Sixty-five and counting: Nancy Pelosi does turn out to be a job creator.
Soon-to-be-former Speaker Pelosi wants to stay on as minority leader in the new year. For now, she seems safe, though Fox News broke word of a letter from defeated Blue Dogs and others urging her to step aside, and the New York Times asked her in an editorial to do the same (the dead dogs think she became too controversial, the Times thinks she is a bad communicator). Pelosi is a good fundraiser and a tough infighter; her San Francisco liberalism is an even better match with the views of a caucus shrunken to liberal bailiwicks. But for Democrats to re-anoint her is to go into a crouch. Since the minority party in the House has one fewer leadership slot than the majority party, there is also a fight for the minority-whip post between Steny Hoyer (sort of moderate) and James Clyburn (Congressional Black Caucus). Ed Koch said it long ago: “It’s better to win than to lose.”
Taxes are scheduled to go up on everyone at the start of 2011. Republicans would like to prevent this tax increase but have said that they would compromise by merely delaying it for a few years. Even before the election, the House had a majority in favor of that course. Republicans should press to enact this delaying measure in the lame-duck session. If Democrats block it, the country will know whom to blame for higher taxes — and Republicans can demand a retroactive tax cut in the next Congress.
The Fed commenced a second round of “quantitative easing.” It will buy $900 billion in Treasury bonds and use them to increase bank reserves. Inflation hawks are clutching their gold; advocates of monetary stimulus worry that even this quantity is insufficient. Bernanke dismisses concerns about inflation because the economy has so much “slack.” But slack is compatible with inflation, as periods of the Great Depression and the 1970s should have taught us. The better argument for the Fed’s move is that money demand increased in the crisis and needs to be accommodated. The biggest problem with the policy is its ad hoc, ruleless nature. The Fed aims for price stability, or something close to it, in order to provide a measure of certainty for economic actors. Careening from one experiment to another is no way to fulfill that mission.
For years, exit polls showed that opposition to abortion benefited candidates, since pro-lifers were more likely to base their votes on the issue than pro-choicers. Perhaps dismayed by these consistent results, the pollsters stopped asking the question. But the trend appears to have continued. In the 2006 election, the Democrats maximized their gains by running pro-lifers of their own. Many of these politicians abandoned their commitments this year by voting for the health-care law, which subsidizes abortion, and their constituents in turn abandoned them for pro-life Republicans. In many other races, pro-choice Democrats were replaced by pro-life Republicans. Polling also shows that voter sentiment has been slowly moving in a pro-life direction. If the Democrats will not reexamine their consciences, they should at least reconsider their politics.
This year, two black Republicans were elected to Congress: Allen West in Florida and Tim Scott in South Carolina. The latter won his primary over two political scions: Paul Thurmond and Carroll A. Campbell III. There are now two Hispanic governors in the country, both of them Republican, both of them elected on November 2: Brian Sandoval in Nevada and Susana Martinez in New Mexico. The latter is the first female Hispanic governor in the country. There are also two Indian-American governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and the newly elected Nikki Haley of South Carolina. (Note that these are southern states.) Both are Republicans. Those racist Tea Partiers sure fouled up.
America’s bookends, California and New York, were most resistant to the Republican tide. The GOP picked up perhaps seven House seats in New York but lost every state office, while it picked up somewhere between zero and two House seats in California, and also lost every state office, except possibly attorney general. The two states look to be marching on in blueness for some time to come. Thanks to the glory of federalism, that would be fine with the rest of us — except that California, if it were a private business, would be bankrupt, and New York is not far behind. What will the rest of us do when they ask Washington for help? The big drag on their budgets is their public-employee pensions. Obama’s inclination, as the Detroit bailout showed, would be to shovel money at the unions. But newly energized congressional Republicans must insist that any help comes with a radical restructuring of union benefits. A contract is a contract, as the law recognizes. But who pays the piper calls the tune, as reality recognizes.
