George Will has a superb column on Obama’s rhetoric in the State of the Union Address:
Obama, an unfettered executive wielding a swollen state, began and ended his address by celebrating the armed forces. They are not “consumed with personal ambition,” they “work together” and “focus on the mission at hand” and do not “obsess over their differences.” Americans should emulate troops “marching into battle,” who “rise or fall as one unit.”
Well. The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society, unless the aspiration is to extinguish politics. People marching in serried ranks, fused into a solid mass by the heat of martial ardor, proceeding in lock step, shoulder to shoulder, obedient to orders from a commanding officer — this is a recurring dream of progressives eager to dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.
Progressive presidents use martial language as a way of encouraging Americans to confuse civilian politics with military exertions, thereby circumventing an impediment to progressive aspirations — the Constitution and the patience it demands. As a young professor, Woodrow Wilson had lamented that America’s political parties “are like armies without officers.” The most theoretically inclined of progressive politicians, Wilson was the first president to criticize America’s founding. This he did thoroughly, rejecting the Madisonian system of checks and balances — the separation of powers, a crucial component of limited government — because it makes a government that cannot be wielded efficiently by a strong executive.
Wilson is of particular importance here. Wilson’s dissatisfaction with the Constitution stemmed from the many limitations said document placed on the government. Not only did the Framers grant few specified powers to Congress, they instituted various mechanisms that made it even more difficult for government to enact the reforms that Progressives like Wilson so desired. Wilson wanted to convert the United States government into a parliamentary system. Under this kind of design, instead of a legislature-dominated government complicated by checks and balances, we would have an executive-led government with few checks on the Prime Minister’s power.
Wilson was unable to transform the government to his liking. The Constitution still divides power in so many ways that it would be theoretically be difficult for the Progressive reformers to get all that they wanted. So instead of working within the system, the left has basically just ignored that pesky ancient document.
Franklin Roosevelt agreed. He complained about “the three-horse team of the American system”: “If one horse lies down in the traces or plunges off in another direction, the field will not be plowed.” And progressive plowing takes precedence over constitutional equipoise among the three branches of government. Hence FDR’s attempt to break the Supreme Court to his will by enlarging it.
In his first inaugural address, FDR demanded “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” He said Americans must “move as a trained and loyal army” with “a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.” The next day, addressing the American Legion, Roosevelt said it was “a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace.” In such a time, dissent is disloyalty.
Yearnings for a command society were common and respectable then. Commonweal, a magazine for liberal Catholics, said that Roosevelt should have “the powers of a virtual dictatorship to reorganize the government.” Walter Lippmann, then America’s preeminent columnist, said: “A mild species of dictatorship will help us over the roughest spots in the road ahead.” The New York Daily News, then the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper, cheerfully editorialized: “A lot of us have been asking for a dictator. Now we have one. .?.?. It is Roosevelt. .?.?. Dictatorship in crises was ancient Rome’s best era.” The New York Herald Tribune titled an editorial “For Dictatorship if Necessary.”
Commonweal. Some things never change.
And so now we’ve arrived at Obama’s America, and the left’s impatience with the Constitution manifests itself again.
Obama, aspiring to command civilian life, has said that in reforming health care, he would have preferred an “elegant, academically approved” plan without “legislative fingerprints on it” but “unfortunately” he had to conduct “negotiations with a lot of different people.” His campaign mantra “We can’t wait!” expresses progressivism’s impatience with our constitutional system of concurrent majorities. To enact and execute federal laws under Madison’s institutional architecture requires three, and sometimes more, such majorities. There must be majorities in the House and Senate, each body having distinctive constituencies and electoral rhythms. The law must be affirmed by the president, who has a distinctive electoral base and election schedule. Supermajorities in both houses of Congress are required to override presidential vetoes. And a Supreme Court majority is required to sustain laws against constitutional challenges.
