Few things are more likely to precede defeat than the conviction that you are on the verge of victory. One hundred years ago, in the spring of 1917, Germany had every reason to believe that it would triumph over its enemies in the First World War. France had been bled white in repeated attacks on the German army’s fortified lines, England was suffering from shortages of both munitions and military manpower, and Russia was descending into a revolution that would, within a year, enable Germany and its Austro-Hungarian allies to shift enormous numbers of troops and guns to the Western Front. Yet the entry of the United States into the war on April 6, 1917, proved to be the counterweight that shifted the balance. By the autumn of 1918, the fond hope of Germany victory had been exposed as a delusion. The ultimate result of the Kaiser’s war was the destruction of the Kaiser’s empire, and of much else besides.
What is true in war is true also in politics. Hubris is nearly always the precedent to unexpected defeat. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory; less than four years later, LBJ could not even win his own party’s nomination for re-election. In 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide; less than two years later, he was forced to resign from office. More recently, after George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, some imagined that this victory was the harbinger of a “permanent Republican majority” — a GOP electoral hegemony based on a so-called “center-right” realignment — but two years later, Democrats captured control of Congress and in 2008 Barack Obama was elected president. Obama’s success in turn led Democrats to become overconfident, and Hillary Clinton’s supporters believed they were “on the right side of history,” as rock singer Bruce Springsteen told a rally in Philadelphia on the eve of the 2016 election. Unfortunately for Democrats, history disagreed.
Robert Stacy McCain, “Why Is the ‘Right Side of History’ Losing?”, The American Spectator, 2017-04-05.
April 19, 2017
October 25, 2015
David Warren admits he’s not welcome at a few local drinking establishments nowadays:
There are at least two tables, within pubs in the Greater Parkdale Area, where, notwithstanding I was once quite welcome, I am not today. Some think this is because of my opinions, which are those of a rightwing fanatic and religious nutjob. But no: it is because I am willing to express them. This is a form of incontinence, one might argue; and like other forms, it may accord with increasing age. Yet I do not think that silence is invariably golden.
To hear me tell it — and whom else were you expecting, gentle reader? — it goes like this. In years past, I would sit quietly and ignore nonsense, especially political nonsense, spoken by my fellow imbibers. I can still do this. Many of the most ludicrous remarks, on any passing issue, are not actually opinions of the speaker. He simply echoes or parrots the views of the media and his own social class. I’ve been absorbing this “background music” for years; why revolt now? The noise is anyway not arguments but gestures.
Say, “Stephen Harper,” and watch the eyeballs roll. Say, “George Bush,” and still, ditto. Say “Richard Nixon,” however, and you don’t get much of a rise any more, for memories out there are short, very short.
(A Czech buddy, in the olden days, once performed this experiment in a pub. “I just love that Richard Nixon!” he declared, in his thick, Slavic accent, loud enough to afflict the Yankee draft-dodgers at the next table, who’d been prattling about Watergate too long. “Gives those liberals heart attacks,” he added. … Some bottle-tossing followed from that, and we were all banned together, so ended up as friends.)
On the other hand say, “Barack Obama,” and they will focus like attentive puppies. Or, “Justin Trudeau” to the ladies, to make them coo.
It is a simple Pavlovian trick, and might be done in reverse in a rightwing bar, except, there are no rightwing bars in big cities.
Yet everyone knows there are rightwing people, even in Greater Parkdale. And they are welcome anywhere they want to buy a pint, the more if they’re buying for the whole table. The one condition is that they must keep their “divisive” opinions to themselves.
October 13, 2015
In the Wall Street Journal, Niall Ferguson describes the “Real Obama Doctrine” in US foreign policy:
Even before becoming Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger understood how hard it was to make foreign policy in Washington. There “is no such thing as an American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger wrote in 1968. There is only “a series of moves that have produced a certain result” that they “may not have been planned to produce.” It is “research and intelligence organizations,” he added, that “attempt to give a rationality and consistency” which “it simply does not have.”
Two distinctively American pathologies explained the fundamental absence of coherent strategic thinking. First, the person at the top was selected for other skills. “The typical political leader of the contemporary managerial society,” noted Mr. Kissinger, “is a man with a strong will, a high capacity to get himself elected, but no very great conception of what he is going to do when he gets into office.”
Second, the government was full of people trained as lawyers. In making foreign policy, Mr. Kissinger once remarked, “you have to know what history is relevant.” But lawyers were “the single most important group in Government,” he said, and their principal drawback was “a deficiency in history.” This was a long-standing prejudice of his. “The clever lawyers who run our government,” he thundered in a 1956 letter to a friend, have weakened the nation by instilling a “quest for minimum risk which is our most outstanding characteristic.”
