Yay! The government shutdown is over. So what was gained by the political games over the past five weeks?
Well, nothing if you’re a fan of the President. Even less if you’re a small government conservative. To wit: the President shut down the government for better than a month in order to secure funding for a wall on the southern border. Then he changed that to steel slats. Then he changed it again to a down payment on steel slats. Finally, he agreed to a continuing resolution in exchange for revisiting the entire thing on February 15. However, the Democrat’s leader has already made clear she will not allow any funding for a wall, or steel slats, or any other sort of border barrier.
In other words, Donald Trump got rolled like a drunk in Hell’s Kitchen.
Now he can try to go around Congress come February 15 and declare an emergency on the border in order to build his wall (or steel slats, or… you get the idea). By midnight on the 16th, the courts will enjoin him from carrying out that order. It will make its way through the court system, eventually winding up before SCOTUS. The likely result? SCOTUS will affirm the lower court order, as there is nothing in the Constitution that allows the President to bypass Congress.
The shame of all this is, the shutdown could have been much more instructive if handled better. The President could have moved to privatize both the ATC and TSA. He could have pushed for funding the IRS and Border Patrol separately. (To their credit, some House Republicans did offer bills to do just those things). He could have activated the Coast Guard into the Navy, thereby funding them. The shutdown could have been used to showcase how little the federal government does that positively affects the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.
But since Trump is, at heart, a big government guy, such a tactic never even occurred to him. Think about it: a Republican president shut down the government because a Democrat-controlled House wouldn’t give him more money. I can’t recall any other time in our history such a thing has happened. He can’t be said to have abandoned the most fundamental policy of conservatism since he never embraced it. But it was that lack of understanding that ultimately led to his defeat.
The question is what Trump does next. The main thing those die-hard Trump supporters believe in is his infallibility in negotiations and his ability to turn losses into wins. However, unlike his failures in the private sector, there is no Deutsche Bank ready to ride in with loans to save his businesses. There is no Carl Icahn showing up with a bailout. There is no Jeffrey Zucker willing to be complicit in an identity makeover. He is on his own, against a foe who’s implacable in her opposition and much better versed at holding a political party together.
This isn’t to say some sort of compromise isn’t available. They can fudge on the wording allowing everyone to declare a victory. The President has already demonstrated that he’s willing to call a bunch of steel slats shoved into the desert sand “a big, powerful wall”, even though nobody with a functioning brain cell thinks it is. But in order to get that, he’ll need to be gracious enough to allow the Democrats to say they aren’t funding a border wall. It’s a trait that is not part of Donald Trump’s character.
It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper (ok, I’m being quaint, but some of us do still read newspapers) or turn on your television without hearing about how our elections are under assault. If the Russians aren’t rotting our minds with memes of Hillary Clinton drunkenly gazing at balloons, the Chinese are hacking into our voter rolls. When the Chinese aren’t hacking into voter rolls, the Iranians are hacking the voting machines themselves. When the Iranians aren’t playing centrifuge subterfuge with the voting machines, the North Koreans are actually changing vote totals.
It’s a wonder a beloved TV sitcom character hasn’t been elected to Congress with all this electronic doo-dah. Oh, wait…
Okay, the security of our electronic voting systems are important. I don’t mean to belittle them. But that insecurity highlights a much bigger problem our nation faces: in a representative republic, the integrity of the electoral process cannot be open to interpretation. When it is, then the legitimacy of the election outcomes that select our representatives comes into question. No government without said legitimacy can stand for long.
It seems to me that I’m not the only one thinking the way we vote has become an absolute mess over the last twenty years. You would have thought that after the disaster of the 2000 election, the one in which “Hanging Chad” came to mean something other than executing a yuppie horse thief, we would have gotten our act together. But as the most recent election demonstrated, if anything we got worse at both voting and counting the vote. Of course, much of the coverage centered on our favorite county (Broward) in our favorite state (Florida) for electoral shenanigans. This overlooks that there were nearly four dozen House races that still weren’t called a full week after the election. It overlooks serious charges of vote tampering and fraud in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, North Carolina, and Utah.
Since we didn’t learn from the disaster that was 2000, allow me to propose some simple changes that would be relatively simple to implement that would go a long way to ending the nonsense. Will it end voting irregularities forever? No, of course not. They are a feature of any voting system since man-made systems are imperfectible. But we can do much better than we have to date.
Step 1: Implement a national Voter ID system
Look, forget all the nonsense about poor people, or black people, or Hispanic people, not being able to get a valid state ID. It’s the 21st century, for chrissakes. There is absolutely no reason an adult should not have a valid ID. I challenge you to find me a state where you can buy a beer or pack of cigarettes without a valid ID. If we demand you have a valid ID for something as mundane as getting a cold brew at a restaurant, any argument against having one for something as important as voting is ridiculous on its face. Remember this sob story? The only reason he was prevented from breaking the law was due to Tennessee’s voter ID law.
Yeah, Voter ID laws work exactly as intended. Which may be why the same crowd that is all for open borders and illegal immigrants voting in our elections are so against them.
Step 2: Get rid of early voting
It seems many of the problems we run into with counting the vote (and where some of the greatest opportunities for general screwing with the ballots) comes from the fact that in some jurisdictions, people can actually begin voting up to a month before election day. There are other reasons to get rid of early voting (seriously, who but the most partisan hack is 100% certain of who they’re going to cast their ballot for a month before election day?), but that’s another post for another day. Anyway, the nonsense we witnessed around the country last November, with ballots mysteriously materializing from car trunks and classroom closets, would immediately end simply by getting rid of early voting. I understand voting in the middle of the week is inconvenient for a great many people, but that brings me to my next suggestion, which is…
Step 3: Make all national elections a national holiday
See, now nobody has the excuse they can’t get off work to go vote. Yes, the lines might be long. But if voting becomes a holiday, think about this: how long will it be before the nation’s retailer’s start offering discounts when you present that “I voted” sticker? I bet Friendly’s even starts offering a free scoop of ice cream!
Step 4: End “ballot harvesting”
Look, I don’t know who came up with this piece of insanity. I’m ambivalent about absentee ballots, to begin with (I can’t get around particularly well these days, but I still show up to vote in person), but if your state is going to allow them, shouldn’t the very least expectation be that you put the doggone thing in the mailbox yourself? I don’t know who thought the idea of letting party operatives handle them was a brilliant idea, but they need to be taken out back and put out of their misery the same way we do horses with broken legs. Heck, we’re ten weeks past the election and one district in North Carolina got so fouled up with ballot tampering as a result of this idiocy that they likely need to call a special election. Stories have come from California of voters just signing a blank ballot and handing it over to a party apparatchik. I’m 100% certain no tampering happened in those instances whatsoever, right?
Step 5: Get rid of electronic voting machines
I don’t know if the Russians or Iranians or little green men from Mars are trying to break into the electronic voting systems in use around the US. What I do know is there is enough distrust that those systems can be secured against sophisticated hacks (or even hacks from 300 pound couch potatoes) that we should have already stopped using them.
