State of the Union

Orwell: Progressives Aren’t Fascists

luna715/Flickr.com
luna715/Flickr.com

Thanks to the website Open Culture, I came across George Orwell’s 1940 review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Not only does Orwell suss precisely the nature of Hitler’s menace and the source of his popularity, he provides a neat thumbnail description of European liberals and social democrats that could easily attach to today’s American Democrats:

Also [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.

Dig that prescient reference to birth control!

There’s a variety of reasons—see Santayana, Garry Wills, and our own Dan McCarthy—why liberalism leads to force and coercion, but it’s simply not the case that progressivism or modern liberalism or whatever you want to call it is akin to European fascism and Nazism, a virulent outgrowth of German romanticism that should not be confused with the rationalist-materialist hubris of Marx, Engels, and scientific socialism. Since I began blogging semi-regularly four years ago, the conceit that, well, Nancy Pelosi should check her sleeve for a swastika, has been a constant irritant.

I’m glad to learn that the great Orwell would have been similarly irritated.


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Remember What Nixon Accomplished Before Watergate

Nixon addresses the nation, April 29, 1974.

It has been a summer of remembrance.

The centennial of the Great War that began with the Guns of August 1914. The 75th anniversary of the Danzig crisis that led to Hitler’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The 70th anniversary of D-Day. In America, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And this week marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Once again, aging liberals will walk the children through the tale of that triumph of American democracy when they helped to save our republic from the greatest menace to the Constitution in all of history. Missing from the retelling will be the astonishing achievements of that most maligned of statesmen in the 20th century. And as this writer was at Nixon’s side for more than eight years before that August day in 1974, let me recount a few.

When Nixon took the oath in January 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. soldiers were in Vietnam or on the way, and U.S. casualties were running at 200 to 300 American dead every week. Liberalism’s best and brightest had marched us into an Asian war they could not win or end. Yet by the end of Nixon’s first term, all U.S. forces and POWs were home or on the way, and every provincial capital was in Saigon’s hands. Nixon had promised to end the war with honor. He had done so. Moreover, he had negotiated with Moscow the greatest arms control treaty since the Washington Naval Agreement of 1921-22: SALT I, setting limits on long-range ballistic missiles, and the ABM Treaty.

Nixon had gone to China and brought that enormous nation, then in the madness of its Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, out of its angry isolation. He would rescue Israel in the Yom Kippur War at her moment of maximum peril, with a massive U.S. airlift and warning to the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev not to intervene as Moscow appeared about to do. At that war’s end, Nixon would pull Egypt out of the Soviet Bloc into America’s orbit, where Anwar Sadat would later negotiate a peace with Menachem Begin. Golda Meir called Richard Nixon the best friend Israel ever had.

Though he took office with both houses of Congress against him and the media loathing him, Nixon ended the draft as he had promised, created the successful all-volunteer Army, and extended the vote to all 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old Americans. When he took office, only 10 percent of Southern schools were desegregated. When Nixon left, the figure was 70 percent. Read More…

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The Complicated Realm of Women’s Health

Rebecca Traister wrote a scathing piece for The New Republic, condemning Republicans’ egregious views on reproductive liberty and women’s health. She specifically lambasts Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who, according to a recent New York Times article, advised conservative candidates to “push back” when Democrats used the term “women’s health,” adding that “Women’s health issues are osteoporosis or breast cancer or seniors living alone who don’t have enough money for health care.”

Traister takes issue with this faulty definition. “When it comes to the complicated functioning of bodies and lives, procedures and prescriptions do not exist in vacuums, they are connected to a million other procedures and prescriptions… and they all add up to women’s health,” she writes.

Traister is right to see something off with Conway’s definition: reproductive health is an essential part of women’s health, and I strongly doubt most Republicans or conservatives would deny that—nor, I think, would they take issue with most examples Traister gives of reproductive health: cysts, endometriosis, pap smears, infertility, miscarriages, breach birth, or “a freaking yeast infection,” even.

But Conway (I would imagine) was specifically targeting the way Democrats use the term “women’s health” to describe abortion. And this is the real question, the one that Traister doesn’t really ask in her article: whether abortion and abortifacients, specifically, constitute “reproductive health.” Traister accuses conservatives of being reductionist and exclusive in their definition of women’s health, for putting “reproductive organs in a different basket from the rest of the human body.” But of course, what she’s really identifying is the way in which most conservatives put abortion—and abortive birth control medicines—in a different basket from the rest of reproductive health.

