Attention Straussians

by John J. Miller

The latest edition of The Bookmonger podcast is a 10-minute conversation with Arthur Melzer, author of Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. We discuss the practice of “esoteric writing,” why philosophers would try to obscure the true meaning of their work, and why people today have such a hard time understanding it.

Why Lee-Rubio Matters

by Reihan Salam

Ramesh and Yuval have done a thorough job of covering the basics of the new Lee-Rubio tax reform proposal, which has already attracted a great deal of favorable attention from the right and hostile attention from the left. Since Lee-Rubio is unlikely to become law in the next few years, you might be wondering why it matters at all. As Ramesh has argued, what’s really important about Lee-Rubio is not the specific tax rates it proposes but rather the basic political bargain it represents: conservatives should strive to make the tax code more growth-friendly, yet they should also seek middle-class tax relief. Conservatives don’t have to be persuaded of the virtues of a more growth-friendly code. They’re not put off by the idea of helping virtually everyone, including the already-rich, accumulate wealth. The case for middle-class tax relief, however, has proven more controversial, particularly in the form of the expanded child credit that is so central to Lee-Rubio’s political appeal. What conservative critics of the expanded child credit have missed is its potential role in restraining the growth of government. While raising taxes on high-income households is, whether conservatives like it or not, quite popular, raising them on middle-income households is profoundly unpopular. To put it crudely, tax cuts that primarily benefit small numbers of high-earners are always vulnerable to populists campaigning for their reversal. Tax cuts that primarily benefit large numbers of middle-earners, in contrast, are very hard to reverse, especially by those same populists. If your goal is to make it more difficult for future lawmakers to greatly increase federal expenditures, your best bet is to push for middle-class tax relief, a case Ramesh made quite convincingly in the pages of the Weekly Standard back in 2013. So Lee-Rubio is best understood not as a bill that Congress ought to pass tomorrow but as a blueprint for how conservatives should connect tax reform to middle-class aspiration.

There is another reason Lee-Rubio matters: it is a successful example of conservative political entrepreneurship, and as such it might inspire other conservatives to try their hand at advancing new ideas. The most successful entrepreneurs create new business models to capitalize on new markets and new appetites. Similarly, political entrepreneurs are sensitive to how the electorate is changing, and how new narratives or new policy ideas might tilt the political balance in their favor. But political entrepreneurship, like real entrepreneurship, can be risky. In reaching out to new constituencies, you might alienate old ones. Most elected officials are content to stick with what they know, which is why many of them get blindsided when the mood of the electorate abruptly shifts. The flipside is that successful political entrepreneurs win elections and advance their ideological goals. For whatever reason, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have decided not to play it safe. If Lee and Rubio didn’t exist, conservatives would have to invent them.

How does this relate to the debate over taxes? For at least twenty years, the tax policy debate on the right has been stuck in a rut. The Bush-era tax cuts didn’t yield the political dividends that their champions might have hoped for, though the portion of them devoted to middle-class tax relief quickly became politically sacrosanct. (See? It’s hard to hike middle-class taxes.) Conservative activists have embraced consumption taxes like the Hall-Rabushka flat tax and the FairTax (and let’s never forget 9-9-9), but these ideas have met with resistance from the wider public, including from rank-and-file conservatives who fear that they go too far. Because of its generous exemption, the Hall-Rabuska flat tax is not exactly regressive, but it’s not terribly progressive either. The FairTax can be made less regressive through a system of universal rebates, leaving aside other concerns about its practicality. Both are far less progressive than most American voters would like their tax code to be. Consumption taxes aside, conservative activists have generally been keen on high-income rate reductions. Unfortunately, ordinary voters, including rank-and-file conservatives, have been less enthusiastic about the idea.

