Harry Reid Wants to ‘Amend the First Amendment in Much the Same Way as the Iceberg Amended the Titanic’Posted: May 19, 2014
On May 15, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on June 3 on amending the U.S. Constitution to limit political speech. If ultimately adopted, it would mark the first time in American history that a constitutional amendment rescinded a freedom listed as among the fundamental rights of the American people.
[For a more detailed exploration of this topic I recommend listening to NRO’s Charles Cooke and Kevin D. Williamson’s discussion, in their May 15th edition of Mad Dogs & Englishmen. (the ‘Titanic’ headline comes directly from a Cooke comment, about 1:14 minutes in) Also see Charles Cooke’s May 17th NRO article Harry’s Dirty Amendment.]
The proposed amendment was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-CO) as S.J.R. 19 and if ratified would become the Twenty-Eighth Amendment. It provides in part that “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect [to] the Federal elections … [and] State elections.” Read the rest of this entry »
The IRS’s illegal actions — and its efforts at cover-up — undermine the foundations of our government.
This article identifies the legitimacy problems facing the U.S. government at this time in our nation’s history better than anything I’ve read all year. Though it offers little comfort, the explanation of the known facts is essential reading. News articles about the IRS’ abuse of power too often focus on play-by-play details and neglect to include this overview. I will confess to more than a little despair, but I appreciate the work Williamson does here to build in the required context. Read the whole thing here.
I will confess to a little despair over the relatively mild reception that has greeted the evidence, now conclusive and irrefutable, that the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of senior leaders affiliated with the Democratic party, was used as a political weapon from at least 2010 through the 2012 election. It may be that the American public simply does not care about the issue; it is always difficult, if not impossible, to predict what issues will seize the electorate’s attention, or to understand why after the fact. It may be that the public does not understand the issue, in which case a brief explanation of the known facts may be of some use.
Here is what happened. In the run-up to the 2012 election, senior IRS executives including Lois Lerner, then the head of the IRS branch that oversees the activities of tax-exempt nonprofit groups, began singling out conservative-leaning organizations for extra attention, invasive investigations, and legal harassment. The IRS did not target groups that they believed might be violating the rules governing tax-exempt organizations; rather, as e-mails from the agency document, the IRS targeted these conservative groups categorically, regardless of whether there was any evidence that they were not in compliance with the relevant regulations. Simply having the words “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” (a reference to one of Glenn Beck’s many channels of activism) in the name was enough. Also targeted were groups dedicated to issues such as taxes, spending, debt, and, perhaps most worrisome, those that were simply “critical of the how the country is being run.” Organizations also were targeted based on the identity of their donors. Read the rest of this entry »
We can survive cranks, but not a criminal government.
For NRO, Kevin D. Williamson writes: Cliven Bundy’s racial rhetoric is indefensible, and it has inspired a lot of half-bright commentary from the left today directed at your favorite correspondent, mostly variations on this theme: Don’t you feel stupid for having compared him to Mohandas Gandhi?
Short version: No. There is a time to break the law, and the fact that the law is against you does not mean that justice is against you. The law was against Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., too. That does not mean that what is transpiring in Nevada is the American Revolution or the civil-rights movement; it means that there is a time to break the law. As I wrote, “Cliven Bundy may very well be a nut job, but one thing is for sure: The federal government wouldn’t treat a tortoise the way it has treated him.”
Critics on the left, being an ignorant bunch, may be unaware of the fact, but the example of Mohandas Gandhi is here particularly apt, given that the great man had some pretty creepy ideas about everything from race to homosexuality, for example writing that blacks aspired to nothing more than passing their time in “indolence and nakedness,” objecting to blacks’ being housed in Indian neighborhoods, etc. Americans, many of whom seem to believe that Mr. Gandhi’s first name was “Mahatma,” generally confuse the Indian historical figure, a man whose biography contains some complexity, with the relatively straightforward character from the Richard Attenborough movie. We remember Gandhi and admire him because he was right about the thing most closely associated with him. In the same way, there is more to the life of Thomas Jefferson than his having been a slave owner. The question of standing in opposition to a domineering federal government that acts as the absentee landlord for nine-tenths of the state of Nevada is only incidentally related to Cliven Bundy’s having backward views about race. Mr. Bundy’s remarks reflect poorly on the man, not on the issue with which the man is associated. Read the rest of this entry »
The Rule of the Lawless
For NRO, Kevin D. Williamson writes: Deserts always feel like my natural habitat, and I am very fond of them. That being said, I have, for my sins, spent a fair amount of time in Clark County, Nev., and it is not the loveliest stretch of desert in these United States, or even in the top twelve. Protecting the pristine beauty of the sun-baked and dust-caked outskirts of Las Vegas and its charismatic fauna from grazing cattle — which the Bureau of Land Management seems to regard as an Old Testament plague — seems to me to be something less than a critical national priority. At the same time, the federal government’s fundamental responsibility, which is defending the physical security of the country, is handled with remarkable nonchalance: Millions upon millions upon millions of people have crossed our borders illegally and continue to reside within them. Cliven Bundy’s cattle are treated as trespassers, and federal agents have been dispatched to rectify that trespass; at the same time, millions of illegal aliens present within our borders are treated as an inevitability that must be accommodated. In practice, our national borders are a joke, but the borders of that arid haven upon which ambles the merry Mojave desert tortoise are sacrosanct.