Step 6 : JIT ballot verification
This is little more technical, but every bit as important as anything else. During the latest Broward “Whose Vote is It Anyway” episode, we were once again treated to election workers trying to decipher illegible ballots. Just because that wasn’t enough fun, then we heard that poll workers could, in the even a ballot was indecipherable, just fill out an alternate one. Just fill out an alternate one? Are you kidding me?
In software engineering, we use “Just-In-Time” testing to validate that our code at least has the correct syntax and spelling to not cause a digital rejection of our work when trying to make it do something. It isn’t that hard to do something similar with a paper ballot. Optical scanners, which have been around for longer than most of you who read this blog, can detect if too many circles on a line (or a row) are filled in, and if they’re filled in correctly – and check this out, they CAN EVEN COUNT THE VOTE IN REAL TIME. If your ballot is illegible, for whatever reason, the poll worker can hand you another blank, destroy the bad one and scan the corrected ballot all before you leave the voting booth! Amazing!
This won’t completely end the questions about voting. Some states will complain vociferously about Congress passing any further restrictions. I can already hear the Chamber of Commerce harping on yet another paid holiday. Democrats will kvetch about Voter ID and the loss of early voting, Republicans about JIT verification. Both will scream bloody murder over ending harvesting.
But these six steps will make our elections more secure and provide for quicker vote tabulation. They address some of the biggest questions the nation has about our elections. It puts what is the most vital process in republic back into the sunlight, restoring the trust that the process isn’t corrupted. In short, it is the first step in injecting some sanity back into our politics.
There seems to be much confusion these days over political labels. What do these terms even mean any more? What is a centrist? A liberal? A libertarian? A conservatarian? A classical liberal? A neo-liberal? A neocon?
What is a conservative, in today’s world?
To begin answering that question, it is helpful to understand where modern conservative thought in America comes from, and how it evolved.
There were two dominant themes of conservative thought in the middle of the 20th century. One was what we refer to as Buckley Conservatism. This strain of conservatism emphasized the role of traditions and established hierarchical organizations in promoting social order; preferred limited government, recognized the roles of religion and shared culture in social cohesiveness, distrusted rationalizations and promoted the view that people are, at our core, emotional beings. Buckley conservatives accept that private ownership of property, capitalism and free trade economics are the surest path to economic prosperity for everyone.
The other predominant view of conservatism was Coolidge Conservatism, which traced its roots back to the mid-19th century. This version of conservatism differed from Bucklian conservatism in that it viewed the corporation as the principle driver of both economic and social policy. It eventually merged with Objectivist theory to form the modern Libertarian party.
During the 1970s, a third strain of conservatism arose. We came to call this version of conservative thought neoconservatism, although it might also be called Bush or Kristol Conservatism after the men who exemplified its ideas. This version arose from disaffected liberals, although it hews close to the pre-existing Northeastern Republican thought of the day. Neocons espouse that military adventurism in replacing totalitarian regimes with democratic ones is a laudable use of military power, that government intervention in society to promote social change is not only acceptable but necessary, and a general belief in capitalism, but not free markets (Irving Kristol referred to this as “bourgeois capitalism”). While they agree with their forebears that people are not rational beings, they accept the idea that rationally developed plans, implemented by people who were educated and trained to ignore their emotional impulses, could improve the lives of everyone. This includes a belief that a strong welfare state is a requirement for a modern society.
Buckley conservatives were represented by Barry Goldwater’s quixotic presidential run in 1964 and reached its zenith with the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. But the GOP soon shifted from Buckleyism to Neoconservatism under the leadership of George HW Bush. Interventionist foreign policy and regime change became the order of the day, along with increased taxes and government intrusion into some of the social ramparts, such as local schools and civic organizations.
It is the neoconservative view that most Americans came to associate with being a conservative by the time of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign of 2012. While a great many conservative thinkers, politicians and writers paid lip service to the Bucklian concept of limited government and free markets, they only took that so far as limited taxation on businesses. Beyond that, they still practiced government regulation like a Rockefeller, practiced foreign interventionism like a Bush, and railed for government solutions to social problems like a liberal. Buckley Conservatism seemed an outdated anachronism by this point.
The funny thing about that is neoconservatism was actually the least conservative of the three dominant conservative philosophies that came to be in the 20th century. It owes its existence to liberals who were repulsed by the leftward lurch of mainstream liberal thought during the late 1960s. Neoconservatism shares many views with its liberal roots, although in attenuated form. As Irving Kristol once remarked, “A neoconservative is a liberal who got hit in the face by reality.”
That being said, neoconservatives also adopted Bucklian language in deference to the last truly successful Republican president, in Ronald Reagan. So, we have neoconservatives praising free markets when in reality they haven’t actually practiced free market economics. We have neoconservatives pledging fealty to fiscal responsibility, but refusing to actually do anything about it. We have neoconservatives decrying the welfare state, but refusing to do anything about the two biggest social welfare programs managed by the federal government.
Indeed, it is this aspect of the neoconservative takeover of the Republican party that has led many voters to think of it as nothing more than the flip side of the Democratic party coin. Is it any wonder the average person has no idea what a conservative is?
Into this vacuum stepped one Donald Trump. While almost nobody would consider Trump a died-in-the-wool conservative, he was able to capture the nomination of the Republican party by espousing many conservative views on issues, such as fealty to the letter of the Constitution, lower taxes, less regulation, an end to foreign adventurism, etc. At the same time, he promoted ideas that should have been anathema to any conservative: trade barriers, managed economies and a personal moral code that could be best described as immoral.
Some have described Trump, and his policy goals as a form of right-wing populism. It may well be, but I suspect that Trump has so completely rebranded the moniker of conservative (abetted by a very liberal press that wants nothing more than to permanently discredit conservatism, in all forms) that conservatives will need to re-examine their ideals to see which can be modified, and which of the new ideas can be absorbed, into a 21st century conservatism.
For instance, many conservatives are loathe to accept the idea of nationalism as being a conservative goal. At the same time, one of the core tenets of conservatism – irregardless of the particular flavor of 20th century conservative thought to which one might subscribe – is the notion of a cohesive society, built around a shared history and culture. That is the very essence of nationalism. To some, this smacks of the jingoism and xenophobia associated with the extreme nationalism that punctuated the 1930s. But it need not be. Acceptance of the United States as unique among nations extends back throughout our history, there’s no reason we should deviate from that today.
The best way to judge whether conservatism, as both a political and societal philosophy, is at all compatible with elements of Trumpism is to see if the general tenets of conservatism are compatible with them. Perhaps no finer mind than that of Russell Kirk laid out those general principles 25 years ago in a terrific essay (you can find it here). So, if we do that comparison, which are – and which are not?
- Human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. – NO
- Trumpism doesn’t address human nature at all, nor does it consider it as a guiding principle in any policy decision. Morality is paid lip service, but in practice ignored, both by Trump and most of those in his inner circle.
- The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. – MAYBE?
- Trumpism has a dichotic relationship with this idea. On one hand, Trump was elected precisely to upend conventional politics and institutions. On the other, many of his supporters want a return to the customs and conventions they recall from their youth.
- Conservatives believe in the principle of prescription. – NO
- This is one area in which Trump’s liberal roots come shining through. Rather than base his decisions on what worked in the past, he very much is out to completely remake the world order in his own image.