“We can’t wait!” exclaims Obama, who makes recess appointments when the Senate is not in recess, multiplies “czars” to further nullify the Senate’s constitutional prerogative to advise and consent, and creates agencies (e.g., Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board and Dodd-Frank’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) untethered from legislative accountability.
Like other progressive presidents fond of military metaphors, he rejects the patience of politics required by the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.
Excellent takedown from Jonah Goldberg of an excruciating bit of historical illiteracy written by Kevin Boyle. Boyle had written a review in the Times of a couple of books about the Klan, and led with this laugher:
Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.
No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses and the ludicrous name meant to evoke a heroic past. The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to behold.
There’s a lot more silliness, including a whopper of a closing paragraph that both Jonah and Daniel Foster rightfully mock. At any rate, Jonah responds:
The average reader with no specialized knowledge and an unhealthy faith in the wisdom and accuracy of the New York Times might find in all of this reinforcement of the conventional liberal tale of the KKK as a quirky and extremist conservative organization.
But that’s simply not the story of the second Klan. I don’t expect Kevin Boyle to hammer home the Klan’s progressive and Democratic ties. But he manages to make them all sound conventionally conservative. He doesn’t acknowledge that Woodrow Wilson was Birth of a Nation’s most famous booster. Nor does he mention that World War One was the Progressives’ war and that “100% Americanism” was touted and promoted by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — our two progressive presidents. He doesn’t mention that evil spirits of World War One were orchestrated by progressive wordsmiths, activists, and artists.
The Klan of the 1920s and 30s would have had more sympathy for the populist sentimentality of the Occupy Wall Street crowd than with the tea parties. Like the OWS group, they thought the reforms instituted by the Democrat in the White House to be not radical enough. But acknowledging as much would derail an “academic” with an ideological axe to gore.
Well it looks like Cynthia Tucker has been beaten out for the most obtuse observation of the past 24 hours. Let’s hear from Chris Mathews, who decided to turn a great story about survival into a partisan political point.
Down 2,000 feet in the ground, a group of 33 men not only survived for 69 days but prevailed. What a story of human faith, hope, charity and yes, community. I know that last word drives people on the right crazy: community.
Theirs is the popular notion that it`s every man for himself. Grab what you can, screw the masses, cash out of the government, go it alone — the whole cowboy catechism.
But how would those miners have survived, the 33 of them, and their loved ones living above if they`d behave like that with the attitude of every man for himself. This is above all, and deep down they`re in the mine about being in all there together. It`s about mutual reliance and relying on others. Not just to do their jobs, but to come through in the clutch.
Not only is this a sophomoric and shameful bit of analysis, but it further proves the point that great swathes of the left fundamentally do not understand what is meant by “community.” Continue reading
(Guest post by Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative. This post orignally appeared here at Cranky Conservative.)
Michael Zak does what all too many on the left fail to do: crack open some history books and take a real look at the history of the Ku Klux Klan. Zak correctly notes that when the Klan was at its zenith during the 1920s, it was a terrorist wing of the Democratic party, and that since its inception, Republicans were at the forefront in trying to take it down.
It would have been far more truthful for the congresswoman to have admitted the fact that all those who wore sheets a long time ago lifted them to wear Democratic Party clothing. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was established by the Democratic Party. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan murdered thousands of Republicans — African-American and white – in the years following the Civil War. Yes, the Republican Party and a Republican President, Ulysses Grant, destroyed the KKK with their Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
How did the Ku Klux Klan re-emerge in the 20th century? For that, the Democratic Party is to blame.
It was a racist Democrat President, Woodrow Wilson, who premiered Birth of a Nation in the White House. That racist movie was based on a racist book written by one of Wilson’s racist friends from college. In 1915, the movie spawned the modern-day Klan, with its burning crosses and white sheets.