One of the most controversial new laws of this year has been Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, empowering state agencies to assist enforcement of federal immigration law. To judge by election returns from the November midterms, voters in Arizona and elsewhere like the law. Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, the Republican chief sponsor of SB1070, will be the chamber’s new president; his party picked up seats. Jan Brewer, also Republican, who became governor when Janet Napolitano joined Obama’s cabinet, and who has staunchly defended SB1070, was elected in her own right with a healthy majority. To complete the SB1070 trifecta, University of Missouri–Kansas City law professor Kris Kobach, who was instrumental in drafting the bill and has been active in defending it, was elected secretary of state of Kansas. President Obama called SB1070 “misguided”; the Justice Department has challenged its constitutionality; voters are apparently just fine with it.
Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, withstood a strong challenge from Republican Sean Bielat. And, like almost all candidates, he gave a speech after the votes were counted. Scott Johnson, of the Power Line blog, was reminded of a statement made about Nixon in 1972: “The bastard can’t even be gracious in victory.” Frank lashed out against Bielat, against the Boston Herald, against Fox News, and against Republicans in general. He lashed out against the very idea that he had to compete for his seat, held for 30 years now. He said that Republican campaigns were “beneath the dignity of democracy.” He said that his win was “a victory for a concept of government which eschews the anger and the vitriol.” That was pretty funny, given the nature of Frank’s speech. What would he say after a loss? It would be beautiful to find out.
The Republican wave washed away Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat first elected in 1976. He is a Truman Democrat, hawkish on national security. In fact, his father and Truman were good friends. In the Pelosi Congress, Skelton has been chairman of the Armed Services Committee. We could not have asked for better from that party. We are glad for the Republican wave. But a Democratic party of nothing but Pelosis and Boxers is too bad.
It Must Be Love
If I said, “There’s really nothing special about my wife,” you might think not only that I’m a cad, but that I don’t particularly like my wife. If my wife said, “My daughter’s fine, but she’s really no better than any other kid,” you might think she’s lacking in the maternal-love department.
Now before I continue, let me say clearly and on the record that these are hypotheticals. My wife is very special. Indeed, this is an understatement of equal magnitude to “Breathing is popular” or “Jeffrey Dahmer would make a poor high-school guidance counselor.” And though we might eschew a bumper sticker saying so, we both think our kid is better than your kid. But I don’t want to clutter this space with too much romantic or paternal treacle.
This illustrates a truth about how love works. At some basic level, if you love something, you must find it preferable to something else, perhaps everything else. Your reasons can be subjective, or indeed impossible to identify. I put it to you that men who marry women solely because they meet a checklist (Blond hair: Check! Green Bay Packers fan: Check!) aren’t really in love. They may grow to love their spouse, but that happens only when they come to appreciate what makes her different from a mere manifestation of categorical bullet points.
I bring this up because I continue to be amazed by the bizarre obsession liberal intellectuals have with “American exceptionalism.” Deeply offended by Marco Rubio’s claim that America is the greatest country on earth, my friend Peter Beinart recently proclaimed in the Daily Beast that American exceptionalism is a “lunatic notion.” Michael Kinsley, meanwhile, was so flabbergasted by the stupidity of voters who opposed Obama that he saw fit to pen an essay for Politico titled “U.S. Is Not Greatest Country Ever.”
Now never mind that America meets at least most of the objective criteria on my checklist for greatest country ever. Never mind that the U.S. should do pretty well on any sincere liberal’s rundown, too. Also, put aside the fact that the idea of America’s exceptional nature is a rich and deep subject of political literature going back to not only Tocqueville, but The Federalist, Edmund Burke, and even Marx and Engels.
What I find fascinating is the emotional and psychological animus against the contention that America is special. Few subjects elicit more rage and condescension than the simple, lovely idea that America is uniquely . . . American, and lovably so. Indeed, whenever conservatives talk about American exceptionalism, liberals react as if we were speaking German in the 1930s.
But these same liberals fulminate with bile whenever it is hinted or suggested that liberals are somehow lacking in patriotism. Well, if, in admittedly simplistic terms, patriotism means love of country, what else are we supposed to think when liberals pooh-pooh any suggestion that America is special? When Barack Obama says that America is no more exceptional than any other country, how is that different from me saying my wife is no more special than any other woman? Yes, such statements can be defended from the vantage points of abstraction, relativism, or some arbitrary criterion. But how can they be defended in the light of love? Indeed, Obama sometimes sounds like a managerial expert who accidentally ended up running America, when he would have been perfectly happy with an assignment elsewhere.