[Kevin Williamson’s book “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure” is available at Amazon]
Strangely, many of the same people who insist that Mr. Bundy must be made an example of for the sake of the rule of law protest at the same time that it is not only impossible but positively undesirable for the federal government to deploy federal resources to rectify the federal crime of jumping the federal border. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Now we know what it takes to nudge Congress’s sense of self-respect into a state of at least semi-consciousness.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, God bless her, is throwing a very public fit over findings that the CIA spied on Congress — on her Select Senate Intelligence Committee, specifically — as part of a campaign to undermine the committee’s investigation into an interrogation program that the agency does not much want to see investigated.
“Willing subservience to the presidency is not the mark of a legislative branch that has any meaningful sense of self-respect, or any real understanding of its constitutional role.”
It’s a strange contradiction: Senators do not want for self-respect. If anything, the individual members of that august collection of a hundred self-identified future presidents and vice presidents suffer from excessive self-regard at levels that are frequently embarrassing and occasionally delusional. Look into the eyes of John Kerry or Joe Biden and consider for a moment the political incubator that hatched such specimens of Miltonic-Luciferian self-importance. But the Senate, and Congress as a whole, have been experiencing something of a crisis of confidence in recent decades. Our constitutional order makes Congress the effective seat of domestic governance: Only Congress can appropriate funds; only Congress can tax. Spending bills must originate in the House, presidential appointments are subject to Senate approval. Only Congress can coin money. And while the Constitution entrusts the president with some important powers regarding such outward-directed issues as military engagements, only Congress can declare war or ratify a treaty.
A dumbed-down Democratic party runs out of ideas.
The Stupid Party
Kevin D. Williamson‘s current NRO article is extra pithy this week (or “wonderfully bold’, as Jay Nordlinger says) it’s more like a long, funny, sarcastic email from a friend, or an energetic barstool rant — if the guy on the barstool is a National Review Online roving reporter — than a scholarly essay. It’s also the first I’ve seen to take on The Daily Show head-on, exposing it and mocking it without mercy. Because for many conservatives, the Daily Show is a guilty pleasure. Right? Conservatives watch The Daily Show, or watch clips that circulate…
[UPDATE: Don’t miss Jay Nordlinger‘s response to Kevin D. Williamson’s essay in the Corner. It begins: Kevin’s piece “The Stupid Party” — a typically and wonderfully bold piece — awakened many thoughts in me. I’m sure it has done that in others…]
…Just like liberals — though they pretend they don’t — watch Fox News shows like The Kelly File, The Factor, or Red Eye. The viewership for these shows is not as segregated as members of their loyal fan base would have us think. Video clips from The Daily Show are often linked (on those rare ‘friendly fire’ occasions when Stewart takes shots at Democrat targets) at right-wing watering holes like Hot Air, and hipster libertarians dig Stewart’s humor, think Jon Stewart is “one of us”. Make no mistake. He’s not.
“…for the Left the point of journalism is not to criticize politics or to analyze politics but to be a servant of politics, to “destroy” such political targets as may be found in one’s crosshairs.”
As Williamsons’ rant illustrates, The Daily Show‘s predictable, sanctimonious, echo-chamber humor is not brilliant satire. It doesn’t speak “truth to power”. For its low-information fan base, it’s what passes for “journalism” and “hard-hitting reporting”. And accurately represents the vacancy of the Left’s bankrupt world view.
Kevin D. Williamson writes:
Here is a selection of recent headlines: “Jon Stewart Destroys Megyn Kelly,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Fox News’ ‘Spite-Driven Anger Machine,’” “Jon Stewart Destroys What’s Left of Peggy Noonan’s Credibility,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Fox News Over Syria Coverage,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Glenn Beck’s Utopia,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Bill O’Reilly” — there are about 520,000 more — and, not to be missed, “Jon Stewart Destroys Chicago-Style Pizza.”
The sound of terrors is in his ears at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central, and in prosperity the destroyer cometh upon him.
Mr. Stewart is the host of a fake news show, the genesis of which probably was a conversation that went approximately like this: Brother-in-Law: “There’s nothing funny on Saturday Night Live except the ‘Weekend Update.’ They should really just do that for the whole show.” Jon Stewart: “Hey . . . !” Mr. Stewart is among the lowest forms of intellectual parasite in the political universe, with no particular insights or interesting ideas of his own, reliant upon the very broadest and least clever sort of humor, using ancient editing techniques to make clumsy or silly political statements sound worse than they are and then pantomiming outrage at the results, the lowbrow version of James Joyce giving the hero of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the unlikely name of Stephen Dedalus and then having other characters in the novel muse upon the unlikelihood of that name.
“I do not much blame the Left for hesitating to talk about Big Ideas. The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people.”
His shtick is a fundamentally cowardly one, playing the sanctimonious vox populi when it suits him, and then beating retreat into “Hey, I’m just a comedian!” when he faces a serious challenge. It is the sort of thing that you can see appealing to bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds… Read the rest of this entry »
A case study in why Detroit PD Chief James Craig wants the locals to own guns…
As Kevin D. Williamson says,
“Detroit isn’t a monster. It’s just ahead of the curve.”
Kevin D. Williamson writes: The Left is at war with economic reality. The intellectual poverty of the Left — which is also a moral poverty — is evident in the fact that its leaders are much more intensely interested in incomes at the top than those at the bottom. Examples are not difficult to come by: Senator Elizabeth Warren is visibly agitated by JamieDimon’s recent raise, the AFL-CIO maintains a website dedicated to executive compensation, Barack Obama avows that “at a certain point, you’ve made enough money,” et cetera ad nauseam. The entire rhetoric of inequality is simply an excuse to rage about incomes at the top, a generation’s worth of progressive shenanigans having failed to do much about those at the bottom.
It is the case that incomes at the top have gone up while those in the middle and at the bottom have stagnated or declined in real terms. It is not the case that incomes at the top have gone up because those in the middle and at the bottom have stagnated or declined, nor is it the case that incomes in the middle and at the bottom have stagnated or declined because incomes at the top have gone up. There is a relationship between the two phenomena, but it is not the relationship that progressives imagine it to be.
Vegas, Baby — “Eggs are expensive, sperm are cheap.” That’s a plain-English approximation of Bateman’s principle, which holds that in a species with two sexes, the members of the sex that invests less biologically in reproduction will end up competing, sometimes ferociously, over the members of the sex that invests more. Because healthy men can in theory reproduce almost without limit while women are constrained by the number of pregnancies that they can take to term in a lifetime, women have a very strong incentive to be more selective about their sexual partners, while men don’t: snipers vs. shotguns, basically. In a 2004 paper under the forthright title “Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions,” two scholars from the University of British Columbia and Florida State took that insight and examined mating behavior through the lens of market competition. And if you doubt for one second that the pitiless laws of supply and demand provide an excellent explanation of human sexual behavior, then by all means make a reservation at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for the annual awards ceremony hosted by Adult Video News, a.k.a. the “Porn Oscars,” the most mercilessly Darwinian sexual marketplace you will find this side of Recife.
“Capitalism is what happens when property rights are respected — nothing more, nothing less. It is the voluntary self-organization of economic affairs.”
[The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory at Amazon]
At the risk of doing an injustice to Mr. Loy’s argument, the fullness of which cannot easily be communicated in this limited space, it must be understood that the thing that worries him here is not optional. “Manipulating the world in order to get what we want from it” is a pretty good definition of work, which is fundamental to our lives, so much so that in most of the ancient religions it is regulated in much the same way as sex and diet. Buddhism has a very developed philosophy of work — “right livelihood” being one of the requirements of the Eightfold Path — while the Christian story of the Fall is in the end an attempt to explain why we must labor: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” What happens in the meantime? “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” The message is the same elsewhere: The literal meaning of “karma” is “work.”
Detroit is not healthy for children and other living things
Kevin D. Williamson writes: There are many horrific stories to be told about the implosion of Detroit, once the nation’s most prosperous city, today its poorest. There is the story of its corrupt public institutions, its feckless leaders, its poisonous racial politics, its practically nonexistent economy, the riots that have led to its thrice being occupied by federal troops. The most horrific story may be that of the death of its children.
“Detroit represents nothing less than progressivism in its final stage of decadence”
Detroit has the highest child-mortality rate of any American city, exceeding that of many parts of what we used to call the Third World. The rate of death before the age of 18 in Detroit is nearly three times New York City’s, and it’s infant-mortality rate exceeds that of Botswana. The main cause of premature death among the children of Detroit is premature birth — the second is murder. While the city’s murder rate among adults is nothing to be proud of, more horrifying is the fact that between 30 and 40 children are murdered in Detroit in a typical year. Some of those children are nine-month-olds killed by rifle fire in their beds; some are budding criminals in their late teens — and each of those situations offers its own unique horrors.
Detroit isn’t a monster; it’s just ahead of the curve. http://t.co/xr2GhNwA3x
— Kevin D. Williamson (@KevinNR) February 1, 2014
In case you missed it at NRO, or in our earlier post, it’s too good not to feature as a highlighed quote. Keep in mind, it’s a long time before the keyboard hits the period key. A bottle of Champagne goes to anyone who can memorize this and perform it, in one breath, at a cocktail party, in front of a roomful of humorless Democrats.
Without further ado, here’s Kevin D. Williamson‘s Award-winning, adjective-loaded (adjectives and qualifiers?) uninhibited description of a America’s most outdated tradition: The State of the Union Address.
“The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.”
Thanks again to Mr. Williamson (and his editors) for providing today’s Award-winning quote.
[Feast on Kevin D. Williamson’s fine book The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome]
GREAT CEASAR’S GHOST
On the nauseating spectacle that is the State of the Union address
Kevin D. Williamson begins:
The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.
It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.
It’s worse than the Oscars.
The national self-debasement begins well before the speech is under way…
[check out Kevin Williamson’s book The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome]
He’d hand them over to the Germans
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Ronald Reagan electrified the world when he demanded that the Berlin Wall be torn down. Barack Obama is helping to build a new one, even as the German government begins rounding up members of a despised religious minority.
The Romeike family was granted asylum in the United States because the German government was intent on wresting away the children and putting the parents in cages for the crime of homeschooling their children, which is verboten in Germany, a legacy of the country’s totalitarian past. The Obama administration, which in other notable areas of immigration law has enacted a policy of “discretion” regarding deportations, took the Romeike family to court to have its asylum protections revoked, and succeeded in doing so. The family has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Obama administration to respond to the Romeikes’ petition, but the administration has so far refused to do so.
Kevin D. Williamson writes: A viral video making the rounds in December bore the very descriptive title “Ten Germans Try to Say the Word ‘Squirrel’” — and nobody seemed to think that it was racist or xenophobic, even though our Teutonic friends were being held up as figures of fun for something that is deeply embedded in their culture. Indeed, the Germans seemed to be as much amused as anybody else. The phenomenon is nothing new to students of linguistics: Not every phoneme exists in every language, and it is extraordinarily difficult for adults to process phonemes that are not part of their linguistic patrimony. Anglophone adults learning Sanskrit have a desperately hard time with the difference between aspirated and non-aspirated “d” sounds, just as somebody who had been raised hearing nothing but Japanese would find it difficult or impossible to distinguish between “r” and “l” sounds in English. Native speakers of non-tonal languages have a rough time with Chinese. Welsh, Romanian, and Dutch all contain sounds that are famous for being unpronounceable by the Anglophone. A “burro” is an ass, and a “burrow” is a hole in the ground, but your typical English-speaking person can’t tell one from the other.
This sort of thing is terribly distressing to c, fiction editor at The Good Men Project, an online magazine, who published a hilariously self-parodic essay titled “Racism in the Classroom: When Even Our Names Are Not Our Own.” He began with this tale of pearl-clutching terror, his soul pierced by the unsettling childhood recollections of a classmate:
He described how, when he was a boy, he couldn’t figure out what a certain newscaster’s name was. The student complained that because the newscaster pronounced his name with a “Mexican” accent, he couldn’t understand it.
There are many possible explanations for this episode. But, racism?
Setting aside the sneer quotes around “Mexican” — as though there were no such thing as a Mexican accent — it is very likely that the boy complained that he could not understand the pronunciation of the broadcaster’s name not because he was a budding ethnolinguistic chauvinist but because he could not understand the pronunciation of the broadcaster’s name, any more than the typical English-speaking man walking the streets of Bakersfield can tell the शूर from the सुर. The story calls to mind a pained book chapter in which linguistic anthropologist Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer considers the famous Saturday Night Live skit in which a bunch of painfully correct Anglos in conversation with Jimmy Smits’s “Antonio Mendoza” use ever more lamely Hispanic-ish pronunciations of common English words and phrases — “Loh-HANG-ee-less” for Los Angeles, “kah-MAHRRR-oh” for the Chevy sports car, etc. Professor Ottenheimer writes that the skit expresses “the extreme ambivalence and complexity of ideologies about Spanish in the United States,” and she worries that under some interpretations Mr. Smits might be seen as “playing into the hands of anti-Spanish sentiment.” This discussion takes place under the heading “Mock Spanish: A Site for the Indexical Reproduction of Racism in American English.” Calvin and Hobbes takes a beating, too, when the racially insensitive stuffed tiger imagines himself as a fearsome potentate called “El Tigre Numero Uno.”
We have set the bar for racism pretty low.
2013 brought little more than uncertainty to an already uncertain nation.
2013 was an excellent opportunity to learn the lesson that we failed to learn in 1857, 1933, 1971, and 2008: Uncertainty is the destroyer. Economic growth remains unsteady, with a consensus among experts that the economy is slowing down as the year closes — Bloomberg calculates the average of economic-growth forecasts at a tepid 1.8 percent. Key figures remained negative in 2013, from the labor-force participation rate (down 2.7 percentage points since Barack Obama took office) to the employment-to-population ratio (down 2 percentage points during the same period). The most important of those economic indicators, at least so far as future growth is concerned, is net domestic private investment, which remains far away from returning to pre-crash levels.
Weak private investment means weak growth and bleak long-term employment prospects. There is no way to finesse away that fact. The question is: Why are we still in this position, all these years after the end of the recession?
There is some debate on the right about whether President Obama is a fundamentally well-intentioned incompetent or a more Machiavellian figure so power-hungry that he is willing to kneecap key sectors of the U.S. economy in order to advance his political agenda. My own view is that the distinguishing feature of Obama’s ideology is the utter inability of the president and his partisans to distinguish between the national interest and their own political interests. (That is one problem with electing a messiah rather than a chief administrator.) If you believe that your guy is a uniquely gifted, once-in-a-lifetime transformational figure with a mandate to save the country, and that he is opposed by uniquely wicked servants of Mammon and partisans of unreason, then it follows that your political interests are identical to the national interest, and consequently you have such grey eminences as Bill Clinton, who has managed to secure for himself a career as an elder statesman without ever having been a statesman, insisting that Republicans are “begging for America to fail” — because they oppose large parts of the president’s health-care program, which the president now opposes, too, having set aside measures that are too unworkable or punitive to act on until some more politically opportune time.
He’s bolstering the politics, not the effectiveness, of Obamacare
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Dorothy Parker knew how to give credit where due — in verse, no less: “If, with the literate, I am / Impelled to try an epigram / I never seek to take the credit; / We all assume that Oscar said it.” Hillary Clinton, being Hillary Clinton, once stole a perfectly good line from Oscar Wilde, and, being Hillary Clinton, messed it up: “The market knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Wilde’s formulation, in Lady Windermere’s Fan, did not describe “the market” but “a cynic.” No doubt Mrs. Clinton believes the market to be cynical, or the product of cynicism.
The belief that markets are cold and inhumane is one of the great errors of our time, and it leads to a great deal of public stupidity, from British unionist Len McCluskey’s declaration that “there are some things too important to be left to the market” to endless Democratic demands that we put “people over profits.” Mitt Romney was mocked for maintaining that “corporations are people,” but that mockery is only one more piece of evidence that Mr. Romney is a good deal more intelligent than his critics: Of course corporations are people. That is what the word “corporation” means — a group of people acting as one body (corpus) toward some shared end. “Corporation” assumes “people” the way “hive” assumes “bees.” Profits accrue to people. Scratch an evil corporation and a retired teacher bleeds: Government pension and benefits funds such as CalPERS are among the largest shareholders in the United States, and the world. Two-thirds of Chevron shares are held by mutual funds, which are in turn held by what Mr. Romney recognizes, seemingly alone, as people.
Markets are people, too. Prices are not economic abstractions; rather, they are the expressions of real preferences belonging to real people. They are a snapshot of reality at a given moment. Far from being disconnected from human concerns, they are the means by which a great many human concerns are quantified and negotiated. They may not seem rational to some people, but they are. They are the consequence of how people go about rationally pursuing the things that seem good to them. When somebody says that a market is not rational, what he really means is that people are making choices other than the ones he would make for them. It is not irrational that the market for reality television programming is many, many times the size of the market for productions of Shakespeare plays — people preferDuck Dynasty. If the purpose of an economy is to help people get what they want, then the economics of reality television are not irrational. They’re only irrational if you believe that the purpose of an economy is to help people get what you think they should want.
The poor and the middle class are falling behind, and it has nothing to do with the 1 percent
Kevin D. Williamson writes: President Barack Obama gave a very silly speech in which he affirmed that economic inequality is to be the centerpiece of his remaining time in office. He has made similar suggestions about other issues — global warming and gun control, notably — and, President Obama being President Obama, it is very likely the case that his laser-like focus will consist of a series of speeches and very little else. The politics of the moment will determine which issue actually gets his attention, though he could go with his admirers at Washington Monthly, who contend that some of them are the same issue: Mass shootings, Daniel Luzer argues in a particularly batty piece of connect-the-imaginary-dots, has “everything to do with the distribution of wealth in America.”
It is difficult to take President Obama seriously on these issues, but it is difficult to not take seriously Josh Barro and Paul Krugman, both of whom have offered what seem to me to be inconclusive arguments, Mr. Barro under the headline “Sorry, Libertarians, Inequality Does Matter,” Professor Krugman under “Why Inequality Matters.” Strangely, neither of these erudite gentlemen quite manages to establish that inequality matters.
Mr. Barro writes: “Economic growth is not the same thing as well-being. The point of economic growth is that it leads to improvements in standards of living. If the gains from economic growth are not broadly shared, but instead accrue disproportionately to people already at the top of the income distribution, then a lot of economic growth will only generate a little improvement in living standards for most people. For this reason, rising inequality is a problem even if it does not hold back GDP.” This is true in a sense, but it reverses cause and effect: Incomes among the bottom half of earners are not stagnating because of increasing inequality; inequality is increasing because incomes among the bottom half of earners is stagnating. It could have been the case that incomes among the bottom half of earners were stagnating while incomes for the top half were absolutely crashing, in which case you would have a situation in which there was less inequality but everybody was worse off, or at least no better off. Conversely, we could have an economy in which the poor and the middle class see strong gains in their income and their wealth, but the very well off experience twice those gains, which would mean a society of increasing inequality in which everybody is better off. I have encountered progressives who state their preference for the outcome in which we are all poorer but more equal over the outcome in which we are all richer but less equal, which puzzles me.
The most embarrassing sin produces the worst politics.
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Of the seven deadly sins, envy may not be the wickedest, but it is the most embarrassing. To be possessed by envy is to admit a humiliating personal inadequacy: We do not envy others those attainments that we think we too might achieve, but those we despair of ever possessing. Wrath, greed, pride, lust — all assume a certain self-possession. Sloth and gluttony are practically standard issue in times of plenty such as these. Wrath and pride are the sins of great (but not good) men. Envy is the affliction of the insignificant. It is the small man’s sin.
Which brings us to Robert Reich, who, having practically made a cult of envy, has taken to abusing the well-off for their acts of charity. Professor Reich, a ward of the taxpayers of California (at $246,199.84 per annum) and a federal ward before that, is persistently unhappy about how other people use their money, and he scoffs that America’s rich philanthropists are phony and self-serving, investing too much in opera and ballet and fancy colleges, and too little in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. He particularly resents the fact that our tax code encourages such giving, with deductions that reduced federal revenue by some $39 billion last year — federal revenue that could have gone toward employing men such as Robert Reich.
This calls to mind Edmund Spenser’s description of Envy personified: “He hated all good works and virtuous deeds / And him no less, that any like did use / And who with gracious bread the hungry feeds / His alms for want of faith he doth accuse.”
Professor Reich being Professor Reich, you can guess how his argument unfolds. (If you have read one Robert Reich column, which is one too many, you have read them all.) He writes: “As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons. America’s wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share.” It goes without saying that he makes no attempt to compare the apportionment of charitable tax deductions with charitable donations — that would only complicate things and invite an unpleasant encounter with reality.
Some thoughts on the celebrity of Sarah Silverman.
Kevin D. Williamson writes: ‘I saw my father’s penis once. But it was okay, because I was so young . . . and sodrunk.” Thus one of the important cultural voices in modern American liberalism explores what our credulous Freudian friends would call her Electra complex. If, somewhere in this or another galaxy, an advanced alien race is monitoring the broadcasts of Sarah Silverman, we can be sure that they will not be much tempted to visit.
Silverman is a model American of the age, whose craft consists of taking a very old tradition, Jewish ethnic humor, and making it embarrassing. Barack Obama is a fan — it is not mere cultural accident that their careers are contemporaneous — while semi-serious intellectual salons host her, to their occasional regret. This is an age of infantile politics, the motto of which is: “I want!” It is only natural that this would be matched by an equally infantile popular culture — it is the infantile culture that brings about the infantile politics, not the other way around — and that one of the more significant evangelists for Barack Obama and Obamaism would be a woman who starred in a faux French New Wave film called Féte des Pets (Fart Party) and published Eat, Pray, Fart: Life Lessons from the Sarah Silverman Program.
Freud’s triune description of the human personality may be useless as a model of the mind, but it works as a method of classifying comedians. There are practitioners of the comedy of the superego, rare birds such as Bob Newhart, whose main subject, stated or not, is social convention. More common are the comedians of the ego, such as Richard Pryor, whose main subject is the comedian himself and his personality. Miss Silverman, with her fascination with all things squeamishly infantile — her father’s genitals, and her mother’s, too — is the reigning queen of the comedy of the id. Her career is considered in some quarters groundbreaking, on the theory that she has advanced the cause of feminism by demonstrating that women can be as gross and tacky as men, as though there were people to whom this fact needed to be demonstrated.
Political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest.
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Barack Obama’s moral exhortations are almost without exception unseemly. When the nation was giving him the hairy eyeball over his longtime association with the crackpot racist grotesque Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama responded by lecturing the nation about racism, as though we, rather than he, had a problem. On the eve of Thanksgiving, the president, a guest of Magic Johnson’s, chided the nation on how “selfishly” it conducts its politics.
That’s our president: sensitive to criticism but immune to irony.
Barack Obama is if not the most selfish man in American public life then a contender for the title and a shoo-in hall-of-famer. Along with such titans as Donald Trump and Alec Baldwin, he is the possessor of an epic sense of self, a Jörmungandr of ego reaching around the world to embrace — what else? — himself. The man is mired in self, positively suffocating in self: self-importance, self-regard, self-aggrandizement. Though one wonders how much substance there is within the balloon of the presidential ego: This is a man who has, after all, conscientiously reduced himself to a logo and a slogan, not a man for all seasons but a man for a single season ending in early November. The Barack Obama made available for public consumption is, like those Shepard Fairey “hope” posters seen around election time, a millimeter deep but ubiquitous. Whether the private Obama is a more substantial entity is the subject of some speculation.
Ed Driscoll writes: Has there been a more spectacular downfall to an American city than Detroit? As late as 1965, Jerome Cavanagh, its then-mayor, the first of what would be to this very day an unending series of Democrat party officials leading the city, could say with some honesty, “frequently called the most cosmopolitan city of the Midwest, Detroit, today, stands at the threshold of a bright new future.”
And the Titanic was thought to be unsinkable as well, right up until she left the Southampton docks.
The riots of 1967 would be Detroit’s equivalent of the iceberg; the 1974 election of Coleman Young as the city’s mayor for the next two decades would cement its doom permanently, until ultimately, it was forced to declare bankruptcy this past July. And in addition to the city’s institutional reverse-racism, its fiscal mismanagement has been spectacular as well. As PJM’s own Richard Fernandez noted back in September, inside Detroit’s City Hall, from 1985 through 2009, “the pension trustees were draining the pension because they were so sure, so absolutely certain that the taxpayers would have to refill the pot they felt safe helping themselves to whatever they wanted… What could go wrong? To everyone’s amazement something completely unprecedented happened: City Hall went broke. ‘They didn’t reckon with the possibility,’ [Megan McArdle wrote inBloomberg News] ‘that the city would simply run out of money, and the state would decline to step in, leaving them with no deep pockets to make up for their mismanagement.’ And so the Detroit pension is bust unless they find something they can siphon off to replenish it.”
“President Nixon’s lawlessness was sneaky, and he had the decency to be ashamed of it. President Obama’s lawlessness is as bland and bloodless as the man himself, and practiced openly, as though it were a virtue.”
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Conservatives have for years attempted to put our finger upon precisely why Barack Obama strikes us as queer in precisely the way he does. There is an alienness about him, which in the fever swamps is expressed in all that ridiculous Kenyan-Muslim hokum, but his citizen-of-the-world shtick is strictly sophomore year — the great globalist does not even speak a foreign language. Obama has been called many things — radical, socialist — labels that may have him dead to rights at the phylum level but not down at his genus or species. His social circle includes an alarming number of authentic radicals, but the president’s politics are utterly conventional managerial liberalism. His manner is aloof, but he is too plainly a child of the middle class to succumb to the regal pretensions that the Kennedys suffered from, even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm. Not a dictator under the red flag, not a would-be king, President Obama is nonetheless something new to the American experience, and troubling.
It is not simply the content of his political agenda, which, though wretched, is a good deal less ambitious than was Woodrow Wilson’s or Richard Nixon’s. Barack Obama did not invent managerial liberalism, nor has he contributed any new ideas to it. He is, in fact, a strangely incurious man. Unlike Ronald Reagan, to whom he likes to be compared, President Obama shows no signs of having expended any effort on big thinkers or big ideas. President Reagan’s guiding lights were theorists such as F. A. Hayek and Thomas Paine; Obama’s most important influences have been tacticians such as Abner Mikva, bush-league propagandists like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and his beloved community organizers. Far from being the intellectual hostage of far-left ideologues, President Obama does not appear to have the intellectual energy even to digest their ideas, much less to implement them. This is not to say that he is an unintelligent man. He is a man with a first-class education and a business-class mind, a sort of inverse autodidact whose intellectual pedigree is an order of magnitude more impressive than his intellect.
The result of this is his utterly predictable approach to domestic politics: appoint a panel of credentialed experts. His faith in the powers of pedigreed professionals is apparently absolute. Consider his hallmark achievement, the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of which is the appointment of a committee, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), the mission of which is to achieve targeted savings in Medicare without reducing the scope or quality of care. How that is to be achieved was contemplated in detail neither by the lawmakers who wrote the health-care bill nor by the president himself. But they did pay a great deal of attention to the processes touching IPAB: For example, if that committee of experts fails to achieve the demanded savings, then the ball is passed to . . . a new committee of experts, this one under the guidance of the secretary of health and human services. IPAB’s powers are nearly plenipotentiary: Its proposals, like a presidential veto, require a supermajority of Congress to be overridden. The president likes supermajorities, except when he doesn’t — the filibuster was not a sacred institution, but it did give the Senate an important lever for offsetting executive overreach. The House is designed to be an engine, the Senate a brake. Harry Reid has just helped take the brakes off of President Obama’s lawless agenda, for the purpose of installing friendly judges who will look the other way when his agenda is put to the legal test.
IPAB is the most dramatic example of President Obama’s approach to government by expert decree, but much of the rest of his domestic program, from the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law to his economic agenda, is substantially similar. In total, it amounts to that fundamental transformation of American society that President Obama promised as a candidate: but instead of the new birth of hope and change, it is the transformation of a constitutional republic operating under laws passed by democratically accountable legislators into a servile nation under the management of an unaccountable administrative state. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin D. Williamson writes: If you divided American families into six graduated income groups — poor, low-income, lower-middle, upper-middle, high-income, and affluent — and took a trip in time back to the Age of Disco, you’d find that nearly two-thirds of all American families lived in neighborhoods with median incomes in the middle two groups: lower-middle and upper-middle. Return to the present day, and you’ll find that fewer than half of American families live in middle-income neighborhoods. Progressives wringing their hands over consistently misinterpreted income figures need not go so far as Wall Street boardrooms for evidence of the economic inequality that troubles them so — they need only look next door.
Those are the findings of Kendra Bischoff of Cornell University and Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University in their recent study “Residential Segregation by Income, 1970–2009,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation. The results, if not exactly surprising, are nonetheless troubling. Neighborhoods marked by a mix of residents in the fat middle of the economic bell curve are growing proportionally smaller, while both high-income and low-income neighborhoods grow proportionally more populous. The Bischoff-Reardon study, unlike many others of its kind, does not examine households but families, meaning households in which children and their guardians are present. (A household, for U.S. Census purposes, can be anything from an extended family to a single person to six young hipsters sharing a Brooklyn loft.) That is important in that the consequences of income segregation are likely to be felt most strongly by children. Our antique Prussian factory model of education still ensures that most children’s educational options are limited by geography (the best efforts of reformers notwithstanding), and the likelihood that children will encounter peers in an organized sports league, church group, or school who are from better-off families are much more circumscribed than are the opportunities of adults to move beyond their immediate geographic horizons. The most important social habits are learned, but they are not taught; children pick them up from those around them, the same way they pick up language.
Memories of Futures Past
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Alex Seitz-Wald, the poor man’s Hendrik Hertzberg, has in the latest issue of National Journal heaved a Ciceronic sigh and declared that the Constitution “isn’t going to make it,” that it should be replaced by the wise men of our generation, who have “learned what works and what doesn’t.” This sort of essay is practically a genre unto itself. The print version of Mr. Seitz-Wald’s article is headlined “Get Me Rewrite,” as were the Boston Globe’s 2006 essay on the same subject, Lewis Lapham’s 1996 version in the New York Times Book Review, a 1999 San Francisco Chronicle version of the same piece, and a half-dozen other offerings, the main variation being the occasional presence of an exclamation point, as favored by the excitable Mr. Lapham.
Mr. Seitz-Wald’s is not the most intelligent of the selections, but it satisfactorily adheres to the conventions of the genre, which are: (1) the question-begging assertion that our federal government “isn’t working” because it stubbornly refuses to do such things as Mr. Seitz-Wald wishes it to do; (2) the conceit that we have at long last reached the stage in our social evolution at which we can best the work of the founding generation; (3) populist techno-fetishism, which since the first days of radio has been promising to unleash the forces of democracy against the arrayed lines of big business, malefactors of great wealth, vested interests, and the rest of that bunch.
This is mainly a progressive interest, though not exclusively so. Conservatives such as Mark Levin also are interested in making sweeping changes to our constitutional order, though Mr. Levin would work within that order, specifically through the amendment process, to achieve his version of a more perfect union. Mr. Seitz-Wald, on the other hand, writes admiringly of Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth and its fictitious political system, which “asks the public to choose leaders from a preselected pool of candidates who have been algorithmically chosen for leadership potential.” One suspects that the main attraction of that idea is the opportunity to write the word “algorithmically,” and Mr. Seitz-Wald all but squeals with delight as he considers the new possibilities offered by technological development: “These tools are still in their infancy, but scaled up they could change what democracy looks like in ways we’re only just beginning to imagine. At the extreme, we could theoretically have smartphone-enabled direct democracy, where the public could vote directly on legislation and where Congress would almost be irrelevant. At the same time, Lorelei Kelly of the New America Foundation and the Smart Congress project warns against ‘mob sourcing.’ One glance at what’s trending on the White House’s ‘We the People’ petition platform — e.g., ‘Investigate Jimmy Kimmel Kid’s Table Government Shutdown Show on ABC Network’ — confirms this. Instead, she says, we need something more like Rotten Tomatoes democracy. Unlike typical crowd sourcing, the movie-reviewing site privileges expertise and aggregates reviews for smarter results.” Note the loving use of California business-speak — “scaled up” for “improved,” etc. — and the general undertone of Silicon Valley envy. Read the rest of this entry »
But it’s easier than acting like responsible adults
I saw this article yesterday, and thought it looked suspicious. Rather than go blind with despair over the NYT’s familiar habit going into battle facing the wrong way, I hoped Kevin Williamson might be scanning skies above Gotham, see the Bat signal, and make an appearance. My wish is granted:
Kevin D. Williamson writes: The New York Times has published a very interesting article forwarding a number of familiar arguments that the Federal Reserve should try to increase inflation in order to encourage economic growth. Without going too deeply into the fallacies behind the idea that higher inflation is a means to strong and sustained economic growth, it is worthwhile to examine the wishful thinking and euphemisms that inform the Times’s account.
Item 1: “Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.”
Let’s take a look at these claims in order. Read the rest of this entry »
The average African-American family is poorer than the average family in India
Kevin D. Williamson writes: The phrase “waving the bloody shirt” grew popular in the South as a description of Republicans’ alleged exaggeration of the crimes of the Ku Klux Klan, the paramilitary division of the Democratic party. It is an irony of history that waving the bloody shirt has in the Age of Obama become the Democrats’ primary mode of discourse. Oppose the Affordable Care Act? Racism. Like the Second Amendment? Racism. Black Barbie is on sale for half off, but white Barbie is full price? Racism. Black holes sucking the energy out of your quadrant? Why single out the black ones? Racism!
Waving the bloody shirt is not only about making an emotional appeal — it’s a strategy for distraction. It became a bitter joke in the Soviet Union — whether the issue was the crimes of Stalin or the fact that the Lada was a piece of junk, the answer was always the same: A u vas negrov linchuyut. The same principle is at work in today’s Democratic commentariat: As Americans start to notice what a fiasco Obamacare is . . . Oh, look! A Confederate flag! There is really nothing more satisfying to liberals than a Confederate flag sighting, though I wonder what they’d make of the fact that in my corner of Texas it is not unheard-of to see black men wearing Dixie belt buckles or T-shirts. (All of our necks are just different shades of red.) When Brad Paisley sings about the Confederate flag, it’s like Christmas morning for Touré. Yet, despite the daft insistence of Joan Walsh and the Affiliated Suburban Pearl-Clutchers of America, there is no neo-Confederate revanche just around the corner. The idea is, however, a useful distraction. But a distraction from what?
Fifty years into the Democrats’ declaration of a war on poverty and President Kennedy’s first executive order for affirmative action, while spending $300 million a year on worthless diversity workshops and singing endless verses of “We Shall Overcome,” after enduring endless posturing from Barack Obama and the moral preening of his admirers, that is what black American families have to show for themselves: an average household net worth of $4,955. The average white household in these United States has a net worth of $110,729. Black Americans’ median net worth is less than 5 percent that of white Americans.
This American government — what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man, for a single man can bend it to his will.
— Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Democracy isn’t a machine — it’s a dance. And as much as we all admire Thomas More’s famous speech in A Man for All Seasons — “I’d give the Devil the benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake!” — the fact is we ignore the law all the time: Sammy Hagar can’t drive 55, and I have a sneaking suspicion that many bartenders receiving cash tips do not report every last penny to the IRS. The people we elect to represent us come to believe that they are there to rule us, and we push back against being ruled, sometimes in penny-ante ways, sometimes more dramatically, as with the recent outburst of civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., where veterans and other righteously cheesed-off citizens tore down the barricades surrounding our national monuments and deposited them in front of the White House, as excellent a gesture of the American spirit as our increasingly docile nation has seen in years.
Every American has a little sedition in his soul, and this is a very good time to give it free rein.
We don’t need this quasi-Canadian, crypto-Communist holiday
There isn’t much good to say about Labor Day, except maybe that it could be worse — it could be on May 1, which would make it a full-on Communist holiday instead of a merely crypto-Communist one. For that we can thank Grover Cleveland, the last pretty-good Democrat (seriously: gold standard, anti-tariff, vetoed twice as many bills as all of his predecessors combined — Rand Paul is a fan), who pushed for the creation of a labor festival in September as cultural competition to the international workers’ celebration in May, sort of the reverse of the strategy of the early Church fathers’ choosing the dates of heathen festivals for the new Christian holidays.
So, from the two out of three working-age Americans who are gainfully employed, a round of applause for President Cleveland.
But crypto-Communist holidays are not so great, either.