State of the Union

Downgrading Liberalism

Liberals now blame the Tea Party for America’s AAA credit downgrade. This is possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like blaming the 9/11 Commission Report on 9/11. It’s like blaming my bad 6th grade report card on report cards. It’s like blaming ladies for Lady Gaga. Simply because the debt problem continues to be the subject of debate does not make the debate itself the problem.

This remains true even when those responsible for the downgrade note the debate. Here’s the passage from the Standard & Poor’s report that Democrats have been using to blame conservative Republicans for the recent credit reduction: “The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

In their hurry to blame the Right, many on the Left continue to focus on the word “brinkmanship,” but what they forget about is the brink. America is being pushed to the brink of what? The brink of debate? S&P spokesman David Beers explained in April: “So why the negative outlook on the U.S. government’s rating? In summary, it’s because when you look at the underlying fiscal challenges the U.S. government is grappling with, as well as the rising U.S. government debt burden, we think—absent a material fiscal consolidation program embraced by policymakers—that increasingly the U.S. government’s fiscal position will diverge from that of its key ‘AAA’ peers.” Read More…

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The End of Right-Wing Progressivism

In the wake of the recent and raucous debt ceiling debate, The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart noted two important developments:

The good news is that the Tea Party, more than Barack Obama, has now ended the neoconservative dream of an ever-expanding American empire. The bad news is that it has also ended whatever hopes liberals once entertained that roughly 100 years after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, roughly 75 years after the New Deal and roughly 50 years after the Great Society, we were living in another great age of progressive reform.

Beinart’s observations are generally—and hopefully—correct. They’re also even more correlative than he suggests.

Neoconservatism is right-wing progressivism. During the Bush years, every self-described conservative who thought it was America’s mission to “make the world safe for democracy” spoke the language, however unknowingly, of an earlier left-wing liberalism. Traditional conservatives have always understood that there are practical limits on what government can accomplish, and that the state typically does more harm than good. Progressives believe there are virtually no limits to what government can accomplish, and that any potential damage is far outweighed by the potential good. Read More…

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Extreme Tea?

The prolonged and heated debate over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling continues to be blamed on a Tea Party that’s “too extreme.” What the controversy has really proven is that the movement should become even more extreme.

Even though the deal struck Sunday night between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t feature any significant reform or real cuts—it will actually increase the national debt by $7 trillion—the Democrats still find it Draconian and the Republicans are still trying to find the votes to pass it, at least as of this writing. Most of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates have said they do not support the deal. Even establishment candidate Mitt Romney doesn’t like it.

Does anyone really believe that the TARP-defending Romney would’ve been denouncing a deal like this in the last election cycle? Does anyone really believe Speaker Boehner would have showed a hint of resistance if not for pressure from the Tea Party? Read More…

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Wikileaks Revisited

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve long been a fan of professional wrestling. These days, this also means being a fan of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and its current top star John Cena. But not every fan likes Cena. In fact, some downright hate him. Though packaged as the ultimate good guy—whose say-your-prayers-and-take-your-vitamins appeal worked perfectly for Hulk Hogan two decades ago—many fans have come to resent Cena as someone they simply don’t want to accept. For every fan who cheers him, there are always two more who jeer him—vigorously. For the life of me, I cannot understand the vitriol. But I do understand the power of established narrative.

Wikileaks is the organization the entire political class and media establishment told us we must hate. When the whistleblower outfit famously made its mark in November of 2010 by releasing thousands of classified US government cables—which revealed everything from Saudi Arabia’s desire for an American strike on Iran to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attempts to obtain the DNA and credit card information of United Nations officials—Washington went into immediate demonization mode. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” Vice President Joe Biden would reiterate McConnell’s charge. Clinton said Wikileaks’ actions were “an attack on the international community.” Marc Thiessen wrote in the Washington Post: “WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise.” Read More…

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Government Doesn’t Work

In 2009, conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe and a friend dressed as a pimp and prostitute to secretly videotape officials with the government-backed, low income housing advocacy group ACORN. ACORN officials in multiple offices ended up trying to help the couple with advice on how to evade taxes and avoid detection of their made-up sex-trafficking and child prostitution business. This month, O’Keefe released videos of a man going to various state health and human services departments claiming to be a supporter of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The kilt-clad man asked if “25 Irish nationals” who were “basically shot up in a skirmish in Belfast” could receive Medicaid. The government employees agreed to help him and also to keep the legal and questionable nature of the intended recipients confidential.

Both stories made national headlines and we can no doubt expect similar exposes from O’Keefe in the future. The mission statement of O’Keefe’s organization Project Veritas is to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct.” He really has his work cut out for him—as each of these terms will always end up being better general descriptions than unusual exceptions concerning any investigation of today’s government.

Simply put—big government doesn’t work. For that matter, neither does small government. The Founding Fathers’ philosophy on the state—particularly Thomas Jefferson and his followers—was that government was an unavoidably evil and therefore should be as limited and minimal as possible. These men even wrote a legal charter that was very specific in explaining how and where our national government should be restrained. At one time, elected officials paid it heed. Today, Washington leaders do little more than pay it lip service. Read More…

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Defining “Evil”

Like many American teenage boys, I grew up listening to heavy metal music. In 1989, a favorite album was “Kill’em All” by Metallica and my favorite song on that album was “Am I Evil?” (a cover of a song by the British metal act Diamondhead). Metallica pondered in the chorus: “Am I evil? Yes, I am. Am I evil? I am man, yes, I am.”

