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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Immigration Pitfalls for the House

Over at NRO, I suggest two possible pitfalls as the House considers the formulation of its immigration "principles":
Two policies they are considering endorsing — legalization without citizenship and a massive increase in guest-worker visas — could sabotage the GOP’s standing with its base while also closing off future electoral roads.
Legalization without citizenship would split the base and offer few political dividends with the center. The driving force behind many Republicans’ skepticism about an immigration deal is not a fear that illegal immigrants will be granted citizenship; it is a worry that legalization will be traded for empty promises of enforcement. Legalization without citizenship, then, may be too clever by half: It sounds like an equitable splitting of the difference, but it misses the real point of concern for many Americans.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Distinguishing the Government from Us Key for Maintaining Limited Government

In this week's issue of The Weekly Standard, I note that, pace President Obama, we cannot simply equate the government with"us":
Over the spring and summer of 2013, perhaps still sunning in his November 2012 victory and ideologically extrapolating from this win, President Obama attempted to press the case that skeptics about federal power were outrĂ© paranoiacs. At the Ohio State University commencement in May, the president called upon his listeners to reject the voices of those who “warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.” In July, he trumpeted his administration’s commitment to technological innovation and managerial efficiency, arguing that it was “up to each of us and every one of us to make [government] work better.” We “all have a stake in government success—because the government is us.”
In light of these bold declarations, it is grimly amusing that the rollout of the Obamacare website and the individual mandate should be so flawed. The bureaucratic progressivism for which the president advocates requires faith on the part of the public in the efficiency and competence of government. When that faith is shaken, big-government schemes lose some of their luster. One of the main reasons to continue to assert the distinction between government and “us” is government’s limited competence: The fact that government is not omniscient offers a very practical reason why it should not be omnipotent. Like any other institution, government cannot know all the facts on the ground, nor can it know the perfect way to deal with or make use of the facts that it does know.
The Obamacare debacle reminds us again of the practical irreducibility of “us” to government. Indeed, the distinction between “government” and “us” is central to the project of republican liberty for the United States. One of the keys to maintaining the tradition of limited government is recognizing that it is part—and only part—of the broader society in which it operates. Our government, as Lincoln said, is of the people, by the people, and for the people—but it is not the people. 
The people are a mixed lot: young and old; Republican, Democratic, and independent; married and unmarried; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, and Hindu; for higher taxes and for lower taxes; unemployed and working; rich and poor; healthy and sick; and countless other permutations. Government cannot be everything to everybody. It cannot embody all the diverse wishes, hopes, and desires of the people—nor should it try.
 Read the rest here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Filibuster Fallout

At NRO, I suggest that conservatives might not want to follow progressives down the "nuclear option" rabbit hole on the filibuster and the other Senate institutions of consensus:
In politics, process matters often nearly as much as — if not more than — substance, and the procedure by which the filibuster was weakened last week by Senate Democrats is likely far more problematic than the rank hypocrisy of their doing so. It is hard to view the Democratic majority’s use of the “nuclear option” as anything other than an admission of weakness and of curbed ambition. After the increasingly problematic Obamacare debacle, it seems as though President Obama and his fellow Democrats have given up the hope of governing through a national consensus. Instead, Obama has signaled that he will try to rule with the club of 51 percent for the rest of his term: Push through as much as possible with a narrow majority.
Seeing its legislative program stalled by recalcitrant Republicans, perhaps the Obama administration believes that its best chance of implementing its agenda is through the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and court system. The nuclear option increases the administration’s control of the federal bureaucracy, but it also potentially transforms the institution of the Senate.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Still Trying

