Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

WSJ: ‘Politics Is Not a Crime’

I’m sharing this for the headline as much as anything else.

When I saw that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was arguing before the Supreme Court that he “had engaged in nothing more than politics as usual,” I thought, how sleazy can you get?

But then I saw the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal make the same argument, and this time I paid attention:

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

A jury convicted Mr. McDonnell in 2014 for taking more than $170,000 in gifts from a Richmond businessman who was also a family friend. The gifts included a $50,000 loan, $15,000 to finance their daughter’s wedding, fancy dresses, a Rolex watch and vacations. Let us stipulate that this is reckless and sleazy, and that the businessman hoped the Governor would take actions to promote his diet-supplement business.

The legal problem is that Mr. McDonnell never provided much of any quo for the quid. Virginia law lets politicians accept gifts, and prosecutors never charged him with violating state law. They charged him under federal law with performing “official acts” to benefit the business, but none of those acts influenced policy or changed a government decision.

Mr. McDonnell was convicted for attending a lunch at the executive mansion where the businessman’s company gave out grants to universities, for attending a reception with the businessman, for asking an aide about research pertaining to the company, and for arranging a meeting with his staff and the man.

This stretches the bribery statutes to criminalize the normal transactions of politics…

So basically, yeah, taking all those gifts was sleazy, but the man did not commit a crime. And they make a good case for that position.

For the WSJ, this fits with their overall limited-government guiding principle; they see the federal prosecutors as overstepping. It also afforded them the excuse to include this subhed: “If Bob McDonnell is guilty of corruption, then so is Hillary Clinton.”

But the larger point is also worth making. Just because we find something about politics distasteful doesn’t mean it’s a crime.

Often, it isn’t even sleazy — in this case, taking the gifts stank to high heaven, but what McDonnell did for the giver was in no way corrupt. As the Journal notes:

Public officials routinely act as boosters for local businesses. They also frequently meet donors and introduce them to others. Citizens also have the First Amendment right to petition their elected officials. If arranging a meeting for a benefactor qualifies as corruption, prosecutors will be able to target any politician in the country.

And that would be wrong.

‘Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz’ (if they are Republicans)

Jeff Mobley brings to our attention this interesting piece in National Review, “Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz.” It’s by a guy named Dan McLaughlin.

Jeff makes these observations:

From reason nine of Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz:

Ted Cruz loves the Constitution like a fat kid loves cake, like a dog loves a tennis ball, like Donald Trump loves the sound of his own name.

Reasons four and six were somewhat interesting. I hadn’t really thought about reason six before.

And it is an interesting piece, which raises some points many of us may not have thought about. In the end, though, for me, it fails to persuade. That’s because the list assumes, since you’re reading National Review, that you are a Republican and think like one. It’s not aimed at independents who just want the best (or least bad) candidate to win, regardless of party.

Here are the 10 reasons:

  • One: This Election Is Too Important to Punt.
  • Two: Only Ted Cruz Can Stop Donald Trump.

    McLaughlin

    McLaughlin

  • Three: Ted Cruz Might Beat Hillary Clinton; Donald Trump Won’t.
  • Four: Ted Cruz Knows What He’s Doing.
  • Five: The Republican Party Can Survive Losing with Ted Cruz.
  • Six: Ted Cruz Won’t Rest until He Gets His Shot.
  • Seven: You Can Live with Ted Cruz and His Supporters.
  • Eight: Ted Cruz Might Be the Man to Tame Trumpism.
  • Nine: Ted Cruz Loves the Constitution.
  • Ten: President Cruz Would Be More Responsible Than You Think.

Before you consider my objections to some of them, go read the explanations. Some of them are pretty good.

And here are my objections, based on my UnParty perspective:

  • One: All elections are too important to punt, but this one is no more so than others. This assertion is based in the Republican assumption that “Twelve years of Democratic control of the White House, with its expansive powers and massive cultural footprint, is intolerable.” No, it isn’t. It’s no worse than 12 years of GOP control.
  • Two: You know I disagree with the thinking here, but we’ve been over that again and again…
  • Three: Again, defeating Hillary Clinton is only a desired thing if the one defeating her would make a better president. Hillary is a mess, and with all her baggage is not someone that a reasonable, objective, nonpartisan person would actually want to become president. But she’s far more likely to govern from a pragmatic center, relatively free of unbending ideology, than Cruz. The Republicans only have one candidate left who would be a better deal as president, and that’s Kasich.
  • Five: I don’t care about the Republican Party surviving, not if it thinks its only choices are Trump and Cruz.
  • Seven: Basically, the argument here is We Republicans are used to dealing with people like Cruz supporters, so it won’t be so painful. Speak for yourselves, GOP.
  • Eight: The argument here is that Trump and Cruz have enough in common that Cruz could take Trumpism and channel it for good. The trouble is, their areas of agreement are some of the worst things about both of them. Dealbreaker after dealbreaker, ladies.
  • Nine: Yes, he does love the Constitution, and at least knows a lot about it, which distinguishes him sharply from Trump. I love the Constitution, too. But I noticed something a number of years back: Political candidates who go on and on and on and on about the Constitution quite frequently have some eccentric ideas about that same document. They see unconstitutionality everywhere they look. But folks, most political disagreement isn’t between the constitutional and the unconstitutional; it’s between options that represent different ways to go within the framework of constitutionality.
  • Ten: Yeah… tell me another one.

