“When I was in school, I studied government and I learned about the anarchists. Now, they were different than the Tea Party because they were violent. But they were anarchists because they did not believe in government in any level and they acknowledged it. The Tea Party kind of hides that. They don’t say ‘we’re against government’; that’s what it all amounts to. They’re not doing physically destructive things to buildings and people, directly; but they are doing everything they can to throw a monkey wrench into any form of government — whether it’s local, whether it’s state, or federal government. That’s what it’s all about.”
Of course, most people will interpret this as a slur against the Tea Party. But it’s also a slur against anarchists, most of whom are quite peaceful. As Bill Kauffman explains in his entry for anarchism in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia:
Perhaps no political term is quite so misunderstood as “anarchy.” In the popular press, it is a synonym for disorder and chaos, not to mention looting and pillage: countries like Haiti are always being “plunged into anarchy.” The anarchist, meanwhile, is frozen into a late-nineteenth-century caricature: he is furtive, hirsute, beady-eyed, given to gesticulation, gibberish, and, most of all, pointless acts of violence. Yet anarchy, according to most of its proponents through the years, is peaceable, wholly voluntary, and perhaps a bit utopian. The word means “without a ruler”; anarchy is defined as the absence of a state and its attendant coercive powers. It implies nothing about social arrangements, family and sexual life, or religion; and in fact the most persuasive anarchists, from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, have been Christians.
… echoes of native anarchism may be heard throughout American history: in the warnings of the Anti-Federalists about the centralizing thrust of the new Constitution; in the Garrisonian abolitionists who reviled any government that countenanced slavery; in the Populists of the 1890s, with their attacks on chartered corporations and paper wealth; in the Old Right of the 1930s, which saw the New Deal as potentially totalitarian; in the New Left of the 1960s, which denounced the military, the university, and the corporation as dehumanizing; and among contemporary libertarians, especially those influenced by the economist and anti- imperialist Murray N. Rothbard. But except for the anarchist-tinged Industrial Workers of the World, the radical labor union that reached its zenith in the early twentieth century, anarchists have never been adept organizers. For the most part anarchy in the United States has been a literary-political tendency.
So take heart, Tea Party, and don’t be too offended by the senate majority leader. He’s really saying you’re part of a proud American tradition. A tradition that someone who says “government is inherently good” is unlikely to ever understand.
(h/t United Liberty)
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.
A New York Times story headlined “Rifts in Both Parties Complicate Odds for Gun Measure” mentions this in passing:
It is also unclear whether Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, a likely yes vote who has been largely absent in the 113th Congress, would show up for the crucial vote this week.
Lautenberg is 89 and apparently has been suffering from pain and weakness in his legs, making travel prohibitive. He’s also a cancer survivor.
Our heart goes out to the guy.
Still: “Largely absent.” “Unclear whether [he] … would show up.”
Hey, Sen. Lautenberg: Ever heard of Pope Benedict XVI?
Or is United States senator an even cushier gig than I thought?
When House Republicans repaired to Williamsburg, Va., in January, they hatched a pretty smart plan to carry them through the winter. The talk coming out of the retreat was all about “sequencing”: after the bruising fiscal cliff battle, the GOP needed to avoid, if only temporarily, a confrontation over the debt ceiling and skip straight to the comparatively lower stakes of the sequester. “Sometimes you’ve got to lay down a sacrifice bunt,” Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida told National Journal.
This assumption, for the time being, at least, has proved correct. The sequester kicked in, and its adverse effects around the country have been too scattershot to compel movement in Washington. The unveiling of the Ryan budget followed, with its claim to the moral high ground of a balanced budget in 10 years. Most recently, both chambers approved a continuing budget resolution to fund the government through September at the sequester’s lower spending levels—another win for the GOP.
In sum, since January, congressional Republicans have navigated the fiscal shoals about as well as could be expected. They punted (or bunted?) on what would have been a disastrous fight over the debt ceiling. And they avoided a government shutdown—a political disaster if not, as with the debt ceiling, a global-economic one.
But now spring has arrived, and the party again needs to feed the Sequencing Meter. Because it seems we’re right back to where we were in January. As Politico’s Jake Sherman reports:
They might have appeared to stand down from the last clash over the debt ceiling in January. But don’t be fooled: House Republicans are still planning to push for steep spending cuts or budgetary reforms alongside legislation to allow more borrowing. House Speaker John Boehner’s majority has cut so deep into discretionary spending, they know they cannot go any deeper. So this time, to raise the nation’s debt cap — something GOP leadership estimates is likely to happen in July — they are moving on to tweaking entitlements.
