Now, one way to hear this is as an accidental admission that Obama was born in Kenya. Okay, I think a reasonable person, watching just this video, could conclude that. However, that’s now how it sounded to my ears — it sounded more like she was identifying him with an ancestral homeland. I’ve seen this before, back at college, when everybody wanted to claim to be of the ethnicity of their most exotic grandparent. It’s a lefty thing, what can I say. Anyway, the point is that people who do that, such as Michelle Obama (and it’s fair to say her husband as well), do not primarily identify themselves as American, and clearly do not have any deep personal emotional attachment to America above, say, their “home country”.
As an aside, I’m not a “birther”. I think Pres. Obama was probably born here in the United States, although I’ll admit I’m not confident of that. It seems perfectly reasonable to me, upon examination of the evidence, to question the matter. People who do are well within their rights, and it would seem that as U.S. citizens they ought to have standing to demand proof. And the fact that it is repeatedly denied to them, at great cost to those denying it, is strange. And the idea that, say, a New Yorker should take the word of another state’s official on the matter, seems a bit contrary to our system. So I’m sympathetic to the so-called “birthers”, because I think their position is justifiable, and also because most of their vocal detractors are so despicable (a variant of that latter argument also makes me sympathetic to George W. Bush and Sarah Palin).
I was afraid this would happen, that we’d get Contract with America, 2010 Edition this year. See, Republicans look back on 1994, and they think “Contract with America, that’s the ticket, that’s what got us elected!” They may not realize that a lot of others look back and think “oh, that Contract with America thing the Republicans used to trick us into voting for them?”
So it’s going to happen again this year. Everybody in the Republican Party is working on their version now and getting ready to race to unveil theirs first.
It’s looking like one that may wind up being influential is this Contract from America thing. I oppose doing this, but since I think it’s almost certain to happen, I want to at least influence it for the better. In the event that this does wind up being the Contract for the year, I’ve voted on the top 10 priorities (of the 20 they let you choose from):
- Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.
- Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
- Adopt a fair and simple single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution.
- Allow young Americans the choice of opting out of Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, creating both real financial security in retirement through the freedom to own your personal retirement savings, and reducing the long-term unfunded liabilities of the federal government
- No regulation or tax on the Internet.
- Authorize the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creating competition.
- Block state and local governments that receive federal grants from exercising eminent domain over private property for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues.
- Begin an audit of the Federal Reserve System.
- The federal government should not bail out private companies and should immediately begin divesting itself of its stake in the private companies it owns from recent bailouts.
- Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require Congressional term limits.
Plenty of gimmicky details, but this is the best I can cobble together from their mess.
Let’s take just one paragraph from a recent speech by Pres. Obama, beginning with the line:
Banks will no longer be allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers.
Forget for a second about whether this is a good regulation or not, because what’s way more interesting is the way our president described it. Read that again, with some emphasis added:
Banks will no longer be allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers.
Hoo-boy. So the problem, in Pres. Obama’s eyes, is not that there is some grave systemic risk posed by banks running “hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations” (many reasonable arguments that this is true have been advanced), but rather that it is wrong for them to do so unless they are acting on behalf of their customers (i.e. “the people”) instead of for their own profit (i.e. “themselves”). I know a word to describe this way of thinking:
Collectivism: Personal or social orientation that emphasizes the good of the group, community, or society over and above individual gain.
Don’t buy that interpretation? Well, here’s the president’s very next line, seeming to confirm it:
If financial firms want to trade for profit, that’s something they’re free to do. Indeed, doing so — responsibly — is a good thing for the markets and the economy.
Who decides whether they’re responsible with their money? Doesn’t this ring of “well if you want to do [insert discouraged action here], you’re free to do so, but….”?
This president could not wait to force public bailouts on even those banks that didn’t want them (he voted for it), and then refuse to allow them to repay as soon as they could (in his capacity as president). Why would he do that? So he can justify direct government control of the financial sector with statements like what he said next:
But these firms should not be allowed to run these hedge funds and private equities funds while running a bank backed by the American people.
This is effective nationalization, and nothing less.
Rasmussen has defined a really fantastic concept for its poll interpretations: the Political Class. The very name evokes images of power elites and pundits, fervently applauding their own efforts while peppering their language with meaningless phrases like “the American people” and “Main Street” (vs. “Wall Street”). Oh, you didn’t get all that from it? Well, I did… Maybe I’m too bitter. Anyway, the Political Class is that small group of elites and its ardent supporters, the ones who try to brand themselves as populists but are in fact concerned primarily with the goodness of their own power and authority.
- Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more – the American people or America’s political leaders?
- Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
- Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
The idea is that each one has three acceptable answers (the populist answer, the elitist answer, and “I don’t know”), and your category is assigned based on your responses. So if you give the elitist answer to 2 questions and I don’t know to a third, or the elitist answer to all three, you’re in the Political Class. Similarly for the Populist Mainstream. I gave the so-called populist answer for all three questions.
This interests me because it’s a definition of populism that’s very much about public sentiment. It’s not that I’m a populist because I support protectionist trade policies (I don’t) or because I support giving a small voting majority free handouts (I certainly don’t) as our elites would have us believe populism really is, but rather that I’m a populist because I think the elites — wherever they are found — are, for the most part, working against popular interests and for their own exclusive advancement.
Don’t misunderstand — I don’t have any objections to people working in their own interests in the private sector. I do, however, have a serious objection to the government acting in its own interest — because that is practically by definition against ours.
It is in the populist answers to those three questions that the true nature of the reform this country rightly yearns for can be found.
I’ve been hearing more and more references lately to the Tea Party movement as a third political party. Rasmussen even polled a generic three-way ballot for congressional races, finding D-36%, T-23%, R-18%. T is for The Tea Party, the fictional third party that could be imagined arising out of the movement bearing its name. And it’s beating the Republicans.
I’m very sympathetic to this movement, because I share with it a common cause — defending liberty and the American way against a power-hungry and increasingly-gluttonous federal government. But just to be clear, I doubt that a third party will emerge from this movement, unless it is large enough to supersede the Republican Party, in which unlikely case it would just be the second party. No, Tea Partiers will mostly vote for Republicans, because that’s the party out of power and the party that used to be somewhat sympathetic to their cause, and because they know that dividing the electorate amongst these three groups would only cement their worst case: total Democratic control for years.
There’s a lot of anger all around directed at the federal government, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Pres. Obama, and former Pres. Bush, among countless other power-wielders inside and outside the government. Many of the angry people at these rallies are not overeducated pundits carefully articulating their grievances. They are consequently easily caricatured by a media hostile to their causes, and a widespread belief has emerged amongst the elites that they are not a movement built on coherent beliefs, but rather on rage. This is a grave error that the elites could suffer for making.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that there were such a Tea Party. We already have a left-wing party and we already have a right-wing party. The Tea Party is not some new party that falls in the middle of the two, or to some farther extreme. The Tea Party is generally right-of-center, but does not have to be (in many ways it’s not… there are strong anti-war and anti-corporate factions). You’ll notice before that I did not say it was despised by the left, but by the elites — and therein lies the difference. The Democrats and Republicans may be on different sides of the left/right, progressive/conservative split, but they do align, at least in their leadership (which is what counts at the end of the day), on an altogether different axis. Some years, the Democrats run the government. Other years, the Republicans run the government. They volley back and forth for one thing: power. The other axis is about the allocation of power — collectivism/individualism, totalitarianism/anarchy, tyranny/liberty. Being close to the side of collectivism/totalitarianism/tyranny is beneficial if you’re one of the guys sharing power, one of the elites, the tyrannical totalitarians directing the collective. Some years it’s Democrats, and other years it’s Republicans. The leadership of both parties benefits from being near the totalitarian side. The rest of us suffer.
The Tea Party may be right-of-center, but that’s not the reason it exists. Its members may not all be able to articulate it clearly yet, but they do understand this. I talk to people all the time who tell me they are angry and afraid, that they feel duped by the system, that at the end of the day, no matter who’s in power, they’re getting screwed. The Tea Party isn’t about anarchy because it recognizes that government is necessary, but it is about being closer to that extreme than to the other, it’s about valuing the individual, it’s about restoring liberty. The Tea Party wants to back away from a powerful government and restore personal liberty. History has shown that the two simply cannot coexist.
The top Democrats and the top Republicans want to control our lives. The Tea Partiers don’t want to control anything except their own destinies. And that, my friends, is the real difference. And that’s why I’d vote for them any day, even if they are gun-totin’, Bible-clingin’, unrefined hillbillies. Sounds like my kind of people.
From Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech, A Time For Choosing (video here worth watching):
It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government.”
This idea — that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power — is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream–the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”
The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.
Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, “What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.”
. . .
They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. Winston Churchill said that “the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits–not animals.” And he said, “There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.
With all this talk and controversy surrounding the “czars” appointed by Pres. Obama, I thought it would be a good time to talk about technocracy, which Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge) characterizes as “a form of government in which engineers, scientists, and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields”. Man that’s a horrible way to start a blog entry, like when little kids write papers and quote Webster’s Dictionary in their opening sentence.
