Wisconsin’s Axis of Evil vs. the rest of us

With her last name Emily Badger should be writing for a Wisconsin newspaper, but instead writes for the New York Times about what I have been calling Wisconsin’s “Axis of Evil” for a decade, when Democrats controlled all of state government and proved that their values are not values worth preserving.)

In much of Wisconsin, “Madison and Milwaukee” are code words (to some, dog whistles) for the parts of the state that are nonwhite, elite, different: The cities are where people don’t have to work hard with their hands, because they’re collecting welfare or public-sector paychecks.

That stereotype updates a very old idea in American politics, one pervading Wisconsin’s bitter Statehouse fights today and increasingly those in other states: Urban voters are an exception. If you discount them, you get a truer picture of the politics — and the will of voters — in a state.

Thomas Jefferson believed as much — “the mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government,” he wrote, “as sores do to the strength of the human body.”

Wisconsin Republicans amplified that idea this week, arguing that the legislature is the more representative branch of government, and then voting to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor. The legislature speaks for the people in all corners of the state, they seemed to be saying, and statewide offices like governor merely reflect the will of those urban mobs.

“State legislators are the closest to those we represent,” Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader in the Wisconsin Senate, said in a statement after Republicans voted on the changes before dawn on Wednesday. They’re the ones who hold town hall meetings, who listen directly to constituents across the state. Legislators should stand, he said, “on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison.”

That argument is particularly debatable in Wisconsin, where the legislature has been heavily gerrymandered. But Mr. Fitzgerald’s jab at Madison was notable, too.

Mr. Fitzgerald was essentially recasting the new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, not as the winner of a statewide mandate but as a creature of the capital city, put there by people in the cities. (Never mind that the outgoing Republican governor, Scott Walker, and the state legislature are based in Madison, too.)

Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Statehouse, drew this distinction even more explicitly after the midterm election.

“If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” he said. “We would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”

This is most likely true, depending on how you define Madison and Milwaukee. But it’s an odd point to make, given that Madison and Milwaukee can’t be removed from Wisconsin. Nor Detroit from Michigan, nor Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from Pennsylvania, nor Raleigh and Charlotte from North Carolina.

“It just is incredibly frustrating and really nonsensical to think about representation in those terms, especially when you’re talking about statewide results,” said David Canon, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.

He pointed as well to comments by Mr. Walker arguing that his loss in the governor’s race wasn’t a rejection by voters so much as a reflection of unusually high turnout among people who weren’t part of the voting population in his previous victories. Mr. Walker lost the race by 29,000 votes statewide. In Dane County, home to Madison, about 42,000 more people voted in the governor’s race this year than did in 2014.

“How can that not be a repudiation by the voters?” Mr. Canon said. “It only isn’t if you don’t care about the voters in the parts of the state that are Democratic.”

Republican gerrymandering in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina have pushed the limits of how much the urban voter can be devalued.

In Wisconsin, Democratic candidates for the State Assembly won 54 percent of the vote statewide. But they will hold only 36 of 99 seats. They picked up just one more seat than in the current Assembly, a result of a gerrymander drawn so well that it protected nearly every Republican seat in a Democratic wave election.

In North Carolina, Democrats won 51 percent of the popular vote for the lower chamber in the statehouse but just 45 percent of the seats. In Michigan, where a lame-duck session fight similar to Wisconsin’s is playing out, Democrats won 53 percent of the vote but just 47 percent of those seats. (In states like Illinois and Maryland, where Democrats drew the gerrymanders, they won a disproportionate share of seats.)

For Republicans now, the argument that urban voters distort statewide races may justify policies urban voters do not want. But that comes at a political cost, too.

“When you clarify for people that it’s ‘Madison and Milwaukee’ versus the rest of the state, well, the people in Madison and Milwaukee hear that, too,” said Kathy Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has written about the state’s urban-rural divide. “And it’s just as mobilizing for them.”

Cramer wrote The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, which might be worth a reexamination given last month’s (wrong) election results. There are many, many small towns in this state where the highest-paid people in town are government employees.

For their own selfish political reasons, Republicans are now the defenders of rural Wisconsin and its values, because the values of a majority of rural Wisconsinites are not the same as a majority of residents of the City of Milwaukee and Dane County.

All you have to do is pick one issue — gun control — to show the divide between the right side and the wrong side. Why, one wonders, are there so many shootings in Milwaukee and Madison, and hardly any elsewhere in the state? The gun laws are the same in all 72 counties, and yet in 70 of those counties guns do not load, aim and fire themselves. In fact, even if you include Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s 2016 gun death rate was lower than the national average, and this state’s homicide rate was substantially lower than the national average. Take Milwaukee (site of 142 homicides in 2016, more than 20 states) out of the state (256 total), and this state’s homicide rate (including but not limited to by gun) would be far less than half what it was in 2016.

But there is other evidence based on what Evers has done so far. First, from RightWisconsin:

The top official of the top abortion provider in the state of Wisconsin will continue to advise Governor-elect Tony Evers on “health care” despite a demands for her removal from a health care committee.

On Tuesday last week, Evers appointed Tanya Atkinson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, to his Health Care Advisory Council. The committee, according to parries release from Evers, “will help our transition team put together a comprehensive health care plan that takes steps to increase access to health care coverage, like taking the Medicaid expansion dollars, while bringing down costs.”

Recall that Evers compared abortion to tonsillectomies, a statement that should be abhorrent to even those who view abortion rights as a necessary evil. And of course Evers thinks your tax dollars should pay for abortions.

