It might be a tradition that every year that GOProud is excluded as a CPAC sponsor, there will be a stealth panel on gay marriage.
In 2013, that slot was filled by the “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” panel, which was the standing-room only panel thrown unofficially by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This year, the gay rights debate happened on the mainstage at during “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”
The social conservatives tried to pitch their issues within a libertarian framework. Dr. Matt Spalding of the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center at Hillsdale College acknowledged he differed with some of his fellow panelists on gay marriage, but said, referencing the conscience exemption carveouts, “We must have an agreement on religious liberty.”
Alexander McCobin of Students for Liberty fired back that libertarians were a little more worried about the religious liberty of couples and pastors in churches that conduct gay weddings, which are not acknowledged by their governments.
Spalding tried speaking in libertarian terms again, saying that, by default, conservatives should view any government institution with suspicion and that activists must address “whether the State has an obligation to recognize marriage at all.” In his view, traditional, one-man-one-woman marriage is “like gravity” a law external to the government, not written by it. Private contracts were a different matter, he said, but, for the public institution of marriage, the old tradition is “the only definition that makes sense.”
Throughout the panel, the social conservatives seemed to be soliciting the help of the libertarians, trying to speak their language, while the libertarians seemed indifferent to the idea of converting social conservatives. The libertarians answered the questions that were posed to them but made no parallel attempts to appeal to socially conservative tenets in order to attract their fellow panelists to libertarian positions.
The closest the libertarians came to trying to attract social conservatives, rather than just rebut them, was when Matt Welch of Reason argued that religion benefits from a free market in churches and contrasted the vibrancy of American churches with the weakening ones in France. However, the diversity of American sects is not necessarily attractive to social conservatives, any more than a strong environmentalist is pleased by a completely free market in cars, where some meet gas efficiency standards and some do not.
By the conclusion of the panel, the speakers agreed that social conservatives and libertarians could remain bedfellows, albeit strange ones. However, the tone and tactics on display reinforced Ross Douthat’s assertion that social conservatives are no longer negotiating as equals, but are working out the terms of a conditional surrender.
“Off with Obamacare’s head!”
Such was the battle cry at the first day at CPAC, woven into nearly every speech, from Ted Cruz’s opening remarks at 9AM to the afternoon panels, regardless of whether the topic at hand was healthcare-related or not. Repeated demands were made to repeal or abolish Obamacare, each new iteration met with enthusiastic applause. Obamacare was criticized, attacked, and ridiculed with palpable glee. Speculation abounded about what would happen when Obamacare collapsed under its own weight. But few solutions were offered to replace a defenestrated Obamacare, which will cost Republicans with potential voters in the midterms, and in 2016.
CPAC is not known to be a breeding ground for policy initiatives, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be. Try as Republicans might, they have been thus far unsuccessful in their attempts to repeal Obamacare, leaving them with only one viable alternative: reform. In an environment like CPAC, words like reform aren’t “sticky” or in line with the talking points drilled into participants’ heads. But it is necessary, and may even be crucial to our health care system having a fighting chance of recovery. The health care system is in desperate need of overhaul, and Republicans should be leading the charge of how to fix it, not simply pointing out that Democrats broke it most recently. Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming, who had a career as an orthopedic surgeon before becoming a politician, stressed the additional burden placed on patients on having to travel farther to see doctors on a government mandated health insurance program. “Obamacare is patient, heal yourself,” Senator Barrasso said, indicating that it will be harder for seniors to get to hospitals and receive the consistent care they need. “They’re aren’t enough people to take care of the patients, and it’s actually making things worse.”
The silver lining to the grim prognosis is that there is, at last, Republican legislation surfacing. The Coburn, Burr, and Hatch plan is one example of such legislation. The bill takes practical measures to reform Medicaid by allowing patients to keep their own health care plan, reforms medical malpractice law, and allows patients to make their own choices when it comes to their own health care plans, as opposed to government regulations dictating what providers are available to them.
CPAC may be about hitting those talking points, but it can also be a meeting of minds and the beginning of substantive conversations that could put a derailed healthcare system back on track. Republicans need to act quickly, though. Time is running out, and the final phases of Obamacare implementation are on the horizon.
Of Kristol’s evocation of the “original Constitution”—and, by implication, modern liberalism’s trashing of it—Chait writes, “The ‘original Constitution’? The one that permitted slavery? Does Kristol want to do away away with the 11th through 27th amendments to the Constitution? I’m sure he does not. But if Kristol obviously does not mean what he actually wrote, what does he mean?”
