In a rapid response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s convention speech last August, I wrote:
In Ryan’s intellectual bubble, there are job creators and entrepreneurs on one side and parasites on the other. There is no account of the vast gray expanse of janitors, waitresses, hotel front-desk clerks, nurses, highway maintenance workers, airport baggage handlers, and taxi drivers. They work hard, but at the end of the day, what can they be said to have “built”?
In a speech late last week, former Sen. Rick Santorum did me one better. He remarked of the very same convention at which Ryan spoke:
One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single—factory worker went out there. … Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too!
Apparently, Santorum and I have a thing for janitors and waitresses. More importantly: They built that company too!
This is something of an intellectual breakthrough for a high-profile Republican.
At a gut level, most GOPers, including most especially the one who lost the 2012 presidential election, apply a rough sort of common sense to economic outcomes: people help themselves. Government may justifiably step in to come to the aid of those who can’t. Any market interference on top of that is an election-rigging “gift.” Read More…
Richard Viguerie had an outstanding op-ed yesterday in the New York Times on the conservative case for prison reform.
Conservatives known for being tough on crime should now be equally tough on failed, too-expensive criminal programs. They should demand more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety and the well-being of all Americans. …
In the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift on crime and punishment policy across the country. It really started in Texas in 2007. The state said no to building eight more prisons and began to shift nonviolent offenders from state prison into alternatives, by strengthening probation and parole supervision and treatment. Texas was able to avert nearly $2 billion in projected corrections spending increases, and its crime rate is declining. At the same time, the state’s parole failures have dropped by 39 percent. …
By confronting this issue head on, conservatives are showing that our principles lead to practical solutions that make government less costly and more effective. We need to do more of that.
Viguerie is exactly right here, and he offers a template for talking about policy that all conservatives, not just the fledgling reform movement, can agree on. “Compassion” doesn’t have to mean spending more money; it can mean saving money (which, to be sure, often means the elimination of waste-driven jobs). Getting government “out of the way” is not the end of the conversation; local governments and communities may have to remain “in the way.” Liberals don’t—or shouldn’t—have a monopoly on ideas that materially improve people’s lives.
And here’s the kicker: It’s okay for politicians to promise to improve people’s lives—especially the unfortunate and disadvantaged.
Here’s hoping more conservatives will follow Viguerie’s lead and begin to apply this template to issues like healthcare and tax reform.
Joel Kotkin makes a point about the tech economy that can’t be made enough:
[T]he tech oligarchs are widely beloved by much of the population. As Christopher Lasch noted, modern society teaches “people to want a never-ending supply of new toys.” People love their toys, and as long as Apple, Google and the rest keep supplying them, those firms are likely to remain something of American heroes.
Yet, for the most part, these people—including those in the entertainment sector—are not generating lots of middle-wage jobs, or any at all. Over the past decade, the information sector has lost more than 850,000 jobs. Social-media firms do not employ very many people overall; and many of their employees do not require high salaries as long as they get to play in the glitiziest sandbox. There are still 40,000 fewer people working in Silicon Valley than in 2001.
Kotkin goes on to note that there’s a “modest recovery” underway in the manufacturing sector.
About that recovery: Kotkin is right about its modesty. Time magazine recently published an excellent cover story on the (relatively speaking) boom in U.S.-based manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing industries like 3D printing and shale-drilling are data-driven and technology-reliant. Hence, like the tech industry more broadly, the manufacturing renaissance isn’t producing many jobs in the aggregate. As Rana Foroohar and Bill Saporito write in Time:
Today’s U.S. factories aren’t the noisy places where your grandfather knocked in four bolts a minute for eight hours a day. Dungarees and lunch pails are out; computer skills and specialized training are in, since the new made-in-America economics is centered largely on cutting-edge technologies. The trick for U.S. companies is to develop new manufacturing techniques ahead of global competitors and then use them to produce goods more efficiently on superautomated factory floors. These factories of the future have more machines and fewer workers—and those workers must be able to master the machines. Many new manufacturing jobs require at least a two-year tech degree to complement artisan skills such as welding and milling. The bar will only get higher. Some experts believe it won’t be too long before employers expect a four-year degree—a job qualification that will eventually be required in many other places around the world too.
Understanding this new look is critical if the U.S. wants to nurture manufacturing and grow jobs. There are implications for educators (who must ensure that future workers have the right skills) as well as policymakers (who may have to set new educational standards). “Manufacturing is coming back, but it’s evolving into a very different type of animal than the one most people recognize today,” says James Manyika, a director at McKinsey Global Institute who specializes in global high tech. “We’re going to see new jobs, but nowhere near the number some people expect, especially in the short term.”
Welcome to the brave new 21st-century American economy: where growth is painfully slow; rewards are confined to the ranks of the educated; and even the good news is kind of bad.
