This is the only thing that keeps either party within a mile of good behavior — the understanding that if you deceive the public, or act with gross incompetence, that behavior is going to be politicized and used against you.
Consider the example of the various one-party cities in this nation.
Can there be any doubt that “politicization” of one’s errors or actual violations is, while annoying for the party who has erred, the only thing that restrains a party from wholesale violations of the public trust?
Besides the obvious salutary public policy effects, there is of course a more tangible reason why records should be retained and, when subpoenaed by Congress, disclosed to that body:
Because it’s the law.
And adherence to the Law is the only thing that keeps a society of feuding political parties from degenerating into a third-world system of coups and counter-coups.
If the party I oppose shows perfect contempt for following the law when it sees a political advantage in doing so, why should I not support the selfsame law-breaking when the party I support decides it might find some advantage in doing so?
The government’s basis for rule over the citizens is based on two things:
1. Sheer naked coercive power.
2. Moral authority, and the notion that, while a citizen might not like the particular government serving at any particular time, that citizen values something more eternal than the temporary political circumstances of a four year period of time.
Namely, the idea that it is best for everyone to follow the law, because it’s more important to support a stable government without turmoil and violence than to violate the law to win on any immediate, ephemeral political point.
Note that it is far better for any society that the government’s power rests more on the second pillar than on the first. Because so long as that pillar, of moral authority, of general fairness, of a general sense that the longterm interests of America are better served by adherence to government than to rebellion against it, the government will rarely, if ever, have to resort to the ultimate pillar of authority, which is physical, violent coercion.
August 9, 2014
July 23, 2014
There’s capitalism and there’s crony capitalism: they share a name, but they’re very different creatures. Crony capitalism thrives when government controls a large share of the economy, because then the politicians and bureaucrats have more goodies to share with their “capitalist” cronies. The bigger the slice of the pie controlled by political leaders and unelected regulators, the better the situation for the favoured companies — and that usually means the biggest of the big corporations. In the US government, one of the best examples of institutionalized crony capitalism is the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im): it exists to allow big corporations like Boeing to sell their products to foreign buyers at highly favourable interest rates, with the taxpayer picking up the risks and the American corporation creaming off the excess profits.
This system works so well — for the businesses being subsidized and the politicians who control the process — that it’s difficult to see it being stopped any time soon. Ex-Im’s enabling legislation is due to be re-authorized later this summer, so this is one of those brief chances to stop it. The problem is that it isn’t just Republicans who support it (because “what’s good for
General Motors Boeing is good for America”), but also Democrats … sometimes the very same Democrats who make a lot of speeches about the evils of Wall Street. Jonah Goldberg explains why:
The Left’s anti-big-business populism is very different. It doesn’t want to cut the government’s incestuous relationship with big business; it simply wants to bring business to heel. Big business should do what Washington tells it to do, and when it does, it will get treats. When it doesn’t, it will get the newspaper to the nose. But big business will never be let off its leash, if the Left has its way.
“[Senator Elizabeth] Warren doesn’t have a problem with big banks or corporations,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi writes. “She has a problem with banks and corporations that make profits in ways that she finds morally intolerable. She is an opponent of dynamism, not cronyism.”
This has always been the central idea behind progressive economics. Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be. The one constant in such partnerships is that business is always the junior partner.
This was the vision behind Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism,” FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, Bill Clinton’s “Third Way,” and virtually all of Barack Obama’s economic policies. What is Obamacare but an attempt to turn the entire health-care industry into Washington’s well-fed lapdog?
What’s amazing is that people are still capable of shock when it turns out that a policy of treating businesses like dependent lapdogs yields businesses that try to have the government’s lap all to themselves.
June 26, 2014
Shikha Dalmia linked to this piece by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry which talks about the problem (on both the right and the left) of shutting out unwelcome facts to support a political worldview:
Several long winters ago, when President Obama was thunderously elected amid Messianic fervor, and much of the right was in the throes of apoplectic confusion, some liberal writers warned of a phenomenon among right-wing intellectuals, which they called “epistemic closure.” The charge was that conservative thinkers had lost the ability to process the idea that the world of 2008 was not the world of the Reagan Era, and more generally to consider new ideas or, really, reality. The word “derp” entered our lexicon to mock forehead-slappingly stupid statements, defined by the liberal blogger Noah Smith as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors.”