We all know the drill by now: the “original,” pre-Progressive era Constitution was not designed for the expansive power to regulate interstate commerce that Congress now enjoys; for “transfer payments” or the redistribution of wealth; or, generally speaking, for any interference between the consensual acts of individuals in the marketplace.
I return to it from time to time, because it’s such a perfect distillation of the kind of jurisprudence that infuses the tea party and liberty movements, and Kristol’s musing furnishes me another excuse: Ken Cuccinelli’s legal brief against Obamacare’s individual mandate in the Texas Review of Law & Politics.
In it, Cuccinelli answers Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous Lochner dissent that “a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory … The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s social statics.” (Hence Chait, lazily switching between upper- and lower-case “c”: “The Constitution is not a vague set of ideals; it’s a clear set of rules. That’s the whole point of a Constitution.”)
Cuccinelli says Holmes was arguing with a straw man. Of course it’s nonsense to claim the Constitution or the 14th Amendment embody Social Statics. But could Holmes plausibly deny that it embodies John Locke? “This would have been regarded as puzzling at best and at worst demonstrably false.” So there, fine: Forget Herbert Spencer. We can appeal to Locke (and Blackstone, and Hooker) and basically arrive at the same libertarian defense of economic rights. Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas: so use your own as not to injure another’s property.
For now, let’s table this aspect of the debate. Readers know I’d rather live under Chait’s Constitution than Cuccinelli’s. My point here is this: Bill Kristol is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ambassador for the Tea Party Constitution!
A constitution whose notion of executive power is expansive enough to satisfy the likes of Bill Kristol and John Yoo should have no trouble accommodating social insurance programs or public assistance for the needy.
I’m sorry: you don’t get to have your kickass policy suite of torture, democratism, intergalactic swamp-draining, World War XXIV, and “We’re all Everybody-ians now,” and also complain about food stamps or federal insurance exchanges.
Tea Party and liberty movement conservatives have every right to argue for an originalist interpretation of individual economic rights.
Bill Kristol does not.
First, let me say that Corey is quite right that “the essence of the conflict” between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine can be found in their “different orientations toward the entirety of human experience.” Furthermore, I agree with her that “most people who call themselves conservative” are actually followers of the ideologically-oriented Paine. Most conservatives “are concerned with efficiency, problem-solving, and changing the world.” Most “have qualms about technology … but we no longer resist it.” Most are willing to “give up on the rule of law as an ideal and promote policies that encourage our own favored outcomes.”
I agree with Corey’s general assessment of the current state of political conservativism. As Mark Signorelli recently commented about Corey’s piece, “We occupy a political order determined not merely by liberal ideas, but by liberal emotions.” Taking this one step further, I would say that the current political climate mirrors G.K. Chesterton’s definition of a maniac. The maniac is a “clean and well-lit prison of one idea: he is sharpened to one painful point. He is without healthy hesitation and healthy complexity.” Without the kind of hesitation that comes with concern and care for tradition and the recognition of human complexity, our public discourse plunges into the gloom of rancor, vituperation, and indifference to others’ opinions.
There is, however, a mistaken notion that Corey puts forward in addition to her review. She writes that “in most respects, and particularly in politics, it appears that Paine has won the day.” While I wholeheartedly support Corey’s conclusion that what we need is a “reorientation of the modern soul,” I fail to see how Corey’s capitulation that “Paine has won” is at all necessary or helpful.
In an effort to make her point, Corey gives the discussion over to the kind of slavish power discourse of winning that is all-too-often misappropriated today. Here, the misappropriation is blatantly apparent. What game were Burke and Paine playing? What has Paine won? Was Burke not informed about the competition? What were the rules? When did it end? Will there be a rematch?
An essential aspect of the conservative mind is the belief that society and civilization are neither competitions nor games to be won or lost. They are not contests between hostile ideas or policies or movements. In Reflections on the Revolutions in France, Burke defined society as “a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.” The basic contours of this kind of partnership—things like justice, charity, fellowship, temperance, and patience—build a lasting civilization. Read More…
President Barack Obama has made it absolutely clear that he will rule by Executive Order for the remainder of his term. Republicans and independents have decried this as an unconstitutional power grab, a usurpation of authority granted by the Constitution to Congress, while Democrats are mostly too embarrassed to defend what they so strongly opposed under George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.
