Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Comey Questions

This New York Times story raises a host of questions.

The first, and likely most important, is did President Trump ask James Comey to stop the Flynn investigation?  If he did and if he fired Comey because Comey would not stop that investigation (two huge--absolutely HUGE--ifs), this situation rises above a political spat to being a Constitutional issue.  Of course, these are only ifs right now--not established facts.

But there are other questions, too.

If the president's request occurred and constitutes obstruction of justice (again, if), why did Director Comey not resign and announce this request when it was made?  Speaking purely hypothetically, if the president committed an impeachable offense, a government official would have an obligation to do all he could to ensure that this offense was known so that Congress could proceed with impeachment.

Have other government officials, including in the Obama administration, committed acts of obstruction of justice that Director Comey knows about but did not act on or announce to the world?  What else could be revealed by reading Comey's private memos?

What is the journalistic justification for the New York Times publishing a story about a non-classified report that it has not seen?  According to the story, sources only read portions of the memo over the phone.  If mainstream newspapers want to distinguish themselves from tabloids, they will need to think hard about sourcing policies.

As many have suggested, the first step to answering some of these questions is for Congress to subpoena the Comey memos.  That will help us distinguish facts from innuendo from lies.  In a time when institutional trust is under assault, the rigorous attention to facts grows even more important.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Groping Toward Fusion

The  current draft of the omnibus spending bill to keep the government open includes a provision that would expand the number of H-2B visas; these guest-worker visas target jobs that do not require a college degree.

For the project of making the GOP a party of broad-based opportunity, expanding guest-worker visas seems like a counterproductive effort.  Guest-worker programs make a mockery of the market and of civic belonging.  In an age of stagnating wages for many working-class Americans, increasing the number of guest workers is a confusing strategy.  Moreover, guest-worker expansion risks splitting the GOP by further aggravating populists, who already have complaints about other elements of the omnibus.

Unlike other elements of the omnibus bill, however, Democrats were not going to shut down the government to expand the H-2B program.  In fact, the top Republican and top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee (Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, respectively) both slammed the inclusion of the H-2B expansion in the omnibus.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Imperfect Comparisons

Looking at (some of the very real) disruption in the retail sector has cause some in punditia to try to draw parallels between the evolution of the retail sector and changes in manufacturing over the past thirty years.  This New York Times story on the decline of malls exemplifies that trend.  This trend has caused some on the left to wonder whether identity politics explains why so much press attention has been given to manufacturing while the supposed decline of retail has been more ignored.  However, there might be a more quotidian reason why retail employment has gotten less attention than manufacturing: retail employment has grown over the past 15 years while manufacturing has shrunk. 

The New York Times piece on the decline of retail referenced the job losses in the "general merchandise" subsector.  However, looking at specific subsectors obscures the fact that retail jobs have been overall growing.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people work in retail jobs than ever before in American history.  Nearly 14.5 million worked in retail in 2010, but almost 16 million work in retail now. About 400,000 more Americans work in retail now than worked in it in 2008, the last peak of employment in that sector.   Department stores might be declining, but employment in "health and personal care" stores is booming, as is employment at "nonstore retailers," which have added over 100,000 jobs since 2010.  While there has been a slight correction in retail employment after the holiday season (not exactly unusual), there is little evidence of a sustained decline in retail employment.  The retail market may be restructuring, and that restructuring may lead to dislocations and economic difficulties (things policy-makers should take seriously).  The phenomenon of zombie malls could exact social costs as well as provide opportunities for innovation.  And it is certainly possible that, in the future, ecommerce will destroy the retail sector.  (I'm not making any projections about the future here.)  But over the past fifteen years, retail employment has done relatively well in terms of job numbers.

Manufacturing tells a very different story.  There are over 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs now than there were in 2000.  While manufacturing employment has grown somewhat since the Great Recession, there are close to 2 million fewer manufacturing jobs than in 2007.  Inflation-adjusted manufacturing production in 2016 was only a little above the production level of 2008.

Whether one believes that decline in manufacturing employment to be a positive or negative development, it seems clear that there has been a decline--unlike in the retail sector.  If manufacturers had added jobs over the past 15 years, I doubt that the loss of manufacturing jobs would be getting that many headlines.  Retail may indeed be headed for difficulties in the years to come, and changes in the field could cause some dislocations.  But, over the past 15 years, the employment patterns of manufacturing and retail have diverged.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Changing Contours of Young Adulthood

A recent report from the U.S. Census about changes in living patterns among young adults from 1975 to 2016 has some interesting findings.  It reports the delayed forming of families.  In 1975, 57 percent of adults 18 to 34 were living with a spouse; that number dropped to 27 percent in 2016.  Meanwhile, the percentage living with their parents climbed from 26 percent to 31 percent.

Part of this change might be because of increased college attendance and changes in sexual mores, but part of it might also be because of increased economic pressures.  In 1975, only 25 percent of men between 25 and 34 were making under $30,000 a year (in 2015 dollars); by 2016, 41 percent of men were making less than that.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Populist Triangulation

At NRO today, I outline one possible way forward for the Trump White House: populist triangulation.  This strategy would target areas where the interests of populists and conservatives (including perhaps some Democrats) overlap.  An infrastructure program, reforms of guest-worker policies, and changes to the health-care marketplace could all be opportunities for this mode of triangulation.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Dog That Didn't Bark--Or Did It?

In a special election in Kansas's Fourth Congressional District, Republican Ron Estes won by about 8 points the seat formerly held by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.  This is a solidly Republican seat, so a GOP victory would be expected.  Pompeo won it by about 30 points in 2016, and Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in that district.  Is this relatively narrow 8-point victory margin a warning siren for the GOP nationally?  Maybe--but only maybe.

Overinterpreting special-election results is a bit of a DC parlor game, and we should be wary about reading too much into them.  Estes still won handily, and his Democratic opponent, James Thompson was a Republican until 2016.  Congressional elections are in part shaped by candidate quality and local circumstances, and Kansas's Republican governor Sam Brownback struggles with a low approval rating.  Moreover, a special election tends to be dominated by more motivated voters, and, with Democrats locked out of power in Congress, they certainly are more motivated.  So a slightly narrower GOP victory margin might be expected.

That said, certain national factors do suggest that the GOP could be facing some electoral headwinds going into the 2018 midterms.  The party of the incumbent president usually loses seats during midterm elections.  The approval rating of the congressional GOP could be higher, as could President Trump's rating.

None of those broader forces mean that Republicans will necessarily lose Congress next year.  But they do suggest the risks of policy deadlock on Capitol Hill.  Republicans would be wise to think of areas where they can pass popular reforms that live up to the campaign promises of the president and the Republican party overall.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nuclear Detonation

Well, the nuclear option was invoked on Supreme Court nominees.  I'll get around to writing about something other than the filibuster shortly (really, there are other things to talk about?).  But a round-up of some filibuster-related links for now:

Fred Barnes on how Chuck Schumer tried to cut a deal to confirm Gorsuch and keep the filibuster.

61 Senators sign a letter to defend legislative filibuster.

Ed Whelan notes that we should not overstate the number of Republican filibusters of Obama nominees.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dr. Strangelove Cometh

Today, Democrats made clear that they had over 40 votes in order to sustain a filibuster of Gorsuch.