- Conservatives are guided by prudence. – NO
- Not unlike most other politicians of the current era, this principle does not apply to Trump. Every decision he makes is weighed against immediate impact, not the effect on the nation or world five or ten years hence.
- Conservatives pay attention to variety. – YES
- Kirk wrote, “The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law…” This is a principle that is upheld under Trumpism, much to the chagrin of liberals – who are determined to end the inequality of outcomes.
- Conservatives understand that humans are not perfect, and cannot be made to be perfect. – NO
- This is another area in which Trump demonstrates his liberal leanings. By action, he shows he believes himself to be perfected. He believes he can also bring perfection to any number of situations. Such self-confidence is a key part of his appeal, even if it is misguided.
- Freedom and property are closely linked. – NO
- The Trump administration has fought efforts to end the abysmal practice of civil forfeiture, and followed Trump’s long history of supporting using eminent domain to seize property. That speaks for how strongly this principle is detested by Trumpism.
- Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. – NO
- Trumpism is all about big, beautiful, federally driven solutions to problems that certainly would be better left to states and localities. Repealing Obamacare would be great, replacing it with another monster federal program not so much. A $1 trillion infrastructure program, with funds doled out by bureaucrats in Washington, will be as much a boondoggle as the “shovel ready jobs” Obama stimulus program.
- Government and government officials need restraints on power and human passions. – NO
- One glance at the headlines or Twitter on any given day tells you all you need to know how Trump (and due to their slavish devotion, most of his supporters) feel about this principle. That Trump came into the Oval Office thinking he had near kingly powers is pretty obvious, and the fact he doesn’t chafes at him probably more than anything else about the job.
- Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. – NO
- Kirk meant this in terms of the tension between a normal society’s natural desire towards social progress versus its foundational aspects. As noted previously, Trump is in many ways out to obliterate many of those foundations, without regard to what may replace them. Yet at the same time, his supporters look to return many established norms of prior eras while removing some of the progressive aspects of modern society.
So based on Kirk’s criteria, Trumpism is not particularly conservative, although there are parts of his agenda that will certainly appeal to conservatives – particularly conservatives who have been able to divorce their societal impulses from their views of governance and morality. Still, we can safely say that most who subscribe to Trumpism are NOT conservatives.
Likewise, we can safely say that those who subscribe to neoconservatism are not conservative, either. The entire philosophy of neoconservatism disagrees with Kirk on points 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10. Think of the headlong rush to impose a Pax Americana by force of arms, to alter the nature of education and force federal intrusion into the same, and so forth. None of those policies nor the reasoning behind them were conservative in nature.
Thus, the confusion for us in determining what conservatism is and who in our country actually is a conservative. Our media, for 30 years – two generations – has conflated “conservative” with Republican. In no small measure, Buckley is responsible for this. He once wrote, “National Review will support the rightwardmost viable candidate.” This led the publication that Buckley founded, over the years, to support all four Bush candidacies, along with the McCain candidacy in 2008 and Romney candidacy in 2012. That sort of cover is precisely what the media (which has been unabashedly liberal for at least 40 years) has needed to paint the neoconservative movement as actually conservative. Likewise, the principle espoused (despite NR’s vociferous objections to Trump during the 2016 election) by Buckley has allowed them to paint Trump as a conservative.
So the answer to the question “what is a conservative” is the same as it has always been. If the question is, “who is a conservative,” though, and you refer to national leaders and politicians, then there is no obvious answer these days.
There’s been a lot talk about refugees in the news the past month. If you listen to your betters on CNN, Central Americans massing at our southern border are refugees.
They’re not. A refugee is someone fleeing their home country because of their religious or political views, or their ethnicity, leave them in imminent danger of death, both from the populace and the government. Solzhenitsyn was a refugee. My mother was a refugee. There may be a legitimate refugee or two tucked into those hundreds now, and soon to be thousands, in Tijuana but the odds are against it.
Those people are not fleeing anything except the fact their home countries are among the most lawless and destitute on the planet. This is despite the fact they have some of the most abundant natural resources on the planet. It makes you wonder about the character of these folks. If they’re not willing to do the heavy lifting needed to bring their governments to account and put forth the effort to create a viable economy in their home countries, why would living here suddenly infuse them with those abilities?
This may come as a shock to you, but even the homeless guy sleeping on a park bench is wealthier than 98% of the world’s population. Stop to ponder that for a moment. Even our most destitute have it better than some 6 billion other human beings. If we accept living somewhere with a bad economic situation as a condition for refugee status, are we to accept responsibility for some 6 billion people? Only the most pie-eyed fool accepts that premise.
It is easy to cite for you people who are true refugees around the world. The Yazidi in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Uighers in China. The Copts in Egypt. The Rohingya in Myanmar. All are facing actual, government-sponsored extermination for no reason other than their ethnicity and/or religion.
“Never Again,” indeed.
Yesterday we celebrated a holiday dedicated to giving thanks that we live in a country that, no matter what else, is dedicated to the idea that no person should ever be forced by their government to worship in a particular religion, belong to a particular political sect, or face extermination because of their ethnicity. We’ve sometimes fallen a bit short of those ideals, but we never stop striving to perfect them. Beyond all else, those basic freedoms – of religion, of thought, of speech – and the willingness to fight for them are essential to what defines us.
But even if we would rather abandon first principles and ignore the genocides we swore would end after the Holocaust, in order to favor a bunch of folks who have yet to demonstrate any need other than financial want, we should still find and help targeted cases, those people who have become flashpoints in their home countries because their convictions leave them in extreme danger.
People like Asia Bibi. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s the young woman in Pakistan who’s professed Catholic faith led to her near execution. After the Pakistani government relented under international pressure and released her from death row, she’s had to go into hiding. The typical Pakistani would as soon as kill her by stoning as plunge a knife into her ribs. Her lawyer was forced to flee the country for the same reason. If anyone matches the definition of a refugee, Miss Bibi does.
President Trump could, with the executive powers he has available to him, order DHS to issue Asia Bibi both a travel visa and refugee status. He could demand Pakistan make her available, and order our embassy staff to arrange her safe passage to the US. After all, Pakistan is nominally an ally. Politically, it would be a win, both domestically and internationally.
And it might – just might – force the cable news talking heads to look in the mirror and confront their own hypocrisy.
It’s been 10 days since the midterms, and the narrative seems to be centering on a theme: Republicans have lost the suburbs. Certainly, if you just look at the top line data, where it looks as though Democrats managed to flip somewhere around 40 suburban congressional districts, it looks grim for the GOP’s prospects. As they say, results matter and the GOP did pretty badly in the results department.
But when you dig into the reasons why the GOP had such poor results, you might be more surprised to discover that the weakness in the suburbs being panned by any number of talking heads isn’t as terrible as they want you to believe. For starters, let’s examine the overall turnout numbers in those suburbs.
Map of 2018 turnout by county, compiled by the Wall Street Journal
The above turnout “heat map” is pretty simple to read. It compares voter turnout from 2018 to 2016. The closer the number of total votes cast, the darker the shade of blue, the more vote totals came to be the same. Yellows mean there were more votes cast in 2018 than in 2016. So, when you look at this, two things that jump out at you: first, turnout in the Rust Belt and Mid-Atlantic states, along with California, was much lower than in the rest of the country. Second, turnout was exceptional in the Northern Plains, the Desert Southwest, Georgia, and Florida.