A conservative response should begin by observing that the U.S. Constitution is not as legally neat as the protesters suggest. While most folks focus on the uplifting sentiments of the Bill of Rights to liberty and property, the essential Constitution is all about power and how it is divided. The progressive myth of a legalistic constitution of rights is just that, a fable to cover its own view of political power. The Bill of Rights was not even part of the original document. The fundamental Constitution is outlined in its Articles, dividing power between legislative, executive, judicial, state and amendment institutions. But the boundaries between them are anything but clear.
Abraham Lincoln suspended judicial habeas corpus and controlled speech during the civil war without legal support from Congress and actual opposition from the Supreme Court. The succeeding Reconstruction Congress impeached the president for merely attempting to replace his own cabinet and when unable to convict him made his veto a nullity by strict party rule, rigged voter lists in the South, and effectively unicameralizing the Senate and House under a joint committee of Republican leaders. Andrew Jackson directly refused to implement a Supreme Court decision supporting Cherokee property rights, distaining the court to enforce its ruling if it could because he would not.
Isn’t the Supreme Court supposed to have the last word on these matters? In challenging President Bush’s attempt to replace regional U.S. Attorneys against Congressional opposition in 2006, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said such differences between the executive and legislature must be umpired by the courts. He and his classmates were taught in law school that “the Constitution was what the Court said it was.” Bush replied he would not allow his Attorney General to enforce a judicial contempt order even if the court issued one and that was that. More recently, President Obama announced he would not enforce federal anti-drug laws against states with marijuana legalization laws and refused to deport certain illegal immigrants. Back in 1988, Congress passed a Civil Rights Restoration Act specifically nullifying the Grove City Court decision and in 1991 passed a civil rights bill overruling five Supreme Court decisions by name.
Even with their relative decline in recent years, the states are not without redress either, as the marijuana legalization laws demonstrate. States have created constitutional amendments, laws, and attorneys general suits to circumvent national laws and opinions on marriage, abortion, racial preferences, gun restrictions, the Real ID Act, Obamacare (by more than half the states), and many others. Indeed, many federal laws and court decisions are administered by state bureaucracies that differ in their interpretation and enforcement greatly, as Alabama and Massachusetts in fact do. Amendments to the Constitution have been passed on many critical subjects over the years and on several occasions the mere threat has changed federal policy.
Taxes would seem one area where the legislature must predominate. No taxation without local representation was the principle complaint justifying the American war for independence. Today the effective imposition of taxes by creative executive regulatory interpretation—such as the recent increase in fuel emission standards—is the rule rather than the exception. Judges have required state legislatures to increase taxes to upgrade schools for minorities or to redress other presumed shortcomings for all kinds of special interest purposes. A St. Louis federal court in effect ran the local school for decades. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Obamacare penalties were taxes, exemptions and changed regulatory requirements are in effect taxes passed by the health and treasury secretaries alone.
President Obama is by no means the first to govern by Executive Order. Read More…
Once the news was out, some conservatives began lodging complaints. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council said, “If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the ‘C’ in CPAC,” and Brent Bozell claimed their attendance would be “more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself.”
That may have been the response that Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists was hoping for, when he told CNN that “The Christian right should be threatened by us.” But, as he explained to TAC, Silverman’s goal wasn’t to attack the conservative movement, but to “change it from within.”
Silverman is a self-described conservative, who cited Christie Todd Whitman and Bob Dole as politicians he particularly admires, and found it ironic to be bumped from a conservative conference less than a week after he’d been out shooting with his family.
With atheists on the rise (the Pew Religion and Public Life project found that the religiously unaffiliated represent 20 percent of all U.S. adults, and a third of those under thirty), Silverman thinks that the GOP has to reach out to atheists in order to stay politically viable. In his opinion, “If Christian influence were wiped from conservatism, conservatism would thrive.”
According to Silverman, he asked the American Conservative Union what compromise or conditions they’d require in order to keep the American Atheists in attendance and was told that no negotiation was possible; it was a matter of tone. (The ACU could not be reached for comment.)
American Atheists is known for the inflammatory rhetoric on their billboards and ads (a sampling from recent years includes “You KNOW they’re all scams!” over an image of houses of worship and “Christianity: Sadistic God; Useless Savior… Promotes Hate; Calls it ‘Love’”). However, the pamphlets Silverman had prepared to hand out (reproduced in full at the end of this article) are relatively mild.
The brochure contains no attacks on the truth of religion or insults directed at believers. Instead it summarizes four key issues for the organization: amend tax policy to end distinctions between religious and secular non-profits, keep religious monuments off public land, limit conscience exemptions unless narrowly tailored, and keep policy debates focused on reason, not revelation.