Then, also from RightWisconsin:

If Wisconsinites are wondering how different an administration under Governor-elect Tony Evers will be, one of his first transition team appointments may provide a clue. On Tuesday, Evers announced Dane County Supervisor Jamie Kuhn will be one of his policy advisors.

Kuhn is in her second stint as a county supervisor, after she caused a stir her first time as an office holder when she refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at county board meetings. Kuhn and another supervisor, Echnaton Vedder, were heavily criticized at the time for their decision to not to recite the pledge, causing Kuhn to write an op-ed in 1999 defending her decision.

“In a country that must deal with homelessness, violence, HIV, children shooting children, it seems to me ‘patriotism’ should be defined by what one does to help our country eliminate these ills rather than worrying about whether or not someone, who is standing respectfully before the flag, does not mouth the words of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Kuhn wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Shortly after the controversy erupted, Kuhn left her position with the office of former state Rep. Sarah Waukau (D-Antigo). She would later join the staff of state Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) before leaving to become a lobbyist in 2012. She did not run for re-election in 2000.

As recently as 2017, Kuhn defended her behavior by telling the Capital Times that she was trying to challenge the traditional ways the county board operated.

“When I joined the board not only as a younger member but also who at the time was interested in lifting up other voices, I think there was some butting of heads and some challenges with that for certain,” Kuhn said.

So Evers has consciously decided by his hiring decisions to spit at traditional conservative values.

Republicans get criticized for, in the opinion of non-“establishment” Republicans, knuckling under to Democrats. They cannot be accused of knuckling under with the so-called “lame duck” session, but Democrats of course now believe that they should have unlimited power because a few thousand misguided voters voted for Democrats instead of Republicans. Most people’s definition of “bipartisan,” of course, is “your party does what my party wants your party to do,” which is surrender, not compromise.

What are the right values, you ask? Hard work and not relying on government, either for employment or welfare would be two of them. Constitutional rights, for another. Realizing the proper role of politics in your life, for another.

If I had drawing skills I’d create a logo of the state with Dane County and Milwaukee cut out. Yes, there are Democrats who live outside of Madison and Milwaukee. Madison has about six Republicans within its city limits, and there are maybe 12 in the Milwaukee city limits. Simple math says that if Madison and Milwaukee were not in Wisconsin, this state would be overwhelmingly Republican.



The Beer Party, or Grand Old Pilsner

J. Christian Adams:

GOP strategists have been warning that the sky is falling, that a demographic calamity is coming.  Young voters and voters to be, we are told, have no reason to vote Republican.

A fix to attract young voters might be sitting right in front of them, if congressional Republicans have the creativity to pop it open.

One of the sorriest sights I have ever seen in a bar occurred on the eve of the Gulf War in the fall of 1990.  Soldiers from the nearby Army base were celebrating their final days in the states before being deployed to Saudi Arabia where they would eventually smash Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait.

The young soldiers were lined up at the bar.  Instead of beer, they were sipping sodas because they weren’t old enough.

It was a sad, pathetic sight. Soldiers who would soon ship out to war celebrating their final hours in the United States, and they were drinking Sprite.

If the Republicans want to attract young voters, then lead the charge to repeal the National Minimum Age Drinking Age Act that Democrats in Congress passed in 1984.

Loudly repeal the mandate and allow states to lower their drinking age to 18 from 21 without federal penalty.

Appeal to young voters with beer and bourbon.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act forced states to change their state laws or else forfeit federal highway money.  The federal mandate that required states to raise the drinking age to 21 was chiefly sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey.

As far as I am concerned, if you are old enough to fight and die for America, you are old enough to drink a beer.

We can debate the pros and cons of the federal mandate as a question of social behavioral engineering.  You might say that the federal mandate reduces drunk driving, and I will respond that so could complete prohibition of the sort we had from 1920 to 1933.  You might note the opposition of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to my idea, and I would argue that the drinking age of 21 pushes younger adults into irresponsible behavior, including binge drinking.

If a state wants to keep the drinking age at 21 years old, let the citizens of that state – including the 18-year-old voters – decide the question at the ballot box.  Just get Washington, D.C., off their backs.

This is a question of both federalism and morality.

Washington, D.C., should not be deciding how old you have to be before you can drink a Miller Lite.  As a matter of constitutional division of power, the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution gives states almost complete power over alcohol.  States have the power to legislate themselves dry, or to eliminate the drinking age altogether, notwithstanding the federal mandate.

This is also a question of morality.  A nation cannot expect the youngest generation to bear the burden of service, but not extend the full measure of citizenship to them.

If you can be drafted, you should be able to order a draft.

President Ronald Reagan was originally opposed to the federal mandate of a drinking age of 21 but came to sign the bill because he decided reducing teen driving mortality was more important.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

In the first few years after the drinking age became effective, teen driving deaths actually increased.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that teen driving deaths dropped dramatically, and by then, any number of alternative causes contributed to the improvement.  In other countries that did not raising the drinking age, teen driving deaths also nevertheless declined.

Improvements in safety, education, and technology may have played a bigger role in reducing highway deaths than federal mandates did.

But do young people want the federal drinking age mandate to go away?

This is the same age group that never endured the federally mandated 55 miles per hour speed limit.  Today’s 19-year-olds never experienced creeping along a wide open interstate highway at 59 miles per hour, scanning for state troopers.

Repealing the 55 mph federal speed limit mandate was one of the first things the new Republican Congress did in 1995.  It was also wildly popular and Republicans got the credit.

If Republicans want to appeal to young voters, appeal to their desire for freedom.  Go ahead, laugh if you want.  I’m aware of what is happening on campus and in the classroom.

But I still can’t shake the image of American warriors sipping sodas before they smashed Saddam.  Some things just aren’t right, and Republicans should gamble that young Americans will agree.

