Friday, December 19, 2014

Voldemort Returns

A few thoughts regarding movie cancellations, cyber threats, and free speech:

The media often focuses on purported trade-offs between national security and civil liberties, but recent events suggest that defenders of civil liberties very much have an interest in a strong national defense.  Warding off the threats of rogue states, terrorist groups, and other unsavory actors can keep these forces from undermining the enjoyment of liberties (especially free expression).

The Founders established the institutions of the U.S. government in part to defend the liberties of the inhabitants of this Republic.

Defending freedom in part has to do with laws, institutions, military efforts, and so forth.  But this defense also involves the cultivation of cultural norms.  One of these cultural norms is, as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, the value of civic courage.

Those who threaten violence in order to shut down the voices with whom they disagree are usually coming from a position of fear.  The free exchange of ideas is not for the faint of heart.  Defending the idea of cultural conversation in the abstract takes intellectual courage, but so too does participating in that conversation.  We lose much by empowering those who seek to silence civil debate with threats of violence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Agreeing with Critics

Heckled by activists, President Obama declared yesterday that he "just took an action to change the law" in issuing his executive actions on immigration.  Many of the defenders of executive supremacy have argued that the president is only prioritizing enforcement of the laws rather than changing the laws, and many opponents of the president's actions have argued that they have crossed a line between prosecutorial discretion and the executive rewriting the laws.  Inadvertently, the president seems here to be agreeing with the critics of his executive authority that he is actively changing the law.

Many of those who have criticized the Obama administration's record of minimally enforcing immigration laws have argued that an influx of illegal labor undermines the wages of the average American.  A number of those critics have also worried that the president's executive actions on immigration could further harm the economic prospects of native-born Americans and legal immigrants.  Peter Beinart, who has vigorously defended the president's sweeping use of executive authority, agrees that President Obama's decisions would actually harm many Americans: "Will those opportunities [for illegal immigrants affected by the president's actions] come at the expense of some other Americans, whose legal status had previously given them an economic advantage? Sure."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Edict Issued

President Obama has issued the vaguest outline of his actions on immigration.  As Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton of Reuters phrased it, the president "imposed the most sweeping immigration reform in a generation on Thursday."

Many Democrats in Congress seem to be willing to cede more power to the president. But a few dissenting voices have started to rise. Perhaps the starkest criticism came from Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats:
King...wondered if the next president would come in and use executive action to pull the plug on the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance exchanges.
“I’m afraid the president has changed the subject from immigration to his action. The headlines from the debate this weekend won’t be about immigration, it will be about, ‘Can the president do this? Should he do it?’” King said. “How are we going to feel when a future president feels that the Affordable Care Act is a bad law?”
Time will tell how many Democrats sign on to this line of thinking.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Beyond Partisanship

At NRO, I examine some of the hints of potential resistance to the president's case for executive supremacy:
For all the president’s invocations of the need to transcend rank partisanship in 2008, the Obama administration might have expected that the president’s sweeping executive actions would cause the Beltway-media complex to dissolve into partisan controversy. However, as the president edges closer to announcing his executive actions, there are signs that the White House’s game plan might be facing some difficulties. Recent rumblings from the media and the silence from congressional Democrats suggest that, if the president does indeed take sweeping action, the administration’s preferred media storyline could be scrambled and the president’s case for executive supremacy could face considerable opposition.
The president and his allies are likely to try to cast this issue of executive authority in partisan terms.  If opponents of executive overreach are going to be successful, they will likely need to shift this debate past partisanship to focus instead on deeper principles and more enduring precedents.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


It seems as though President Obama will proclaim his executive actions on immigration tomorrow.  A WSJ-NBC poll showed that only 38% of Americans support the president taking unilateral action on immigration.  As a point of reference, Richard Nixon never seemed to dip below 40% of public support for his policies in Vietnam, according to Gallup.

It's also worth noting that, in the lead-up to the president's proclamation, he will be reportedly dining exclusively with congressional Democrats tonight.  The president may be hoping that partisan polarization will allow him to centralize power further through executive decrees.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Uncharted Territory

At the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty and Katie Zezima note that the president's case for executive supremacy will "will expand the authority of the executive branch into murky, uncharted territory."

Meanwhile, Michael D. Shear at the New York Times also draws attention to the historical ironies of President Obama's potentially sweeping executive actions on immigration:
[President Obama is] poised to ignore stark warnings that executive action on immigration would amount to “violating our laws” and would be “very difficult to defend legally.”
Those warnings came not from Republican lawmakers but from Mr. Obama himself.
Some in the media seem increasingly to be worrying about the broader implications of the president's case for a super-charged executive branch.  (Even some voices in The New Republic are starting to express concerns.)  Charles C.W. Cooke asserts the importance of Constitutional norms for the Republic---and fears that the president's actions may imperil some of these norms.

It remains unclear whether congressional Democrats will sign on to the case for executive supremacy.  Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet all signed a letter cheering the president's reported desire to take more power for himself.  But Greg Sargent passes along the worries of various activists that some Democrats might not be so sure about executive supremacy:
Among the Democrats believed to be at risk are Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, and Joe Donnelly. Angus King (who is an independent but caucuses with Dems) is also a question mark.
Jeanne Shaheen, when she ran for reelection, was critical about the president taking executive action.  And retiring Michigan senator Carl Levin has now implied that the GOP's desire to confront the president on sweeping executive action would be quite legitimate.  In the days ahead, might not more Democrats, having realized the implications of the Obama precedent, step forward?

Friday, November 14, 2014

To Act or not to Act

Michael Warren has some intriguing inside reporting on what congressional Republicans are thinking about doing in response to sweeping executive action on immigration.  Josh Siegel also outlines some of the various strategies being considered by Republicans.