Anyway, what’s wrong with technocracy? For one, it is incompatible with the ideals of republican government. In our system, democratic principles are applied to choose individuals that we deem appropriately wise and tempered to temporarily represent our interests in a large and intentionally inefficient government. It is intentionally inefficient in order to prevent it from becoming too powerful, and in turn from becoming as oppressive as the monarchy we violently escaped. In a technocracy, the real decision-makers are appointed based on their specialized skills and knowledge, their expert status. They are not representatives of the people, they are servants of an ideal of a government that efficiently and powerfully administers their fields of expertise. This is clearly incompatible with our system.
On a totally unrelated note, here’s a list of Obama’s appointed czars:
- Afghanistan Czar
- AIDS Czar
- Auto Recovery Czar
- Border Czar
- California Water Czar
- Car Czar
- Central Region Czar
- Climate Czar
- Domestic Violence Czar
- Drug Czar
- Economic Czar
- Energy and Environment Czar
- Faith-Based Czar
- Government Performance Czar
- Great Lakes Czar
- Green Jobs Czar
- Guantanamo Closure Czar
- Health Czar
- Information Czar
- Intelligence Czar
- Mideast Peace Czar
- Pay Czar
- Regulatory Czar
- Science Czar
- Stimulus Accountability Czar
- Sudan Czar
- TARP Czar
- Technology Czar
- Terrorism Czar
- Urban Affairs Czar
- Weapons Czar
- WMD Policy Czar
The link above explains what all of these positions are actually responsible for. Many of them relate to areas the federal government has no explicit or even implicit constitutional authority to be involved in, but neither of our major parties cares about that (look up Bush’s czars to see proof). What concerns me is not so much the size of this government, but its extent. It has shown no restraint in expanding into more and more areas of our lives. This is, of course, expected under technocratic government — the experts can organize our lives better than we can. That’s why we have mandatory Social Security and unemployment insurance, for example.
It’s a natural progression toward dystopia. Taking away the rights of individuals and associations of individuals (families, corporations) to manage their own finances, make their own decisions, use their private property as they see fit, etc. Increasing surveillance and passing vague laws to be interpreted and applied by the judgment of the expert elite. This is a possible future, and when folks like me begin to worry about czars and such, it is this eventuality that we are seeking to avoid. But make no mistake, this is a path that we have already traveled far down.
As of yesterday, a Great American Hero is a free man. James Traficant, a former Democratic Congressman from Ohio, was released from prison. He was expelled from Congress for taking some bribes, cheating on his taxes, and making his Congressional aides work his farm (seriously). He was a staunch opponent of the IRS, so it’s hardly any wonder that he was locked away. But now he’s free. And just in time — we need this great man’s wisdom now more than ever:
His crime? Victimless. His gift to America? Priceless.
Pres. Obama has a manner of speaking that gives a strong impression of depth, thoughtfulness, and a calm and steady intellectual air. I believe it is this, his manner of speaking, far more than the content of his speeches, that led so many to conclude he was so smart. Speaking in broken fragments, with frequent pauses and slurring of speech to suggest a mind busy at work, his style betrays both great breadth and depth of thought.
I have several work-in-progress theories about why he speaks as he does, and I’m not yet convinced that I know which is right. A growing body of evidence favors one theory over the others, but until I am convinced, I will not declare myself for any of them.
Theory I: He’s Faking It
This was my initial theory. I believe that a careful observer of Washington could now conclude that my early suspicions were right. I thought Candidate Obama was faking his intelligence. I’d believe they had some focus groups and decided to run with it. It could have started when the campaign noticed that his natural bumbling seemed to actually be helping him somehow, if it wasn’t something he had already learned in his academic career.
He seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about basic policy and worldview questions that anybody running for or occupying the office of president would have to know and believe so deeply as to need no deep and penetrating thoughtful analysis. This is what made me suspicious — I just can’t believe he’s actually figuring out his views on things as he goes. The simplest explanation is that it was all already there, with this speaking style that he had somehow discovered to be effective acting as a veneer.
Theory II: He’s Actually Thinking On-the-Fly
A scarier possibility, that I’m less inclined to believe, is the one that the “Obama is a very smart man and he won’t lead us astray” crowd made: if he really was thinking so hard, about such basic and obvious questions, it would seem like somehow, after years of public service and months of campaigning, he hadn’t settled upon clear views on basic issues. Was that supposed to give me comfort?