As someone who miraculously survived the 18-year-old drinking age without getting killed and with a child now in the armed services, I agree 100 percent with this. The national drinking age is probably the worst thing Reagan ever signed off on, with the unintended consequences of promoting binge drinking, which is considerably harmful. It created a new class of criminals — adult underage drinkers. A look at the police blotter from any college-town newspaper will prove that the 21-year-old drinking age has not stopped drinking by those who are not 21 yet.

Brutal Democratic honesty

The Spectator interviews one of my favorite liberals, Camille Paglia:

You’ve been a sharp political prognosticator over the years. So can I start by asking for a prediction. What will happen in 2020 in America? Will Hillary Clinton run again?

If the economy continues strong, Trump will be reelected. The Democrats (my party) have been in chaos since the 2016 election and have no coherent message except Trump hatred. Despite the vast pack of potential candidates, no one yet seems to have the edge. I had high hopes for Kamala Harris, but she missed a huge opportunity to play a moderating, statesmanlike role and has already imprinted an image of herself as a ruthless inquisitor that will make it hard for her to pull voters across party lines.

Screechy Elizabeth Warren has never had a snowball’s chance in hell to appeal beyond upper-middle-class professionals of her glossy stripe. Kirsten Gillibrand is a wobbly mediocrity. Cory Booker has all the gravitas of a cork. Andrew Cuomo is a yapping puppy with a long, muddy bullyboy tail. Both Bernie Sanders (for whom I voted in the 2016 primaries) and Joe Biden (who would have won the election had Obama not cut him off at the knees) are way too old and creaky.

To win in the nation’s broad midsection, the Democratic nominee will need to project steadiness, substance, and warmth. I’ve been looking at Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Governor Steve Bullock of Montana. As for Hillary, she’s pretty much damaged goods, but her perpetual, sniping, pity-me tour shows no signs of abating. She still has a rabidly loyal following, but it’s hard to imagine her winning the nomination again, with her iron grip on the Democratic National Committee now gone. Still, it’s in her best interest to keep the speculation fires burning. Given how thoroughly she has already sabotaged the rising candidates by hogging the media spotlight, I suspect she wants Trump to win again. I don’t see our stumbling, hacking, shop-worn Evita yielding the spotlight willingly to any younger gal.

Has Trump governed erratically?

Yes, that’s a fair description. It’s partly because as a non-politician he arrived in Washington without the battalion of allies, advisors, and party flacks that a senator or governor would normally accumulate on the long road to the White House. Trump’s administration is basically a one-man operation, with him relying on gut instinct and sometimes madcap improvisation. There’s often a gonzo humor to it — not that the US president should be slinging barbs at bottom-feeding celebrities or jackass journalists, much as they may deserve it. It’s like a picaresque novel starring a jaunty rogue who takes to Twitter like Tristram Shandy’s asterisk-strewn diary. Trump’s unpredictability might be giving the nation jitters, but it may have put North Korea, at least, on the back foot.

Most Democrats have wildly underestimated Trump from the get-go. I was certainly surprised at how easily he mowed down 17 other candidates in the GOP primaries. He represents widespread popular dissatisfaction with politics as usual. Both major US parties are in turmoil and metamorphosis, as their various factions war and realign. The mainstream media’s nonstop assault on Trump has certainly backfired by cementing his outsider status. He is basically a pragmatic deal-maker, indifferent to ideology. As with Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump rose because of decades of failure by the political establishment to address urgent systemic problems, including corruption at high levels. Democrats must hammer out their own image and agenda and stop self-destructively insulting half the electorate by treating Trump like Satan.

Does the ‘deep state’ exist? If so, what is it?

The deep state is no myth but a sodden, intertwined mass of bloated, self-replicating bureaucracy that constitutes the real power in Washington and that stubbornly outlasts every administration. As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.

I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.

In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.

What is true multiculturalism?

As I repeatedly argue in Provocations, comparative religion is the true multiculturalism and should be installed as the core curriculum in every undergraduate program. From my perspective as an atheist as well as a career college teacher, secular humanism has been a disastrous failure. Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.

Interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was everywhere in the 1960s counterculture, but it gradually dissipated partly because those most drawn to ‘cosmic consciousness’ either disabled themselves by excess drug use or shunned the academic ladder of graduate school. I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.

Not least, the juxtaposition of historically evolving spiritual codes tutors the young in ethical reasoning and the creation of meaning. Right now, the campus religion remains nihilist, meaning-destroying post-structuralism, whose pilfering god, the one-note Foucault, had near-zero scholarly knowledge of anything before or beyond the European Enlightenment. (His sparse writing on classical antiquity is risible.) Out with the false idols and in with the true!

There’s a lot of buzz about the ‘intellectual dark web’. One of its leading figures is Jordan Peterson, who is in some ways like you — he provokes, he works in an array of disciplines, he encourages individual responsibility. I saw your podcast with him. What did you make of him? Why is he so popular?

There are astounding parallels between Jordan Peterson’s work and mine. In its anti-ideological, trans-historical view of sex and nature, my first book, Sexual Personae (1990), can be viewed as a companion to Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999). Peterson and I took different routes up the mountain — he via clinical psychology and I via literature and art — but we arrived at exactly the same place. Amazingly, over our decades of copious research, we were drawn to the same book by the same thinker — The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949), by the Jungian analyst Erich Neumann. (My 2005 lecture on Neumann at New York University is reprinted in Provocations.) Peterson’s immense international popularity demonstrates the hunger for meaning among young people today. Defrauded of a genuine humanistic education, they are recognizing the spiritual impoverishment of their crudely politicized culture, choked with jargon, propaganda, and lies.

