Monday, June 22, 2015

The New Intolerance

Over at NRO, I consider the works of the 1960s academic Herbert Marcuse as anticipating the vicissitudes and inherent contradictions of the current PC culture war:
If the agents of the new intolerance ever get around to “deproblematizing,” as they would put it, Mount Rushmore, they might consider adding the visage of Herbert Marcuse to the crags of the Black Hills. Much of modern “political correctness” is really a New Left cultural politics that has made an uneasy peace with material prosperity. (The trajectory of Al Gore — from youthful critic of consumerism to gray-haired centimillionaire — is instructive here.) Marcuse’s work is much more sophisticated and rigorous than the tweets of many of today’s outrage activists, but that only makes it more important to engage with his ideas in order to comprehend the foundations of the Newer Left’s cultural crusade — and to see why this crusade fundamentally fails.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Defending Hamilton

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's announcement last night that the $10 bill would be modified to include both Alexander Hamilton and a woman has caused a combination of head-scratching and cheers.  While many are happy that a woman will be included on #TheNew10, few have defended why Hamilton's bill had been revised (other than saying that the $10 was already up for redesign). Some activists had been calling for a revision of the $20, believing that Andrew Jackson's troubled legacy warranted a change.  No one had been calling for a revision of the $10.

The Obama administration's decision to revise U.S. currency has been criticized by people on the left and the right.  Even at Vox, Matt Yglesias writes that Treasury should have changed the $20 rather than the $10.  (It's worth mentioning, though, that, if Harriet Tubman is added to the $10, it would be appropriate because both she and Hamilton were opponents of slavery.)

However one feels about this currency change, a happy side-effect is that it has caused numerous writers today to come out in defense of Alexander Hamilton and his legacy for the United States.  A good place to start reading is Quin Hillyer's cri de coeur: "When it comes to American money, Hamilton is our history."

Over at The Federalist, defenses of Hamilton are pouring out. Ben Domenech celebrates Hamilton's heroism:
Had Alexander Hamilton died taking Redoubt Ten at Yorktown, bayonets fixed and muskets unloaded, he would have died a more significant American than his fellow Columbia student Barack Obama, who has now deigned to displace him from the ten dollar bill. To charge across that field under the flash of British artillery, rush into a hail of British musket fire, leap first over the parapet yelling for his fellow Patriots to follow and fight and by so doing win their freedom would have been enough for the man who had no father but became ours. He did not need to write and curate The Federalist; he did not need to construct the Constitution; he did not need to establish the U.S. Mint; he did not need to save the nation from financial calamity; he did not need to, in the aftermath of the 1800 election and in his dying act, destroy the political fortunes of the conniving traitor and would-be tyrant Aaron Burr.
Mollie Hemingway slams the administration's decision to focus on revising currency at this troubled time:
Yes, as the world burns from Ukraine to Iraq to the South China Sea, as we face a catastrophic seizure of data on all of our military and federal personnel, as the country faces real civil unrest and discord, the Obama administration has decided to turn its focus on the “problem” of a great immigrant Founding Father’s presence on our currency.
And Robert Tracinski outlines four reasons why Hamilton deserves a place on U.S. currency:
Alexander Hamilton was a classic American immigrant success story. Born in the West Indies, he was orphaned at about 11 years of age. As a teenager, he distinguished himself as a clerk for local exporters until friends raised money to send him to be educated in New York, where he quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of American independence.

Within months of the British withdrawal from America, Hamilton became the founder of the Bank of New York, which today is America’s oldest bank, and he became the central figure in the new nation’s financial center.
One of Hamilton's major causes after the Revolution was strengthening the union in part because he believed that a strong union was necessary to ward off foreign threats and to keep from internal chaos.  He worked to create a vibrant economy and a strong military in the belief that a vigorous nation would be one more likely to defend its liberty.  As the nation continues to struggle with economic stagnation and foreign-affairs debacles, that's an example the Obama administration would do well to learn from.


Mark Krikorian reflects on the political implications of visual choices for monetary design.

Jay Cost cries, "Leave Hamilton Alone":
Though he died at the young age of 49, he did more than even the best among us could do in three lifetimes. He was George Washington’s indispensable man during the Revolutionary War. He was a key behind-the-scenes player in the movement for a Constitutional Convention. He defended the new Constitution with remarkable erudition and sophistication in theFederalist papers, of which he was the most prolific author. During his brief tenure at Treasury, he not only righted the nation’s teetering public finances, he also formulated policies that became the backbone of our political economy for the next century. He even saved the country from an economic panic in 1792 by initiating a prototype of what the Federal Reserve calls open market operations.
Above all, he was the first statesman to grasp the full potential of the new nation. Somehow, he could see beyond these thirteen fractious, misbehaved states of 1788 to a future where America dominated the world. As he wrote at the conclusion of Federalist 11: “Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!”