Let’s see, now. A great campaigner. A bunch of lawyers. And a “quest for minimum risk.” What is it about this combination that sounds familiar?
I have spent much of the past seven years trying to work out what Barack Obama’s strategy for the United States truly is. For much of his presidency, as a distinguished general once remarked to me about the commander in chief’s strategy, “we had to infer it from speeches.”
August 3, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
If price controls have negative consequences, why do governments enact them? Let’s revisit our example of President Nixon’s wage and price controls in the 1970s. These price controls were popular, as is demonstrated by Nixon being re-elected after they went into effect. The public didn’t think that the price controls were to blame for things such as long lines at the fuel pump. Without knowledge of the economics behind price controls, the public blamed foreign oil cartels and oil companies for the shortages.
In this video we’ll also address questions such as: do price controls — like rent controlled apartments and the minimum wage — help the poor? Are there better ways to help the poor? If so, what are they? Let’s find out.
June 27, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
In 1971, President Nixon, in an effort to control inflation, declared price increases illegal. Because prices couldn’t increase, they began hitting a ceiling. With a price ceiling, buyers are unable to signal their increased demand by bidding prices up, and suppliers have no incentive to increase quantity supplied because they can’t raise the price.
What results when the quantity demanded exceeds the quantity supplied? A shortage! In the 1970s, for example, buyers began to signal their demand for gasoline by waiting in long lines, if they even had access to gasoline at all. As you’ll recall from the previous section on the price system, prices help coordinate global economic activity. And with price controls in place, the economy became far less coordinated. Join us as we look at real-world examples of price controls and the grave effects these regulations have on trade and industry.
June 15, 2015
B.K. Marcus explains how ice cream was the secret weapon that won the Cold War:
Richard Nixon stood by a lemon-yellow refrigerator in Moscow and bragged to the Soviet leader: “The American system,” he told Nikita Khrushchev over frosted cupcakes and chocolate layer cake, “is designed to take advantage of new inventions.”
It was the opening day of the American National Exhibition at Sokol’niki Park, and Nixon was representing not just the US government but also the latest products from General Mills, Whirlpool, and General Electric. Assisting him in what would come to be known as the “Kitchen Debates” were attractive American spokesmodels who demonstrated for the Russian crowd the best that capitalism in 1959 had to offer.
“Don’t you have a machine,” he asked Nixon, “that puts food in the mouth and presses it down? Many things you’ve shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets.”
Khrushchev was displaying the behavior Ludwig von Mises described in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. “They castigate the luxury, the stupidity and the moral corruption of the exploiting classes,” Mises wrote of the socialists. “In their eyes everything that is bad and ridiculous is bourgeois, and everything that is good and sublime is proletarian.”
On display that summer in Moscow was American consumer tech at its most bourgeois. The problem with “castigating the luxury,” as Mises pointed out, is that all “innovation is first a luxury of only a few people, until by degrees it comes into the reach of the many.”
It is appropriate that the Kitchen Debate over luxury versus necessity took place among high-end American refrigerators. Refrigeration, as a luxury, is ancient. “There were ice harvests in China before the first millennium BC,” writes Wilson. “Snow was sold in Athens beginning in the fifth century BC. Aristocrats of the seventeenth century spooned desserts from ice bowls, drank wine chilled with snow, and even ate iced creams and water ices. Yet it was only in the nineteenth century in the United States that ice became an industrial commodity.” Only with modern capitalism, in other words, does the luxury reach so rapidly beyond a tiny elite.
“Capitalism,” Mises wrote in Economic Freedom and Interventionism, “is essentially mass production for the satisfaction of the wants of the masses.”
April 7, 2015
In City Journal, Fred Siegel looks at some recent books about the late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Monihan:
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the four-term senator from New York who died in 2003, was that rare soul who was both a political and intellectual giant. Stephen Hess, who worked in the early Nixon White House as an aide to Moynihan, was the rare individual friendly with both Moynihan and Richard Nixon. The Professor and the President is a short but revealing memoir-cum-narrative of Moynihan’s service in the executive branch.
What brought Nixon and Moynihan together was a tectonic shift of the political plates. Nixon won the presidency in 1968 thanks to the backlash against the riots that had ripped through America’s cities. What made Moynihan a Democrat of extraordinary insight, willing to serve a Republican president, were his reactions to those riots — and to the excesses and wrong turns of American liberalism.