This seems to go against the idea that we’re being spoon fed by the pundits: that Democrats mobilized new midterm voters to turn out, and those new voters chose Democrat representation. It might be a good idea to build a list of seats that actually flipped. Or maybe even a map.
Thankfully, Axios has both. Here is the list of seats that flipped from “red” to “blue”:
- Arizona’s 2nd
- Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
- California’s 10th, 25th, 45th, 48th, 49th
- Colorado’s 6th
- Florida’s 26th & 27th
- Georgia’s 6th
- Illinois’ 14th & 6th
- Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
- Kansas’ 3rd
- Maine’s 2nd
- Michigan’s 8th & 11th
- Minnesota’s 2nd & 3rd. Republicans flipped the 1st & 8th
- New Jersey’s 11th, 7th, 2nd & 3rd
- New York’s 11th & 19th
- New Mexico’s 2nd
- Oklahoma’s 5th
- Pennsylvania’s 5th, 6th, 7th & 17th. The GOP flipped one blue seat red, the 14th district.
- Texas’ 32nd
- Virginia’s 2nd, 7th & 10th
- Washington’s 8th
Of the 39 seats flipped by Democrats, 28 happened in districts with lower than usual turnout. That hardly indicates that Democrats motivated voters to turn out in droves to crush the Republicans. Rather, it shows that Democrats turned out in comparable numbers to past elections but Republicans stayed home. Is there any way to test this theory?
Turns out we can sample the districts. Since I once lived in New Jersey, I decided to check on the districts that flipped there. I compared the vote totals each candidate received in 2018 against the vote totals for each party’s candidate in 2016. Additionally, my current district is Pennsylvania’s 1st (it used to be PA 8), which even after the State Supreme Court redrew it is largely the same as it was, so I included it. It was the rare Republican hold in the Northeast and seems a good test case of my theory. This is what I came up with:
2016 GOP Vote
2018 GOP Vote
2016 Dem Vote
2018 Dem Vote
What you see in race after race is that the Democrats didn’t fire up their base to get out to the polls and vote. Their vote totals remained within historical normals, with the exception of NJ 11. The reason three of those four districts flipped is Republican voters stayed home: GOP turnout was down by 20% across those districts. New Jersey 11 is something of an outlier. Democrats ran an exceptionally strong candidate for a seat with a retiring member, whose family has held it in one form or another since the nation was founded. It doesn’t take much to see how voters would opt for a change.
Our test case, PA 1, is directly across the Delaware River from New Jersey’s capital in Trenton. What you see happened there is that while once again, Republican turnout was down about 20%, Democrat turnout was also down and the GOP was able to hold the seat. The reason Democrat turnout was down in this particular district is again likely candidate driven. Scott Wallace was largely viewed as a carpetbagging socialist around here.
Of course, this begs the question: why was the GOP able to turn out voters in other parts of the country, but not in these older suburbs? What was it about their messaging that failed to get their voters off their couches and into a voting booth?
The media narrative is that the Democratic victory was propelled by legions of college educated white women exploding from their suburban homes in a rage against the President on Election Day. However, the media narrative fails to mention that on Election Day 2016, those same college educated white women voted overwhelmingly against the President, too. The media narrative is misleading because it fails to acknowledge that while college educated white women represent a substantial part of the suburban population, they are neither the dominant nor even most representative demographic group. This is hardly surprising, since the media hates acknowledging anything that might disturb their narrative.
While the preferred demographic characterization may be true for the suburbs around NYC or DC, it certainly doesn’t comport with the districts that flipped in 2018. Yes, there are white college educated women in them. But they are still in the minority of residents. Most denizens of these old suburbs are still blue collar workers with families, not unlike my neighborhood. In fact, an easier way to demonstrate this might be to introduce you to some of my neighbors (disclaimer: names changed to keep things civil!)
There are two relatively new, 20 something couple that moved in within the last 18 months. Across the street are John and Kate. John is an accountant, Kate a physician. Nice people, whose politics unsurprisingly run liberal – but the reality of home ownership has made them somewhat less liberal than when they moved in. Next door to me are Hank and Jen. Hank is an electrician, Jen a LPN still working on her RN. True salt of the earth types, they’re pretty much apolitical.
As for my more established neighbors, there a retired husband and wife across the street. They’re in their 80’s, he is battling Parkinson’s and his wife is doing what she can to care for him and is very involved with her church. There is a widow on my other flank, whose children are constantly trying to get her to move because of her health. Also on this block are a mechanic and his wife, a bartender, an HVAC tech and his wife, who stays home with their children, a cable installer and his wife, a hairdresser and finally, a divorced salesman in the tech industry. This particular block is representative of the town overall. It remains a largely working-class community, with perhaps a third of the residents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Although not represented on my block, roughly 40% of the town’s residents would identify as something other than Caucasian.
Hardly the picture the media has spent the past few months painting of suburban demographics and life.
So, if we accept that those opposed to the President (on whatever grounds) in these communities continued to turn out, while those who do support him failed to vote, what other factors drove those behaviors? After all, Mr. Trump’s approval and disapproval numbers haven’t moved very much since his election. Nor has the intensity of support or disapproval moved very much since then. If we accept the premise that the primary motivating factor for Democrats was opposition to the President, then why weren’t Trump voters in these older suburbs equally motivated to turn out in support? This is a particularly intriguing question when we see in the parts of the country where they were similarly motivated, Republicans were able to hold their seats and even make gains in the Senate.
Understanding these motivations is the key. Not to belabor the point, but Democrats didn’t offer the working class voters in suburbs anything new. They didn’t offer a governing vision that captured the imaginations of the working class, a slate of programs that motivated them to change their allegiance or convince them that a platform based on “resistance” was attractive. In other words, they didn’t win. Republicans lost, and they lost because they failed to connect.
Where Republicans failed to connect with the suburbanites who didn’t bother to vote is not hard to identify. President Trump (and by extension, the down ballot Republicans in those districts) won by emphasizing the wallet issues that have always motivated these voters. However, rather than campaign on those same issues this term, the GOP playbook was to emphasize the standard, Bushian corporatism while the President played to nativism. It’s likely the nativism played well in many districts, but it doesn’t hit the top 5 concerns of the typical suburban voter. As for corporatism, the suburban voter has as much distrust of that as they do anything the GOP could campaign on.
What the working-class, suburban voter wants to hear about is good jobs at decent wages, decent schools for their kids, secure retirements, lower costs around their health care and daily expenses, and to have a sense their children can live a better life than they. They want secure communities and a secure nation. And yes, most of them believe they’re being overtaxed and under-served by every level of government.
This is the “populist” message that won President Trump the White House, distilled. It is not Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney or any of the Bush brother’s message. It is something that seems separate from conservative orthodoxy, since for the better part of four decades conservative economic orthodoxy has been built around the concept of the trickle down, but in reality the entire purpose of trickle down economics is to deliver populist results. The problem is that mainstream Republicans have a hard time talking to this message, since it sounds remarkably like what was once the Democrat economic message.