I met Peterson and his wife Tammy a year ago when they flew to Philadelphia with a Toronto camera crew for our private dialogue at the University of the Arts. (The YouTube video has had to date over a million and a half views.) Peterson was incontrovertibly one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered, starting with the British philosopher Stuart Hampshire, whom I heard speak impromptu for a dazzling hour after a lecture in college. In turning psychosocial discourse back toward the syncretistic, multicultural Jung, Peterson is recovering and restoring a peak period in North American thought, when Canada was renowned for pioneering, speculative thinkers like the media analyst Marshall McLuhan and the myth critic Northrop Frye. I have yet to see a single profile of Peterson, even from sympathetic journalists, that accurately portrays the vast scope, tenor, and importance of his work.

Is humanity losing its sense of humor?

As a bumptious adolescent in upstate New York, I stumbled on a British collection of Oscar Wilde’s epigrams in a secondhand bookstore. It was an electrifying revelation, a text that I studied like the bible. What bold, scathing wit, cutting through the sentimental fog of those still rigidly conformist early 1960s, when good girls were expected to simper and defer.

But I never fully understood Wilde’s caustic satire of Victorian philanthropists and humanitarians until the present sludgy tide of political correctness began flooding government, education, and media over the past two decades. Wilde saw the insufferable arrogance and preening sanctimony in his era’s self-appointed guardians of morality.

We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, where gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki. Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.

Work and the politics thereof

Jason Willick:

Since election night 2016, liberal pundits have debated whether Donald Trump won because of “economic anxiety” or “cultural resentment.” According to Oren Cass, “these aren’t different things.” The real issue, the Manhattan Institute scholar says, is work. Whether and how people are employed—what their role is in society’s productive system—“is both an economic and cultural question.”

Karl Marx speculated that workers with leisure time would “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner.” He was wrong. People out of the labor force—especially men—are more likely to be “sleeping and watching TV” than hunting or fishing, Mr. Cass says. Unemployment, more than any of life’s other rough patches, leads to unhappiness and family breakdown. People want to “know what our obligations are, and feel that we’re fulfilling them,” he adds. When this foundation of society starts to crumble, political upheaval tends to follow.

Those who pin Mr. Trump’s victory on “economic anxiety” often advocate directing more government spending to people the economy has left behind. But, says Mr. Cass, the “further down the income ladder you go, generally speaking, the less enthusiasm there is for redistribution as a solution. People will tell you they want to work.” He adds: “It’s when you get to the top of the income distribution that you find a whole lot of people are basically like, ‘Why can’t I just write a check?’ ”

The most extreme version of this impulse is the idea of a universal basic income—a regular government outlay for every citizen, whether they are working or not. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign workshopped a version of the UBI, and California Sen. Kamala Harris has proposed an expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would have a similar effect. Mr. Cass expects more policy proposals along these lines “once the bidding war among the 2020 Democrats heats up.” He says the UBI trend reflects an ideology that has gained traction in Silicon Valley and among the “technocratic elite” generally, which professes that “we can engineer away all our problems” without political choices that may be uncomfortable for the upper-middle class.

Mr. Cass, 35, has spent most of his life among that technocratic elite. He started as a junior consultant at Bain & Company out of Williams College. A few years later he took a six-month leave to work on Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Afterward, Mr. Cass enrolled in Harvard Law School to deepen his understanding of public policy. “Law school is a lot of fun if you’re not there to be a lawyer,” he quips. He worked for the next Romney operation in 2011 between his second and third years at Harvard, and ended up with so much in his portfolio that at the end of the summer “they sort of said, well, you have to stay.” He became domestic-policy director while still in law school.

Returning to Bain after the election, Mr. Cass started writing on environmental and labor policy for National Review. His work caught the attention of the Manhattan Institute, which hired him as a senior fellow in 2015. His new book, “The Once and Future Worker,” grew out of responses to Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory.

Many public-policy experts, Mr. Cass said, saw the defeat of both party establishments as a marketing issue: “Maybe we haven’t done a good enough job explaining how great everything is.” Mr. Cass disagrees. Can working-class Americans “buy more cheap stuff? Absolutely. And do we now transfer more money to them, so they can buy even more cheap stuff? Yes,” he says. “But their ability to participate meaningfully in the labor market, and to become self-sufficient supporters of families has eroded badly.”

Mr. Cass believes the problems of wage stagnation and low labor-force participation “predate the slow growth” of the Obama years. Since the 1970s, he argues, both parties have shifted away from prioritizing work and adopted a “grow and redistribute” economic model that leaves low-skilled Americans with fewer opportunities and incentives to secure well-paid jobs.

And no, it isn’t because all the jobs are becoming automated. “In almost all cases, technology is a complement” to work, not a substitute—in fact, it increases workers’ value. Cases like toll collectors, where machines obviate the need for a human worker, “turn out to be really hard to come up with.” Moreover, new technologies may take decades to be adopted widely. Computers were first developed in the 1940s, he notes, and yet “we’re just now figuring out how to actually deploy them effectively in, like, your local HR organization.”

Nor is the decline of less-skilled work a result of the “knowledge economy” and “service economy” crowding out demand for physical goods. “We can see what the richest Americans consume,” Mr. Cass says, “and that marginal income doesn’t go to digital downloads and yoga lessons.” Or at least, it “also goes to bigger houses and bigger cars, and more furniture, and more clothes, and more electronic devices.” As society gets wealthier, there will still be demand for physical things. In health care, for example, there has been a well-publicized growth in services, Mr. Cass says, “but there’s also a tremendous amount in complex devices, in new and more complex drugs that are more difficult to manufacture.”