Avoiding the debt ceiling and moving onto the sequester undeniably made short-term tactical sense. But the perilous politics of the debt ceiling haven’t changed simply because all the low-hanging fruit of discretionary spending has been plucked. Just as readily as Republicans insist the argument about revenue concluded with the fiscal cliff, President Obama will no doubt re-up his posture of refusing to negotiate over the debt ceiling and demand new revenue in exchange for entitlement reform.
The sequencing of “Sequester first” will have made long-term sense only when Republicans manage to extract reforms they actually want—not just across-the-board cuts they’re willing to live with. If the Williamsburg Accord, as the strategy formulated at January’s retreat for House Republicans has come to be called, does not ultimately yield a grand bargain, it will be seen as just a temporary mollification of the fiscal hardliners.
Bottom line: if House Republican leaders can’t wrangle those hardliners, now seemingly emboldened, to the finish line of a grand bargain, they will have been victimized by the provisional success of the sequester standoff.
The deficit and debt have been the dominant issues of the first months of President Obama’s second term. Apart from the gun control debate provoked by horror in Newton, Connecticut, it sometimes seems as if the country’s governing class speaks of nothing else. Although Republicans have recently engaged in self-criticism for excessive interest in budget, the fiscal fixation is bipartisan. The fact that the deficit has actually shrunk under the Obama Administration is a current Democratic talking point.
But who actually cares about federal spending and borrowing? According to the political scientists Benjamin I. Page and Larry Bartels, fiscal matters are the special obsession of the 1%. In a piece for the L.A. Times, Page and Bartels present evidence that the rich have a distinctive austerity agenda centered on deficit and debt reduction, while the broad public care more about jobs and protecting entitlements. They go on to suggest, based on a substantial body of research, that politicians tend to respond to concerns of the economic elite rather than their own constituents.
In addition to its growing scientific basis, this argument is consistent with the idea that extreme inequality of wealth is a threat to democracy. I’m generally sympathetic to that view. But I’m not sure that interest in fiscal issues is a good test case.
To begin with, there are plenty of reasons that politicians might prefer to talk about the deficit and the debt than about unemployment. The most important is that it’s pretty easy to develop a fiscal plan, while no one actually knows how to encourage mass hiring or restore vigorous economic growth. Politicians are generally reluctant to admit that anything beyond their understanding or control. Talking about the deficit, then, is a way of maintaining the illusion that the fate of the economy will be determined in Washington.
Furthermore, there’s little evidence that the public is overwhelmingly more concerned about unemployment than fiscal issues. Bartels and Page point out “only about 12% of Americans…cited federal debt as the nation’s most important problem” in the 2011 Gallup polls that they take as a point of departure. More recent polls, however, show concern with the deficit and debt rising as high as 20% in January, and remaining within a few points of concern about jobs for the year to date.
Bartels and Page hint that this is a case of public opinion mirroring elite concerns, which are the most likely to attract media coverage. Even if that’s true, however, concern with the deficit and debt has been deep and consistent enough to belie claims of a major democratic deficit on this issue. In any case, the fact that the rich are especially concerned about the deficit and debt does not mean that fears of national bankruptcy are misplaced. Plutocratic domination is the ruin of republics. But so is government by public opinion alone.
A tribute to the retiring Mariano Rivera? A wink to the notion that he haunts John McCain’s nightmares? Either way, Rand Paul entered the CPAC stage yesterday to the musical stylings of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and full-throated roars of approval from the conservative crowd. First elected in 2010, the junior senator from Kentucky has been on something of a political tear of late, and he built off of the momentum from his social media fueled filibuster to offer a textbook demonstration of his skill at covering libertarian ideas in conservative partisan trappings.
Paul began his speech by declaring he had “a message for the President, “a message that is loud and clear, a message that doesn’t mince words.” Listen to three speeches at CPAC, and you’ll hear that four times, followed by a standard GOP platitude. The red-meat crowd sensed their priming and loaded up to applaud an attack on Obamacare, the virtues of America the Beautiful, or some similar staple. Paul gave them: “no one person gets to decide the law, no one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.” From the first, his speech demonstrated the rhetorical talent Paul the Younger brings to his increasingly large national profile.
In his further attack on President Obama, Paul demanded to know “will you or won’t you defend the Constitution?” The crowd ate it up, so he slipped into Eisenhower, usually more in vogue in the pages of The American Conservative than the ACU, asking “How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend without?” The Senator followed with Montesquieu and the separation of powers but concluded the point by saying “Our Bill of Rights is what defines us and makes us exceptional.” Feeding off the guaranteed applause for American exceptionalism, Paul defended himself against John McCain and Lindsay Graham by draping himself in the cause of the wounded warriors, “the 6,000 parents whose kids died as American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Paul was defending the Bill of Rights so that the soldiers might not have died in vain, thus co-opting the rhetoric that extended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a deft step, John McCain was rhetorically wrong-footed.