A question that still needs to be addressed: will any Democrats in Congress complain about a shift toward executive supremacy?  Some on the left outside of Congress have warned about the precedent potentially being set by President Obama here.  Will any elected Democrat speak out?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Drawing Battlelines

The New York Times confirms FOX's earlier reporting about President Obama's executive actions on immigration.  Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip in the House, rallies for executive supremacy.

Speaker Boehner is speaking out strongly against the president's rumored plans.  Mark Krikorian games out ways that the House could try to subvert the president's immigration power grab:
This is why the message of today’s editorial rejecting a long-term budget deal made in the lame duck is so important. Harry Reid will obviously not agree to any funding riders prohibiting Obama from issuing work permits to illegal aliens. Also, the Republican leadership has already said it’s not going to engineer another government shutdown. But in the next Congress, the House could pull out the Homeland Security budget (rather than fold it into an omnibus funding bill for the whole government) and attach the rider just to that, so when Obama vetoes it, only DHS will be subject to a “shutdown.” The reason for the quotation marks is that it won’t be much of a shutdown since law-enforcement components continue to function as “essential personnel,” including the Border Patrol, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, ICE, and the TSA. In fact, the chief component of DHS that actually would be idled by a budget battle would be US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the very bureau that would have to implement Obama’s lawless amnesty.
David Rutz at the Washington Free Beacon has a very helpful round-up of the president's previous statements claiming that he lacks authority to take unilateral executive action on immigration.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Potential Outline of Executive Action on Immigration Leaked

Fox reports that it has uncovered a draft document of President Obama's plans for executive action on immigration:
The plan contains 10 initiatives than span everything from boosting border security to improving pay for immigration officers.

But the most controversial pertain to the millions who could get a deportation reprieve under what is known as "deferred action."

The plan calls for expanding deferred action for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children -- but also for the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The latter could allow upwards of 4.5 million illegal immigrant adults with U.S.-born children to stay, according to estimates.

Critics in the Senate say those who receive deferred action, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, receive work authorization in the United States, Social Security numbers and government-issued IDs.
Another portion that is sure to cause consternation among anti-"amnesty" lawmakers is a plan to expand deferred action for young people. In June 2012, Obama created such a program for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, entered before June 2007 and were under 31 as of June 2012. The change would expand that to cover anyone who entered before they were 16, and change the cut-off from June 2007 to Jan. 1, 2010. This is estimated to make nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants eligible.
Earlier tonight, Charles Krauthammer attacked the plan as "constitutionally odious."

Reportedly, President Obama may issue his edicts as early as next week.  It's interesting to note that the president may not be waiting until after Mary Landrieu's runoff election in early December.  Perhaps the president feels the need to ram through now in case opposition to his unilateral actions continues to build.

Coalitions, Coalitions

Noah Rothman offers some reflections on the differences between the Obama coalition and the electoral prospects of the Democratic party:
Surveying the four national elections that have occurred in the Obama-era, analysts will find virtually no evidence to suggest that the Obama coalition is synonymous with the Democratic coalition. When Barack Obama is on the ballot, his coalition of voters shows up at the polls. When he isn’t, they don’t; even despite his personal appeals.
He includes an interesting quotation from one of Mitt Romney's top strategists, Stu Stevens:
“When the Obama campaign won in ’08, it was a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party,” said Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “With two historic back-to-back midterm defeats, all of their operations, their technology, have proven to be ineffective when Barack Obama is not on the ballot.”
As the president increasingly focuses on bypassing Congress in order to enact his executive whims, we'll have to see how many Democrats continue to hitch their stars to the Obama White House.

Breaking ICE

Stephen Dinan has a story in the Washington Times profiling the discrimination lawsuit of a former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee.  In the employee's complaint in court, she outlines numerous instances in which ICE officials discouraged enforcing immigration law even against illegal immigrants who had committed felonies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thanks to our veterans past and present.  They have helped secure this republic through many a storm.

Setting up the Board

Ryan Lovelace has a very interesting piece up gaming out possible GOP responses to a possible Obama executive action.  At this stage of the game, much of the debate focuses on the use of a continuing resolution on the budget that would include a prohibition on using government funds to support portions of an executive order (such as the printing of work-authorization cards).

Of course, opponents of a presidential power grab are not just playing the inside-the-Beltway game.  They are also working to mobilize public opinion, as this column by Alabama's Jeff Sessions suggests.

Dispatch from the Future

Over at NRO, I sketch out a what it might look like for a Republican president to cite the Obama precedent on executive authority:
Unbowed by disastrous midterm results for his party, President Gerald P. Hedge insisted that he plans on going ahead with executive action on tax reform. “I’ve been very patient with Congress,” the president said at a press conference the day after the midterms. “But the American tax system is broken. And Democrats in Congress have refused to step up to the plate. So I will act as much as I can within the confines of the law to grant the tax reform that our nation so desperately needs.”
An ambitious tax-reform package — headlined by 20 percent rate cuts across the board — passed the Republican-led Senate in 2033 but was blocked by the Democratic-led House. In the lead-up to the 2034 midterms, Mr. Hedge pledged to take executive action to provide what advocates term “tax relief,” but he had delayed announcing the specifics of that action until after the midterms on November 7.
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Restoring Normalcy

One of the key things emphasized by Mitch McConnell both before and after Tuesday's midterm victory was the importance of restoring normalcy to the U.S. Senate by reviving traditions of consensus and the power of the minority.  Harry Reid's tenure as Majority Leader was often marked by the impulse to make the Senate a tool of the White House and to minimize bipartisan debate, and Senator McConnell, along with many other Republicans and some Democrats, has expressed a desire to restore a sense of comity and independence to the Senate.  There is much to be said on behalf of this desire from a conservative perspective: the Founders did not conceive of the Senate as a tool of the White House or as the instrument of a single leader but as an independent legislative branch where deliberation was encouraged.  Restoring a sense of deliberation is all to the good.