Mr. Cass thinks the idea that immutable forces are hollowing out the labor market is meant in part to “absolve the economists and policy makers of any blame” for reducing the viability of less-skilled work. Take environmental policy. “The trade-off that you would strike between environmental quality and industrial activity, if you’re earning $200K in an office,” Mr. Cass says, “is very, very different from the balance that you would strike if you were earning $35K, and trying to make ends meet in the industrial economy.” Environmental Protection Agency regulations have grown so tight “that Brussels, the capital of the EU, would be the single dirtiest city in the U.S., if it were here,” he says.

Draconian environmental policies are the result of a cost-benefit analysis that discounts the interests of workers. “Environmentalists have essentially consumerized air quality,” Mr. Cass says. “We now monetize the value of clean air as something that you essentially get to consume.” For less well-off households, “the EPA is claiming that the air quality that it is delivering is worth almost as much as all of the market income a household has.”

This is the same thinking that has led some policy makers to believe UBI can be a substitute for work; in both cases, the emphasis is on people’s well-being as consumers, not the well-being that comes from having a job and doing it well.

As a result, Mr. Cass says, regulations severely undermine employment in “the segments of society that can least bear them.” Such interventions “may very well have been perfectly appropriate for the situation in the 1970s,” when the Clean Air Act was passed, but they haven’t been adapted to America’s current social challenges.

Mr. Cass thinks a consumerist bias has similarly led U.S. trade policy with China astray. Policy makers rightly judge that Chinese trade boosts Americans’ consumption power, but they haven’t dealt with the harm to the labor market as China systematically steals intellectual property and subsidizes key industries. The Trump administration is right to make Chinese mercantilism an issue, Mr. Cass says, but its response has been ineffectual. Washington needs an international coalition to confront Beijing’s bad behavior effectively, “but that becomes very hard to do when you have a Trump administration that’s pulling out of the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] and then haphazardly slapping tariffs on Europe and Canada.”

Labor policy also is out of sync with a pro-work agenda. Today, “organized labor is primarily a political force, not an economic one,” Mr. Cass says. From Democrats’ perspective, the purpose of unions is “to take the dues payments from a heterogeneous population—unionized workers are only a few points to the left of the general population—and convert it into completely homogeneous donations to Democrats.”

Yet Mr. Cass’s belief that private-sector unions ought to play a greater role is out of step with most conservatives’ views. One reason organized labor has faded in significance, he says, is that “we make all the rules in Washington.” One-size-fits all regulation leaves little room for workers to negotiate. But revamped labor organizations could set their own terms with employers, using the federal law as a default. For example, “a retailer and retail workers might agree, overtime doesn’t get paid at time-and-a-half, but also, no more mandatory overtime, and no just-in-time scheduling.” This would reduce the burden of federal regulations that stealthily increase the costs of employing people.

But even with such reforms, Mr. Cass says, “there is nothing in economic theory that says that when labor markets settle, we’re going to be at a place where we’re happy with what the outcomes look like.” That’s why he advocates a larger wage subsidy to increase workforce participation and low-end wages.

Unlike programs such as unemployment insurance, wage subsidies don’t reduce the incentive to work. His imagined subsidy would add a percentage of workers’ earnings to each paycheck up to a target amount, boosting the return on their labor. Mr. Cass would pay for this $200 billion program mostly by redirecting funds from work-replacing safety-net programs. One source of revenue might be Medicaid, which “appears to be worth maybe 25 cents to the recipient” for every dollar the government spends.

Government benefits “can start to get pretty close to what a low-wage job provides in the market,” Mr. Cass says. In contrast, a wage subsidy increases the difference in value between social programs and work so that more people choose the latter. He argues that this widened economic gap between idleness and work should be paired with a cultural one, where idleness is stigmatized and work of all kinds is valued and celebrated. Today, he says, “being an employer of less-skilled workers is sort of a straight ticket to the exposé about how your workers don’t earn enough money.”

Mr. Cass’s critics say his laserlike focus on the labor market reflects a hostility to the creative destruction that is inherent in capitalism and necessary for growth. Why is it the government’s business if the wages or employability of a certain class of workers decline? Work determines “whether we feel that we’re respected and admired,” Mr. Cass says, “and whether we have something that we’re good at.” Technocrats haven’t yet figured out how to redistribute self-esteem.

Second defense

Brian Mark Weber:

The Left has, over time, perpetuated the idea that the Bill of Rights, whose 10 amendments were designed to protect individual citizens from government tyranny, somehow includes a Second Amendment that empowers the government to determine when and where those citizens can carry weapons. But why would the Founders go to the trouble of ensuring such rights while allowing the government to snatch them away from an undefended population?

Still, in 2008 the Supreme Court held 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment was an individual right, a decision that former Justice John Paul Stevens called the worst of his tenure. The Federalist’s David Harsanyi writes, “Earlier this year, in fact, Stevens implored Americans to do what he couldn’t while on the court, and repeal the Second Amendment.”

The fact that the Heller decision was even necessary reveals just how far we’ve fallen since our founding. The ruling came far too late to push back against decades of leftist propaganda and activism designed to convince millions of Americans that the Second Amendment was far different from the other nine rights — that it was neither individual nor narrowly limited but collective and extremely limited.

Since then, lower courts have had a field day misinterpreting the Constitution and upholding laws making it harder for citizens to acquire guns. For example, in 2016 the infamous Ninth Circuit Court determined in Peruta v. California that one must show “good cause” in order to carry a concealed weapon. Sadly, these kinds of outrageous decisions are free to stand as long as the Supreme Court refuses to hear key cases rather than establishing strong precedents that would put the issue to rest.