Liberal writers overstated the phenomenon at the time, and there was always a bit of shadow-boxing and concern-trolling there. But they did have a point. [...]
Meanwhile, two things are particularly striking about the current Democratic agenda. The first is that it’s so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s. The second is that nobody on the left seems to be aware of it.
One of the most striking examples of this epistemic closure among liberal writers are their forays into “explanatory journalism.” The idea that many people might like clear, smart explanations of what’s going on in the news certainly has merit. But the tricky thing with “explaining” the news is that in order to do so fairly, you have to be able to do the mental exercise of detaching your ideological priors from just factually explaining what is going on. Of course, as non-liberal readers of the press have long been well aware, this has always been a problem for most journalists. And yet, the most prominent “explanatory journalism” venture has been strikingly bad at actually explaining things in a non-biased way.
I am, of course, talking about Vox, the hot new venture of liberal wonkblogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein. It was already a bad sign that his starting lineup was mostly made up of ideological liberals. And a couple months in, it’s clear that much of what passes for “explanation” on Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise.
And the troubling thing is, I don’t think the people at Vox are even aware that that’s what they’re doing.
Many of the “Voxsplainers” don’t seem to be able to pass Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test — being able to correctly state the opposing position well enough that an impartial reader would not know the writer’s own position. If you can’t do that, you’re not debating the issues, you’re decimating straw men.
June 11, 2014
NBC News reports the breakthrough for perennial candidate in Nevada:
Elections have historically been defined by their winners and losers — but on Tuesday a primary in Nevada returned a disheartening result for all the candidates: nobody won.
Voters in the state’s Democratic primary for governor were so unimpressed by the eight men on offer that the most popular option on the ballot paper was “none of these candidates,” which received 30 percent of the vote, according to figures from The Associated Press.
Democrat activists in the state acknowledged earlier this year that they had failed to find a credible challenger to face incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, according to Politico. And it clearly showed at the polling stations, with more than 21,000 people turning out with the express purpose of saying “no thanks” to the sum total of their party’s would-be governors.
Unfortunately, Nevada state law doesn’t allow NOTA to be on the ballot for the general election:
If voters did in fact want an empty seat instead of a challenger to face Sandoval they will be disappointed: In second place behind “none of these candidates” was Robert Goodman, a man who has run twice before and this time received 25 percent of the vote. State law means he will be the Democratic candidate.
H/T to Popehat for the link.
June 10, 2014
Charles Cooke on the political phenomenon that is (are?) Hilary Clinton:
It seems clear now that there are two Hillary Clintons. The first, who exists wholly in the abstract, is the one we have been waiting for. She is a Maker of History and a savior of women; an equal partner in the power couple that presided over the prosperity, cool, and competence of the 1990s; a world-beating secretary of state; a feminist who smashes glass ceilings and fights for all that is right and good. Millions of us are “Ready!” for her.
The other exists in the real world. This Hillary is a person who lacks concrete achievements; whose inevitability never quite translates into evitability; whose rhetoric always seems to turn up empty; who has an impressive capacity for saying things that hurt her and her interests; and, most distressingly of all, who becomes instantly less likeable the moment she opens her mouth.
It is the second Hillary that is currently making the news. Indeed, important as the Democratic party’s internecine war was to her loss, one has to start considering the possibility that what ultimately doomed Hillary Clinton in 2008 was that she is Hillary Clinton. The husband whose name she took has a political knack unmatched in our times — a capacity to spin straw into gold and to rise unscathed from the dirtiest of ashes. Hillary, alas, seems to have the opposite quality, possessing a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and to turn favorable moments into cudgels that might later be wielded against her. Responding in May to a question about suicide, Clinton voluntarily launched into an unwise disquisition about gun rights, including in her messy remarks the politically dangerous recommendation that the federal government should look to “rein in” the right to bear arms. This weekend, she made a similar error. Asked about her astronomical public-speaking fees, Clinton declined to give the honest answer — which is, “I have the opportunity to make a lot of money speaking; wouldn’t you take it?” — and instead went off on a peculiarly defensive tangent. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” Clinton explained to Diane Sawyer. “We had no money when we got there and we struggled,” she continued, “to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses.” Later, she repeated the claim, noting that the couple was in dire need of the cash to “get us houses.”