Anyway, as you can see from all that typing I just did, at least the piece made me think. Maybe it will do the same for you…

Samuelson tries to inject some reason into ‘gender pay gap’

From Robert Samuelson at The Washington Post:

Samuelson

Robert Samuelson

The gender pay gap is back in the news — and it may become a major issue in the presidential campaign. It seems an open-and-shut case of job discrimination. Women earn only 79 percent of men’s average hourly wages. Who could favor that? Actually, the comparison is bogus. A more accurate ratio, after adjusting for differences in gender employment patterns, is closer to 92 percent. Even the remaining gap of 8 percentage points may not stem fully from discrimination….

… if women were paid a fifth less for doing the same work as men, there would be pervasive discrimination. That’s how the pay gap is interpreted by many. They demand “equal pay for equal work.” But that’s not what the pay gap shows. It’s simply the ratio of women’s average hourly pay to men’s average hourly pay. The jobs in the comparison are not the same, and when these differences are taken into account, the ratio of women’s pay to men’s rises to almost 92 percent from 79 percent, say Blau and Kahn….

After all the adjustments, the remaining 8-percentage-point unexplained gender gap could reflect discrimination….

But the persisting gap could have other causes….

Go read the whole thing. I’ve given you about as much as I can under Fair Use rules. (I think. Fair Use is open to interpretation.)

In any case, don’t expect the study Samuelson is writing about or anything else to modify the way Democrats speak about this. That 79 percent, and the assumption that it’s all about discrimination, is far too important to their whole “War on Women” meme to allow it to be sullied by considerations of reality.

Both parties like to trump up issues to generate outrage among their respective bases. This is a favorite among the Democrats.

Alternative GOP universes: One with Kasich, one without

There are two non-overlapping universes out there among those who want to save the Republican Party from Donald Trump (and, if they truly care, from Ted Cruz).

The guy Republicans will nominate if they wan to win.

The guy Republicans will nominate if they wan to win.

In one, John Kasich — as the only other survivor of the original 17, and as the only candidate likely to beat Hillary Clinton in the fall — is the obvious alternative.

In the other universe, Kasich either doesn’t exist or exists only as an irritant who should go away, and quickly.

You know I live in the first universe, and praise its wise inhabitants on a regular basis.

Just yesterday, NPR was interviewing former RNC chair and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and he quite naturally mentioned Kasich as the one electable candidate out there:

BARBOUR: Well, I’m certainly a regular Republican. I’ve been a Republican since 1968. But people are looking at two things – electability – and today, in The Wall Street Journal, Clinton leads Trump by 11 points. Almost every poll shows Trump running under 40 in a general election. That’s very scary because if we have a presidential candidate that runs in the low 40s or below, then a lot of Republicans down the ticket are going to lose. They can’t overcome that.

SIEGEL: Does Cruz pose the same threat to the party as Trump?

BARBOUR: His numbers are not as bad today, but one has to worry about electability. And you look at Kasich – he leads Mrs. Clinton by six or seven points in the poll, not as well-known. But we have in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the two most unfavorably seen presidential candidates ever….

Which, you know, should be obvious to everyone. Like, you know, duh.

Then there’s the other universe, which all-too-often asserts itself. Today I was reading a piece by Jennifer Rubin, who often (but not always) makes a lot of sense, headlined “It’s nearly time for that white knight to show up.” The piece mentioned some really esoteric, out there possibilities for who that knight might be:

That, however, presupposes a candidate, one on which the #NeverTrump forces could agree upon as their white knight. There will be those principled conservatives who want a champion (e.g. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, former Texas governor Rick Perry, former Indiana govenor Mitch Daniels, current Indiana Gov. Mike Pence), those who think only a respected public person with impeccable national-security credentials has a shot (e.g. retired general James Mattis), Mitt Romney supporters who want one more go at the presidency and still others who think a moderate with appeal to Democrats (e.g. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty) is the only feasible option. Lacking the benefit of a party primary system or caucus, the third-candidate supporters would not have the benefit of testing how contenders do with actual voters. The risk obviously is coming up with someone real voters don’t find compelling….

Who? Sasse? Mattis? Really?

Bizarrely, the column does not even mention Kasich, the one sane alternative who has actually put himself out there, and who has survived the brutal culling process to date. You know, the guy who came in second in Trump’s big win in New York last night.