Stephen L. Carter praises Hamilton's opposition to slavery:
Perhaps most important is the matter of his abolitionism, shaped by the horrors he witnessed in his Caribbean boyhood. Hamilton was a co-founder of one of the first non-Quaker anti-slavery societies. Ron Chernow, in the excellent biography that has inspired a Broadway musical, writes: “Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently or toiled harder to eradicate it than Hamilton.” Adds his admiring biographer Forrest McDonald: “In one crucial respect ... his attitude never changed: he always championed liberty and abhorred slavery.”

Alexandra Petri notes (well, exclaims) Hamilton's virtues:
Hamilton is a hero. Hamilton built this country with his bare hands, strong nose, and winning smile. He was the illegitimate son of a British officer who immigrated from the West Indies, buoyed by sheer force of intellect, and rose to shape our entire nation. His rags-to-riches story was so compelling that if he hadn’t existed, Horatio Alger would have had to make him up. Hamilton gave us federalism and central banking and the Coast Guard! He served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. He fought in the Revolutionary War. He started a newspaper. He weathered a sex scandal! He saved us from President Aaron Burr. He successfully imagined our country as the federal, industrial democracy we have today and served as an invaluable counterweight to Thomas Jefferson’s utopian visions of a yeoman farmers’ paradise. He founded the Bank of New York! He was so good at what he did that the Coast Guard was still using a communications guidebook he had written — in 1962! He was a redhead! He should be on more currency, not less. He should be on all the currency!
Hot Air digs into the Obama administration's possible psychology behind this change.

Chris Matthews contrasts Hamilton's and Jackson's economic philosophies--and finds in favor of Hamilton.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Excommunication, Really?

On Twitter and elsewhere in the conservosphere, you sometimes see righties arguing or implying that, of course, there are no serious conservative reasons to oppose Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  For the record, I do not have in mind here measured conservative defenses of TPA/TPP (for instance, this piece by Matt Lewis or these remarks by the editors at National Review*).  There are valid arguments on behalf of TPA/TPP, and conservatives should not be afraid to make them.

However, there are also valid arguments against TPA and TPP from a conservative perspective--and these arguments go well beyond how much we can trust Barack Obama.  So I think it premature for some on the right to try to excommunicate TPA/TPP dissenters from serious conservatism.

First of all, it is unclear whether unequivocal "free trade" is a sine qua non of conservatism.  If conservatives want to say that, they will have to cast figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan out of the conservative narrative.  Lincoln and Coolidge, after all, were major proponents of tariffs, and, while Reagan talked about opening up trade, he also took steps that many conservatives today would decry as "protectionist" (and even decried then as "protectionist").  As Alan Tonelson relates, Reagan did things like impose quotas on imported cars from Japan.  That's hardly free trade.

Secondly (and perhaps more pressingly), it is far from clear that TPP will actually promote free trade.  As I've suggested before, much of what goes by "free trade" in contemporary political discussions isn't actually free trade but instead the creation of internationally administered systems of managed trade.  Now, perhaps those internationally administered systems of managed trade are helpful and worth advancing, but they are certainly not free trade.

Moreover, these administrative systems set up international bodies that can have influence over U.S. domestic policy.  For instance, the U.S. House voted this week to no longer require meat producers to disclose the country of origin for meat.  One major motivation for this was the threat of retaliatory tariffs enabled by the World Trade Organization.  As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Wednesday’s 300-131 vote repealing the country-of-origin labels for meat follows a series of rulings by the World Trade Organization finding the labeling discriminates against animals imported from Canada and Mexico.
Canada and Mexico won a final WTO ruling in May, and are now seeking retaliatory actions valued at a combined $3.7 billion a year. Canada has threatened trade restrictions on a range of U.S. products, including meat, wine, chocolate, jewelry and furniture.
Maybe this repeal of country-of-origins labels is a good thing; maybe it isn't.  But the fact remains that an international body (one not elected by or accountable to the U.S. voter) helped usher along this change in domestic policy.  The establishment of international bodies by so-called "free trade" agreements could very legitimately concern small-government conservatives.  These bodies might at times undermine the principles of the market and of national, republican governance.

Again, there are plausible arguments on behalf of TPP and TPA--but it would be a mistake to write off all conservative critics of these measures as charlatans and cranks.  I respect many of the proponents and many of the opponents of these measures, and it's better to have a respectful conversation.

