Perhaps Trump is well-suited to be president. He has overseen bankruptcies, after all.
We speak of office holders growing into their jobs. Is Barack Obama shrinking into his? Mr. Cool has been showing signs recently of self-pity. “I miss being anonymous,” he told Hearst executives. “I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls . . .” (We miss you doing all those things too, Mr. President.) He has also shown signs of ire. After an interview with Brad Watson, anchor of WFAA-TV in Dallas, he snapped, “Let me finish my answers the next time we do an interview, all right?” Now, let us stipulate that the pressures of the modern presidency are crazy-making; that no one, not even former vice presidents, has any true idea of them beforehand; that even happy warriors like Reagan, Ike, and FDR sometimes misspoke. How much harder it must be, then, for a tyro lofted by his youth and freshness?
Despite his messy personal life, history of liberalism, attention-seeking personality, and nutty birther claims, Donald Trump has risen to the top of some polls since hinting at a 2012 presidential bid. Republican primary voters who think his business credentials and name recognition outweigh his negatives should bear one more thing in mind: his lack of respect for the property of others. In the 1990s, he made two attempts to take real estate away from private owners by using “eminent domain” — in other words, he asked local governments to steal it and give it to him, with the promise that he would pay more in taxes than the previous owners did. One project was a proposed amusement park in Bridgeport, Conn., for which he needed land occupied by several businesses; the other was an Atlantic City casino that he wanted to expand onto the property of an elderly widow who did not want to sell. Trump failed both times (the park never panned out, and the elderly widow won a legal fight), but in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that eminent-domain abuse was constitutional, and Trump cheered in an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. Trump should, at the very least, be pressed to add this to his growing list of flip-flops.
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Sometimes no-hope candidacies are designed to change the direction of a party. In Johnson’s case, the candidacy seems as much designed to change the direction of a tiny faction of it. Johnson represents those libertarians miffed at the ascension of Ron and Rand Paul within their movement because of the Pauls’ opposition to abortion and downplaying of drug legalization. The senior Paul is going to run again, too. Our libertarian friends will have to decide for themselves which direction they prefer, or else opt to support a mainstream candidate. On this much, at least, we agree with the Pauls: Abortion is hard to square with a political philosophy that abhors coercive violence.
We used to say that there was nothing so vile that it could not, or would not, be said about Clarence Thomas. And the same holds true for Sarah Palin. A well-known blog called Wonkette made brutal fun of Palin’s youngest child, Trig (who has Down syndrome). Under pressure from conservatives — from decent people, really — many companies pulled their advertising from Wonkette. These include Papa John’s, Nordstrom, and Coldwell Banker. Those who doubted that there was any limit to what could be said about Palin and her family, without consequence, have to be somewhat comforted.
The Left has been pounding Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona for saying that Planned Parenthood devotes “well over 90 percent” of its resources to providing abortions. When an aide said that his remark was not meant to be “a factual statement,” Colbert and Stewart and many lesser wits were off to the races. News reports duly corrected the senator, saying that abortion accounts for only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activity. But who will correct the corrections? The truth is that 98 percent of the organization’s “services” to pregnant women are abortions. It is the country’s largest abortion provider. The 3 percent statistic is culpably misleading. (Give a woman a pregnancy test, abort her child, and then hand her some birth control on the way out: Abortion accounts for only 33 percent of what you’ve done.) Kyl, and especially his aide, erred. But the senator was closer to the truth than his critics are.
“We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” Mark that down as another Candidate Obama flop from which President Obama has flipped. Throughout the Bush administration, congressional Democrats railed over the use of presidential signing statements. It was sheer politics. Obama has issued signing statements from the start, and he has just issued another one promising to disregard, as unconstitutional, a restriction on his appointment of czars. While the president’s interpretation does not bind others — courts may reject it, rightly if the text of the statute contradicts it — signing statements are useful. The executive branch has immense discretion in deciding which provisions of law will be energetically enforced and which will be ignored. Better that a president tell us what he is thinking than that he stay mum, leaving us to infer it from his actions. This is how governing is done, as Obama has found in adopting one Bush policy after another.