But this restoration can also be a challenging enterprise, as Senator McConnell acknowledged in his press conference on Wednesday.  And it seems as though one early flashpoint will be whether to revive the filibuster for presidential nominees, especially ones to the judiciary.  In late 2013, Senate Democrats went "nuclear" and rewrote Senate rules in order to eliminate the filibuster for all presidential nominees with the exception of Supreme Court nominations.  As I noted at the time, Senator Reid's detonation of the nuclear option did potentially serious damage to Senate Rule XXII, which says that a supermajority of votes are needed to change Senate rules, and, in doing so, injured the consensus-encouraging architecture of the Senate.

Apparently, some Senate Republicans are considering trying to bring back the judicial filibuster, and some conservatives are pushing back against this effort.  A number of conservative leaders---from Gary Bauer to Phyllis Schlafly---have issued a memo warning that Republicans should not try to revive the filibuster for judicial nominees.  Ed Whelan has written a compelling case for why the GOP should not restore the judicial filibuster, and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray offer their own arguments for why the GOP should not "unilaterally disarm" (a point Ed Morrissey has also reflected upon).

Opponents of bringing back the filibuster emphasize a few points.  A major theme is the idea of reciprocity: if Republicans do bring back the filibuster, Democrats will use it against Republican nominees should a Republican become president in 2016, and, if Democrats regain the Senate and win the presidency in 2016 or 2020 or whenever, they will wipe the filibuster away again.  So Republicans will always need 60 votes to confirm their nominees, while Democrats will only need 51.  Another subtext of reciprocity is the suggestion that returning minority rights to Democrats will in fact encourage them to abuse Republicans when the GOP is in the minority; believing that Republicans will not use Democrats' own tactics against them might encourage Democrats to make even more sweeping power grabs.  Whelan also finds that the judicial filibuster is a historical anomaly, only really becoming systemically applied since 2003 (when it was used against George W. Bush's nominees), so, from his perspective, eliminating the judicial filibuster only returns the nation to pre-2003 Constitutional norms.

Proponents of restoring the judicial filibuster tend to suggest a few things.  A major point, alluded to by Paul Mirengoff, is the claim that some Senate Republicans may be inclined to be very deferential to the president's nominees, so a 51-vote threshold would mean that the president would only have to pick off a few Republicans in order to get an appointment through.  Restoring the filibuster would, according to this theory, mean that the president would need a greater Republican buy-in for any appointment.  Another point suggested by some filibuster-restoration proponents is the need to deescalate the hyperpartisan trench warfare into which the Senate has dissolved and that this deescalation has to start somewhere.  Prior to the election, some GOP Senators suggested their wish to restore the judicial filibuster because they thought that that might be one place to start the process of respecting minority rights.

Wherever one stands on restoring the judicial filibuster, there are a few larger, framing issues worth thinking about:

The Reid precedent of using the "nuclear option" to gut Rule XXII is a major affront to the institutional character of the Senate.  And it seems desirable to redress that affront in some way.  A bell cannot be unrung, but we can try to keep that bell from being rung again.

Due to the Senate's institutional structure as a deliberative body, assaults upon minority rights will also often end up being assaults on the rights and privileges of individual Senators (in both the minority and the majority).  The fact that the Senate has historically required consensus in order to function means that individual Senators from both parties usually have a significant role to play in shaping debates.

The filibuster has likely been overused in past years.  Many (including this author) think that there is a role for the filibuster in the Senate, but it needs to be used responsibly.  If partisan polarization deepens in the Senate and usage of the filibuster continues to escalate, the filibuster will likely continue to be reformed and/or weakened.  (And the legislative filibuster is a distinct issue from one for judicial appointments.)

In his final two years, President Obama seems to be gearing up for an unprecedented (at least since Watergate) assault upon Congressional power.  The Obama administration's new theory of executive power and non-enforcement of laws as placeholder or catalyst for Congressional action runs distinctly counter to many Constitutional norms.  It would be helpful for Congress to speak with a unified voice in order to defend its Constitutional duties and prerogatives.  If restoring Senate comity would help Congress find that unified voice, such a restoration would be an important achievement.

I'm not going to begin to guess here how much stick and how much carrot the GOP Senate majority should use in order to help restore normalcy to the Senate.  The Cold War is instructive here.  Unilateral U.S. disarmament was not a solution, but continued negotiations with the Soviet Union were important in keeping both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R from going nuclear.  Obviously and thankfully, disagreements between Senate Republicans and Democrats are nowhere close to the existential conflict of the Cold War.  If Senate Republicans are going to restore the judicial filibuster, they must have substantial buy-in from Senate Democrats.  Indeed, if Senators are serious about trying to restore Rule XXII, restoring the judicial filibuster may require a two-thirds vote, thereby demanding major Democratic support.  (And it is unclear whether allies of the filibuster could muster that two-thirds vote or even a bare majority at the moment. Also, restoring Rule XXII and/or normalcy in the Senate is distinct from restoring the judicial filibuster.)