True to metal form, the rest of the lyrics were pretty dumb. Yet, however accidentally, the chorus did hint at the Christian view that man is fallen. Not exactly a theologian at fifteen, to my immature mind the song was good simply because it sounded “evil.” If Elvis Presley scared parents in the 1950s and the Beatles did it in the ’60s, by the ’70s and ’80s predictably rebellious teenagers desired a more extreme music to pacify their usual, rite-of-passage adolescent silliness. For many, heavy metal was it—and the more “evil” the better.

As part of a panel for The American Conservative at this year’s Freedom Fest conference in Las Vegas, speakers Daniel McCarthy, Jon Basil Utley and I discussed the possibilities of the Tea Party and conservatives in general redefining the Right’s foreign policy post-Bush. We each made the case that conservatives should return to a more prudent and constrained foreign policy, based on actual defense and tangible national interests, as opposed to Bush-era nation-building and “spreading democracy” around the globe. One attendee, who seemed to think George W. Bush had already defined the Right’s foreign policy just fine, asked in anger: What “good” was America if we didn’t “fight evil?” McCarthy asked where we might find “fighting evil” in the Constitution. The gentleman walked out. Read More…

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The GOP Goes Tiger

The slander “RINO” or “Republican-In-Name-Only” has never made sense to me. I fully understand what conservatives who use it are trying to say—that a Republican who votes for higher taxes, less freedom and bigger government isn’t living up to what the GOP is supposed to stand for. The problem is, big government is precisely what the GOP has stood for most of the time. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were unique exceptions. Presidents Nixon and both Bushes more accurately reflected the general Republican rule. Most of the time “conservatism” has meant little more than Republicans promising to be slightly better than the Democrats and then not even living up to that promise, as government has grown significantly under each successive president regardless of party.

One of my favorite routines by comedian Chris Rock is his skit about the trained tiger that attacked one half of the famous magician duo “Siegfried and Roy” a number of years ago. Rock hilariously mocked those who claimed that the tiger “went crazy.” No, Rock explained, “That tiger didn’t go crazy, that tiger went tiger!” Read More…

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Constitutional Conservatives?

The images of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson during the 4th of July holiday are hard to escape, as celebrating American independence necessarily includes honoring two of the most prominent figures of the Revolution and Founding era. Yet, in my permanently politically-addled mind, when I look at Washington and Jefferson (who were by no means monolithic in their philosophy), I see two men who today would be considered near anarchists in their “extreme” views on the limited and minimal role of government; die-hard libertarians in their views on civil liberties and even recreational drug use; violent militia members given their opinions on secession, states’ rights and guns; religious fanatics, if not in their individual faith, their deference to the role of Christianity in public life; money “cranks” in their belief in hard money and opposition to central banking; and dangerous “isolationists” in their desire that their country avoid foreign “entangling alliances.”

But what do my fellow Americans likely think of when they ponder Washington and Jefferson? This is perhaps best answered by other images that typically accompany these figures: The American flag. Fireworks. The Statue of Liberty. Mt. Rushmore. Apple pie. Abraham Lincoln. Aircraft carriers. Capitol Hill.

Most Americans simply don’t get bogged down in the philosophical minutiae of the Founders’ vision when celebrating the Fourth of July. To the extent that they might think about the holiday’s meaning, Americans likely see a timeline from 1776 to 2011 that represents an honorable, patriotic and largely non-contradictory continuum. Read More…

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America: Indebted to War

A somewhat critical reader pointed out recently that my commentaries as of late have concentrated heavily on the foreign policy debate currently taking place in the Republican Party; in which once settled terms like “isolationist” are now called into question; the neoconservatives’ long dominant influence on the party becomes more clear and troubling; and a critical eye is cast on the formerly solid GOP consensus promoting muscular foreign interventionism—now that the Bush Doctrine has become Obama’s too.

I told this reader that the argument over the GOP’s foreign policy consensus is the most important debate taking place in America today. My reader disagreed, saying that, no, the battle over the national debt and whether to raise the debt ceiling was the most important debate.

“Yes, exactly” I replied. He seemed confused. He’s not alone. Read More…

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Liberal Tim Pawlenty

In September 2009, President Barack Obama asked his fellow Americans to rise to the occasion and help pass national healthcare legislation. Said Obama of what he thought was an historic moment: “We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard… I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.”

Conservatives uniformly opposed what came to be known as ObamaCare, because they believed there are constitutional, financial and even moral limits to the functions and reach of government power. Conservatives understood that there were serious problems with healthcare costs, but rightly feared government intervention would only make those problems worse. Government must have limits, said conservatives, and ObamaCare was certainly outside of them.

In June 2011, former Minnesota Governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty asked his fellow Americans and his party to rise to the occasion and help support the growth of democracy throughout the Middle East, in Libya, Syria and beyond. Said Pawlenty of what he thought was an historic moment: “Now is not the time to retreat from freedom’s rise… We have been presented with a challenge as great as any we have faced in recent decades. And we must get it right. The question is, are we up to the challenge?” Read More…

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