When the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they join together to form businesses or nonprofit organizations, Democrats responded by introducing the DISCLOSE Act, which would have restricted the political activities of some employees at firms that bid on federal contracts. DISCLOSE died in Congress, but now Obama is poised to resurrect it through presidential decree, an act of dubious constitutionality. Federal contractors already are covered by disclosure rules when it comes to campaign donations, as are their employees — whose donations, like those of any other citizens, are subject to reporting requirements. President Obama proposes to go one step further, ordering Big Business to play Big Brother and keep tabs on employees’ private political activities and donations made with their own money. Unions that negotiate enormous personnel contracts with the federal government would be exempt from the rules, as would organizations such as Planned Parenthood that rely on federal funds for a considerable part of their operations. This planned decree is a naked attempt to intimidate critics and constrain political activities, including donations to issue-advocacy groups not directly involved in electing candidates. The president is demanding that those he considers his political enemies be compelled to compile his enemies list for him. Would that he showed such ruthless efficiency in pursuit of the national interest.
On the heels of President Obama’s recess appointment of radical SEIU lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board comes an outrageous NLRB attack on Boeing’s plan to expand its operations in South Carolina. Boeing, like any business that wants to remain in business, is keen on shifting its resources beyond the reach of the unions and the jurisdictions they dominate, and therefore seeks to expand in right-to-work states such as South Carolina. Not so fast, says the NLRB: If the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is chasing you out of Washington state, that’s your problem, not theirs. Boeing’s crime, in the NLRB’s view, was telling the truth: Executives made statements to employees that past strikes in Washington and the constant threat of future ones were main reasons for the South Carolina expansion. Naughty, naughty, quoth the NLRB: Taking past strikes into account might have a chilling effect on future strikes — since it apparently is to be forever enshrined in federal law that unions are to operate in an entirely consequence-free environment. And we wonder why Toyota thrives while GM is a ward of the state.
While tone-deaf advocacy of Obamacare likely sealed the fate of Democrats in the 2010 election, it was the 2009 stimulus bill that began the large-scale protests over the massive expansion of government under President Obama. Wikipedia credits blogger Keli Calendar with organizing the first tea-party rally, the so-called Porkulus Protest that took place on Feb. 16, 2009, just as the stimulus was becoming law.
Supporters of the stimulus bristle at the accusation that the bill was a massive pile of pork. Many of them are, after all, dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians, who hold the genuine belief that the stimulus monies were timely and targeted medicine for a reeling economy. One can almost hear the Obama economists thinking, “We were just trying to save those idiots from ruin, and this is the thanks we get.”
The assertion that the stimulus bill was more an exercise in pork than in sound economics can, to some extent, be evaluated with a simple chart. In theory, pork flows for political purposes. The party that controls spending can allocate more funding to itself and target government largesse to maximize the chances that favored candidates get reelected.
If, on the other hand, the stimulus monies were economic medicine, pure and simple, then their flow should be uncorrelated with political variables once one controls for all relevant economic factors.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $787 billion to 28 federal agencies. The act allocated $288 billion of the stimulus for tax credits and $224 billion to entitlement programs. The remaining $275 billion was to be awarded as contracts, grants, and loans, following the guidelines in the act. The data on awarded funds are publicly available at Recovery.gov.
The chart breaks down the stimulus spending by congressional district and political party. Two patterns emerge. First, Democratic districts received a lot more stimulus money than Republican districts. Second, the districts of Democrats who were reelected in 2010 received even more money than the districts of Democrats who were not. This pattern likely exists both because more-powerful Democrats were able to capture more pork, and because pork spending helped candidates get reelected.
While this chart is suggestive, it is hardly decisive. Mercatus Institute economist Veronique de Rugy recently performed a statistical analysis that controlled for a number of other factors that might influence this pattern, such as income, poverty rates, and the tendency for state capitals to receive more grant money. Even after controlling for these and other factors, de Rugy found that party affiliation was an important determinant of the location of stimulus spending.
Keli Calendar’s first tea-party event was appropriately named.
