Thursday, December 10, 2009
I don't suppose anybody has noticed but I am in the midst of editing my blogroll (under "INTERESTING BLOGS" in the side column here). I am deleting links to blogs that no longer are being updated or which have vanished completely. And there are a lot of those. I have had over 300 links to go through, however, so it will take me a while yet to get through them all.
Meanwhile, I might as well add some new blogs while I am about it so let me know if you think there is one that should be there. No guarantees but I will at least look at all suggestions.
Americans Show Conservative Instincts, Not Ideology
by Michael Medved
It’s true that the American people are fundamentally conservative – but not in the angry, doctrinaire sense suggested by so many of my fellow radio ranters. Americans are conservative in temperament, but not necessarily in ideology. We are cautious, practical, skeptical folk, inherently resistant to sweeping, radical change—whether such change issues from the left or the right.
At the moment, the liberal true-believers who control both White House and Congress present the most potent, plausible threat of precisely the sort of jarring and dangerous transformations the people reliably reject. This offers Republicans a precious opportunity to re-connect with America’s deep-seated conservative instincts and to revive their battered party – unless they blow that chance with strident, unbending, purist appeals of their own, convincing the puzzled public that both parties have abandoned pragmatism and common sense.
Recent political history shows a clear and consistent public preference for flexible problem solvers over embattled ideologues. For some fifty years, presidential elections have been mostly close – with ten out of the thirteen winners held to 54% or less of the popular vote (and five of them actually winning with less than a majority). Only three times since 1960 did candidates win in one-sided blow-outs, and in each of those races (LBJ’s triumph in ’64, Nixon’s in ’72, and Reagan’s in ’84) the opposing nominee looked like an impractical, reckless, wing-nut extremist. Barry Goldwater even embraced the title extremist (“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”), George McGovern’s anti-war crusade offered an unapologetically leftist platform, and Walter Mondale proudly promised in his convention speech that he would raise the nation’s taxes. Their pathetic performance as major party nominees (winning 39%, 38% and 41%, respectively) showed the powerful national reflex against any candidate or party perceived as out of the mainstream, tilting too far in one direction or another.
By contrast, all three of the Democrats who have won the presidency since 1968 (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) campaigned as level-headed centrists, who pledged to build bi-partisan coalitions and to bring the country together. All three, however, governed with progressive tendencies and leftist associates that undermined their carefully crafted moderate images. Jimmy Carter in particular emerged as a sanctimonious scold, favoring impractical, inflexible liberal nostrums in both foreign and domestic policy that made him an easy target for the amiable, common sense appeal of Ronald Reagan.
Though rightly embraced as a great conservative hero, Reagan’s 1980 campaign went to great lengths to appeal to the wary middle-of-the-roaders who decide every election. He chose a conspicuous moderate as his running mate (George H. W. Bush) and framed the campaign’s key question (“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”) to make the other guy look scary, extreme and dogmatic. In the end, Reagan won an election in which self-described conservatives made up only 28% of the electorate (according to exit polls), while “moderates” were 46%. In fact more than 60% of the voters who placed The Gipper in the White House called themselves “moderates” or even “liberals,” showing the classic inclination to support an impressive candidate who seems to transcend ideology rather than to exemplify it.
Despite pipe dreams of an unwavering right wing majority ruling the electorate, the highest percentage of voters who actually call themselves “conservative” occurred in 2008, when 34% chose that description (Exit polls showed precisely the same percentage in 2004 and 1996). Meanwhile, the number of “moderates” who cast ballots ranged from a low of 42% (in 1984) all the way to 50% (in 2000).
Bill Clinton tried to appeal to these swing voters by emulating Reagan’s optimistic “I’ll-fix-the-mess” campaign when he ran against the floundering George H. W. Bush in 1992, posing as a sensible “New Democrat” rather than a by-the-book liberal in the McGovern-Mondale-Dukakis mode. In his first two years, however, miscues like the clumsy push for gays in the military and the “Hillary Care” disaster gave the lie to his pretensions of centrism, leading to the historic sweep for Newt Gingrich and his resurgent Republicans. The Contract With America that made that political earthquake possible (giving the GOP 55 more seats in the House and eight new Senators) was a cunningly devised document that emphasized reformist “good government” promises (Balanced Budget Amendment, Congressional Term Limits, Welfare Reform) and scrupulously avoided polarizing (if worthy) pledges that might have seemed extreme (abolishing the income tax, a human life amendment, eliminating major government departments).
After this smashing Republican victory in ’94, perceptions of the two parties quickly switched, With the government shutdown (widely if unfairly blamed on Gingrich, rather than Clinton) over budgetary struggles, the triangulating President won the image battle as more flexible and pragmatic, while the professorial Republicans (both Gingrich and his chief deputy Dick Armey had backgrounds as brilliant academics) came across as more interested in principles than practicality. In his re-election bid, the chastened Clinton (remember “The era of big government is over”?) easily sailed to victory, and also blithely triumphed over his seemingly rigid prosecutors during the protracted impeachment crisis.