The Reid precedent was problematic for the nation's affairs, the institutional character of the Senate, and, likely, many Democratic Senators themselves (after Barack Obama, Harry Reid was one of the biggest vote-getters for Republicans on Tuesday).  It is in the interests of members of both parties to restore the Senate's position as an independent, deliberative body.  Over the next few months, we're likely to witness many discussions about how to achieve this restoration.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Midterm Meltdown

At NRO, I look at how Democratic policy choices helped pave the way for the Republican triumph in Tuesday's midterms:
Winning the presidency during a time of great national turmoil in 2008, Barack Obama had the potential to forge an enduring governing majority. However, the midterms of 2010 delivered a blow to that hope of a broad coalition. The president’s hard-fought victory in 2012 gave him another four years in the White House, but it did not return Democrats to power in the House. And now, in 2014, the president finds his party being rejected at the polls throughout the country. Purported “blue states” like Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland have elected Republican governors. Republicans seem to be heading to their biggest majority in the House in decades. Since the 1980 landslide, Republicans had never beaten more than two incumbent Democrats in Senate races during an election cycle. Yesterday, they defeated three (in Arkansas, Colorado, and North Carolina), and Bill Cassidy has a good chance of defeating a fourth, Mary Landrieu, in the Louisiana run-off election.
Despite the clucking of many media mandarins, this outcome was not preordained. Many of the states in which Republicans triumphed at both the federal and state levels are very amenable to Democrats. Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor is a strong campaigner with a distinguished lineage. He handily won election during the pro-Republican 2002 midterms, and Republicans did not even field a candidate against him in 2008. Democrats won Colorado Senate races in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and Colorado’s Cory Gardner were fine candidates (candidate quality does matter), but their campaigns — along with those of many other insurgent Republicans — also relied upon a troubled national landscape.
As Franklin Roosevelt’s example shows, a president elected during great unrest can formulate a new governing consensus. But a president who fails to persuade the American public that he has a viable set of policies can also find his administration struggling. And so President Obama’s administration suffered this rebuke at the polls in no small part because of its own failings.

You can read the rest here.

A few other points:

As Robert Costa explores, the GOP put a lot of work into grooming candidates for this midterm cycle.

I wrote last month about Republican hopes for taking over a House seat or two in Massachusetts.  Well, as in other years, these hopes have been disappointed: Richard Tisei lost to Democrat Seth Moulton in the Sixth, and John Chapman lost to incumbent Democratic Bill Keating in the Ninth.  Interestingly, while Tisei's campaign generated considerably more interest and money, Chapman ended up finishing much closer than Tisei.

Mickey Kaus and Mark Krikorian focus on the immigration implications of the midterms, finding that voters rebuked the president's agenda on immigration.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bay State Update

Following up on last week's article about two Massachusetts Congressional hopefuls: in Massachusett's 9th district, incumbent Democrat Bill Keating has finally agreed to debate his Republican challenger, John Chapman.  The two will face off in three debates next week.  Keating and Chapman are also engaged in a battle of endorsements.  The Boston Herald has come out in Chapman's favor, while Keating has won the support of the Cape Cod Times, a major regional newspaper in the 9th.

The latest poll of the 9th shows the race within the margin of error (though it does give Keating a slight edge).  This race has started to garner national attention.  Keating is a tough campaigner, but time will tell if he's able to resist overall national trends.

Meanwhile, in the Massachusetts governor's race, a series of recent polls suggests that Republican Charlie Baker may be picking up momentum in the race.  According to RealClearPolitics, Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, has not led in a single poll released in the last week and a half, and a new Boston Globe poll has Baker up by 9 points.

Economy Still Matters

At NRO, I look at the decision by some Democrats to turn to economic populism as a last-ditch electoral defense.  Noting that many aspects of the president's record have actually undermined the working class, I suggest that Republicans need to make their own case for economic growth for the middle:
Despite all these obstacles, Democrats may be able to use populist messaging to push themselves over the finish line in a few close races. President Obama’s reelection campaign depended upon a combination of class warfare, withering personal attacks upon Governor Romney, and appeals to demographic polarization (such as the “war on women”). Some Democrats seem to hope that the White House’s 2012 playbook can be useful in 2014. Josh Kraushaar noted last week that some Democrats are turning with at least modest success to economic issues in places as disparate as Illinois, Massachusetts, and Georgia. This success should remind Republicans of the need for the GOP to offer its own message of economic advancement for the middle class.Luckily for many Republican candidates, pundits and politicians alike have taken a renewed interest in broad-based economic prosperity. Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, among others, have emphasized pro–middle-class messages and policies. The recent policy publication Room to Grow is full of market-oriented suggestions for improving the standing of the economic middle. Beyond debates about the minimum wage, Republicans can emphasize the importance of a vibrant economy, in which incomes of all types can grow. They could argue on behalf of a tax-reform agenda that has benefits for middle-income families. They could defend an energy policy that fuels economic growth and makes energy more affordable for consumers. In contrast to the prevailing doctrine of Too Big to Fail, Republicans could argue for reform that would create a more diffused and market-oriented financial system. In place of the White House’s anti-market and anti-worker immigration agenda, Republicans could argue for an immigration policy that affirms the dignity of all workers and increases economic opportunity for native-born Americans and immigrants alike (so GOPers would be better off not calling for a further increase in guest-worker programs). In addition to criticizing the shortcomings of the ACA, Republicans can lay out their proposals for making the health-care system more affordable and more efficient. Instead of pitting Americans against one another through class warfare, Republicans can defend broad-based economic opportunity, where Americans can work together for the enrichment of all.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Economic Message Still Matters

Josh Kraushaar has an interesting article up exploring how some Democratic candidates---in states ranging from Illinois to Massachusetts---are attacking their Republican opponents on the issue of outsourcing.  These attacks might not always be fair, but they do suggest the importance of Republicans continuing to develop an economic message that tells voters that the GOP and conservatives can put forward economic policies that will work for the average American.