Politico reports on the fact that activist groups are still coordinating to try to get the House to take up the president's immigration agenda.  The aim is to try for something prior to the Thanksgiving recess.
To that end, Pelosi met with Steve Case on Tuesday. On Thursday, she, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California and Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California , John Yarmuth of Kentucky and George Miller of California are slated to meet with Richard Trumka and Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO, Mary-Kay Henry of the SEIU, Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change.
Pelosi and many of the same lawmakers are also slated to meet Thursday to discuss immigration reform with Facebook co-founder Zuckerberg, a Democratic aide confirmed. That will come one day after a similar meeting between Zuckerberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to a Schumer aide.
Outside supporters are also meeting with conservative power-brokers, who are key to whether immigration will make it onto the House agenda this year. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s staff met last week with its ad hoc coalitions group to discuss progress during the August recess.
The Gang of Eight (probably minus Sen. Marco Rubio, whose standing in presidential polls has taken a hit since he acted as the leading Republican spokesman for the Gang of Eight) is also meeting to try to push this issue.

For their part, opponents of the White House immigration plan say they'll be ready to battle it in the House.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sinking Incomes

As Wonkblog notes, new Census data suggests that the median US household made as much in 1989 as it did in 2012 when adjusting for inflation.
In 1989, the median American household made $51,681 in current dollars (the 2012 number, again, was $51,017). That means that 24 years ago, a middle class American family was making more than the a middle class family was making one year ago.
Incomes did climb throughout the 1990s.  But the median income has not eclipsed its 2000 peak, and there's been a pretty persistent decline in median income since 2007---including during the purported "recovery."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years Ago

Some thoughts I wrote on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 available here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Falling Teen Employment

McClatchy reports on a study showing a collapse in teen employment over the past decade:
In 1999, slightly more than 52 percent of teens 16 to 19 worked a summer job. By this year, that number had plunged to about 32.25 percent over June and July. It means that slightly more than three in 10 teens actually worked a summer job, out of a universe of roughly 16.8 million U.S. teens.
“We have never had anything this low in our lives. This is a Great Depression for teens, and no time in history have we encountered anything like that,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. “That’s why it’s such an important story.”
Not sure this exactly strengthens the case for an expansion of guest-worker programs, an aim of the White House and some in Congress.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/29/200769/teen-employment-hits-record-lows.html#storylink=cpy
 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Immigration and Wages

Oxford University's Paul Collier suggests that high levels of immigration can end up depressing the wages of recent immigrants:
Why are migrants not only the winners but also the big losers from migration?
The answer is that those who have already migrated lose, at least in economic terms, through the subsequent migration of others. Migrants lose because they compete with one another. 
Also speaking about wages and immigration, ABC/Fusion adds: "for black workers in particular, there has been evidence that immigration can depress wages among certain sectors of the workforce."

Reihan Salam has a rather extensive set of comments about the economic effects of mass "low-skilled" immigration.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MLK and the Constitution

For the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, I offer some thoughts about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the possibilities of Constitutional renewal.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Democratic Strategy

The Wall Street Journal notes some Democrats who are uncertain about going along with the president's and Senate's immigration agenda:
Like many of their GOP counterparts, hesitant House Democrats worry about how to handle the 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the U.S.
"I'm opposed to granting amnesty," said Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, whose grandparents legally emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon. Creating a separate way this group can gain citizenship "would siphon scarce resources away from our already-overwhelmed immigration system and would be unfair to those other immigrants, past and present, who have dutifully waited for their turn to legally enter our country," he said.
Some House Democrats fret that any new immigration laws could repeat what they consider the mistakes of a 1986 law that legalized many illegal immigrants and included measures to stop illegal crossings.
"I want to be certain that it's not 1986 all over again," said Rep. Daniel Lipinski, a Democrat from Illinois, who said he's concerned some lawmakers might be willing in future negotiations to roll back the provisions to beef up border security, which were added to the Senate bill in a bid to win GOP support. "I have concerns about if the federal government will be serious about enforcing immigration law in the future," he said.
Of course, many Democrats and some Republicans who ended up voting in the Senate in favor of the Gang of Eight bill also said they were against "amnesty."  From Obamacare to the stimulus to (in the Senate) immigration politics, the White House has been pretty successful at bending Congressional Democrats to its will.  Skeptics about the "comprehensive" immigration agenda should not take too much comfort from these statements.