In politics, scale matters. If government spent 1 percent of GDP annually, we’d probably still have waste, fraud, abuse, self-dealing, and all the rest of it, but it would matter less to people. From a moral point of view, a little misuse of public resources is no different from a lot of it, but adults know that the world is not a perfect place and that we’d be lucky to have problems that bug us symbolically or as a matter of principle while causing us very little trouble in fact. That is the inadequately appreciated background to the current dispute over the NSA’s surveillance programs.
On one side of the debate, we have those who prioritize national security — on the left and on the right — who argue that the world presents such intense dangers that the government must be given certain tools to address them. On the other side, we have those who prioritize civil liberties — also on the left and on the right — who argue that our government has shown that it cannot be trusted with some of those powers. The problem is that both sides are correct. Yes, we need to take very strong measures against jihadists and other mortal threats, and no, our government does not give the appearance of deserving our trust with the weapons in its arsenal.
General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, attempted to reconcile those differences today at an open congressional hearing, and his main arguments were: 1) The program is subject to strong oversight; 2) Very few “identifiers” (such as telephone numbers) were targeted, about 300; 3) Very few people (22) have access to those records; 4) Even under such constraints, the program has stopped 50 or so terrorist attacks.
It is not a judgment upon the character of General Alexander but a judgment upon the character of the government he serves that reasonable people might ask: About those 50 attacks prevented — are we counting those up the same way we counted up “jobs created or saved” by the stimulus? Those 22 people who have access to the records — are they about as trustworthy as the IRS agents who improperly targeted their political enemies? About as smart as the DOJ folks who oversaw the gun-walking operation? That oversight — is it conducted by some of the same people who oversee things like corrupt federal-contracting practices? And can we assume that those 300 identifiers are attached to targets selected with the same probity exhibited of late by the IRS, ATF, etc.? And surely today’s 300 will not be tomorrow’s 300,000 — but whose word should we take on that? That of the expanding catalogue of people who have lied to Congress of late?
The cartoon version of limited-government conservatism that one encounters in the media or in the speeches of Democratic office-seekers holds that the Right wishes to limit government either because it suffers from an irrational hatred of government qua government or, in the arguably nastier version, because it hates poor people and does not wish to see them benefit from government programs. (There’s a lot of question-begging in that second one: The poor are not the primary beneficiaries of our overgrown political apparatus.) But keeping government from doing things is only part of the case for limited government; another equally important part of the case is that limited government helps us ensure that government is better able to do the things we need it to do.
Limiting government improves government operations in two ways, one obvious and one less so. The obvious way is that by limiting the scope and variety of government activity, we can focus limited resources — including that most limited of resources, human intelligence — on the functions that are inherently governmental, such as physical security in the form of police, military, border controls, and the like. This is in conservative thinking complemented by the principle of subsidiarity, which allows for a greater scope and variety of government action as one travels down the scale from national to state to local to sub-municipal government. A homeowners’ association can be annoying, but it is not Leviathan. Moving from California to Texas, or from the Katy school district to the Humble school district, is a much less disruptive undertaking than immigrating between countries. It is for that reason that so many American conservatives admire the government of Switzerland, which has a gift for devolving politics.
The second and less obvious way in which limiting government strengthens government is through the elusive and irreplaceable commodity of trust. Like true love and home-grown tomatoes, trust in political institutions cannot be bought or manufactured. It is organic and fragile. The staff of the NSA could be composed exclusively of patriots with IQs of 185 and the dispositions of saints, but still they would be members of the same government as Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Lois Lerner, Susan Rice, Eric Holder, and Charles Rangel. The federal government is not in practice really a unitary thing, having as it does fissures and competing factions, but from the citizen’s point of view, it appears effectively monolithic. It is perfectly rational for an American citizen to doubt the NSA’s probity in exercising its investigatory powers when that same citizen knows what the IRS has done with its investigatory powers. It is perfectly rational for an American citizen to consider the national debt and doubt Congress’s power to conduct intelligent oversight of anything more complicated than one of the smaller Crayola sets (meaning the eight-crayon box, not the 120). And it may be perfectly legal and constitutional — whatever we’re pretending those words mean today — for the Obama administration to assassinate American citizens, but it is also perfectly rational for those actions to cause American citizens to distrust their government.
Just as a certain level of waste and fraud would be much more tolerable in a government that spent only 1 percent of GDP, a certain level of cloak-and-dagger adventuring would be much more tolerable in a government under which the taxman was not taking a keen interest in citizens’ prayers and politics. One expects the CIA to play fast and loose with legal niceties; doing so is in the nature of the enterprise. If Iranian nuclear scientists do seem to be terribly accident prone, most of us will not lose a great deal of sleep. (But one also expects these agencies to be discreet: If you cannot keep your secrets from a nobody contractor or WikiLeaks, then maybe you don’t deserve to have any.) The distinction may not be a principled one, but citizens probably would be likely to give the government a great deal more leeway interfering with terrorists if it did not spend so much time interfering with us. If the federal government had been as vigilant about Islamic militants as it is about cheese-mite density, the Manhattan skyline would look different than it does, and you do not have to be a raging civil libertarian to appreciate as much.
Our politics is dominated by lawyers and by legal argument, and it is possible to draw up a compelling argument why such-and-such narrowly defined government activity — NSA snooping, drone strike, tax audit — is legally and constitutionally justified. But that debate happens in an imaginary universe. In the real world, everything the federal government does is inescapably bound up in every other thing the federal government does: How can we not have money for health care when we have money for foreign aid and cowboy-poet festivals and getting monkeys high on cocaine? How can we imprison millions for narcotics while we are effectively in bed with the poppy trade in Afghanistan? How can a government with corrupt IRS agents on the payroll say “Trust us!” with a straight face? A little bit of hypocrisy is not the end of the world: Hypocrisy, like alcohol, is a social lubricant, but overindulging in it brings trouble. And not just theoretical moral trouble, but real practical trouble: In a free society, public institutions only work well in an atmosphere of trust. The NSA is learning that right now. It may not be one of the more important sources of distrust in government, and it may be performing one of the functions that properly belong to the federal government, but its ability to do so is going to be constrained — and rightly so — by the fact that Americans do not trust their government, because they cannot trust their government.
And so we find ourselves at the place where the unstoppable force of necessity meets the unmovable object of debarment, where the federal government must proceed and must not proceed, where a government that tries to do everything can’t quite do anything right.
Not since the Olsen twins had something so big hit New York University. In May of last year, Chen Guangcheng arrived there from China. Now he is being asked to leave, and the question is, “Why?” Is it merely because his fellowship has expired? Or is he being forced out, because the university wishes to please Beijing?
Chen, recall, is the “blind peasant lawyer” who is one of the bravest people in the world. He blew the whistle on China’s forced abortions and sterilizations. He endured four and a half years in prison, being subjected to the usual horrors the state visits upon its political prisoners. Then there was a year and a half of house arrest, which included equal horrors. Last year, Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, escaped to the U.S. embassy. After about a month of negotiations, they were allowed to fly to America.
Chen’s main patron was Jerome A. Cohen, a veteran China scholar and law professor at NYU. The university was undoubtedly good to take Chen in. At the same time, the university got something out of the deal too: A genuine world hero was in its midst. Now there has been a bitter split.
Chen, for his part, says that NYU is forcing him out, bowing to pressure from China. NYU is in the process of building a Shanghai campus; it pays to be in the good graces of Beijing. NYU, for its part, says that Chen is talking nonsense, and ungrateful nonsense at that. Cohen, traveling in China, issued a statement: “No political refugee, even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment by an American academic institution than that received by Chen from NYU.”
It is hard to sort this out. What is not hard to sort out is that American universities, and American scholars, have been extremely cautious where China is concerned. And “extremely cautious” can be a polite way of saying “cowardly.” Chen Guangcheng addressed that very point in an interview with Jay Nordlinger, published in the June 17 issue of National Review. He said that American scholars of China are fearful of crossing Beijing, because it may mean the loss of their visas and other perks. These scholars “are not what we think of as persons of academic integrity,” said Chen.
Among China scholars, there are persons of integrity, though not as many as desirable. Nordlinger discussed them in a piece last summer, “Scholars with Spine: Notes from the Field of China Studies.” One scholar with spine is Perry Link, late of Princeton University, now at the University of California, Riverside. With Columbia’s Andrew Nathan, he coedited The Tiananmen Papers, a trove of documents regarding the protests and massacre of 1989. Both Link and Nathan have been banned from China.
Link used to run Princeton’s language program in Beijing. Princeton could have told the Chinese government, “Professor Link is our director. If you forbid him to enter the country, fine, but we will have to move our program to Taipei.” Instead, Princeton said, “Okay” — which is a pity. Prestigious American institutions, including universities, have more leverage than they think; that leverage goes unemployed.
Jianli Yang is Chen’s fellow dissident, and friend. In “Scholars with Spine,” Nordlinger wrote, “Yang says that he and other dissidents are not entirely comfortable at American universities. Link says that another prominent dissident recently told him the same thing. If you’re a dissident, says Yang, people may regard you as radioactive, a bit untouchable — as though they might catch a disease from you.”
Chen was an adornment to New York University. He was at least as special as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. But he will not be out on the streets. According to reports, he is considering offers from two institutions: the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J. (which is not affiliated with the university there, by the way), and Fordham University in New York. Chen has a lot to offer. He tells the truth about the Chinese government, when others are afraid to.
The belated, reluctant assistance of the United States to some of the anti-Assad forces in Syria has all the distinctive signs of a Great Power’s being dragged into a combat zone that were prefigured in Libya. There, President Obama uttered sanctimonious comments for weeks that Moammar Qaddafi “must go” without lifting a finger to ensure that that happened. Finally, after French intellectual and controversialist Bernard-Henri Lévy telephoned French president Nicolas Sarkozy from Benghazi and told him that blood would be on the French flags fluttering from the windows of that city if he didn’t do something, and the French acted, bringing the British with them, and they ran out of air-to-ground missiles and importuned the United States, material reinforcements were contributed that ultimately ensured that Qaddafi did, indeed, “go.” (I.e., in the usual manner of Arab changes of government, he was captured by opponents and summarily executed.) The mobilization of France by Lévy was complicated in the inimitable French way by the fact that Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni, a professional vocalist, had had an affair with Lévy’s son-in-law, Raphaël Enthoven, and had named a song after him.
There has been no such interesting train of events with Syria, but we have had the same sequence of Uriah Heep handwringing and unctuous moral imperatives inconsequentially uttered for years while the United States officially havered in the gaseous zone — between declaring, as Secretary of State James Baker said of the Balkans nearly 25 years ago, “We have no dog in that hunt,” and actually doing something. President Obama was apparently swayed by repeated reports that Assad had used sarin gas against his own people in several incidents, killing over a hundred, and after being shown a map by Jordan’s King Abdullah that included the area of Syrian desert that would likely be occupied and used as a staging area by al-Qaeda if nothing was done. It is impossible not to identify with the administration’s desire not to be dragged into another Middle Eastern war, but no one was asking for the insertion of American forces on the ground, just the sinews of war, and training, and, at the most ambitious, a no-fly zone. Sweeping the Syrian air force out of its own airspace could be done in an afternoon by the U.S. Air Force or Navy, though getting rid of Assad’s Soviet-supplied anti-aircraft missile defenses could be more complicated.
The rebels have almost run out of ammunition, and American officials privately attribute this to their inexperience at conservation of fire. Of course, this is illustrative of the problem. The Syrian rebels have no ability to make their own ammunition. Assad is supplied by Iran and Russia, and if the rebels aren’t supplied by someone they are going to be exterminated (and join the more than 100,000 Syrians who have been killed already), or driven out to join the 1.2 million Syrian refugees who have already fled, about half in camps in neighboring countries, where they are a threat to political stability. Pious lectures about economical use of ammunition are no substitute for the means of self-defense against a well-armed enemy.