Writing in the New Republic, in 2005, less than a year after the reelection of George W. Bush had left many liberals feeling that they’d lost the “war of ideas,” Jonathan Chait, as ever contrary, insisted that there was no need for “new” ideas. The old ones, so to speak, were just fine. What the center-left lacked was the power to enact them:
It’s one thing for Democrats to sketch out the sort of alternatives they would prefer if they ran Washington. But, as long as Republicans do run Washington—and certainly as long as Bush sits in the Oval Office—doing nothing is often going to be the best available scenario for liberals. Emphasizing the downside of bad change rather than the upside of positive change reflects political necessity, not intellectual failure.
I thought of Chait’s piece as I read through House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest annual budget resolution, otherwise known as “The Path to Prosperity.” If you pulled Ryan aside and threw the Lasso of Truth around him, I imagine he’d say something very like what Chait expressed in 2005: “I like my ideas. I could have done a lot more to realize them if I were vice president. But for now, I have to wait.”
The Ryan budget has two overarching policy objectives: 1) Entitlement reform: specifically, putting a limit on Medicare’s annual budget and giving states a lot more flexibility over their Medicaid rolls; and 2) radically simplifying the tax code.
Ryan is no fool; he knows there is no chance the Obama administration will accept Medicare premium support or Medicaid block-granting. But it’s what he believes should be done, and so he’s proposing it as a matter of course. There is, however, a sliver of hope that Republicans will reach an agreement with Obama on tax reform. As Ezra Klein has noticed, Ryan’s budget is vaguer in this area than it had been. A top tax rate of 25 percent is not a hard plank, but rather a “goal” he’d like Congress to “achieve.”
Add that wiggle room to Ryan’s remark yesterday that he has no desire to relitigate the fiscal cliff battle over revenue, and you have a white smoke signal that says, “On taxes, we might be able to do some business.”
Some of my favorite Ryan-watchers, like Ross Douthat and James Pethokoukis, had clearly been hoping that Ryan would produce something fresher and less straitened than he did. I appreciate where they’re coming from, and yet, perhaps too charitably, I’m reading in the Ryan Budget 3.0 a Chait-like sigh of resignation—of resignation to, as he has put it more than once since losing in November, the “reality of divided government.”
Aside from its base-stroking unrealism about a balanced budget in 10 years, there is a subtle sort of realism about this new Ryan budget. In its very lack of creative “new ideas,” there is an admission that “The Path to Prosperity” no longer has the magic-rabbit power it had after the 2010 midterm election. It’s a budget document scarcely worth more than the PDF pixels in which it’s displayed.
I think Ryan knows this, and expended very little effort to hide the fact.
The Washington press corps just adores stories about presidents socializing with legislators. It’s bonhomie and backslapping—and not partisan dominance or economic tailwinds—that make it possible to Get Stuff Done in Congress. It’s Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill putting aside their ideological differences after 6 p.m. It’s Tom “The Hammer” Delay extending the vote on Medicare Part D and bribing members of Congress—wait! Wrong script! That’s Spielberg’s archpragmatist Lincoln and What He Can Teach Obama.
The backstory is that President Obama is “aloof.” I know this because I googled “Obama” and “aloof.”
Obama, at least in this sense (his detractors say in many others), has a Nixonian streak:
Nixon didn’t like senators or congressmen at any rate. He thought of them the way he thought of the press: they had the luxury of criticism without responsibility. His own party’s congressional leadership got information on his legislative strategy on a strictly need-to-know basis (Congressman Jerry Ford thought Haldeman and Erlichman treated them like “the chairman of the board of a large corporation regards his regional sales managers”). A new president’s first-year State of the Union address was where he traditionally unveiled his legislative program; Nixon didn’t even give a State of the Union Address. He didn’t know the name of some of his congressional liaisons. … Nixon didn’t invite a single congressman to his daughter Tricia’s White House wedding in 1971.
Still, Nixon, despite resigning in the middle of a second term that he won in landslide fashion, managed to cobble together a fairly significant domestic legacy, including the desegregation of Southern schools and environmental measures like the Clean Air Act and the EPA. This is, by contemporary standards, a decidedly liberal legacy—but then, Nixon had to deal with a solidly Democratic Congress throughout his presidency. No amount of backslapping and bonhomie, even if Nixon were capable of it, could have changed that.
For his part, Tip O’Neill’s son insists “it wasn’t the drinks or the conversation” that allowed his father to hammer out compromises with a Republican president even more conservative than Nixon.