Inspired by the movie, some Georgia Democrats revived the Klan. Soon, the Ku Klux Klan again became a powerful force within the Democratic Party. The KKK so dominated the 1924 Democratic Convention that Republicans, speaking truth to power, called it the Klanbake. In the 1930s, a Democrat President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appointed a Klansman, Senator Hugo Black (D-AL), to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1950s, the Klansmen against whom the civil rights movement struggled were Democrats. The notorious police commissioner Bull Connor, who attacked African-Americans with dogs and clubs and fire hoses, was both a Klansman and the Democratic Party’s National Committeeman for Alabama. Starting in the 1980s, the Democratic Party elevated a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), to third-in-line for the presidency.
I have one quibble with all this. It focuses too much on the partisan aspect of the KKK and not enough on its ideological drive. After all, modern day Democrats could just claim that the Klan represented the conservative wing of the Democratic party. This would be an error.
While most members of the Klan held what would be termed conservative views on social issues, they were hardly purveyors of Burkean conservative values. In fact the Klan typified the Progressive/Populist movement to a tee: “conservative” socially but decidedly left-wing economically and politically. They supported government intrusion into the economy and were backers of the New Deal. Jesse Walker explains some of the areas of overlap between the Progressive movement and the Klan: Continue reading
I came across this comment a while back, and I think it summarizes the experience of many of my fellow law and MBA classmates (all of whom are recent graduates or current students):
I don’t know how it was elsewhere, but the game my friends and I were sold had breezy constant ladders and shallow painless chutes. Now the ladders are falling apart or growing queues, and the chutes have proved to be sudden and devastating.
Now, on the one hand, it’s almost never rational to expect wonderful career opportunities to be awaiting one at every turn. And the graduates he’s talking about – people with sparkling resumes from the most prestigious undergrad and graduate schools – are hardly Dickens-level sympathetic protagonists. On the other hand, endless career opportunities are what many grad school admission offices are selling. And for many students and recent graduates of these institutions, six figures in debt with rapidly eroding job prospects, the recession has been a rather traumatic experience. This is certain to have a number of consequences, but I’ve been idly speculating that twenty to thirty years down the line, when they will be in a position to influence public policy, these individuals are likely to be more sympathetic than they might otherwise to redistributive policies. And, as it turns out, there is actually a recent academic study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that supports this idea. Here is the abstract:
Do generations growing up during recessions have different socio-economic beliefs than generations growing up in good times? We study the relationship between recessions and beliefs by matching macroeconomic shocks during early adulthood with self-reported answers from the General Social Survey. Using time and regional variations in macroeconomic conditions to identify the effect of recessions on beliefs, we show that individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions. Moreover, we find that recessions have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ beliefs.
The Great NYU Kimmel Food Court Occupation comes to a bloodless end. (Or "how NOT to spend your college tuition")
Last week a group of “student-empowering, social-justice-minded” students and assorted ragamuffins and rabblerousers from neighboring colleges (many affiliated with TakeBackNYU) had the stunningly-brilliant idea of barricading themselves in a food court in New York University’s Kimmell Center, “in a historic effort to bring pressure on NYU for its administrative and ethical failings regarding transparency, democracy and protection of human rights.”
Being a contarian sort of creature, I’ve been wanting for some time to write a post on why the progressive instinct is sometimes the right one. I’m quite certain that neither conservatism nor progressivism, properly understood, is the only possible view for the moral and reasonable citizen — and yet I find myself impeded in this by being in fact a very temperamentally conservative person.
First off, I’d like to suggest that as most precisely used “conservative” and “progressive” (I’m avoiding the term “liberal” here because it strikes me as having an even more confusing and increasingly imprecise meaning) are very relative terms. The progressive seeks to change current social structures, attitudes and political institutions in order to make them better. He seeks to progress. Conservative seeks to preserve existing structures and institutions, and when he accedes to change he urges that it be done slowly in order to avoid the disruption which rapid change often results in.
I would argue that there are some times when we should follow the progressive instinct, others when we should clearly follow the conservative one, and many in which it is a matter of debate which should be followed.