I am not saying that all liberals do not love America. What I am saying is that they are hopelessly confused about how to think about, and, therefore express, their love of it. My advice: Start with baby steps. Find one nice new thing to say about America every day. It might be hard at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
On the federal level, it can take decades of appointments to change the makeup of the courts. In some states, however, the public can vote to remove judges who ignore the law and instead implement their own policy preferences. And that’s why three state-supreme-court judges in Iowa — judges who recently decided that gay marriage is a constitutional right — lost their seats on November 2. Good riddance. The Founders may have been wise to shield federal judges from political pressures, but it’s good to know that at least some aspects of the judicial branch remain accountable to the people. We look forward to similar efforts in the future, even though attempts to remove judges in Kansas and Colorado failed this year.
Proposition 19, the California referendum that would have legalized marijuana use in the state, went down by a sizable margin, 54 to 46 percent. California already permits pot for medical use, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law early this fall that made possession of less than an ounce a minor offense, which may have reduced voters’ sense of urgency. Meanwhile federal anti-pot laws remain in force and Attorney General Holder announced in October that he would “vigorously” uphold them, which may have made the measure seem feckless. Interestingly, Proposition 19 lost in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, the state’s big pot-growing region. Perhaps growers prefer the high prices of the black market?
In California, it can be hard to tell whether the government is run for the benefit of taxpayers or government workers. San Diego County took a step toward the proper balance when its voters approved, by a three-to-one margin, a proposition that bars the county from requiring “project labor agreements” on its construction projects. Such agreements can force contractors to hire strictly union labor, to provide above-market wages and health benefits, to put unneeded apprentices on the payroll, and to use only local workers — in other words, to spend money needlessly and prevent non–union members from competing for jobs. For any government, such a system would be needlessly profligate; but in a state with California’s massive budgetary problems, it can increase the risk of bankruptcy. San Diego’s citizens have wisely chosen not to spend their money on further entrenching a privileged cartel.
Among the more fevered reactions to the midterm election results was an astonishing rant on the far-left Daily Kos website by “anti-racist” activist Tim Wise (who is white). Under the headline “An Open Letter to the White Right, On the Occasion of Your Recent, Successful Temper Tantrum,” Mr. Wise snarled that “Your kind — mostly older white folks beholden to an absurd, inaccurate, nostalgic fantasy of what America used to be like — are dying. . . . And unlike, say, the bald eagle or some exotic species of muskrat, you are not worth saving. . . . Do you hear it? The sound of . . . your nation, as you knew it, ending, permanently? Because I do, and the sound of its demise is beautiful. . . . We just have to be patient. And wait for your hearts to stop beating.” Charming. Mr. Wise’s ethnomasochistic fulminations were too much even for Daily Kos. When the thing “went viral,” as we nowadays say, editors slipped in and excised the more foam-flecked passages, though too late to prevent the original from being cross-posted. “Temper tantrum”? We’d say that’s a case of pot calling kettle . . . oh, never mind.
Groups of hecklers have been regularly and rudely disrupting President Obama’s recent public appearances. But it hasn’t been pitchfork-wielding, guns-and-religion types, or any of the other usual suspects. No, these hecklers are young, leftist, and Ivy League. At a speech in Bridgeport, Conn., on October 30, Yale and Harvard students chanted, “Fund global AIDS!” and held signs reading, “Keep the Promise: $50 billion for global AIDS.” One protester, David Carel, a Yale sophomore, complained that Obama has increased AIDS funding by only $150 million in two years, after promising to increase it by $1 billion per year. “He’s fallen short,” Carel said. Obama confronted the protesters, beginning soothingly and then going on to explain, “We’re funding global AIDS, and the other side is not. So I don’t know why you think this is a useful strategy.” Obama has by now made a habit of blaming every woe on “the other side” and George W. Bush in particular. This particular canard, then, is exceptional only for its brazenness: funding AIDS prevention was something that Bush was known for. So well known for, in fact, that even Obama’s “emerging adult” base seems to know it: The disruptions have not stopped.