Another problem Republicans have with the populist message is understanding that many government programs need to be be reconfigured for the 21st century. Their default position has been to end them for so long they’ve lost sight of the fact that some actually do some good, and a few tweaks could greatly improve them. By all means, get rid of the ones that are wasteful but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. By the way, targeting actual government waste remains a winning message and one that gets buoyed by saving the programs the public has, in many ways, come to rely on.
We could begin with Social Security, as an example. My preference would be to phase the program out, but the reality is after 83 years, it isn’t going anywhere. While pretty much everyone recognizes the system is either in or nearing a fiscal crisis, nobody seems willing to do much of anything to ensure it will be there in 40 years, when John, Kate, Hank and Jen will be counting on it as a substantial part of their retirement income, much as the retirees in my neighborhood already do and the rest of us in our 40’s and 50’s are planning on it being there as part of ours shortly. The GOP continues to push the idea of replacing the current funding formula with what amounts to a collective 401(k) while increasing the age at which retirees can collect what amounts to reduced benefits. I hate to break it to them, but while this plan makes wonkish sense it is a losing message with suburbanites.
One Republican who seems to grasp the reality that the GOP’s current economic message is lacking is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He has recently been pushing a plan he calls, “Home Economics.” Now the plan itself is more of a broad outline that is very light on specifics, but it does address the concerns of those voters that failed to turn out on Election Day. He emphasizes the ideas of upward mobility, wage growth, family stability and community. I am not saying it is a perfect outline, but it is a start towards recognizing the deficiencies in the current GOP message (also, given his performance in the 2016 primaries, Rubio probably isn’t the best messenger).
While Democrats are cheering their wins this term and congratulating themselves (as in 2008) on capturing “demographic superiority,” they are making the mistake of abandoning the populist economic message. At the same time, while vilifying corporate interests they have become even more reliant on them than the GOP. It is an opportunity where the Republicans, if they are smart and understand where their voters are today, should leap to take advantage. Doing so doesn’t mean abandoning the core values of Buckley conservatism; if anything, it means an actual return to those values.
They have two years. The question is, will they step up to the plate?
Tuesday, I patched holes in walls. I replaced some broken and chipped moldings.
I also voted.
Tuesday night, I watched election returns. I was pretty disappointed in the performance of my fellow citizens in Pennsylvania, How could they possibly vote against their best interests and return that many big government types to office? I was pretty happy with my fellow citizens in other places, though. They were smart enough to realize the Andrew Gillum, Stacy Abrams and “Beto” O’Rourke’s of the world can’t possibly deliver all those goodies without crashing the goody cart. When my local US Representative was declared the winner at 11:30 (praise be to God we’re the one district in this state that kept our sanity!) I went to sleep.
Yesterday, I woke, put on the coffee (I’m always up before the missus), helped my nephew get ready for school, ate breakfast, checked the weather (no rain, FINALLY!), didn’t shave…
Look, the point of all this is simply to say that anyone who reads this blog or follows me on social media knows I follow politics intensely. You know I love a good argument on applied governance, on Constitutional principles, on budgets, on policy. I can go on for thousands of words about the finer points of repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments.
But like most Americans, I have a real life outside these digital dots and dashes, with real people that I care about and who care about me. The entire point of my political life is about securing a better life in the United States, not only for myself but more importantly, for them. Politics is simply one aspect of (what I hope, anyway) is a wide and varied real-world life. Among my fellow conservatives, this seems to be our understanding of how the real world works. You work, you raise your family, you hang out with your friends, you dabble in politics and such as needed to let you keep doing the first three.
This is why we are bemused and confused when we see the mobs of left cultists rioting over an election result. Or rioting because there isn’t an election yet. Or just rioting over politics generally.
Elections happen annually. Sometimes, even more frequently if you’re unlucky enough to live somewhere the locals deem it that way. So that means every year you get to go vote. In our system, we vote for people who do the daily voting for us. Sometimes, the person who gets chosen is the person you wanted. Sometimes it isn’t. But the entire idea, our entire society, is built on the idea that everyone accepts that person until their term is over (or they turn out to be so corrupt they get arrested *ahem New Jersey ahem*).
Left cultists don’t seem to get this concept. Maybe it’s because we stopped teaching civics in school. Maybe it’s because, as parents, we were too lenient on Not My Johnny. Maybe it’s because they’re mentally more susceptible to believing fantasies. I was talking with a friend the other day, a pretty astute guy for a Marine, who mentioned he thinks this is all from technology. When I quizzed him as to why, he said the very tools that make interacting easier, are also the tools that make expansive government less necessary than not that long ago, and the left cultists have bought into the idea of the nanny state. I’m not sure, but there’s a kernel of an idea in there.
I’ll have to explore it later. For now, it’s time to put the coffee on and start getting ready for my day. Moving furniture is probably one of my least favorite tasks.
In case you were not aware, Tuesday is Election Day. These are midterm elections, which while the mass media may ignore, are actually about local politics. So, these endorsements are (unsurprisingly) for our locale, which is Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, and State District 140. If you’re tuning in from elsewhere, geographically it is described as Lower Bucks County, an area roughly 20 – 30 miles north of Philadelphia along the Delaware River.
For US House of Representatives:
I am 100% behind the candidacy of current Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and have been all along. Even if I disagreed with his major policy positions (which I do not), he still would have my vote and endorsement based strictly on constituent services. When I first moved to this district, a little under two years ago, I received my medical care via the VA system in New Jersey. For nearly a year, I tried to get my care transferred to the Philadelphia system, without success. But within a week after calling Congressman Fitzpatrick’s office, not only was my care transferred but I was actually seeing my new doctors. I do not know who he called, what strings he pulled or how he cut through that much red tap that quickly, but he did.
On policy, Brian is not quite a doctrinaire conservative, but he does support less regulation, lower taxes, strong border enforcement, and military readiness. A veteran himself, he is also a former FBI interrogator who returned to Iraq to question members of Al-Queda and ISIS, despite threats against both himself and his family. My only quibble with his record is his support of public sector unions, but I guess we can’t all be perfect.
His opponent is Scott Wallace, scion of the Communist Party USA’s First Family. In keeping with his family tradition, he supports cop killers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, personally funded the lawyers for a bunch of terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, bankrolls an organization out of South Africa (where he lived for over 20 years) dedicated to the elimination of nation states and fully supports repealing the 2nd Amendment, along with confiscation of private weapons. That he even has the backing of the local Democrats is evidence of how far off the rails one of our traditional parties has gone.
This one wasn’t even close.
I guess proving my non-partisan bona fides, I am supporting Gov. Tom Wolf for a second term as Pennsylvania’s governor. It isn’t so much as that I support his preferred policy prescriptions. After all, like most Democrats, he firmly believes in Big Government. However, he also proved to be a pragmatist during his first term, actually working with the Republican State House to get effective solutions passed, keep the state from crippling debt and while taxes have indeed gone up, the rate has been less than inflation.