What is missing, as with so much of American foreign policy since George H. W. Bush, is a policy. The Obama administration seems to have returned to what was orthodoxy prior to George W. Bush’s forays into Afghanistan and Iraq, that the U.S. will not get involved in military-led nation-building. It had been hoped by many of us that this lesson had been learned in Vietnam at least by the final debacle there in 1975, and then relearned in Somalia in the fiasco of 1993, which overtook a mission that began in 1992 as a delivery of food aid. But the country oscillates between catastrophic efforts at reconstructing societies in primitive and war-torn places, and complete isolationism. It should not have been beyond the wit of American foreign-policy planners to have devised a bipartisan agreement between the executive and legislative branches on the criteria for the use of different possible levels of force in or against foreign countries.
Obviously, there is no dispute, even from the far left, about the justification of military deterrence, and, when the U.S. is attacked, of retaliation. That last occurred after Pearl Harbor; and underlying the grappling with terrorism is the fact that some malignant elements have massacred innocents without any direct national identification, which complicates retaliation. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush said that the United States would make no distinction between terrorists and countries that supported terrorists, and that all countries were either for or against terrorism. This was a commendable assertion on the night of that terrible day, but it has not been followed: There are many designated terrorism-supporting states that have gone unpunished and — obviously, as their provocations continue — undeterred.
I have advocated, here and elsewhere, that the West and all its allies agree on the principle that terrorism-supporting states will be quarantined, outrages traceable to individual countries will lead to swift retribution against those countries, and it will not, other than in exceptional and unforeseeable circumstances, be the business of the West and its allies to be concerned with what nature of regime may follow those discommoded by our retaliation in response to terrorist provocations. It should be completely irrelevant to our calculations whether a designated terrorist regime will be succeeded by an even more odious one. This was raised in Libya and is being raised in Syria; it doesn’t matter. It is no concern of ours how those countries are governed; it is our concern if they conduct or support terrorist operations against us. If they do, their governments should be got rid of as soon as that is feasible at acceptable cost, i.e., when local opposition forces can be economically assisted in a regime change. We dithered unconscionably deciding to raise the little military finger that was necessary to dispose of Qaddafi (and his successors have been an improvement, in both international conduct and domestic governance). In Syria, we had to endure Hillary Clinton’s inanities about Assad’s being a “reformer” and have listened to the administration’s tortuous rationalizations of inaction made more nauseating by sermons on what should happen, as if that has anything to do with how these crises play out. If those who sponsor terrorist acts against the West are disposed of, there will be fewer terrorist acts against the West, whatever happens inside the particular countries in question.
Special allowance for intervention should be made for extreme atrocities, as in Cambodia and Rwanda. The West missed the bus on those occasions and millions died. We went from a shell-shocked torpor over Vietnam, a war that we should not have entered, but having entered, could have won, and even could have salvaged if the Congress had not cut and run after Richard Nixon extracted the U.S. while preserving a non-Communist government in Saigon; to absenteeism even in the face of genocidal horrors in Cambodia and Rwanda; to George W.’s harebrained crusade for democracy everywhere. And now we have the vacillations of the Obama administration, where any thread of consistent policy is indiscernible except a fear to do anything forceful. Dire threats against Iran if it pursued its nuclear military program were treated with derision and the “reset” of relations with Russia has produced the greatest torrent of insolences from the Kremlin since Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan while stoking up the civil war in Angola and the subversion of Central America via Nicaragua.
The ambivalence of the administration appears to be illustrated by the recent elevation of Susan Rice to be national-security adviser and of Samantha Power to succeed Ms. Rice as ambassador to the United Nations. Susan Rice is a moral relativist whose appeasement of China and Russia achieved nothing but embarrassment for America, and Samantha Power is an interventionist who has likened American idleness during the Rwanda massacres to active participation in genocide. Neither position is accurate, though America should seek accommodation with Russia and China, but from strength, as Nixon and Reagan did; and should act when atrocities impend. In this Babel of official voices, the most apt to have been raised recently is that of federal judge William Young, who in sentencing Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up an airliner with exploding running shoes, to life imprisonment plus 110 years, plus fines of $2,006,882.17, said: “You are not an enemy combatant; you are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. . . . And we do not negotiate with terrorists, meet with terrorists, [or] sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down.”
National Review editor Rich Lowry’s new book, Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — And How We Can Do It Again, is about the “why” of Lincoln. “A commitment to the fulfillment of individual potential — his own and that of others — was Lincoln’s true north, the bright thread running from his first statement as a novice political candidate in his early twenties to his utterances as one of the world’s greatest statesmen,” Rich writes. Lincoln hated “isolation, backwardness, and any obstacles to the development of a cash economy and maximal openness and change,” he observes. Lincoln’s standard “advice to aspiring lawyers, to discouraged friends, and to penurious relatives came down to exhortations to work, and then to work some more.”
Rich talks more about Lincoln Unbound with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Should “Lincoln” be synonymous with “opportunity”?
RICH LOWRY: Yes. In Lincoln’s telling, America exists to give all people the chance to rise. We are, by birthright and through our free institutions, a nation of aspiration. He believed this in the marrow of the bones with which he had labored all during his youth. It suffused his determination, as a boy and into his early adulthood, to read and to learn, so he could do something besides chop and plow all his life. It was the touchstone of his politics as a Whig and then as a Republican.
If there is one thing to know about Lincoln, it is this belief. His war leadership and his martyrdom get so much attention, understandably. But Lincoln’s vision for the country goes deeper than either of those things.
LOPEZ: Should we associate a half-dollar with Lincoln more than the axe?
LOWRY: This is a major irony of Lincoln’s image (and my subtitle). In the normal course of things, he never would have wanted to be known as a rail-splitter. He got that moniker when Illinois Republicans made him their favorite son for president in 1860, and hauled out some rails he had supposedly cut decades ago. This was genius marketing. But he wasn’t an ax (or maul) person. He was more a half-dollar person.
He told a story in the White House that captured this. When he was a teenager, Lincoln had built a little boat that idled at an Ohio River landing. Two men approached in carriages. They wanted to meet a steamboat coming down river. Seeing Lincoln’s boat, they asked if he’d take them and their trunks out to meet the steamboat. Lincoln obliged and, when they were about to steam off, yelled out that they had forgotten to pay him. They each tossed a silver half-dollar onto the bottom of his little boat. Lincoln had, as he put it, “earned my first dollar.”
“In these days it seems to me a trifle,” he recalled, “but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day — that by honest work I had earned a dollar. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.”
The story captures so much about Lincoln: Here he is on a commercial throughway, the Ohio River. Here he is rejoicing in earnings from his labor. Here he is fired with ambition by the sight of those half-dollars — belonging to him, a token of services rendered and rewarded in a free and fair exchange.
LOPEZ: How was Lincoln’s “exalted” view of work influenced by his understanding of Scripture?
LOWRY: He liked to quote Genesis as warrant for the necessity, and the essential righteousness, of work. As far back as the late 1840s, he wrote in jottings for himself about trade policy, “In the early days of the world, the Almighty said to the first of our race ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.’” Therefore, all good things come from labor and “such things belong to those whose labour has produced them.”
In the much more important debate over slavery, he came back again and again to the Biblical injunction to live from your own sweat. He excoriated “the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.” In contrast, Lincoln defended the idea that “each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor.” Or in more colloquial terms, “I always thought that the man who made the corn should eat the corn.”
LOPEZ: You use the word harsh to describe Lincoln’s attitude to his father. Was this a character flaw?
LOWRY: He had a kind of contempt for his father, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t know that it was a character flaw per se, but it certainly tells us something important about his character. His father was, by most accounts (although there are different takes on this), a good man. But he was a limited man. According to Lincoln, his father could barely sign his name. His father resented all of his son’s reading, or at least considered it secondary to hard labor. His father hired him out to toil for other people and took the proceeds, as was his right until his son reached age 21. Lincoln resented this terribly. For him it violated the aforementioned principle, and he even said that he had been used as a slave.
The root of the conflict was that Thomas Lincoln was a pre-market man with all the attitudes that came with that. According to a neighbor, he “was happy — lived Easy — & contented.” Another observer said, “Well, you see, he was like the other people in that country. None of them worked to get ahead. There wasn’t no market for nothing unless you took it across two or three states. The people raised just what they needed.”
For his son, this was a contentment of stultification and wasted potential, of mindless work and equally mindless leisure. In this difference of perspective yawned a vast, unbridgeable gap in worldview. Lincoln left home as soon as he could, and never looked back.
LOPEZ: There’s a lot of talk about the Constitution today. Would Lincoln want to remind us more of the Declaration of Independence, which, you write, “he considered the acid test for the American dream”?
LOWRY: He loved the Declaration and considered the Constitution the means by which we achieved its truths. As he put it, in another line from the Bible, in this case Proverbs, the Declaration was the golden apple and the Constitution the silver frame.
Lincoln referred to the Declaration as containing “the definitions and axioms of free society.” They obviously weren’t consistent with slavery. Lincoln cited a Virginia clergyman who had noted dismissively that the Declaration’s statement of universal equality comes, not from the Bible, but “from Saint Voltaire, and was baptized by Thomas Jefferson.” The man of the cloth went on to say that he had never seen two men who were actually equal, although he admitted — in what he must have considered high wit — that “he never saw the Siamese twins.” Lincoln observed, “This sounds strangely in republican America,” and insisted that “the like was not heard in the fresher days of the Republic.”
Throughout the 1850s his advocacy was suffused with a sense of loss. We had lost touch with the truths of the Founders — those “old-time men,” as he fondly called them — and we could get on the path to renewal only by returning to them.
LOPEZ: What’s your personal Lincoln-Douglas debate highlight?
LOWRY: I love the pageantry, the dueling bands, the competing signs, the crowds — and the intimacy. At Freeport, a kid got up on the platform and sat on Douglas’s lap, then on Lincoln’s.
The rhetorical highlight might be the final debate at Alton, when Lincoln cast the choice over slavery as another battle in “the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”
LOPEZ: “If he were writing today, Horatio Alger might set his stories in Finland,” you write. That ought to be a warning siren for Americans, shouldn’t it?
LOWRY: Yes, indeed. The Left, as we know, focuses on inequality. But the fact of inequality isn’t itself a problem, so long as everyone has a good chance of moving up. We like to pride ourselves on our economic mobility, but we aren’t quite as fluid as we think. We are less mobile than many Western European countries and other major English-speaking countries. Our income distribution is “sticky” at the bottom, meaning that people starting out at the bottom are more likely to stay there than would be suggested by random chance. And it is sticky at the top.
A conservative opportunity program has to be geared to ensuring that we are as fluid and mobile a society as possible, that we are preserving ourselves as a Lincolnian republic where all have “equal privileges in the race of life.” Or as I put it in the book, we should be a country where you can make your way and you where you have to make your way.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
Since taking office in January, Senator Ted Cruz has earned a reputation for being one of the most unapologetically outspoken lawmakers on Capitol Hill. So much so, perhaps, that when it comes to the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill, of which Cruz has been one of the strongest Republican critics, it might seem like he’s been taking it easy.
The Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus, a staunch opponent of the Gang of Eight plan, observed last week: “By the way, where’s [Ted Cruz]? Should be [a] strong voice against Schumer-Rubio, seems to be doing minimum. Not exactly Reaganesque.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which strongly opposes the Gang’s bill, says Cruz seems reluctant to play a leading role in the immigration debate. “My sense is Cruz is kind of ambivalent,” Krikorian tells National Review Online. “Not ambivalent necessarily on amnesty — he’s pretty convinced that’s a bad idea — but he doesn’t seem to want to be the face of immigration hawkishness.”