In light of Jamie Malanowski’s piece arguing for a moral-hygienic renaming of Army bases named after Confederate generals, I thought it’d be worth sharing Garry Wills’s measured assessment of the most famous of those generals, Robert E. Lee:
Colonel Robert E. Lee was no secessionist in 1860—he said that if he owned all the slaves in the South, he would give them up to save the Union he had fought for. Yet, as a professional soldier, he had only three choices— (a) to remain in the federal army and help destroy his own state, in the process killing his friends, his relatives, the countymen closest to him; or (b) to resign his commission and stand by idle, watching others ravage his homeland and kill his friends; or (c) though convinced of the futility of secession, to stand, once it came, between his people and those who would harm them. …
It might be objected that Lee was not choosing his country—the United States, the Union—but something opposed to his country. Yet Lee did not think of the nation as a legal unit indivisible, a judicial entity with one National Will (that Will ordering him to fight). Nor did he justify his choice on the grounds that he had a new country, the Confederacy, established by the right of self-determination. This whole cast of thought was foreign to him—as would have been E.M. Forster’s famous dictum: “I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” Forster equates, in the modern manner, country with Cause. Lee did not. He was not fighting for any Cause, for slavery or the Confederacy. For him, country meant one’s friends—the bond of affection that exists among countrymen; and when a rift opened in this union of persons, he had to choose those to whom he was bound by primary rather than secondary ties.
The Wilsonian turns his country’s citizens into a Cause, and then—having performed that depersonalizing operation—he personifies the Cause, gives it a “self” to be determined from within or repressed from without, to act selflessly or selfishly. But Lee’s people were actual persons, not a personified idea. He did not ask whether they were acting selflessly or selfishly; they had no unitary self to surrender or impose on others. They were a social complexus, of erring, noble, idiotic men. He knew it was in their interest to remain part of the Union, part of a larger band of countrymen. Choosing between these levels of his own people was an insane thing—but he was put by war (an insane thing) in a position where he had to choose. …
Lee did not help his fellow Virginians because they were right, or because he approved of anything they wanted to do as a body. He joined them only when it became a choice of killing one’s own, or watching them be killed, or protecting as many of them as he could at the risk of dying with them. Only at that last extremity was he edged over to their side.
Readers familiar at all with me know that I’m glad I’m living in Lincoln’s America, as opposed to Jefferson Davis’s. But it won’t do simply to call Lee a “traitor” and end it there. As this long passage of Wills’s (I hope) demonstrates, the matter is far more complicated. The Confederacy was not a monolithic evil, like Nazism, and in my opinion our military bases do not need to be “de-Confederacized.”
Reason’s Nick Gillespie flags Gallup polling data showing 54 percent of Americans believe the “federal government has too much power.” Of all things, this put me in mind of St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which the apostle presented us with a lovely paradox: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Don’t get me wrong; I know Paul meant this in the sense that Christians should rely less on their own devices and recognize their spiritual impoverishment outside of Christ.
But I find Paul’s paradox useful when thinking about the size and scope of the federal government. On the one hand, yes: you can look at the overreach at the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice and see a central government unaccountably trampling on civil liberties.
On the other hand, look at Apple’s illustrative case of tax avoidance. Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski write in the New York Times:
Setting up an office in Reno is just one of many legal methods Apple uses to reduce its worldwide tax bill by billions of dollars each year. As it has in Nevada, Apple has created subsidiaries in low-tax places like Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands — some little more than a letterbox or an anonymous office — that help cut the taxes it pays around the world.
Call me crazy if you like, but I think Robert Reich is exactly right: “global capital, in the form of multinational corporations as well as very wealthy individuals, is gaining enormous bargaining power over nation states.”
Wouldn’t you know it, Gallup polling (from 2011) also shows that an even bigger majority of Americans believe that lobbyists, major corporations, and banks and financial institutions have too much power, along with the federal government.
What this means is that many Americans often feel dwarfed by big institutions and concentrated power, no matter whether those institutions are in the public or private sector. I understand and appreciate the libertarian solution to break up “bigness” wherever it’s found—to sever the bonds between corporate lobbyists, lawmakers, and bureaucrats. However, I think it’s reductive to look at those bonds as having been forged by years of “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” corporatist conspiracy. There will always be unseemly stories to be found on the money-in-politics beat. But as a theory of government, I find it less satisfying.
The truth is, as figures from Teddy Roosevelt to John Kenneth Galbraith recognized, government institutions grew larger as a means of “countervailing” private-sector power that grew endogenously in a free economy.
There is very little that can be done about this, it seems to me. Ideally, as individuals and as private citizens, we like to think we can bring this complex postmodern economy to heel. The reality is that we’re going to have to learn to muddle through it.