In the annals of American justice miscarried, few episodes have been more appalling than the persecution of the Amirault family by prosecutors in Massachusetts. Gerald Amirault served 18 years; his sister Cheryl and their mother Violet served eight years each; all on preposterous child-abuse charges defended doggedly by state prosecutors. Wall Street Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote a fine book about the case, No Crueler Tyrannies (2003). Fiercest among the Amiraults’ persecutors was Martha Coakley, then district attorney of Middlesex County. Incredibly, considering her want of judgment in the Amirault case, Coakley was elected Massachusetts attorney general in 2006, and reelected in 2010. Now she is in the national news again, demanding that the Pabst Brewing Co. stop selling Blast, a fruit-flavored canned beverage with a 12 percent alcohol content — a “binge in a can,” says Coakley. At 23.5 ounces, a can of Blast is equivalent to four or five ordinary beers, or the same number of shots of liquor or five-ounce glasses of wine. Possibly this is something to be concerned about; but we’d be more inclined to think so if the disgraced name of Ms. Coakley were not attached to the story.
Workforce Central Florida, a federally funded nonprofit agency charged with connecting employers to jobseekers, faces a 10.4 percent unemployment rate in its five-county region. What to do? Why, a PR campaign! Hence the “Cape-A-Bility Challenge,” a $73,000 effort featuring, among other gimmicks, the handing out of 6,000 red superhero capes to unemployed Central Floridians. No sooner was the scheme publicized, however, than it faced a storm of derision. It has now been canned, leaving Workforce Central stuck with those capes, all bearing the program logo. The Orlando Sentinel has been collecting suggestions for their disposal. Here’s ours: Stitch the capes together into one humongous cape and call in an installation artist to wrap Workforce Central Florida’s head office with it in the style of the late Christo, lest those inside escape to inflict more silly stunts on Floridians.
In his epitaph, Thomas Jefferson listed what he saw as his three greatest accomplishments: Composing the Declaration of Independence, founding the University of Virginia, and writing his state’s Statute of Religious Freedom. Virginians take freedom of worship seriously, which is why attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has determined that proposed rules requiring religious adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples would violate the state’s public policy and thus be unenforceable. The wisdom of permitting same-sex marriage has been debated widely, including in these pages; whether to let same-sex couples adopt is yet another question. But requiring religious organizations to violate their beliefs would trample on the spirit of tolerance that Jefferson did so much to establish.
In presiding over a trial to determine the legality of Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage, Judge Vaughn Walker made crystal clear which side he favored. National Review Online’s Ed Whelan argues that Walker should have recused himself, since he has a longtime male partner, which gave him a strong interest in the outcome of the case. But he did not, and proceeded to tilt the proceedings outrageously in favor of Prop 8 opponents — from the decision to hold a trial itself, highly unusual in such cases, to his delving into voters’ purported motivations and his gross misuse of discovery procedures and “expert” testimony — before declaring the duly passed constitutional amendment to be unconstitutional. One part of Walker’s design was foiled, as he repeatedly tried to broadcast the trial until an appeals court definitively prohibited it. Even then, Walker videotaped the proceedings, supposedly for his “personal use.” The personal turned out to be political when Walker, now retired, appeared on C-SPAN and showed a portion of the video (which is now all over the Internet) in open defiance of the appeals court’s directive. It seems that the principle of judicial supremacy does not apply to judges themselves.
President Obama did everyone a favor by authorizing the release of his so-called long-form birth certificate from the Hawaiian archives. The document, as had been attested previously, confirms the information on the birth certificate the president already had released, putting his place of birth at the location it has long been known to have been: Honolulu. Do not count on this to settle the issue: The conspiracy kooks will spend from here to eternity in grassy-knoll speculation about the issue, and Donald Trump is moving on to our next great national priority: Barack Obama’s college transcripts. Count us marginally more interested in those: We’d really like to know whether he studied economics or history, under whom, and whether his present D-plus performance was augured in his undergraduate days.