What a difference a plural makes.
June 1, 2014
Doug Mataconis gives a few examples of how the two major US political parties have conspired to make it much harder for anyone to get on the ballot without being a nominee of the Democratic or Republican parties:
In theory, the purpose of nominating petitions is supposed to be to ensure some level of ballot integrity by requiring people who want to appear on the ballot for local, state, or national office to demonstrate some minimal level of support for their candidacy. In reality, what ballot access laws in many parts of the country have become are a means by which the two major parties in general, and incumbents specifically, restrict third parties and challengers from getting on the ballot, or at least making it more difficult for them to do so. The Michigan law at issue in this case, which requires Congressional candidates to get just 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Given the fact that the population of Conyers’ district is some 700,000 people, and that he got more than 200,000 votes in 2012, one imagines that it wouldn’t be too difficult for Conyers to meet that target. The situation is quite different, though, for independent and minor party candidates. According to Ballotpedia, an independent candidate for Congress must submit at least 3,000, and no more than 6,000, valid signatures of registered voters in order to get on the ballot, three times as many as a candidate from ether of the two major political parties. In other states, the ballot access requirements are even more restrictive. In Virginia for example, a candidate for statewide office must submit at least 10,000 valid signatures, including at least 400 from each of the state’s 11 Congressional Districts. Other states are even more stringent, although there are some standouts. New Jersey, for example seems to be one of the few states where petition requirements for independent and third party candidates are actually lower than those for major parties candidates, at least when it comes to Federal offices. In general, though, even a short perusal of the nominating petition laws of the states leaves when with the inescapable conclusion that they are generally designed to make it harder for candidates to get on the ballot than aimed toward any legitimate goal of “ballot integrity.”
Other restrictions in various states include all sorts of timewasting — and volunteer effort-wasting — requirements for third-party efforts that often don’t apply to incumbents or to the two major parties. Every political party depends on volunteers, and those volunteer hours are used up quickly (and not renewed) when they have to be spent on busywork, rather than activity that helps elect their candidate.
For example, in Ontario, where there’s currently an election underway, it takes only 25 signatures from voters in the constituency to get a nominee’s name on the ballot. If you’re running as a member of a recognized political party, you also need the party leader’s signature on your nomination form (example here [PDF]). That’s an easy enough hurdle that anyone should be able to clear it (yet every election, a few would-be candidates fail to achieve ballot status … and sometimes it’s a major party candidate).
To run as a candidate in a Canadian federal election requires 100 signatures from voters in the riding (but only 50 in lower-population ridings in remote areas of the country). The nomination paper includes several pages for the signatures [PDF]. For more detail on how the signatures are validated, there was an interesting case in the last federal election.
May 13, 2014
Shikha Dalmia on the real reason the right fights against massive government action to fight climate change:
The decibel level in our national debate about global temperature went up several notches this week. The White House noisily released a report full of dire claims about the havoc manmade global warming is causing in America — and Republicans, equally noisily, denounced this as “liberal gloom and doom.”
The left has a deep ideological need to hype this issue, and the right to minimize it. And despite the deafening political noise on what ought to be a scientific matter, Americans must not be tempted to reach for their earplugs in disgust. After all, these ideological wars are how democracies sort out their differences.
The right’s chief commitment (which I share) is to free enterprise, property rights, and limited government that it sees as core to human progress. So when the market or other activities of individuals harm third parties or the environment, they look for solutions in these principles.
If overgrazing threatens a pasture, to use a classic example, the right’s answer is not top-down government diktats to ban or ration use. Rather, it is to divvy up the pasture, giving ownership to farmers — or privatizing the commons. The idea is that what individuals own, they protect; what they don’t, they abuse.
