Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Dangers of Being a Conservative Intellectual

Over the last week it has become clear that Donald Trump will gain the GOP nomination for the Presidency.   He is a candidate that I cannot vote for.  He won a very flawed nominating process where many in the media treated his vulgarity and lack of substance with kid gloves.  For many reasons the other candidates were not able to point those flaws out.  

The process designed by the RNC to winnow down the number of possible candidates was fatally flawed and Trump exploited that.   There were arguably at least three or four candidates with the background and experience to a) be elected and b) more importantly lead a coalition of members of congress and citizens into some genuine changes that would benefit the country in the long term.   I felt a lot in 2015 like I did in 1979.  We had a president who had a problematic record that had been repudiated twice in mid-term elections.  

Early in my career I was the leader of a group of DC young conservatives that thought that ideas matter in politics.   I was active in the group for the time I was in DC.   I thought, and still do, that deficits matter; that the tax policy is important; that the things which government tries to do should be limited; and finally that individuals should have a wide range of choice in making decisions about their own lives so long as those decisions did not affect others' lives.   After I left DC, the group began to diverge in their thinking.   Some left and became leaders in conservative think tanks.   A few others became active libertarians.   Even a few became active with the democrats.

Over the weekend two people (both named Doug) who I admire greatly and are prominent in GOP politics in Sacramento and beyond took different decisions - one announced he would vote for Hillary Clinton - saying that Trump would make a horrible president.  Another, I think out of party loyalty, endorsed Trump.   I disagree with both positions.

Over the weekend it developed that some of the more cartoon like figures on the right have begun to yammer.  Sarah Palin said she will campaign against the Speaker of the House AND that she is available to have Trump select her as VP.   Both propositions are nuts.  Palin's only qualification to be VP is her age.  Ryan has been a very good speaker and has worked hard to keep his caucus together.   But she generated a couple of blips in the news cycle. 

Steve Sample, the monumental former president of USC, commented in his book The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership that it was not necessary to read the paper every day.   And indeed the time spent perusing the kind of nonsense that Palin threw out, occupies one's time and reduces the ability to think about things of substance.  He was right.   His principle should also offer some ideas about how to combat the combined menace of Trump and Clinton.   We might take a short time to think about next steps - so figuring we have to choose at this point is wrong.

 One sees the train wreck of Trump lurching toward November (whether he wins in November or not).  Those of us who value conservative policies cannot wait too long.   And yet, with a bit of reflection we may be presented with an answer that is not obvious now.  Timing is important to be able to avoid the perils of Charybdis and Scylla that this primary system has produced but too quick may be just as bad as waiting too long.

Monday, April 11, 2016

What's in a Name?

When the Affordable Care Act was passed at the beginning of the President's term - we were told among other things that the ACA (first word remember is "affordable") would lower costs for health insurance and health care.

Well it turns out that the first A in the ACA is not exactly accurate.  But then surprise was not my first reaction.

Who are the RINOs?

American political parties have been in the past, for the most part, non-ideological.   While the Democrats and the Republicans have stood for principles over time, things can change.   For example, the most rigorous opposition to anti-lynching laws came from the Southern Democrats and vigorous attempts to curtail the practice came from the GOP.  In the early part of the 20th Century the GOP was a party of high tariffs.

But for at least the last 70 years the GOP has held to several basic principles.   They have been for market based, as opposed to government, solutions to issues.   They have been strong supporters of free trade, with the understanding that the net result of more open trading agreements has been increased economic activity.   They have been steadfast in preserving individual liberty and in supporting the ability of individuals to pursue happiness (In the sense of the Declaration); to allow individuals to pursue their dreams.  That has also meant a relatively benign response to immigration laws.   That did not mean completely open borders, and yet at the same time it also did not mean support for the most xenophobic approaches to immigration.

But for the last 20 years or so, the GOP has allowed a bunch of "purists" to claim that some party members who do not adhere to their orthodoxy (which are mostly in direct opposition to policies under which the GOP thrived) are somehow Republicans in Name Only (hence RINOs).  It is time to re-establish the principles that made the GOP a winning party by pointing out that those candidates and elected officials who don't support free trade; or market based solutions; or who inherently want to diminish the opportunity expressed by Emma Lazurus on the base of the Statue of Liberty ("Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!") are the real RINOs.

For the last couple of weeks supporters of both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have tried to make the argument that they have survived the primary/caucus process and therefore should be awarded the GOP nomination based on that process.   Any observer of the last six to eight months of primary process would have to reject that premise.   The GOP has been taken over by RINOs.   Trump and Cruz pander to the nativists and protectionists.   Trump goes even further and would support the most basic types of crony capitalism which would diminish the real chance for potential small entrepreneurs to realize their dreams.  