Lee and Rubio, to their great credit, identified an opportunity for growing the center-right coalition: recognizing the political appeal of meaningful middle-class tax relief, they’ve linked it to an ambitious shift towards the progressive taxation of consumption. They believe that this is a winning combination, and they may yet be proven right. For now, they’re succeeded in winning over conservative activists who might have been skeptical of middle-class tax relief on its own. This is no small feat. The next step is to take the same basic concept and make it more politically viable. This might prove more challenging, as some of the aspects of Lee-Rubio that appeal to conservative activists are likely to prove less appealing to swing voters, or for that matter conservatives who worry about its effect on the deficit. One of the reasons I’m so bullish on Lee-Rubio is that I can see a fairly straightforward path towards making it more palatable to skeptics who aren’t committed left-liberals. Instead of reducing the tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and interest to zero, for example, Lee-Rubio might instead adopt something like Canada’s Tax-Free Savings Accounts, which would move us in the same direction, albeit more gradually. That’s just one of many pay-fors that would address concerns about the deficit without compromising Lee-Rubio’s central virtues. Making Lee-Rubio more fiscally responsible is important, but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge.



Krauthammer’s Take: Hillary Is Not Trying to Clear the Air, Because She Can’t

by NRO Staff

Why doesn’t Hillary Clinton do a no-holds-barred, Chris Christie-style press conference to clear the air over her secret email accounts? “Because the answers to the questions, if remotely honest,” says Charles Krauthammer, “are self-indicting.”

“The reason that she can’t do a Christie, and do a two-hour press conference, where she clears the air,” Krauthammer explained on Thursday’s Special Report, “is — two reasons.  Number one, she’s a Clinton, and what the Clintons do is never ‘clear the air’; they spend the first month or two [using] surrogates, the ‘machine,’ attacking the accusers, as in the Lewinsky scandal. And later, if you have to confess, if you are caught red-handed, you admit it.”

“The second reason,” Krauthammer continued, “is if she has such a press conference, she will be asked, ‘You turned over 55,000 e-mails. How many are left on your server? She will either say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and then she is going to have to answer, ‘Why don’t you turn them over?’, to which there is no answer.”

“Of course, the answer,” said Krauthammer, “is ’Because I want to hide them, I want to sift them, I want to make sure the ones that are incriminating are kept back.’ She can’t do it because the answers to the questions, if remotely honest, are self-indicting.”

“In the mid 90s,” Krauthammer recalled, “William Safire, the dean of columnists of the New York Times, wrote a famous column, which was about Hillary, in which he called her a ‘congenital liar.’ He later sort of retracted that and said, no, it wasn’t genetic, it was acquired. But she was sort of an inveterate liar. This is not a new story, and that’s the reason why the Democrats are so dismayed.”

Hillary Clinton Banned Use of Private Email by State Department Employees … While She Conducted All Her Business By Private Email

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Fox News’s Catherine Herridge reports (via Fox’s Greta Van Susteren) that, in an internal 2011 State Department cable, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed employees not to use personal email accounts for official business due to security concerns. Nevertheless, throughout her tenure as Secretary, Mrs. Clinton used personal email accounts to conduct her State Department business – setting up her own personal servers in her New York home precisely to avoid the State Department system under which government electronic communications were maintained and disclosed pursuant to federal law.

Ms. Herridge elaborates:

Sent to Diplomatic and Consular Staff in June 2011, the unclassified cable, with Clinton’s electronic signature, makes clear to “avoid conducting official Department from your personal e-mail accounts” and employees should not “auto-forward Department email to personal email accounts which is prohibited by Department policy.”

The Cable was addressed to all diplomatic and consular posts with the subject line “Securing Personal E-mail Accounts.” While the cable told employees to secure personal/home email accounts given increased targeting of government employees, it makes clear that these personal accounts should never be used for government business and cites the departure procedures which prohibit the practices.

Help the New Britain Rock Cats Find a Name Worthy of Connecticut

by Josh Gelernter

Connecticut — my home state, and the finest state in the union — has no professional sports team. So we have to take minor-league baseball very seriously: The closest we get to the big leagues is a Colorado Rockies Double-A affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats. “Rock Cats” is an awful name; fortunately, the team is moving to Hartford and being rechristened. This is a big moment for the Nutmeg State.