Many conservatives have no problems with other birth control medications. Many conservative parents have used IVF in order to have children. Even conservatives who object, on religious grounds, to all prescriptive birth control, wouldn’t deny that these issues of reproductive health are essential parts of women’s health and need to be talked about. Most acknowledge that it’s a complicated debate, important to consider and research with care.

Sadly, Traister and other pro-abortion advocates frustratingly skew the pro-life (or “anti-abortion”) position. They suggest that women who oppose abortion hate “women’s choice.” But this is also putting people and positions in erroneous baskets: what of women who endorse the important education of women’s reproductive health, who strive to support and counsel other women in their reproductive choices, who want to take good care of their bodies—yet who also believe that abortion is wrong? That certain (or all) birth control is wrong? It would be odd to tell these women they hate their bodies, that they are suffering from gender-driven false consciousness.

Rather, it would seem that these women have a different understanding of their bodies, and their purpose. To tell them their understanding of their bodies is wrong is to deny the seriousness of the ethical questions they posit. It is unfair for liberals to say conservative women oppose any and all realms of reproductive health, just because they oppose this very controversial aspect of it. Indeed, putting abortion unequivocally in the pro-women’s-health box neglects to admit that abortion can also have a negative effect on women’s health, from procedural complications to depression and suicidal thoughts.

As Traister herself says, these issues are “complicated”—“they’re all part of a larger web that you can’t smooth over or obscure.” But whereas she is referring to the vast swath of health issues that are part of women’s health, we can also apply those very words the ethical and religious issues that are integral to this debate. Those issues shouldn’t be smoothed over or obscured, either.

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Why We Must Stop Obama’s Amnesty

According to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Obama intends “to act broadly and generously” on behalf of the “millions and millions” of illegal immigrants in the United States today. Gutierrez, who meets often with the president, is implying that Obama, before Labor Day and by executive order, will grant de facto amnesty to five million illegal immigrants. They will be granted work permits and permission to stay. With his pen and his phone, Obama will do what Congress has refused to do.

There is a precedent. Obama has already issued one executive order deferring the deportation of “dreamers,” children brought into the United States illegally by their parents before 2007.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions is on to what is afoot. “We must prevent the president’s massive amnesty from going forward,” he says, and urges legislation to block an executive amnesty. But this divided Congress is not going to pass any such law. Nor would Obama sign it. Still, would Obama dare deliberately ignite a nationwide firestorm by declaring an executive amnesty for 5 million illegal immigrants?

Why not? Consider the risks—and the potential rewards. On the downside, an Obama amnesty would polarize the country, imperil red-state Democrats and cause even allies to conclude he had become a rogue president who adheres to the Constitution and rule of law only so far as they comport with his agenda. And what is his agenda? As he has said: to transform America.

Obama wants history to rank him among the transformational presidents like Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. And what better way to transform America than to ensure her evolution from a Western and predominantly Christian country into that multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, borderless land Teddy Roosevelt inveighed against as nothing but a “polyglot boarding house for the world”? Read More…

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Development of Non-Toxic 2016 GOP Agenda Continues Apace

The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty “discussion draft” last week marks another milestone in a long, painstaking, and necessary project: the development of a non-toxic policy agenda on which the next Republican presidential nominee can run.

Zooming out, we see Republicans, like Tiktaalik, slowly transitioning out of the primordial soup of supply-side dogma. There was Rep. Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform proposal. It’s revenue neutral and maintains progressivity. Relatedly, Ryan takes care to insist his own proposal is “not a tax cut.” It’s true the conservative movement didn’t exactly leap for joy at Camp’s proposal—and there’s a myriad of reasons to doubt that the GOP could ever muster the courage to eliminate as many loopholes and deductions as it would take to reconcile the math of the Ryan budget.

But the larger point is this: a net tax reduction for the rich is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.

Climbing down the income ladder, Ryan, in presenting his anti-poverty plan, with its devolution to states and consolidation of public assistance spending, noted that “this is not a budget-cutting exercise.” Yes, there’s the matter of reconciling these reforms with the harsh math of the Ryan budget. And the “accountability standards” to which states and local agencies would be held smells an awful lot to me like the anti-poverty version of No Child Left Behind.