Today, 50 years after its issuance, some liberals “bravely” acknowledge that 1965’s so-called Moynihan Report, in which the future senator warned about the dire future consequences of the collapse of the black family, was a fire bell in the night. But at the time, and for decades to come, Moynihan was branded as a racist by civil rights leaders, black activists, and run-of-the-mill liberals. “One began to sense,” Moynihan wrote, that “a price was to be paid even for such a mild dissent from conventional liberalism.”
His capacity for irony notwithstanding, Moynihan came close to a nervous breakdown and “emerged changed” from the experience. He came to feel “that American liberalism had created its own version of a politique du pire (i.e., the worse the better) … in which evidence had been displaced by ideology.” His fear that the empirically oriented liberalism of his youth was under assault from racial and cultural nihilists intensified after the 1967 riots that burned through Cleveland, Newark, and Detroit, where 43 died. “The summer of 1967,” Moynihan wrote at the time, “came in the aftermath of one of the most extraordinary periods of liberal legislation, liberal electoral victories and the liberal dominance of the media … that we have ever experienced. The period was, moreover, accompanied by the greatest economic expansion in human history. And to top it all, some of the worst violence occurred in Detroit, a city with one of the most liberal and successful administrations in the nation; a city in which the social and economic position of the Negro was generally agreed to be far and away the best in the nation.”
July 20, 2014
The first men walked on the moon on this day in 1969:
I didn’t realize that almost all the Apollo 11 photographs of astronauts are of Buzz Aldrin. For some reason, Neil Armstrong appears in only a few of them, and The Atlantic‘s Rebecca Rosen wonders why:
If there is one thing everybody knows about Neil Armstrong, it is this: “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This quotation, in my mind at least, appears illustrated, conjuring the image above of an imprint left by a human boot upon the dusty lunar surface.
Except that’s not the first step, nor was it left by Armstrong. It’s a footprint made by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.
The explanation for this paucity is murky at best, prone to the uncharitable reading that Aldrin was getting “Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon” in retribution for Armstrong getting the honor of first to set foot on the lunar surface.
But this is speculation at best. Aldrin, at least, has always said that the lapse was inadvertant, the result of Armstrong carrying the camera most of the time, a picture of Armstrong not appearing on the bucket list of things to do while on the moon, and Armstrong never stopping to ask for one. According to Aldrin, he was about to take a picture of Armstrong at the flag ceremony when President Nixon called, distracting them from the task.
Later, Aldrin expressed regret about the oversight. “When I got back and someone said, ‘There’s not any of Neil,’ I thought, ‘What in the hell can I do now?’ I felt so bad about that. And then to have somebody say that might have been intentional…. How do you come up with a nonconfrontational argument against that? I mean, that was just such a divisive observation, and Neil and I were never in the least divisive. We really were intimidated by the situation we found ourselves in on the Moon, hesitant and with an unclear idea of what to do next.”
Hansen’s book includes a handful of divergent opinions from different NASA administrators, theorizing as to how this, what Hansen calls “one of the minor tragedies of Apollo 11,” could have happened. Was it mere oversight or petty payback? Men sticking close to the plan or men sticking too close to the plan?
H/T to Colby Cosh:
This quirk of history is usually covered as if it were, or even could have been, the astronauts’ fault. It’s a bit unfortunate.
— Colby Cosh (@colbycosh) July 20, 2014
October 18, 2013
In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reviews the last few times we thought we’d reached “peak America” moments:
Those old enough to remember the 1929 crash on Wall Street and the US exit from the Gold Standard under Franklin Roosevelt — thin in numbers these days — will recall the pervading sense that America had already peaked, its capitalist model overtaken by history.
The Russian trade agency Amtorg in New York famously advertised for 6,000 skilled plumbers, chemists, electricians, and dentists, and suchlike, to work in the Soviet Union, then deemed the El Dorado of mankind, or the “moral top of the world where the light never really goes out”, in the words of Edmund Wilson. It is said that 100,000 showed up.
The commentariat went into overdrive, more or less writing off the United States. The Yale Review, Harpers, and The Atlantic all ran pieces debating the risk of imminent revolution.
Just 12 years later the US accounted for half of all global economic output and was military master of the West, literally running Japan and Germany as administrative regions.
Those a little younger — like me — who remember the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and the last American citizens being lifted by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975, will recall the ubiquitous claims that the US could never fully recover from what looked like a crushing defeat.
The Carter Malaise, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran hostage humiliation all followed in quick succession, and seemed to seal the argument.
Oh, but this time it’s different because reasons. The sky really is falling! It’s the end! THE END!