I'll have a piece coming out shortly that looks at how Republicans could try to avoid going nuclear over Gorsuch while still confirming him.  I'll post the link when it's live.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

More Gorsuch (Oh no!)

I hope you'll forgive my continued attention to the vote totals for Gorsuch.  But this vote-wrangling could set up a major confrontation in the Senate soon.

Two interesting announcements over the past few days:

The first is that Missouri's Claire McCaskill has announced that she will filibuster Gorsuch.  This is a significant change for the Missouri Democrat, who styled herself as a moderate when she first ran for the Senate and said in 2006 that she would not support a filibuster of Samuel Alito and would even vote to confirm John Roberts.  Now, Senator McCaskill will filibuster a nominee who doesn't seem any more out of the mainstream than Alito or Roberts.

What's interesting about this decision is that Senator McCaskill acknowledged earlier in March how counterproductive a Gorsuch filibuster would be.  In a leaked recording of her meeting with some major Democratic donors, Senator McCaskill made the following comments:
“The Gorsuch situation is really hard. There are going to be people in this room that are going to say, ‘No, no, no. You cannot vote for Gorsuch,’ ” McCaskill said in the recording. “Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that we turn down Gorsuch, that there are not eight Democrats that vote to confirm him and therefore there’s not enough to put him on the Supreme Court. What then?”

She pointed to the list of potential nominees that Trump released before the election to galvanize conservative support. “By the way, Gorsuch was one of the better ones,” McCaskill quipped.

“So they pick another one off the list and then they bring it over to the Senate and we say no, no, no, this one’s worse. And there’s not enough votes to confirm him. They’re not going to let us do that too long before they move it to 51 votes,” she said.
So why is McCaskill supporting a filibuster when she foresees these consequences?  (More on that in a second...)

The second announcement is that Joe Donnelly of Indiana will vote for Gorsuch.

This means that 3 Democrats--Donnelly, Manchin, and Heitkamp--have announced their support for Gorsuch.  One senator from a heavily Trump state remains publicly undecided (Montana's Jon Tester).  According to Decision Desk HQ's count, other unannounced votes include Michael Bennet (Colo.), Chris Coons (Del.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Angus King (Maine), and Mark Warner (Va.). Some other folks report that Ben Cardin (Md.) and Dianne Feinstein as up in the air about filibustering Gorsuch.

So is a nuclear stand-off guaranteed?  Maybe--but only maybe.  Gorsuch needs 8 Democrats to agree to cloture, and he already has 3.  There are at least 6 Democrats outstanding.  One is from a solid Republican state (Tester), one presents himself as a postpartisan independent (King), and one is from Gorsuch's home state (Bennet).  So all 3  2 of these could vote for cloture.

That would leave Gorsuch in need of 2 3 more.  Many of the remaining undecided votes on filibustering Gorsuch are broadly popular in safely Democratic states.  "Progressive" institutions like Pat Leahy could likely weather a primary challenge.  Senators Feinstein and Cardin are up for reelection in 2018, but some observers think that they may decide to retire from the Senate rather than run for reelection.  Thus, the handful of unannounced senators on the left side of the Democratic caucus could decide to vote for cloture in order to spare some colleagues (like McCaskill) the risk of a primary challenge while also preventing a nuclear stand-off over Gorsuch.  (One reason for the delay in votes could be negotiations among these Democratic senators to see who has to risk the wrath of "resistance" activists by voting for Gorsuch.)

Thus, there's a chance--a chance--that enough Democrats could vote for Gorsuch in order to avoid a nuclear stand-off and to preserve some leverage for the minority party during Supreme Court nominations.

UPDATE: Jon Tester just announced that he would vote against cloture on Gorsuch.  The "Doomsday Clock" for the nuclear option gets closer to midnight.  There's still a path to avoid a nuclear stand-off, but it gets narrower.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Tough Choices

In her latest Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan reflects on the challenges currently facing the Trump administration and lays out an interesting scenario:
2008 and the years just after (the crash and the weak recovery)...changed everything in America, and...the country [is] going to choose, in coming decades, one of two paths—a moderate populism or socialism—and...the former [is] vastly to be preferred, for reasons of the nation’s health. A gifted politician could make his party the leader toward that path, which includes being supportive and encouraging of business but willing to harness government to alleviate the distress of the abandoned working class and the anxious middle class; strong on defense but neither aggressive nor dreamy in world affairs; realistic and nonradical on social issues while unmistakably committed to protecting the freedoms of the greatest cohering force in America, its churches; and aware that our nation’s immigration reality was a scandal created by both parties, and must be redressed.
I'm not sure that "moderate populism" or socialism are the only two choices on the political menu in the years ahead.  But it does seem that, if you want to check the risk of a shift toward more radically socialistic policies, you have good reason to address some of the forces driving the populist insurgency.  Strained social networks, economic decline, identity politics, etc.--all these challenge the future of limited government in the United States.

Furthermore, due to the nature of the two-party system, there is a very real risk that the failure of a populist-conservative alliance will not lead to the return of Conservatism (TM), newly purified.  Instead, it could empower an aggressive and aggrieved "progressivism."

Many of the policy points that Noonan suggests for this "moderate populism" could indeed by part of a potentially successful governing vision.  We'll have to see if the GOP will try to implement it.

Manchin, Heitkamp Back Gorsuch

Democratic senators Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) have come out in support of Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court.  Both offered praise of the nominee.

As Senator Heitkamp said in a statement, Gorsuch "has a record as a balanced, meticulous, and well respected jurist who understands the rule of law."

Senator Manchin was even more effusive:
During his time on the bench Judge Gorsuch has received praise from his colleagues who have been appointed by both Democrats and Republicans. He has been consistently rated as a well-qualified jurist, the highest rating a jurist can receive, and I have found him to be an honest and thoughtful man. I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice.
Some Senate Democrats have argued that Gorsuch is wildly out of the mainstream or somehow suspect.  But their colleagues from West Virginia and North Dakota don't seem to agree.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More Gorsuch Vote-Grubbing

Today, a number of Democratic senators thought to be swing votes on a Gorsuch filibuster came out against him.  Jeanne Shaheen (N.H), Maggie Hassan (N.H), and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) all have announced their support for the latest talking point: a "60-vote threshold."  As Senator Shaheen's press release reads:
As Judge Gorsuch’s nomination comes to the floor, I will support a 60-vote threshold for approval, an appropriate high bar that has been met by seven of the eight current Supreme Court justices.
In fact, 6 of the current 8 Supreme Court justices were confirmed with fewer than 60 votes (Alito and Thomas), so 25 percent of the Supreme Court was approved with fewer than 60 votes.

In addition to being novel, the "60-vote threshold" is a bit ambiguous.  What does it even mean to support a 60-vote threshold?  Does it mean that one thinks a Supreme Court justice should ideally have 60 votes to be confirmed but that one won't do that much to stop the nomination of a justice who doesn't pass that threshold?  Or does it mean that one will not vote for cloture on this nomination and thereby keep that nominee from having an up-or-down vote?