His principal opponent is Republican Scott Wagner. Wagner, despite a half-decade as a state legislator, seems to be clueless as to how government functions. Further, while he campaigns in sound bites, he demonstrably lacks any grasp of the actual issues he’s made central to his campaign. For example, he has pledged to eliminate tying school taxes, at either the local or state level, to property taxes. It sounds great, but he has not offered an alternative education funding plan. In 2018, the state’s share of education spending was slightly more than $6 billion. Local contributions statewide were more than double that. While forcing the PSEA to reevaluate their pension plan is a good idea, I doubt you can find more than $18 billion a year from pension savings.
For US Senator:
I am not endorsing either major candidate, incumbent Democrat Bob Casey or Republican Lou Barletta, for this office. I expect that a US Senator will take the office seriously, as individual Senators have the ability to wield tremendous influence over the federal government. Neither man seems to grasp the gravity of the office they seek – they are both the type of unserious person seeking an official capacity I wrote about a few weeks ago.
I met Senator Casey a few months ago at a veteran’s event. He came across as one of those men whose charm is only exceeded by his vacuity. He is badly miscast as a US Senator. It is possible he had an original thought once, but I wouldn’t count on it. His voting record supports this view: whatever position his party’s Senate leader supported is the way he has voted 99% of the time.
Mr. Barletta is currently serving as the 11th District Representative in Congress. He has done nothing to distinguish himself in that position. If this were the man who seemed principled 5 years ago, when he led a minor revolt against the budget proposal over the riders attached, I probably would have endorsed him. But he was chastised and punished by the House leadership over that stance, and he seems to have learned his lesson. Since then, Barletta’s is one vote the GOP whip has never had to worry about.
This year, although he has about as much chance of winning as I do, I am endorsing the Libertarian candidate, Dale Kerns. His platform is pretty much what you would expect from a Libertarian, with the exception of his stance on abortion, which would probably be better described as a Federalist position. If you haven’t had a chance to review his platform yet, I urge you to do so and then pull the lever for him.
For State Senate:
I endorse Republican Marguerite Quinn for the office of State Senator from District 10.
In this race, both candidates have a substantial record to evaluate. Mrs. Quinn is in her 6th term representing District 143 in the State House. Her opponent, Democrat Steve Santarsiero, served 4 terms representing District 31 prior to losing his re-election bid in 2016. Comparing their records, what you find is that Mrs. Quinn, despite also running a successful real estate brokerage, has managed to write over 3,000 bills during her tenure. She has focused on reining in government interference in how parents raise their children, welfare reform (including attempting to exclude illegal aliens from eligibility) and smart environmental reforms (for instance, requiring advance notice of proposed LNG pipeline work to neighborhoods). It is an impressive record of achievement, and while not quite as conservative on some policy matters as I might like, she hews close enough (a 90% rating from the NFIB and 74% from the ACU) that I feel comfortable voting for her.
Mr. Santarsiero, during his 8 years in office, wrote about 400 bills, of which only 2 passed. They were both resolutions honoring recently deceased former judges in his district. That hardly qualifies as an effective legislator, and I cannot see how anyone should be rewarded for that level of incompetence. Also, his policy prescriptions often read like something from the Bernie Sanders’ wing of his party. The ACU has given him a score of less than 10%, rating him as “far left.” Conversely, the Democrat Socialists gave him their endorsement.
Again, one of those races that wasn’t hard to decide.
For Pennsylvania State Representative:
Democrat John Galloway is running unopposed for this office. I should have thrown my hat into the ring. 😉
This morning, news broke that President Trump intends to end “birthright citizenship” for illegal aliens by executive order. It is certainly a bold stroke, and undeniably a blatant political move coming right before the midterm elections next week. But before everyone gets themselves into a lather over the announcement, we need to stop and realize that this is a dance in multiple parts. Specifically, there are questions it raises and we don’t even have the text of the proposed order to begin working with yet. However, we can break the announcement into three distinct parts, just based on the interview the President gave to Axios. The first is, does the President have the authority to make this change to citizenship requirements? Secondly, if the President does have the authority, would such a change to citizenship standards pass Constitutional review? Finally, assuming questions 1 and 2 can be affirmed, how would such a change be implemented?
As to the first question, it is extremely doubtful the President can unilaterally change citizenship standards. There are steps he could include in a concurrent executive order that would have the same effect as changing citizenship standards without actually touching on any of the relevant Constitutional issues a Presidential end run would create (I’ll touch on those when I discuss the third question).
The reason I doubt a President can ignore the wishes of Congress when setting citizenship standards is found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution:
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
I have little doubt the President will attempt some weird workaround. The most likely method will be by declaring that since Congress has failed to act on the question of citizenship in any meaningful way since the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 (or as it is commonly referred to, the McCarron-Walter Act, 8 USC Chapter 12), nor has it even attempted to amend the law in 17 years, then he can by means of his powers in the Opinion Clause amend the law on his own. This is a serious misreading of the powers enumerated in Article 2, Section 2, and I cannot see any possible way any court in the country would let this stand.
So, what is to be gained by a move any pre-law student can see is futile? Well, this was one of the President’s campaign planks. What’s more, while I am certain the media will hyperventilate while mentioning “the President’s base” when talking about this, what they won’t tell you is that ending birthright citizenship for illegal aliens has consistently polled around 65% approval. It is a winning issue for him, and this Kafkaesque method of getting people talking about it again will prove that, even if the “Morning Joe” panel begs to disagree.
So, as to the second question, should Congress move on the President’s request to limit birthright citizenship, would it pass Constitutional muster? This is the biggest question that needs to be answered, and you can bet the legal challenges will be flying should such a bill ever get passed. I posted the relevant portion of the Constitution at the top of this post. This is referred to as the Citizenship Clause, or Section 1, of the 14th Amendment, and on first blush, it reads as simply being born in the United States immediately confers citizenship to you. This is actually the furthest thing from the truth, and the key part is the part that states “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” In other words, the authors of the 14th Amendment understood from the outset that not everyone born on US territory should automatically be granted citizenship.
That’s because their principle concern in authoring the 14th Amendment was redressing some of the more pernicious aspects of readmitting former Confederate states into the Union. Among these were citizenship, the right of representation, due process protections, and debts incurred by the former Confederate states to foreign powers (yes, all those questions are addressed in the 14th Amendment). They understood the amendment would cover the issues in broad brush strokes, but that further tweaks over time would be needed. So they included section 5, which states
“The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
In fact, it was by this clause that Congress finally granted citizenship to Native Americans in 1924, under the Snyder Act, as well as to residents of most American territories (Puerto Rico by 8 USC 1402, the US Virgin Islands by 8 USC 1406 and Guam by 8 USC 1407). Those last three acts were passed in the 1950’s. Even though those territories had been part of the United States since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, persons born there were not considered US citizens prior to that. We’ll be revisiting this shortly.
Now back to the Citizenship Clause. The authors understood that not everyone born on US soil should automatically be entitled to US citizenship. The phrase “subject to the jurisdiction of” has been hotly debated in Constitutional circles for better than a century. There are plenty of articles arguing the exact meaning “jurisdiction” as it applies to the 14th Amendment, and you’re certainly welcome to do the research for them. However, they break down into two general categories. The first holds that “jurisdiction” refers to allegiance to the United States, and requires the person does not hold allegiance to a foreign power or be in a state of rebellion against the United States. This is backed by the intent of the Citizenship Clause: it was intended to ensure that prior to re-obtaining their citizenship, the former Confederates had renounced their rebellion. The secondary purpose was to override the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that former slaves were not citizens of the United States and therefore not entitled to due process protections (also addressed in the Due Process Clause of the amendment).