But—and again—the larger point is this: a net reduction in spending on the poor and vulnerable is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.

The recovery from “The 47 percent” and “You built that” will remain a tough slog over the next 18 months. However, the momentum is clearly in the direction of rational reform. The Tea Party era—in which “conservatism” for all practical purposes stood for an unholy alliance of plutocracy and Dixie revanchism—is clearly coming to a close.

Just how the all the manic energy of the last five years will be brought into the fold of a plausible governing agenda remains to be seen. The Room to Grow agenda represents the seedbed of ideas that might eventually become an appealing campaign platform. I like, in particular, Andrew Kelly’s ideas on higher-ed and job training, and Carrie Lukas’s emphasis on fiscal reforms that improve work-life balance.

Broadly speaking, the “reformocon” carriage is an interesting one, fraught with tension but full of possibility: that of the nontechnocratic wonk; of superintendence of the welfare state in a pro-market direction. Of bottom-up or middle-out reforms that issue from the top. The idea of a Medicare premium support system is qualitatively different than, say, Ronald Reagan’s original position on Medicare. But if the arrow is pointing in a rightward direction, can each faction of the right buy into it? Can you sell the idea of “reform” to people on a steady diet of Mark Levin, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin? Personally, I think the right would be better off it admitted—no, more than admitted—that “spontaneous order” does not and will not ever lead to a safety net or social insurance for the elderly.

But perhaps I worry too much. One of my themes in this space is the belief that the Tea Party was a cultural temper tantrum more than a granular programmatic shift. It may turn out that tea partiers can be lead to the water of an essentially neoconservative domestic agenda more easily than anyone currently imagines.


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As Mosul’s Christians Flee, Religious Freedom Gets an Ambassador

mosul

The State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom paints a dark picture for religious liberty advocates. The AP says that “Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year,” referring to the IRF report’s summary of “the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic.”

The IRF report itself opens by saying that, in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”

In Mosul, the crisis of Iraqi Christians has reached fever pitch: a fourth-century monastery was recently taken by force. The tomb traditionally held to be the resting place of Jonah was destroyed by insurgents. The Iraqi government has denounced the rebels’ actions, but done little to stop them. An AP report sheds light on the havoc:

Residents in Mosul also say the Islamic State group’s fighters recently have begun to occupy churches and seize the homes of Christians who have fled the city. … Already in Mosul, the extremist group has banned alcohol and water pipes, and painted over street advertisements showing women’s faces. It has, however, held off on stricter punishments so far.

The State Department report was released on Monday, serving to illustrate a known trend of international religious chaos and neatly coinciding with President Obama’s announcement of David Saperstein’s appointment as Ambassador-at-Large of International Religious Freedom for the U.S.

The appointment has been a long time coming. Obama, criticized by some for dawdling, has allowed the post to remain vacant since Suzan Johnson Cook, Saperstein’s predecessor, vacated the post in October 2013.

Mark Silk writes at Religion News Service that Saperstein is highly qualified for the position:

Saperstein’s religious liberty bona fides is without peer. Two decades ago, he put together the coalition responsible for gaining all but unanimous passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that has recently become the darling of religious conservatives. In 1999, he was unanimously elected by his fellow commissioners to serve as the first chair of the USCIRF. He served on the first advisory council to Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was a member of the task force to reform the office. No representative of a religious organization in Washington comes close to matching his credibility across the political spectrum.

His appointment comes at a time when religious strife is prominent at home and abroad. Saperstein has been tasked with what is arguably one of the most complex and difficult political missions of the moment. He faces extraordinarily violent international religious conflict, in addition to the prospect of political resistance at home. And given the trajectory of the world, things look likely to only get worse before they get better.


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WSJ Overhypes Story of ‘Scrambling’ over Health Exchange Uncertainty

At first glance, I thought my informal bet—that a red-state governor will soon claim he stood up to the Obama administration over the formation of health exchanges, despite knowing full well that his or her constituents wouldn’t be eligible for tax subsidies—had died a quick death.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:

A number of states are scrambling to show that they—not the federal government—are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.

The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration.