If their soft-pedaling had won them supporters, American Atheists might have had a new problem on their hands. Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, said that her work as a Republican was “a real problem” and that the aims of the GOP were “diametrically opposed to those of the atheist and secular community.” Christina subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA, when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.
Last week, just as the East Coast descended into a terrifying world of ice and snow, Norm Ornstein proposed “A Plan to Reduce Inequality: Give $1,000 to Every Newborn Baby.” As Ornstein described the details:
It is called KidSave, and it was devised in the 1990s by then-Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, with then-Senator Joe Lieberman as cosponsor. The first iteration of KidSave, in simple terms, was this: Each year, for every one of the 4 million newborns in America, the federal government would put $1,000 in a designated savings account. The payment would be financed by using 1 percent of annual payroll-tax revenues. Then, for the first five years of a child’s life, the $500 child tax credit would be added to that account, with a subsidy for poor people who pay no income. The accounts would be administered the same way as the federal employees’ Thrift Savings Plan, with three options—low-, medium-, and high-risk—using broad-based stock and bond funds. Under the initial KidSave proposal, the funds could not be withdrawn until age 65, when, through the miracle of compound interest, they would represent a hefty nest egg. At 5 percent annual growth, an individual would have almost $700,000.
By reviving a Democratic communitarian policy proposal from the 1990s, Ornstein, a resident scholar at AEI, would probably wind up pegged in the camp of what Ben Domenech branded the “Beltway Burkeans” in an essay last summer. Domenech said, “The Beltway Burkeans talk a good game about shifting the right’s coalition, but the truth is that their agenda represents a much more modest shift, in large part a reworking of the same ideas they’ve been pitching for years.” Domenech argued this Washington-centric view could hobble Republicans by disconnecting them from the populist opportunity that the Tea Party uprising afforded them. To Domenech, “A bolder approach to remaking the coalition would ditch the false promise of technocratic paternalism in favor of a bias toward individual liberty and a rediscovery of the populist agenda.” Paine is the Republican future, not Burke, then. And to the small-government populists, Ornstein’s closing sentiment, “If the cost, in the end, were even $20 billion a year, that is chump change in a $17 [tr]illion economy—and, of course, money that would all be invested in America,” is anathema.
Yet if one thumbs back through history, Tea Party favorite Thomas Paine proposes a roughly similar policy agenda. In his 1795 pamphlet Agrarian Justice, Paine makes the Rousseauean natural law case that “The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized. … Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state.” While acknowledging the property right of those who have improved the land and thus created wealth from it, Paine held that those landowners owed the community a “ground rent” for the value of the land before improvement, which belonged to the whole human race equally. So Paine sought to remedy civilization’s poverty, by providing out of that ground rent (collected as a 10 percent estate tax as the improvers of the land turn over) a sum of 15 pounds sterling to every person upon reaching their 21st birthday. Read More…
Center-right wonks are increasingly optimistic that the next Republican nominee will have a real agenda to promote—one that’s attractive to all voters, not just white owners of capital.
There’s the focus on overhauling antipoverty programs from Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan. There’s the family-friendly tax plan of Sen. Mike Lee. There’s the brave gesture in the direction of prison reform from Lee and Sen. Rand Paul.
To be sure, this agenda is still bones and no flesh.
In the meantime, an equally important development is underway.
Byron York reported from the recent House Republican retreat:
At the House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Md., Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on GOP lawmakers to take a new approach to the nation’s economic anxieties. Dividing his remarks into four categories — Obamacare, jobs and economic growth, the middle-class squeeze, and opportunity — Cantor’s goal was to try to identify specific problems middle-class families are facing and spark discussion on conservative solutions that might help those families.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Cantors presentation was that it included a recognition that in the past Republicans have focused more on the nation’s employers than employees, have talked about small business owners and entrepreneurs to the exclusion of the far greater number of Americans who don’t own their own businesses.
“Ninety percent of Americans work for someone else,” Cantor said, according to a source in the room. “Most of them not only will never own their own business, for most of them that isn’t their dream. Their dream is to have a good job, with an income that will allow them to support their family.”
“We shouldn’t miss the chance to talk to these people,” Cantor continued, according to the source, “which is why we will present and pass our plans to relieve the middle class squeeze.”
This shift in tone and emphasis is key to any hope of a Republican winning the White House again. It is a not-so-subtle rebuke of the disastrous Romney campaign and its self-satisfied and divisive “Yes, I did build that!” rhetoric. It’s the human-interest frame in which to hang the Ryan-Rubio-Lee-Paul reform agenda.
After Ryan’s 2012 convention speech, 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”?