But there is no pure free market or property rights solution to global warming. There is no practical way to privatize the Earth’s atmosphere or divvy up pollution rights among the world’s seven billion inhabitants in 193 countries. This creates a planet-sized opening for the expansion of the regulatory state. Hence, right-wingers have an inherent need to resist the gloomy global warming narrative.
This is a massive conservative blind spot. But it is, in many ways, matched by liberals’ tunnel vision.
It is no secret that liberal commitment is less to promoting individual liberty and more to curbing capitalistic greed, which the left views as the great enemy of social justice and equality. At first blush, environmentalism and egalitarianism appear in conflict given that the environment is something of a luxury good that rich folks generally care about more than the poor.
Indeed, this conflict is why the 1960s New Left, driven primarily by humanistic concerns such as eradicating poverty and eliminating racism, shunned the emerging environmental movement for over a decade, according to University of Wisconsin’s Keith M. Woodhouse. Many in the New Left condemned the first Earth Day in 1970 as “the white liberal’s cop out” and believed that a preoccupation with overpopulation, for example, was “racist hysteria.”
April 7, 2014
Writing in the Daily Beast, Nick Gillespie looks at the terrifying prospect of a 2016 presidential contest between yet another Bush and yet another Clinton:
For partisan and media elites, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past,’ which means with these two candidates likely to lead the race in 2016, the future doesn’t look so different.
As if we need it, here’s extra proof that contemporary politics is more thoroughly exhausted than adult actress Lisa Sparkxxx must have been at the end of her record-setting roll in the hay at the 2004 “Eroticon” in Warsaw, Poland.
The Washington Post reports, “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Jesse Jackson. Can’t we just “stay out the Bushes” this one time at least?
On the other side of the aisle, it’s a given that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the only possible Democratic nominee anyone can name with a straight face (sorry, Joe Biden, but this just ain’t your century any more than the 20th was). “There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight,” notes Maureen Dowd at The New York Times, whose headline writer adds, “Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb.” As it was, it shall always be. About the only cause for optimism is that there’s no Kennedy in the mix.
At least Lisa Sparkxxx participated voluntarily in her own screwing. For the large and growing plurality of Americans who identify as independent, there’s seemingly no way to opt out of the compulsive-repetitive disorder among legacy media types and partisan string-pullers. What is it that Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun (1950)? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Who knew that he was talking about politics in the goddamned 21st century, not Yoknapatawpha County after the Civil War?
March 11, 2014
This difference in outlook may be why the Republican leadership hates the Tea Party. The Tea Party gets pissed when folks they elect punt on the ideological goals they got elected to pursue. They have no tribal loyalty, only loyalty to a set of policy goals. The key marker in fact of many groups now disparagingly called “extremists” is that they do not blindly support “their guy” in office when “their guy” sells out on the things they want.
I have friends I like and respect — smart and worldly people — who are involved in a series of activities to promote political moderation. What I have written in this post is the core of my fear about moderation — that in real life calls for moderation are actually calls for loyalty to maintaining our current two major parties (and keeping current incumbents in office) over ideas and principles.
Which leads me to an honest question that many of you may take as insulting — can one be a principled moderate? I am honestly undecided on this. But note that by moderate I do not mean “someone who is neither Republican or Democrat,” because I fit that description and most would call me pretty extreme. So “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” is not in my mind inherently “moderate”. That is a non-moderate ideological position that is sometimes called “moderate” because it is a mix of Republican and Democrat positions. But I would argue that anyone striving to intellectual consistency cannot be a Republican or Democrat because neither have an internally consistent ideology, and in fact their ideology tends to flip back and forth on certain issues (look at how Republican and Democrat ideology on Presidential power, for example, or drone strikes changes depending on whose guy is in the Oval Office).
Warren Meyer, “Can One Be A Principled Moderate? And What the Hell Is A Moderate, Anyway?”, Coyote Blog, 2014-03-07.