Cruz “has been important in giving voice to the [Gang of Eight] opposition,” says Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican consultant, though he “hasn’t demonstrated the same level of aggressive national leadership on this as he has on a couple other things” — such as his opposition to gun-control legislation and the Obama administration’s drone policy.
One Republican aide suggests, “He’s been as strongly opposed as any member. But whenever you see someone like Ted Cruz not going full throttle, it makes you wonder why.”
In part, this is probably because immigration reform is a tricky and politically sensitive issue, particularly now, when many Republicans think giving legal status to unlawful immigrants is a necessary step in the party’s return to power. One GOP aide who opposes the bill says, “The impression they don’t want to leave is that they’re anti-reform.” Republicans are wary of coming out against the bill when the party establishment seems to favor it generally, he says, and “nobody wants to be the tip of the spear.”
And opponents fear being cast as a lot worse than “anti-reform.” “The Democrats have been wildly successful in making the debate as emotional as possible, and quite frankly it has scared a lot of Republicans,” says Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for NumbersUSA, a group that opposes the Gang of Eight’s bill and wants to reduce immigration levels. “It’s basically come down to . . . if you oppose the pathway to citizenship, then you oppose Hispanics. Unfortunately, Republicans have not been good at fighting back on this.”
That is why Cruz and other Gang of Eight opponents have sought to emphasize their support for the idea of immigration reform and for legal immigration. “I’m trying to improve the bill so it fixes the problem,” Cruz told ABC News last week. He offered a number of amendments during the bill’s markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee, including one that would have increased the number of temporary visas high-skilled workers by 500 percent; Democrats defeated all of them with the help of GOP Gang members Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Cruz also proposed amendments that would have dramatically strengthened the border-security provisions in the bill, which he said were essential to the bill’s chances of passing both chambers, and ultimately being signed into law.
A Cruz aide tells NRO the senator continues to have “deep concerns” with the Gang’s legislation, particularly with respect to border security and the pathway to citizenship — a measure he opposes — and is likely to continue introducing amendments similar to those he offered in committee. “He will be playing an important role in working to improve the bill as it goes to the floor,” the aide says, noting that the immigration debate is basically on hold at the moment until Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can agree on how to conduct the amendment process.
Jenks thinks Cruz has “been building up to a full-on opposition” and is likely to be “much more active in the next week and a half or so.” The Judiciary Committee’s failure to accept any meaningful strengthening on border security probably made him realize that a “rational debate” was unlikely. “I don’t think he takes well to that kind of stifling,” she says.
The conservative aide agrees, and notes that Cruz’s staff has been incredibly active and helpful behind the scenes. For example, his office spearheaded a letter to Republican colleagues that included a detailed list of objections to the Gang’s bill. “I don’t think anyone questions where Senator Cruz is on this bill,” the aide says. “I think he’s been out there as much as anyone, and I think you’re going to see a lot more of that.”
On Monday, Cruz announced that he would offer an amendment to the immigration bill that would allow states to make proof of citizenship a federal requirement for voter registration, which is sure to please the conservative base.
Still, some think Cruz may be wary of leading the opposition to an effort led by Senator Marco Rubio. “He really has wanted to avoid just turning the debate into a Cruz versus Rubio Hispanic rumble in the GOP,” Krikorian says. Indeed, Cruz has directed most of his criticism at Senate Democrats and President Obama, whom he called “the biggest obstacle to passing commonsense immigration reform.” If Cruz is trying to steer clear of the contrast with Rubio, it’s been successful. The press corps would typically salivate over such a conflict, but it has not received much attention, although USA Today did publish (in May) an article titled “Rubio vs. Cruz: Hispanic Conservatives Battle for GOP’s Soul.”
Either way, a number of GOP aides think it’s unfair to accuse Cruz of holding back. In the immigration debate, he has certainly shown flashes of the unconventional politician who has invigorated conservatives and irked the New York Times and MSNBC hosts.
During the committee markup, after Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) suggested that Cruz’s objections to the bill’s border-security provisions were a fig leaf for his opposition to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the freshman pushed back at the wily veteran. “I would like to point out the border security in the state of Texas is not some abstract concept,” Cruz said wryly, before inviting Schumer and his other colleagues to come visit and see for themselves.
That’s the Ted Cruz conservative opponents of the Gang of Eight’s bill are hoping to see more of in the coming weeks.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney maintained that the health-reform law he signed in Massachusetts was not the same as Obamacare. “Our plan was a state solution to a state problem,” Governor Romney insisted. He was trying to fix Massachusetts’ uniquely broken insurance market, he said; Obamacare, by contrast, was a “a power grab . . . a one-size-fits-all plan.” Nobody took him seriously — not conservatives, and not liberals. But today, as the nation braces for health insurance “rate shock,” Romney’s critique of Obamacare is ringing true. Call it Mitt Romney’s revenge.
It all goes back to Bill Weld, Romney’s Republican predecessor. In 1996, the heavily Democratic state legislature passed the Non-Group Health Insurance Reform Act, which transformed the individual market for health insurance, the market for people who shop for private insurance on their own.
The contours of that bill will sound familiar to observers of the Obamacare debate; it forced insurers in the individual market to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and it forced insurers to charge nearly equal rates to the young and the old, despite the fact that younger people consume very little health care. Governor Weld signed it into law.
The predictable happened. Because people could stay uninsured until they were sick, and then sign up for insurance afterwards, premiums shot up for the chumps who stayed continuously insured through health and illness. Over time, fewer and fewer people could afford insurance on the individual market; eHealthInsurance.com dropped out of the state entirely.
Romneycare, for all its flaws, was a way to bring Massachusetts’ individual insurance market back from the brink. It didn’t repeal the destructive but popular provisions from 1996; instead, it required everyone to buy health insurance — the infamous individual mandate — in order to make the market function again. It also merged the individual-insurance market into the one for small employers, in order to stabilize the former.
Romney was convinced that the problem of uncompensated care — uninsured people seeking free care from the emergency room — was the biggest driver of high insurance costs. “The key factor that some of my libertarian friends forget is that today everybody who doesn’t have insurance is getting free coverage from the government,” he said in 2006. That’s why he so strongly favored the individual mandate.
But Romneycare, once enacted, reduced uncompensated care by about $250 million a year, while increasing state health spending by more than three times that amount. By its own standard, Romneycare was a failure. The law didn’t reduce the cost of health care in the state; as of 2011, Massachusetts remained the costliest place in America to buy health insurance.
Romneycare did, however, succeed in one respect: it lowered premiums in the individual-health-insurance market by as much as 40 percent. Prior to 2006, it was nearly impossible to buy health insurance on your own in the Bay State. Romneycare, for all its faults, had effectively achieved universal coverage.
The best way to think about Romneycare is on a left-right scale of 1 to 10. If 10 is a libertarian utopia, and 1 is a left-wing dystopia, Governor Romney moved Massachusetts’ individual health-insurance market from a 2 to a 4. That is, it moved that market modestly to the right.
But most states have much freer — and functional — insurance markets than Massachusetts did. California, despite its reputation as a deep-blue state, has one of the most robust and competitive individual-insurance markets in the nation. In all corners of the Golden State, individuals can choose from more than 50 plans, with all varieties of deductibles, hospital networks, and the like. If Massachusetts’ market is now a 4, California’s is an 8.
Once Obamacare becomes fully operational in 2014, the old California individual insurance market will be abolished, to be replaced by Obamacare’s version of Massachusetts’ regulated exchange. In California, that means a sharp move to the left, and a sharp rise in premiums. A study I conducted for Forbes found that premiums for 25- and 40-year-olds in California will double for many healthy individuals. Ohio’s Department of Insurance announced that average premiums in its individual market will increase by an average of 88 percent.
There are a handful of states that have Massachusetts-like problems in their individual-insurance markets: Maine, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Washington. Those states are unlikely to see much impact from Obamacare on insurance premiums; indeed, premiums there might even go down. But nearly every other state will endure significant disruptions as Obamacare goes into full effect.
Progressives have been complacent about these problems. They’ve convinced themselves that because Romneycare “worked” in Massachusetts, Obamacare will work nationwide. But they’re ignoring what Mitt Romney had said all along, until he was blue in the face: that the Bay State isn’t like other states. It will be small consolation to those facing higher premiums if Romney is proven right.
—Avik Roy is a columnist at NRO and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @avik.
Almost everybody has written off Rick Santorum as a 2016 contender — everybody, that is, except Rick Santorum.
Behind the scenes, the former Pennsylvania senator is quietly preparing for another presidential run. Trips to Iowa are in the works, he’s meeting daily with his advisers, and he’s already fine-tuning his message for the early primaries.
Hints of that pitch came last Thursday during a fiery speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s summer conference. Santorum cast himself as a populist conservative. “When all you do is talk to people who are owners,” he warned, the GOP becomes nothing more than a social club for entrepreneurs.
For Santorum, it marked the start of his unofficial campaign. He tells me he plans to build upon his speech’s theme in the coming months, positioning himself as a conservative outsider.
“Some of the Wall Street folks have hijacked the party,” he says. “But we can’t just be a party that’s aligned with where the money comes from.”
Santorum, who started his career as a congressman from western Pennsylvania, says the Republican party has failed to connect with the voters who were the foundation of Ronald Reagan’s coalition. Too often, he says, it strains to appeal to blue bloods, rather than blue collars.
In speech after speech, he talks about how he can’t stand the power brokers from “big East Coast cities” who are trying to reshape the party. They don’t like him, either. “I wasn’t invited,” Santorum tells me, when I ask him whether he was part of Mitt Romney’s Republican retreat in Deer Valley, Utah, earlier this month.
“I’m not against entrepreneurship, and I’m not against the policies of fiscal restraint, but we’ve got to find a way to talk to people about how they can improve their lives,” he says. “If you look at my career, I’ve been able to win in Democratic towns where people work in coal mines. We’ve got to find a way to become that kind of party again, to win those towns.”
Santorum complains that the press is, naturally, ignoring his efforts to shift the GOP toward the working class. “Of course they dismiss me,” he says. “They don’t want to take me seriously.” But he believes his message will gradually win support.
“I’ve always thought that the Republican party can do well with the middle of America, with people that work hard and have a family,” he says. “They want a party that’s on their side, a party that’s economically inclusive. We’ve got to show them that we have a heart and that our policies create opportunity.”
That’s why he’s going back to Iowa in August. It’s Santorum’s first trip there since the election. He’ll headline a fundraising dinner for the Lyon County GOP and attend the state fair in Des Moines. “I can’t wait to reacquaint myself,” he says. “It’ll probably be too warm to wear a sweater vest, but I’ll have it ready in my suitcase.”
Clad in that sweater vest, Santorum rode his Rust Belt rhetoric to a surprise victory in last year’s Iowa Republican caucuses. He ended up winning ten more primary contests, giving Romney, the eventual Republican nominee, a serious headache.
Repeating that insurgency in 2016 will be difficult, but Santorum’s team is ready to give it a try. His longtime strategist, John Brabender, stays close, as does Mark Rodgers, Santorum’s former Senate chief of staff.
Back in December, Brabender hosted a Christmas party in Northern Virginia for Santorum’s inner circle that served as a reunion — and as an informal strategy session. Over drinks at the River Creek Club in Leesburg, Va., the senator’s friends and allies debated the pros and cons of another run.
By midnight, the consensus was clear: “The boss,” as his friends call him, should jump into the 2016 race, if at all possible.
For now, Santorum’s nonprofit organization, Patriot Voices, is his chief vehicle for staying in play. He’s working to develop the group into a film and educational outfit that informs voters about issues he considers important.
Brabender tells me that more than 400 chapters of Patriot Voices are being formed. Those clusters of Santorum supporters will likely be important as he maneuvers to run again.