There’s an old saying that American politics is fought “between the 40 yard lines.” This is half-true. It skips over the matter of which football field we’re playing on. For the last five years, we’ve been fighting between the 40 yard lines on the football field of low inflation and deficit reduction—spending cuts vs. new tax revenue. What, if anything, to do about long-term unemployment and underemployment is another field altogether—and we barely play on it.
The field on which elite Republicans would like to fight is that of cheap labor, tight money, balanced budgets, hawkish foreign policy and low taxes on capital. On this field, amnesty and gay marriage are between the 40 yard lines.
Not to single her out, because there are all too many Republicans like her in Washington, but this is Jennifer Rubin’s field.
It’s the way to defeat again in ’16.
Cantor’s advice to his Republican colleagues is a critical first-step in ensuring that, for the next campaign, the GOP is between the 40 yard lines and on the right football field.
Out of the Republican retreat on Maryland’s Eastern shore comes word that the House leadership is raising the white flag of surrender on immigration. The GOP will agree to halt the deportation of 12 million illegal aliens, and sign on to a blanket amnesty. It only asks that the 12 million not be put on a path to citizenship. Sorry, but losers do not dictate terms. Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO says amnesty is no longer enough. Illegal aliens must be put on a path to citizenship and given green cards to work—and join unions.
Rep. Paul Ryan and the Wall Street Journal are for throwing in the towel. Legalize them all and start them on the path to citizenship. A full and final capitulation. Let’s get it over with. To understand why and how the Republican Party lost Middle America, and faces demographic death, we need to go back to Bush I.
At the Cold War’s end, the GOP reached a fork in the road. The determination of Middle Americans to preserve the country they grew up in, suddenly collided with the profit motive of Corporate America. The Fortune 500 wanted to close factories in the USA and ship production abroad—where unions did not exist, regulations were light, taxes were low, and wages were a fraction of what they were here in America. Corporate America was going global and wanted to be rid of its American work force, the best paid on earth, and replace it with cheap foreign labor. While manufacturing sought to move production abroad, hotels, motels, bars, restaurants, farms, and construction companies that could not move abroad also wanted to replace their expensive American workers.
Thanks to the Republican Party, Corporate America got it all.
U.S. factories in the scores of thousands were shut down, shedding their American workers. Foreign-made goods poured in, filling U.S. stores and killing the manufacturers who had stayed behind, loyal to their U.S. workers. The Reagan prosperity was exported to Asia and China by the Bush Republicans. And the Reagan Democrats reciprocated by deserting the Bush Republican Party and going home. But this was not the end of what this writer described in his 1998 book, The Great Betrayal. As those hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, fast-food shops, car washes, groceries, and other service industries also relished the rewards of cheap foreign labor, they got government assistance in replacing their American workers. Read More…
Last summer I tried to tease out the complications of adopting libertarian-populist standards. The self-dealing of, say, an aluminum company lobbying for and benefiting from fuel-efficiency regulations seems, on its face, sleazy and reprehensible. But what, I asked, can be done to avoid such conflicts of interest when there is a public good being pursued?
[D]id Obamacare’s architects desire to turn insurance companies into public utilities as a policy end in itself—or was it a means of broadening access to medical insurance (a goal the public generally favors)? …
After September 11, the Bush administration and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers concluded it was in the national interest to invade two countries. A giant new security apparatus slowly spread its tentacles across American life. Defense contractors and security consultants dine out on this policy sea change to this day. One can argue until one is blue on the face about the wisdom of these policies—but at the end of the day, one is forced to mount an argument about an overarching public good (or ill).
Simply asking “who, whom?”, as libertarian populism would have it, will only you take you so far.
Timothy Carney grapples with this question in a lengthy and thoughtful piece at Reason magazine. After having run through a series of real-life examples of wheeler-dealing, he delineates a set of best practices for industry lobbyists:
There’s nothing inherently wrong with profiting off big government. If the government creates a surplus of deer, someone has to thin that surplus. If government forces factories to clean up their emissions, someone has to make the smokestack scrubbers. If government requires drivers to use ethanol, someone has to make the stuff.
Nor is it inherently wrong to lobby for policies that increase your profits. “Petitioning the government for the redress of grievances” is protected by the First Amendment, and the regulatory environment often chips away at the profits companies would otherwise make. What is wrong is to lobby for policies that enrich your business by taking away other people’s property or liberty.
In a nutshell, the Carney Standard—unassailably reasonable, I’d say—is this: Do not lobby in favor of unjust laws.
Read the whole piece, however. It’s well worth your time.