As John Yoo and James C. Phillips write at National Review, “Despite the text of the Second Amendment, supporters of a right to bear arms have rooted their arguments in a murky pre-constitutional right to self-defense. As a result, the Supreme Court has shied away from halting the spread of federal and state schemes for gun control, for which the cries will only rise higher after the recent mass shootings. Unless the new conservative majority on the Court, solidified by Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s arrival, places the right to bear arms on a par with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the coming blue wave of gun-control proposals may swamp what the Framers considered a core constitutional right.”

Justice Clarence Thomas made this clear when he recently wrote, “The Framers made a clear choice: They reserved to all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a State denies its citizens that right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it.”

In order to clarify the intent of the framers, Second Amendment proponents cannot merely fall back onto the amendment itself, but must go back farther to understand its history. We must arm ourselves with centuries of natural law and English common law principles in order to smash the collective-right theory of the 1960s. For now, conservatives are losing the public relations battle that works against the Second Amendment every time there’s a new mass shooting.

And we had better act swiftly. Nancy Pelosi and company aren’t about to sit back when they take the reins from House Republicans in January.


Mark Walters writes that, with Democrats in power, “We will see a renewed push for expanded background checks and a ban on so-called high capacity magazines. And I expect we will see some form of ‘assault weapons’ ban as well as a push for federal Extreme Risk Protection Orders and red flag laws. These red flag laws disarm American citizens by violating their due process rights based simply on an allegation that someone may be a danger to themselves or others.”

All this would be of less concern if the Supreme Court and its new, more conservative majority would simply take up more Second Amendment cases and decisively reestablish the self-evident right of American citizens to defend themselves. Indeed, the High Court may be the last best hope for securing this right against a leftist obsession to take it away.


Steve Prestegard

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Steve Prestegard

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The media, Obama then and Trump now

David French:

I knew it. I knew the instant I saw Twitter erupt in outrage at the use of tear gas to disperse a crowd of people charging our southern border that someone would find an example of the Obama administration doing the same thing. And sure enough, there it was, shared far and wide within minutes, a San Diego Union-Tribune story from November 25, 2013:

A group of about 100 people trying to illegally cross the border Sunday near the San Ysidro port of entry threw rocks and bottles at U.S. Border Patrol agents, who responded by using pepper spray and other means to force the crowd back into Mexico, federal officials said.

Twitter existed in 2013. I was on it, and I certainly don’t recall an eruption of outrage, followed by days of think-pieces explaining the horrors of pepper spray and the deep betrayal of American values.

In fact, that November incident was hardly unique. As the Washington Times reports, “the same tear-gas agent that the Trump administration is taking heat for deploying against a border mob this weekend is actually used fairly frequently — including more than once a month during the later years of President Barack Obama’s administration.”

But that was then. Sensible people understood that you can’t just let a mob rush the border, and Border Patrol agents can and should use non-lethal means to protect themselves from rocks and bottles. And the pictures of kids in cages in the Obama era?

Well, there was an “enormous spike” in kids crossing the border, and we “didn’t have enough shelter facilities.” So kids had to be put in Border Patrol lock-ups. But that was temporary. The Obama administration took good care of kids after they left the lock-up, right? Well, not exactly. Some children faced a terrible nightmare. Here’s a paragraph from a 2016 Senate report:

Over a period of four months in 2014, however, HHS allegedly placed a number of UACs [Unaccompanied Alien Children] in the hands of a ring of human traffickers who forced them to work on egg farms in and around Marion, Ohio, leading to a federal criminal indictment. According to the indictment, the minor victims were forced to work six or seven days a week, twelve hours per day. The traffickers repeatedly threatened the victims and their families with physical harm, and even death, if they did not work or surrender their entire paychecks. The indictment alleges that the defendants “used a combination of threats, humiliation, deprivation, financial coercion, debt manipulation, and monitoring to create a climate of fear and helplessness that would compel [the victims’] compliance.” [Emphasis added.]

One of the more frustrating aspects of our current political debate is the extent to which differences from administration to administration are exaggerated and distorted. Let’s take, for example, media coverage of the Obama administration. To this day, the inaccurate picture of his presidency haunts American discourse. While there are obvious differences with the Trump administration, Obama was not exactly the man who many millions of Americans think he was.

He was a peace president who ordered ten times more drone strikes than George W. Bush. He was the peace president who left office with American boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and scattered across North Africa. His administration refueled Saudi jets to enable the indiscriminate Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. Oh, and he droned American citizens abroad without even a nod to due process.

He was the environmentalist president so hostile to fossil fuels that he presided over an extraordinary boom in domestic oil production:

He was the compassionate president who admitted a grand total of fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees in the first five years of the Syrian civil war. He was the compassionate president whose deportations peaked at an average of 34,000 people in fiscal year 2012.

I share these facts not to argue that there aren’t distinct and important differences between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. There are. And those differences manifest themselves in each of the policy categories outlined above. But when discussing differences, gravity and proportion matter. And they matter greatly.

Indeed, I’d argue that both conservative and liberal media outlets had an interest in amplifying Obama’s progressive credentials and advancing a fundamentally flawed narrative about the nature and character of his presidency. Exaggerating his progressive virtue (or vice) kept partisans engaged. It kept ramping up the stakes of our political conflicts, and it contributed immensely to the Flight 93 mentality that dominates politics today.

How much time did conservative media spend debating Obama’s willingness to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” even while he was droning, bombing, and shelling terrorists from Afghanistan to Libya? How much time did the liberal media spend amplifying Obama’s desire for peace with Iran even as he helped Saudi Arabia wage its proxy war against Iran in Yemen, at a simply enormous toll in innocent human life?