Public opinion has been solicited in choosing the new name. So far, the catastrophically awful “top ten” choices include the “river hogs,” the “screech owls,” the “blue frogs,” and the “yard goats.” If you don’t follow minor-league sports, you probably don’t realize that giving minor-league teams stupid names is sort of a tradition — my local minor-league hockey team is called the “Sound Tigers” — but this “top ten” list goes too far. Something has to be done.

Connecticut is stuffed with history and character; the Rock Cats’ owners could probably find something more appropriate than random combinations of animal names and nouns. For instance: Only one man signed all four of America’s founding documents: Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, who was described by Thomas Jefferson as “a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” How about the “Hartford Shermans”? There’s precedent for that: The Cleveland Browns aren’t named after the color, but after legendary football coach Paul Brown. How about using Connecticut’s “state hero,” Nathan Hale — the “Hartford Halers”? This would be especially poignant, because Connecticut’s last major-league team was hockey’s “Hartford Whalers.”

Connecticut set the national standard in abolitionism, through native son Henry Ward Beecher, and his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. How about the “Hartford Beechers”? “Beecher’s Bibles,” as you may recall, were the Sharps rifles that Beecher shipped to Bleeding Kansas for John Brown and the Free-Staters. Connecticut has always been an arsenal of democracy. We were the birth place of Winchester: How about the “Hartford Repeaters”? Colt was actually founded in Hartford — how about the “Hartford Peacemakers”? (That would be a particularly appropriate baseball name; before NASA moved to Texas, the Houston Astros were the Houston Colt .45s.)

We could even draw from Connecticut’s intellectual arsenal of democracy, and name the team the “Hartford Buckleys.” But it might be better to save that for the day Major League Baseball comes to New Haven.

To my fellow Nutmeggers, I say we have been treated as second-class sports fans for too long; too long have we borne the yoke of stupid sports names. Our history and canon of great men are second to none. Our fauna, however, do not include “river hogs” or “yard goats.”

To the rest of the country, I’ll point out that this is your fight too. Unless you want your next minor-league team to be named the “Puce Parrots” or the “Pond Turkeys.”

The “New Britain Rock Cats,” the team to be renamed, is on Facebook, and on Twitter @RockCats. Don’t let our sports names go gentle into that good night.

New York’s Cardinal Emeritus, Edward Egan, Dies. Requiescat in pace.

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Cardinal Edward Egan, a native of Illinois with the most distinctive of baritone voices, died today of a heart attack after lunch at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in New York (not far from the offices of National Review).

Pope John Paul II had appointed him bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., and he was appointed to New York in 2000 after the death of Cardinal John O’Connor. He would serve as cardinal archbishop through 2009. 

At the funeral Mass for Cardinal Avery Dulles in 2008, Cardinal Egan told a story of a crucifix in Italy. He encountered it, and a wise sacristan, as a seminarian:

“It was life-sided,” as Egan told the story, “carved in heavily varnished wood and attached to a rough, gnarled cross. With a bit of drama, he directed us to move to the right side of the altar and focused the beam of a flashlight onto the left side of the Redeemer’s face. It was contorted in pain, just as one might have expected it would be.”

He continued recounting the story:

With another dramatic gesture, he told us to move to the left of the altar and focused the flashlight beam onto the right side of the Savior’s face. It bore a clear, unmistakable, and –indeed–challenging smile.

“Suffering and triumph!” the sacristan cried. “This is what our crucifix proclaims. There is bound to be a measure of pain in every life, especially toward the end of life,” he said. “But if we live as the crucified Son of God has taught us to live, we will die as our crucifix tells us He died–suffering, but in triumph too.”

“When you are priests, tell this to your people…. Say to them: ‘For those who embrace the will of the Father in heaven and fashion their lives according to the example of His Beloved Son, death will always have two faces; and neither is to be ignored if the mystery of death is to be understood.”