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann was suspended for giving $7,200 total to three Democratic candidates in this month’s elections, thus violating NBC guidelines against “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” He was back in days, however. The brevity of his time off shows the triviality of his offense. He is the most conspicuous liberal voice of a conspicuously liberal network. If he had given money to Christine O’Donnell, that might have been a real conflict of interest. The lines between reporting and advocacy have frayed comprehensively. Yet a rule is a rule. How hard would it have been for Olbermann to give to charity, or to buy some major wine instead? The sad story here is the metastasis of TV-news personalities — like sports stars, writing their own rules. The difference being that big-league sports are in the black, while news organizations take on the color of the sun that is setting on them.
Al-Qaeda provided an election-eve reminder that it’s not all about the economy, stupid. The terror network’s franchise in Yemen again converted aircraft into weapons. This time, bombs were shipped in airplanes used by FedEx and UPS, rigged to detonate as they neared their U.S. destinations. Investigators now believe this new method may be responsible for crashing a UPS plane in Dubai in September, killing two crew members. This time, the plot was thwarted, barely, by human intelligence: A former terrorist informed Saudi intelligence, which passed word along to European and American counterparts in time to disable explosives-laden packages in England and Dubai. On the positive side, the Obama administration appears to have learned from some of its prior missteps: The intelligence community cooperated effectively with foreign services, and the president was quick to call the plot “terrorism” and point the finger at al-Qaeda — there was no pretense that the attackers were lone wolves. Baby steps.
We’ve never understood the urgency of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the midst of two ground wars, with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force reluctant to make the change and the commandant of the Marine Corps vocally opposed. Yet Democrats want to end the policy in the lame-duck session of the current Congress before it meets its unlamented demise. Even those who accept the case for repeal cannot maintain that it is urgent. Don’t rush.
President Obama is attempting to establish some pro-growth bona fides by reviving the U.S.–South Korea Free Trade Agreement, a deal negotiated and signed by George W. Bush in 2007. The deal fell into a coma in early 2008, right around the time that then-candidate Obama was arguing with Hillary Clinton in Ohio over who would be the first to pull the country out of NAFTA. Election-year politics militated against the passage through a Democratic Congress of any trade deal, even one that would add an estimated $10 to $12 billion to annual GDP, and the Korea deal faced the additional hurdle of opposition from the U.S. auto industry. The automakers and their unions argue that the deal does not do enough to open Korean markets to U.S. cars and trucks, but their real concern is the competitiveness of Korean cars and trucks in U.S. markets. Obama’s trade team is trying to renegotiate the pact to get a better deal for Government Motors, but the deal as it stands would lead to big gains for most American exporters and consumers. The administration should not let the automakers’ objections turn a sure win into a possible loss. Haven’t they gotten enough special treatment?
The president’s embrace of India, a country he neglected early in his administration while attempting to cultivate Beijing, is belated but nonetheless welcome. As a robustly democratic republic, India shares our values; wedged between China and Pakistan, neither of which means it any good, India shares many of our interests. It is an important counterweight to Beijing and is acutely sensitive to the risks of Islamic terrorism, being a principal target of it. Endorsing India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council in a speech to its parliament, the president gave the Indians the symbolic recognition they crave. He promised to relax restrictions on India’s imports of “dual use” technologies (those with both civilian and military applications), a measure that costs the United States very little — scant sense worrying about weapons proliferation when the country already possesses a home-grown nuclear arsenal — and opens up potentially rich channels of trade for American businesses. There is a constant temptation to romanticize India and its emergence as a world power; in truth, the country remains poor, backward, and bureaucrat-ridden, despite the impressive progress achieved during the recent years of economic liberalization. It will remain a relatively weak ally, and often a problematic one, but closer cooperation between the U.S. and India promises to leave both nations richer and stronger.
Back in May, President Obama visited California-based solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra, Inc., which was then wrapping up construction on a new factory made possible by a $535 million stimulus loan. The president bragged about the 3,000 construction workers that Solyndra temporarily employed to build the factory, and an aide claimed that the firm was going to use the factory as a springboard to further expansion and the creation of another 1,000 “long-term new jobs.” Not everyone was so optimistic about Solyndra’s prospects. In March — prior to Obama’s visit — auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers issued a report casting doubt on Solyndra’s “ability to continue as a going concern.” It’s starting to look as though the doubters were right. Solyndra recently announced that it will shut down its old plant, lay off around 200 permanent and temporary workers, and scrap its planned expansion. “We still employed 3,000 construction workers in the depths of the recession,” pleaded a Solyndra spokesman to one critical reporter. Let’s see: If Solyndra goes under, then that means taxpayers spent $535 million to create 3,000 temporary construction jobs (a cost of around $180,000 per job) to build a factory that will likely stand empty for years, if not decades. Obama’s “new energy economy” is based on transcending math.