By failing to provide perspective, the media creates a sense of outrage when none is justified and inoculates the public against injustice when injustice is real. The Left looks at the tear gas on the border and believes norms are being violated when they’re not. The Right looks at critical reporting about Trump and starts to presume that it’s illegitimate, even if the facts are egregious.

All too often, we act as if the immense American ship of state lurches from right to left with each new election, when the reality is often that the turns in crucial areas are gradual. Partisans who forget this fact find themselves condemning their opponents for behavior their own side engaged in when confronted by similar challenges. Reality has a way of constraining a government’s options, even when very different people occupy the Oval Office. Comments

Again, I’m not arguing there aren’t important differences in the presidents. There are, and in some areas those differences are quite profound. It’s worth exposing those differences, and it’s worth debating those differences. At the same time, we cannot abandon historical perspective, a perspective that can and should grant a degree of humility.

The lesson? Before you express outrage at any politician for his egregious violation of “norms” or his “radical” departure from the rule of law, check recent history. You might be surprised by what you find.

‘Javelin’ was right

Readers of my previous blog may hazily remember that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had the Secret Service handle of “Javelin,” after his father, George Romney, who ran American Motors Corp. before he was elected governor of Michigan.

(I’d say here that we owned a Javelin, but you knew that.)

On Monday, GM reported plant closings and layoffs, which prompts the Goldwater Institute (whose namesake, Sen. Barry Goldwater, owned both an AMC AMX and a Chevrolet Corvette, so he was the man) to observe:

“Let Detroit go bankrupt,” former presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote in 2008, arguing that the federal government should not bail out the failing domestic auto industry for their poor management decisions. Vilified for turning his back on America’s autoworkers, Romney lost the argument, Barack Obama won the election, General Motors got its way, and U.S. taxpayers got stuck with an $11.2 billion bill to keep the company alive.

Today’s announcement from General Motors that it will close two plants in Metro Detroit and lay off 14,700 workers helps prove Romney right, albeit ten years later. Romney wrote that with a bailout, the American automotive industry’s demise “will be virtually guaranteed” because it would not be forced to undergo radical restructuring to be competitive in the marketplace. By subsidizing failure, the federal government would be gambling with taxpayer dollars and forestalling the inevitable.

This wasn’t the first time the government had bet heavily on General Motors at citizens’ expense. In a story much like recent efforts by state and local governments to give away billions of dollars to win a new Amazon headquarters, the cities of Detroit and neighboring Hamtramck teamed up in the early 1980s to win a new General Motors factory, chasing the promise of jobs and renewal of depressed and blighted neighborhoods. The Detroit News reports:

General Motors and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young hatched a plan: If the city would get the land, the auto company would build a state-of-the-art plant, crossing the border with Hamtramck, employing 6,000 people and providing a glittering example of what the auto companies and their suppliers could do in the city of their birth.

Residents who had lived in the targeted neighborhood would be given offers to sell their homes and move to make way for “progress,” but as the Detroit News reports, not everyone wanted to sell. In the face of protests and a legal challenge, the city moved forward with the plan, and a Michigan Supreme Court decision upheld the city’s decision to raze the site for General Motors. The factory was built, and decades later the court decision was overturned, but today, some 37 years later, that factory will be closed as General Motors fights to save costs.

One Detroit-area politician is feeling particularly burned by the decision. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who was elected to Congress in November, decried the decision on Facebook:

“[M]ake no mistake, this is a perfect lesson illustrating that corporations are not your friend, and handing them tax breaks and incentives is a losing game. Taxpayers bailed GM out with billions just a few short years ago – and now they cut jobs to make bigger profits?

“What’s worse, Detroit tore down the vibrant Poletown neighborhood for GM, destroying a community, displacing hundreds of families, and a couple decades later this is how we’re rewarded.”

Hoping for rewards in exchange for corporate welfare can come with a high cost, and General Motors’ story should be a cautionary tale about government picking winners and losers with taxpayer dollars—and in taking private property for a supposed “public purpose.”

In a paper for the Goldwater Institute, economics professor Shirley Svorny wrote about the high costs of government subsidization of private businesses—and who pays the cost when if those companies fail:

There are limited, specific situations where local government can improve on private-sector outcomes. A political decision to redirect tax dollars so that benefits accrue to individual firms is not one of those situations…The company bears none of the costs if it fails in its effort or chooses to move elsewhere. That burden falls on taxpayers.

The thousands of autoworkers who lost their jobs today—and the homeowners who lost their property to General Motors decades ago—know that lesson all too well.

How to ruin your holiday dinner with politics

James Wigderson apparently doesn’t like the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but …

Unfortunately, the non-traditional Thanksgiving is an argument I lost long ago.

Perhaps I should use the process Karin Tamerius, a psychiatrist and the founder of Smart Politics, created for the New York Times. In “How to Have a Conversation With Your Angry Uncle Over Thanksgiving,” Tamerius creates a bunch of no-win (if you’re a conservative) conversation paths similar to the “build your own adventure” books for children. At the end of the process, everyone at the family Thanksgiving table will be in favor of nationalized health care, higher taxes, forced unionization, and even rooting for the Detroit Lions.

You start with a choice.The “Angry Uncle Bot” allows your leftwing family members to practice their bumper sticker psychology and new talking points before actually trying it on a real human being. The “Liberal Uncle Bot” helps conservatives recognize that their facts and figures don’t matter as much as liberal feelings.

No, really. Your liberal uncle will say, “We need Medicare for All. Health care is a human right.” You, as the conservative, have three options:

Of course, choosing either of the first two options are “wrong.” Your only correct response is, “O.K., can you tell me more about that?”