(*Disclosure: I contribute to National Review.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gaming out the TPA Vote

At the moment, it still seems as though House leadership is struggling to find the votes to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  TPA would give President Obama the ability to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress, which could not filibuster or amend these agreements.  Passing TPA would likely be the first step for the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Currently, most House Democrats are opposed to TPA, so the Obama administration is relying on the support of House Republicans, especially leadership, to pass TPA.  Speaker Boehner's leadership team is working hard to minimize the number of Republican defections on TPA.  According to Politico, the Speaker's team hopes that around 190 of the 244 House Republicans will back TPA; the support of 30 or so Democrats would then allow TPA to pass.

At the moment, this certainly seems like an achievable goal.  According to a helpful whip list compiled by The Hill, only about 30 Republicans are currently leaning against or outright opposed to TPA.  110 Republicans are in favor of TPA or leaning that way, while another 100 or so are undecided (or at least haven't announced their intentions).  Meanwhile, 20 Democrats seem to be leaning in favor of TPA.  If 20 Democrats have already come out in favor of TPA, 30 is a very doable number for the Speaker and the White House.  No doubt, there are numerous Democrats waiting in the wings who would prefer to vote against TPA but will vote in favor of it if the president needs their vote.  So some of the Democrats who are publicly undecided or only leaning against TPA will certainly switch to back it if the vote goes down to the wire.

I would guess, then, that opponents of TPA would need about 60 Republicans (possibly more) in order to stop the bill.  The fact that the House has not yet held a vote on TPA suggests that that number is not totally impossible, but it could be a hard slog to get there.

Right now, the House Republican opposition to TPA includes an interesting assortment of insurgent conservatives and establishment-friendly voices.  For instance, Dave Brat (Va.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Ted Yoho (Fla.), and Don Young (Alaska) are all part of the anti-TPA coalition.  House Republicans face major pressure from donors and those in the conservative movement who have an ideological commitment to "free trade," so there is considerable incentive for Republicans to back TPA.  Meanwhile, opponents of TPA have emphasized the dangers of presidential overreach and cast doubt on whether TPA/TPP actually advance market principles.  This conflict explains why many House GOPers are keeping their options open.

According to a Politico story, a couple dozen House conservatives are negotiating with leadership.  This faction, led by Ohio's Jim Jordan, are thinking about supporting TPA if leadership agrees to certain conditions: "that the charter for the federal Export-Import Bank...not be given a reauthorization vote; that rank-and-file lawmakers be given more power to reject future trade deals; and that aid for workers displaced by free trade be separated from the trade legislation."  The support of this faction would help leadership get to 190 votes, but apparently leadership is concerned that this deal could endanger the bill as a whole.  As this single set of negotiations suggests, there are a lot of moving pieces here.

Below, I offer a haphazard (i.e., far from complete) list of House Republicans whose actions may bear watching in the coming days:

Raul Labrador (Utah): Labrador is an up-and-comer with many allies in the Tea Party.  At the moment, he seems to be leaning against TPA.  If Labrador takes a stand against TPA, he could help rally support among conservatives.  But, if he moves to back it, that could be a sign that opponents of TPA are on a sinking ship.

Jim Jordan (Ohio): As the leader of a major conservative faction, Jordan plays a pivotal role here.  He's currently leaning no, but, if he can strike the aforementioned deal with leadership, he could end up backing TPA.  His faction's support for TPA would likely be the death knell of opposition to the measure.

Trent Franks (Ariz.):  Franks is known as a conservative, and he's expressed his doubts about TPA in the past.  Currently undecided, he could be a good indicator of where House conservatives are leaning on the bill.

Kay Granger (Tex.): A respected voice among House Republicans, Grander is currently undecided.  She's backed TPA before, but now she's expressing concerns about presidential overreach.  If she does end up opposing TPA, that would be a major win for the bill's opponents.

Trey Gowdy (S.C.):  Gowdy's been a loud critic of the abuse of presidential powers during the Obama administration, but he also has many allies in leadership.  Currently, he's undecided on TPA.  Obviously, both sides would like his support.

Bruce Poliquin (Maine):  The rest of the Maine delegation in both the House and the Senate opposes TPA, and Poliquin likely faces a tough re-election race in 2016 (he first won his seat in 2014 by 6 points).  He's currently undecided.  Probably, the politically safe vote for him is against TPA.  If he votes in favor of it, it might be because leadership really needs his vote.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thinking about Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

If Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, a huge trade compact) pass, they will do so because of overwhelming Republican support in Congress.  Only 14 Democrats supported TPA in the Senate, and few House Democrats seem inclined to back TPP, so the ball is in Republicans' court here.  As House leaders scramble for votes to give the president Trade Promotion Authority in hopes of formulating some Trans-Pacific Partnership, here are four interlocking questions that Republicans and conservatives should keep in mind:
  • Are TPA and the TPP good for the nation?
  • Are TPA and the TPP in accord with conservative principles?
  • Will TPA further disrupt the already unsettled Constitutional balance of powers between the president and the Congress?
  • Are TPA and the TPP good for the Republican Party?
I will leave to the side for the moment the question of the economic benefits of the TPP.  In part, these benefits can't be ascertained because we don't know the details of the TPP.  But I will mention in passing that numerous trade agreements over the past few decades have fallen well short of the promises of many of their proponents.  For instance, the 2010 trade agreement with South Korea has led, according to the Economic Policy Institute, to an increased trade deficit with South Korea and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs--all for a 1.8% growth in exports over the first three years (the trade deficit almost doubled during that time period).

