Earlier this week, Kevin Williamson lamented critics both on the right and on the left for misguided complaints about the costs of the presidency:
The Obama administration represented a great missed opportunity for conservatives, because conservatives spent so much time criticizing him for the wrong things. It’s not that there wasn’t serious criticism of the president’s thinking and his policies (see eight years worth of this magazine, for starters) but much of the popular/populist criticism was pretty dumb: He plays too much golf, he takes too many vacations, his family spends too much money on fancy hotels and resorts, etc. Some of these stupid criticisms were made in a similarly stupid fashion by similarly stupid people for similarly stupid reasons when George W. Bush was president.
A lot of those stories went something like: “Heavens, it costs $x for the Obamas to spent six days at Martha’s Vineyard!” But that $x is generally misleading, inasmuch as it costs tons of money to keep Air Force One staffed and prepped and ready to fly irrespective of whether the president actually is traveling in it, and we pay those Secret Service (the name of that agency is odious) agents irrespective of whether the president is in the White House or Hawaii. It isn’t lobster tails and upgrades at the Ritz that really drive the cost of presidential travel expenditures: It is the presidency itself.
The presidential entourage is bloated and monarchical, and it is an affront to our republican traditions. But “even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm,” the cost of operating the presidential household is small beans in the context of federal spending. It just doesn’t matter — it is boob bait for Bubba.
Now, we’re getting the same thing about Trump. It costs $x for him to keep moving about from Trump Tower to the White House to Mar a Lago. Some have tried to make hay out of the fact that some $500,000 in Trump campaign funds (not tax dollars, contrary to some claims) has been paid out to Trump-affiliated companies. This is deeply silly criticism: If there is a campaign event at a Trump hotel or another property, then of course the campaign has to pay for it: If it does not, then the Trump Organization almost certainly is making an illegal political donation to the Trump campaign. Trump did not write the rules.
(They’d probably be a hell of a lot worse if he had.)
“It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons,” said President Donald Trump in explaining a U.S.-missile strike on a Syrian airbase. That might sound good and even noble in theory, explains Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute, but the plain truth is that he’s wrong. What’s worse, it’s far from clear what either the United States or other countries in the region will do next.
The essential lesson that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump keep forgetting is that military interventions, especially in other countries’ civil wars, often makes things worse, Ashford tells Nick Gillespie.
Produced by Austin Bragg. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel.
Jonah Goldberg, from last week’s “G-File ‘News’letter”, on the notion that the old political rules no longer apply:
Here’s the important point. Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it. It simply is. And at least in this sense, I was right when I said that democracy gives the illusion of control.
In 2006, I wrote in the Corner about the Left’s belief, as expressed by Simon Rosenberg, that we were entering an era of “new politics.” Conservatism was over. A new era of modern, expert-driven political management was upon us. To his credit, Rosenberg didn’t say that politics was over, just that this was some new era where the old playbook didn’t apply. But it’s sort of the same thing. The idea that politics will go away if we elect the right person is a form of utopianism that plagues the Left — and, alas, the Right.
Barack Obama entered office thinking the exact same thing (So did LBJ. So did JFK. So did FDR. So did Woodrow Wilson). As I’ve written 8 trillion times, Obama really believed that he was a post-ideological president who only cared about “what works.” This progressive understanding of pragmatism is a kind of exquisite confirmation bias. We’re not ideological, we just want to do the smartest, best thing (which just happens to line up with our undisclosed and unacknowledged ideological biases).
The problem? Politics doesn’t vanish just because you want it to. Wilson was convinced that the wisdom of the Treaty of Versailles was akin to scientific fact. It wasn’t, but let’s say that it was. His view didn’t erase the political necessity of selling it to Congress.
During the election, lots of people told me that a businessman would cut through all the politics by running the government like a business. Jared Kushner is apparently heading up the latest version of this incredibly hackneyed and ancient idea. The simple problem is that government isn’t a business (never mind that Donald Trump is not a typical businessman). The incentive structure of politics is entirely different than the incentive structure for a businessman. A CEO can walk into a meeting and explain to his employees that if they don’t hit their widget sales quota, no one will get their bonus. Politics doesn’t work like that.
Moreover, people who say “Who cares about politics” or “Politics are irrelevant” are like people who go sailing in a hurricane on the assumption that weather shouldn’t matter.