Someone leaked a letter from Laurence Tribe to President Obama, and Ed Whelan posted it at National Review Online. Tribe is the liberal law professor at Harvard who has taught generations of students, including Obama and Whelan. He wrote his letter on May 4, 2009, after Justice Souter announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. Tribe’s purpose was to urge Obama to nominate Elena Kagan — he would do that a year later, when John Paul Stevens retired. Tribe’s purpose more generally was to talk about “a series of appointments” that would “gradually move the Court in a pragmatically progressive direction.” The letter is interesting on many scores, not least in what it has to say about Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s eventual choice to replace Souter. Tribe says that he can certainly understand Sotomayor’s “demographic appeal.” (She is Hispanic, in case you haven’t heard.) But, “bluntly put, she’s not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is, and her reputation for being something of a bully could well make her liberal impulses backfire and simply add to the fire power of the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas wing of the Court.” Tribe ends with a fairly bald appeal for a job for himself, “perhaps . . . a newly created DOJ position dealing with the rule of law.” After Sotomayor was nominated, Tribe gave glowing on-the-record reviews for her. His convictions are as flexible as his Constitution.
In October, NPR accepted a $1.8 million grant from George Soros’s left-leaning Open Society Foundations. It was considered a watershed, especially when NPR president Vivian Schiller went on in short order to fire Juan Williams. But Soros isn’t that different from the people who already control and fund NPR. Matthew Shaffer, one of National Review Institute’s Buckley Fellows, dug up evidence relating to the political sympathies of board members of NPR, Inc., and its fundraising arm, the NPR Foundation. Almost every board member has demonstrably liberal political leanings, with heavy support for Democrats, pro-abortion groups, and environmental activism in particular. Chosen at random: NPR Foundation chairman Antoine W. van Agtmael doubles up as a trustee at the center-left Brookings Institution. Jane Katcher has given Democrats and EMILY’s List more than $64,000 over the past decade. Sukey Garcetti is director of the Roth Family Foundation, an organization whose explicit “mission is commitment to progressive social change.” And so on, for almost 50 iterations. There’s one exception, one board member who has donated to a prominent Republican and no Democrats: Henry E. Catto contributed only to John McCain, to help him in his race against . . . J. D. Hayworth. We favor defunding NPR, so that it can adopt a more accurate name: National Progressive Radio.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo has mightily annoyed the Chinese Communists. They are reacting in their habitual manner, with feigned indignation, thuggish bluster, and veiled threats. The Chinese embassy in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, has sent official letters to a number of European Union embassies asking them not to attend the December 10 Nobel award ceremony. The letters explain that Liu, a shy intellectual who has called for democratic reforms in China, is a “criminal.” They snarl that there will be “consequences” for nations that “make the wrong choice.” These démarches do not quite sink to the level of “Nice little embassy you’ve got here, be a shame if anything happened to it . . .” but the gangster mentality is in plain sight. To their great credit, the EU nations seem to be taking a united stand against the leg-breakers of Beijing. Several nations on the threat-letter mailing list have reacted by promising to send representatives. All strength to Mr. Liu in his jail cell (and to his wife, who is under house arrest, though charged with no crime), and we hope for a good turnout at the award ceremony.
Over 120 Catholics were attending Mass in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad when terrorists attacked, firing wildly, killing two priests immediately and fatally wounding a third, then taking the congregation hostage. An affiliate of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility, putting out a demand for the release of Islamists in Iraq as well as Muslim girls rumored to have been kidnapped by Coptic Christians in Egypt. When Iraqi security forces arrived, at least two of the terrorists exploded suicide vests, killing many hostages. By the time the outrage was over, 44 Catholics, seven members of the security forces, and at least five terrorists were dead, and many more were wounded. Shocked survivors are unanimous that the intention is to drive Christians out of the Middle East altogether. There used to be at least 1 million Christians in Iraq, but probably half of them have already fled abroad. Archbishop Athanasios Dawood in London urges remaining Christians to quit and seek asylum elsewhere. For Pope Benedict XVI it was enough to say that these attacks “undermine trust and peaceful coexistence.” Two thousand years of Christianity in the region are winding down, and the rest is silence.