It seems an appropriate story, and image. In recent years, Cardinal Egan suffered from the lingering effects of childhood polio. And yet there was both a continued tirelessness and peace about him. Even in his retirement, Egan was a hard-working servant often on assignment traveling throughout the Archdiocese of New York for Confirmations.

In telling the story about the cross in Italy, Cardinal Egan was framing Dulles’s life story — and the  Christian life itself.

Egan recalled Dulles’ 90th birthday, during which the prolific scholar from a historic family, was confined to a hospital bed. Egan was invited to wheel him to the front of Fordham University Church in the Bronx, for Mass. Egan was delighted to be able to bring his friend to the altar, but apologized in the end:

When we got safely into our places, I leaned over to the cardinal to ask if it had been a bumpy ride. For I too was having some problems with my legs partly due to the poliomyelitis I had had as a boy. “Your Eminence,” I quipped, “forgive me if the procession was not as smooth as it should have been. I am afraid it was a case of the ‘lame pushing the lame.’” A broad smile covered his face very much like the one I had seen a half-century earlier on an image of the suffering Lord in a chapel in Umbria.

Cardinal Egan ended the homily during Cardinal Dulles’s funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 2008 with:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Egan lived and worked for that same rest. 

In his announcement of Egan’s passing, Cardinal Dolan said:

Join me, please, in thanking God for his life, especially his generous and faithful priesthood.

Pray as well that the powerful mercy of Jesus, in which our Cardinal had such trust, has ushered him into heaven.

One of the last times I spent time with him was last May at the second annual Egan Lecture, established by the Magnificat Foundation, hosted by the New York University Catholic Center. This past one was delivered by his friend Monsignor Robert Msgr. Sokolowski, a longtime professor at the Catholic University of America. Egan was all thanksgiving. For friendship. For learning. For the “abundance” of Dominican priests – many of them quite young, the vibrancy of their Province of St. Joseph on display. To God. Msgr. Sokolowski’s lecture was on the Eucharist, and was a treasure. On Cardinal Egan’s face that night I saw what looked a lot like the smile he had described on that crucifix he saw as a seminarian and again on the face of an ailing Cardinal Dulles. Msgr. Sokolowski had just spoken with a stunningly beautiful clarity about the Eucharist and the freedom of life lived for eternity. The cardinal emeritus radiated gratitude. It was the smile of a man whose had been humbled and renewed, again and again, in his life of faith. It was a smile of a man who knew Love. 

May that hope abound. On earth as it is in Heaven.


A beautiful AP photo of him with St. John Paul II via the New York Daily News


Who’d Have Thought? Justice Department Targets Ferguson Police Department For Court-Enforced Conversion to Obama-style Policing

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Wait a second. Do you mean to tell me that Eric Holder’s high-profile civil rights investigation of the Michael Brown shooting was just a pretext? That the Justice Department was just using a shooting in which there was no evidence of a civil rights violation as an excuse to subject the police department in Ferguson, Mo., to a full-scale “investigation” into its “patterns and practices”? That – surprise! – Holder’s minions managed to find systematic racism and constitutional violations that can only be cured by a coercive, court-monitored “agreement”?

Who could have predicted such a thing? Oh, that’s right, I did.

As I explained in a December column:

Here is how the game works. Holder streams in behind a tragedy that [Al] Sharpton and [President] Obama have demagogued. He announces a civil-rights investigation. Eventually, he backs down from the threat of an indictment in the individual case, never conceding that the supporting evidence was not there, usually citing some strawman injustice that has nothing to do with the matter at hand — in Florida [the Trayvon Martin case], for example, it was “stand your ground” gun laws that purportedly needed reforming. But, the attorney general is pleased to add, the original civil-rights probe of the non-crime has metastasized into a thoroughgoing civil-rights probe of the state or local police department’s training, practices, and . . . drumroll . . . institutional racism.

