Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Attack, Attack!

Daniel Halper writes in Politico Magazine about some of the opposition he has run into writing and promoting his new book on Clinton World, Clinton, Inc.
[M]any, many people in Washington, on the left and right, popped up to warn me of what to expect from the Clinton PR team. Other authors—legitimate ones with serious pedigrees—who’d written about the Clintons said they were threatened and verbally attacked. Of course, nearly everyone in Washington has seen the much-vaunted Clinton PR machine in action. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Humane and the Rule of Law

At NRO, I make the case for the notion that defending the rule of law can be allied to humanitarian principles for immigration policy.  Ignoring the law has helped create the shadows that allow predators to exploit human misery and desperation.

Illegal immigrants enter into this country in a state of abstracted legal, but less immediately actual, peril. The odds that an illegal immigrant will be deported once he or she makes it into the interior of the country are vanishingly small, but there is still a chance – saying “you can (probably) stay” is different from saying “you can certainly stay.” That chance of deportation encourages the illegal immigrant to stay away from the orderly course of the law and thereby strengthens the hands of exploitative law-breaking employers, human traffickers, gangs, and the other predators who prowl the shadows of our immigration system.But what also strengthens the hands of these predators is the legal vacuum created by the current immigration regime. A rigorous enforcement of immigration law would also go after the unscrupulous employers and gang members and traffickers, but the current indifference to law provides these types with shadows within which they can operate. Imagine what child labor would be like in a United States where it was technically illegal but, in practice, it was allowed or even encouraged and subsidized on a massive scale. Child workers would be more likely to be open to abuse and neglect in that situation than in a situation either where child labor was totally allowed or where laws against child labor were rigorously enforced. It is no surprise that, in the contemporary United States, violations of child-labor laws also go hand in hand with illegal immigration: The abuses enabled by indifference to illegal immigration facilitate other abuses and law-breaking.

Read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: Reflecting on the deeper sources of bad-faith open borders, Mark Krikorian writes:
The core issue is whether there should be any limit placed on immigration. Supporters of immigration limits (high or low is not the issue here) obviously want the de jure prohibition against illegal immigration to be a de facto one too, with the laws consistently enforced. The other side is objectively (if not rhetorically) opposed to any meaningful limits on immigration, and so would prefer the de facto situation to become the de jure one.This situation persists because the pro-limits side knows the de jure limits do at least exercise some control over the number of people moving here from abroad, even if they’re not well enforced. The anti-limits side has as its goal the admission of as many people from abroad as possible, so a limbo status for them is fine so long as they’re able to physically remain in the country. As Lincoln might have put it, both parties deprecate bad-faith open borders, but one of them would promote it rather than accept limits, and the other would accept it rather than let the borders be opened altogether.

Monday, July 14, 2014

More Reformicon Blogging

Ross Douthat explores the role of social issues for the project of conservative reform:
As much as cultural outreach matters, I wouldn’t want the kind of conservative political party that essentially declines to represent populist and social conservatives at all on many issues, enforcing an elite consensus instead of representing its own constituents wherever those constituents seem too disreputable or insufficiently cosmopolitan. This is what you have on the center-right in many European countries, Sullivan’s native isle at times included, and I don’t think it’s worked out particularly well...
Meanwhile, Quin Hillyer argues that reform conservatism has Reaganite roots:
The point is not that today’s reformers are merely copying Reagan’s policies. They aren’t. Much of their thinking, their reimagining of how to apply conservatism in the real world, is fresh and valuable. But it still is a reimagining, not a new imagining.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Defending Reformicons

David Frum defends "reform conservatives" by saying that reform-minded conservatives are trying to respond to present-day problems:
Conservatives dominated American politics in the 1970s and 1980s because they offered workable solutions to broadly experienced problems: crime, inflation, slow growth, the Soviet threat. In recent years, however, conservatives seemed to have less to say to the nation. Stagnant wages, rising personal indebtedness, long commutes, health-care costs, climate change—these new challenges did not elicit new thinking.
The reform conservatives seem more open to the new. This is progress. If the policy agenda that follows remains cautious, remember: These conservative reformers aren’t trying to change the world. They’re trying to change a political party.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Specter of Neofeudalism