This is because, apparently, Ms. Rubin really does not like Kasich.

But you know, once you eliminate the two unthinkables and go looking for a knight, the most obvious choice is Sir John, the only guy out there who is already in his armor and mounted up, and who has continued faithfully on his quest lo these many months…

The editorial consensus for Kasich

Real Clear Politics

I’ve mentioned a number of times, approvingly, the way the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal keeps trying to wake up Republicans and make them see that their only hope out of their current mess is John Kasich.

They’re not alone in this. The New York Times — while it cares far less about the fate of the GOP — is equally bemused at the way Republicans seem determined to charge off a cliff:

At a televised Republican town hall on Tuesday, it was painful to watch farmers, students and a man whose son died of a drug overdose pose earnest questions to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, who were more interested in attacking each other. Only John Kasich connected with these voters.

Despite its noble aim and big budget, “Never Trump” has become a panicky reaction in search of a strategy. In Wisconsin, “Never Trump” means “How About Cruz?” as self-interested leaders like Gov. Scott Walker try to sell Republicans on a dangerously reactionary senator as an improvement over a dangerously ignorant businessman. But for the state’s — and the nation’s — moderate conservatives, “Never Trump” should more logically mean “Maybe Kasich.”…

That’s less significant, of course. Republicans historically run from advice from that quarter, while some of them — the kinds of people who used to run the GOP — at least still care somewhat about what the Journal says.

But I find the NYT‘s chiming in interesting, because it points to something common to editorial board members, regardless of whether they lean left or right or neither: If you make your living studying current events and issues and thinking carefully about them — very carefully, because you know the words you write about them will be picked apart by thousands of people — you tend to see certain things, whether they are what you want to see or not. And you tend to marvel at people who are swept along by half-thoughts and emotions and seem to willfully refuse to see those things.

(Even if you’re an editorial writer at the NYT who actively wants to see Republicans lose, you’ve got to wonder, What are those guys thinking?)

You really don’t have to think all that hard to see that Kasich is the only rational choice at this point for Republicans. You really don’t have to go beyond all those poll numbers at the Real Clear Politics site. (Although if you do go beyond that, you can make other arguments.)

See, Republicans? If you go with Trump, you lose. If you go with Cruz, you lose. If you go with Kasich, you win. See? Was that so hard?

Not that there’s a guarantee that you win — there are too many variables for that. But at least you go into the fall with a chance to win, instead of having everything stacked against you.

Why doesn’t everyone see that? Oh, I don’t expect Trump supporters to see it — they’re too invested in their guy, and they seem to be allergic to facts and such. But the Grahams and Romneys of the world certain should see it. And you know what is really puzzling? I think they do see it; they’ve just made a very cynical calculation that they can’t make their fellow Republicans see it, too…

There’s no excuse for Cruz calling for ‘carpet’ bombing

Walls of houses of Wesel still stand, as do the churches, but a great part of the town was destroyed when the German commander forced the Allied troops to fight their way street by street through the ruins. Germany, 1945. Army. (OWI) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 208-N-39903 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1336

Wesel was 97% destroyed before it was finally taken by Allied troops in 1945. See that carpet of craters? Wikipedia doesn’t SAY those are bomb craters, but what else might they be?

I tend to agree pretty frequently with Charles Krauthammer on national security issues, but I was disappointed in him over the weekend.

Did you see his column assessing the foreign policy approaches of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, which he termed, respectively, “passivist,” “internationalist,” “unilateralist” and “mercantilist.”

There was much of value in the column, and some things to enjoy — such as his observation that Trump’s worldview comes closest to that of King Philip II of Spain (1556-1598).

Of course, I was disappointed that he left out Kasich — I reject the notion that we have no options left but these four. But to his credit, he promised that “If Kasich pulls off a miracle, he’ll get his own column.” Which he would, of course, unquestionably deserve at that point.

Most of his observations are sound, and he is scrupulously careful to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton would likely be less reluctant to take effective action in the world than her erstwhile boss, President Obama. He says her nearest historical analog is her husband’s approach in the 1990s — which isn’t as good as, say, Tony Blair in that decade, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What gets me is the way he bends over backwards to make Cruz’ approach palatable:

The most aggressive of the three contenders thus far. Wants post-Cold War U.S. leadership restored. Is prepared to take risks and act alone when necessary. Pledges to tear up the Iran deal, cement the U.S.-Israel alliance and carpet bomb the Islamic State.

Overdoes it with “carpet” — it implies Dresden — although it was likely just an attempt at rhetorical emphasis….

Really?!?!?!? “Overdoes it?” The fact that Cruz uses that word utterly disqualifies him from consideration as POTUS. Whether he really wants to do that, or merely does not understand what the word means, he is beyond the pale.