August 16, 2013
Jacob Sullum on the remarkable lack of use of one executive power the US constitution clearly does grant to the president:
[U.S. attorney general Eric] Holder called upon Congress to reform mandatory minimum sentences and outlined steps the Justice Department will take in the meantime to avoid imposing “draconian” penalties on nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. He said his boss, President Barack Obama, shares his concern about mass incarceration and harsh sentences. But Holder neglected to mention that Obama has the power to free people who do not belong in prison — a power he has exercised just once during almost five years in office.
Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the unilateral, unreviewable authority to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” So far Obama, who has not otherwise been shy about pushing executive power to the limit (and beyond), has granted 39 pardons, clearing the records of people who completed their sentences years ago, and one commutation, shortening the sentence of Eugenia Jennings, an Illinois woman who was convicted in 2001 of selling 13.9 grams of crack to a police informant. Obama cut her prison term from 22 years to 10, and she was released in December 2011.
That is an amazingly stingy clemency record for a supposedly enlightened and progressive man who before he was elected repeatedly described our justice system as excessively punitive. While running for president in 2008, Obama promised to “review drug sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive sentencing of nonviolent offenders.” Yet he has granted commutations at a rate that makes Richard Nixon, who declared war on drugs and campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, look like a softie. Nixon granted 60 commutations, 7 percent of the 892 applications he received, during his 67 months in office, while Obama has granted one out of 8,126, or 0.01 percent, over 55 months.
In fact, according to numbers compiled by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, only three of Obama’s predecessors made less use of the clemency power (taking into account pardons as well as commutations) during their first terms: George Washington, who probably did not have many petitions to address during the first few years of the nation’s existence; William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month after taking office; and James Garfield, who was shot four months into his presidency and died that September.
July 6, 2013
The St. Paul Pioneer Press raided the National Archives to find this clip of President Nixon talking to his attorney general about the outrageous NFL TV blackout policy:
Football populist Richard Nixon was furious at the NFL and wanted to flex his political muscle to end television blackouts.
At 2:06 p.m. on Dec. 18, 1972, Nixon met with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst at the Executive Office Building and railed against the league’s policy that prevented fans from watching their team’s home playoff games on TV.
The 37th president of the United States wanted to intervene because the Washington Redskins-Green Bay Packers postseason game at RFK Stadium on Christmas Eve was going to be blacked out in Washington, D.C., even though it already was sold out.
In a conversation secretly recorded by the White House bugging system that helped doom his presidency, Nixon threatened to sue the league if it did not lift blackouts for the playoffs. The devout Redskins fan ordered Kleindienst to “get busy with your lawyers” and take the fight to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams.
March 25, 2013
In Reason‘s April issue, Jacob Sullum points out that Barack Obama is ranked higher than George Washington, William Henry Harrison, and James Garfield as far as clemency is concerned. That is, every other president has been more generous with the presidential pardon:
December, a traditional season for presidential clemency, came and went, and still Obama had granted just one commutation (which shortens a prisoner’s sentence) and 22 pardons (which clear people’s records, typically after they’ve completed their sentences). His first-term record looks weaker than those of all but a few previous presidents.
Which of Obama’s predecessors managed to make less use of the clemency power during their first terms? According to numbers compiled by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, just three: George Washington, who probably did not have many clemency petitions to address during the first few years of the nation’s existence; William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month after taking office; and James Garfield, who was shot four months into his presidency and died that September.
With the exception of Washington’s first term, then, Obama so far has been stingier with pardons and commutations than any other president, especially when you take into account the growth of the federal penal system during the last century, the elimination of parole, the proliferation of mandatory minimums, and the concomitant increase in petitions. This is a remarkable development for a man who proclaims that “life is all about second chances” and who has repeatedly described our criminal justice system as excessively harsh.
[. . .]
Obama deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.
October 21, 2012
George McGovern will, unfortunately, be best known to most people as the poor beggar who lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a blowout. Nick Gillespie says there was much more to McGovern than just being on the wrong side of an electoral landslide:
McGovern’s early criticism of the Vietnam War (he first spoke against it as a newly elected Democratic senator from South Dakota in 1963) was out of step with a bipartisan Cold War consensus that smothered serious debate for too long.
Yet when you take a longer view of his career — especially after he got bounced from the Senate in 1980 during the Republican landslide he helped create — what emerges is a rare public figure whose policy positions shifted to an increasingly libertarian stance in response to a world that’s far more complicated than most politicians can ever allow.