The rest of the story, however, doesn’t bear out this picture of “scrambling.” It’s true that a few of the states mentioned—Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico—have Republican governors. And while Arkansas is bona fide red state, it has a Democratic governor. So we’re not talking here about the likes of Rick Perry or Sam Brownback “scrambling” to secure tax credit eligibility on behalf of their states. That’s to be expected. If such governors were willing to forgo expanded Medicaid money, I don’t see why they’d be in a rush to protect health exchange subsidies, either.

There’s a golden political opportunity in the offing, it seems to me. The aforementioned Perry; or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal; or New Jersey’s Chris Christie; or Ohio’s John Kasich—one or all of these potential presidential contenders could appeal to their party’s base by making a fresh case that they refused federal blackmail. At the very least, they could ensure the Gruber-gate story has legs for weeks to come.

Mind you, I’m not saying I’m prepared to believe them. (One would think the argument would already have been made at some point over the last two years.) But this whole rotten enterprise is an exercise in post hoc opportunism. This is the next logical step.

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How Long Before a Red State Gov Says He Knew It All Along?

A few more thoughts on Gruber-gate:

1. It seems the exponents of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on Obamacare subsidies have moved from the position that the ACA passively fails to authorize tax credits through federal exchanges to the idea that it actively prohibits them. That’s pretty astonishing.

2. A second clip featuring Gruber surfaced in which the MIT economist said the same thing he did in the first video. I don’t know what more to add to my reaction to the initial revelation. It seems to me that Gruber did not “misspeak” on either occasion; he believed residents of states that hadn’t set up exchanges would miss out on subsidies until such time as the federal exchanges came online. It’s plausible, too, that he was encouraging states to cooperate with the law in order to score consulting contracts. One could see why he’d be loath to admit this now.

3. There’s another meme that’s about to be set loose: that it took “guts” for Republicans not to set up Obamacare exchanges, that is, accept the bribe of federal money. It’s only a matter of time before a Republican governor says he interpreted Obamacare in this fashion all along. Perhaps one with presidential aspirations—say, Rick Perry. I’ll take bets on who it will be, and when.

4. Finally, on substance: A couple of bloggers at law professor Jack Balkin’s website have some helpful analysis on why the Halbig case is hogwash. Of particular interest is this:

Putting aside the fact that no one thought the states wouldn’t want to run the exchanges themselves (indeed, Senators were demanding that option for their states), the exchange provisions simply do not work in the same way as Medicaid.  Unlike the ACA’s Medicaid provisions, the exchange provisions have a federal fallback:  Medicaid is use it or lose it; the exchanges are do it, or the feds step in and do it for you.  In other words, this isn’t Medicaid; it’s the Clean Air Act (CAA).  If a state decides not to create its own implementation plan under the CAA, its citizens do not lose the benefit of the federal program—the feds run it. The same goes for the ACA’s exchanges and so it would be nonsensical to deprive citizens in federal-exchange states of the subsidies.  More importantly, if we are going to compare apples to oranges, the ACA’s Medicaid provisions have an explicit provision stating that if the state declines to participate, it loses the program funds (this was the provision at issue in NFIB v. Sebelius in 2012).   The ACA’s subsidy provisions, in contrast, have no such provision, strong evidence that the subsidies were was not intended to be forfeited if the states did not participate.  If the challengers are going to insist on strict textual arguments, this is exclusio unius 101: the rule of interpretation that provides that where Congress includes a specific provision in one part of the statute but does not include an analogous provision elsewhere, that omission is assumed intentional.”

This wiki entry on the Clean Air Act seems apposite:

Although the 1990 Clean Air Act is a federal law covering the entire country, the states do much of the work to carry out the Act. The EPA has allowed the individual states to elect responsibility for compliance with and regulation of the CAA within their own borders in exchange for funding. For example, a state air pollution agency holds a hearing on a permit application by a power or chemical plant or fines a company for violating air pollution limits. However, election is not mandatory and in some cases states have chosen to not accept responsibility for enforcement of the act and force the EPA to assume those duties.

Again: I can’t believe this contest is even necessary. Sigh. Carry on.

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Jonathan Gruber and the Smoking Gun That Wasn’t

Conservative economist Scott Sumner offers up a desperately needed example of intellectual honesty on l’affaire Gruber. (For those who haven’t been keeping score at home: Some libertarians last night released a video of Obamacare “architect” Jonathan Gruber in 2012 seemingly affirming the reasoning of the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling on the legality of offering healthcare subsidies via exchange.)