Here’s what “carpet bombing” means:

Carpet bombing, also known as saturation bombing, is a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land.[1][2][3][4] The phrase evokes the image of explosions completely covering an area, in the same way that a carpet covers a floor. Carpet bombing is usually achieved by dropping many unguided bombs.

And yes, when we think of “carpet bombing” we do think of Dresden, and Tokyo, and Cologne, and all those other places that we sent thousands of planes over in an effort to destroy everything below — including all those civilians.

I’m not going to get into the ethics of our having done that in the course of total war, in a time in which we lacked the technical precision of modern munitions. I’m just going to say that that is what is clearly, unquestionably meant when one says “carpet bombing” — that you’re dropping a carpet of bombs to destroy everything and everyone in the covered area, and let God sort them out.

There is no room in the 21st century, when we have so many other options, for a suggestion like that. The term is primitive, atavistic, barbaric — which is no doubt why Cruz said it, in an attempt to appeal to Trumpist sensibilities.

Yet Krauthammer is completely blasé about it, with that forgiving “overdoes.”

But that’s just the setup to the really bad thing: His assertion that Cruz’ closest historical analog is… Ronald Reagan.

So it’s come to this: That folks on the right are working so hard to talk themselves into settling for Cruz that Charles Krauthammer can equate the Cruz worldview with that of the one guy Republicans believe could do no wrong.

That’s just inexcusable.

Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

Doug should enjoy this.

It came along with the following release from U.S. Term Limits:

Jack Abramoff Backs Term Limits in New Video

The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.

According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.

“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”

Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.

“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”

Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”

The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.

The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.

Watch the Abramoff Video here.

Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.

There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.

Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.

But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.

Wow, even John Kerry is more hawkish than POTUS

THIS guy's more hawkish than the president?

THIS guy’s more hawkish than the president?

I’m not sure I go along fully with the premise of David Brooks’ most recent column (“Dogs, Cats and Leadership,” March 11), but I was very impressed by the anecdote with which it began:

When he was in the middle of his Syrian peace deal negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry would go to President Obama with a request: Could the U.S. quietly send a few cruise missiles to hit Assad regime targets, just to send a message and maybe move the Syrian president toward a deal.

“Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage,” a senior administration official told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

Obama continually said no, and eventually grew impatient. Goldberg asked Kerry if he thought he has more of a bias toward action than Obama. “I do probably,” Kerry responded. “I’d say that I think we’ve had a very symbiotic, synergistic, whatever you call it, relationship which works very effectively. Because I’ll come in with a bias toward ‘Let’s try to do this, let’s try to do that, let’s get this done.’”…

Wow. I mean, I knew President Obama was the most reluctant to act militarily within his administration — as Brooks notes later, “His senior advisers were shocked when he announced” that he would not back up his “red line” in Syria.

But to be so markedly dovish in comparison to John Kerry, whose personal legend is so wrapped up in his antiwar activism?

That’s fascinating. Particularly when you consider the president’s willingness to use drones far more than his predecessor, and to send the SEALs in to get bin Laden (the riskiest of the options, which included simply bombing the compound).

Perhaps this POTUS is a bit of a cat — the deadliest of pets, yet inscrutable…

‘Everybody’ is not to blame. Just the Democrats and Republicans

There’s a column on The State‘s op-ed page today from an unfamiliar (as in, not a regular) writer: Dick Meyer, chief Washington correspondent for Scripps.

The headline is, “Who’s to blame for Trump’s rise? Everybody.

Dick Meyer

Dick Meyer

Well, that’s misleading. In fact, the column only blames Republicans and Democrats. And of course, they richly deserve it. The rest of us — the great plurality of us, according to a recent Gallup Poll — are let off the hook. (I sent Cindi a note this morning complaining about the hed, but then I saw that the hed probably came with the column — The Commercial Appeal, the Scripps paper where I started my career as a copy boy, ran the piece with the very same headline.)

That poll shows 43 percent of us identifying as independent, 30 percent as Democratic and 26 percent as Republican.

Of course, there are are a lot of folks — such as Republicans, Democrats, the conflict-obsessed media and all those interest groups that fund themselves by goading us all to hate each other — who go out of their way to debunk those numbers. (And indeed, for us in South Carolina especially, it’s hard to imagine that America is only 26 percent Republican.)

Indeed, when you Google “percentage of electorate that is independent,” the first three links you get are headlined something like “The myth of the independent voter.” Basically, those essays break down the group identifying as “independent” and show most as leaning one way or the other, in terms of voting habits. These doubters say as little as 5 percent of us are truly hardcore independent.

That is in turn misleading. Of course independents vote for Democrats and Republicans; most of the time they aren’t offered anything else — and when they are, those “independents” are even more blindly ideological than the Dems and Repubs (say, Libertarians).