February 17, 2014
Jim Geraghty included this table in a blog post about the biggest contributors to the two major US political parties, and it’s rather shocking. This is the list of top donators from 1989 to 2014:
Clearly, there’s a need to get big corporations out of the political game. Two of them are in the top ten, and three are in the top 15. Oh, and two of them actually gave more money to the Republicans than the Democrats! When will they reform the system to prevent this kind of distortion to the political process?
January 13, 2014
L. Neil Smith thinks that the national media have abandoned New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the political equivalent of the Washington Generals (that is, the preferred token Republican to lose against the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate):
By now, I’m confident you’ve all heard, seen, or smelled the story about New Jersey’s RINO Governor Chris Christie, whose administration allegedly closed down several lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution of some kind against Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich.
“RINO” stands for “Republican In Name Only”. Before the bridge incident, Rush Limbaugh was predicting that Christie would go over to the Democrats day after tomorrow. Now I doubt they’d let him in the clubhouse.
Of all Christie’s dubious accomplishments, and they are many, the one he’s most proud of and famous for is his moderation. In practice, this means that he has absolutely no discernable philosophy. Those are his principles, by God, and if you don’t like them … he’ll change them. Which enables him, he would tell you, to reach out to the “other side of the aisle”, and make compromises with them, so stuff can get done.
Even when it shouldn’t.
Now you would think, when their moderate Republican buddy came under attack, that some of these Democrats he’s been reaching out to all these years might have something to say in his defense: “Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt,” or something. But listen to the crickets.
Instead, they’re already calling for a Congressional investigation which, translated into Russian and translated back again, means “show trial”.
Also, there are other Republican moderates who share whatever serves Christie for values. You might expect them to stand up with him.
Nope … more crickets.
Finally, there are the media (plural noun again) who have been pimping Christie for so long, not only as an ideal politician, but the very fellow who ought to get the Grand Old Party’s next available nomination for President. They were the first to start snapping at his heels. They never really wanted him as President, They wanted him to be a losing Republican candidate for President, the GOP equivalent of Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.
But now he’s no longer useful to them, even for that.
December 15, 2013
Sheldon Richman says the big money folks on Wall Street know who they’d like to see at the top of the tickets for the 2016 presidential election, and they might just get their way:
If you share my belief that the major obstacle to the free society is the national-security/corporate state, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of apprehension. The Wall Streeters, who are among the biggest advocates of partnership between big government and big business, are looking forward to a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, a contest the bankers can’t lose.
They have already discounted any populist rhetoric Clinton may need to fight off a primary challenge from, say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. As “one well-placed Democrat” told Politico, “Wall Street folks are so happy about [having Clinton run] that they won’t care what she says.”
In Clinton, then, we have a friend of the bankers and a friend of the military-industrial complex, since as secretary of state she was an advocate of a muscular foreign policy, including intervention in Libya. (When she was in the Senate she voted to give George W. Bush a blank check to invade Iraq, and when she was first lady, she pushed Bill Clinton to drop bombs on the Balkans).
“And if the banking class is delighted with Clinton lately,” Politico notes, “the feeling appears mutual.”
Wall Street’s first choice on the GOP side is apparently Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. He had his own meeting with the big-money crowd in July 2011. Politico calls him “the candidate with the best chances at winning the support of bankers in the next presidential election.”
At that 2011 meeting: “Henry Kissinger [!], the former secretary of state, stood and pleaded with the governor to enter the presidential race for the good of his country. Christie would, of course, resist their pleas, becoming perhaps even more alluring to those on Wall Street as a prospect for 2016.”
October 21, 2013
Megan McArdle on the problem with emulating the Conquistator model of operational planning and burning your boats:
There’s a legend that after Hernan Cortes and his crew landed on the shores of the New World, Cortes ordered that their boats be burned. The only way they would be able to get back to Spain would be to conquer the land, giving them the resources to build new boats. With necessity at their backs, his band of adventurers managed to conquer all of Mexico.
It’s not clear if this story is actually true, but it’s nonetheless beloved by motivational speakers. The last two weeks of political paralysis have been an excellent illustration of why you shouldn’t model your negotiation strategy on a guy who’s mostly famous for slaughtering strangers.