Races in the Bay State

Over at NRO, I look at two Massachusetts races where GOP congressional candidates may be coming closer to their Democratic opponents.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

GOP Advantage in Iowa and Colorado

Quinnipiac has a couple polls out today.  In the race the race for the retiring Tom Harkin's Senate seat, Republican Joni Ernst leads Democrat Bruce Braley 50-44.  Much of the polling taken in late August or early September suggested that this race was nearly tied, with Braley having a slight edge.  We'll have to see if this is a sign of the momentum shifting.

In the Colorado governor's race, Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper lags his Republican challenger, former Congressman Bob Beauprez, by ten points (40-50).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sessions Strikes

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions's recent speech attacking the special interests backing the White House immigration agenda continues to reverberate through the media.  Defending the interests of the average American worker played a major role in his remarks:
In effect, the entire Senate Democratic conference has surrendered the jobs, wages, and livelihoods of their constituents to a group of special interests meeting in secret at the White House. They are surrendering them to executive actions that will foist on the nation what Congress has refused to pass and the American people have rejected. They are plotting at the White House to move forward with executive action no matter what the people think and no matter what Congress — through the people’s House — has decided.
Politico reports that “White House officials conducted more than 20 meetings in July and August with legal experts, immigration advocates and business leaders to gather ideas on what should be included in the order.”
So who are these so-called expert advocates and business leaders? They are not the law-enforcement officers; they are not our ICE officers; they are not our Border Patrol officers; they are not the American working man and woman; they are not unemployed Americans. They weren’t in the room. You can be sure of that. Their opinions weren’t sought.
See also these points by John Hinderaker.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Divisions in America

Earlier this week, I wrote up some thoughts on Joel Kotkin's new book, The New Class Conflict, for NRO:
What do government-induced spikes in energy prices, ideological purges at major American universities and companies, and the “Life of Julia” slideshow from the 2012 Obama reelection campaign have in common? According to demographer Joel Kotkin, aspects of class politics in the contemporary United States explain these three things — and many more. In his latest book, The New Class ConflictKotkin turns his demographer’s eye to the crisis of the middle class in the 21st-century United States. Kotkin argues that the hollowing out of the middle class is a central political, economic, and social issue of our time, and the disruption brought about by the crisis of the middle class could scramble the political coalitions of both Republicans and Democrats.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Executive Action Delayed

Fearing a backlash, the White House has decided to delay announcing any executive actions on immigration until after the midterm elections in November:
Two White House officials said Obama concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president's decision before it was announced, said Obama made his decision Friday as he returned to Washington from a NATO summit in Wales.
They said Obama called a few allies from Air Force One to inform them of his decision, and that the president made more calls from the White House on Saturday.
The officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but that he still would take his executive steps before the end of the year.
Proponents of executive action like Frank Sharry have expressed their frustration with the White House for refusing to act.  Meanwhile, skeptics of executive action (such as Mark Krikorian) have argued that the president is trying to avoid democratic accountability by not announcing his decisions on unilaterally rewriting immigration policy until after the midterms.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Five Sleepers

In addition to the Senate races that generate most headlines (such as Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina), James Hohmann draws attention to five races that could get very interesting.  Hohmann suggests that analysts should keep an eye on Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, New Jersey, and Kansas.  Four of those five (excepting Kansas) would be Republican pick-ups.

UPDATE: Hohmann's piece has proven somewhat prophetic, as Kansas has now indeed become more interesting.  The official Democratic candidate has dropped out, throwing his support to former Democrat (and current independent) Greg Orman, a businessman who is challenging incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Executive Options

At NRO, I look at some of the potential options that President Obama may be considering for his executive orders on immigration:
The president’s rumored decision to legalize and grant work permits to millions of illegal immigrants has dominated media discussions of the administration’s potential executive fiats on immigration. However, decisions to revise the legal-immigration system could also be consequential. The prospect of the legalization of illegal immigrants combined with a revision of the legal-immigration system suggests that the Obama administration’s potential executive orders on immigration would go far beyond tiny administrative tweaks and minor exertions of prosecutorial discretion; they might instead be major and unilateral revisions of U.S. immigration policy.
You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shaheen Turns

Facing an increasingly competitive Senate reelection race against Scott Brown, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen appears to be trying to put some distance between herself and the president's rumored executive actions on immigration, according to the Boston Herald:
Shaheen “would not support a piecemeal approach issued by executive order,” said her spokesman Shripal Shah, adding the Granite State incumbent “believes Congress must address our broken immigration system with a comprehensive fix.”
Shaheen, who had previously voiced a wait-and-see approach to the impending executive action from the president, joins a number of at-risk Democrats who are urging the president to leave immigration reform to lawmakers.
Other Democratic Senators who have spoken against President Obama going it alone on immigration include Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), and Mark Pryor (AR).  The bipartisan drumbeat of opposition to executive overreach grows.  (See also this AP story on how the administration is trying to justify issuing executive orders that the president himself admitted until a few months ago that he did not have the power to issue.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Media Criticism of Executive Supremacy Growing

Over at the Corner, I offer a round-up of some of the recent media criticisms of President Obama's potential executive orders on immigration:
Throughout the summer, numerous voices across the political spectrum have warned against President Obama taking sweeping executive action on immigration. While the New York Times editorial board has endorsed executive supremacy on immigration, many other publications have been more skeptical, fearing the constitutional as well as immediate practical implications of the president going alone on immigration policy. The Washington Post argued earlier in August that Congressional resistance “doesn’t grant the president license to tear up the Constitution” and warned against ramming through immigration reform via an executive order, points echoed by Charles Lane and Jonathan Chait (neither of whom are exactly fire-breathing right-wingers).
You can read the rest here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Activists Rally for Executive Action on Immigration

A couple news stories today suggest that some activists are hoping for the president to act unilaterally on immigration and other matters over the next week or so.  The Hill notes that Congress has been left out of the loop in White House deliberations on executive action:
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), said in an interview on Friday that he expects that, now Obama is back from vacation, “there’ll be some additional consultation with members of Congress, specifically CHC, [about] what we’re looking at.”
He said nothing had been scheduled, however, adding that since Congress left for the August recess, he’s had “really no indication” of what the administration is thinking.
Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the major proponents of executive action and the Gang of Eight's approach to immigration legislation, is raising expectations, telling the US to "get ready" for big action.