My favorite part of the game was the liberal uncle’s statement, “Many people can’t even afford medications or primary care. If we expand Medicare to include everyone, those people can get the help they need.”

If you respond, “National health insurance is a disaster where it’s been adopted,” you’re wrong again. But not because of Sweden.

“Not a good choice. This response will turn the conversation into a debate over facts and figures,” Tamerius wrote. “Debate is problematic because people tend not be persuaded by evidence and may even end up believing more strongly in their original position.”

Bad: “debate over facts and figures” and “people tend not be persuaded by evidence.” Because why have a factual debate?

Instead, you’re supposed to choose, “So, you think the government has a responsibility to make sure every person has basic health care, is that right?”

Why? “…it’s important to show your understanding by reflecting what you heard. Good reflections paraphrase what the other person said and highlight emotions. Truly exceptional reflections are met with, ‘Exactly! I couldn’t have said it better myself.'”

I know what I could say better myself to the annoying liberal relative who says, “We need Medicare for All. Health care is a human right.”

“Great, we’re going to take your portion of today’s dinner bill and set it aside for the $32 trillion in higher taxes that you want. And just to show that there are no hard feelings, we’ll let you walk home so you don’t have to feel guilty about the burning of fossil fuels. No, don’t take any turkey with you. Meat production contributes to global warming. I want you to feel really smug and warm on that ten mile hike home. The rest of us are going to enjoy our dinner while thanking the Pilgrims for coming to this country, bringing Western civilization with them.”

There will be more dessert for us, and a whole lot less acrimony.

Or you could ban politics from your table and discuss a nice, safe, uncontroversial topic, such as whether Packers coach Mike McCarthy should be fired.

The ACLU minus civil liberties

David Bernstein:

In the late 1960s, the ACLU was a small but powerful liberal organization devoted to a civil libertarian agenda composed primarily of devotion to freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the rights of accused criminals. In the early 1970s, the ACLU’s membership rose from around 70,000 to almost 300,000. Many new members were attracted by the organization’s opposition to the Vietnam War and its high-profile battles with President Nixon, but such members were not committed to the ACLU’s broader civil libertarian agenda. However, the organization’s defense of the KKK’s right to march in Skokie, Illinois, in the late 1970s weeded out some of these fair-weather supporters and attracted some new free speech devotees. But George H. W. Bush’s criticisms of the ACLU during the 1988 presidential campaign again attracted many liberal members not especially devoted to civil liberties.

To maintain its large membership base, the ACLU recruited new members by directing mass mailings to mailing lists rented from a broad range of liberal groups. The result of the shift of the ACLU to a mass membership organization was that it gradually transformed itself from a civil libertarian organization into a liberal organization with an interest in civil liberties. This problem was exacerbated by the growth within the ACLU of autonomous, liberal, special interest cliques known as “projects.” These projects have included an AIDS Project, a Capital Punishment Project, a Children’s Rights Project, an Immigrants’ Rights Project, a Lesbian and Gay Project, a National Prison Project, a Women’s Rights Project, a Civil Liberties in the Workplace Project, a Privacy and Technology Project, and an Arts Censorship Project. This loss of focus led Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz to waggishly suggest that “perhaps the Civil Liberties Union needs a civil liberties project.”

Since the George W. Bush administration, the ACLU’s dedication to its traditional civil libertarian mission has waned ever further. With the election of Donald Trump, its membership rolls have grown to almost two million, almost all of them liberal politically, few of whom are devoted to civil liberties as such. Meanwhile, the left in general has become less interested in, and in some cases opposed to, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights of the accused.

Future historians will have to reconstruct exactly how and why the tipping point has been reached, but the ACLU’s actions over the last couple of months show that the ACLU is no longer a civil libertarian organization in any meaningful sense, but just another left-wing pressure group, albeit one with a civil libertarian history.

First, the ACLU ran an anti-Brett Kavanaugh video ad that relied entirely on something that no committed civil libertarian would countenance, guilt by association. And not just guilt by association, but guilt by association with individuals that Kavanaugh wasn’t actually associated with in any way, except that they were all men who like Kavanaugh had been accused of serious sexual misconduct. The literal point of the ad is that Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby were accused of sexual misconduct, they denied it but were actually guilty; therefore, Brett Kavanaugh, also having been accused of sexual misconduct, and also having denied it, is likely guilty too.

Can you imagine back in the 1950s the ACLU running an ad with the theme, “Earl Warren has been accused of being a Communist. He denies it. But Alger Hiss and and Julius Rosenberg were also accused of being Communists, they denied it, but they were lying. So Earl Warren is likely lying, too?”

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Department of Education released a proposed new Title IX regulation that provides for due process rights for accused students that had been prohibited by Obama-era guidance. Shockingly, even to those of us who have followed the ACLU’s long, slow decline, the ACLU tweeted in reponse that the proposed regulation “promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused.” Even longtime ACLU critics are choking on the ACLU, of all organizations, claiming that due proess protections “inappropriately favor the accuse.”

The ACLU had a clear choice between the identitarian politics of the feminist hard left, and retaining some semblance of its traditional commitment to fair process. It chose the former. And that along with the Kavanaugh ad signals the final end of the ACLU as we knew it. RIP.

Conor Friersdorf adds:

Last week, the NRA kept defending gun rights, the AARP kept advocating for older Americans, and the California Avocado Commission was as steadfast as ever in touting “nature’s highest achievement.” By contrast, the ACLU issued a public statement that constituted a stark, shortsighted betrayal of the organization’s historic mission: It vehemently opposed stronger due-process rights for the accused.

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