The Z Man provides a thumbnail sketch of the start of the Tea Party early in Barack Obama’s first term in office:
Back in Obama’s first months on the throne, Rick Santelli, a TV personality, was “reporting” from the floor of the stock exchange. He responded to a question about Obama’s housing plan with a rant about socialism, finishing it off with a call for a new Tea Party. Whether it was spontaneous or choreographed is hard to know, but at the time people took it to be entirely spontaneous. Santelli is a carny barker prone to getting carried away on the air and his rant had the feel of an old fashioned stem winder.
Regardless of the intent or the execution, the rant went viral and the Tea Party Movement was born. Middle America was ready to be pissed off due to the terribleness of the Bush years, so Obama’s poor start put the normies in a fighting mood. Before long people were showing up at town hall meetings, dressed as Samuel Adams, giving their congressman the business about reckless government behavior that had made a hash of things. Since the Democrats were the majority, they got the brunt of the abuse.
It did not take long for the moonbats to declare the whole thing a racist conspiracy cooked up by the twelfth invisible Hitler in league with the eternal cyclops of the KKK. This was when the fake hate crime stuff got its start as a daily phenomenon. It was also when it became apparent to a lot of people that the news is mostly fake. The increasingly deranged Nancy Pelosi, slurring about “Astroturf” was so weird, it begged a challenge, but the news people carried on like it was manifestly true.
The claim that middle aged suburbanites, dressed in tricorne hats, were paid agents of a nefarious conspiracy was so nutty that the response from the press should have been laughter and then derision. After all, it has been known for decades that the Left uses rent-a-mobs. They pay people to show up and hold signs. Unions have been doing this since the days of Jimmy Hoffa. For the Democrats to clutch their pearls and call the Tea Party inauthentic should have been too much of a farce for even the very liberal press corp.
In the 1990s, a serious malady appeared on the American public square in which citizens were driven over the edge by their antipathy for incumbent presidents. It came to be known as the “presidential-derangement syndrome” and over the course of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama administrations its victims grew in number. But while it was a given that whoever won last November’s election would have one named after them, we really had no idea what we were in for once Donald Trump moved into the White House. As we’ve seen this past week, presidential paranoia has not only gone mainstream in terms of the public, it’s now found a home in the mainstream media.
Though it was limited at first to the fever swamps of American politics where some on the right first imagined that black helicopters were about to swoop in and steal their freedom or that the Clintons were operating a drug cartel, the derangement virus adapted to the changing political environment in the years that followed. Those deranged by Bush were less marginal than the Clinton victims but shared the belief that the 43rd president was somehow a front for a vast conspiracy and not only blamed him for “lying” the country into war but viewed the entire national-security response to 9/11 as a put-up job intended to mask the theft of liberty.
As awful as the Bush version was, the Obama-derangement syndrome was in many ways even worse as the 44th president’s citizenship was questioned along with his religious faith and anything else about him that anyone could think of. Though Obama’s liberal policies and power grabs were bad enough from a conservative point of view, some on the right preferred to instead spend their energy pondering the authenticity of his birth certificate (see Trump, Donald) or whether or not he was an Islamist mole. We can blame the Internet and the rise of social media for the more pervasive nature of Obama conspiracy theories but even that dispiriting spectacle may turn out to be insignificant when compared to the psychological torment Trump has inspired among not merely the far Left but also mainstream liberals.
Danny Sjursen on the somehow unforeseen problems when “the other party” comes to power:
Many Americans were fond of Barack Obama. He left office with some of the highest approval ratings of his entire term. On foreign policy, as in most matters, he seemed reflective, deliberate, and rational. An effective communicator, he maintained composure and presidential poise, no matter the topic. In rare moments of frustration, Obama channeled “disappointed sitcom dad” rather than “blustering bully.” Love him or hate him, Obama was a gentleman. And that’s the problem. Mainstream progressives – who cried foul at George W. Bush’s every move – looked the other way as Obama expanded unfettered presidential power in foreign affairs. Why? Because they trusted him – his judgment, character, and motives. Maybe that trust was warranted. Here’s the catch: the 22nd amendment. No president may serve for more than eight years, no matter how beloved (by some). Furthermore, each chief executive creates important precedents for his successor. For this reason, many liberals – and perhaps the former president himself – may come to lament Obama’s principal foreign policy legacy: the unbridled expansion of executive power in matters of (endless) war.