John Nichols of the Nation makes what should be, but is not (for reasons I’ll attempt to explain below), an obvious point about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
Christie also knows his party won’t be looking for a Northeastern moderate in 2016. The GOP has never been more conservative than it is now; and while the motivation to win may be powerful, the common wisdom among the folks who actually nominate presidential candidates says that experiments with supposedly “mainstream” figures like John McCain and Mitt Romney will not be repeated. So Christie is executing a delicate maneuver. He needs to run left this year to pump up his gubernatorial re-election vote numbers, and then pivot right in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Amid all the gamesmanship, it’s easy to lose sight of where Christie is really coming from—unless you look at his record.
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality.
Nichols goes on to declare that “Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.”
By way of throat-clearing, I have a big problem with the term “austerity” being thrown at governors. Most states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. Having done so, many states are now in a healthy fiscal position and should see revenue return to pre-recession levels this year. Critics of austerity at the federal level understood this all along. The anti-austerians, as I interpret them, aren’t against cutting spending always, anywhere, and everywhere; their argument was, and is, that contractionary fiscal policy in Washington makes our unemployment problem worse. In the face of state and local cutbacks, Congress should have been cushioning the blow.
But Nichols is largely correct: Christie is by any reasonable measure a fiscal and social conservative. Read More…
The answer, judging from the image projected by the vice president in an interview with historian Douglas Brinkley in Rolling Stone, appears to be yes.
It’s not far-fetched to think that Biden will run for president in 2016 on Obama’s coattails. This notion surprises many Republicans, who feel Obama is foundering and that Biden, who will be 74 at the beginning of the next presidential term, is too old. But Biden is smart to stay close to Obama, whose public-approval rating hovers just below 50 percent (a number that rises to around 75 percent among registered Democrats). Assuming Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, she will sell herself as a successor to her husband, harkening back to the economic heyday of the 1990s. By contrast, if Biden gets into the race, it will be as an Obama Democrat promising to expand on the record of the last two terms.
A handful of observations about a potential Clinton-Biden rivalry:
1.) “Obama Democrat” and “Clinton Democrat” are no longer mutually exclusive. Hillary Clinton may come to personify the melding of the two political brands. The 2012 campaign saw President Obama rely on Clinton’s speechmaking and retail campaigning acumen to a far greater extent than he did in ’08. The former president’s contribution to Obama’s reelection was second in significance only to Obama’s efforts on his own behalf. In his stemwinder at the Democratic National Convention—an address that was emotionally and substantively superior to Obama’s acceptance speech—Bill Clinton entwined his legacy with that of Obama’s. In the event that both Biden and Clinton run in ’16, Hillary would in effect be able to run as a successor to both men.
2.) ”Experience.” In 2008, Hillary ran on the experience issue and failed miserably. She lost to a junior senator who had yet to complete his first term; the appeal to her service as first lady was laughed out of town. But let’s imagine, for our purposes, that 2016 won’t be a repeat of the novelty act that ’08 was. On foreign policy, in particular, Hillary lacked relevant credentials. This was the one issue portfolio where then-Sen. Biden could plausibly claim the upper hand. Hillary’s stint as secretary of state erases that gap.
3.) Benghazi. If, two to three years from now, the Benghazi issue still hovers over Hillary (which I doubt, but let’s say it will for argument’s sake), Biden will hardly be free of its taint. He brags to Brinkley of his tight relationship to Obama: “Think about it: Even our critics have never said that when I speak, no one doubts that I speak for the president. I speak for the president because of the relationship. And the only way that works is you’re around all the time. Literally, ever meeting he has, I’m in. You don’t have to wonder what the other guy’s thinking; I don’t have to guess where the president’s going.” Recall, in this context, Obama’s remark in the second presidential debate that Hillary “works for me.” By extension, she worked for Biden. If Benghazi still smells in ’16, the stuff will roll uphill from Foggy Bottom.
4.) Age and Sex. Hillary will have one very big advantage over Biden (and other male presidential aspirants) three years from now: She’s a woman. Having checked first black president off the list, Democrats will be eager to finally send a woman to the White House. And those worried about Hillary’s age—she’ll be 69 on Election Day ’16—will be able to favorably contrast her to Biden, who will be 74.
5.) Every waking moment of his life, Joe Biden exists on the knife’s edge of verbal catastrophe.
In conjunction with his appearance on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, Sen. Rand Paul attended a gala sponsored by the magazine, where he toasted Henry David Thoreau—“just a guy,” Paul explained, who “wanted to live by himself,” but “society wouldn’t leave him alone.”
Obviously, the Kentucky senator, and possible 2016 presidential contender, chose to highlight Thoreau not just because he was an idealistic, contemplative loner. In the broader context of the liberty movement’s desire to see the Republican party reclaim the mantle of individual rights, it makes perfect sense that Paul would cheer Thoreau’s legacy of civil disobedience in the face of slavery and imperialism.