Here’s a new fundraising idea for Democrats: Flee your local legislature to block bills unions despise, and watch the money pour in. When Democrats in Indiana’s state house jumped the border and commenced a five-week stay in Illinois earlier this year, they argued that their absence, which made impossible the formation of the quorum necessary to pass legislation, was for the little guy who would suffer under a right-to-work bill. Turns out the little guy has deep pockets: During the walkout, the Indiana Democratic party received nearly $140,000 from national and local unions, according to the first-quarter campaign-finance report. That took care of that pesky $85,000 Illinois hotel bill and left plenty of change for the party, which had only $40,000 in the bank at the beginning of the year. If Washington Democrats start falling behind in fundraising, watch for Nancy Pelosi and Co. to head to Canada at the first whiff of an anti-union bill.
An airplane carrying Michelle Obama was forced to abort its landing after the incompetence of air-traffic controllers brought it too close to a military jet. In recent months, at least five instances of controllers’ being literally asleep at the switch have been documented, and several have been fired. Why are they so sleepy? Surely it is not from working too hard: Another was disciplined after being caught watching a movie instead of the skies. We only wish Ronald Reagan were here to fire them again.
The descent of the Libyan war into a stalemate almost exactly coincides with our handing the operation over to NATO. The handoff was not the only reason for our lack of progress: Bad weather hindered the campaign from the air, and Qaddafi’s forces began trying to blend into the population. But the war lost its momentum when the U.S. stood back. We should be doing everything we can from the air, including using the A-10s and AC-130s that no one else has, in exchange for our allies’ doing more on the ground to aid the rebellion — more advisers, training, funds, and weapons. This is a military intervention that needs to be decidedly more kinetic.
Bashar Assad is defending the family fief in Syria with increasingly violent measures, sending tanks into the southern town of Daraa and having snipers pick off mourners at funerals. Obama’s response, here as to the entire cascade of Arab revolts, has been halting. He has ratcheted up his criticisms, while keeping an ambassador in Damascus; he buys the notion cultivated by the Assads that they can be regional peace brokers, when in fact they have been patrons of Hamas and Hezbollah, destabilizers of Lebanon, and tools of Iran. Obama is neither a forthright Realpolitiker nor an evangelist, à la George W. Bush, for human rights. One of Obama’s aides was quoted in The New Yorker describing the Obama doctrine as “leading from behind” — a policy that only the most advanced sophisticates can distinguish from weakness.
Vittorio Arrigoni was an Italian member of the International Solidarity Movement, an internationale of pro-Palestinians and Israel haters. He had been living in Gaza since 2008; most recently, he monitored Israel’s naval blockade. This April he was kidnapped and strangled by a jihadist grouplet. The impulse to take up foreign causes can be a generous one. The American Revolution certainly benefited from it (cf. Lafayette, Kosciuszko, Thomas Paine). But one must pick causes that are just, and comrades who are trustworthy. Hamas, which rules Gaza, condemned the murder, but it, like Arrigoni’s killers, is a jihadist outfit, and would have murdered Arrigoni the minute it found it convenient. Fools and gangsters mourn him. Israelis and Palestinians (many of them foolish) were afflicted by him and still are by his ilk.
Many Iraqi Christians celebrated Easter from home, watching church services on television. They feared attacks, like the ten coordinated bombings that left dozens of casualties on Christmas Eve 2009. Our Lady of Salvation, the Baghdad cathedral where militants for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq murdered 52 Christians in October, was on lockdown. Parishioners said it was “more like a museum than a church.” Throughout the capital, security guards with metal detectors, pat-downs, and barbed wire foregrounding stained-glass windows greeted celebrants of the Resurrection. To some avail: Gunmen attacked one Baghdad church, but were fought off by security officers, who became the only innocent casualties. Nearby, a bomb exploded outside another church, but again no congregants were killed. Iraq’s remaining Christians are marvelously brave. The population has already fallen from some 1.5 million in the 1990s to about half that today. Of those, many have left the cities for Kurdistan, which, to give you an idea of how hard things are, they find comparatively friendlier. The pope has urged Iraqi Christians to “to resist the temptation to emigrate.” But if they can’t, who would blame them? The Iraqi government is still too ramshackle to deliver them from this evil.