I've reached out to the offices of Senators Shaheen, Hassan, and Klobuchar to ask them whether they will indeed vote against cloture and so far have not heard back from any of them.  This "60-vote threshold" could be mere messaging (in order to obscure the fact that these senators intend to block an up-or-down vote on Gorsuch), or it could be part of an effort to give themselves some maneuvering room.  (Incidentally, I wondered last night if Shaheen and Hassan would move as a pair on Gorsuch, and it seems as though they did.)

It seems as though there are still enough Democrats out there who have not announced their position on Gorsuch that he could still overcome a filibuster.  I draw your attention to this passage from Politico:
The five Democratic senators up for reelection next year in states where President Donald Trump won by single digits have all endorsed a filibuster of Gorsuch, while the five facing voters next year in states Trump won by double digits all remain undecided. Gorsuch would have to carry all five of those fence-sitters to overcome a Democratic filibuster — plus his home-state Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maine independent Sen. Angus King, and another more surprising senator.
Senators Tester, McCaskill, Heitkamp, and Donnelly have not ruled out supporting cloture.  Delware's Chris Coons seems pretty wary of a nuclear stand-off, and Pat Leahy still seems open to voting for cloture.

Thus, the success of a partisan filibuster against Gorsuch is not yet guaranteed--at least according to public accounts.  (My guess is that some Democrats might hold off on announcing whether or not they will vote for cloture on Gorsuch for a little while.)

Some parting thoughts via Jason Willick:
A successful filibuster of Gorsuch would set a different precedent altogether: Namely, that a President can’t fill a Supreme Court vacancy even with a thoroughly mainstream nominee unless his party controls a 60-seat Senate supermajority. In other words, that new justices can only be seated during truly anomalous periods of one-party dominance that sometimes don’t come around for decades. Needless to say, this scenario is impossible to sanction: the Court would wither and its credibility would crumble.

Unwanted Advice

Tilting at windmills is one of my favorite hobbies, so I just can't keep myself from commenting on Democratic plans to filibuster Neil Gorsuch.  Sustaining a filibuster against Gorsuch would, of course, be tactically futile and strategically counterproductive for Democrats.  While rallying the "progressive" base, it would ultimately not stop Gorsuch's ascension to the Supreme Court; many Republican senators seem to be making the (not unreasonable calculation) that, if Democrats will filibuster the Gorsuch nominee, they'll filibuster any Trump nominee who is not David Souter II.  Moreover, the detonation of the "nuclear option" against this filibuster would destroy the (slight but still perceptible) leverage the minority party in the Senate has over a Supreme Court nominee.  Proponents of stacking the Supreme Court with right-leaning ideologues would not doubt celebrate this futile effort by Democrats, but a sustained Gorsuch filibuster might worry those who think that the Senate should protect the voice of the minority and the prerogatives of individual senators.

It seems as though at least a few Senate Democrats are aware of the fact that indulging in the calls of the "resistance" to sustain a filibuster against Gorsuch would mean actually weakening the powers of Senate Democrats.  There are reasons why Pat Leahy, a staunch leftist, is hesitant about filibustering Gorsuch.  He knows the political costs and the damage this could do to the Senate's culture.  It would further politicize the nomination process and further polarize the chamber.  In this divided time, it would seem important to protect the institutions of compromise and moderation, and the filibuster might be one of those institutions.

But how could Democrats not goad the GOP into nuking the filibuster while also not suffering too much of a backlash from the "resistance"?

Allahpundit has suggested that Leahy's announcement could be part of an effort by Senate Democrats to thread that needle:
A filibuster now would be the purest strategic idiocy and Schumer knows it. Solution, then: Endorse the filibuster in his role as minority leader while nudging Leahy, a Senate institution and Judiciary Committee veteran who almost certainly can’t be defeated in Vermont, to lead the rebellion instead. Now, when Manchin and Bennet and McCaskill et al. need to justify their votes in favor of cloture, they can point to Leahy and say, “Sen. Leahy’s judgment carries such heavy weight with me, especially in terms of getting politics out of judicial nominations, that I feel obliged to join him in this vote.” Leahy then becomes the lightning rod. But so what? He’s immune from this sort of political lightning. He’ll be just fine, and so will all of the red-state Dems who vote for cloture along with him once the left realizes that they’re in no positional electorally to further weaken their chances in 2018 by primarying any of them over their Gorsuch votes.
One could extend this strategy: A coalition of far-left Democrats from safe seats and Democrats who are up for reelection in lean-Republican states could vote for cloture on Gorsuch. The first set could have enough "progressive" credentials to ward off a primary challenge, and the second could be protected by the demands of electability.

According to CNN, two Democrats have already said they will vote for cloture on Gorsuch: Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp (more or less).  That means 6 more will have to vote for cloture to break a Gorsuch filibuster.  Could those 6 votes be found?  Quite possibly.

If Democrats are worried about primary challenges, it would make the most sense to have senators reelected in 2016 vote for cloture on Gorsuch.  They have almost 6 years before they have to face voters.  Senator Leahy was reelected in 2016.  Michael Bennet, from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, was also reelected in 2016 and has also been noncommittal about whether he will filibuster Gorsuch.  New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan is new to the Senate.  But she has a solid Democratic infrastructure in the Granite State (which could help her with primary challenges), and New Hampshire is a swing state.  Senator Hassan's fellow New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen has sent mixed messages on a Gorsuch filibuster, stating that he kinda sorta deserves an "up-or-down vote."  Perhaps she and Hassan will vote as a block either for or against cloture.  Chris Coons, a solid lefty from Delaware, was reelected in 2014 and has warned about the risks of filibustering Gorsuch. Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar is rumored to be a swing vote on cloture; up for reelection in 2018, she represents a state (Minnesota) that Trump almost won in 2016.

That's 6 votes possible on the left right there.

There are also senators from swing states or lean-Republican states who have not yet expressed a position on cloture for Gorsuch: Angus King (I-Maine), Missouri's Claire McCaskill (who said she opposed the Alito filibuster), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), and Jon Tester (Mont.).

It seems possible that a center-left coalition could vote for cloture on Gorsuch with minimal risk of political backlash.  That outcome would probably be in the best interests of the Senate and of Democrats over the long term.

However, it's also possible that the Democratic caucus could hold hands and take the plunge on sustaining a filibuster against Gorsuch.  In an era when indulging the id has increasingly become a political priority, this outcome would not be at all surprising. But it still would be somewhat dismal.

Monday, March 27, 2017

RIP Linda Bridges

Linda Bridges died on Saturday night.  She was an institution at National Review.  Here are a couple paragraphs from her obituary that give a sketch of her relationship with NR:

While a junior in college, she dared write to National Review to point out and quibble with what she considered to be a grammatical error that had been used repeatedly in the magazine. Her letter intrigued none other than William F. Buckley himself, who responded to her letter, requesting that she send additional samples of her writing. She did, and was offered a position as a summer assistant. He so approved of her style, her extensive vocabulary and inveterate skill at word-smithing, and her content (Linda was a life-long conservative) that he quickly offered her a job at the magazine upon her graduation. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Linda moved to New York City immediately upon graduation from USC, and entered the employ of National Review as a contributing writer/journalist. Over the years, she rose through the ranks to Senior Editor, and finally to Editor-at-Large at the magazine. She also served as a personal editor for her mentor and father-figure, William F. Buckley, from 2004 until his death in 2008, organizing and preparing for publication his many writings and memoirs. Among the books she authored over the years were The Art of Persuasion: A National Review Rhetoric for Writers; Strictly Right: William F. Buckley and the American Conservative Movement; and Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations — A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus.
Read the rest to learn even more about the adventure that was her life.

I didn't know Linda very well, but I was lucky enough to have her edit some of my pieces for NRO over the years.  She edited my very first piece for NRO, and some of my favorites, including pieces on enlightened populism, the limitations of Herbert Marcuse, the importance of defending liberty and union, and how to create an opportunity-oriented immigration system.

With an almost Houdini-like ability to get the knots out of prose, Linda had a wonderful ear for language and an amazing empathy as an editor.  She treated your work respectfully, and part of that respect was trying to help you make your points as eloquently as possible.  Her love of words shone through in her work.  I was--and am--grateful for her own efforts to improve my work.

Because Linda was a writer as well as an editor, I thought I'd include a link here to the last piece she wrote for NRO, a substantive reflection on World War I, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Linda's faith was incredibly important to her, and I hope that she knows the comfort of the Lord who watches over us all.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

After the End

At National Review, I have some thoughts about the failure of the vote on the American Health Care Act:

The death of the American Health Care Act has been greatly exaggerated — not because it is likely to be revived (at least in its current form) but because it might never have really been alive in the first place.
Many of the provisions of the bill were unlikely to survive contact with the Senate, and there was a very strong chance that the bill that was released from a House–Senate conference would radically differ from the AHCA. Perhaps realizing the limits of the AHCA, some defenders of the AHCA supported the measure principally as a way of getting to conference. However, there is no reason to believe that the tensions that pulled down the AHCA on Friday would not similarly undo the resulting House–Senate conference bill. Some Republicans would still be upset that the conference bill was not a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and moderates (along with some populists) would be pulled into a tug-of-war with budget-cutters over the size of Medicaid cuts.
You can read the rest over there, but I'll make a few general points here.

This is not necessarily a CATACLYSMIC DEFEAT for President Trump or congressional Republicans.  The real political risks of the bill had it passed (such as cuts to health-care subsidies for the working class) in part explain why it failed to pass the House.  The defeat of the bill gives Republicans a chance to start health-care reform over again or to turn to other issues.

That said, the debate over the AHCA did highlight real divides within the Republican coalition.  Some of these divides (such as populists v. budget-cutters) will have to be at least partially overcome if Republicans hope to pass major pieces of legislation.  Two important words will be compromise and imagination.

If there is to be another Republican effort at health-care reform, policymakers might find it wise to prioritize reforms to help drive down the cost of health care through making the medical system more nimble and responsive to consumers.

Some other interesting responses to the fall of the AHCA: Reihan Salam says that we shouldn't blame the Freedom Caucus for the AHCA's failure.  Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recommends the following course of action for conservatives on health care:"Slash regulations. And then subsidize health care."   Tim Alberta narrates the fall of the AHCA.  Ben Domenech thinks that congressional leaders need to embrace transparency in the crafting of legislation.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Battle over the AHCA

In NRO, I look at the possibility of the American Health Care Act (which is supposed to be voted on Friday) exacerbating tensions between conservatives and populists:
While it achieves many longstanding priorities for Beltway Republicans, [the AHCA] contains some provisions that could alienate members of the working class, such as Medicaid cuts. It is telling that elements of the Right who have been very sympathetic to populist themes — such as Ann Coulter, many Breitbart writers, and Arkansas senator Tom Cotton — have been unsparing in their criticism of the AHCA. The bill itself is currently extremely unpopular, supported by only 17 percent of Americans according to the latest numbers from Quinnipiac.
It might be especially divisive for the Republican coalition. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was premised upon outreach to working-class voters, and an improved performance with this demographic was crucial for breaking the “blue wall” at the presidential level and for the GOP’s successful defense of its Senate majority.
You can read the rest over there.

Things are so fluid with the AHCA that I'll defer making any predictions.  Instead, a few random observations.

If the AHCA does pass tomorrow, President Trump's decision to say that he'll stop negotiating tonight (pass the current bill, or I'll move on) could make him look like he's someone who knows how to work his will on Congress.  So it could foster an image of him being a "strong leader."  Of course, the AHCA passing also means that House Republicans will have signed on to a less-than-popular bill, one with real potential to divide the GOP coalition.  It also means that President Trump will get either the credit or the blame for this bill.  It's also hard to see what happens in the Senate in taking up the AHCA; it's very possible that the things that made this bill pass the House will make it very hard for it to pass the Senate.

If the AHCA fails, the White House and Republicans may be free to move on to other policies, ones that might be more popular.  Michael Brendan Dougherty, for instance, has suggested that the GOP consider some of the policy areas that were at the center of the Trump campaign, such as infrastructure, trade, and immigration.  They might also be able to take on healthcare in a way that circumvents some of the tensions heightened by the AHCA (see my NRO post for more thoughts on that).  The failure of the AHCA might cause a few negative newscycles ("Republicans in disarray!!!1"), but it's unclear whether a defeat tomorrow will have a lasting effect on the GOP agenda.

The GOP runs grave political risks if it does not attempt to promote policies that deliver for the working class. It might be especially politically risky for President Trump to disappoint the core of his populist support.

Reforms to make healthcare cheaper and to expand the insurance market could be a way for the GOP to promote healthcare reform in a less politically risky way; this approach might also do a lot of good to improve access to medical care.

A good bill passed slowly is far better for a governing party than a bad bill passed quickly.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Some Assorted Links

An interesting treatment in The Chronicle of Higher Education of the Claremont Institute, Straussian thinking, and some intellectuals who support Donald Trump.  (It could be seen as a kind of companion piece to this NYT story on the new journal American Affairs.)

Henry Olsen worries that the current iteration of the American Health Care Act may disappoint the working-class voters who were crucial for the GOP victory in 2016.

Ross Douthat reflects on the worries of some who fear that Jane Austen has too many "alt-right" fans.  A particularly striking claim: efforts by the far left to "abolish canons and police certain forms of memory" may in part be motivated by a desire to suppress the diversity of cultural expression in the past.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Political Winning

In light of the current debate over health-care reform,  few points about "winning":  In the Beltway, there tends to be an assumption that a president "wins" when he gets Congress to pass the legislation he supports.  Than can be a victory, but that "win" can sow the seeds for a greater defeat later.

For instance, President Obama "won" by getting Congress to pass the ACA on a party-line vote.  It was a substantial legislative achievement, and components of it could very well have a long legacy.  But the ACA's passage also crippled the rest of the Obama administration's agenda and contributed to the evisceration of the Democratic party's bench.  Maybe that trade was worth it, but it exacted a high long-term political price, too.

The experience of the Obama administration might prompt the Trump White House to think about what its real policy priorities are and how it can advance those priorities without endangering a critical mass of public support.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Maintaining Judicial Norms

Judge Derrick Watson's ruling on the Trump travel ban has ignited commentary about the role of the judiciary vis-a-vis the presidency and existing constitutional norms.  At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic raise a potentially quite troubling permutation: the rise of the judiciary as a partisan political actor.  For this model of the judiciary, norms about institutions and constitutional principles would pale before the way judges feel about the holders of certain offices:
Imagine a world in which other actors have no expectation of civic virtue from the President and thus no concept of deference to him. Imagine a world in which the words of the President are not presumed to carry any weight. Imagine a world in which far more judicial review of presidential conduct is de novo, and in which the executive has to find highly coercive means of enforcing message discipline on its staff because it can’t depend on loyalty. That’s a very different presidency than the one we have come to expect.
It’s actually a presidency without the principle that we separate the man from the office. It’s a presidency in which we owe nothing to the office institutionally and make individual decisions about how to interact with it based on how much we trust, like, or hate its occupant.
A world where the judiciary interprets law based not on precedent and institutional principles but instead on its feelings about individuals would be one where judicial philosophy would become much less stable (if we could even call it a "philosophy" at all).  It would likely endanger public faith in the judiciary as a responsible institutional actor and could contribute to greater public distrust about important constitutional stakeholders.

Partisan politics can blind us to the consequences of our actions, but civic (and ethical) responsibility demands that we try to account for these consequences.  That responsibility weighs especially on those in the judicial branch.

(Over at the Corner, I think about the consequences of Judge Watson's ruling for future immigration legislation.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Leverage

Jim Geraghty raises an interesting point: The GOP is offering the AHCA as "Phase 1" in a three-phrase process.  The second "phase" is President Trump's rewriting of the Obama administration's ACA regulations, and the third would be more market-oriented (and perhaps more popular) legislative reforms, such as selling insurance over state lines.

Geraghty, though, wonders whether there will be enough bipartisan energy to pass "Phase 3":
Assume the American Health Care Act passes the House, at least 50 Republicans in the Senate vote for it and Trump signs it into law.
For "Phase Three," will eight Senate Democrats be eager to vote with Republicans to make further reforms? If you’re a Democrat, after AHCA passes, Republicans "own" the status quo on the health care system. You can blame AHCA for anything any constituent doesn’t like about their insurance, their premiums, their co-pays, their deductibles, or their quality of care. It may or may not be accurate, but let’s face it, accuracy has never mattered much in attack ads.
Perhaps naively, I believe that there could be a chance getting at least 60 Senate votes--including at least 8 Democrats--to support broadly popular reforms that would increase efficiency in the health-care market.

However, there is a possibility that this chance gets slimmer after the passage of "Phase 1."  Currently, Republicans can still blame the many shortcomings of the current health-care system on the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.  They can try to use these shortcomings as a way of putting pressure on Democrats in swing and lean-Republican states: We're trying to fix the broken system left to us by Obamacare, and you're just obstructing.

That dynamic changes, however, if a major piece of health-care legislation (like the AHCA) is passed on a party-line vote.  Then, it gets much harder to blame a "broken system" on the ACA alone.  Passing the AHCA gives vulnerable Senate Democrats an obvious retort: Nuh-uh, you guys broke the system with Trumpcare.

With this political cover, Democrats would have the temptation to obstruct any further changes to the health-care system leading up to the 2018 elections.  The obvious strategy would be to attack (fairly or not) the AHCA for denying care to the poor and vulnerable in order to give tax-cuts to corporations and "the 1%".  Democrats saw how well attacking a major piece of health-care reform passed on a party-line vote worked for Republicans in 2010; they might try to repeat that in 2018.

The recent political cycle has laid to waste many predictions, so any predictions about the future political dynamic should be made in a hypothetical rather than categorical mode.  Nevertheless, it seems as though Republicans could lose some leverage over Senate Democrats if they pass a party-line major health-care reform.  That leverage may be crucial if they hope to pass later reforms to health-care law this Congress; these reforms would require 60 votes in the Senate and so would need some Democratic support.

If Republicans want to enact major changes in health-care regulations (not just government financing), they might have more political leverage before passing a party-line bill than after passing such a bill.

(Two related points: Some folks have raised a possible counterargument to this narrative of leverage: Once the ACA is reformed through a party-line vote on the AHCA, Democrats will have less incentive to defend the ACA in its entirety and will be more willing to compromise on other areas.  At that point, it will no longer be about defending President Obama's "legacy" and more about pragmatically working to improve national health-care.  In a less politically polarized time, this counterargument would have more force, but it could still be plausible.

Also, if something like the AHCA did pass in its current form, one possible bargaining chip to get Democrats to support a later wave of reform would be to offer to increase Medicaid subsidies.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Health-Care Bind

One of the more interesting pieces published today was this one by Christopher Ruddy, the head of Newsmax and a friend of President Trump.  Ruddy argues that the president should reject the calls of Republicans who want to limit Medicaid and other subsidies in the American Health Care Act; instead, President Trump should call for an expanded Medicaid program (albeit one that has more power delegated to the states).  Ruddy worries about the political effects of trying to push entitlement reform in replacing the Affordable Care Act:
Today, I am amazed that House Republicans haven't given up on their political death wish.
Interestingly, Ryan Plan II accepts key parts of the Obamacare law that benefit the insurance industry. But it ends the Medicaid expansion program that benefits the poor and keeps costs down.
Instead, Ryan II forces poor individuals back into the private health insurance market with the help of tax credits. I wonder who that benefits?
According to the AARP, Ryan Plan II also cuts Medicare, a program Trump voters clearly want protected.
The CBO is estimating 14 million Americans will lose coverage compared to Obamacare.
This number may be inflated, but limiting Medicaid coverage for the poorest will most certainly leave millions without coverage.
The most significant problem is that Ryan Plan II doesn't fulfill Trump's own vision of universal healthcare while removing the onerous requirements of Obamacare.
When even the CEO of Newsmax calls for an expanded Medicaid program, it's clear that the political dynamic is quickly evolving.  Ruddy's sentiments echo those of others in the Trumposphere who fear that there could be a significant political price to be paid if the Republicans try to push through health-care reform that causes some Americans to feel as though they're losing access to health-care (the CBO numbers from yesterday surely have added fuel to that burning worry).

Whether or not an expanded Medicaid program is the right answer, it seems clear that the GOP is torn between those who fear that the AHCA does not cut subsidies enough (such as the Freedom Caucus) and those who fear that the already existing reduction of subsidies in the AHCA could ignite a political backlash among working-class voters.  It remains unclear whether the GOP can thread the needle and appease enough of both sets of Republicans in order to get 218 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate.

The battle over health-care subsidies divides the GOP and risks alienating the blue-collar voters who are a central component of Trump's coalition.  One way around these risks is to defer fighting this battle and instead focus more immediately on market-oriented reforms to the health-care market itself.  Expanding and diversifying health-care markets, reforming licensing laws, pushing for more transparency in medical pricing, and other efforts are far less divisive for GOP voters and could also win some support from Democrats and independents.  As David Frum has noted, the American health-care system stands in need of more market efficiency, and Republicans could be well positioned to champion that cause of efficiency in a way that will ease government budgets and the concerns of health-care consumers (i.e., voters).

If policymakers can lower health-care costs or at least reduce the rate of growth for health-care costs, more room opens up for negotiations over government mechanisms to pay for health-care.  A more market-oriented health-care system might facilitate more market-oriented ways of financing this system.

Of course, these market-oriented reforms can't for the most part be passed via reconciliation.  As a result, right now some in Republican leadership are fighting on the ground of health-care reform where the party might be most vulnerable and leaving more favorable territory for a later day.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Debating Marcuse

In National Review Online over the weekend, I discussed the unrest at Middlebury in the context of Herbert Marcuse's theory of "discriminating tolerance."  A prominent member of the Frankfurt School, Marcuse offered a flawed model of tolerance that, I fear, fosters a breakdown of public debate.

Marcuse must have been in the air last week, because Stephen L. Carter also had an interesting critique of Marcuse over at Bloomberg View.

(And if you're in the mood for more on Marcuse, you might check out George Kateb's extended comments on him from a 1970 issue of Commentary.)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hidden Costs

Christopher Caldwell's survey of the opioid epidemic, featured in the latest issue of First Things, has understandably been getting a lot of attention.  Caldwell explores the personal and social costs of opioid epidemic rocking many communities in the United States.  The death-rate from opioids currently far exceeds the death-rate from the headline drugs of other crises:
A heroin scourge in America’s housing projects coincided with a wave of heroin-addicted soldiers brought back from Vietnam, with a cost peaking between 1973 and 1975 at 1.5 overdose deaths per 100,000. The Nixon White House panicked. Curtis Mayfield wrote his soul ballad “Freddie’s Dead.” The crack epidemic of the mid- to late 1980s was worse, with a death rate reaching almost two per 100,000. George H. W. Bush declared war on drugs. The present opioid epidemic is killing 10.3 people per 100,000, and that is without the fentanyl-impacted statistics from 2016. In some states it is far worse: over thirty per 100,000 in New Hampshire and over forty in West Virginia.
As Caldwell notes elsewhere in his story, four times as many Americans died from overdoses in 2015 as died from gun homicides that year.

Federal data shows how quickly deaths from heroin and opioids more generally have skyrocketed over the past decade.  Heroin deaths across the nation jumped from around 2,000 in 2006 to about 12,000 by 2015.  The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has over doubled since 2004.  The number of overall drug overdose deaths has over doubled since 2002.

The causes of this increased rate of opioid abuse are complex.  Caldwell suggests that the normalization of increasingly powerful opioids by the medical community played a role, as did an influx of cheap heroin.  The story also frames the opioid crisis in the context of broader socioeconomic forces that have battered many communities.

Of course, we cannot measure the current opioid epidemic only in terms of lives lost.  Drug addiction can be lethal, but its costs can also be measured in other ways--in broken families, frayed communities, daily struggles, grappling with despair, and the haunting of personal disappointment.  All these things suggest that drug abuse remains a serious civil issue.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

AHCA Tensions

At National Review, I reflect on some of the political tensions facing the GOP in terms of reforming health-care.

Ross Douthat also considers some of those challenges in the NYT today.  He argues that fractures in the Republican party have put it in a place of policy confusion.  Leadership and imagination can remedy some of that confusion, but they will have to be demonstrated.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from investigations into foreign involvement in the 2016 election.

Over at National Review, I note that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have had contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Smiling Populism

In tonight's address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump hit many of his familiar populist themes on immigration, trade, infrastructure, and other topics.  However, he presented them in a more conciliatory tone.  While speaking frankly about some of the very real challenges facing the United States, he emphasized the importance of Americans coming together to address those challenges.

For all the moderation of tone, this speech was big in policy ambition.  On immigration, he called for a shift to a more skills-based immigration system (a major change from the current dynastic immigration system).  On trade, he proposes upending the orthodoxy that has ruled in the Beltway for the past quarter of a century (if not longer).  A big-budget infrastructure program could have huge fiscal and economic implications.

If he is successful in this agenda, there could be a realignment of American politics.  But, in part because it could be so transformative, the agenda faces many obstacles in Congress.  Tonight's address aimed beyond the president's base and sent the message to members of Congress that the president could articulate a positive, unifying vision.  Both of those moves may be a sign from the Trump White House that it acknowledges how tough the road ahead could be--and that it is willing to use a variety of tactics to confront those difficulties.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Conservatism and the Nation

Rich Lowry’s and Ramesh Ponnuru’s defense of nationalism has many thoughtful points and offers a helpful corrective to certain myths about nationalism. While Lowry and Ponnuru do sketch some of the connections between nationalism and conservatism, I think it’s worth developing a few more points about the alliance between conservatism and the idea of a nation-state.

Support for the nation-state would seem a natural extension of the conservative belief in nurturing the bonds of society. At least in the West, postnationalism has fostered two seemingly contradictory impulses: radical atomism, in which the individual is free to pursue his interests (commercial and otherwise) with little to no concern for others, and radical tribalism, in which the individual’s independent self is dissolved in the mass of an identity group (such as race, gender, or sexual identity).

Neither of these impulses seems congenial for conservatism. From a conservative perspective, they offer bastardized versions of individualism and social belonging. Radical atomization misses the fact that social commitments, rather than limiting the self, often enrich it. Identity-group tribalism, meanwhile, lacks the richness of a more multifaceted social belonging. National fellowship may not be the only way of avoiding these two traps, but it is a compelling one. It affords a way of organizing our immediate social commitments into a broader narrative. Because the nation-state makes no pretensions to universality (it is explicitly not global), it recognizes the diversity of human circumstances. The existence of diverse nation-states can serve as a way of reconciling the belief in certain universal moral principles with a recognition of the limits of human knowledge and action.

In addition to this conservative tradition, the Republican party has since its founding been the party of the nation. As Lowry and Ponnuru note, post-World War II Republicans often championed the defense of American sovereignty, and, more broadly, appeals to national sovereignty serve as a thread connecting Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. In fact, one of the strongest connections of Donald Trump to the broader Republican tradition is his unapologetic celebration of American sovereignty. (As the examples of Roosevelt and Reagan demonstrate, though, the defense of sovereignty need not mean radical isolationism. Especially as international commitments may serve U.S. interests, an involvement in international affairs can be an ally to the defense of American interests.)

Moreover, intense anti-nationalism (by which I mean an overwhelming hostility to the idea of the nation-state) seems, in many respects, a dead-end for conservatism as a political force. Conservatives who prioritize a hawkish or assertive foreign policy should recognize the fact that such a foreign policy demands a sense of national cohesion; efforts to dilute the meaning of citizenship will also deplete the ranks of citizen-soldiers and the public appetite for projecting power abroad. Politicians running under the banner of “economic efficiency” will have far less success at the ballot box than will those who specifically advance the claim that their economic policies are good for the nation’s electorate. On many issues (especially free speech), the United States has an expansive view of civil liberties, and efforts to weaken national sovereignty will likely put our enjoyment of those liberties at risk. A conservatism that attempts to eschew national affections will likely fail in the enterprise of winning votes and advancing its policy aims.

Like any passion, national affection can at times be unbalanced or used for unworthy ends. Ethical reasoning and administrative prudence are crucial for conducting politics. Nevertheless, affection for one’s country plays a role, too, and conservatism has long recognized the importance of affections, national and otherwise.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Varieties of Conservative Experience

Matthew Continetti has a revealing piece on the many challenges facing the Trump administration.  One of them is an entrenched bureaucratic class intent on using the tools of the bureaucracy to sabotage and undermine the democratically elected head of the executive branch.  Continetti has some worthwhile thoughts about the political dynamics of this collision.

However, there's one point from his piece that warrants some elaboration (emphasis added):
At issue is the philosophy of nation-state populism that drove his insurgent campaign. It is so at variance with the ideologies of conservatism and liberalism predominant in the capital that Washington is experiencing something like an allergic reaction. Nation-state populism diverges from Beltway conservatism on trade, immigration, entitlements, and infrastructure, and from liberalism on sovereignty, nationalism, identity politics, and political correctness.
 Continetti doesn't explicitly say this, but I think it's worth mentioning that "Beltway conservatism" is not, of course, the only kind of conservatism.  If "Beltway conservatism" means a kind of neo-Kempism, then there certainly would be conflicts between "nation-state populism" and "Beltway conservatism."  The Kempist vision supports expansive trade deals, an increase in immigration flows (and a skepticism about rigorous immigration enforcement), entitlement "reform" (that usually means reducing and/or privatizing federal entitlements), and nurtures a wariness about large infrastructure plans.  Clearly, many of Trump's positions and those of "nation-state populism" more broadly would conflict with a Kempian vision.

However, there are plenty of conservative governing records that the vision of a "nation-state populism" would be in some accord with.  Ronald Reagan didn't privatize entitlements--he increased taxes to pay for them.  While Reagan talked about "free trade," he also imposed import quotas on Japanese automobiles.  And Reagan has been the Republican president most clearly associated with movement conservatism.  Looking back to other Republicans who also implemented conservative policies (even if they weren't ideologues) makes this lineage even richer.  Eisenhower, a man of conservative moderation, built a federal highway system and launched a massive deportation effort.  Many movement conservatives revere Calvin Coolidge, but Coolidge celebrated tariffs and defended a limited, pro-assimiliationist immigration policy.

All these things suggest that there are elements within the broader conservative tradition that could very much be in accord with the aims of "nation-state populism."  However, in order to realize that political harmony, some in the Beltway will have to surrender the belief that a certain narrow brand of conservatism has a monopoly on conservatism or good governance.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Filibuster Follies

At NRO today, I argue why it is not in the Democrats' best interest to sustain a filibuster against Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
From a strategic viewpoint, Senate Democrats have every incentive to let the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees live another day. Mitch McConnell knows that there will be a political cost for going nuclear on the Supreme Court filibuster, and he does not seem very eager to pay it. Nor does there seem to be that great of an appetite for working around the Senate filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Nearly every signal that Republican Senate leadership has sent indicates that the party would very much like to approve Gorsuch — and any other Trump Supreme Court nominee — through the regular order of the Senate. This situation gives Senate Democrats some small measure of power: As long as the filibuster persists, their expectations become a variable that has to be factored into the calculus of any Supreme Court nomination. That variable may or may not have that much weight — but it will have some weight.
You can read the rest here.

Bill Kristol has a piece up in the latest issue of The Weekly Standard that underlines the way that a Democratic refusal to accept any Trump Supreme Court nominee could end up backfiring on the party.  While the Senate GOP may be willing to compromise on some nominees, they will not stand by and allow Democrats to block every Republican nominee to the highest court in the land.

This might be dismissed as concern trolling, but it shouldn’t be: Americans of all stripes have an interest in preserving the minority’s voice in the affairs of the Senate, and the filibuster is one of the key mechanisms for the minority. (And, for what little it’s worth, I have argued for the benefits of the filibuster when both Republicans and Democrats held the majority.) The filibustering of Supreme Court nominees is a relatively new innovation, so removing this filibuster might not be as radical a departure from Senate tradition as ending the legislative filibuster. But this removal could contribute to a long-term erosion of norms for protecting the power of the minority. Ironically, the time when partisan tensions are so high is also the time when compromise-encouraging institutions are so important.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"Core Values"

In his last press conference, Barack Obama said that he would enter political debates only when "our core values may be at stake."  In the aftermath of President Trump's new executive orders, the former president is now wading back into public debates.

However, it should not be surprising to see Barack Obama trying to inject himself in political debates, nor for him is "core values" a particularly limiting principle.  After all, in 2006, he had the following to say about Samuel Alito: "I think Judge Alito, in fact, is somebody who is contrary to core American values, not just liberal values, you know." If a mainstream conservative like Justice Alito is "contrary to core American values," you can rest assured that Barack Obama would be declaring almost any Republican president eventually an enemy of "our core values."

EO EO O

I'll leave the in-depth analysis of President Trump's executive order on refugee policy to more competent legal minds than my own.  But a few general points:

Many of the most prominent attacks on this order have been overly broad (by ignoring the historical history of refugee policy, making claims that the United States has no right to limit refugees, and so forth).  While it has whipped up partisan enthusiasm, this excessive rhetoric has hurt the argument against the president's actions.  If the choice becomes framed as the Trump EO v. open borders, the executive order would probably come out on top in a public opinion poll.

We need to attend to the real (not the sentimentalized) history of immigration law and refugee policy in order to see where the Trump EO breaks from standing norms and where it falls within them.  Falsifying history is a dangerous political tactic.

If federal appointees can declare themselves willing to nullify duly passed laws and regulations at whim, we have not a democratic republic but anarchy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Defending the Conventions of Politics

On Twitter, Diodotos (whose feed often includes some provocative thoughts) had some points about what it takes to defend the conventions of republican life.  I thought it worth reproducing a few of them below.





I think he here hits on an important theme: political life requires an acceptance of incompleteness and a willingness to engage in conversation.  A healthy republic debates an acceptance of some kind of political heterogeneity and openness for disagreement.

Identity politics--or identitarianism--instead calls for political rigidity.  One has allegiance to a political tribe and surrenders individual judgment to the collective.  By locking us into rigid identity groups, identity politics threatens the openness and conversation that is one of the cornerstones of healthy political life.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Keeping an Eye on the Big Picture

Over at NRO this morning, I argue that, in discussing President Trump, we need to continue to pay attention to the context in which he rose to power:
Popular narratives to the contrary, Trump’s election is less a cause of our current crisis than a sign of it. In the months ahead, then, we need to attend to the conditions that have led to such a radical disruption in our politics. Normally, radical outsiders don’t win the presidency. In looking for a president, the American people usually balance a taste for novelty with a respect for experience. So it’s telling indeed that Trump is the first person elected to the presidency without any prior experience in elected office or other government service. Only when the mandarins of consensus have proven both so parochial and so inept could such an outsider have smashed his way into the White House. A series of institutional failures led to President Trump’s ascendancy. We have been treated to the spectacle of an elite that has promised too much and so often failed so spectacularly. Our public rhetoric has been frozen by nostalgia and an elite reliance on what Josh Barro has called “no-choice politics” to enforce a narrow consensus on immigration, trade, and other issues. Trump’s campaign was powered by denunciations of various debacles over the past decade, whether in foreign affairs, the economy, or national security.
You can read the rest here.