There is plenty of evidence out there that he isn’t walking around with a broad base of knowledge in his head, that he has trouble with orders of magnitude, that he is ignorant of milestone events in American history, that he does not understand how business works, etc. The problem here is that presidents prepare for all of their speaking engagements quite vigorously, and those gaps could be concealed for the sake of a speech or a question and answer session. So despite some evidence for this theory, the theory that he’s actually not very smart at all, I’m not committing to it.
Theory III: He’s Deceiving Us
This is a theory with a growing body of evidence, incorporating elements of both of the above theories but with an added twist: the faking is on his views and the on-the-fly thinking is on how to conceal them. I’m talking about the president using Rules for Radicals as his Elements of Style here. If he really does have a deep personal commitment to state power and collectivism, which he certainly did quite openly in his not-so-distant youth, then this is a possibility that should be very seriously entertained. Saul Alinsky’s ideas in Rules for Radicals have undoubtedly had their influence on this president, as a quick Google search will reveal.
Alinsky’s Rule #2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” The idea here is that people are uncomfortable with strange and unfamiliar ideas, and that makes them a much harder sell. The ideas of Alinsky and Obama are undoubtedly discomforting to very large portions of the American population. Maybe these are well-formed and clearly understood and deeply held ideas, as the thinking of any president ought to be. If this is the case, perhaps the thoughtful-sounding bumbling is because he has to use language with which he himself is uncomfortable, and believes he is tiptoeing through a minefield when he’s doing it. This is a view growing in popularity on the right, and, like the other two above, is consistent with observation.
I don’t know if any of these theories are right. They are all reasonable conclusions to draw, but as we collect more and more evidence, one in particular is becoming more and more harmonious with the facts. This is a subject that fascinates me, and that I believe is important to understand, so I will update periodically as significant new evidence emerges.
Of course, I don’t necessarily think that an analysis of how our president speaks needs to lead to a negative conclusion about him, just that all of the reasonable explanations I have found do work out that way when considered alongside what we know from his short history of governing. I’d love to be wrong, and am open to arguments.
Health care reform is currently the focus of a fierce debate in this country, with a deeply divided populace passionately engaged in efforts to radically reorganize one of the basic pillars of our social order. But for all this deep disagreement, there is one thing on which almost everybody agrees (even if certain members of the pundit class deny it as a rhetorical device): the system as it exists today is badly in need of reform. Reform is popular. Everybody wants reform.
We just can’t even come close to agreeing on how to reform it.
I think there are many components of a comprehensive overhaul that overwhelming majorities could agree upon, but in order to evaluate those, we first must analyze and understand the existing problems, and how they came to be. I have found David Goldhill’s How American Health Care Killed My Father from The Atlantic immensely helpful for this purpose. Goldhill takes a look at our health care system as a system, and tries to apply business sense to understand what structural features of our system give rise to its failures (these he already knows quite well: they killed his father). I could not recommend more highly that you read this article.
Among his points — and I’m taking considerable liberties here, dressing them up with my own thoughts — that I believe can help us develop better understanding and, ultimately, solutions:
- “Health care isn’t health,” an important conceptual distinction that gets lost in the rhetoric.
- “Health insurance isn’t health care,” another important distinction that our politicians in particular do not want to acknowledge. Think over the ramifications of just these two fundamental points.
- We’re massively overspending for the care we receive.
- Stemming from the second point above, there is a big difference between an insurance policy and a payment plan. My car insurance doesn’t pay for my oil changes, it mostly pays for unexpected catastrophes that I can only afford to cover by pooling my risk. I pay for the other car stuff out-of-pocket (and I’m able to do that because I’m not massively overcharged for that stuff).
- We aren’t the customers if we have insurance (or if the government provides it). The idea of sick patients being thought of as customers instead of sick people isn’t warm and cozy, but on the necessary business side of health care (as opposed to, you know, the caring side) it’s vital. We’re not really the ones calling the shots.
- Inter-state competition amongst insurers is virtually impossible under the current system, throwing a wrench in the gears of the market system. When we allowed such barriers to be built up in our banking system, we had a Great Depression. The insurance game isn’t that different.
- Government mandates, regardless of how they impact the caring side of the industry, are really hurting the business side. We need to ask when and if they are worthwhile, because we are paying for them.
So the obvious question is, how are these issues addressed by the current proposals before the Congress? Goldhill, himself a Democrat favoring fundamental reform coming from a government level, concludes that they are at best ignored, at worst exacerbated.
After that, since we all agree something needs to be done, the really big question remains: What do we do?