A new forecast from the International Monetary Fund predicts that in 2016, China’s economy will surpass in size that of the United States — earlier than others had forecast. The comparison between the economies is a complicated one in that most studies examine the two on the basis of current exchange rates. Knowing that China manipulates its currency, the IMF ran the numbers as measured by purchasing-power parity, generally considered a more meaningful comparison, and came to its sobering conclusion. A whole mine’s worth of salt is in order: China has serious economic, political — even biological — challenges before it, from a banking system designed by Hieronymus Bosch to a sexually imbalanced population. And contra Tom Friedman, being a one-party police state is not an advantage in the long run. All people of good will should welcome the fact that China, India, and other countries that were once dens of despair have become wealthier and relieved immeasurable human suffering. For the Chinese people, such progress amounts to being a prisoner given a better diet, but still it is preferable to the alternative. As to who shall be the alpha dog of the global economic order: Whether the United States stays on top is largely in American hands, not Chinese hands. Those American hands had better be hitting some buttons marked “No” come time to vote on spending.
Popular belief in the West has it that a Muslim husband need only say to his wife “I divorce thee!” three times for the divorce to become a fact — the “triple talaq.” (The word talaq means “divorce.”) The relevant Islamic jurisprudence is more complicated than that, with differences between sects, Shiite Islam for example taking a more restrictive view of the matter than Sunni Islam. Even among Sunni-majority nations, the more modern — Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan, for example — have banned the triple talaq. In the more backward parts of the Islamic world it is still in play, but a key target for liberalizers. Now Tajikistan, a small, landlocked nation in the high Pamirs of Central Asia, sharing a border with northern Afghanistan, has taken a first step toward banning it. That first step is of course to outlaw the texting of the declaration, a practice that apparently has been prevalent among Tajik migrant workers in Russia seeking to shrug off ties to their poverty-stricken homeland. Any sign of modernization among Muslims is to be welcomed: We welcome this one, and congratulate the wives of Tajikistan on a small but sensible advance to full citizenship.
Affairs in Belarus have taken a decidedly strange turn of late. The thesaurus of crimes and blunders committed by the despot of that unhappy land, Alexander Lukashenko, extends to clamping down on independent media, controlling vast swathes of the economy, and engaging in incessant harassment of the political opposition. No one was surprised last December when Lukashenko remained in office after a fictitious tally was drawn up — or when riot police were ordered into the streets to disperse peaceful protesters. A large explosion recently struck Kastrychnitskaya (October Square) subway station in Minsk. Allegations have been made suggesting that the government perpetrated the attacks to deflect the country’s attention away from economic distress, but no hard evidence has yet been produced on that score. The government line is no better. The Belarusian KGB (as the former Soviet republic’s security service is still touchingly called) has posited that political opponents were responsible for the attack. A pity that the best method for discovering the truth — an open society — is the very option that has been deliberately foreclosed by Europe’s last dictatorship.
The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton highlights that institution so un-American and so anti-modern, the British monarchy. Perhaps the last real monarch of Britain was Queen Anne (d. 1714), for she was the last to ceremonially touch sufferers of scrofula (among them, the young Samuel Johnson). When monarchs abandon their magical functions, they become merely constitutional — and for all the importance that theorists like Burke and Walter Bagehot invest in that role, it then becomes a subject of political calculation, of pluses and minuses: Edward VIII and abdication — bad, The King’s Speech — good; Elizabeth II — good, Charles/Di/Camilla — disastrous. Yet the aura of something all-too-human because it is larger-than-life still lingers. Americans invest it in the people we elect every four years and (less creditably) in singers, actors, and models. God bless the couple then, and all the strange freight they carry.
Ever since the late 1960s, when Columbia University experienced a spot of bother over Vietnam, ROTC has been banned from the Columbia campus. The few students who wanted to join the corps had to enroll in Fordham’s program. Over the years, occasional proposals were made to reinstate ROTC, and eventually opponents settled on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as the reason for maintaining the ban, though many saw this as a fig leaf for more general anti-military sentiment. With the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” skeptics wondered whether Columbia would abandon its opposition and let students train for military careers. To its credit, the university has announced that Naval ROTC will return to Columbia starting this fall — to general approval on campus, mixed with scorn from the usual quarters. It just goes to show that outdated prejudices don’t last forever, even in academia.