After a troubling few weeks for the White House, perhaps allies of the administration are trying to offer a few trial balloons about a further expansion of executive authority.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Middle Class Still Struggling

The Upshot draws attention to a new report suggesting that the median household income has, when adjusted for inflation, fallen about 3% since the middle of 2009.  And it is has fallen even farther from where it was in the early 2000s.  In 2000, the median household income was well over $56,000 in 2014 dollars; it is now below $54,000.  Stagnating---and outright declining---incomes may cause many American families to be pessimistic about the economy.

Granite State Closing

A new WMUR Granite State poll shows that Scott Brown may be closing the gap between himself and incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  Shaheen now leads 46-44 (within the margin of error); an earlier WMUR poll had Shaheen with a 12-point lead.  Guy Benson and Michael Warren suggest that Brown's attacks on Shaheen over her support for the Gang of Eight bill and over President Obama's rumored unilateral action on immigration may be part of the reason for this shift.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Americans Wary of Executive-First Strategy

A new poll put out by Kellyanne Conway suggests that Americans do not want the president to go it alone on immigration.  According to this poll, only 21% of Americans would prefer President Obama to act alone on immigration.  Even 56% of Democrats do not want the president to change immigration policy unilaterally.

Contrary to the White House and the Gang of Eight, 75% of Americans think that employers in need of workers should raise their wages and improve working conditions in order to attract workers; only 8% say that these employers should be able to bring in foreign workers to fill job openings.  Americans of all types agree that the government should work to protect the interests of American workers.

Michael Warren has some more points about this poll here.

Government by Secrecy

As President Obama contemplates using radically expansive executive authority on a host of issues, the New York Times focuses on how an executive-first government structure could lead to increased secrecy.  On immigration, the Times reports that the administration's debates have "been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, where lobbyists and interest groups invited to the White House are making their case out of public view."

And it looks as though the administration is aggressively looking for areas in which to expand its executive authority:
On a host of issues, the list of requests is growing. Technology companies would like Mr. Obama to provide more visas for their workers, or at least more flexibility for them and their families as they await green cards for permanent residency. Consumer groups and organized labor want the Treasury Department to act on its own to limit financial incentives for companies that move overseas for tax breaks and stop so-called inversions...

The go-it-alone approach has left the administration — which claims to be the most transparent in United States history — essentially making policy from the White House, replacing congressional hearings and floor debates with closed meetings for invited constituencies. ​
It seems as though some at the Times could be becoming aware of the deeper Constitutional implications of unchecked executive authority.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kay Hagan on Amnesty

Matthew Boyle reminds us that, back when she was campaigning, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) said that she was against "amnesty" and emphasized the importance of border security.  Boyle finds that her record might not live up to these campaign-trail promises.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Against "Administrative Amnesty"

The Heritage Foundation's Derrick Morgan and David Inserra respond to the Obama administration's rumored "administrative amnesty":
President Barack Obama is considering using prosecutorial discretion to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants. Doing so would be unjust and costly and would encourage more illegal immigration. Congress should discourage the Administration from considering this divisive and unproductive step, which would only make it more difficult to implement suitable, feasible, and just immigration reforms and more robust and effective border security.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wonks on Immigration

In National Review, Yuval Levin and Reihan Salam argue for a "middle ground" on immigration reform.  They argue that "essential components of the recurring elite proposal are a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants; more immigration by the highly skilled; and a guest-worker program, combined with other significant increases in immigration by less-skilled workers, to help employers hold down wages."  In contrast to this approach, Levin and Salam propose a "package of reforms [that] would consist of legalization without a path to citizenship for those here illegally, and a gradual rebalancing of legal immigration toward higher-skilled workers and away from extended-family unification, temporary workers, and lower-skilled immigrants."  Crucially, they find that increased enforcement should precede some of these reforms.

In the past, I've been skeptical about proposals for legalization without a path to citizenship, but Levin and Salam make some interesting points.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Neofeudalism Redux

Over at the Daily Beast, Joel Kotkin posts an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The New Class Conflict.  Kotkin argues that the hollowing out of the middle class has deep cultural and political implications:
This notion of American opportunity has ebbed and flowed, but generally gained ground well into the 1960s and 1970s. The very fact that the United States was more demographically dynamic, notes Thomas Piketty, naturally reduced the role of inherited wealth compared to Europe, most notably in France, where population growth was slower. Mass prosperity hit a high point in America in the first decades after the Second World War, the period where the country achieved its highest share of world GDP at some forty percent. By the mid-1950s the percentage of households earning middle incomes doubled to 60 percent compared with the boom years of the 1920s. By 1962 over 60 percent of Americans owned their own homes; the increase in homeownership, notes Stephanie Coontz, between 1946 and 1956 was greater than that achieved in the preceding century and a half.
But today, after decades of expanding property ownership, the middle orders—what might be seen as the inheritors of Jefferson’s yeoman class—now appear in a secular retreat. Homeownership, which peaked in 2002 at nearly 70 percent, has dropped, according to the U.S. Census, to 65 percent in 2013, the lowest in almost two decade. Although some of this may be seen as a correction for the abuses of the housing bubble, rising costs, stagnant incomes and a drop off of younger first time buyers suggest that ownership may continue to fall in years ahead.
Earlier this summer, I used Kotkin's work to explore the risks of a potential neofeudalism.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Debating Executive Supremacy

This weekend, the New York Times editorial board embraced the cause of executive supremacy, sneering at bipartisan objections that a sweeping executive order by President Obama on immigration could have significant Constitutional implications.