And if they vote more often for members of one party or the other, that can often be no more than an accident of geography. For instance, I vote mostly Republican. Why? Because I live in Lexington County. If I want any say at all in local or state government, I have to vote in the Republican primary. In fact, I think I’ve only voted in one Democratic primary since I moved to my current residence in 1997 — and that was the presidential primary in 2004, when there was no Republican alternative. I cast that vote proudly for Joe Lieberman. I knew he was going to get creamed here, and I wanted him to have my vote at least.

You will seldom see, especially out of the partisan cauldron of Washington, anyone giving us independents any respect. When they’re not debunking us, they’re insulting us. They think we fail to pick a side between the two rabid, snarling packs because we are apathetic and don’t bother to be informed. They completely miss the fact that many of us are independent precisely because we do pay attention and do think, and therefore do not buy our opinions prepackaged off a shelf.

But Washington journalists — who like to keep the options down to two extremes, because that makes it easier to cover politics like sports — generally ignore us. Our existence is inconvenient to their simple paradigm. Thus, they refer to Republicans and Democrats as “everybody.”

All of that said, and passionately believed, I wonder if it isn’t in the end true that “everybody” is to blame, including us.

I mean, say we independents do make up 43 percent of the electorate. What have we done to stop these whack jobs in the two parties from making a complete hash of our country’s politics?

Must give us pause.

David Ignatius states the painfully obvious

Since this is (yet another) year for people who are mad at government qua government, it’s good to see David Ignatius point out the obvious — or what should be obvious — today:

Here’s the puzzle: A country that is angry at “government” or “Washington” will have difficulty fixing problems that result from the breakdown of public services caused by underfunding, incompetence and the predominance of private “special” interests over the public interest. What’s needed isn’t less government, but better government — which costs money and requires good leadership….

ignatiusd

Ignatius

Of course. This is closely related to hating and utterly addressing “politics” or “politicians” when the things you’re angry about can only be addressed by the skillful application of politics. And who is best at doing that? Politicians.

It’s self-defeating. And it always has been. In fact, as Ignatius notes, “The deep anti-government hostility of the modern Republican Party is part of the problem. Tax cuts have starved many government agencies of money and good people.”

Do we have deep problems with our government as it stands today? You bet. But when it comes to solving those problems, there are no substitutes for government, and politics…

One way in which I’m like Trump supporters

The other day, Karen brought my attention to this piece by Tom Friedman, trying to explain Trump supporters.

I was struck by the opening:

Donald Trump is a walking political science course. His meteoric rise is lesson
No. 1 on leadership: Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen
through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their
response is: “Don’t bother me with the details. I trust your instincts.” If a
leader can’t connect on a gut level, he or she can’t show them enough
particulars. They’ll just keep asking, “Can you show me the details one more
time?”

Trump’s Republican rivals keep thinking that if they just point out a few
more details about him, voters will drop The Donald and turn to one of them
instead. But you can’t talk voters out of something that they haven’t been
talked into…

Huh. So, in a way, I’m a lot like Trump supporters, according to Friedman.

Not in the “listen through their stomachs” bit. I’m more likely to use my head. But I’m definitely less about the details.

George_HW_Bush_saying_-Read_My_Lips-_(screenshot)Over the years, I’ve come to look for someone I trust to make good decisions, whatever comes up. I’m less about what specific proposals the candidate makes. What a candidate actually encounters in office often has little to do with the concerns expressed during the campaign. In fact, the fewer promises, the better — promises can back an officeholder into corners and commit him to courses that are unwise under the circumstances. See “Read my lips; no new taxes.” Bush made the right decision, but the unwise promise not to do so got him into trouble.

I care more about how a candidate’s mind works, along with experience and a good history of having made sound decisions while accumulating that experience.

Since I do that, I still can’t imagine how anyone arrives at thinking Trump is the guy to trust. But I’m with them on caring less about details of proposals…

 

Quote of the day, from Edmund Burke

“The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”

Edmund Burke

Edmund_Burke2_c

Burke

I found that quote today at the top of a Washington Post column headlined, “Trump is the demagogue that our Founding Fathers feared.”

You should go read that if you need reminding of why our republic was set up the way it was — for that matter, why our Founders chose a republic, as opposed to (shudder) pure democracy.

As for Burke — one of these days I need to read more about him. I don’t know as much as I should about the politics in Britain at the time of our Revolution. For instance, I have trouble understanding how he could have been the father of modern conservatism when he wasn’t even a Tory.

I read that he was for American independence and Catholic Emancipation, and that he opposed the French Revolution. I’m with him on all those…

 

Which would you prefer as president: Trump or Underwood?

PrezHouseOfCardsAriailW

Robert Ariail has proposed it in a cartoon, as a joke.

But as an alternative to, say, Donald Trump, would you accept the devious scoundrel Frank Underwood as president?

Robert also posed the question with regard to Hillary Clinton, and go ahead and address that if you choose.

But I’m more interested with the conundrum on the GOP side, where the dynamic is entirely different. Whatever you think of her, Hillary is pretty middle-of-the-road among Democrats — members of that party won’t have an identity crisis if she is their nominee. “Anybody but Hillary” isn’t really a thing on that side.