Presidential primacy is nothing new, of course. Executive power has gradually expanded for centuries, especially since World War II. The Obama administration eschewed imprudent, large-scale, conventional invasions, but his legacy is also defined by a sustained campaign of extrajudicial killings of terrorists, expanding the range and geographic scope of military operations, and cracking down on media leaks and whistleblowers. In each sphere, Obama’s hawkish behavior surpassed even that of George W. Bush. This is one reason why Republican criticism of Obama’s supposedly “weak” and “feckless” foreign policy was so confusing. Sure, it’s fair to debate the wisdom of the Iran nuclear deal, his handling of the Syrian civil war, and his near-total withdrawal from Iraq. These are thorny issues worthy of complex analysis. But to label Obama a “dove” is just empirically false.
Finally, we turn to the much maligned “crooked” media. Sure, the recent invective between journalists and the Trump administration is spiraling out of control. Yet, even here, Obama’s legacy presents cause for concern. All early campaign rhetoric to the contrary, the last administration was notoriously opaque on certain aspects of national security. In fact, Obama used the controversial 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more leakers and whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. While there’s certainly a need for reasonable levels of government secrecy, the classification process and national security state have grown increasingly pernicious. When in doubt, government agencies’ default course is to reflexively classify. No matter their political persuasion, citizens ought to desire a free, fair press. Independent journalists require anonymous sources to maintain the transparency Americans once held dear. More prosecutions and threats of serious jail time will inevitably reduce the likelihood courageous sources will step forward. And given President Trump’s contentious “running war” with the press, Obama’s precedent may only be the beginning.
Obamacare? Well, here’s the truth of the matter: America is addicted to medical care and demands that it be delivered in infinite quantity, in flawless quality, no matter the cost, as long as no one has to pay anything like full price, directly. Unfortunately, the cost does matter, and even if we were willing to devote infinite resources to medicine, we lack the human quality to provide what’s demanded. Short version: [Obama] had to do something; eventually we were going to bankrupt ourselves in the interests of keeping someone’s great-grandmama alive another day or so. I’m not sure what that something was, mind you, and I am pretty sure that Obamacare wasn’t it. But, be fair; he really had to try to do something. So will Donald Trump, and I don’t mean just repeal Obamacare. You may as well get used to the idea.
… all politicians fib and distort the truth — and they’ve been doing so since the freewheeling days of the Athenian ekklesia. Trump’s various bombastic allegations and claims fall into the same realm of truthfulness as Obama’s statement “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” — and were thus similarly cross-examined by the media.
Yet fake news is something quite different. It is not merely a public figure’s spinning of half-truths. It is largely a media-driven, and deliberate attempt to spread a false narrative to advance a political agenda that otherwise would be rejected by a common-sense public. The methodology is to manufacture a narrative attractive to a herd-like progressive media that will then devour and brand it as fact — and even lobby for government redress.
Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen has never been to Prague to negotiate quid pro quo deals with the Russians. Trump did not watch Russian strippers perform pornographic acts in the bedroom that Barack Obama once stayed in during a visit to Moscow. Yet political operatives, journalists, and even intelligence officers, in their respective shared antipathy to Trump, managed to lodge these narratives into the public consciousness and thereby establish the “truth” that a degenerate Trump was also a Russian patsy.
No one has described the methodology of fake news better than Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor for Barack Obama and brother of the president of CBS News, David Rhodes. Ben Rhodes cynically bragged about how the Obama administration had sold the dubious Iran deal through misinformation picked up by an adolescent but sympathetic media (for which Rhodes had only contempt). As Rhodes put it, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Translated, that meant that Rhodes and his team fed false narratives about the Iran Deal to a sympathetic but ignorant media, which used its received authority to report those narratives as “truth” — at least long enough for the agreement to be passed before its multitudinous falsehoods and side-agreements collapsed under their own weight. “We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes bragged to the New York Times: “They [reporters] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
John Tierney on the President-elect’s stated views on science:
What will a Trump administration mean for scientific research and technology?
The good news is that the next president doesn’t seem all that interested in science, judging from the little he said about it during the campaign. That makes a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who cared far too much — in the wrong way. He politicized science to advance his agenda. His scientific appointees in the White House, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration were distinguished by their progressive ideology, not the quality of their research. They used junk science — or no science — to justify misbegotten crusades against dietary salt, trans fats, and electronic cigarettes. They cited phony statistics to spread myths about a gender pay gap and a rape crisis on college campuses. Ignoring mainstream climate scientists, they blamed droughts and storms on global warming and then tried to silence critics who pointed out their mistakes.