Instead, it was a stubborn refusal not to allow fund-raisers, activists, party platforms or ideological chasms to stand between them and actions — tempered and improved by compromise — that kept this country moving.
In this telling, Reagan and O’Neill had a good working relationship because they were able to tune out the doctrinal enforcers who, since the early 1980s, have become exponentially more influential. Today, personal connections between lawmakers and presidents are no match for Rush Limbaugh or the SEIU or Fox News. I’m going to assume drinking and dining that’s paid for by lobbyists isn’t what the Reagan-O’Neill sentimentalists have in mind when they lament the decline of collegiality in Washington. And Lord knows the Obama administration is not shy about consorting with lobbyists.
But, sure, it’s obvious that gridlock in Washington is the result of His Aloofness’s preference for the company of ESPN.
Americans For Peace Now’s Lara Friedman gets to the nub of the two states for Israelis and Palestinians issue, taking some measurements on the fast-closing window for a viable peace deal.
The truth is, the two-state solution — in terms of facts on the ground — is still alive, but it is neither immortal nor infinitely malleable. This is not merely a subjective statement. A clear lesson of decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts is that three concrete conditions must exist for the two-state solution to be possible. First, it must be possible to delineate a border based on the 1967 lines that leaves two politically and economically viable, maximally contiguous states. Second, this border must allow for a politically and economically viable Israeli capital in Israeli Jerusalem and a politically and economically viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Third, it must be possible to compensate for changes in the 1967 lines through land swaps carried out on a one-to-one ratio.
Of course there are Americans, such as Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams, who apparently believe the Palestinians can be forced to accept something less than a contiguous viable state. Ross recently published a piece calling for Israel to freeze new settlements east of its separation barrier, ignoring the fact the wall cuts in substantially on Palestinian land and water resources. Friedman rightly notes that the Ross proposal would “[gut] the very concept of the two state solution.” It would eliminate the concept that the ’67 borders were the basis for compromise, and cut the Palestinians off from access to Jerusalem. It flouts the speeches on the issue made by every past American president (including Obama, whom Ross was supposedly working for until recently) and the long-standing and deeply rooted consensus of the international community. For the Palestinians the proposal for a sort of balkanized, non-contiguous bantustan state is a non-starter; even if a Palestinian leader could be bullied into accepting it, it would have no legitimacy, or staying power.
As refreshing as Rand Paul’s filibuster was to an extraordinarily wide ideological range of people, the most striking thing it revealed was the political tone-deafness of a key figure of the Obama administration, attorney general Eric Holder. On Thursday, Holder finally sent a note to Senator Paul saying the president had no authority to use drones to kill Americans on American soil. It was terse, unapologetic, dismissive in tone: “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question,” when in fact everyone in the country with the slightest interest in politics was focused on Rand Paul and knew why he was filibustering. Perhaps Holder took a snow day?
Obama won the presidency with the votes of liberals, young people, minorities, and people who felt the Republicans, after the housing/financial collapse and Iraq, were not, these days, a suitable party of government. But a great and necessary part of the spirit that drove the campaign past the once inevitable Hillary came from young people—a college generation who felt that Obama was at least a common-sense figure when most politicians were not. Unlike Hillary, he claimed to know what a “stupid war” was.
While I can’t think of a single one of my daughter’s University of Chicago ’06 friends who was not an Obama supporter, among a slightly younger cohort the world is seen differently. Killer drones, Bradley Manning: its power assured and reaffirmed, the Obama administration is acting, well, kind of arrogant. Such are the emails which get forwarded to me from ’06′s younger sister, class of 2010. These are kids without real memories of George W. Bush. And I can’t imagine them backing Obama with the kind of enthusiasm their older siblings had five or six years ago.
These aren’t expecting Obama to be some sort of savior. Simply intelligent government would suffice; no one is blind to the severity of the political, economic, or environmental problems. But what does it mean when Rand Paul and, for crying out loud, Ted Cruz, sound more engaged in protecting American civil liberties than the Obama administration?
Paul, one would have to admit, has impressed since TAC writers slammed him for his original vote against Hagel cloture. He voted for Hagel eventually, confusing everyone, but giving at least a slight indication he wasn’t going to be a party-line neocon. Whether or not he signs onto the Graham-Menendez letter trying to grease the skids for war with Iran will be a major tell about what kind of senator Paul will be.
Obama would do well to remember that well-educated young people are not in his pocket by right, as a sort of entitlement to a Democratic president. For them the ethical questions are experienced with the intensity of the brand new. If he doubts it, he might have an aide research the trajectory of Lyndon Johnson’s campus reputation between 1964 and 1967.