The second interpretation is the one most commonly held by the media types, that “jurisdiction” refers to being liable to the laws of the United States. Under this explanation, anyone born on US soil is a citizen, unless recognized as a citizen of a foreign power (for instance, the child of an ambassador), since everyone is subject to US law.
You might think this is already settled law, based on the common narrative. Actually, it is anything but. The question has only partly come before the Supreme Court once, in 1898. In US v Wong Kim Ark, the court held that the children of legal immigrants are entitled to birthright citizenship. The precedent of jus soli (or by soil) was affirmed for this purpose, but the principle of jus sanguinis (or by parental right) was not disavowed, either. Further, the idea that sanguinis takes precedence over soli is further affirmed by those acts I mentioned above: the ones that granted citizenship to residents of certain territories. And if you’re ready for your head to explode, there are still two US territories where birthright citizenship is not granted: those born on American Samoa or the Swains Islands are considered US nationals, but not citizens.
What all of this means is there is enough ambiguity to ensure that should Congress act under their Section 5 powers of the 14th Amendment to restrict the establishment of the Citizenship Clause to legally admitted residents, then a Supreme Court case is certain. The outcome isn’t, but given the current court’s alignment, an affirmative decision in the President’s favor is most likely.
Finally, I mentioned that the third question – what can the President do in the meantime – is rather substantial. I’ve already demonstrated the President does not have the authority to rewrite the laws around citizenship on his own. However, he does have the authority to affect how those laws are enforced. There is a multitude of actions he can order that, while not ending birthright citizenship for illegal aliens, would severely curtail their ability to exercise it. This could begin at birth, by requiring the Social Security Administration to have all parents complete a paper form that would include proof of parentage and parental citizenship, with documentation, prior to issuing a social security number to any newborn. It would inconvenience everyone, but you have to imagine the change to the process (it currently takes about ten minutes to get a social security number for a newborn) and document requirements would scare off most illegal parents. He could order that all birth documents be submitted to the National Archives. He could require all parents be fingerprinted and run through the FBI NICS, similar to how we require background checks for purchasing a firearm, prior to a birth certificate being issued.
These are all hypothetical possibilities, of course. But they serve the same purpose. They telegraph in clear terms that the children of illegal aliens are not welcome, and the “anchor baby” concept is effectively over – regardless of what the Supreme Court eventually decides.
Ladies and Gentlemen, My Fellow Americans,
We’ve been along a perilous path for 30 years now. After the end of the first World War, our Nation entered a new period in history. Historians have dubbed it “The American Century.” Five generations of Americans survived the Great Depression, defeated the forces of fascism in the Second World War, created the most prosperous period ever experienced by any nation at any time in history, and held the forces of communism at bay until the final victory at the end of the 1980’s.
Ever since the Berlin Wall crumbled to dust on a cold night in 1989, a winter’s night warmed by the glow of freedom, our nation has been adrift. The fight against communism which had defined our purpose for 45 years was suddenly over, exposing for all our underlying tensions and divisions. That common foe had allowed us to paper over those divisions with a thin veneer of comity. But just as ripping a scab from an old wound will cause an infection to grow unabated, so too the collapse of the Soviet Union has caused the cultural divisions that have always been unique to us to rise anew.
I say these things not to fill with you a longing for the past or fear of the future. I do not believe the end of the American Century means the end of the American Experiment. I believe we have the ability to bind our differences in a more lasting, permanent way; a way that relies not as much on agreeing to disagree as discovering why our disagreements arose in the first place.
Let me highlight just one such example.
Whether we are a banker or truck driver, farmer or doctor, we all know, we all can sense that the modern marvels of technology are changing the nature of work. Whether your fingers are calloused from years of manual labor or manicured for life in an office, we all can see the ways in which we earn our livings have changed. More than that, we know these changes will not end, no matter what we might wish.
This is not the first time our nation has faced such a dramatic change in the very nature of what it means to work. At the dawn of the Industrial Age, we moved, often in fits and starts, from a society of farmers to one of factory labor. Some of the same challenges we faced then, we face today.
One of those challenges was immigration. The new, industrial America needed labor and we found it overseas. Many of us can trace our origins in the United States to the great wave of immigrants that crashed across our shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As much as it might pain us to remember it, those immigrants – Italian, Irish, Poles, Croats, Hungarians, Germans and so forth – were not readily accepted into their new country. So it is today; we are not always welcoming to those who look to make their lives among us from foreign lands. Yet at the same time, much as we funneled those newcomers through inspection 150 years ago, we should reserve the right to do so today.
Likewise, another lesson we can learn from our forebears is also rooted in the Industrial Age. Prior to the need of an educated workforce to run the great machines that powered industry, most children finished school after 5th or 6th grade. Indeed, most high schools were privately funded and beyond the financial reach of those children’s parents. Yet, by the advent of the 1920’s, publicly funded high schools were the norm. By the 1960’s, the vast majority of American citizens were high school graduates and able to earn a solid living at a multitude of trades.
Now, we are told our children need more than a high school education can provide. We see our children graduating from college and working the sorts of jobs we might have expected to start with as a high school graduate a generation ago. But while we acknowledge with our minds that some post-secondary training is required in the new economy, our actions belie our words. We make entry difficult for all but the most affluent. Once our children are ensconced on a university campus, their heads are filled with values and ideas that most of us can barely identify, much less relate to.
I see some heads nodding out there. We know these are the problems. We may disagree on the solutions, but we can agree that these problems will not solve themselves.
Friends, this is a discussion we’ve needed for some time. As in the Festivus celebration of Seinfeld fame, an airing of grievances is good for the soul – but only if it leads to a reconciliation. After a generation of airing our grievances, we should be ready for that reconciliation. Let us resolve, here and now, to lay aside any embitterment we harbor towards our fellow Americans. It doesn’t matter if your forebears arrived on the Mayflower, a slave trader, a tramp steamer from Italy or in the Mariel boatlift. We are united in this simple fact: that as a reward for their trouble in getting to this country, they were met with hardships, ridicule, scorn, derision, and trouble but they persevered, they overcame, they thrived. And they gave this wonderful nation to us.
We understand that America is the sum of what those who came before created and what we create for ourselves and those who follow. We understand that the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness” are not mere ink on dusty old parchment. They define the American creed.
I am a conservative. Some in the audience call themselves liberals. Others may identify as libertarians or greens or some other political ideology. But regardless of politics, we need to agree on what the real problems facing our nation and our society are before we can debate -vigorously and strongly, as is right – what the solutions should be. I mentioned earlier that we seem to be stuck in a funk, a profound disagreement over what the very nature of our problems are and what type of society we are.
For our sakes, the sakes of our progeny and the good of not only the United States but the world, we must make this our mission. We must seek not only to confront but to learn. We must not only listen but understand. Compassion for your fellow American is not weakness. Compassion also does not mean that you throw them to the merciless care of the government. Yes! I said that we must address this cancer, we must excise it, not only for the good of the Nation but for the world.