I think that there's an especially grave risk in working to overthrow existing political norms in order to "resist" President Trump.  The politics of paranoia and excommunication from polite society can be a dangerous enterprise.

Along similar lines, Ross Douthat warns the press about the danger of sacrificing ethical standards in reporting on President Trump, and Mickey Kaus takes a probing look at "1934ism."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

I'll have some reflections forthcoming on the inauguration and the circumstances around it.  For today, here's a transcript of President Donald Trump's inaugural address.

The Hamiltonian might smile at the pageantry of the presidential inauguration; the Puritan might scowl (at least a bit).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

President Obama

I've had my disagreements with President Obama, and I believe that in many ways he has failed to live up to his potential as a leader.  Yet, despite it all, he nevertheless has been the president for the life of this blog so far.  The presidency is a noble office, one with great responsibilities.  No doubt the duties of the office have weighed on him.  And there have been moments of grace in his administration, too.

In this time of great tumult, we should nevertheless try to recognize the importance of major constitutional offices and to wish the best for those who hold them.

Parade Controversies

This afternoon, reports surfaced that members of the Trump transition team had inquired about using tanks and missiles as part of tomorrow's inaugural parade.  This immediately caused a media furor, with many pundits suggesting that the use of such heavy military gear in an inaugural parade is somehow outside American norms.

But it isn't.  Past inaugural parades featured both tanks and missiles.

For instance, here's FDR's inaugural parade in 1941, featuring a line of tanks.

Eisenhower had tanks in his inaugural parades in both 1953 and 1957.  His 1957 inaugural parade also featured a giant missile.

JFK also had missiles and tanks in his inaugural parade.

Military iconography has a long-standing tradition in American inaugural parades.  The fact that some disagree with that norm doesn't mean that the norm doesn't exist.  There's a difference between arguing about what current norms should be and arguing that someone is outside existing norms.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Choices, Choices

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on the sudden escalation of concern many policy-makers have had about Russia in recent months.  I don't necessarily agree with all of Dougherty's claims, but he hits on a telling point here:
The problem is, America's NATO war guarantee is wrapped up in a larger ideological status quo across the West. Trade liberalization, political liberalization, increased migration, sexual and cultural liberation from Christian traditionalism, the further political integration of the E.U., and the expansion of the Western alliance to the borders of Russia are all wrapped together in the minds of policymakers. And so, every reversal for any part of that project is seen by the guardians of the policy consensus as a demoralizing reversal for the Western alliance and, consequently, a gain for revisionist Putinism.
The international institutions that have been left to us have evolved from a certain set of geopolitical circumstances and partake of certain policy presumptions.  It seems (to me at least) that many of these institutions have done considerable good, but the question before us isn't whether they've done good in the past but how to preserve and revise these institutions so that they can do good in the future.

That's one of the major reasons why ideological nostalgia has been so toxic for the enterprise of looking forward for both foreign and domestic policy.  This nostalgia has made many current leaders resistant to--and perhaps even ignorant of--the fact that we no longer live in 1989.  For instance, for years, public skepticism about the European Union has been simmering throughout Europe.  And yet policymakers nevertheless plunged ahead with an integration that became less and less tenable as time went on.  And now many of these policymakers are now shocked, shocked that some voters might be having second thoughts about the "European" project.  Taking a more moderate approach to integration (especially in terms of immigration and currency.) and responding more to immigration could have helped solidify the EU.  Instead, a reckless integration threatens breaking it apart.

The importance of attention to present-day realities has implications beyond the EU, of course.  In defending international institutions, policymakers need to think of the world not as it was or as they would like it to be but as it is.

We can have either a robust international order or ideological nostalgia--but not both.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Repeal and What?

In my NRO piece earlier this week, I warned about the political dangers of Republicans repealing the Affordable Care Act (well, actually only repealing the provisions of the ACA they can repeal without a filibuster-proof majority) without following up with a replacement relatively soon.

There have been a couple updates today on the fate of the repeal-and-delay strategy.  At his press conference today, Donald Trump argued that replacing the ACA should follow very soon after the repeal of the measure.  Meanwhile, some GOP senators who had been pushing for an amendment to delay a vote on health-care repeal have now said that they're going to drop this amendment.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Resisting Ideological Nostalgia

In NRO today, I argue that the GOP should learn from the last time a political party took full control of the federal government.  In 2009-10, Democrats made certain choices that set the stage for a multi-cycle liquidation of the part.  In order to avoid that fate, the GOP will need to respond to the demands of the moment and resist ideological nostalgia.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hacking the Vote

In reporting the hacking of the email messages of prominent Democrats during the 2016 election, the press has by and large settled on a rather intriguing shorthand: "election hacking."  (See examples here, here, and here.)  Because of its vagueness, this shorthand risks conflating the hacking of emails in order to influence the election in some way (which there is some evidence of) and the hacking of the election results themselves (which there is no evidence of).  "Email hacking" or "DNC hacking" or "Podesta hacking" or "hacking of Democrats" would seem more precise but also less likely to inspire paranoia in the American public.  "Election hacking" may offer a kind of argumentative figleaf for those who want to delegitimize the election results without openly saying that some nefarious entity actually went in and hacked the vote totals to swing the election to Donald Trump.

That's not to say that some folks won't try to argue that the election results themselves were hacked.  In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, a publication I enjoy, Michael Tomasky argues that we will never really know whether a foreign entity (in his case, Russia) hacked the election:
But if their reports are accurate, what this amounts to at the very least is that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the election in Trump's favor. Whether it managed to determine the outcome by meddling directly in the actual voting is something we don't know and will likely never know.  To arrive at such a conclusion would require a thorough forensic investigation of vote tabulations in at least the three states where Trump's margin over Clinton was less than one percent--Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin--and other steps; but this is not going to happen.
A belief that Russia hacked the actual election results has some popularity on the left (according to one poll, 52 percent of Democrats believed that it did), but there is absolutely no evidence that any such vote hacking did take place.  U.S. officials have affirmed the accuracy of the voting results, and state recounts have uncovered no evidence of vote hacking.

While it might assuage Democratic feelings to keep alive the evidence-free narrative that Russia hacked the election results, it's damaging to our body politic in general.  If that election was hacked and if we can keep alive that hypothesis without any concrete evidence, why not say the same thing about other elections?  How do we know that any elected official actually won his or her office?  If Russia can hack the election results without any obvious evidence, how do we know that other entities also have not hacked this election or other elections?  Electoral paranoia destroys the public trust that our republic is built upon.

Moreover, if it were true that Russia hacked the election results (again, there's no evidence for this), that perhaps is the biggest indictment of the Obama administration imaginable: on its watch, its policies allowed a foreign entity to destroy the democratic process.  Thus, it would be hard simultaneously to support the notion that Russia hacked the election and to hold the belief that President Obama was anything other than the worst president since James Buchanan, maybe ever.  The left can have Barack Obama as a noble president or the proposition that Russia hacked the election results--but it can't have both.

We have more than enough real challenges at the moment.  We don't need paranoia to invent more.