In March 2006, Crystal Gail Mangum accused three members of the Duke lacrosse team of raping her, after she had been hired to strip at a team party. For months a nationwide gale of odium battered the accused players, college athletes, and white males generally. (Houston Baker, then a Duke English professor, fulminated about “young, white, violent drunken men among us.”) Then, in April 2007, North Carolina’s attorney general dropped all charges and declared the accused players innocent. He added that Mangum “may actually believe” her own false accusations, and that it was not “in the best interest of justice” to prosecute her. Mangum has now been indicted for the stabbing death of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye. May she be tried fairly, enjoying all the safeguards of a system that she tried to undermine when she bore false witness five years ago.
Keen to open a new front in the war on childhood, regulators at the New York State Department of Health published a list of children’s games deemed to pose “a significant risk of injury.” The games included freeze tag, kickball, Wiffle ball, dodgeball, red rover, and capture the flag. Any public playground or program permitting these games was to be classified as a camp, adding costly requirements for state permits and medical supervision. Faced with massive public scorn, the bureaucrats have backed down, at least for the time being. The matter is still open, though, and the state’s Camp Directors Association, perhaps hoping to expand membership, still supports the proposal. In this age of prowling trial lawyers, “helicopter parents,” and control-freak legislators, New Yorkers may yet see their kids’ outdoor activities limited to . . . what? Shuffleboard?
Reality has borne down on the Philadelphia Orchestra. Their problems are like those of Greece, Wisconsin, and the Western world at large: Pension obligations are killing them. The orchestra has filed for bankruptcy. This is yet another wake-up call, screaming at societies and institutions to reform, pronto. Or subito, as they say in music.
“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates,” the poet Emma Lazarus wrote, “shall stand / A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame / Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name / Mother of Exiles.” And her face unmemorable — at least to bureaucrats. The United States Postal Service has issued a new stamp in honor of the Statue of Liberty. But no, that’s not Lady Liberty’s stoic visage on which you’re gazing, but that of her younger cousin, a cheap 14-year-old replica at Las Vegas’s New York–New York casino. After a stamp enthusiast alerted the press to the mistake, the service, in typical government fashion, dug in its heels. “We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway,” said Roy Betts, a USPS spokesman. In other words, good enough for government work.
One of the greatest intellectual triumphs of our age is the Standard Model of particle physics. First cooked up in the 1970s and confirmed by innumerable experiments since, the Standard Model gives a mathematically elegant explanation for the structure of matter in terms of 17 fundamental particles. Although not contradicted by any experiments physicists have been able to perform, the Standard Model is known to be incomplete. Full explanations of gravity, “dark matter,” and the accelerating expansion of the universe, for example, all await an enlarged theory. Furthermore, one of the 17 particles, the Higgs boson, has yet to be observed in experiment. Observation of the Higgs, as well as confirming the Standard Model (or just possibly confounding it), would likely open the door to wider understanding. There was therefore much excitement in late April when a leaked internal memo by researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, claimed that Higgs-type phenomena had shown up. LHC authorities were quick to douse the stories as speculative. The LHC is still only at half power, though, and even rumors of this sort raise expectations for what wonders may be found when it goes fully operational in, on present plans, 2014.
A film of Ayn Rand’s perennial bestseller/doorstop Atlas Shrugged has been made, and it has many things going for it: rousing blasts against statism and crony capitalism, a plot filled with intrigue, a very enticing Dagny Taggart, and splendid trains (who doesn’t love trains?), as well as a running time considerably less than that of John Galt’s infamous radio address in the novel. The worst feature of the film is its fidelity to Ms. Rand’s blunderous dialogue and ideological primness. It may be unique among current releases in that its heroes are businessmen, and heroic because of, not in spite of, that fact. This is the first installment of a promised trilogy, which we predict will be insufficient to sate Ms. Rand’s acolytes and supersufficient for a great many others — in which case the film will be an apt complement to the novel.
A Poor Standard in Washington
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, invited to listen to a presidential speech on the budget, had the opportunity to hear himself described as a moral monster. The Republican budget, Obama charged, would crush the hopes of children with disabilities and autism. (He didn’t spell it out, but the theory seems to be that state governments are eager to brutalize these kids the moment they get more responsibility over Medicaid.) Obama claimed that the Republican plan “essentially lowers the government’s health-care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead,” whereas he would do it “by reducing the cost of health care itself.”