The state insurance exchanges aren’t working, Obamacare is in jeopardy, and Democrats are casting around for a way to blame this on Republicans. The answer they have settled on: It’s their fault because Republican governors did not set up exchanges.
Think about what they are actually saying: “We passed a law that was so incredibly fragile that it was destined to fail unless all the state governments controlled by the party that opposed this law worked hard to make the system a success.”
And why did they expect this to happen? The answer boils down to this: “After we burn the boats, everyone’s supposed to band together to fight the Aztecs!”
I’ve long criticized the health-care law for being a Rube Goldberg Policy Machine: There are dozens of pieces that all have to work perfectly. If one of them fails, the whole apparatus breaks down and the individual insurance market spirals toward death. That seemed risky to me, especially when the law was passed over fervent opposition — a fervent opposition that was smugly told that “elections have consequences,” without anyone apparently considering that future elections might have different consequences.
But in this view, the Rube Goldberg quality is actually a plus, because after all, if we do something that might break the insurance market unless Republicans enthusiastically cooperate, they’ll have to enthusiastically cooperate.
This is … what’s the technical term? Right, insane.
Start with the fact that the state exchanges — what we would have had if the Republican governors and legislatures had cooperated — aren’t all in such great shape, either. Don’t get me wrong; some of them are doing very well. But some aren’t really working at all, and in others the results are … unclear. And that’s in blue states where the governor and the legislature were hugely enthusiastic about this program and are going all out to make it work. As anyone who has ever implemented a new program (corporate or government) can tell you, one of the biggest hurdles is getting people who don’t care about your program, or who actively oppose it, to make their piece work. Even if they’re trying in good faith, they have neither your enthusiasm nor your deep grasp of the internal logic. In the best-case scenario, it’s not their No. 1 priority; when it competes for resources with stuff they really care about, it tends to get the second-string people and budget. This is one reason that promising pilot projects often fail when they’re rolled out to the larger organization—and one of the most important things that a corporate innovator has to do is to evangelize his program so that other departments get as enthusiastic as he is.
The Obama administration was not in a position to evangelize the president’s health-care program to Republican governors. If the law absolutely required that those governors be as enthusiastic about implementing a state exchange as the folks in the administration, then it was a bad law that should never have been passed, and the Democrats made a grave mistake that could destroy the nation’s insurance market.
After the boat-burning failed the first time, leaving it weeks from its debut without a working computer system, the administration seems to have decided that what was needed was simply a larger bonfire: Launch the nonworking system, because after all, once you’ve gone live, the potential catastrophe would be nearly upon us, which would somehow force those inside and outside the administration to somehow bring order out of the chaos they had created.
But Republicans should make this work! It’s the right thing to do! That is, of course, debatable. But aside from that, this is magical thinking — as magical as the Tea Partiers who responded, when I pointed out that the shutdown was costing them the support they’d need to retake the Senate and the White House and actually get some policy making done, that this was all the fault of the liberal media, which was just repeating administration talking points.
October 7, 2013
David Harsanyi thinks the political scene would be better if more media outlets were up-front about their partisan stance rather than pretending to be objective and impartial:
As much as it pains me, let me take a few moments to defend MSNBC. Last week’s much-talked about testy exchange between anchor Thomas Roberts and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has been predictably negative. Media bias is a perpetual grievance of the Right — for obvious reasons. But maybe the only way to improve on the situation is to champion more openly ideologically driven political journalism? By any measure, it’s a lot less destructive than what we had for decades: a media feigning impartiality.
It can be uncomfortable watching a head-on collision of hackery, but the truth is the entire exchange is weirdly honest, entertaining and informative. It’s not often a TV anchor admits to viewers that he’s reading “directly from what the president just gave us.” Roberts is standing in for the president. Perfect. It’s not as if Reince Priebus was on MSNBC to offer his dispassionate impression of the situation, either. He should be challenged. And though the table-setting question is preposterously biased, it’s exactly the kind of question Priebus should be able to deflect. And he gets to do it in front of an audience that generally detests Republicans. I saw many people on Twitter wondering why Priebus does it to himself. They should be wondering why he doesn’t do it more often.