At NRO, I explore how the concept of "neofeudalism" can provide a device for thinking about some current trends and their risks for American society:
Kotkin’s analysis focuses on the demographic structures of California, but we can explore more broadly some of the underlying tendencies of neofeudalism. It might be helpful to contrast the neofeudal state with the traditional liberal republic. The latter is composed of individuals (and organizations of individuals) coming together to form a nation governed by laws, and it aims to be in accordance with certain foundational rights. The neofeudal state, on the other hand, is anti-national. Rather than the unified body politic of the liberal republic, the neofeudal state slices and dices its residents into discrete subsets, each with its own unique rights and responsibilities. Solid economic and social divisions were a key part of feudal society, and they also play a role in present-day neofeudalism. Moreover, the institutional dysfunction characteristic of neofeudalism undermines the efficient functioning of the republic and makes the nation more vulnerable to the whims of executive diktat.
The hardening of divisions in society is the backbone of neofeudalism. Some of these divisions are economic. The breakdown of opportunity and the weakening of the middle class divide American society while also harming economic growth. But these divisions may also be social and cultural, replacing traditional American narratives of equal access to the public square with a fragmented and fractious society. The existence of divisions does not define a neofeudal society, but neofeudalism hardens differences into caste-creating walls. While a free republic certainly has divisions, those divisions are counterbalanced by an assertion of universal dignity and of rights that transcend the social hierarchy.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Looking for a GOP Majority

At The Weekly Standard, I dig into a recent report from the Pew Research Center in order to explore some of the strategies Republicans might use to rebuild their political coalition:
A key part of this enterprise of political persuasion involves taking account of contemporary facts and grounding these facts in a deeper discourse of principles. President Obama's administration has offered a narrative of social and economic uplift through the ministrations of a centralized and technocratic bureaucracy. That was the vision of the (failed) stimulus. That is the vision of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and much else of the president's policies (including energy, infrastructure, and education). In order to counter this narrative and appeal to Hard-Pressed Skeptics and other uneasy members of the Democratic coalition, Republicans might argue not that a vision of social and economic improvement is flawed but that the current policies of bureaucratic progressivism fail to achieve or even actively undermine that vision.
Republicans could offer an alternative narrative of market-oriented uplift, in which decentralization, economic growth, and a vibrant, multifaceted civic space encourage a broad pursuit of happiness. They might note that massive bureaucracies can often become of a tool of enriching the powerful rather than leveling the playing field (as Too Big to Fail potentially demonstrates, for instance). By warning about the potential for government bureaucracies to facilitate favoritism and corruption, Republicans could appeal to the skepticism of Outsiders, Skeptics, and even some of the Next Generation Left. Furthermore, by attending to the possible injustice of this favoritism and corruption, they can also reach out to the economic and social-justice concerns of the Skeptics and Faith and Family Left. In contrast to present stagnation, Republicans could make a case for a dynamic economy, in which economic gains are not reserved for the few.
In their approach to the role of government, Republicans might put forward the idea that government can be a legitimate actor but that it is also an actor about which we should be skeptical. Rather than denunciations of government as an endless font of evil, conservatives might instead advance the traditional American viewpoint that the government should be rigorously held to account. Many in the center believe that government does have a purpose, but they also worry about government becoming unmoored from its constitutional foundations and becoming a tool for a self-dealing, self-perpetuating elite. A Republican case for limited government can be allied to a case for effective government: Placing limitations upon a government may make it most effective in its role of protecting fundamental rights and advancing the public good. 

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brat and Broader Consequences

Bill Kristol draws an interesting parallel between Jeff Bell's 1978 victory over New Jersey senator Clifford Case and Dave Brat's victory over Eric Cantor last night:
So it is—perhaps the most stunning upset since in congressional history since an underfunded and little known challenger, Jeff Bell, defeated a 24-year incumbent, Clifford Case, in the 1978 New Jersey GOP Senate primary. Like Brat, Bell focused on one issue to oust the incumbent. In Bell's case, it was supply-side tax cuts. In Brat's case, the issue was immigration. But like Brat, Bell used his main issue as a kind of example and pivot point for the need for a broader change in orientation by the Republican party.
In both cases, the challengers made a broad populist case for a Republican party focused on Main Street and Middle America, not on Wall Street and corporate interests. The reigning Republican orthodoxy in 1978 was that if tax cuts were needed, they should be business-friendly ones, not cuts in personal marginal income tax rates. Similarly, Brat used his critique of "amnesty" to launch a broad assault on GOP elites who put the interests of American corporations over American workers, of D.C. lobbyists over American families. Also, in both cases most national conservative leaders and groups stayed out of the race, thinking the challenge was hopeless or that the challengers' issues was too eccentric. Both Bell and Brat won authentic grassroots victories.