George W. Bush succeeded Clinton not as the fire-breathing right wing purist his opponents tried to caricature but as a self-styled “compassionate conservative” pledged to bring a new spirit of cooperation to the divided capital. In debates and on the stump, he offered an aw-shucks, ordinary guy appeal (paradoxical for the son of an ex-president) that contrasted with the stiff, self-righteous, shrill persona of Al (“Prince Albert”) Gore. His decisive response to 9/11 allowed him to win re-election as “a uniter, not a divider” (over John Kerry, a humorless Massachusetts patrician and unwavering liberal). But ceaseless Democratic attacks on Bush as “the most extreme conservative president in American history” finally combined with GOP Congressional scandals to give Nancy Pelosi the speakership in 2006, and Barack Obama the presidency in 2004.
Obama used the classic winning formula in 2008: seeking the nation’s highest office as an open-minded problem solver, willing to use conservative as well as liberal ideas to address the nation’s woes. The 2004 convention keynote speech that made him a national figure overnight promised no more “red states” or “blue states,” but only “the UNITED States of America.” In his presidential campaign, the imprecise and soothing talk of “hope” and “change” did little to impress conservatives (who voted for McCain by a ratio of four to one) but drew a decisive 60% of the self-described “moderate” vote. The polls show that those same moderates and independents have now turned against President Obama with a vengeance, giving Republicans their historic opportunity.
In contrast to his gauzy promises of hope and healing, Obama and his Congressional allies have governed as divisive devotees of the hard left -- willing, for instance, to risk economic and budgetary disaster for the sake of realizing the leftist dream of “universal health care.” Pollsters show mounting opposition to Obamacare not because the public rules out every form of governmental activism as a solution to major problems but because the people distrust big, dogmatic schemes to remake reality all at once.
It is the Donks that big business likes best
By Jonah Goldberg
One of the great frustrations of the libertarian-minded right is how Republicans got stuck being "the party of big business." The quotation marks around the term are at least somewhat necessary, because in many respects, it's not true.
The notion that big business is "right wing" has always been more sloppy agitprop than serious analysis. It's true that historically, big business is against socialism and communism -- and understandably so. Socialism and communism were once close to synonymous with expropriation of wealth and the nationalization of industry. What businessman or industrialist wouldn't be against that? But many of those same industrialists saw nothing wrong with cutting deals with statist regimes. For example, the Swope Plan, put forward by Gerard Swope, president of General Electric, laid out the infrastructure for much of the early New Deal.
Yet the debate is always framed as if the choice is between "government intervention" on the one hand and free-market capitalism on the other. From 30,000 feet, that division is fine with me. My objection is the glib and easy association of big business with the free-market guys. (Milton Friedman was no champion of public-private partnerships and industrial policy.) This identification allows self-described progressive Democrats to run against big business when they are in fact in bed with the fat cats.
For instance, the standard line from the Democrats is that the plutocrats and corporate mustache-twirlers oppose health care reform because, in President Obama's words, they "profit financially or politically from the status quo." That sounds reasonable, and in some cases it is reasonable. But it makes it sound as if Obama is bravely battling "malefactors of great wealth."
But that's not really how it works, as Timothy Carney documents in his powerful new book, "Obamanomics." In 2008, Obama raked in more donations from the health sector than John McCain and the rest of the Republican field combined. Drug makers gave Obama $3.58 for every dollar they gave McCain. Pfizer gave to Obama at a 4-1 rate, as did the hospital and nursing home industries. In 2008, the insurance industry gave more money to House Democrats than House Republicans. HMOs give to Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 60 to 40.
So far, the health care industry has mostly been trying to cut insider deals with the government, not fighting to defend the status quo. Discussions between Big Pharma and the White House have been more like pillow talk than a shouting match.
This pattern is hardly unique to health care. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, led by GE, includes many other Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs -- the company that has profited mightily from Obama's brand of hope and change. CAP is an aggressive supporter of the Democrats' climate change scheme. Why? Because GE and friends stand to make billions from carbon pricing, thanks largely to investments in technologies that cannot survive in a free market without massive subsidies from Uncle Sam. GE chief Jeffrey Immelt cheerleads big government as "an industry policy champion, a financier and a key partner."
Going back to U.S. Steel and the railroads, the story of big business in America is often as not the story of fat cats rigging the system. And the story of progressivism is the same tale. The New Deal codes were mostly written by big business to squeeze out smaller competitors. The progressives fought for these reforms on the grounds that it's easier to steer a few giant oxen than a thousand cats.