For the United States is still the greatest nation our planet has ever known. Despite what may seem our torturous present, I truly believe our best days are ahead of us – but only if all 350 million plus of us are willing to do the things that are difficult. As a Nation, we have overcome far greater challenges throughout our history. Solving seemingly intractable problems is in our DNA. Why should our modern difficulties prove any more strenuous?
We have always been the shining light upon which the world gazes when desiring proof that free people can overcome any test, any difficulty that is thrown their way. From the days when our society amazed a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville until the present day when a Slovakian emigré became our First Lady, we have been both the envy and hope of mankind. Are we so vain, so caught up in our own disagreements as to throw that legacy away? I propose that is not the case. We shall always remain as we have, the guide towards a more prosperous, more peaceful planet.
None of this is to trivialize the import of the disagreements that are currently tearing at the fabric of our society. The reality is that those quarrels are based on competing ideologies. Yet, it is possible to agree on a path forward. Doing so requires every American put aside their preconceived notions. It means actually practicing the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means putting aside our anger and agreeing to meet once again as Americans first. Not as Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, Black and white and Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor, but as Americans. The divisions we have created amongst ourselves need to be retired now. The tired politics of identity have missed the most important identity of all: that of being an American.
So as I leave you, I want all of you to sit back and contemplate what is important to you. More than that, you need to ask yourself why that is important. And then ask yourself, is that thing more important than your standing in a country that has always been and will always be willing to accept anyone who can shed all other labels save one: American? For if we all make a common goal of simply being Americans, there is nothing we cannot achieve, no task that is insurmountable and no aspiration that cannot be obtained.
Thank you. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
(AUTHORS NOTE: I originally began writing this post a few days ago, but given the news of the past day, it seemed a good idea to get back to it.)
I know I’m not the only one who has noticed the rather violent rhetoric coming from the liberal/progressive side of the American political spectrum over the last 18 months or so. Anyone paying even a modicum of attention cannot have failed but to notice it. The two video clips at the opening of this post are examples of leaders of that movement making very public statements that not only support the idea of engaging with people politically opposed to you in a violent manner but actively encouraging it. There are no “dog whistles” in these statements.
Hillary Clinton: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about… We have to get, maybe not cross the line, but get meaner, get tougher.”
Maxine Waters: “If you see anyone from that cabinet, that administration, in a restaurant, in a department store, in a gasoline station – you get out, and you create a crowd. You push back on them and you tell them: YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE!”
This type of incendiary rhetoric from the American left is nothing new, of course. It has its beginnings in the protest movements of the 1960’s, which in many respects were hijacked by radical elements looking not to reform American society but outright overthrow it. Most of you reading this are familiar with Saul Alinsky’s “Rules For Radicals,” the openly subversive book that recommends confrontation with and hostile takeover of American institutions. Professor Alinsky advocated taking what began as an idealistic youth movement looking to proactively redress the egregious, systemic racism of our first 150 years and warp it into a campaign against all societal norms.
In the time between Richard Nixon’s near impeachment in 1974 and George W. Bush’s electoral victory in 2000, we enjoyed a respite from the violent catachism of the Left. Certainly, they were still out there and they still employed the rhetoric, but they were pushed to the fringes. After the abject failure of McGovern, the dismal Carter years, and the national rejection of progressivism that culminated with the Reagan administration, mainstream liberals largely rejected the type of political violence that attended their movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The bombings and assassinations stopped.
But those subversive elements never truly went away, they had just gone to ground. Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” that ended the 20th century gave way to a full-throated progressive in Al Gore, whose narrow defeat seemed to awaken what was once thought a comatose movement. In 2004, the Democrats shifted even further left, nominating the very progressive (and some would say traitor) John Kerry as their standard bearer. His drubbing at the hands of the same George Bush who had vanquished Gore four years earlier unleashed the type of liberal passions that we are now living with. It was the driving force behind the eight years of Alinskyite leadership under Barack Obama.
Understandably, progressives were shocked to discover the mandate to fundamentally transform American society they imagined had been secured a decade earlier wasn’t much of a mandate. After decades of planning their relatively bloodless coup, they awoke on a frosty November morn in 2016 to discover their vision of America had been soundly rejected – again. And as when faced with similar rejection two generations earlier, they broke out the late 1960’s playbook almost immediately.
So, for nearly two years now, American sensibilities have been subject to a daily, at times hourly, onslaught of political violence. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Waters’ statements aside, we’ve witnessed a progressive attempt to assassinate the Republican Congressional leadership at a softball practice. The Secretary of Defense and Chief of Naval Operations have been mailed ricin. A GOP congressional candidate in California was knifed, another in Wyoming had his campaign office firebombed. Jay Webber, a Republican running for Congress in NJ, has a police detail protecting his 7 children after a series of death threats against them. A teenager wearing a “MAGA” hat was assaulted for the crime of eating a sandwich. By one count, there have been over 550 acts of political violence – not just violent speech, but actual acts of violence – committed by progressives since the election of Donald Trump. By comparison, refusing to serve the Press Secretary or stealing the Senate Majority leader’s doggie bag seems almost trivial.
My point is this. From the days of Lenin and Trotsky, assassinations, arson, and other assorted mayhem have been the hallmark of progressive political argument. it is not a fallback position, so much as a default one. Historically, when progressives, whether they called themselves socialists, communists or fascists talk about fundamentally transforming a society, they speak of themselves as revolutionaries.
There have been very few succesful revolutions that didn’t involve an assumption of violence.
The progressive predeliction for violence is well established. The aim of such political violence is to destabilize normal society, to inspire fear – and ultimately, to provoke normal society into adopting the same tactics. The reason is simple. Once normal society includes daily, hourly political violent carnage, there is no more normal society. At that point, the fundamental transformation can occur without any resistance.
Normal society defeats progressivism by refusing to engage in the cycle of political violence. Normal society wins by continuing to engage in the normal political process: by engaging with ideas, not bombs; words, not knives; votes, not guns. Don’t take this to mean you should leave yourself defenseless or refuse to be vigilant. After all, a dead patriot is only good for worm food. Defend yourself if need be. But let it end there.
Last weekend, we saw a mob attack one of progressivism’s paragons, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. I do not agree with a single position that Mrs. Pelosi espouses. However, chasing her through a hotel and refusing to let her speak is every bit as reprehensible as when progressives do the same to a conservative speaker. I found the actions understandable, but appalling nonetheless. We cannot defend all that we hold important by throwing our values out and engaging the left on their terms. Our goal should be to force them to engage on ours, if for no other reason than their tired ideas have time and again proven bereft of value.
I intentionally have not mentioned today’s (well, yesterday’s, by the time this gets published) spate of attempted bombings until now. I have a good reason for that. As I write this, the motivation behind them remains murky. Nobody has claimed responsibility. No associated manifesto has been published. This leaves several possibilities: a foreign actor, seeking to upset the political applecart. A very poorly executed attack by a right-wing extremist. Or a “false flag” operation by left-wing extemists looking to change the narractive prior to this year’s elections. I’m hoping it is determined to be option 1 or 3. If it is option 2, then this post may already be too late for all of us.