Nadine Maenza, the finance director for his 2012 campaign, has also been keeping the senator in touch with his major donors, including Foster Friess. According to several sources, Friess, the top financier of Santorum’s super PAC, has privately said that he’ll once again be a major backer.
“The presidential election is a long way away,” Santorum says. “I know we’re not on the front burner of anybody’s mind right now, and there’s a lot going on that’s getting people’s attention. But I’m going to stay out there, and you’ll see me in Iowa soon.”
— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor.
In the weeks before the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Obamacare, the country trembled with anticipation. No such eagerness is evident now — yet the Court is again poised to rattle our world. The case of Fisher v. Texas could upend the system of racial preferences in use throughout American higher education.
The pursuit of racial justice in education has arguably led to some benefits since its inception in the 1960s. But in the two generations that have elapsed since affirmative action began, evidence of its unintended consequences has accumulated — even as a society-wide taboo has forbidden honest discussion of that evidence.
The vast majority of elite American institutions support racial preferences. Of 92 briefs filed in the Fisher case, 17 agreed with the plaintiff that racial preferences should be considered unconstitutional, while 73 urged that the current system remain undisturbed (two were in between). The pro-university briefs included submissions by the U.S. government, 17 U.S. senators, 66 members of the House, 57 of the Fortune 100 companies, numerous education associations, colleges and universities, and establishment organs like the American Bar Association.
Criticizing affirmative action (which is code for racial preferences) can be a career-endangering step for anyone, and particularly for academics or politicians.
Some scholars have nevertheless been willing to follow where the evidence leads, and have found that nearly everything we believe about racial preferences is wrong. In their outstanding book Mismatch, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. document the paradoxical results of giving large preferences to racial and other minorities.
Sander and Taylor argue persuasively that the trouble with preferences is not only the injustice done to people like Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas while less qualified black and Hispanic applicants were accepted — though that is unfair — but also the harm it does to those to whom such preferences are extended.
Preferences have created a widespread mismatch between minority students and the schools they attend. Minority students at all levels (least so at the very top colleges) tend to wind up at schools for which they are less well prepared than the majority of their classmates. The University of Texas is typical in awarding the equivalent of hundreds of SAT points to minority applicants. This results in minority students (who’ve been assured that they have what it takes to be successful) plunging to the bottom of the class. Students accepted under the preference regime often experience severe feelings of inferiority, social segregation, and much higher dropout rates. Both for affirmative-action “beneficiaries” and for their classmates, mismatch reinforces negative stereotypes. It also causes more African-American students to flee math, science, and engineering majors in favor of softer subjects such as education and sociology. “Black college freshmen are more likely to aspire to science or engineering careers than are white freshmen, but mismatch causes blacks to abandon these fields at twice the rate of whites.”
Yet research has shown that when minority students attend schools for which they are well matched, there is no attrition in demanding fields of study. It isn’t that minority students cannot make it as scientists and engineers, but simply that they conclude that they cannot succeed when forced to compete with superior classmates. This phenomenon also accounts for the relatively low numbers of minorities who seek academic careers despite (or rather because of) five decades of preferences. It carries lessons for families considering whether to take advantage of “legacies” for their children. The research suggests that academic and career success is more likely when students attend colleges for which they are well matched.
Nor do preferences benefit the disadvantaged. In 1972, more than half of black freshmen at elite colleges came from families in the bottom half of the socioeconomic distribution. By 1982, that percentage had dropped to one quarter, and by 1992, 67 percent of black freshmen came from homes in the top quartile of income. Among blacks attending elite colleges, 92 percent come from families in the top half of income earners.
Deciding who is a member of a historically oppressed minority group also gets trickier with every passing decade. Intermarriage is up. Immigration complicates matters. A recent study found that 40 percent of African-American Ivy League undergrads are first- or second-generation immigrants. A study undertaken by Harvard Law students found that only 30 percent of the African Americans there had four black grandparents. The rest were either of mixed ancestry, foreign students, or recent immigrants from the West Indies or Africa.
There is a place for preferences in higher education — for those who come from poor homes or tough neighborhoods. But there is abundant evidence that awarding preferences based on race and ethnicity is counterproductive, corrupt, and profoundly unjust.
Amid all the heated crosscurrents of debate about the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program, there is a growing distrust of the Obama administration that makes weighing the costs and benefits of the NSA program itself hard to assess.
The belated recognition of this administration’s contempt for the truth, for the American people, and for the Constitution of the United States has been long overdue.
But what if the NSA program has in fact thwarted terrorists and saved many American lives in ways that cannot be revealed publicly?
Nothing is easier than saying that you still don’t want your telephone records collected by the government. But the first time you have to collect the remains of your loved ones, after they have been killed by terrorists, telephone records can suddenly seem like a small price to pay to prevent such things.
The millions of records of phone calls collected every day virtually guarantee that nobody has the time to listen to them all, even if the NSA could get a judge to authorize listening to what is said in all these calls, instead of just keeping a record of who called whom.
Moreover, congressional oversight by members of both political parties limits what Barack Obama or any other president can get away with.
Are these safeguards foolproof? No. Nothing is ever foolproof.
As Edmund Burke said, more than two centuries ago: “Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.”
In other words, we do not have a choice whether to trust or not to trust government officials. Unless we are willing to risk anarchy or terrorism, the most we can do is set up checks and balances within government — and be a lot more careful in the future than we have been in the past when deciding whom to elect.
Anyone old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when President John F. Kennedy took this country to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, may remember that there was nothing like the distrust and backlash against later presidents, whose controversial decisions risked nothing approaching the cataclysm that President Kennedy’s decision could have led to.
Even those of us who were not John F. Kennedy supporters, and who were not dazzled by the glitter and glamour of the Kennedy aura, nevertheless felt that the president of the United States was someone who knew much more than we did about the realities on which all our lives depended.
Whatever happened to that feeling? Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon happened — and both were shameless liars. They destroyed not only their own credibility, but the credibility of the office.
Even when Lyndon Johnson told us the truth at a crucial juncture during the Vietnam War — that the Communist offensive of 1968 was a defeat for them, even as the media depicted it as a defeat for us — we didn’t believe him.
In later years, Communist leaders themselves admitted that they had been devastated on the battlefield. But by then it was too late. What the Communists lost militarily on the ground in Vietnam they won politically in the American media and in American public opinion.
More than 50,000 Americans lost their lives winning battles on the ground in Vietnam, only to have the war lost politically back home. We seem to be having a similar scenario unfolding today in Iraq, where soldiers won the war, only to have politicians lose the peace, as Iraq now increasingly aligns itself with Iran.
When Barack Obama squanders his own credibility with his glib lies, he is not just injuring himself during his time in office. He is inflicting a lasting wound on the country as a whole.
But we the voters are not blameless. Having chosen an untested man to be president, on the basis of rhetoric, style, and symbolism, we have ourselves to blame if we now have only a choice between two potentially tragic fates — the loss of American lives to terrorism, or a further dismantling of our freedoms that has already led many people to ask, “Is this still America?”
Congress is boring. It can’t even make new false promises.
On border security, it keeps making the same assurances. The Gang of Eight immigration bill, which could well be the signature legislative accomplishment of President Barack Obama’s second term, travels in the well-worn ruts of past immigration promises. The Gang of Eight is offering this basic deal: “We will pretend to enforce the law, if you pretend to believe us.”
The Gang of Eight bill purports to create an exit-entry visa system that Congress has been mandating since 1996. Back then, only the most cynical of observers would have believed that 17 years later, Congress would seek to pass a new amnesty for roughly 11 million illegal aliens partly in exchange for the very same entry-exit system. But in the immigration debate, cynicism always pays.
In 2006, Congress passed a law calling for about 700 miles of double-layer fencing on the border. We’ve built about 36 miles, or a good, solid 5 percent. At this rate, we’ll have all the double fencing in another 130 years. The rest of the mileage is various forms of inferior fencing, in keeping with a loophole Congress passed the very next year giving the Department of Homeland Security discretion in how it would go about building the fence.
Executive discretion is where border enforcement goes to die, and as it happens, the Gang of Eight enforcement provisions are entirely at the mercy of the executive. The secretary of Homeland Security merely submits a plan to do the things the executive branch has been mandated to do, but failed to do in the past. Who decides whether it is working? The secretary of Homeland Security.
This is so self-evidently ridiculous, even the Gang of Eight apparently realizes it needs to make some gesture toward toughening the bill. For his part, Florida senator Marco Rubio is doing the best Hamlet since John Gielgud. He is refusing to say whether he will vote “yes” on his own Gang of Eight bill after spending months drafting, defending, and helping shepherd it to the floor. He has supposedly discovered that the enforcement provisions are inadequate, although he has done countless interviews insisting the bill contains the “toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the history of the United States.”
Another basic problem in the architecture of the bill is that the amnesty comes before anything else, giving the Obama administration, ethnic interest groups, and the business lobby every incentive to resist any enforcement measures after they pass.
Rubio is loath to admit that the amnesty comes first, although in a recent interview on Univision, he indeed admitted it: “First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border. And then comes the process of permanent residence.” In a subsequent interview, he said he was inartful, which in Washington is a synonym for “frank.” When he’s speaking more artfully, he is careful to blur the difference between the initial amnesty and the process of getting a green card to give the misimpression that enforcement has to happen before anything else does.
Not that he’ll use the word “amnesty.” A hallmark of Republican supporters of the Gang of Eight bill is stating their earnest opposition to amnesty at the same time they support amnesty. They call the status quo a “de facto” amnesty, but refuse to make the basic concession to logic that codifying the “de facto” amnesty makes it a “de jure” amnesty. They readily call the 1986 immigration reform “amnesty,” even though the essential features of the Gang of Eight bill — legalization with a few symbolic hoops for the newly legal immigrants — are exactly the same.
The Gang of Eight bill is powered, in large part, by pretense and word games. If this bill passes, and then a decade or so from now we need another amnesty, the road map to passage will be easy: Congress can promise to follow up on the Gang of Eight’s enforcement measures — yet again.
Lately, I have been talking about train stations, though not on purpose — they’ve simply come up. I mentioned a couple in a Paris Journal. That led to some comments on New York train stations. And I mentioned a Union Station in yesterday’s Kansas City Journal.
Well, here’s another Union Station: Washington, D.C.’s. It is a beauty, one of the glories of the city. (A city of many glories.) It’s maybe a little too shopping-mall for me. But we need grand and glorious shopping malls, as well as grand and glorious train stations.
Most of the time, when I’m in Union Station, I’m rushing through it. Sometimes at a literal sprint. It’s nice to mosey, when you have the time.
Every time I return to Washington (from Manhattan), I think, “The streets are so wide. The sky is so big. The buildings are so short.” Everything is open. Then, after an hour or so — half-hour — all is normal. What I mean is, you don’t think about the differences between the place where you are and the place where you were.
Here’s something new, to me: The cabbies are now taking credit cards. But a cabbie tells me, “There’s an extra charge of $2.50.” Is this true? I don’t know — I assume it is. On hearing about the charge, I opt for cash.
I attend an event at the Willard Hotel — a place I have never been inside. Strange. I’ve passed it a thousand times, but have never gone in.
The Willard, just to remind you, is the famous and historic hotel at 14th and Pennsylvania, next to the Treasury Department (which is next to the White House).
Quick, name an opera set in the Willard Hotel. Right you are: The Ballad of Baby Doe, composed by Douglas Moore. This opera is about Horace Tabor, the Colorado Silver King, who ditched his wife for a girl named Baby — Baby Doe. Tabor met a tragic end, and so did Baby. (“And down will come baby . . .”)
Anyway, the two married in the Willard Hotel, and the opera reflects that.