Change in the Seventh District

Over at NRO, I reflect on what led to Eric Cantor's defeat in his primary race against Dave Brat.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Civic Stakes of Immigration Reform

At NRO, I look at some of the broader possible effects of the White House efforts at immigration reform.  The Obama immigration agenda may undermine American aspirations toward civic equality:
The kind of “comprehensive immigration reform” that enamors some in the upper echelons of both parties might be called bad-faith open borders, which is a distorted hybrid of the United States’ tradition of ordered borders and of the transnationalist aim of entirely open borders. Lacking the principled clarity of open borders, bad-faith open borders holds that immigration laws should remain on the books but that they should be enforced only marginally, thereby inculcating a sense of disregard for the law. Bad-faith open-borders policy encourages an increase in illegal immigration. We could see the demand for an increased number of guest-workers as a feature of bad-faith open borders: Rather than the free flow of people who have full rights to citizenship and freedom to move within the U.S. economy, guest-worker programs provide a supply of immigrants who have neither total freedom in the marketplace nor political enfranchisement. Guest-worker programs pretend to be free-market activities when, in actuality, they pervert the market... 
Bad-faith open borders has significant long-term implications for the structure of the body politic. It threatens one of the great aspirations of the American republic: the notion that all have equal access to the civil sphere. As with many other aims, this aspiration has not always been realized. But it has persisted as a guiding light for the American experiment, and many of the great victories of the Republic have been about defending and advancing this notion of equal access. According to this aspiration, even the hardest labor has profound dignity and in no way demeans the laborer. In the public square, we meet as equals — not as master and serf but as citizen and citizen. Neither wealth nor power gives one a special moral priority in this aspirational vision. All may differ in their talents and places in life, but all are alike in essential human dignity. Part of this vision is that a rising tide lifts all boats and that opportunity should not be the preserve of the few but the birthright of the many. This aspiration aims for a republic both diverse and unified, at once enriched by difference and by equality.



Read the rest here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Boehner v. Jarrett on Immigration

On Thursday, top Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett implied that Speaker John Boehner had made some commitment to the White House on immigration reform, or so it seemed.  According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jarrett said, "I think we have a window this summer, between now and August, to get something done. We have a commitment from Speaker Boehner, who’s very frustrated with his caucus."

But Speaker Boehner's office is pushing back against this claim.  Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, offered the following statement:

"Republicans are committed to reforming our immigration system, but as the speaker has said repeatedly, it’s difficult to see how we make progress until the American people have faith that President Obama will enforce the law as written.”

Jarrett now says that the administration has no concrete commitment from the Speaker:


With members of the Obama administration considering executive action to modify existing immigration law and in light of the recent Center for Immigration Studies report that the administration has released thousands of convicted immigrant criminals, some skeptics wonder about how much the administration can be trusted.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Arkansas Senate: Need for GOP to Build Bridges to Middle/Working Class

A new poll is out from NBC News/Marist that shows incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor with an 11-point lead over his Republican challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, in the 2014 Arkansas Senate race.  Senator Pryor leads 51-40 among registered voters.

If this poll is to be believed (and it does have some methodological limits), it provides even more evidence for the importance of the GOP widening its appeal to members of the working and middle classes.  According to this poll, 76% of Arkansas registered voters live in households that make less than $75,000 a year, and Pryor dominates among this group.  He leads 57-36 among this group.  Cotton does well with voters coming  from households making over $75,000 a year; he leads among that group 54-39.  But his poor performance with the under-$75,000 voters hurts him.

Republicans can make a case for market-oriented, conservative policies that can help the working and middle classes.  But they will have to make that case.  Strengthening the Republican brand with working- and middle-class Americans could bring Tom Cotton closer to a Senate seat and the GOP closer to a governing majority.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Combining Egalitarianism and Individualism

Over at NRO, I think about how to combine a unifying civic space with individual diversity:
One of the central (and persistent) themes of American public life has been the reconciliation of diversity into a broader, unified republic. Attempting to balance the interests of diverse states along with the claims of a national union, the political doctrine of federalism responds to the challenge of that reconciliation. The federal Constitution (along with the various state constitutions) seeks to maintain individual autonomy within a republic of laws that apply to all through the combination of legislative energies and the recognition of rights.

This enterprise of reconciliation also casts light on the idea of equality in American society. Much of the American social experiment can be understood as an exploration of the concept of equal but not identical, a notion that balances between the assertion of individual distinction and a sense of similarity across all distinctions. We might rephrase “equal but not identical” as the belief in some essential legal, civic, and natural equality in the face of various particular inequalities. There are countless inequalities in American society: Some pay more in taxes, some reap greater economic benefits from the current social order than others, some receive certain subsidies, some benefit from a strong family structure, some resent their parents’ influences, and so on and so forth. But, in complement to those inequalities, there remain certain common and equalizing tendencies: Each citizen receives one vote, or the principle that each person should have equal access to the legal system (and therefore the protection of his or her rights), for example.
 Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Poll Distortion

America's Voice, one of the key advocates for the White House immigration agenda, has a memo out today collating a series of polls to argue that voters in a number of Republican districts support the president's immigration agenda.