We all know where MSNBC or FOX News stand. It’s establishment media masquerading as impartial that has the real impact. This bias is rooted in insularity, showing a lack curiosity about the other side’s worldview — the ignorance about religion, guns or free-market economic ideas are the most glaring example — and, even worse, a lack of skepticism towards its own conceptions about how things work.
To the untrained eye, the Obamacare rollout may seem like an unmitigated disaster. But editors at Reuters (“Web traffic, glitches slow Obamacare exchanges launch”) or the Associate Press (“Rollout of ‘historic’ Obamacare in California hits some snags”) will try to dissuade people of this notion. Bias doesn’t only manifest in what you write but what you don’t, in what goes above the fold and what sort of delicate nouns and adjectives you sprinkle in your headlines.
Charlie Cooke had a very good column and follow up post this week on progressive disdain for our system of separated powers. What liberals want, according to Charlie, is an “elected king” who can do whatever he wants. I agree with him almost entirely. For instance, he doesn’t say it, but this is exactly what Thomas Friedman wants. It’s what all the pseudo-eggheady-jagoff technocrats always want. The desire to simply impose “optimal policies” heedless of democratic or legal impediments lies behind virtually every technocratic fad of the last couple of centuries. We know what to do, and the problem with democracy is that the rubes won’t let us do it! Stuart Chase, one of the architects of the New Deal (who some say coined the term), openly pleaded for an “economic dictatorship.” After all, he asked, “why should the Russians have all the fun remaking the world?”
But here’s where I disagree a bit with Charlie. The key issue for progressives has never been the form power takes, but power itself. You want my five-second lesson in progressive history? No? Sucks for you, because I’m going to tell you anyway: They always go where the field is open.
When the public was on their side the progressives relied on the public. That’s why we have the direct election of senators. That’s why women got the franchise. Etc. In his early years as an academic Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to run the country — the way parliament runs England — and relegate the president to a glorified clerk. When the public became unreliable and Congress was no longer a viable vehicle, progressives suddenly fell in love with a Caesarian presidency. Indeed, Wilson himself, the former champion of Congress, became an unapologetic voluptuary of presidential power the moment it suited him — and nary a progressive complained (save poor Randolph Bourne, of course). The progressives rode the presidency like it was a horse they never expected to return to a stable. And when that started to hit the point of diminishing returns, they moved on to the courts (even as they bleated and caterwauled about Nixon’s “abuses” of powers that were created and exploited by Wilson, FDR, and Johnson). After the courts, they relied on the bureaucracy. Like water seeking the shortest path, progressives have always championed the shortest route to social-justice victories.
My point is that I think Charlie is entirely right that progressives want to maximize their power. But the elected king scenario is just one of many they’d be perfectly happy with. If they could have a politburo instead of a unitary executive, they’d probably prefer that. But the point is that the instruments are, uh, instrumental. The core imperative is power. We see this in miniature when liberals don’t control the presidency but do control Congress. Suddenly, it’s vital that the “people’s house” exert its constitutional prerogatives! When the president is a Democrat he needs to rule unimpaired. When he’s a Republican, his dictatorial tendencies must be held in check. When liberals want to reinterpret the Constitution by judicial whim or fiat, it’s proof that the Constitution is living up to its nature as a “living, breathing, document.” When conservatives actually want to amend the Constitution — the only legitimate and constitutional means to change the meaning of the Constitution, I might add — it is a horrible affront to the vision of the Founders!
Once you realize this it helps explain so many of the Left’s hypocrisies and alleged double standards. I say alleged, because they aren’t really double standards. You can only have a double standard when you actually believe something should be a standard. Ultimately, for progressives these procedural debates about how power is used in America are just that: procedural debates. The alleged standards at stake are evanescent and petty — for liberals. The only true standard is whatever advances the progressives’ ball downfield. That is the very heart of “social justice” — doing whatever “good” you can, when you can, however you can. As they say, behind every confessed double standard there is an unconfessed single standard. And for progressives, the single enduring standard is “whatever works for us.”
Jonah Goldberg, “Progressives and Power”, The Goldberg File email newsletter, 2013-10-04