Incidental intelligence: Once, after I gave a lecture at the Salzburg Easter Festival, a distinguished American came up to me and said, “You reminded me of a class I had at Columbia with Douglas Moore. I loved that class.”
I’m sorry for the boast, but people may like to know that Moore taught at Columbia. (Lame excuse for a boast.)
Quick, what great American song was written in the Willard? Well, Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” there. (She wrote the words. The music already existed, as “John Brown’s Body.”)
Outside the Willard, there is a plaque commemorating Howe and her achievement. The following lines are quoted: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea / With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me.”
You won’t be singin’ that at high-school assembly . . .
If you buy something in the Willard’s gift shop, remember this: You won’t get a bag. You can pay for a bag. Five cents. I bought a few postcards, and asked for a bag. There was a charge, for this itty-bitty bag: five cents.
Does that seem right?
As I’m in a boasting mood: I’m from something rare, namely an old Washington family. Washington is a transient town, owing to the government. At least it has been. What with a semi-permanent governing class, maybe things are different now. Anyway, my people got here — Village of Georgetown — at the end of the Civil War. All four of my father’s grandparents were born within D.C. city limits. Etc., etc.
Anyway, a block from the Willard — at 13th and F — stood the shop owned by my great-grandfather. Walter Johnson, the Big Train, was a customer.
Okay, I think I’m done boasting . . .
Let me quote my grandmother: “If Washington were a European city, we would ooh and ah over it. But because it’s ours, we overlook its beauty, or take it for granted.” True. What a beautiful, beautiful city. If we had to travel over an ocean to get here — and if the people here spoke a foreign language — we would realize that more easily, I believe.
Is the above a boast? No — I didn’t have squat to do with Washington’s beauty, and neither did my family (to the best of my knowledge).
Every time I come here, the sites seem more and more off-limits. Security is beefier. I remember when Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House closed to traffic — to cars, that is. That was during Clinton’s first term. In the next campaign, Bob Dole pledged to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue.
I’m sure it was right to close that part of the street — a prudent measure. My kin remember the old days, though: You could simply go up to the White House and knock on the door.
There are of course trade-offs between liberty and security. President Obama once denied that. Indeed, he poured scorn on people who acknowledged the fact. Now he is an acknowledger.
But shouldn’t he kind of apologize to those he scorned?
I’m pleased to find that I can divorce the White House — as a building, as an institution, as a symbol — from its current occupant. It is still a thrill to see the White House.
Like you, I’m in favor of free speech. But am I in favor of amplified speech? I have always chafed at this, thinking it an infringement on others’ liberty, and peace.
I’m walking the grounds of the Capitol, and someone is hollering into a microphone. He is hollering for Obama’s impeachment. I’m all for hollering against Obama. But why can’t you talk at a reasonable volume to the 20 or so people around you? Why do you have to subject people for hundreds of yards, in all directions, to your hollering?
There was no way to visit the Capitol grounds — and those grounds are vast — without hearing this hollering. That’s not free speech. That’s a public nuisance.
I once knew a man who pronounced this word in three syllables: “NEW-ih-sance.”
The Supreme Court has a scrim on its façade — a drape depicting the façade of the Supreme Court. Disconcerting. It’s as though we’re looking at a play or opera that features the Supreme Court.
You can’t go up the steps. Security or police will stop you. When I lived in Washington, couples had their wedding photos taken on the steps all the time. Is it really necessary to make the steps off-limits?
The Washington Monument is covered in scaffolding. A pity. There have long been people who have called the monument “phallic.” There are people who just can’t think other than sexually. Well, if the monument is a you-know-what, the scaffolding looks like a kind of — well, we used to call them “rubbers.”
I have a feeling that’s a very old-fashioned word.
Actually, “rubbers” used to mean what you wore on your feet when it rained. And, in Britain, it meant pencil erasers — probably still does.
When I lived here, I knew a woman whose great-grandmother — possibly great-great — played in the Washington Monument, as it was going up. This same girl was taken by her father to see the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators. He wanted her to see that evil was punished.
Between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, I linger before the John Paul Jones monument. It is very well done. Stirring. There’s a somewhat whimsical fish, with water streaming out of its mouth. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that JPJ is a less big deal in American life than he once was. Are kids taught about him?
I can never remember what he said. “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”? No. The line belonging to him, immortally, is, “I have not yet begun to fight.”
I’m glad to see the Lincoln Memorial — maybe the best place in America — in good shape. Not long ago, the words on the wall were “dripping.” They were streaked, green. Now everything is sharp, clean, and clear.
I meet a colleague at a restaurant I’m unfamiliar with: Edgar, in the Mayflower Hotel. It’s named after someone who ate at the Mayflower a lot — the late FBI director.
Everyone knows that Washington used to be a southern town — a “sleepy little southern town,” to use the cliché. It is still that, still southern, when you meet some old-time Washingtonians (white or black). Very soon, that’ll all be gone, I suppose.
We used to say that Theodore Roosevelt Island, in the Potomac, was a “hidden gem.” It ain’t so hidden now, judging by this Saturday morning. It’s packed, and rightfully so.
I glance over at the TR monument. Frankly, he looks to me a little like Lenin, or one of the Kims. Stiff. I’m not nuts about this monument.
Am I nuts about TR? Like many a Reagan conservative, I have mixed feelings. But I’ll tell you this: I very much enjoyed reading about him when preparing my history of the Nobel Peace Prize — and I very much enjoyed reading his own words. His Nobel lecture is one of the finest meditations on peace I have ever come across.
I quote from it liberally in my book, and will give you a dose or two here:
Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy.
. . . above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them. The leaders of the Red Terror prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence.
A cabbie tells me, in disgust, that the traffic lights in the city aren’t coordinated. The government ought at least to do that: coordinate the lights. As it is, you have to stop at darn near every one. There’s no smooth sailing.
Anyway, this is what the cabbie says. And he reminds me of a friend of mine in Houston — a conservative Republican, as far as I know. He supported the Democrat, Bill White, in the last gubernatorial election. Why? Because White, when mayor of Houston, coordinated the lights. You could then roll through Houston.
Which my friend thought was just great.
Here in Washington, there are masses of tourists, some from abroad, but most from around America. Parents are showing their children their capital city. Their own parents, before them, did the same, no doubt. At the Lincoln Memorial, girls skip up the steps, just as they always have. They’re counting the steps and giggling as they go.
I have grave concerns about the future of this country. But, surveying the scene in Washington, I think it’s going to be okay. It is, right?
Last week, in Nice, France, I was privileged to participate along with 30 scholars, mostly scientists and mathematicians, in a conference on the question of whether the universe was designed, or at least fine-tuned, to make life, especially intelligent life. Participants — from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia, among other American and European universities — included believers in God, agonistics, and atheists.
It was clear that the scientific consensus was that, at the very least, the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. It appears that we live in a “Goldilocks universe,” in which both the arrangement of matter at the cosmic beginning and the values of various physical parameters — such as the speed of light, the strength of gravitational attraction, and the expansion rate of the universe — are just right for life. And unless one is frightened of the term, it also appears the universe is designed for biogenesis and human life.
Regarding fine-tuning, one could write a book just citing the arguments for it made by some of the most distinguished scientists in the world. Here is just a tiny sample, collated by physicist Gerald Schroeder, who holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later taught physics.
Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”
Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.
Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writes that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is “one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.” That is “a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.”
Steven Weinberg, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and an anti-religious agnostic, notes that “the existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places.” As the website explains, “This means that if the energies of the Big Bang were, in arbitrary units, not:
There would be no life of any sort in the entire universe.”
Unless one is a closed-minded atheist (there are open-minded atheists), it is not valid on a purely scientific basis to deny that the universe is improbably fine-tuned to create life, let alone intelligent life.
Additionally, it is atheistic dogma, not science, to dismiss design as unscientific. The argument that science cannot suggest that intelligence comes from intelligence or design from an intelligent designer is simply a tautology. It is dogma masquerading as science.
And now, many atheist scientists have inadvertently provided logical proof of this.
They have put forward the notion of a multiverse — the idea that there are many, perhaps an infinite number of, other universes. This idea renders meaningless the fine-tuning and, of course, the design arguments. After all, with an infinite number of universes, a universe with parameters friendly to intelligent life is more likely to arise somewhere by chance.
But there is not a shred of evidence of the existence of these other universes — nor could there be, since contact with another universe is impossible.
Therefore, only one conclusion can be drawn: The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.
Honest atheists — scientists and lay people — must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence. And honest believers must acknowledge that the existence of a Designing Intelligence is not necessarily the same as the existence of benevolent God.
To posit the existence of a Creator requires only reason. To posit the existence of a good God requires faith.
It is painful to watch Marco Rubio’s maneuverings on immigration. He is refusing to say whether he will vote “yes” on his own Gang of Eight bill after spending months drafting, defending, and helping shepherd it to the floor. He has supposedly discovered that the enforcement provisions are inadequate, although he has done countless interviews touting that the bill contains the “toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the history of United States” (which is what his website still says). At the same time, Rubio declares the bill 95–96 percent perfect.
This is all very confusing, but perhaps we can help the senator get his story straight: He should vote against the bill. It is an amnesty-first, enforcement-maybe program drawn up mainly to reflect the priorities of 11 million citizens of other countries rather than the concerns of more than 300 million citizens of the United States.
Most of the so-called security triggers in the bill are paper tigers. The requirement that those applying for amnesty have clean criminal records in fact allows for two misdemeanor convictions and, like most of the triggers, can be waived by the Department of Homeland Security. Senator John Cornyn of Texas has sought to have those with drunk-driving convictions excluded, but he is meeting resistance — Senator John McCain called the Cornyn amendment, which modestly strengthens other security provisions as well, a “poison pill.” The bill as written excludes only those with three or more drunk-driving convictions — “habitual” drunk drivers.
Likewise, the fines for illegal immigrants contemplated by the Gang of Eight can, under the current bill, be waived by DHS, and the collection of unpaid taxes applies only to levies already assessed by our dear friends at the IRS. The main security provisions of the legislation require only that DHS draw up a plan for security. (That is classic Washington: a plan to have a plan.) The much-vaunted requirement that DHS achieve 90 percent effectiveness for border security requires only self-certification by the DHS; in the unlikely event that DHS does not give itself a passing score, the only result under the law would be the creation of a commission to study the problem. Completing a border fence is left to the discretion of the DHS, which does not support doing so. Likewise, the requirement that the federal government institute a system of controls on those who overstay their visas — which already is a legal requirement and has been since 1996 — is left largely to the discretion of DHS.
All of the concerns above are problematic on their own, but they are rendered especially troublesome by the fact that the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants happens first, immediately and irreversibly. If this bill should be signed into law, the amnesty would go into effect immediately, and the most that any of the so-called triggers would do is delay the process of allowing the formerly illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship. That is the fundamental flaw of Senator Rubio’s design, and none of his playing Hamlet about the issue is going to change that. The bill is not wrong only in its details, but in its fundamental architecture, including in its guest-worker program and increases in other categories of low-skilled workers.
The Gang of Eight bill does not serve the economic interests of the United States. The fact is that our public schools do an excellent job of producing an abundant supply of unskilled workers with little or no proficiency in English, and the national labor force is not achingly in need of a few million more. And in failing to ensure that the borders and ports of entry are truly and robustly secure, it shortchanges the national-security interests of the country as well. Neither changing green-card rules to accommodate domestic labor-market needs nor physically securing the border requires an amnesty for those illegal immigrants who are already present. Nor does implementing E-Verify and complying with existing law on entry-exit visas. In fact, there is not a single item on the productive-immigration-reform agenda that requires an amnesty for illegals — and, remarkably, nobody in this debate has made much of a serious attempt to explain how or why that amnesty is in the interests of the citizens of the United States.