You never get to see what that investigation turns up. States and their subdivisions know they cannot afford to go toe-to-toe with the Beltway behemoth. Big cities, moreover, are governed by Democrats sympathetic to the Obama/Holder race obsessions — they’re happy to have the feds come in and hamstring police with “social justice” guidelines that would be a hard sell politically. So the Justice Department makes the locals an offer they can’t refuse: A consent decree that makes the Treaty of Versailles look like a slap on the wrist. This device is the license by which the Obama administration is remaking state law enforcement in its own image.

How do they get away with this? Well, Obamacare may be the most notorious “reform” progressives have foisted on an unsuspecting nation in modern times, but it’s not the only one. In 1994 — the last time before 2009 that Democrats controlled the White House and both congressional chambers — they rammed through a monstrosity known as the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.” A Clinton deputy attorney general named Eric Holder was among the first to exploit it.

Consistent with the Left’s view of the states as cauldrons of racism, the statute criminalizes “any government authority” that “engage[s] in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of [federal] rights, privileges, or immunities.” It is the civil-rights laws writ large — imposed on whole cities rather than threatened against individual police officers and citizens. And for good measure, the act encourages the attorney general to file civil lawsuits in federal court to “obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to eliminate the [offensive] pattern or practice.”

Under this scheme, there are now more than 20 major American cities and their police departments beholden to the Obama Justice Department.

With that as background, behold the Justice Department’s dual announcement yesterday regarding Ferguson. Holder had to concede that there was no civil rights case to be had against Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown – the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative is sheer fiction. Nevertheless, though, Holder announced that, after evaluating the Ferguson Police Department as a whole, his civil rights division found “a pattern or practice of” racial bias in both policing and the court system, searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and interference with the free expression rights of all peaceful protesters (no mention whether that includes those who “assembled” in the stores they were videotaped looting).

But not to worry: the Obama administration has “recommendations” to help the Ferguson PD out. You mean  “recommendations” like I give you advice and you can take it or leave it as you see fit? Not exactly:

The [Justice Department] findings include two sets of recommendations, 26 in total, that the Justice Department believes are necessary to correct the unconstitutional FPD and Ferguson Municipal Court practices.  The recommendations include: changing policing and court practices so that they are based on public safety instead of revenue; improving training and oversight; changing practices to reduce bias, and; ending an overreliance on arrest warrants as a means of collecting fines.

The Justice Department will require that the recommendations and other measures be part of a court-enforceable remedial process that includes involvement from community stakeholders [!] as well as independent oversight.  The Justice Department has provided its investigative report to the FPD and in the coming weeks, the Civil Rights Division will seek to work with the City of Ferguson and the Ferguson community to develop and reach an agreement for reform, using the recommendations in the report as the starting point.  

Our work is done here. On to Staten Island.    

A Surprisingly Fair Tribute to Dr. Willke

by Michael J. New

Writing in the New York Times, columnist Linda Greenhouse is dismayed that most of the obituaries for pro-life pioneer Dr. Jack Willke featured his controversial views about rape and ovulation. Surprisingly, she acknowledges that he deserves a better send off. She does her best to present one today in her column.

Greenhouse is upfront about her own support for legal abortion. She also acknowledges that it is easy for social movements to demonize or ignore their adversaries — and even harder to acknowledge their brilliance. However, in her column she acknowledges that Dr. Willke made some strategically smart decisions that benefited the pro-life movement.  For instance, in the early days of the movement, much of the opposition to abortion came from the Catholic Church. Willke realized it was important to reach out to others. As such, he and his wife’s 1971 Handbook on Abortion focused on making good non-theological arguments.

She also says that in the early 1990s, Willke was smart to realize that arguments focusing on the preborn were losing some of their ability to persuade. So he started to reframe the argument to encompass the welfare of pregnant women and new mothers. The Willkes revised their Handbook on Abortion and gave it a new title, Why Not Love Them Both? Questions and Answers about Abortion. Greenhouse acknowledges that this women-protective framework has been effective — and even emerged in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart, which upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.

