its order to apply to state judicial officials but the matter is still under higher level judicial review. In May, its state senate even passed a bill 22-3 to end licenses for marriage entirely, which would become simple contracts filed with its probate offices.
Such actions are not without some popular support. The Associate Press recently found that 57 percent of Americans would allow businesses with religious objections to refuse to serve gay weddings, even though the public was evenly split on favoring or opposing gay marriage and on whether the Supreme Court should rule that gays have a national constitutional right to marriage. An earlier poll by the Christian research firm LifeWay was surprised in its national poll that 59 percent said marriage should not be “defined and regulated by the state” at all and 49 percent said “religious weddings should not be connected to the state’s definition and recognition of marriage.”
It looks like gay rights will reprise the abortion issue. The Supreme Court will probably declare a constitutional right to same sex marriage and this will encourage gay rights supporters to enforce and expand discrimination against these new rights. But opponents will be invigorated too, winning some victories locally, with more conservative states limiting the effect of the national decisions on marriage and discrimination as they have on abortion. Over the years the latter strategy has had enormous success in limiting the original Roe v Wade abortion decision and even in changing national public opinion on its legitimacy.
The next phase of the culture wars will result in some very interesting political changes.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
Is there anything more clear in the Constitution than the fact that “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States”? Nevertheless, there are currently about 23,000 pages of federal laws passed by Congress and almost 80,000 pages of regulations by executive bureaucracies.
Until recently, no one seemed to care. But in 2010, House Republicans appealed to the rising Tea Party movement by pledging to “require congressional approval of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more.” In 2011, Rep. Geoff Davis introduced just such a bill, the “Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny” (REINS) Act, passed the House with the support of all 237 Republicans, and four Democrats. But President Barack Obama pledged to veto it, and a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul died in the Democratic Senate.
Congress, of course, has always been able to override bureaucratic rules even without REINS. However, as Heritage Foundation’s James Gattuso has noted, the process is cumbersome. To try and address this, Congress adopted “expedited resolutions of disapproval” in 1996, to encourage up-or-downs vote to reverse counterproductive bureaucratic regulations. Since that time, however, Congressional reluctance to override the president and the politicians’ fears of taking responsibility for controversial regulatory acts has resulted in only one such disapproval passing Congress, allowing all other rules to go into effect. REINS is aimed at forcing legislative responsibility by requiring every rule with a large economic impact to be obtain specific approval from each house, without which the regulation would never go into effect.
With newfound Republican control of the Senate following the 2014 elections, there has been a renewed interest in passing such a bill. Of course, President Obama would still veto it and Democrats will make it very difficult to corral the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. With this solution stymied, top regulatory expert Wayne Crews proposes creating a bipartisan commission to identify regulations that must be voted upon by Congress to remain in effect. Even that has met substantial opposition, including from some frightened Republicans.
Substantive objections to requiring Congressional approval are few and weak. The best that the progressive Center for Effective Government could do was to warn that this would allow Congress to “second-guess agency expertise and science on food safety, worker safety, air pollution, water contamination, and a host of other issues.” But even disregarding the fact that bureaucratic expertise in these areas is often more in the promise than in performance, is not voting on such issues precisely what the Founders expected Congress to do?
As Crews notes, the number of federal regulations has been exploding. “While an utterly imperfect gauge, the number of pages in the Federal Register is probably the most frequently cited measure of regulation’s scope, which unintentionally highlights the abysmal condition of regulatory oversight and measurement. At the end of 2014, the page count stood at 78,978, the fifth highest level in the Register’s history.” He estimates the real cost (mostly hidden in “guidance’ and sotto-voice threats) could be higher than the formal debt of $18 trillion.
In an important Frazer Institute essay published in What America’s Decline in Economic Freedom Means for Entrepreneurship and Prosperity, Crews notes the baleful results:
An astounding 92 million Americans are not working, positioning labor-force participation at a 36 year low, with nearly 12 million having dropped out during the Obama administration. Data point to high debt per capita, and to the highest part-time and temporary-job creation rates in contrast to full-time career positions. A popular blog laments the “slow death of American entrepreneurship” Headlines tell painful tales, like that of January 2015 in Investor’s Business Daily reporting on businesses dying faster than they’re being created, a circumstance the Washington Post had noted in 2014. Likewise a Brookings study on small business formation noted declining rates, as did a Wall Street Journal report on reduced business ownership rates among the young. One recruiter described to the Wall Street Journal how regulations undermine employment, while others point to an inverse correlation between regulation and innovation.
The World Economic Forum’s “burden of government regulation” places the U.S. 87th most onerous of 144 nations globally on complying with administrative regulations on business.
Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has recently questioned the entire logic and wisdom of regulatory delegation. First, in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers, he asked whether the Court’s precedent in Seminole Rock, requiring judicial deference to executive interpretation of regulations, improperly “represents a transfer of judicial power to the Executive Branch.” He says that decision “precludes judges from independently determining” the meaning of laws and unfairly favors the executive against the legislative branch in interpreting the law.
In Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, Thomas even demanded judicial review of the Court’s whole existing standard, which delegates rulemaking to the executive as long as there is an “intelligible principle” in the law to guide the executive. Thomas argues, to the contrary, that that principle has become “boundless” today, undermining the original constitutional understanding of legislative power.
Pretty much everyone knows the regulatory system is broken and probably unconstitutionally so; but nothing ever changes. The executive loves to boss folks around, Congress is afraid to act, and the courts are so isolated they actually think the regulators know what they are doing.
Just in time to prevent despair, however, the nation’s most inventive social scientist, Charles Murray, has written another ground-breaking book, mischievously titled By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. Murray concludes that the government is incapable of changing its ingrained irresponsibility, so he suggests that reform should be initiated by the people themselves.
Murray starts with the fact that there are so many federal regulations on so many daily behaviors that it is impossible for the regulators to enforce them. The traffic police can issue tickets on rural roads, but they cannot enforce reasonably-over-the-speed-limit driving on crowded highways. It is the same with regulators. They can only effectively police when few disregard the rules. They can then come down good and hard on them. Most settle without a trial, knowing that bureaucratic courts are rigged against them. Murray would create a Madison Fund named for the father of the Constitution to provide legal assistance to the public, which is encouraged to simply ignore the screwiest regulations. If Americans refused to obey irrational regulations and were backed by an insurance-like fund that would provide legal support to, and publicity for, those unreasonably harassed, regulators themselves would soon learn not to enforce indefensible rules.
Murray believes it would only take a few wealthy contributors to get the Fund established, and that trade associations might get into the business too. Congress might even find enough courage to act constitutionally, if enough people get involved. There are many devils in the details, but sign me up anyway.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.
Charles C.W. Cooke’s The Conservatarian Manifesto is a delightful call for a fusion of conserva(tive) and (liber)tarian ideals into a new synthesis that can lead the right to victory after eight years under George W. Bush “ruined its reputation, giving conservatism a bad name.”
“Republicans spent too much, subsidized too much, spied too much, and controlled too much.” The GOP “abandoned its core principle of federalism, undermined free trade, favored the interests of big business” over a free market, “used government power to push social issues too aggressively” and “lost its reputation for fiscal restraint, constitutional propriety and mastery of foreign affairs.” He justifies his indictment in crisp prose and difficult to dispute facts.
The best news is that Cooke’s solution is federalism and decentralization. The difference between the left and right, he argues, is that conservatives and libertarians do not insist on telling people hundreds and thousands of miles away how to live their lives. Progressive philosophy “is built upon the core belief that an educated and well-staffed central authority can determine how citizens should live their lives.” But, he argues, Utah and New York, indeed New York City and Buffalo, are very different places and deserve very different policies. Federalism is the answer.
In one of his few references to philosophical sources, Cooke questions whether it is even possible to run things well from the center. He references Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek’s magisterial “The Use of Knowledge in Society” to demonstrate that decisions must be left to people who are familiar with specific circumstances and know directly of resources and the changes in them necessary to make rational decisions. President Obama admits that many national agencies are “outdated” and “designed poorly” but he proceeds to utilize them to dramatically change and affect peoples’ lives. The result is today’s governmental dysfunction.
The intellectual elite in the media and education simply keep repeating the progressive mantra, blind to any alternative. The differences between this refrain and conservatarianism, Cooke insists, are fundamental and “utterly irreconcilable.” The solution for the right is to build competing institutions to influence those with an open mind as it has already begun through alternative media, talk radio, journals and think tanks. He concedes these are no match to the resources of establishment progressivism but is optimistic that the young represent “a generation of nonconformists” who will adopt his conservatarianism if it is presented attractively to them.
A sound platform must begin with the Constitution, the fount of federalism. But its central message is distorted by progressive intellectualism reading its prejudices into that document. He quotes progressive icon Woodrow Wilson that “The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straightjacket. In its elasticity lies its genuine greatness.” The conservative response should be the “simple idea” that “law should continue to mean what it meant when it was adopted,” which progressives seem to understand except when it comes to the Constitution. Before the progressive revolution, courts did not find black or female suffrage hidden somewhere in the Constitution. They required amendments, as required explicitly in Article V, which were in fact adopted in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments. Today, rights to sodomy, gay marriage, abortion, and the like are “discovered” in a Constitution that has nothing to say about them. Although he seems to concede past anti-federalist interpretations, his basic solution is to defend that document as written, leaving issues not in the Constitution to the states and using the amendment process when national change is thought necessary.
At least in theory, Cooke’s manifesto preaches rational balance in foreign policy. He identifies himself as a firm believer in American world leadership but finds that “a contingent on the right that is hostile to the heady interventionism of the Bush years is a healthy thing indeed. [But] That there is a tendency to extend this skepticism beyond prudence into all out disengagement is worrying.” America, he believes, “can lead without needing to rush to the scene of every fire in every corner of the world.” Military spending should be privileged but the right should be in the forefront of “rallying against waste” and against using defense for pork-barrel spending.
Many conservatives will be upset with Cooke on social issues. On the positive side, he is a serious opponent of gun control and attributes the right’s success on this issue to having “the facts on its side” in a local-oriented policy (ignoring the Heller decision) that respects legitimate desires for protection and sportsmanship as well as differences between central city and rural life. Years of drug control policy (beginning with Wilson in 1914) have been a failure because it is national and cannot take into account local differences. It discriminates against African Americans, makes the U.S. the world leader in prison populations, and has contributed to the militarization of police forces. Drug policy should be decentralized to relate to local circumstances.
Cooke becomes provocative when he claims the whole idea of “social issues” is a myth. Each policy instead requires a pragmatic approach sensitive to different circumstances. Although specifying he is an atheist, he says abortion is settled by the simple and coherent argument that “a life is a life and that anybody who is interested in individual liberty is duty bound to protect the innocent.” Gay marriage is different. While Americans tend to oppose abortion—at least after the first three months—a large majority now support gay marriage.
Surprisingly, Cooke does not support the libertarian solution of privatizing marriage but does say that there is no Constitutional right to gay unions. The problem is that government is so intertwined in marriage that in a practical sense either gay unions must be recognized or gays must be deprived of too many government services, even ones libertarians recognize. Indeed, contracts cannot allow every human relationship (e.g. bondage or slavery) so the state cannot be excluded even when it is just enforcing free contracting. The solution again is local, to work out specific real-world difficulties. Minimally, those who do not wish to offer services to such marriages should not be coerced to do so.
Overall, Cooke presents a lively and interesting discussion of issues that should be widely read especially among America’s millennials and younger generations. This rising cohort should just buy the book and stop reading this review.
To older generations the book reminds one of Athena emerging full grown from the skull of Zeus. Here is an argument for some type of traditional and libertarian fusion written by an intellectual at the magazine National Review, who seems to have no idea that his magazine had developed the whole concept of conservative fusionism a half century earlier. Its founder William F. Buckley Jr., an editor Frank Meyer, and their acolytes promoted the idea of a conservatism based upon a synthesis between pursuing traditional value ends and utilizing free means to do so. While preferring “tension” to “fusionism,” both Buckley and Meyer adopted the latter as the least objectionable designation. At least it iterates better than conservatarianism.
Cooke’s omission is mitigated by the fact he is British by birth and young and so would have no reason to know this history. Yet, it is remarkable that no one at the magazine alerted him to its paternity. Perhaps no one remembers. The current mini revival of fusionism (the Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia Society, Intercollegiate Studies Institute among others) apparently passed them by. Indeed, this lineage traces back much further. As Meyer and Hayek both emphasized, the fusion of freedom and tradition was derived from the medieval synthesis of faith and reason that formed European civilization culminating in the Magna Carta, which in turn was grounded on St. Paul’s synthesis of Greek and Jew that created Western Christendom.
But these big issues are not required to enjoy this bright, reasonable to the max, and readable book. It is a good place for the younger generation to begin the long journey back from monochromatic utopian thinking, especially the modern progressive version being force-fed to them at their colleges and universities every day.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of the fusionist America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.