Trump has vaguely expressed support for federal funding of R&D in science, medicine, and energy, but he has stressed encouraging innovation in the private sector. His election has left the science establishment aghast. Its members were mostly behind Hillary Clinton, both because they share her politics and because she would continue the programs funded by Obama. Their fears of losing funding are probably overblown — there’s strong support in Congress for R&D — but some of the priorities could change.
Trump has vowed to ignore the Paris international climate agreement that committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. That prospect appalls environmentalists but cheers those of us who consider the agreement an enormously expensive way to achieve very little. Trump’s position poses a financial threat to wind-power producers and other green-energy companies that rely on federal subsidies to survive.
It may have been awkward for Democrats who watched Obama go further, faster than George W. Bush on deportations, surveillance, assassination, and even torture, but they can finally get their groove back on in protesting Donald Trump’s use of exactly the same tools Obama has been using for the last eight years:
Even the extreme legal theories of the George W Bush administration were mild compared to some of the “compromise” positions Obama’s DoJ argued for, and now Donald J Trump gets to use those positions to further its own terrifying agenda of mass deportations, reprisals against the press, torture and assassination, and surveillance based on religious affiliation or ethnic origin.
When it came to things like closing Guantanamo, Obama argued for limits on establishing offshore black-sites and military tribunals, but refused to shut the door on them. So maybe Trump won’t be able to use Gitmo to house the people he has kidnapped by his CIA, but he can use the legal authority that Obama argued for to set up lots of other Guantanamos wherever he likes.
Likewise torture: Obama decided that it was better to move and and bury the CIA torture report, and had his DoJ block any attempt to have torture declared illegal, which would have given people opposing Trump’s torture agenda with a potent legal weapon that is now unavailable to them.
Obama argued that the president should be able to create kill lists of Americans and foreigners who could be assassinated with impunity, and argued against even judicial review of these lists.
Then there’s Obama’s war on whistleblowers — his administration invoked federal law against more whistleblowers than all the other presidents in US history, combined — and his aggressive assertion that journalists have no right to protect their confidential sources. These will be of enormous use to the Trump presidency, which has already promised to use executive powers to persecute hostile journalists who try to hold it to account.
It’s sad that partisans of the current administration can only seem to see the problems in granting the president more powers when those powers are about to be wielded by a president of the other party. A wee bit too late to repent, my friends.
Written and Performed by Remy
Music tracks by Ben Karlstrom
Produced and Edited by Austin Bragg
I heard the news and i was sad
A crazy man who’ll power grab
He’ll probably bomb countries unapproved, yeah
The debt will double – Won’t abate
He’ll build up the surveillance state
I guess it won’t be all that different, ooh yeah
He might be so awful, So unhinged
Defense Secretaries leave and then
Imply his White House knows not what to do yeah
He’ll wage a war on whistle-blows
there may be unexpected gropes
He’d be that nightmare
They call “deja vu” yeah
He might take the data from our phones
Have citizens killed by flying drones
Mock the disabled oh no we’ll be through yeah
So if you’re mad and on the streets
Concerned about this overreach
Well where’ve you been
It isn’t all that new, yeah
Ed Morrissey on the strange new respect being shown on the left to the concept of checks and balances in the US federal system:
For the past six years, the media has lionized Barack Obama for his increasing autocratic acts in pushing executive power to its limits — or past them — rather than compromise with Republicans in control of Congress. “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” Obama declared, “and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.” Despite serious rebukes by courts over his attempts to bypass the Senate on recess appointments and flat-out violate the law on immigration, the media has always cast Republicans as villains for frustrating Obama’s agenda rather than focus on his abuses of executive authority.
Suddenly, though, an epiphany has begun to dawn on the media. Pens and phones are old and busted, and checks and balances are the new hotness. […]
Under a true federalist system, Californians could run their own state, as could Coloradans, Minnesotans, and also Texans, Floridians, New Yorkers, and, er … whatever people from Wisconsin call themselves. All it would take would be a repudiation of Wickard v Filburn to reduce federal authority over economic activity to commerce that actually takes place across state lines. Each state could have their own EPA, if they desire it, and maintain their own land in the manner they see fit.