Likewise, without knowing the details of the TPP, we can't say whether the TPP is in accord with conservative principles.  However, it is also worth noting that, on the whole, much of what has been called "free trade" in recent decades has actually undermined the principles of the market, as I've suggested before.  The media has interestingly shifted from describing supporters of the TPP as "free traders" to "pro-trade," which is probably a more accurate description--because the Trans-Pacific Partnership is likely to be an international agreement about managed (not free) trade.  Perhaps that managed trade will be in the national interest (and perhaps not), but we shouldn't call it "free trade."

Regarding presidential power: Trade Promotion Authority does give considerable authority to the president.  Under TPA, a trade agreement submitted to Congress can't be amended or filibustered, which substantially limits congressional influence.  It's true that rules like TPA have been in effect in the past.  As the Congressional Research Service noted in its very helpful write-up of TPA, presidents since FDR have used increased authority to negotiate trade deals.

The current administration, though, has tried to push presidential authority to extreme lengths.  The Obama administration has attempted to rewrite laws using regulatory agencies and claimed its right to nullify laws at policy whim.  The mammoth TPP could contain passages that a president--including Barack Obama's successors--could use to further aggrandize his or her power.  Moreover, the language of the TPP could have loopholes that could allow the executive to take even more direct control of domestic policy.

A close attention to legislative language will be crucial in trying to keep an executive in check.  Congressional allies of the TPP have advocated for TPA, but many of these TPA/TPP allies have apparently not even read the evolving draft of the TPP.  A lack of trust surrounds negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not been helped by the secrecy of the Obama administration.  Moreover, while many congressional Republicans have proclaimed how little they trust the administration, many of these same Republicans are now working to pass TPA, which would give the president increased authority and realize one of his key second-term ambitions.

This brings us to the question of whether TPA and the TPP would be good for the GOP.  Obviously, partisan concerns pale before the national interest and ethical/philosophical obligations, but electoral consequences are at least worth thinking about.  The fact that the president is of the opposing party is not a sufficient reason for Republicans to block a major administrative objective; a policy measure that is good for the country and in accord with sound principles would be worth supporting no matter the party of the president.  But, if a piece of legislation is more mixed, Republicans should be far less enthusiastic about it.

In the wake of the failure of 2012, many Republicans thought that the party should do more to reach out to the middle and working classes.  A trade agenda that further undermines the working class would run afoul of this aim.  Moreover, it seems fairly likely that the hollowing out of the nation's industrial workforce over the past few decades has been electorally problematic for the GOP.  The growth of economic uncertainty in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio has made these states much harder for Republicans to win at the presidential level.  Policy measures that would further damage the economic interests of American workers could put Republicans farther away from a sustainable governing majority.

Polling on the TPP and TPA is surprisingly sparse, but these polls suggest that many voters--especially in the Rustbelt (which the GOP could stand to do much better in)--have serious doubts about the current trade regime.  Polling suggests that many voters are skeptical about giving more trade authority to the president.  A PPP poll finds that voters in Ohio are rather hostile to the TPP (nearly two-thirds oppose it).  Many in the grassroots left oppose TPP/TPA, but opponents of these measures on the insurgent right include Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, many Breitbart writers, and the Conservative Review team.

Ultimately, I think that there are legitimate reasons both to oppose and to support TPP/TPA (Ramesh Ponnuru has been one of the more persuasive conservative supporters).  As Republican House members consider whether or not to support TPA, they should not be afraid to ask tough questions.  Nor should they buy the idea that skepticism about the TPP or TPA is the product of economic ignorance or intellectual weakness.  Legislative due diligence often demands a tough-minded resistance to inherited dogma.

In the Popeye universe, the character Wimpy would famously promise, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."  In many respects, Trade Promotion Authority offers a similar deal: allies of TPA want us to give the president increased executive power today in exchange for potential economic growth tomorrow.  That growth may or may not come, but the expansion of presidential power is guaranteed.  Perhaps that's a deal worth making, but we should be honest about the uncertainties of that trade.