More, one can imagine Paul approvingly quoting Thoreau’s paean to trade and “commerce”—“its enterprise and bravery”:
Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes. I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails …
Yet the pairing, however brief, of Paul and Thoreau had me stewing this past weekend. I was thinking about the desire to “be left alone.” Laissez-faire. Liberty defined as the absence of restraint. In order to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” Thoreau withdrew from the community, from the polis. Read More…
About a third of the way through The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, Rod Dreher paints a moving portrait of a community tending to one of its own:
The news hit the West Feliciana community like a cyclone. As the day wore on a hundred or more friends mobbed the hospital. Some offered to move in with the Lemings to care for the children while Ruthie fought [her cancer]. John Bickham told Paw that he would sell everything he had to pay for Ruthie’s medical bills if it came to that. At the middle school the teachers did their best to get through the day, but kept breaking down. All over town people prepared food and took it by the Leming house, which, this being Starhill, sat unlocked.
“We were surrounded by so much love,” Mam recalls. “It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.”
The inspiring collective response of this small Louisiana town seems to me a paradigmatic real-life example of the kind of civil society that Yuval Levin (as well as TAC’s Samuel Goldman) champions here as a Burkean rebuke to harsh conservative rhetoric about the “culture of dependency”:
We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.
I don’t want to speak for Rod here. Nor do I want to superimpose on The Little Way, a deeply personal meditation on social and family bonds, a polemical or partisan quality that it in fact mercifully avoids. But I don’t think I’m misreading Rod at all in saying that technocracy is not what enabled his particular illusion of independence. That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.
Our culture stokes this desire, and in no small way our economy depends on it. When politicians tirelessly invoke the “American Dream,” when we celebrate social mobility and “churn,” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” as the poet Wendell Berry (via Wallace Stegner) describes those whose ambition compels them to leave home.
To make the point in the context of our ongoing clash over immigration, do we not at least unwittingly celebrate the dilution of communities when we hold up as heroes those who leave behind their friends and extended families to pursue employment in America? To borrow the simple phraseology of Rod’s mother, a young man who leaves a village in Latin America or South Asia is no longer there. Read More…
The libertarian-trending George F. Will seems cautiously optimistic about what an ambitious Rep. Justin Amash could mean for a Republican brand in flux. He writes of the 33-year-old House member, who’s mulling a run to replace Michigan Sen. Carl Levin:
Last month, when [Sen. Rand] Paul was waging his 13-hour filibuster, Amash made his first visit to the Senate floor and was struck by the contrast with the House, which he says is “good fun” and “loud and boisterous.” The Senate would be more so with Amash inside, and Michigan Republicans, having lost six consecutive Senate elections, might reasonably want to try something new. But as Amash undertakes to “tear down the left-right paradigm,” he must consider how the delicate but constructive fusion of libertarians and social conservatives has served Republicans, and the sometimes inverse relationship between being interesting and being electable.
Amash is mindful of two things: 1) that there’s a demand among Republican elites for a more “moderate” face of the party; and 2) that lawmakers in the self-styled liberty movement have a reputation for being the opposite of moderate.
And so Amash surveys the scene and calls himself, well, a “moderate”—because, he tells Will, “the point of the Constitution is to moderate the government.”
Reason’s Brian Doherty appreciates Amash’s rhetorical jujitsu, but doubts it will fly politically:
surely deep down he understands that his libertarian leanings scare lots of voters. He’d certainly be painted by the Democrats as the candidate out to destroy Medicare, Social Security, the safety net, clean food and air, and our national security if the Democratic Party had to fight him for a precious Senate seat.
If “libertarians are the true moderates” turns out to be a flop in the near term, what about the ideological medium- and long-term? Will Amash and co. “tear down the left-right paradigm”? The liberty Republicans see an opposition party embracing, and their own party halfheartedly resisting, a collectivist drift on government spending, civil liberties, and economic freedom. Can Congress’s liberty caucus simultaneously push to restore its vision of limited government and make the Republican once again a national party?
If it does, it will be because both parties will have coalesced around variants of radical individualism. What Amash fails to appreciate, in my view, is the practical interpretation of the Democratic agenda. Where Amash sees collectivism, voters increasingly see a distant and neutral guarantor of personal liberation and self-actualization. Amash sees high taxes, Big Brother, and mass gymnastics; the “coalition of the ascendant” sees government creating “ladders of opportunity” while abjuring moral judgmentalism.
A politics that further marginalizes the Rick Santorums of the world, that elevates individualism at the expense of the party’s waning ethos of communitarianism—and while continuing to frustrate the Koch Brothers’ economic agenda—is not what Justin Amash has in mind.
Yet unwittingly that’s what he’s paving the way for: a shattered left-right paradigm that yields a new left-right fusionism.
I don’t think George Will would find this constructive at all.