Many on the left, though, maintain some skepticism about radically empowering the executive branch to nullify laws.  Drawing attention to the importance of norms for maintaining a constitutional republic, Jonathan Chait writes:
I fully support Obama’s immigration policy goals. But the defenses of Obama’s methods seem weak and short-sighted.
To imagine how this method might be dangerous, you have to abstract it away from the specific end it advances and consider another administration using similar methods for policies liberals might not like. What if a Republican president announced that he would stop enforcing the payment of estate taxes? Or suspend enforcement of regulations on industrial pollution? Or laws on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians?
Noah Rothman has more thoughts here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pundits Beginning to Turn?

In response to concerns raised about possible executive overreach by the Obama administration, some pundits are now speaking up.

At Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle, writes:
Am I saying that the dark night of fascism will descend upon us all if Obama goes forward with this? Of course not. There is a lot of ruin in a nation; American presidents have tried these sorts of power grabs before, from the suspension of habeas corpus to court packing to, I dunno, Richard Nixon’s whole last year in office. But do you know why the dark night of fascism never descended? Because long before we got to that point, honorable politicians, journalists and citizens said “Enough.” It’s time for all of us to say that again, loud enough for President Obama to hear it.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Chuck Lane, a former New Republic editor, concedes that the "broadest measure Obama is considering would be constitutionally dubious, politically explosive and flatly contradictory to his own recently expressed views."

National Journal's Ron Fournier said yesterday of a potential executive power grab by President Obama that it "would be a nuclear bomb that would blow open and make this country even more divided in a way that most Americans just don't want."

UPDATE: Fournier expands on his case against the Obama administration's "nuclear option" on executive power:
Depending on how far Obama extends presidential authority—and he suggested Wednesday that he's willing to stretch it like soft taffy—this could be a political nuclear bomb. The man whose foundational promise was unity ("I don't want to pit red America against blue America") could seal his fate as the most polarizing president in history.
Ed Morrissey connects the current debate about executive power to the Watergate crisis:
The familiarity of these events, coupled with the increasing impulse of Obama to abandon constitutional limits, shows that America largely ignored the lessons of Watergate. It’s not enough to be wary of executive power when the opposition party controls the White House, as Republicans belatedly learned in 1974; to defend and protect constitutional government and the rule of law, that vigilance has to exist at all times.

Some of the same voices that shrieked with horror at the threat of the “unitary executive” under George W. Bush seem perfectly comfortable now with Obama ruling by executive fiat rather than governing under the rule of law, as long as it’s only their bêtes noires that get targeted.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Constitutional Abyss

Over at NRO, I examine some of the theoretical stakes of a presidential power grab on immigration:
Politicians and writers on both sides of the aisle have worried about what Ross Douthat has called a “leap into the antidemocratic dark.” Sweeping action on immigration could push the elastic limits on executive authority to such an extent that these limits would lose all their inhibiting force and become nothing more than limp window-dressing for presidential whim. If the president can rewrite immigration law without congressional approval, what limits would he face? As Yuval Levin has suggested, the president’s case for unilateral action on immigration could, with a few twists, become a case for unilateral action on tax cuts. A president could nullify environmental laws, undo child-labor laws, and rewrite federal law on a gamut of other domestic issues. Making the president the legislator of last resort could, over time, mean that Congress could at best hope to check the president’s dictates by passing laws with veto-proof majorities, which would not stop the legislative center of gravity from shifting from Congress to the executive branch. Such a shift might cheer those who believe that this nation should be governed by a quadrennial dictatorship, but it would run utterly counter to the enumerated principles of the Constitution.
Many members of both parties no doubt realize the deeper constitutional principles at risk from an over-extension of executive authority. With a lukewarm economy, turmoil abroad, and a smorgasbord of domestic controversies, the nation does not need an acute constitutional crisis. If the humanitarian situation on the southern border can in part be traced to the president’s earlier unilateral actions on immigration (and there is considerable evidence that it can be so traced), further sweeping executive action on immigration could lead to further misery — as President Obama himself worried in 2010. The president can claim no urgent crisis in order to justify, say, granting work permits to millions of illegal immigrants; if the need was so great, why did he not work to pass immigration reform (as he had promised that he would) in 2009, when Democrats held great majorities in Congress? Partisan expedience then does not excuse executive overreach now.
You can read the rest here.

The Washington Post has come out to urge President Obama to "think twice" about "tear[ing] up the Constitution" by overstepping the bounds of presidential authority on immigration.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Decentralization and Civil Society

April Ponnuru offers a conservative model of civil society:
Conservatives have a different vision for civil society. We are not interested in a one-size-fits-all ideology at odds with the temper of the times. In the past we have had considerable success with policies that responded to the country’s needs with decentralized and market-oriented solutions. And we can do it again. 
When Reagan ended the gas lines that had become a weekly problem in the late 1970s, he didn’t do it by creating a new board to address the problem. He lifted government control of gas prices and trusted the market to adapt. Welfare reform is another conservative success story. We took a program that was not working and changed it. We gave state governments freedom to manage their caseloads and insisted only on the consensus American value of work.

Domestic Caesarism?

Ross Douthat's column on the president's potential executive actions on immigration is worth a read.  Douthat warns about the deeper consequences of unilateral action by the president:
But in political terms, there is a sordid sort of genius to the Obama strategy. The threat of a unilateral amnesty contributes to internal G.O.P. chaos on immigration strategy, chaos which can then be invoked (as the president did in a Friday news conference) to justify unilateral action. The impeachment predictions, meanwhile, help box Republicans in: If they howl — justifiably! — at executive overreach, the White House gets to say “look at the crazies — we told you they were out for blood.”