By more than doubling the number of so-called guest workers admitted each year, the bill would help create a permanent underclass of foreign workers. The 2007 Bush-Kennedy proposal was rejected in part because it would have added 125,000 new guest workers. The Gang of Eight bill would add 1.6 million in the first year, and about 600,000 a year after that: That’s the population of Philadelphia in Year One and the population of Boston each year after. That is a lot of taxation without representation. And that is on top of a 50 percent or more increase in the total level of legal immigration. While life as a member of an American underclass surely would be an attractive alternative for members of the underclasses of many other countries, the creation of a large population of second-class workers is undesirable from the point of view of the American national interest, which should be our guiding force in this matter.
Beyond its treatment of illegal immigrants, the very large expansion in legal immigration that the bill would establish is problematic as well. While there are some persuasive economic arguments in favor of expanding legal immigration, the United States is a nation with an economy, not an economy with a nation. Our failure to fully assimilate new immigrants over the past several decades is not a reflection of our inability but our unwillingness to do so. That some are arguing for this bill as a necessary political sop to Hispanic voters is indicative of the toxic ethnic politics that we should be working to eliminate — and that radically higher levels of immigration would almost certainly entrench. As with strengthened security measures, proposals to prudently limit the total number of new immigrants have been rejected.
The Gang of Eight’s play now is clearly to come up with some fig leaf of an amendment on enforcement that won’t affect the fundamentals of the bill, while giving enough Republicans cover to vote for it to get to a supermajority of 70. (And win back the dramatically wavering Rubio — this stagecraft has all the subtlety of the WWE.) Seventy votes is considered the threshold for pressuring the House to act on a “comprehensive reform” with all the same flaws of the Senate version.
A note about the political background to all this: This bill is in no small part a reaction to the 2012 election, a product of the media-consultant complex that has convinced Republicans that immigration reform is the key to the Hispanic heart, and that Hispanic votes are the key to winning future presidential elections. Republicans probably are too optimistic about their prospects among Hispanic voters. But it is worth noting that the two sides in this immigration debate are being led by Hispanic Republican senators: Marco Rubio for the Gang of Eight, Ted Cruz for the opposition. One of them, needless to say, is making more sense than the other.
The divide over immigration reform is not primarily a Left/Right or Democratic/Republican divide; instead, it cuts, and sharply so, across class lines. Elites blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration to ensure that the opponents of the latter appear to be against the former. They talk grandly of making legal immigration meritocratic, but fall silent when asked to what degree. They talk darkly of racist subtexts in the arguments of their opponents, but skip over the overt ethnic chauvinism of proponents of amnesty; they decry conservative paranoia over a new demography, but never liberal euphoria over just such a planned reset. They talk deprecatingly of rubes who do not understand the new global realties, but never of their own parochialism ensconced in New York or Washington or San Francisco. They talk of reactionaries who do not fathom the ins and outs of the debate; never of their own willful ignorance of the realities on the ground in East L.A. or southwest Fresno.
The elites favor de facto amnesty for a variety of self-interested reasons. For the corporate echelon, creating a guest-worker program and granting amnesty — without worrying about securing the border first — ensures continued access to millions of cheap laborers from Latin America. The United States may be suffering the most persistent unemployment since the Great Depression. There may be an unemployment rate of over 15 percent in many small towns in the American Southwest. American businesses may be flush with record amounts of cash, and farm prices may be at record levels. But we are still lectured that without cheap labor from south of the border, businesses simply cannot profit.
Unmentioned is the exploitation of illegal labor. Hard-working young Latin Americans, most of them from the interior of Mexico, cross the border illegally, usually to find jobs that pay over five times more per hour than anything they could find in Mexico, yet still less than the employer would have to pay an American. Between the ages of 18 and 40, illegal immigrants are among the hardest-working laborers in the world. However, the traditional entry-level jobs — picking peaches, nailing shingles, mowing lawns, changing diapers, cooking, making beds — for those without legality, education, or English often become a permanent dead end.
Many employers appreciate the myriad advantages of hiring illegal immigrants. Although supporters of amnesty are bold in leveling charges of illiberality against their critics, the unspoken truth is that insistence on access to cheap labor is about as reactionary and unethical as one can imagine. Off the record, employers will admit they are reluctant to hire jobless African-American youths, although the black community is suffering historic levels of unemployment. They are not even eager to hire second-generation Hispanics, who, according to the employers’ creed, have lost the firsthand memory of crushing Mexican poverty and thus their parents’ desperate work ethic.
Instead, employers want a continuing influx of young workers who will undercut the wages of American citizens. That the bargaining power of other minorities, Latino- and African-American citizens especially, is undercut by illegal labor matters little. How odd that elite Republicans pander to Latino grandees to win perhaps 35 percent of the Latino vote; that the party garners no more than 5 percent of the much larger African-American vote is never discussed. In the bizarre logic of the Republican elite, you must cater to the Hispanic elite in order to siphon votes from the liberal Latino bloc, while the much more important black demographic is simply written off. Is there one Republican politician who is more worried about the plight of unemployed African-American citizens than he is about granting amnesty to foreign nationals who broke U.S. laws to come here?
Employers do not care that the presence of 11 million illegal aliens has driven down entry-level wages. They are not concerned about the depressing cycle of illegal-immigrant labor: The young male from Latin America works extraordinarily hard for 20 years. But by the time he’s 40, he is married with children, and discovering that without education, English, or skill sets, he has no way forward.
Arms and backs that were near superhuman at 25 are often shot at 50. When the 45-year-old illegal alien can no longer pick, or cook, or rake as he once did, the employer loses interest, and the state steps in to provide him with rough parity through subsidies for housing, health care, food, and legal assistance, and meanwhile it has been educating his children. Because second-generation immigrants are deemed less industrious than their worn-out fathers and mothers — and Hispanic males in California graduate from high school at little more than a 60 percent rate — the need arises for another round of young hardy workers from Latin America.
In past times, this depressing cycle of exploitation was justified by low unemployment or ongoing wars that siphoned off American manpower. But why the need for imported labor in times of near-record joblessness, relative peace, and often-record profits? The elites simply turn a blind eye to out-of-work Americans, the low wages of illegal laborers, and the cynicism of using up human capital and letting the state pick up the subsequent social costs. How odd that profit-making from cheap labor is considered liberal, while concern for low-paid American workers is written off as xenophobia.
Most elites talk of nativism and racism as being what fuels opposition to their brand of comprehensive immigration reform. Yet I doubt that the wealthy Silicon Valley residents who clamor for “reform” send their children to public schools. Indeed, in the fashion of the Southern academies that popped up in the 1960s during court-ordered busing, Silicon Valley is currently experiencing an explosion in private schools.
Apple, Google, and Facebook 1-percenters are much too sophisticated to call these booming apartheid prep schools “academies,” but they are burgeoning in reaction to worries that the flood of illegal service workers from Latin America has finally lapped up to the outskirts of Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Once-topnotch public schools like Menlo-Atherton are now whispered about as “problematic,” given the growing enrollment of the children of illegal aliens.
In truth, do not expect Washington politicians, La Raza leaders, or agribusiness owners to send their children to the Sanger school system in the outskirts of Fresno, or to enroll them in Cal State Bakersfield. Their elite status mostly exempts them from the ramifications of their own ideology in a myriad of ways. If taxes must rise in California to pay for one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, or to prop up public schools that have descended to 48th in the nation in math and English test scores, or to bring some parity to the nation’s highest percentage of people below the poverty line, most of the elite can afford the increases. For some, the higher taxes even become a sort of penance — a kind of abstract generosity necessary to expiate their unwillingness to assimilate, integrate, and intermarry in the concrete.
Meanwhile, forget the tire-store owner and the electrical contractor who have no such margin of error, and are written off as mean-spirited for resenting rising taxes to pay for soaring subsidies to the growing immigrant underclass. That the caricatured Neanderthal followers of Sarah Palin resent the social costs of illegal immigration and the fact that their children’s education is directly affected by the entry of millions of new non-English-speakers is, well, their own fault.
Almost every aspect of illegal immigration is illiberal to the core. Respect for the law? The elite decides that for a particular political constituency, the law is now fluid. If you are a Bulgarian M.D. and overstay your visa, beware. A Korean engineer wouldn’t dare to fly to Mexico City and cross illegally into Arizona. Without ethnic bosses and millions of compatriots within our borders, all others are lawbreakers subject to deportation.
That well over $30 billion in remittances leaves the U.S. economy each year to prop up the Mexican and other Latin American economies is an afterthought. Indeed, Mexico is romanticized as an aggrieved partner, not excoriated as cynically opportunist for printing comic books to instruct its own citizens how to break U.S. law. How liberal is it to assist citizens to leave their own homeland, while assuming that they are almost certainly illiterate and thus need pictorial instruction?
To suggest that Mexico exports human capital in lieu of engaging in social reform, to suggest that indigenous peoples are the most likely to want to leave Mexico’s often racist social stratification, to suggest that Mexico does not care that its own expatriates suffer and scrimp to send back billions of dollars in cash to those ignored by the Mexican government, to suggest that Mexico appreciates that its citizens are more likely to cheer their homeland the longer they are away from it — all of this is considered reactionary and perhaps racist or at least culturally biased. But it is also absolutely true: Mexico, not the U.S., is the illiberal player in this entire sordid trafficking in human capital.
Mexico and American employers are not the only cynics in this drama. The La Raza elite understands well that only yearly massive infusions of the impoverished across the perpetually open border ensure a changed demography, anchored by a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass and periodically recharged by new illegal immigrants. Without massive immigration, the Latino population goes the way of the Italian or Greek community. Intermarriage, assimilation, and integration would gradually make the Chicano Studies department about as relevant as the Italian Studies department, La Raza about as catchy as La Razza, and the third-generation Hispanic with the accented last name about as much a minority in need of diversity favoritism as Rudy Giuliani’s son. How odd that illegal immigration is fueled by ethnic chauvinism, while those who criticize it are called ethnically biased. How could a Chicano Studies professor cite endemic poverty as a reason for federal attention if Mexican-Americans followed the Armenian- or Polish-American paradigm — and, of course, they soon would without the regular infusions of additional illegal immigrants.
Somehow, we have created an absurd situation in which a resident of Oaxaca, often fleeing racial and class oppression in Mexico, becomes defined as a victim of American pathologies the nanosecond he crosses the border. In turn, America, the generous host, is reinvented as a culpable oppressor that has treated the illegal alien so badly that his children deserve job and college-admission preference. Mexico likewise must be reinvented, from the exporter of superfluous human beings to the liberal champion of its stolen human assets.
Finally, there is the elite of the American Southwest, who believe that they are new 17th-century French aristocracy, entitled to $8-to-$10-an-hour nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, maids, and occasional day laborers. There are millions of white, Asian, Latino-American, and African-American youths out of work. We are simply told publicly that most of them would not do such work, and apparently if they did, they would not be trustworthy.
Indeed, the tragedy of illegal immigration is that it becomes the cornerstone for hundreds of agendas: those of the self-interested Mexican government, exploitative American employers, the new ethnic chauvinists, the upper middle classes who deem themselves lords of the manor, and, yes, the elite whose professions are as noble as their deeds are not.
Most Americans do not object to providing a green card to those who came to work, stayed off public assistance, did not commit crimes, and did not recently arrive in search of amnesty. They do not even object to offering a pathway to eventual citizenship to immigrants who pay a fine for their illegal entry, learned English, and go to the back of the legal-immigration line. But all this is a hypothetical if the border is not first secured — if we cannot guarantee that 2013 does not become another 1986, meaning that some future date will be a replay of 2013.
If we are to offer a second chance to the majority of illegal immigrants who, apart from their illegal entry, otherwise played by the rules, there must not be a second chance for the minority who broke all of them.