In such a system, the authority of the president would greatly diminish on domestic affairs, allowing voters to consider candidates for such a position based on issues such as diplomacy and national defense rather than which of the two will be the biggest busybodies. Rather than trying to run a nanny state and failing as miserably as F. A. Hayek predicted, Congress could focus on a much narrower range of tasks and do those well. Most importantly, states could keep much of the revenue pouring into Washington and provide a lot more effective accountability over its use.
Does that appeal to all the special snowflakes looking for safe space in the Age of Trump, and to all of those protesting because they just found out what it feels like to lose an election? Sound like a novel idea that could shield you from the potential side effects of a presidential election? Well, then congratulations — you are well on your way to becoming a conservative, or perhaps a libertarian. Feel free to ask us about the principles that we have (imperfectly to be sure) espoused all along while Barack Obama set all the precedents that Donald Trump will expand to your detriment. We’ll try not to snicker when explaining them to you … much, anyway.
Scott Adams considers how likely the election of Il Donalduce would be to prompt President Obama to declare martial law to save the republic:
… keep in mind that Democrats have successfully sold the “racist strongman” narrative about Trump to their own ranks. If they’re right about Trump, we need to start getting serious about planning for martial law, for the good of the country and the world. No one wants another Hitler. And if they’re wrong, we still need to plan for martial law because Democrats think they are right. That’s all it takes.
Imagine, for example, that violence against police escalates because of the rhetoric on the left. That seems likely. Then add in some more videos of police shooting unarmed African-American men and you have all the ingredients for riots, followed by martial law.
My best guess is that 30% of the country believes (incorrectly) that we are heading toward some sort of pre-Nazi situation in the United States, where President Trump calls on his legion of racist supporters to do some ethnic cleansing. That’s all completely ridiculous, but it doesn’t stop perhaps 30% of the country from believing it.
Unlike most campaign rhetoric of the past, the attacks against Trump are designed to generate action, not words. Normal campaigns ask for little more than your vote. But this time, Clinton’s side – mostly surrogates and supporters – have defined their opponent as a Nazi-like dictator who will destroy the country, if not the entire world. In that situation, action is morally justified. And that action could include riots and violence against authority.
How much violence against authority would it take for President Obama to declare martial law and stay in power?
Less than you think. Television coverage will make every act of violence seem a hundred times worse than it is.
At Instapundit, Ed Driscoll points out the difference in the way the media covered the rise of Barack Obama compared to other politicians:
The blogger Ace of Spades has written about “The MacGuffinization of American Politics.” As Ace wrote, “For Obama’s fanbois, this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore. This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.”
The media never covered Obama as though he was a normal politician submitting bills to Congress and meeting with foreign leaders. Instead, they covered him as though he was Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in an epic film as directed by Alfred Hitchcock, hence Ace’s name – the MacGuffin was the otherwise meaningless object that all the characters in an adventure movie desperately want. The microfilm in North By Northwest. The Soviet decoding device in From Russia With Love. The Death Star plans in Star Wars. The Ark of the Covenant, etc.
But I think it’s safe to say that all young people, or the vast majority of them, want to feel their life is some form of an epic quest for adventure, hence the near-universal popularity of films like the original (1977) Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, or Batman Begins, all of which start off with their protagonist depicted as a callow youth, who precedes to then overcomes two hours worth of adversity, to emerge by the time the credits role as The Hero. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this quest for adventure is hardwired into most people, all the way back to Homer. (The author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, not the nuclear plant worker who lives in Springfield.) Up until recently, most teenagers felt a similar sense of accomplishment and pride through such traditional avenues as academic advancement, athletic success, or learning a musical instrument.
President Obama strongly condemned the rising anti-intellectual streak on the right — but also on the left — in his remarks at Rutgers University’s spring commencement on Sunday.
He harshly attacked the policies and rhetoric of Donald Trump (without mentioning him by name), asserting that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s deliberate ignorance is destructive.
“That’s not challenging political correctness,” said Obama. “That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”
But he reserved some time at the end of his speech to also criticize students who are too “fragile” to listen to people whose opinions offend them. He said it was a mistake for students to seek to disinvite speakers with whom they disagree.
“I know a couple years ago some folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement,” said Obama. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former secretary of state or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that is misguided.”
The answer to bad speech is more speech, Obama continued.