It is clear what the Democrats would prefer.   Both Sanders and to a lesser extent Clinton - while nominally supporting more open borders (although without the concurrent responsibility standards that GOP policy has supported - like employer ID checks) are consistently in support of trade pacts only if they carry unreasonable restrictions; government based solutions (the "free" college proposals are a prime example) and a set of economic policies that would continue the disastrous intrusions against small business startups.   Thus, their ideal world is to go back to the nonsense first offered by Paul Appleby - who argued that government is different (indeed it is but what Appleby meant in his article was that government solutions are ALWAYS better).

IF traditional conservatives refuse to begin to point out the RINOs for who they are, then they will be responsible for electing a new president who will undoubtedly support programs that will continue to take us away from those policies that made the country grow and allowed the GOP to achieve significant electoral victories.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A tradition in San Miguel which should be replicated in many other places

San Miguel de Allende, and it turns out a few other cities in Mexico, have a tradition on Easter to create something called Exploding Judas's.   Normally there are three types of figures represented - the devil, Judas and political figures.    When we were here at Easter last year I asked a guy standing next to me how they chose politicians - he replied in Spanish "Inspiration"   A few years ago the Kardashians were frequent targets - so not all of the figures are political.

One of the constant concerns we have heard this year has been about the over-blown rhetoric of Donald Trump.   Mexicans, I believe rightly so, feel insulted by his comments.   So it seemed only natural that this year's Judas's would include at least one Trump figure.    Because of the high esteem that the Donald has generated here, there was not just one figure.  There was even a Duckold Trump - which looked a lot like a cross between the Disney character and the GOP candidate.  When I first heard about the tradition - there were several figures representing Carlos Salinas - the former president of Mexico who stole millions while in office.  So Trump's representation(s) were not especially novel.

On Easter we thought it would be appropriate (a matter of inspiration) to sponsor an Exploding Judas of Donald Trump.  As readers of this blog and my preceding one, I am a conservative.   And I have had conservative friends tell me that if Trump is nominated I must vote for him.   They say he is saying things other candidates are not.   They say he connects with the disconnected.  I think both propositions are false.

The last week has been tough for the Donald.   He has stepped in one pile to another.   Let's hope this buffoon finally goes away.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

P.T. Barnum, the Grifter and the Crazy Guy Next Door

It is hard to find a parallel in any US election cycle to this one.   And that got me to wonder why.   Between both parties we now have five candidates who could potentially be elected President.   They are an odd assemblage for a country like ours.

There is Donald Trump, a modern embodiment of PT Barnum, who is quoted (although there is a lot of research that suggests one of his contemporaries was describing him) as saying "There's a sucker born every minute."  Supposedly he will bring "business sense" to the presidency.   What utter nonsense.   Many of his business ventures have been failures or frauds; although to be fair Forbes estimates his net worth as $4.5 billion.  One of his campaign events was like the Home Shopping Network touting all of his supposed  business ventures.  Soon after the infomercial WSJ writer Joe Rago wrote an analysis of these supposed products.  Seems like most turned out to be simply branded with the Trump name and of lower quality (according to their reviews).  His properties tend to be concentrated in NY Real Estate, Golf Properties and some resorts.  But what would you expect from a huckster who once participated in a World Wrestling Event; I cannot imagine any of his potential predecessors participating in such a spectacle.   But then there is his role on one beauty pageant and his role in The Apprentice a "reality" show designed at first to give some young person a job with the Trump organization but which devolved into something the Kardashians would have been proud to participate in.

Even if he were not a vulgarian his campaign has been a sequence of intensely planned media gotcha plays.   He seems to have purposely debased the initial series of presidential debates.  He talks like a tough guy who says he knows how to negotiate - but if his performances are a demonstration that skill I find it hard to be true.  Among all of the candidates who ran this year his proportion of "earned" media has been exceptional.   But just because the media got suckered does not mean we should be.  He is good copy for trashy TV.   His proposals are, quite frankly, a bunch of nonsense.   Building the wall to border Mexico is just plain silly.   About a decade ago our problem with illegal immigration shifted dramatically to the west (Asia) - mostly because our Immigration Service has been inept at following up on expired visas.   At least in California, Mexican immigration turned negative more than a decade ago.   But like most of what passes for television news these days - a wall along the Mexican border is harder to imagine than one stretching across the Pacific.  So his proposal is a symbol tied together with harsh rhetoric toward our third largest trading partner.   Like at least one of this fellow candidates he seems to have missed the last two decades of numbers on the benefits of all the trade pacts we have negotiated.  NAFTA and its successors have been dramatically positive for the US.  If companies have chosen to move their operations abroad, they have done so because of the incredibly complex tax system that we have constructed.   While other developed countries have lowered their corporate tax rates, we have stubbornly stuck to high rates and incredible complexity.