Admiral Nelson built and commanded a navy that was to ensure the supremacy of Britain through its great days of the 19th century. Once he gave junior officers the advice they needed for their careers in the service: They were to obey orders without question, to consider as an enemy every man who spoke ill of the king, and finally, “You must hate a Frenchman as you do the devil.” Long outdated, these proud words nevertheless came to mind as British prime minister David Cameron was signing a defense pact with France. The countries will share satellite communications, intelligence and cyber-warfare capabilities, joint forces, nuclear and drone technology, and much else. The British have got themselves into the position of building two aircraft carriers but having no planes to operate from them. Instead they will share France’s one carrier, although this is mostly in drydock thanks to design flaws. How the two navies are to cooperate is not clear. What language will orders be given in? The two countries had differing policies concerning NATO, Serbia, Rwanda, and Iraq, and have opposite and entrenched attitudes toward the United States. Maybe the British navy has really come to its end, but Nelson may yet have the last word.
For San Francisco kids, getting a toy with a Happy Meal is about to become an experience as foreign as using a typewriter or a slide rule, thanks to a recent decision by the city’s board of supervisors banning the providing of toys with meals that are deemed unhealthy. “We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” said the ban’s sponsor, supervisor Eric Mar, emphasizing the dangers of child obesity and the higher rates of it among low-income children. So what’s next on the agenda? Allowing children to collect only “tricks” next Halloween? Banning candy-filled piñatas? The rise in child obesity is unfortunate. But when it comes to doling out so-called food justice, the guardians should be parents, not politicians.
As well as being the postal abbreviation for Missouri, the chemical symbol for molybdenum, and a mildly derogatory street term for homosexuals, the word “mo” is, we learn with surprise, Australian slang for “mustache” (which they spell “moustache”). From this tiny antipodean seed, or fuzz, has sprouted the Movember movement, whereunder leagues of males — “Mo Bros” — pledge to grow mustaches in the month of November in order to raise awareness of men’s-health issues, mainly prostate cancer. No, we don’t quite see it either, but the thing has taken off — has, as it were, acquired mo-mentum — and is now worldwide. Organizers claim 28,000 Mo Bros and, yes, Mo Sistas (we’d rather not know) in the U.S. They have raised over three million dollars for cancer research and prevention campaigns. Mo’ strength to them, we say.
When residents of Denver went to the polls, they encountered a ballot proposal to establish an “extraterrestrial-affairs commission” that would, among other things, “develop protocols for peaceful and diplomatic contact with extraterrestrial beings.” Tragically for the cause of intergalactic understanding, the proposal was rejected by a margin of 85 to 15 percent.
Probably the most famous bit of presidential rhetoric between FDR and Reagan is Theodore Sorensen’s, from John Kennedy’s inaugural: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” It is a troubling line: In moments of disaster, we should pull together, but can our country claim us for the war on poverty? On global warming? Sorensen was one of that amphibious species, the presidential speechwriter/adviser. They loom large when they stand near the center; in retirement, they fade much faster than the men they served — and rightly so. Presidents set the direction for their administrations; helping hands only help. Yet a sheen of language can give an agenda a little extra lift. Sorensen’s ideas were conventionally liberal, and Kennedy in his liberal moods reached for them. But there was a germ of eloquence there that was Sorensen’s. Dead at 82. R.I.P.
From Defeat to Rout
They can’t say they weren’t warned. The polls showed independents beginning to turn away from President Obama in the spring of 2009. Town halls in the summer showed strong grassroots resistance to the Democrats’ health-care plan. In November 2009, Republicans won big in Virginia and New Jersey — both states Obama had carried the year before. A few months later, opposition to the health-care law helped Republican Scott Brown to win the Senate seat that Ted Kennedy had occupied for decades.