In the meantime, for those who profit both materially and psychologically from something that largely benefits the elite and hurts the mass, at least spare us the hypocritical aspersions and bottled pieties.
— NRO contributorVictor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.
The obstruction of medical progress by a blind bureaucracy is the future we all face under Obamacare, where bureaucrats will make arbitrary rulings that affect your health. Without a doctor ever seeing you or knowing your story, you may get handed a life-and-death decision, with little chance for appeal. We saw a foreshadowing of this brave new world last week when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to approve the waiver that would have put a dying child on the adult-lung transplant list.
Sebelius could have chosen to overturn the outdated policy — the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network’s Under 12 Rule — that kept ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan from being considered for an adult lung at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia even though she was sick enough to belong at the top of the list. Dr. Samuel Goldfarb, medical director of the lung-transplantation program at CHOP, acknowledged that children can successfully receive adult lungs, but the bureaucracy disregarded his input.
The allocation of limited resources automatically involves some form of rationing. That’s a daily fact of life in medicine, whether we are talking about scarce chemotherapy or emergency heart drugs or the fewer than 2,000 donor lungs that are available for transplant every year.
One can only hope that scarce medical resources make it to those who need them the most. It is only when this happens that the health-care system is actually working. That’s why loving parents everywhere, who naturally put their child’s needs before their own, were cheering this week when Sarah, suffering from end-stage cystic fibrosis, was snatched from the jaws of death to receive healthy new lungs after the family hired a pro bono lawyer and a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Under 12 Rule. Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson and Fox News brought the case to national attention, putting pressure on government officials to do the right thing. The judge’s courageous science-based decision as well as the Fox-led debate helped educate the public and laid the groundwork for offering the best care to children who need organ transplants across the country.
In contrast, Sebelius played a cruelly obstructive role: Since she wasn’t a physician, she wasn’t in a position, she claimed, to disregard or overturn the policy. One shudders to think of how many people will be denied essential care because of this head-in-the sand approach under Obamacare.
Let’s look at the medical facts of Sarah’s case:
According to Dr. Frank D’Ovidio, surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Columbia University Medical Center, “the long-term prognosis using parts of adult lungs [with immuno-suppression] in children is excellent.” Dr. D’Ovidio pointed out to me that “of all the end-stage lung diseases, cystic fibrosis has the best survival for lung transplant.” The survival after one year is close to 90 percent, and 75 percent after five years. Dr. Bob Giusti, pediatric pulmonologist and CF expert at NYU Langone Medical Center, added that once the lungs are transplanted, CF patients do quite well, though they need to be watched for signs of infection, risk of rejection, and tolerance of immuno-suppressive drugs. Other complications of the disease involving the pancreas and sinuses can be managed. Both experts said they felt it was wise that children like Sarah be considered for the adult list.
So why did Sebelius refuse to make an exception or create a new policy, both well within her powers? I wish the answer were an isolated display of poor judgment, but it points instead to the flaws at the heart of Obamacare, where arbitrary bureaucratic rulings and archaic regulations will take the place of independent, case-by-case judgments by informed, caring physicians.
Some kind of rationing is inevitable with scarce medical resources, but with death-panel Sebelius in charge, patients who need care the most, such as Sarah, may not be the ones to receive it.
On Sunday, former vice president Dick Cheney addressed the dilemma many conservatives face in assessing the revelations about the National Security Agency’s data collection. On the one hand, they are suspicious of the federal government. On the other, they often mute such concerns when it comes to anything touching on national security.
Cheney captured the tension perfectly in defending the NSA’s activities. Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace first asked him: “What right do you think the American people have to know what the government is doing?” After a pause, Cheney said: “Well, they get to choose, they get to vote for senior officials, like the president of the United States or like the senior officials in Congress. And you have to have some trust in them.” Leaving aside the fact that less than 3 percent of Americans have ever voted for the current top four leaders of the Senate and House, Cheney’s comment certainly represents a crabbed view of public accountability by officials.
And possibly a dangerous one. Later in the interview, Wallace asked Cheney for his opinion of President Obama. “I don’t think he has credibility,” he said. “I think one of the biggest problems we have is, we have got an important point where the president of the United States ought to be able to stand up and say, ‘This is a righteous program, it is a good program, it is saving American lives, and I support it.’ And the problem is the guy has failed to be forthright and honest and credible on things like Benghazi and the IRS. So he’s got no credibility.” If we are to rely on the people elected to high office not to abuse their authority, what do we do when they do exactly that — as Cheney thinks Obama has?
And can we believe the administration and the NSA when they say the program was structured to conduct only the same kind of data mining that local law enforcement employs with phone companies when they’re investigating routine crimes? Declan McCullagh of CNET reported this weekend that Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, had disclosed that in a briefing last week he’d been told the NSA does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls. Nadler said the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.” Nadler has since issued a clarification that muddies the waters, but he doesn’t deny his initial statement.
This is what former House Judiciary chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, a key author of the 2001 Patriot Act, has been worrying about for a long time. He told Laura Ingraham on her radio show last Wednesday that the explanations the White House and the senior members of Congress’s Intelligence Committees are offering for the NSA surveillance activities are “a bunch of bunk.” In his view, the administration and the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court have gone far beyond what the Patriot Act intended. Section 215, the so-called business-records part of the amended act, “was originally drafted to prevent data mining” of the type the NSA has been engaged in for years. The FISA court’s willingness to accede to administration requests is “really truly scary,” he said. They were “signing off on an unlimited dragnet.”
Sensenbrenner believes that changes to the Patriot Act must be “very specific” so that “the intelligence community knows that this goes too far.” Good luck. Back in 2010, he told FBI officials at a congressional hearing that he felt “betrayed” by the FBI’s attempts to evade the Patriot Act’s restrictions.
“Every time we tried to patch up a hole in what the FBI was doing, you figured out how to put another hole in the dike, and this little Dutch boy has only got ten fingers to put in the dike,” he told the officials.
It’s clear that congressional oversight of the government’s intelligence activities is either inadequate or flawed. Asked if he believes there has been enough oversight of the NSA, Senate majority leader Harry Reid was dismissive last week: “Enough is something that’s in the eye of the beholder.” How comforting.
While it’s true that many members of Congress are lazy or lackadaisical in finding out what’s going on, it’s not true that those who do care can get answers if they want them. All members of Congress have a top-security clearance, but lawmakers must file a formal request for access to key information, former House Intelligence chairman Pete Hoekstra (R., Mich.) told The Hill. “A significant number of those requests are typically denied,” he added. On sensitive matters, only the top-ranking Democrat and Republican on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are briefed by intelligence officials. “All member” briefings do take place, but they often provide little information beyond what’s in the papers. “‘Fully briefed’ doesn’t mean we know what’s going on,” says Senate Appropriations chairman Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
Of course, it’s unclear whether any serious form of congressional oversight of any part of our federal government is still possible. We have 2.84 million federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies, and 383 non-military sub-agencies. Private contractors increasingly function as offshoots of federal agencies; and, astonishingly, 83,500 of those private contractors’ employees have top-security clearances — including, until this month, one high-school dropout named Edward Snowden.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, told a Federalist Society conference this month that the unelected, faceless bureaucracy “has become a fourth branch of government that has disrupted our constitutional framework and has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.” In a typical year, the number of laws that Congress passes is dwarfed by the number of new federal regulations that are issued by a factor of at least 15 to one. A citizen is ten times more likely to be tried by a federal agency than by an actual federal court, which means he’ll have far fewer legal protections.
Federal agencies are also given enormous deference in their interpretation of laws, and the Supreme Court expanded their power just last May when it ruled 5 to 4, in Arlington v. FCC, that agencies deserve deference in determining the jurisdictions of their power. In his dissent in this case, Chief Justice John Roberts quoted James Madison in the Federalist Papers No. 47 as warning that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Roberts then pointed out that “the accumulation of these powers in the same hands is not an occasional or isolated exception to the constitutional plan; it is a central feature of modern American government.”
Benghazi. The IRS targeting of conservative groups. Secret e-mail accounts used by top federal officials — such as former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez — to conduct official business. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s efforts to promote Obamacare with a private slush fund solicited from companies she regulates. Subpoenas for records of journalists. The NSA revelations.
How many warning signs — emerging virtually all at once — do we need to realize that the American people have lost control of their government? Not only that, but large sectors of the government have lost any ability to provide checks and balances or even monitor the bureaucracy.
It’s easy to rail against the IRS’s targeting and the EPA’s abuses, but recent national-security revelations are also giving some conservatives pause. Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor who for four years chaired a congressional panel to assess terrorism threats, told me that he is “very troubled” by what he sees as a Byzantine national-security bureaucracy in which “it’s possible no one knows all that is being done in its name.” Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, told me that he is “normally very supportive” of national-security concerns but that this support is contingent on trust, just as Cheney observed. “I fear we have a rogue crew running things now, and we have to be especially alert for abuses,” he said.
The administrative state has grown like Topsy under both Republican and Democratic administrations. No matter which party is in power, or comes to power in the next cycle, it’s time to rein in Leviathan’s excesses.
With regard to to national security, the question is, Who watches the watchers? If the answer is that no one really can, then we have a country that has transformed profoundly in key ways in the last ten years. One of Osama bin Laden’s stated goals for the 9/11 attacks was to fundamentally change the way Americans live. It will be a bitter irony if our government, in its effort to protect us from al-Qaeda, makes that part of the terrorists’ plan into a permanent reality.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.
Obamacare was supposed to help out low-income workers. But some struggling hourly employees could soon face even higher health costs than before the law was implemented.
These unlucky workers, who will likely be concentrated in the retail and hospitality industries, will have to choose either to enroll in a health plan that strains their finances or to pay a steadily increasing penalty to the federal government.
The health law is complex, making the explanation for this unintended consequence complicated, too. But, basically, as of 2014, companies with more than 50 full-time employees will be required to provide health insurance for workers who put in more than 30 hours a week, as well as for their dependent children. If companies don’t provide coverage, they’ll face hefty penalties.
Furthermore, employers can’t offer just any insurance; it has to meet certain minimum requirements. It must cover at least 60 percent of health-care costs, and it can’t cost employees more than 9.5 percent of their household income.
But that’s a tough standard for an employer, who knows what his own workers earn from him but may be ignorant of their total household incomes.
So the federal government has proposed so-called safe-harbor standards, which will stipulate the minimum requirements of an “affordable” plan, putting employers legally in the clear. Basically, such a plan would include a $3,500 deductible, a $6,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs, and premiums of $90 or less a month.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of a low-income hourly worker within a certain unlucky bracket. This hypothetical employee earns more than $15,900 a year — which disqualifies him from Medicaid — but still struggles to make ends meet.
If his employer goes with the minimum, safe-harbor plan, he might face no good options.
He could take the employer’s plan — but if it’s a safe-harbor plan, it would cost, at minimum, $1,080 a year. And that’s before the deductible is even factored in. For someone who earns $28,725 a year, falling at 250 percent of the poverty level, these costs are sizeable.
Option two: He could shop around on the health exchange for an alternative. But because his employer provides a sanctioned plan, he’s disqualified from any subsidy he might have received to help offset costs. Even a very basic plan would cost up to $2,316 a year in premiums alone.
Option three: Forgo insurance altogether and pay the steadily increasing penalty to the federal government. In 2014, for an individual, that’s $95 for the year or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater. But by 2016, it will rise to either $695 or 2.5 percent of household income. And that’s not even factoring in whether the worker has kids. In that case, he could face an annual penalty of $2,085 or more by 2016.
It’s easy to see why low-income workers might be frustrated by the new law. Before, many employers who paid by the hour offered limited medical plans. These policies often got a bad rap because of their lack of catastrophic coverage. But to their credit, they were inexpensive and contributed to health-care costs immediately, without workers needing to first meet a deductible.