It’s only genius, however, if the nonconservative media — honorable liberals and evenhanded moderates alike — continue to accept the claim that immigration reform by fiat would just be politics as usual, and to analyze the idea strictly in terms of its political effects (on Latino turnout, Democratic fund-raising, G.O.P. internal strife).

This is the tone of the media coverage right now: The president may get the occasional rebuke for impeachment-baiting, but what the White House wants to do on immigration is assumed to be reasonable, legitimate, within normal political bounds.

It is not: It would be lawless, reckless, a leap into the antidemocratic dark.
See also Douthat's response to some of the objections leveled against this column.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ed Schultz Looks Into the Abyss

In a clip noted by Andrew Johnson, MSNBC's Ed Schultz argues against Obama taking unilateral action to provide work permits to millions of illegal immigrants:
The MSNBC host passionately came to the defense of American workers and urged the White House not to use executive actions to grant legal status and work authorization to millions of immigrants in the country illegally. He warned that it would be an “electoral death nail” for Democrats in the upcoming midterms.
“Hold the phone — this would be a mistake if the president were to do this,” he said on Tuesday. “Politically, there is no way Democrats can go home and campaign on across-the-board amnesty for millions of undocumented workers — I don’t think that’s a political winner for the Democrats.”

A few thoughts in no particular order:

Schultz backing away may be a sign that some on the left realize how politically problematic unilateral action on immigration by President Obama may be.

Some "progressives" may be awakening to the serious Constitutional implications of the president going rogue on immigration law.  As Schultz said, "I don’t think one man should have that much power."

Schultz also suggested that a mass legalization via executive order could undermine the economic position of the American worker (both native-born and legal immigrants).  Perhaps others on the left will also address the economic consequences of bad-faith open borders.

For those who are sympathetic to immigration reform, unilateral actions by the president may make legislative reform much less likely to happen.

Economic Stagnation and Its Consequences

Peter Morici argues that the economy has seen a long-term stagnation in both employment and raw growth:
The economy has created only about 6 million new jobs during the Bush-Obama years, whereas the comparable figure during the Reagan-Clinton period was about 40 million. A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that virtually all the new jobs created since 2000 went to immigrants, whereas none were created for native-born Americans.
Adding in discouraged adults who say they would begin looking for work if conditions were better, those working part-time but say they want full time work, and the effects of immigration, the unemployment rate becomes about 15 percent—and that is a lower bound estimate.
Many young people are being duped both by unscrupulous for profit, post-secondary institutions—as well as accredited colleges and universities with low admission standards—to enroll in useless programs. They would likely be in the labor force now but for easy access to federally sponsored loans and will end up heavily in debt.
Adding in these students, the real unemployment rate among U.S. citizens and permanent residents is at least 18 percent.
Since 2000, GDP growth has averaged 1.7 per year, whereas during the Reagan-Clinton years, it was 3.4 percent. The reluctance of both Presidents Bush and Obama to confront Chinese protectionism and currency manipulation and open up offshore oil for development have created a huge trade deficit that sends consumer demand, growth, and jobs abroad.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Warnings on Presidential Edicts

Yuval Levin warns about the Constitutional implications of President Obama's contemplated immigration moves:
Many people in Washington seem to be talking about the prospect of the president unilaterally legalizing the status of several million people who entered the country illegally as though it were just another political question. But if reports about the nature of the executive action he is contemplating are right, it would be by far the most blatant and explosive provocation in the administration’s assault on the separation of powers, and could well be the most extreme act of executive overreach ever attempted by an American president in peacetime....In one sense, the approach the president is said to be contemplating does fit into a pattern of his use of executive power. That pattern involves taking provocative executive actions on sensitive, divisive issues to isolate people he detests, knowing it will invite a sharp response, and then using the response to scare his own base voters into thinking they are under assault when in fact they are on the offensive. That’s how moving to compel nuns to buy contraception and abortive drugs for their employees became “they’re trying to take away your birth control.” This strategy needlessly divides the country and brings out the worst instincts of people on all sides, but it has obvious benefits for the administration and its allies. 

Hot Air has an interesting (and grim) collection of other reflections on the president's possible power grab.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What Could Have Been

A new CNN poll finds that, if a presidential election were held today, Mitt Romney would handily beat Barack Obama 53-44.  According to this poll, Americans are tied 49-49 on whether the president is sincere about what he says; in 2011, 65% of those polled thought that the president was sincere.

Germany and Immigration

The Washington Post reports on Germany's expansion of a skills-based immigration system.  Immigration to Germany has increased in recent years, though the United States still takes in many more immigrants each year.
But the latest upsurge is largely based on Germany’s reemergence in recent years as Europe’s undisputed economic leader, a beacon of light on a continent still suffering from the aftermath of a brutal debt crisis. In the 28-nation European Union, free movement of labor means nationals can easily relocate from one country to the next. And with unemployment at 25.1 percent in Spain, 26.6 percent in Greece, and 12.6 percent in Italy, Germany — with an economy built on industrial giants such as Siemens and an army of innovative small and midsize companies — has never looked so good.
But Germany also is looking beyond Europe for prospective workers, with German factories courting Indian engineers and German universities competing for Chinese students. In 2012, Germany simplified the process for immigrants from outside the E.U. In 2013, Germany introduced a “Blue Card” system, effectively granting entry to anyone with a university degree and a job offer with a minimum salary of $50,000 to $64,000 a year, depending on the field. As a result, the average immigrant moving to Germany is better educated and more skilled than the average German.

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.