Democrats had plenty of time to change course. Instead, they decided that the public was easily confused and would come around. The weak economy and previous Democratic gains meant that Republicans would likely do well in this election, especially in the House. But it was this Democratic obstinacy that converted a defeat into a rout. Republicans took control of the House, defeated liberal heavyweights such as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and picked up a slew of governorships and state legislatures. The House will now have more Republicans than in any year since the 1940s — and the most favorable climate for redistricting in living memory.
Key to this shift was a change of heart among independent voters. The parties turned out their voters in roughly the same proportions as in 2006, when the Democrats took the House. But while independents back then had grown weary after twelve years of a Republican Congress, this year they turned on Democrats after only four.
The Republicans deserve some credit for their own success. The early popularity of the president did not prevent them from opposing a bloated stimulus, and they rejected the superficial arguments for cooperating with the Democrats in extending government control of health care. They refused, in short, to acquiesce in their widely predicted extinction.
The Tea Partiers have much to be proud of. Portrayed as extremists and racists, they succeeded in forming a coalition that won a majority of the votes — and, incidentally, elected a record number of non-white Republicans. Like any political movement, and especially any new one, the Tea Partiers made mistakes, choosing a few subpar candidates and thus letting liberals retain some seats they could have been forced to relinquish.
But they saw an opportunity to change the country’s direction and had the fortitude to do it. They have been indispensable to electing several new conservative stars, including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ron Johnson. (All three of them come from states that supported Obama, in case anyone’s counting.) Many of the same pundits who after Obama’s election foresaw a Republican retreat to the South will now act as though they expected these results all along. They will move on to warning Republicans of doom next time around. As the Tea Partiers deepen their involvement in politics, they can again prove their critics wrong by learning from their early missteps.
The Democrats are still in denial. President Obama concedes no errors other than failing to talk slowly enough to a dull-witted electorate (we paraphrase). Nancy Pelosi is likely to remain the House Democrats’ leader and a symbol of unrepentant, top-down liberalism. Evidently the Democrats continue to assume that the public will come to its senses and the Republican resurgence of the last two years will prove to be an aberration. For the Republicans, that fact is a better portent for 2012 than any of the election returns.
Repeal: Why and How
Voting for Obamacare proved hazardous to the political health of Democratic congressmen in swing districts. Depending on the poll, either majorities or strong minorities of the public want the law repealed. But the election has not dislodged the conventional wisdom that the new health-care system is here to stay. Conservatives should sustain their resolve to repeal the law and prove that liberals are once again underestimating the endurance of public hostility to it.
The perversities of the law are impressive in number and importance. Obamacare achieves, at best, a small increase in health coverage at enormous cost; addresses the problems of small numbers of people by threatening the arrangements of everyone; makes employment more expensive at a time of high unemployment; adds to public spending when the federal government is already overextended; subsidizes abortion; dramatically increases effective marginal tax rates on most Americans when economic mobility is already threatened. It may well even backfire by reducing the percentage of people who have insurance, since paying the fine for not buying insurance will be cheaper for many Americans than buying the overpriced product the law demands they purchase.
If conservatives accept the law as a permanent feature of American life, they will have surrendered the fight for constitutionally limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility. The law cannot be improved: Its worst features, such as the noxious mandate that all Americans buy insurance that meets the federal government’s approval, are crucial to the entire coercive design.
Republicans should not be intimidated by the supposedly popular features of the law. Americans tell pollsters that they want to keep insurers from charging higher prices to people with preexisting conditions. But this regulation has not taken effect, so repealing it will not eliminate any protection — and Republicans can and should pledge to increase spending on high-risk pools to help those in this situation rather than destroying the health-care market for everyone else.
Republicans should make their position clear by passing repeal in the House. Senate Democrats will block the bill; rather than being disheartened, Republicans should thank them for gift-wrapping the first campaign issue of 2012. They should then attack the law piecemeal. Perhaps the most promising strategy is to target the bill’s funding mechanisms: Undo the cuts to Medicare Advantage, for example, and balance the books by delaying implementation of the law’s subsidies and regulations. Even if Democrats block these measures, too, the debate will highlight the health-care law’s least attractive features. At the same time, Republicans should hold hearings on the law’s dangerous implications.
Democrats are betting that the public will come to accept Obamacare as a fait accompli. They cannot succeed without Republican complicity.