Greenhouse also comments on her personal history with Dr. Willke. In 2009, Greenhouse collaborated on a book project in which she collected primary-source documents that would show how the arguments for and against abortion reform proceeded during the years before Roe v. Wade. Many groups that Greenhouse and her co-author contacted were unhelpful. In fact, both Betty Friedan’s estate and the National Organization for Women required that Greenhouse compensate them in exchange for publishing some of their original documents. This was very surprising considering Greenhouse’s public advocacy for legal abortion. 

However, when Greenhouse reached out to Dr. Jack and Barbara Willke, they  reluctantly, but willingly allowed Greenhouse and her co-author to reprint excerpts from their 1971 Handbook on Abortion free of charge. After Greenhouse’s book, Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, was published, Willke wrote to her. He said that he found that book to be fair to pro-lifers, adding that “we think its treatment of pre-Roe v. Wade is by far the best historical account that we have seen.”

She was pleased that Dr. Willke gave her credit where it was due — and in her column she attempts to do the same. In so doing, Greenhouse sets a good example for other members of the media.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

Rubio Snags Top Donor Ahead of 2016

by Eliana Johnson

Jeb Bush’s decision to run in 2016 has prompted plenty of speculation about whether there will be enough top-dollar donors, particularly in Florida, to accommodate Marco Rubio’s own presidential aspirations. 

These days, depending on how much money one has, it only takes one, and Rubio, it seems, has him. He is Miami billionaire Norman Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and the owner of a string of high-end Florida auto dealerships. He is one of the top five donors to Republican causes in the state of Florida and a longtime Rubio backer who has resisted the gravitational pull that the Bush campaign has exerted on many donors. Sheldon Adelson demonstrated in 2012 the power of the individual in the post-Citizens United era, bankrolling almost single-handedly Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign for months. 

If Rubio runs for president, and he is expected to make an announcement next month, Braman says he will “provide substantial financial support” to his campaign. He declined to give an exact number, but the figure is rumored to be around $10 million. Braman says he will not found his own super PAC, but that if a pro-Rubio super PAC is formed, he will “certainly” be contributing. 

“I’ve known Senator Rubio for a number of years and I’ve watched his career for a number of years and honestly believe he’s the finest candidate,” Braman says. The two have known each other for a while now: Braman and his wife, Irma, gave substantially to Rubio’s 2010 camapaign and traveled to Israel with the couple later that year. Rubio’s wife, Jeanette, has also worked for the Braman Family Foundation. 

In a phone interview with National Review Online, Braman focuses on one of the issues that threatens to dog Bush as the primaries get underway.

“Rubio represents the future,” he says. 

Rubio, who has been keeping a low profile while his former mentor, Bush, has been crisscrossing the country vacuuming up cash — he’s had to ask donors to keep their contributions under a million dollars — will have to tap that sentiment if and when he jumps into the race. 

“He’s the only candidate I’ve seen that has come up with answers to our problems in detail,” Braman says. “All the other candidates that I’ve seen, all they do is just complain.”

In Rubio, he says, “I’ve seen somebody who isn’t just complaining about the present situation but has a plan to do something about it.”

Don’t They Ever Get Tired Of It?

by Kevin D. Williamson

Jon Stewart is of course the court jester for Democrats, so it is no surprise to find him riding to the defense of Hillary Clinton on the matter of her campaign of secrecy. David Brock likewise has been humiliating himself in public trying to ward off criticism of Herself. 

I wonder: Don’t they ever get tired of it? It is one thing to be a partisan or an ideologue, but this goes well beyond that. There is something in the Democratic soul that revels in servility. I keep thinking of Nina Burleigh, who covered Bill Clinton for Time and famously remarked about him: I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude.” Think of those celebrities back in 2008 literally singing hymns to Barack Obama, chanting his name like Hare Krishnas chanting the Maha Mantra

Can’t we get these Democrats some tambourines, at least? 

You know who would not engage in that kind of self-abasement? Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton.