Early campaign 2016

Summed up in a few lines, in a week of ‘big announcements.’

Like Peggy Noonan, I have emerged from a virtual bunker packed with too much work to allow blogging, only because she says it here.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Yep, that’s it in brief, pithy, well-defined sum.

Please God, let us have a press acting once again like the press of a great nation, hungry, raucous, alive, demanding. And further…challenging, engaging, insightful (and dear God, let them finally be self-reflective for a change, examining how they’ve handled political reporting for years and decades now). And finally, honest and honorable. Is that too much to ask? A lively and engaged press, open to all sides and all views, eager to enter the arena of ideas and work them out and pick them apart and apply critical thinking skills so we can once again have vigorous, robust debate covered well by professional journalists?

Or will we continue to get ‘the blob, dying of ideological poisoning’? So much is yet to be determined, some of it now declared.

A bit more on that in the early going, from Noonan’s WSJ column:

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?

Enough said, for now.

Post-election ruminations

And they are revealing. Not only about what went wrong for champions of one candidate, much of one party and many advocates of important causes, but how to learn from that. High level disagreement there…

Take this Public Discourse piece.

A common trope in social policy debates is to claim that the public’s changing opinion on the policy at stake, rather than the policy’s moral or substantive justifications, merits changing the platform of one’s preferred political party. This notion seems recently to have taken root on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and several commentators have reacted.

Consider its November 8 editorial extolling referendums on marriage. The editors argue that views on “gay marriage” are changing so that “after 32 defeats at the ballot box, a gay marriage initiative was adopted by voters,” which shows that Americans are “capable of changing their views and the laws on gay marriage.” They praise the referendum process over judicial fiat, but their implicit premise seems to be that the policy change is a good one. Any substantive arguments to support this view are missing; what remains is only the claim of an inexorable shift in public opinion.

Now there’s a good point. I keep saying that we need a robust and honest public airing of different views on a number of social issues and public policies, with opposite arguments made and defended, so people can engage the fullness of the issues and the ramifications of their outcomes. You know, follow an idea through to its logical conclusion. Engage critical thinking. We’re not getting much of that in any widely accessed public forum, with few exceptions.

Ross Douthat comments on all this, and does some dot-connecting in this op-ed piece.

Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.

Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.

Likewise with the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — which is now commonplace for women under 30 — is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.

Or consider the secular vote, which has been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible…

This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the economic era that many liberals pine for — the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom — was an era that social conservatives remember fondly as well: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.

No such renewal seems to be on the horizon. That isn’t a judgment on the Obama White House, necessarily. But it is a judgment on a certain kind of blithe liberal optimism, and the confidence with which many Democrats assume their newly emerged majority is a sign of progress rather than decline.

As for conservatives, they’re having a necessary and not necessarily bad wrestling match within their ranks over big ideas and changing realities and criticism both constructive and very unhelpful.

Back to that Public Discourse piece:

To the extent then that the Republican Party appears to abandon its rightward stance on social issues; to the extent that Republicans are afraid to defend their views on the value of life, on religious freedom, and on marriage, they cede back the Reagan Democrats and their children to the Democrats, and they doom themselves to minority status.

These practical realities have not been lost on conservatives, and several important commentators have sounded the alarm. At First Things Matthew Franck cogently compares the Wall Street Journal’s urgings that we abandon our social principles to the cynical political maneuvering of Stephen Douglas on the slavery issue a century and a half ago. Franck notes that had Abraham Lincoln succumbed to the apparent expediency of falling into line with Douglas’s arguments, slavery likely would have persisted…

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, policy has worked, does work, and will work best when it is founded on moral and practical arguments. The Republican Party’s defense of freedom and dignity is based on both.

And more, because as Eric Metaxas puts it so well in so few words, logic is not enough.

Who are these non-Democrats?

First, the Republican Party had to show a healthy respect and appreciation for the Tea Party for not going off and forming an official third party in a two-party system, siphoning off voters en masse and messing up the whole election mainstream Americans have long-awaited. Then, the media had to figure out what hit them.

It took until the eve of the elections for elite media to give more than grudging respect to the force collectively known by that name ‘Tea Party’, though no one has a grip on it…which makes it an intriguing sort of renegade movement of commoners.

So I have to take my favorite ‘newspaper’ (or magazine, to non-Brits) to task for some of their recent coverage. But affectionatly, because The Economist does a great job of covering it all well, albeit with their own built-in preconceptions (one of which is the pervasive over-indulgence of praise or credit to President Obama for imagined achievements).

Last week, in anticipation of the invevitable Republican landslide, The Economist did a cover story on Angry America, a premise I disagree with, though it’s their meme and they’re sticking with it. The Leader in that issue is worth a commentary itself, but you know what they say about ‘day old newspapers’… I’ll let my notes on that one pass now that it’s a week on, except for this:

Mr Obama seems curiously unable to perceive, let alone respond to, the grievances of middle America, and has a dangerous habit of dismissing tea-partiers and others who disagree with him as deluded, evil or just bitter. The silver tongue that charmed America during the campaign has been replaced by a tin ear…

Whatever the reason, he does not seem to feel America’s pain, and looks unable either to capitalise on his administration’s achievements or to project an optimistic vision for the future.

True, except his achievements have been overstated by many foreign media and certainly, many fawning but fading American media.

So in that same issue, on the eve of the election, the wise columnist Lexinton ran this polite look at The good, the bad and the tea parties. Ever so right to make that plural.

The Washington Post spent months trying to contact every tea-party group in the nation. Having got through to 647 out of 1,400 it had identified, it found that some consisted of only a handful of members, if they existed at all.

So go back to how Lexington began this seemingly polite commentary.

IT IS not hard, if you really try, to find good things to say about America’s tea-partiers. They are not French, for a start. France’s new revolutionaries, those who have been raising Cain over Nicolas Sarkozy’s modest proposal to raise the age of retirement by two years, appear to believe that public money is printed in heaven and will rain down for ever like manna to pay for pensions, welfare, medical care and impenetrable avant-garde movies. America’s tea-partiers are the opposite: they exhale fiscal probity through every pore…

The tea-partiers do not just have less selfish motives than the pampered French. They also have better manners. Let the French block roads and set things on fire: among tea-partiers it is a point of pride that their large but orderly rallies leave barely a crumpled candy wrapper behind them.

And Lexington makes this apt point:

America’s pontificating class is not yet sure how to take the measure of this strange new movement.

True of all of them (the pontificating class). Here’s what Lexington came up with…

Not French, not fabricated and not as flaky as their detractors aver: these are the positives. Another one: in how many other countries would a powerful populist movement demand less of government, rather than endlessly and expensively more? Much of what is exceptional about America is its ideology of small government, free enterprise and self reliance. If that is what the tea-party movement is for, more power to its elbow.

And power it had last Tuesday, in the 2010 midterm elections. So I was eager to see how The Economist would handle that. Take a look at this cover story. When it arrived in my mailbox, I had to stop and appreciate the full amount of energy that went into creating just the art alone, putting the faces of Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee on the faces of a cowboy posse charging into Washington. Cute.

But here’s the rub. They acknowledge this:

The mid-term elections on November 2nd saw the biggest swing to the Republicans for 72 years.

However, editors seem to go into a snit about it all after that.

Yes, this was hardly an enthusiastic vote for his opponents, more a howl of rage against incumbents from citizens struggling after the worst slowdown since the 1930s. And he has a string of legislative achievements to his name.

It actually was an enthusiastic vote for his opponents, and it’s unfair to call it a “howl of rage”, which is beneath the level of respect those voters deserve. Furthermore, I’d like to hear a reasoned case of what those legislative achievements are. Mandates rammed through a Democratic Congress do not constitute legislative achievements, in some reasoned opinion.

Furthermore…

Whether [presumptive Speaker of the House] Mr. [John] Boehner decides to work with Mr Obama or against him, voters will accord him a share of the blame if things continue to be miserable.

Hold on. Flip it. What about Mr. Obama working with Mr. Boehner and the House? And his accountability and share of the blame if by not doing so, things continue to be miserable?

Okay, a couple more things…

No red-blooded conservative will touch defence expenditure at a time when America’s troops are in combat and the country faces toner-wielding terrorists and a rising China.

What about a red-blooded American liberal?

And then there’s this (and note that it’s a parenthetical statement, cueing the reader to give it less attention):

(Of course, Mr Obama has no credible plan to deal with the deficit either. But at least by backing a stimulus now he has a cogent answer to the immediate problem of the stuttering recovery.)

The Economist has thus declared the pork-laden economic stimulus spend-a-thon to be a cogent answer to economic crisis.

So in the end, realistic analysis:

Mr Obama could extend more help to small businesses, offer tax reforms that would make commerce simpler and generally do more to show that he understands how wealth is created. The Bush tax cuts, due to expire at the end of this year, could be extended and a short-term stimulus agreed upon…

Deadlock over the Bush tax cuts will see them expire, letting taxes rise sharply by default. Without further help from the federal government, cash-strapped states will sack employees and cut benefits next year. It is in everybody’s interest that Sheriff Obama and the Republican posse work together.

To grab once again at an overused and time-worn stereotype of American grit. But they have to start somewhere in trying to figure out the new reality that has just descended on Washington. They may have the posse right, but the sheriff has yet to earn his badge.