For all of her supposed experience in government the second candidate, Hillary Clinton, is simply a first class grifter. There is very little in her record as Senator or Secretary of State to recommend a promotion.   Think back to the thrilling days of her role in developing the monstrosity that was the Clinton Health Care plan.   Fortunately, the Congress rejected her plan, of which Rube Goldberg would have been proud.   But two things have followed her through her public career, a well demonstrated contempt for the American people and scandals.   Commodity trades which no one could have done;Whitewater - for which no one was responsible; the failure to react in Benghazi and then the attempt to cover it up; and then the private email server - where she seems allowed almost any country with an 18 year old hacker to have access to the top secrets of the US - all are bound together with her at the center.  (And those are only the high points) Each time one of these things bops it head up she has two defenses that would make Bart Simpson proud - "I did not do it" and "That is old history."  And then of course there is the old shibboleth of the "right wing conspiracy."

I wonder whether anyone in the media has bothered to follow the path of the Clinton Foundation which links some pretty shady deals with the employment function for Clinton cronies.   Does it not make you at least wonder how a couple who claimed they were broke when they left the White House are now multi-millionaires?   There are too many instances where there seems to have been a quid quo pro for a donation to the foundation that either helped to employ a Clinton supporter or resulted in outrageous speaking fees.   Then there are the raft of Clinton cronies who have double dipped between a federal salary and a Clinton Foundation sinecure.  Then there are the hangers on like Sid Blumenthal, that even the Obama Administration rejected, who have been hired and seem to have benefited from their ties to the Clintons.   It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the future a Wikipedia article on Mercantilism will have a reference to the Clinton Foundation.    Secretary Clinton clearly seems to think it is just fine to tie government and business, as long as she or her friends are getting a piece of the action.

Third comes the Crazy Man Next Door, Bernie Sanders.   Up to his first public employment as Mayor of a town of fewer than 50,000 (albeit the largest town in Vermont) he seems to have had a hard time keeping a job.  Although he graduated from the University of Chicago he seems to have missed any coursework in Economics.   Running a small university town is a bit different from running a country of 300 million.   He lack of study in Economics does not seem to have prevented him from delving into a lot of economic proposals.  If you added all his wish list up the cost would be more than the entire US national debt.  Sanders comes from a non-industrialized and homogeneous state. (1.2% of the population in the state is Black).  So much of what he suggests might actually work in a place like Vermont.   But most of it would not work there.   He professes to oppose "big banks"yet he voted for Dodd-Frank which imposed a new level of complex regulation on all financial institutions that seems to have virtually stopped the formation of small community banks.   He is for taxing the "rich" (whatever that means) but he seems to not understand that broadening the base of the income tax and lowering rates would help small businesses grow.

I would find it impossible to vote for any of these three.   I realize that each has some supporters although the first two come close to having more negative than positive supporters.   None-of-the-Above would probably beat out either candidate in a head to head contest.

Two other candidates in the race are not given much chance.   Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas seems to have not made many friends while he has served in the Senate.  While he seems to have been a pretty talented lawyer he seems to lack a basic understanding in how to work nicely in the political system.   I must admit, that on one level the bombast from Cruz and Trump should attract me as a voter - Washington is an oligarchy which seems to prosper despite who is in power.   But neither offer much attraction for me.

What bothers me most about these first four candidates is that even with the polished outsider image that Cruz has tried to create, all are part of what former President Carter called the permanent Washington Oligarchy.  It should bother all of us that Washington seems to be the only recession proof city in the US.   Perhaps that is because of the increasingly complex regulatory schemes put forward by the administrative state in both GOP and Democrat administrations helps to make recovery in the rest of the country that much harder.

Finally, we come to one candidate who might actually be ready for the job.  John Kasich, was a very talented chair of the House Budget Committee and served 9 terms in the House.   He is in his second term as Governor of a complex state - where he seems to have cleaned up the mess left by his predecessor.  He has a set of clear consistently thought out values which all but Mr. Sanders seem to lack.  But he also seems to have an ability in this generation of lilliputian political figures to be able to talk (and listen) across the aisle.

In an earlier post I suggested that this year I would be looking for someone who has legitimate executive experience.  Cruz has had a little in the role of AG of Texas.   Clinton should have gained some in her role as Secretary of State (although that is questionable).  Kasich has real experience in this area and what's more he seems to have tried to work well with both sides of the aisle, without sacrificing his principles.   But as I said above, neither Cruz nor Kasich seem to have a way to break through, absent a brokered GOP convention.   With that condition, it seems unlikely that either would be able to make it through.