Now, these low-wage hourly workers would be forced to spend at least $5,300 before their coverage really begins to benefit them. For someone who’s already under financial duress, that’s a real burden.
Of course, some employers will offer better plans than the safe-harbor minimum. But otherwise, low-income workers will be forced to choose between three very undesirable options.
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Applications of pro-Israel groups for tax-exempt status are routinely routed to an antiterrorism unit within the Internal Revenue Service for additional screening, according to the testimony of a Cincinnati-based IRS agent.
Asked whether Jewish or pro-Israel applications are treated differently from other applications, Gary Muthert told House Oversight Committee investigators that they are considered “specialty cases” and that “probably” all are sent to an IRS unit that examines groups for potential terrorist ties.
Muthert, who served as an application screener before transferring to the agency’s antiterrorism unit, was interviewed in connection with the committee’s investigation into the IRS’s discrimination against conservative groups. As a screener, Muthert flagged tea-party applications and passed them along to specialists for further scrutiny.
Asked by investigators whether “all pro-Israel applicants went to the terrorism unit,” Muthert responded, “Probably . . . foreign activity, pro-Israel — if it is any type of foreign activity, it will go to the antiterrorism area.” Screeners like Muthert must consult the list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury Department office that enforces economic and trade sanctions, and “the terrorist list . . . because a lot of organizations will create charities to funnel the money to terrorist countries.” In further questioning, Muthert was more categorical, saying that pro-Israel groups get “not so much additional scrutiny, just more procedures.”
“More review?” an investigator asked.
“Clearly, correct,” Muthert responded.
The IRS’s practices as described by Muthert touch on a political debate that has been raging in the United States and Israel since 2009. That’s when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted that opponents of Israeli settlements were fighting against tax exemption for groups that raise charitable contributions for organizations that support Israeli settlements. “Critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns,” Ignatius wrote.
On March 27, 2009, the day after Ignatius’s article appeared, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed a spate of administrative complaints with the Treasury Department and the IRS, alleging that pro-Israel groups raising funds for settlements in the West Bank were supporting “illegal and terrorist activities abroad.” Later that year, in October, the ADC said that it was waging an ongoing legal campaign against the IRS for what the ADC regarded as violations of the tax code by some pro-Israel groups.
The following year, in 2010, a New York Timesreport observed that “donations to the settler movement stand out because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current [American-Israeli] talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements.” The article quoted State Department officials complaining about the American dollars flowing to Israeli settlers. “It’s a problem,” a senior State Department official told the Times. The implication was that it may be wrong to grant tax-exempt status to groups devoted to causes that undermine administration policy. Relying on information in the Times article, the left-leaning advocacy group J Street called on the Treasury Department to investigate whether pro-Israel organizations collecting tax-deductible gifts for schools, synagogues, and recreation centers in the West Bank had broken the law by supporting certain Israeli settlements.
Throughout this debate, whether pro-Israel groups have been receiving additional scrutiny from the IRS has remained unclear. But in 2010, after the pro-Israel organization Z Street applied for tax-exempt status, the IRS sent it requests for further information. Z Street sued the IRS in October 2010, claiming it was targeted merely for being connected to Israel. According to court documents, an IRS official told the group that its application was delayed because it was assigned to a “special unit” to determine “whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
Certainly, charities based in the United States have funneled money to Israeli charities that are controlled by terrorist groups in Israel. But those charities have not been of a pro-Israel bent. The most-high profile case is that of the Holy Land Foundation, the Texas-based charity whose employees were indicted in 2004 for using the group as a front to provide material support to Hamas.
The policy that the applications of pro-Israel groups be examined by the IRS’s antiterrorism unit was instituted “probably years ago,” according to Muthert in his testimony. That testimony leaves unclear whether the news coverage in 2009 and 2010 prompted the scrutiny to which groups like Z Street say they have been subjected, or whether every nonprofit group whose application indicates it may engage in foreign activity, regardless of the country, is put under the microscope.
According to Muthert, it’s the latter, and he denies that pro-Israel applications are treated differently from those of other groups that claim they plan to engage with foreign countries. “It has to do with money laundering and things, because a lot of organizations will create charities to funnel the money to terrorist countries,” he explained. “So it is not so much Israel. It is just foreign countries.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor ofNational Review Online.
The White House has announced that the president has authorized the “expansion of . . . assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC),” one of several military arms of the Syrian rebellion. This after a month of careful reflection on whether the Assad regime used chemical weapons and thus crossed the president’s “red line,” which, in fact, turned out to be more of a pinkish squiggle.
All indications are that this “expansion of assistance” will take shape as shipments of light weapons — rifles and other small arms.
There is little upside to this move. The Syrian rebels are already flush with Kalashnikovs (along with IEDs, the official weapon of global insurgency), and the Syrian regime has adapted to their guerrilla ambush tactics by holing up in well-defended fortresses dotting the countryside where the rebels are concentrated. As our own soldiers know well from Iraq and Afghanistan, you can’t defeat an insurgency from inside a holdfast. But neither can the insurgents dislodge the Syrian regime without the heavy weapons — anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems especially — that they really want from America.
The downside of arms shipments is obvious, and huge. The U.S. will no doubt try to restrict weapons shipments to the “more secular” or “more moderate” elements among the rebels, but that will certainly prove impossible, as it will require penetrating not just the fog of war but the fog of Islamism that has covered the entire Arab Spring. Some, perhaps most, of the arms will make their way to unfriendlies, which in some cases are directly aligned with al-Qaeda. Others will make their way across Syria’s borders and into the hands of terrorists in Iraq, or Lebanon, or Palestine.
A sound argument can be made for staying out of Syria altogether (except, perhaps, to provide medical and other non-lethal assistance). The one-sentence version is that no “good guys” and no national-security interest are to be found there. There is also an argument for a large-scale American intervention that would take the form of an air campaign coupled with covert action on the ground, in (limited) coordination with rebel elements, and with the explicit goal of destroying the ability of the Assad regime to wage war. The one-sentence version is that the chance to weaken Iran in the region is greater than the risk that the successor regime in Syria will be Sunni Islamist. I don’t really buy this argument, but it’s not absurd.
But no argument exists for the marginalism the Obama administration favors — or, at least, the only argument is the cynical one suggested by my colleague Pat Brennan:
This president’s foreign policy seems to be oriented around not letting it get in the way of his domestic and political priorities — more action in Syria will require expending political capital, risking mistakes, angering some of his domestic allies and some of his opponents, too, but there are also costs to inaction that starts to look impotent (and to letting Assad gain the upper hand again). So the administration tries to make it look like they’re doing something, without doing anything.
Pat’s hypothesis is backed up by evidence that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime affects Americans’ opinions about U.S. intervention in Syria. Since the president’s approval ratings would suffer under a policy of non-intervention in Syria, so would his ability to achieve his domestic priorities. His decision to increase lethal assistance to the rebels — but only in the form of small arms — is a decision to do as little as possible while being seen to do something.
As in Libya and Egypt, the administration’s refusal to do more — its “leading from behind” — is about its not wanting to have its fingerprints on the outcome in Syria. That it could avoid all accountability in that regard was improbable before President Obama made the “red line” declaration. After the declaration, avoiding all accountability is impossible.
There are no good options in Syria, and that’s not entirely President Obama’s fault. But as president, he still has his pick of bad options: He could have done nothing, which would have meant going back on his word and looking weak in the region. At least that would have been honest. He could have gone in hard, which would have meant the repudiation of five years of foreign policy. But at least that would have been definitive. Instead he seems poised to split the difference, to ship some weapons and hope that, if they end up in the wrong hands, it will be on somebody else’s watch. Hey, at least that’s easy.
— Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.
Superman is an object of dispute — at least comic-book-nerd dispute — between Judaism and Christianity. One camp sees Superman as Moses in tights: an infant sent away by his parents to avoid certain death, discovered by members of an alien culture who adopt him as their own, who eventually discovers his true identity, whose characteristic activity is delivering his people to safety. They note that Superman was created by Jewish artists (writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster) at a time of Jewish crisis (1933), and that as an immigrant struggling to fit into mainstream American society, he was a familiar figure to American Jews (Mr. Siegel and Mr. Schuster were both children of immigrants).
Another camp sees Superman as the American Jesus: The only son of a distant and powerful intelligence sent to Earth as a savior.
Man of Steel, the new Superman film from Zack Snyder, is firmly in the New Testament. Some of the Christian allusions in the film may seem ham-handed — Superman pointedly mentions that he is 33 years old, though the significance of that fact may be lost on much of the post-literate American film-going audience. But it would be impossible for all but the most culturally illiterate to miss that during the dark night of Clark Kent’s soul — when he must decide whether to willingly give himself up to his enemies — he comes to his decision in a church with a painting of Jesus praying at the Garden of Gethsemane looming over his right shoulder.
Jews and Christians, of course, have a more significant dispute over a savior figure, but note that Superman’s beard here even reflects that of Jesus in popular culture: Henry Cavill starts off with a pretty solid bush but pretty soon is all the way down to being barely bearded, like Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings.
Mr. Snyder turns up the Christianity a notch or two even above what annoyed Thomas Hibbs in Superman Returns a few years back: Kal-El is not only the last surviving son of Krypton, he is Krypton’s only begotten son. Everybody else on Krypton has been genetically engineered and farm-grown in pods reminiscent of The Matrix — and that is not the only aspect of Man of Steel that brings to mind that trilogy. (Another is the presence of the great Harry Linnix as General Swanwick, yet another by-the-numbers general destined to be constantly annoyed and upstaged by an inexplicable flying messiah figure while Lawrence Fishburne carries on the background.)
All of that is standard Superman stuff, and standard movie stuff, too: Hollywood may not have much respect for the Judeo-Christian moral tradition, but filmmakers love to raid its rich store of powerful imagery, having not yet come up with anything of their own that quite compares. (Cult is the root of culture.) The film does manage to wildly violate the Superman canon in a way that will no doubt enrage the hardline purists — and shock even casual fans — but it is strangely reverent regarding the story’s religious overtones.
Beyond the obvious Christian decoration, there is a serious theological theme (and perhaps a political one) at work in Man of Steel: Delivering us from evil is a collaborative effort. Superman may approach omnipotence, but in this telling, mankind must participate in its own salvation. Superman cannot simply swoop in and save us; we have to do some of the heavy lifting, inspired by his example toward acts of heroic self-sacrifice and radical charity.
This is particularly resonant given that the principal villain, General Zod (played with aplomb by Michael Shannon, who suffered through a much less deft theological meditation on Broadway last year in Grace, which I reviewed here), is more or less John Milton’s Satan, perplexed and enraged that the almighty has favored such weak, flawed, and ridiculous creatures as ourselves over the angels, chafing under the duty that not only was assigned to him but is the sole reason for his existence.
As for the politics of the film, I cannot imagine that the casting of Harry Linnix as General Swanwick was at all accidental. Mr. Linnix is surely the leading contender to play Barack Obama should a film be made about his presidency in the near future. He looks not exactly like President Obama but like an idealized President Obama, an Obama cured of his terminal case of narcissistic weeniness. Here, he even talks a bit like Obama, clipped and proper, though a good deal more gruff. And his final act on screen is to complain when Superman brings down a $12 million drone, which has been sent to spy on him to discover, as he puts it, “where I hang my cape.” Superman insists that we can trust him: “I grew up in Kansas!” (But there remain questions about his birth certificate.) If Superman is the idealized American, then General Swanwick is the idealized representative of the federal government: Barack Obama with an arsenal, a uniform, and a dose of testosterone. Angels and ministers of grace defend us.