Born in 1922 and raised during the Depression, McGovern eventually earned a doctorate in American history before becoming a politician. But it was as a private citizen he became an expert in the law of unintended consequences, which elected officials ignore routinely. He came to recognize that attempts to control the economic and lifestyle choices of Americans aren’t only destructive to cherished national ideals, but ineffective as well. That legacy is more relevant now than ever.
[. . .]
In a 1997 New York Times op-ed article, he emphasized that simply because some people abuse freedom of choice is no reason to reduce it. “Despite the death of my daughter,” he argued, “I still appreciate the differences between use and abuse.” He rightly worried that lifestyle freedom, like economic freedom, was everywhere under attack: “New attempts to regulate behavior are coming from both the right and the left, depending only on the cause. But there are those of us who don’t want the tyranny of the majority (or the outspoken minority) to stop us from leading our lives in ways that have little impact on others.”
McGovern believed that attempts to impose single-value standards were profoundly un-American and “that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other’s lives.” But as governments at various levels expand their control of everything from health-care to mortgages to the consumption of soda pop and so much more, that’s exactly what’s happening.
August 5, 2012
President Richard Nixon’s reputation could hardly be any worse: he’s seen as the most evil president if not of all time, certainly of the 20th century. Conrad Black attempts to correct the record:
Forty years after Watergate, as the agreed demonology of that drama begins to unravel and the chief authors of it, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, struggle to keep the conventional wisdom about it intact as an article of righteous liberal faith, a factual review is timely. When Richard Nixon was inaugurated president in 1969, the United States had 550,000 draftees in Indochina with no plausible explanation or constitutionally legitimate reason for them to be there and 200 to 400 of them were coming back every week in body bags. President Lyndon Johnson had offered Ho Chi Minh deferred victory in his Manila proposal of October 1966: withdrawal of all foreign forces from South Vietnam. Ho could have taken the offer and returned six months after the Americans had left, saved his countrymen at least 500,000 combat dead, and lived to see a communist Saigon. He chose to not even give LBJ a decent interval for defeat and insisted on militarily humiliating the United States.
In January 1969, there were no U.S. relations with China, no arms control talks in progress with the U.S.S.R., no peace process in the Middle East, there were race or anti-war riots almost every week all over the United States, and the country had been shaken by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (both in their early 40s). LBJ could not go anywhere in the country without demonstrations, as students occupied universities and the whole country was in tumult.
Four years later, Nixon had withdrawn from Vietnam, preserving a non-communist South Vietnam, which had defeated the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in April 1972 with no American ground support, though heavy air support. He had negotiated and signed the greatest arms control agreement in world history with the Soviet Union, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, ended school segregation and avoided the court-ordered, Democratic Party-approved nightmare of busing children all around metropolitan areas for racial balance, and there were no riots, demonstrations, assassinations or university occupations. He started the Middle East peace process, reduced the crime rate and ended conscription. For all of these reasons, he was re-elected by the greatest plurality in American history, 18 million votes, and a percentage of the vote (60.7) equalled only by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. His term was rivalled only by Lincoln’s and FDR’s first and third terms as the most successful in U.S. history.
July 13, 2012
Nick Gillespie on the many, many ways that the baby boomers are screwing their own kids:
Hey kids, wake up! Stop playing your X-Box while listening to your Facebooks on the iPod and wearing your iPad with the cap turned backwards with the droopy pants and the bikini underwear listening to Snoopy Poopy Poop Dogg and the Enema Man and all that!
Take a break from getting yet another tattoo on your ass bone or your nipples pierced already! And STFU about the 1 Percent vs. the 99 Percent!
You’re not getting screwed by billionaires and plutocrats. You’re getting screwed by Mom and Dad.
Systematically and in all sorts of ways. Old people are doing everything possible to rob you of your money, your future, your dignity, and your freedom.
Here’s the irony, too (in a sort of Alanis Morissette sense): You’re getting hosed by the very same group that 45 years ago was bitching and moaning about “the generation gap” and how their parents just didn’t understand what really mattered in life.
[. . .]
Oddly, back in the actual 1960s, one of the few things that hippies and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan could all agree on was that conscription was a really bad thing. For god’s sake, Richard Nixon created a commission to end the draft. But that was then, and this is now.
And right now, old people are not going gentle into that good night. They know they’re going to need younger people to change their diapers and pay their bills for them, literally and figuratively. As Hillary Clinton put it in 1999, nobody’s going to do that if they have any option not to. Speaking to a National Education Association meeting, she explained one of the great benefits of old-age entitlements was that they meant you didn’t have to live with your goddamn parents.