But health care is the most troubling example of the trend. Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson notes that while everyone has been debating the government takeover of health care, what's really transpired is health care's takeover of government -- thanks to what he calls the "medical industrial complex." Already 1 in 4 federal outlays are for health care; government pays, directly or indirectly, for half of all health care costs; and the entire industry is heavily regulated. Obama's answer to this state of affairs is more -- much more -- of the same, on the phantasmagorical grounds that it will cut costs.
My biggest objection is not to what isn't true about the claim that the right is the handmaiden to big business, it's to what is true. Too many Republicans think being pro-business is the same as being pro-market. They defend the status quo against bad reforms and think they've defended economic freedom. The status quo stinks. And the sooner Republicans learn that, the sooner they'll deserve to win again.
Russia back to its old authoritarian ways
From absolute monarchy to Communism to Fascism, only the details change. The Russians are a brilliant people condemned to appalling government -- even worse than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi!
Pound for political pound, Russian "prime minister" Vladimir Putin may well be the most powerful human being on this planet. Yet, he may still be brought down by the inevitable corruption of power. Though he is no longer even officially "president" of the country, Putin still has the ability to hire and fire local officials like governors and mayors, to populate an depopulate the national parliament, to name the pontiff of the Orthodox Church and to discharge justices of Russia's supreme court at will. He recently displayed this authority to truly terrifying effect.
Unlike its U.S. counterpart, the Russian Supreme Court has an explicit legal mandate in the constitution itself to be its legal arbiter, which should mean that judicial independence in Russia is even more sacrosanct. Yet, when Justice Vladimir Yaroslavtsev gave an interview to the Spanish daily El Pais and said that Russian security agencies control the country just as they did in Soviet times, and worried that "nobody knows what [the FSB] will decide tomorrow, there is no consultation or discussion," he was immediately forced to resign. When his colleague Justice Anatoly Kononov came to his defense with an interview in the Russian paper Sobesednik, he too was forced out.
Yaroslavtsev told El Pais that "the judiciary in Russia during the presidencies of Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev had been converted into an instrument at the service of the executive powers that be" and that "the center of the adoption of [judicial] decisions is in the administration of the president." Then Putin proved him right in the most emphatic way possible.
If there were any institution more untouchable by politics than the constitutional court, one would think that would be the church, but Putin has rolled his virtual tanks across that territory as well. He has a new bill moving rapidly through the Russian parliament which will make it illegal to discuss religion unless in possession of a Kremlin-issued permit. Instead of wiping out all religion as in Soviet times, Putin has instead co-opted it; he's installed a KGB operative as pontiff of the Russian Orthodox Church and is now moving swiftly to simply wipe out his competition.
The media can offer no brake or check on Putin's power. When prominent TV reporter Olga Kotovskaya recently began delving into official misuse of power, she promptly "fell" out of a window on the fourteenth floor of an office tower. She's not the first journalist to "take the Putin Plunge." Russia remains one of the very most dangerous places on the planet to practice the craft of journalism.
Students who stand up to the regime find themselves expelled. Bloggers who dare to do so end up in prison, or bankrupted, or both. And Putin his helped along mightily, of course, by Western journalism that either ignores his abuses or actually celebrates them, by an American president who has better things to do than to speak up for democracy, and by a Republican Party that cannot seem to find the wherewithal to call him to account.
Using cellphones while driving: "In the ongoing concern with the use of hand-held and hands free cell phone use while driving a car, the focus seems to be all on what such use does to one’s driving and the comparison is nearly always between such use and no distractions at all. But what about the possibility that cell phone use in cars may not be any more hazardous than, say, changing CDs or cassette tapes, tucking in the baby in the back, checking the map, looking for something in the glove compartment, or having a heated discussion with one’s passenger, while driving one’s vehicle. Indeed, this is probably true but not easily tested and confirmed (or dis-confirmed). Imposing restrictions on drivers concerning these other possible distractions would, no doubt, be somewhat problematic since all those are mainly personal distractions and no big industry can be held complicit. Deep pockets are missing there, too. Instead these other distractions seem quite normal, just part of life on the road and have been with us since automobile and similar vehicle use itself has been.”
Infatuated with the New Deal: "President Obama is a master of the ‘narrative.’ That’s the fancy new word in the political lexicon for a storyline that makes a politician look good. Last year, Obama was the candidate of hope and change who would cure Washington of its bad habits. Now he has a presidential narrative. It goes like this: He’s done his part to revive the economy, and it’s time for others to do theirs, particularly the business community. Obama has been refining his narrative for several months. Last week’s jobs summit at the White House was cleverly crafted as a day-long expression of his version of the economy’s path in his 11-month presidency. And if that was lost on anyone, he was explicit in spelling it out.”
The auto bailout one year later: "President Bush provided the initial bailout for GM and Chrysler in December 2008, so it’s reasonable to look back a year later and ask: Was the bailout necessary? Did it work? In hindsight it is readily apparent that the answers are: No, and No.”
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)
Posted by JR at 1:36 AM