This started out as a description of a dilemma I face with the first three candidates - I cannot vote for any of them.   If the current trends continue I suspect a lot of Americans will take the same choice I will - which is to follow Dick Tuck's (and Nixon adversary) admonition - "The lesser of two evils, is still evil." 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Character Does Count

Last night was another twist in a remarkable election season.   The Former Secretary of State squeezed out an avowed socialist in the Nevada caucuses for the Democrats and in South Carolina a loud mouthed profane candidate won the GOP primary by 10% in a field of six.

This morning on Facebook one friend had photo shopped the picture at the right which expresses my deep feelings about both of the front runners.  A good president, and we need one at this point, has energy and drive but also has a sense of proportion.   Political philosophy is important - obviously a conservative is more to my preference - but character matters.   And the two front runners seem to lack that essential attribute.

For the several decades of being around the public process Clinton has remarkably little real accomplishment.   And scandal seems to follow her around.   Beginning with her fanciful story about making near perfect trades in commodities and carrying through her monumental failure in trying to develop a health plan through her most recent escapades by installing a private and mostly insecure to hide her email (although not to people that matter) there is an arrogance in her character which is almost overwhelming.   What amuses me about Hillary is that many of her supporters can overlook this relatively consistent pattern of failure and deception.

The funny thing about the current front runner in the GOP, he has many of the same characteristics.  Except that while Hillary is at least seemingly diligent on policy, Trump has a disdain for even beginning to understand the issues with any level of subtlety.   He has the same disregard for the facts that she does (yes he did go bankrupt, at least several of his ventures did).   A decade ago he took on Vince McMahon in the World Wrestling Federation's Wrestle Mania (Click on the link to see this highlight of the Donald's career) - somehow that does not, IMHO, qualify him to be president.

Last night Jeb Bush withdrew from the GOP race.  While I think he would have made a good president - he is smart and he does have character - this was not his year.   His withdrawal statement was one of the most gracious I've ever heard.

Some of the chattering class have yammered that Trump is now inevitable and that Hillary will also run the table.   I say in this strange year - why can't we do much better than either of the front runners.   The country is divided almost evenly with the parties trading off electoral victories over the last eight years (Dems won 2008 and 2012 and the GOP won 2010 and 2014).   Let's hope for the country that the pundits are wrong about both.

Dick Tuck quipped at one point that "the lesser of two evils is still evil" - in this case both or the two front runners would not help the country move forward.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Civil Discourse

On Saturday, at a writer's conference in San Miguel de Allende, when the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was announced some of the participants cheered.   On Saturday night, at the GOP debate Donald Trump constantly butted in, as he has almost continuously in each debate and made a series of indefensible comments about George W. Bush and a host of others in the political realm.  He acted like a petulant child.

Both of these incidents are a reflection of the state of civil discourse.  For a republic like ours to survive neither should be tolerated.

Scalia was not timid about expressing his opinions.   He believed deeply in the concept of "originalist" thinking on the Constitution.  He used his intellect to advance his ideas.   He lived his beliefs.   But in his legal writing he was not trying to score political points.   Some of his best decisions were in his dissents.   He often poked fun at arguments made by others, either attorneys appearing before the court or his colleagues. But he used his wit to make a point not to stab.  In remembrances about him, everyone said he was a conscientious member of the court who understood that one's ideas do not always prevail.  I suspect that in years going forward, his opinions will be quoted often in future cases.

One of the first cases I noticed his writing was in the Kelo decision on eminent domain.  In the oral arguments Scalia raised the issue of whether eminent domain could be used by a city to condemn a Motel 6 for a Ritz Carlton - the hapless attorney for New London argued yes. The power of eminent domain should be limited to cases where there is a direct government need.  A fancy hotel is not in that definition.  Interestingly Donald Trump is a big fan of Kelo - although as he demonstrated in a recent debate he does not have a good idea about what the standards for eminent domain are.

Scalia used reason to explain his positions on an issue.  Donald Trump is the opposite.   He often shoots from the hip without reasoning.  His outbursts frustrated voter interest in understanding what type of president each of the candidates would be.   He is a divisive force on the political scene and his outbursts may well reduce the chances of the GOP finding a strong candidate for November.

One final comment somewhat related to the focus of this post.  I agree that the President has every right to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia, even in the last year of his presidency.   And while you will hear that the nomination of Justice Kennedy in 2007 is comparable, it is not.   That being said, the Senate in its advise and consent power has every right to delay or dismiss the nomination after it has been made.   If the President were smart he would find a distinguished jurist, with a record of supporting the Constitution, and nominate that person to the position.   But I doubt he will do that. He will look at the political considerations instead of choosing someone who can actually do the job and the court will remain a badly divided place - which might well turn again if the GOP is successful in November.   We all lose with those rules.