Sumner actually watched the video and noticed Gruber’s remarks were taken out of context (context: what a concept!):

That seems to suggest he agrees with the recent court ruling.  But he actually disagrees with the ruling.  Indeed he seems to regard the ruling as ludicrous.  That doesn’t look good.  Until you realize that the quote was taken out of context, and that the comments immediately preceding the quote tells a very different story: “Yes, so these health insurance exchanges . . . will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop in part because I think they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it.”

That seems to imply the federal backstops would provide health subsidies.  So how can we reconcile these two statements?  I believe Gruber was trying to say that the federal government was being slow in setting up the exchanges, because until they did so, those states without state exchanges would get no subsidy.  Once the federal exchanges were set up, they would all get the subsidy.

What I don’t understand is why commenters were providing me with the quote on top, but not the second quote, which provides important context.

The cherry-picking of off-the-cuff remarks isn’t the worst thing about this absurdist drama. Take a step back: Michael Cannon, the Cato mastermind, basically went on a fishing expedition to find someone with standing in the Halbig case. His lightbulb: the average citizen has standing! And now this bombshell video: the Gruber remarks were the first and so far only piece of documentary evidence I’ve seen that anyone actually believed subsidies weren’t intended to be offered via the federal exchanges. This evidence was discovered two years after the lawsuit was filed.

We already had a murder charge without a body; now we have a smoking gun with all its bullets. I’m sorry. We’re not in the realm of reasonable disagreement. The charitable explanation is that this stuff is pure unmitigated cuckoo cockamamie BS. The cynical explanation, per Sumner:

BTW, which of the following two statements represents the conservative view on the role of the courts?

A.  The courts should interpret the laws passed by the duly elected members of Congress, and should not be substituting their own views.  Original intent is what matters.  Unelected judges should not set policy.

B.  Yay!!  the courts have just gutted the ACA, which was an awful law passed by Congress.

I used to think it was A; now I wonder if it is B.

You’ll pardon me if I don’t find this behavior—this abusive legal chicanery—the least bit “conservative.”

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Obamacare vs. Dr. Evil’s Legal Eagles

Decades ago, a few friends and I were listening to Not For Kids Only, an album of Appalachian folk songs recorded for charity by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. An older brother entered the scene, barking, “What’re you guys listening to? This stuff’s for kids!” My friend, who, it should be noted, was quite stoned, retorted, “No! It says right here—‘not’ for kids only.’ ”

I thought of my old buddy, bless his heart, when I learned of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling—its “ringing affirmation … of the rule of law,” according to the reliably florid Charles C.W. Cooke—on Obamacare’s insurance-exchange subsidies.

The right’s chortling reaction, in sum: It says right here — “Exchanges established by the State”!

I’d sincerely like to imagine that Cato’s Michael Cannon was stoned when he discovered this quirk in the text of the Affordable Care Act. But I’m afraid it’s a lot easier to imagine the pinkie ring and prideful guffawing of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil.

I didn’t think “They’re going to make you buy broccoli next” could be topped.

Oh, was I wrong.

The two judges who comprised a majority of the D.C. Circuit panel argued that the government failed to provide evidence that the authors of the law did not intend to funnel subsidies through state exchanges only. Well, why would such evidence exist—if, as seems exceedingly likely, it never occurred to anyone that the subsidies were so structured until Cannon announced his discovery? “It was a carrot dangled in front of states, just like the promise of more Medicaid money,” the plaintiffs speculated. If so, then why the backstop of a federal exchange? What’s the point of the thing if not to convey subsidies to eligible customers? Much to the dismay of supporters of the ACA, there was no Plan B after the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. And so the money remains unspent.

There’s no getting around the fact that those who drafted the law are guilty of a linguistic oversight. In a sane world, the matter would have been dispatched through a technical corrections bill, much as President Clinton and Congress ironed out a kink in U.S. Code that granted citizenship to those born abroad and one of whose parents was a U.S. citizen. Before the correction, the government granted citizenship only to those whose fathers were citizens.

But we’re not living in a sane world right now. We’re living in the world of massive resistance.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m hardly a fan of Obamacare. I’m with those who champion a cheaper and cleaner method of achieving universal coverage. I suppose it could be argued that the Halbig case is one way of getting there. But when its mastermind heads the “Anti-Universal Coverage Club,” I kind of doubt it.

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