It’s over on the Republican side that we see serious people considering deals with the devil.

We’ve already seen Lindsey Graham, who like everyone else in the Senate utterly despises Ted Cruz, say that it might be necessary to embrace the Texan in a last-ditch effort to stop the disaster of Trump. Even though he has described Cruz, accurately, as “toxic.”

So why not Underwood? Think about it: Does he advocate any horrible policies? Not so I can recall (although y’all might remind me of some dealbreakers.) Basically, he’s a thoroughly rotten, ruthless individual when it comes to seizing and keeping power. But as long as the policies were relatively benign, would that not make him preferable to someone who is both personally and in policy terms unthinkable?

Saying that runs against my own inclinations. Over the years I’ve increasingly come to care less about people’s specific policy proposals and more about their character. That’s because no one can predict what will really arise once the person’s in office — the candidate’s promises may become impractical, or ill-advised, based on unforeseen circumstances. I look for someone who I trust to make good decisions in the face of the unanticipated.

And it occurs to me that maybe, maybe we could expect ol’ F.U. — who is a pretty smart guy, aside from all his character defects — to act wisely and responsibly, if only because he does love power so much, and therefore would not want to screw up and lose political support.

Whereas we know that Donald Trump doesn’t know wise policy from a hole in the ground. Even if he were trying to do the right thing just to look good, he wouldn’t know how.

Thoughts?

Frank Underwood

Strassel: ‘Trump Is the Ultimate Insider’

From the WSJ’s Kimberley A. Strassel, in Friday’s paper:

The Nevada entrance polls show the billionaire won voters who are angry with the federal government, who want an “outsider” in the office and who want “change.” They don’t care about policies. They want someone to “stick it to the man.”

And therein lies Mr. Trump’s vulnerability. Because, you see, Donald Trump is the man. An outsider to the elite society that Washington inhabits? An avenging angel of a faltering working class? Laugh. Out. Loud. This is the man who was born to a silver spoon, who self-selected a life strictly in the company of the rich and powerful, and who built a fortune by using his connections and sticking it to the little guy.

Of all the Republicans on the stage, he is the only insider. Ted Cruz is not to be seen regularly in the company of hotel and casino magnates, movie producers, celebrity athletes and others with privileged access to Washington brokers. Marco Rubio did not have Bill and Hillary Clinton at his wedding. John Kasich would have to beg for an audience with people who jump to return Mr. Trump’s calls.

It was amusing in the CBS debate on Feb. 13 to hear the titan complain that the audience was stacked with “special interest” donors. He’d know. He likely recognized them from lunches at his golf clubs. This is a guy so disconnected from and uninterested in the average American that he refers to his voters in generic stereotypes. “I love the poorly educated,” he gushed after the Nevada caucuses. You can almost picture him, like Felonius Gru in “Despicable Me,” surveying his crowds of identical Minions. Though at least Gru knew that one is named Kevin….

Sound advice from fellow South Carolinian Kathleen Parker

This is from her Facebook feed, not a column:

I wish I could tell you all everything I know about the Republican candidates. I can’t in a public forum, but you’d do well to focus on governors.12190791_10205363608186377_7591590836823279115_n

Governance isn’t easy and it’s crucial to have experience. Be wary of those who run for the Senate only to immediately start running for president and who will do anything to get there, even shut down the government, which ultimately hurts the party. Watch out for anyone waving a Bible. Some live as Christians; others proclaim their Christianity. Re-read “Elmer Gantry.” En fin, experience really does matter, folks. Most important, ask yourself, whom would our military troops most admire and respect because that person may well ask them to march into horror and possible death. Also, think hard about the Supreme Court and what the candidates say about what they’d seek. Speaking for myself, I prefer non-ideological justices who honor the text and original intent but ALSO context, which means attentive to the present as well. Wisdom, restraint, intelligence, courage, strength, a disciplined mind, a light heart – and humiliity. These are the qualities we seek even in our friends, isn’t it?

Amen to all that.

Yes, go for those who have governed and taken it seriously. Such as… And always, at all times, vote for the Grownup.

The State has it right: John Kasich for GOP nomination

Kasich

Last Friday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich met with The State‘s editorial board for an endorsement interview. Immediately afterward, he went to speak at an event at the state Chamber of Commerce. I attended that event, which coincidentally was a lot like an editorial meeting — a bunch of people sitting around a boardroom table and talking in some depth about issues.

I was impressed — so much so that I decided then and there that I had found someone I could support without qualms. Up to that morning, I’d been in quite a quandary.

Apparently, my former colleagues reached the same conclusion at about the same time, because a short while ago, they released their endorsement of him.