However, the wording of much of this polling does not describe the president's/the Senate's plan accurately.  The wording of the poll questions is often something like the following:
Would you support legislation that would significantly increase border security, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status? If immigrants were to meet a list of requirements, they could eventually apply for citizenship.
 This wording heavily emphasizes enforcement---which could easily be gutted. Moreover, it makes no mention of a huge expansion of guest-worker plans, a central piece of the Senate bill and reportedly under consideration as part of the Speaker's immigration "principles."  Also, under the Senate bill, illegal immigrants who have been convicted of multiple crimes could still receive legal status.

GOP House members might be wary about listening to the advice of this memo.

UPDATE: A memo from Senator Jeff Sessions's office has some more info on polling.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Trying to Shift

National Review comes out hard against any House action on immigration:
We believe in incremental immigration reform, but pace the Republican House leadership, that doesn’t mean simply chopping up the Gang of Eight bill and passing its constituent parts piecemeal. It means insisting on real enforcement, including an E-Verify system to confirm the legal status of workers and an exit-entry system to track foreign visitors, that is up and running before anything else passes. Then there can be the grand bargain of the sort outlined by Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in our latest issue, trading an amnesty for lower levels of legal immigration.
For now, nothing worth having can pass the Democratic Senate or get signed into law by President Obama. Rank-and-file conservatives in the House should firmly reject the course that their leadership wants to take, and convince it to reconsider. We hope, in short, that they make a clarion call for inaction.
 Mark Krikorian and Peter Kirsanow have more thoughts on those political risks.

Hugh Hewitt speaks in favor of minimizing GOP divisions.

The Hill lists some Republican House members who may be up for grabs.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Kristol's Trade


Over at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol warns against two significant threats to the GOP's victory in November:
One is the increase in the debt limit, which Congress will have to deal with in the next month or two. The other is immigration reform, which the Senate has passed and which awaits a decision from the House leadership on how to proceed.
Kristol suggests the following policy trade: House fiscal hawks should keep their powder dry on the debt ceiling in exchange for House leadership agreeing not to take up immigration reform.  According to Kristol, both issues could divide the Republican party, so, by avoiding contentious debates on them, Republicans could better keep the party unified heading into November.

As a matter of political strategy, this suggestion has some merit.  Much of the basis for this merit comes down to leverage.  On the debt ceiling, Republicans have minimal leverage.  The financial dislocations caused by not raising the debt ceiling could cause significant economic disruption.  Major voices in the media, the business community, and even the Republican party itself will decry not eventually raising the debt ceiling.  Combine that public opposition with the fact that Republicans control only one branch of Congress, and you have a far-from-ideal bargaining position.  A battle over the debt ceiling could enrage the grassroots and also allow Republican sympathizers of the Obama immigration agenda to marginalize grassroots conservatives (who are likely to oppose both raising the debt ceiling and the president's immigration plans).  Both results could be problematic for Republicans.  Furthermore, a pitched battle over the debt ceiling could alienate some independent voters.  Risking that alienation with a tiny chance of success might be a mistake.

Meanwhile, on immigration, pro-worker Republicans (and the remaining pro-worker Democrats) have their least leverage right now.  The Senate's passage of the Gang of Eight bill shows that a pro-worker vision of immigration reform has minimal traction in that chamber, and the president has made clear his willingness to disregard laws passed by Congress in pursuit of his own executive ambition.

Under those conditions, why pass sweeping immigration reform now?  If Republicans do feel the need to pass immigration reform under President Obama, why not wait until 2015?  If the GOP holds the House and gains seats in the Senate, Republicans would have a much stronger bargaining position on immigration (along with other issues) in 2015.  There is no reason for the GOP to give away its future bargaining power, especially as there does not seem to be a clear electoral imperative for passing immigration legislation now.  Only 3% of Americans consider passing immigration reform to be a top priority. Passing the president's immigration agenda will not help the GOP in most of the Senate races it needs to win in November 2014; indeed, passing such an agenda could do significant harm to GOP prospects in many states.  There is much to be said on behalf of some immigration reform, but the status quo might be far preferable to the president's vision.

This legislative trade might be in the interests of the GOP: it could enhance party unity, allow Republicans to focus on a more forward-looking vision of conservatism, and not hurt Republicans with the middle.  It might also be in the interests of fiscal hawks; a poor economy and terrible employment picture are two major forces driving current deficits, so holding off the president's big-government immigration agenda (as codified in the Senate bill) could be a major help in curbing future deficits.

In an ideal world, it would be best to get the nation's fiscal house in order.  In an ideal world, it would be best to craft a piece of immigration legislation that affirms opportunity, welcomes immigrants into the civic space, and encourages widely enjoyed economic growth.  But politics is about dealing with the imperfect.  In the real conditions of the present, Republicans might be better off working to develop a revived conservative vision (rather than stealing from tired Beltway playbooks) while attempting to rebuild an enduring national coalition.  Dividing the party against itself on the behalf of some lobbyists and consultants could distract from that larger project.