Behind the distortion is an argument: that the Republican reliance on competition and consumer power to reduce costs is misguided, and that we would do better to trust a government-picked board of experts to decide which medical procedures and practices are cost-effective. Under Obama’s plan, this board would set Medicare’s payment policies and thereby drive the entire health sector toward greater efficiency. At least that’s the plan. What Obama does not mention is that Medicare has a long record of trying to steer the market in this way, and just as long a record of failing. Trying even harder will impose costs of its own, some of them measured in patients’ lives.
A few days after Obama’s speech, Standard & Poor’s issued a warning that it might downgrade America’s debt in the next few years. The warning was based on pessimism that a bipartisan deal would be enacted to reduce the debt to manageable levels. The president’s speech justified that pessimism.
The warning should strengthen Republicans’ resolve to attach meaningful reforms to the pending bill to raise the federal debt limit. That limit should be raised, since nobody — including the conservative senators who say they will lead the charge against raising the limit — has a plan to bring the deficit to zero by July. But the need to increase the debt limit is a symptom of a serious problem, and it would be irresponsible not to address that problem simultaneously.
A bipartisan group of senators — the “gang of six,” they style themselves — are working on a grand deficit-reduction deal that might be joined to the debt-limit increase. While a final judgment must of course wait until the specifics are determined and revealed, the early signs do not look promising. The Republicans involved have been saying that it is impossible to reduce the deficit to manageable levels without tax increases, which is simply false as a matter of arithmetic. A recent study of attempts by other countries to tackle their debt problems showed that the successful plans relied, on average, 85 percent on spending cuts. (Some success stories actually involved tax cuts, with spending cuts making up more than 100 percent of the deficit reduction.) The gang seems unaware of this finding. And it appears to be interested in ending “offshore tax loopholes,” which to anyone who has followed the debate about the tax treatment of overseas profits sounds like a protectionist cul-de-sac.
Republicans ought to seek a better bargain than this. If that takes time, then the debt ceiling should be extended only for a short term, to buy it.
William Rusher, R.I.P.
William Rusher was the publisher of National Review, not quite from day one, but almost — brought in to replace the terminally irascible Willi Schlamm. Rusher stayed at his post from the magazine’s infancy to its adulthood 30 years later.
Rusher was a public presence — author, columnist, and debater — but his most lasting mark was made in the trenches of politics. In 1961 he and two friends, longtime GOP operative F. Clifton White and freshman congressman John Ashbrook, launched the movement to give Barry Goldwater the Republican nomination in 1964. Their success (notwithstanding Goldwater’s loss to LBJ) mortally wounded the Republican party’s liberal eastern establishment and changed the face of American politics.
Rusher himself doubted whether the change had been drastic enough. In 1975, he published The Making of the New Majority Party, a call for a populist third party to be led by Ronald Reagan. Reagan decided to stay with the GOP, losing in 1976 but running the table in 1980. Rusher’s idealism was always alloyed with reality, and he abandoned his third-party projects to celebrate and defend the Reagan presidency.
His personal style inclined to the severe — his ties tightly cinched, his suits trim. But behind the façade lay a Marcellus shale of courtesy and warmth — a man ever ready to share his time and his advice. He had his favorite restaurants and had trained their maîtres d’ well. He knew his port vintages and that Château d’Yquem should not be served with chocolate (of course). He had crossed the globe in his travels and brought back a cargo of anecdotes; he was pleased to have ticked off Easter Island, though perhaps his favorite spot, culturally and politically, was embattled anti-Communist China on Taiwan. He knew, and would recite, favorite poems by Housman, Swinburne, Santayana.
Among Rusher’s stand-bys were the death-bed lines of the emperor Hadrian. In them, Hadrian asks what will now become of his soul? Inclined to Stoicism, Rusher sympathized with the humorous skepticism of the question. As an adult convert to traditionalist Anglicanism, he had a Christian answer. The image of his soul is well-lodged in the memories of his many friends and admirers. Dead at 87. R.I.P.