Why Kasich? Well, for me, a lot of things seemed to line up as I listened to him express sustained thoughts in a venue far better than those painful shouting sessions they call debates:

  • First, he’s sane. Not all of the candidates can boast of that.
  • Second, he’s a grownup — which as you know is an important consideration for me, as the chairman of the Grownup Party. Obviously, when he was a child, someone told him or showed him how a decent human being behaves around other human beings, and he took the lesson to heart. Even in those debates, he stands out in this regard. In a calmer setting, the impression is reinforced.
  • He has a positive vision of governance. He doesn’t define himself in terms of what he’s against or what he’s angry about, which sets him apart from a growing number in his party. He sees it as pretty lame when a politician’s main message is, “I stop stuff.” He sees himself as a reformer and says, “If you’re going to have power, use it… drive innovation and change. Otherwise, get out of the way.”
  • He’s a fiscal conservative — an adamant advocate for balanced budgets — for the right reasons. That is to say, to be a responsible steward of resources, not because he hates government.
  • He’s pro-business and pro-growth, without making a fascist, Ayn Randian, “Triumph of the Will” fetish of it. “I don’t believe that economic growth is an end in itself… We need to reach out to those in the shadows,” those left behind by growth — help them to share in the benefits by getting them on their feet, getting them healthcare, making sure they have a shot at sharing in the bounty. Why? Because “God didn’t make no junk.” Everybody matters.
  • He says things such as “We are Americans before we are Republicans and Democrats,” and truly seems to mean it. Putting on another of my party hats… well, y’all know why I would like that.
  • He doesn’t pass up a good deal for the people he serves just because it’s associated with someone of the opposing party. In other words, while he has problems with Obamacare overall, he jumped at the chance to expand Medicaid, and he extols the benefits that the people of Ohio have derived from that.
  • Speaking of that: Allan Stalvey from the S.C. Hospital Association asked him how Medicaid expansion has been received by business in Ohio. Business “were all for it,” said Kasich. It was supported by “everybody that understood the implications of it.” This was an interesting exchange given the setting, as the state Chamber has declined to oppose our governor on the issue.
  • He is a federalist, or perhaps I should say, he gives indications of believing in the concept of subsidiarity. He would push functions that don’t need to be handled on the federal level down to the states, with the mandate that the money be used for those purposes. An example? Highway construction. The federal Interstate system is already built; leave the money with the states.
  • On the most important aspect of being president — national security — I find much to like and little to object to in his platform, which you can read here. Not to get into the weeds (after all, no one knows exactly what security challenges a new president would face), he sees the need to lead in fighting terrorism, would oppose aggression by the world’s problem regimes and would continue the strategic shift toward the Western Pacific begun by the Obama administration. Am I totally satisfied with what I’ve heard him say? No, mostly because I haven’t heard enough — the Chamber event wasn’t the ideal venue, and there hasn’t been enough rational debate of world affairs in the campaign overall. But I like him on this better than anyone with the possible exception of Rubio. Of course, you know that my favorite guy on national security dropped out of the race.
  • He doesn’t run from his accomplishments for the sake of political expedience. If he were in Mitt Romney’s place, I don’t think he’d run from Romneycare. Were he Marco Rubio, he wouldn’t try to make everyone forget that he’d tried to bring about rational comprehensive immigration reform.

Speaking of immigration, I was struck during the most recent debate when he put forth a reasonable compromise — a path to legalization, not citizenship — and the room didn’t erupt into boos:

Anyway, those are some of my reasons for deciding I like Kasich.

Here are The State‘s.

Kasich 3

Speaking to the media after the Chamber event.

Barton Swaim, using words as robots never would

Our fellow Columbian Barton Swaim, in semi-defense of Marco Rubio’s recent robotic debate performance, has written a nice piece — published in The Washington Post — about why politicians do sound like machines so often.

As usual, Barton himself uses words in a decidedly human manner. I mean that in a good way:

Coverage of Rubio’s howler has, to my mind, been vastly overdone (the episode did not reflect poorly on his judgment, his character or even his abilities), but it touches on a suspicion most of us have entertained about our politicians: that they use words mindlessly. Probably all of us who follow politics sometimes feel that the whole business is nothing but drivel and fakery — that politicians are emitting vacuous jargon, their key phrases repeated again and again with apparently no concern for accuracy or feasibility or coherence….

Barton Swaim

Barton Swaim

This is what gives political discourse that distinctive air of unreality. Its language isn’t intended to persuade as you and I would try to persuade each other; it’s intended to convey impressions and project images and so arouse the sympathies of voters. The English philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s bleak description of politics (in a 1939 essay titled “The Claims of Politics”) captures the essence of the political sphere and its madcap discourse: “A limitation of view, which appears so clear and practical, but which amounts to little more than a mental fog, is inseparable from political activity. A mind fixed and callous to all subtle distinctions, emotional and intellectual habits become bogus from repetition and lack of examination, unreal loyalties, delusive aims, false significances are what political action involves. . . . The spiritual callousness involved in political action belongs to its character, and follows from the nature of what can be achieved politically.”…

Ah, there ya go again (to use one of my least favorite political catchphrases), Barton, just saying mechanically what we’ve all heard Michael Oakeshott say so many times… :)

Seriously, go read his piece.

Which reminds me. I’ve still got Clare Morris’ copy of Barton’s book, and I need to get it back to her ASAP. Dang: I’m going to see her at a meeting this evening, and I left it at home again…

Um… Folks, choosing a president was already a weighty thing. The death of a justice did not make it more so…

Paul Krugman has it half right here:

Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

He’s absolutely right that there’s something seriously wrong when the whole political system goes ape over a vacancy on the Supreme Court. He is absurdly wrong in suggesting that this is somehow completely the fault of the Republicans. See “Bork as a verb” and “Clarence Thomas Supreme Court Nomination.” While the Republicans are definitely outrageously dysfunctional, and their assertion that the president shouldn’t nominate in this situation is sheer lunacy, they did not invent making a circus of the nomination process. At least, they didn’t do it alone; they had very enthusiastic help from the Democrats.

Krugman, like Bud, utterly rejects this truth: “Second, it’s really important not to engage in false symmetry: only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.”

But let’s talk about the half of what Krugman said that is right.

Ever since Saturday, I’ve been seeing and hearing something… eccentric… in coverage of the death of Scalia and its aftermath.

There is this suggestion out there that now that there’s a Supreme Court vacancy, suddenly this election is serious. Now we’re going to see more money given, more heightened rhetoric, a sense on both sides that the stakes have gone up…

Say what? Um… the election of the president of the United States, in whose hands all executive authority is concentrated, is and always was a bigger deal than filling a vacancy of one-ninth of the Supreme Court.

In fact, if both parties respected the rule of law (as Mr. Krugman seems to think Democrats do), the selection of justices should not be an electoral issue at all. If presidents and senators simply looked at qualifications (as some, such as our own Lindsey Graham, still do), it would be insane to talk about the kinds of nominees a presidential candidate would put forward in partisan terms. Actually, it is insane to frame something so secularly sacrosanct in such terms. But that’s what we do now, every time…

‘The Nation’ on politics and race in South Carolina

My headline might make you cringe a bit, but the piece isn’t bad. It doesn’t really say anything about us that I haven’t said, or that you don’t already know.

After all, we are the state that seceded first, and some of us would do it again with just a modest amount of encouragement.

It’s tone-deaf in a couple of spots, though. For instance, it equates Strom Thurmond, the segregationist, with Ben Tillman, the advocate of lynching. Most of us can see the gradations of wrongness there rather clearly. And speaking of Thurmond — the writer either doesn’t know or has forgotten that the senator cleaned up his act in the last few decades of his career. In other words, he spent far more years in the Senate NOT being a segregationist than most people spend in the Senate.

That leads to confusion. After noting approvingly that Paul Thurmond says a lot of enlightened things — which he does; he’s a fine young man — the writer observes,

I leave Thurmond’s office wondering whether what I’ve just heard can be real. He seemed like a sincere man, but he, too, was eager to get beyond race. “My generation has not been taught to hate people based on the color of their skin,” the son of South Carolina’s most notorious segregationist told me.

Yet someone taught Dylann Roof and Michael Slager, the cop who shot Walter Scott in the back. The Confederate flag may finally be on its way to a museum, but the attitude of racial arrogance that the flag represented is very far from being a mere artifact. That’s a fundamental truth of our national life—though not one that’s easy to see from Iowa or New Hampshire. Perhaps South Carolina’s role in our politics is to remind us of all those parallel universes—not just Republican and Democratic, or rich and poor, but yes, still black and white—we work so hard to ignore. We always have a choice. We can carry on pretending that it’s still morning in America, that we’re all in this together. Or we can take a good hard look in the mirror.

Yep, Strom was a notorious segregationist, before he wasn’t. (Oh, and do I think it’s because he had some road-to-Damascus transformation, like Tom Turnipseed, the opponent of integration who did a 180 to become possibly the most ardent, sincerest progressive in South Carolina? No. The world changed, and Thurmond adapted. Early in his career, it was helpful to be a segregationist, so he was one. Later it was not, so he wasn’t. But it’s still true that he wasn’t.)

And the fact that Dylann Roof is a racist does in no way demonstrates that Paul Thurmond is lying when he says he wasn’t brought up that way. Possibly, Dylann Roof wasn’t brought up that way, either. I have my doubts about the old saw that children have to be taught to hate. I strongly suspect that people are capable of getting there on their own. Anyway, almost no one Paul Thurmond’s age was brought up that way, although his father certainly was. We live in subtler, politer times.

But there is no doubt that, decades after the Southern Strategy transferred the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans, race is always, always on the table. The article gets that right. It just misses some of the nuances…