Tag: charles krauthammer

Debt-Limit Deal: $500 Billion Cut Option

Charles Krauthammer is absolutely right that Republicans must call President Obama’s bluff on the debt-limit vote. I suggested that the House GOP pass $2 trillion in cuts tied to a $2 trillion debt increase, thus handing the matter over to the Senate and the president and refusing to budge.

Krauthammer has the same idea, but with $500 billion in cuts and a $500 billion debt increase. That would certainly be better than Senator McConnell’s chicken-out plan, and it would have the advantage of being so modest in size that I think it would ultimately get large support in the Senate from moderates.

The cuts–small “trims” really–could be taken right from Obama’s own Fiscal Commission report. The table below illustrates how modest and limited are the reforms needed to hit $500 billion in savings over 10 years. Indeed, the data from the commission only covers a nine-year period and includes just some of the proposed entitlement savings.

Obama Fiscal Commission Entitlement Trims $Billions
Trim Health Care Subsidies
Reduce subsidies for medical education $60
Expand Medicare cost sharing $110
Enact tort reform $17
Reduce Medicaid tax gaming $44
Reform Tricare $38
Trim Social Security Growth
Increase benefits by chained CPI $89
Trim Growth in Other Entitlements
Increase other entitlements by chained CPI $43
Reform federal retirement benefits $73
Reduce farm subsidies $10
Reduce student loan interest subsidies $43
Total Trims, 2012-2020 $527

It would be blindingly obvious to most voters that Obama would be responsible for a debt default if he couldn’t bring himself to sign such modest cuts that were proposed by his own fiscal commission. Then, when the government runs up against the debt limit again five months from now, the GOP should have another package of cuts ready to be passed. This next time they could perhaps focus on discretionary program terminations, some of which I’ve proposed here.

Interplanetary Greatness Conservatism

My Washington Examiner column this week is on the final flight of the Space Shuttle, and what looks to be the withering away of the manned space program. In 2004, President Bush announced plans for a moonbase and an eventual Mars mission. But last year President Obama effectively cancelled the moonbase, and has exhibited little desire to liberate Mars. That’s good news, I argue:

“We are retiring the shuttle in favor of nothing,” Michael Griffin, Bush’s NASA administrator, wailed to the Washington Post recently.

Here, as usual, “nothing” gets a bad rap. I’ll be “in favor of nothing” until the advocates of federally funded spaceflight can come up with an argument for it that doesn’t make me spray coffee out my nose.

NASA’s Griffin failed that test in 2005, when he gave an interview to the Washington Post insisting it was essential that “Western values” accompany those who eventually “colonize the solar system,” because “we know the kind of society we would get if you, for example, carry Soviet values. That means you want a gulag on Mars. Is that what you’re looking for?”

Well … is it, punk?

When you strip away the few half-hearted “practical” arguments space partisans offer (it turns out that the space program didn’t even give us TANG, by the way) you’re mostly left with sentimental piffle. Listening to some of them, I’m half-tempted to mount a First Amendment challenge to the space program as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

A 2008 report from MIT on “The Future of Human Spaceflight” argued that federal funding was justified as a means to promote “an expansion of human experience, bringing people into new places, situations and environments, expanding and redefining what it means to be human.” Those are *scientists* making that argument. But if your best explanation for why spaceflight is a public good gets into “sweet mystery of life” territory, then maybe you don’t have a very good argument for public funding.

Unfortunately, President Obama didn’t actually kill funding for human spaceflight. We’re now embarked on a public-private partnership, with NASA dollars flowing to companies like Space X. In fact, Obama has publicly pledged to seek slight increases in NASA’s budget.

But whether it’s done via a “government-business partnership” or not, there’s no reason we should be funding manned space exploration at all.

This is another thing President Eisenhower got right, incidentally:

he “would not be willing,” he said, “to spend tax money to send a man around the moon … There is such a thing as common sense,” he said, “even in research.” A moon project would be just “a stunt.”

But, since federally funded human spaceflight is a massive, “heroic,” allegedly inspiring but ultimately senseless government crusade, it’s no surprise, I guess, that neoconservatives love it. And nobody loves it more than Charles Krauthammer. Here he is in 2007, waxing rhapsodic about “the music of the spheres.”:

You should feel something when our little species succeeds in establishing new life in a void that for all eternity had been the province of the gods. If you don’t feel that, you are—don’t take this personally—deaf to the music of our time.

Look up, Krauthammer urged spacefans in 2009, after it had become clear that Barack Obama lacked “Kennedy’s enthusiasm” to boldly go, etc. “That is the moon,” Krauthammer declared, and “for the first time in history,” it had become “a nightly rebuke.” This is the burden of the Interplanetary Greatness Conservative: the moon—the very moon!—mocks you.

Personally, I’m deaf to “the music of the spheres.” But I’m all for the efforts of private entrepreneurs who can hear it. If people want to advance space exploration on their own dime and at their own risk, more power to them. And the government should neither help nor hinder them.

More Sensible Voices on Libya

My Cato colleagues have written on the current goings on in Libya (especially here and here), and I concur with their recommendations that the U.S. government should avoid intervening militarily in the conflict. For my part, I have hesitated to weigh in, convinced that I couldn’t offer much to the discussion.

But just when I thought I had seen enough regarding what the United States should do in Libya, I stumbled upon two posts over at the National Interest blog that deserve a closer look. Paul Pillar on Friday pointed out that the same people who were such strong proponents of war with Iraq – Charles Krauthammer, in this case – are back in the game, apparently unfazed by their disastrous predictions of the past. Pillar is particularly devastating in his critique of Krauthammer’s claim that if Egypt were as politically developed a year from now as Iraq is today, “we would think it a great success.” Pillar notes, correctly, that such a claim “speaks to how drastically standards of success were lowered as the United States sank into the Iraqi quagmire.”

Jacob Heilbrunn picks up on Paul’s point today and runs with it. I dispute the title, which suggests that everyone in the GOP agrees with the neocons about war, but the bottom line is sound. Challenging the Wall Street Journal’s contention that President Obama’s supposed passivity is synonymous with George H.W. Bush’s refusal to intervene on the side of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991, Heilbrunn notes:

there is a distinction. The Obama administration did not encourage Libyans to overthrow the loathsome Gadhafi. Instead, Libyans are doing it themselves. Which is why Obama is right to be wary about inserting himself into a Libyan civil war that Gadhafi is likely to lose, whether or not American forces assists the rebel forces.

I commend both Pillar and Heilbrunn for their wisdom, and add them to the long list of sensible voices opposing U.S. intervention in Libya. The neocons can count Ahmed Chalabi in their corner.

Behind the Political Rhetoric Are Profound Differences

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Post-Tucson will campaign trail rhetoric change in any discernible way? Should it change? What phrases or words should be considered out of bounds? Or is that approach a way of silencing legitimate criticism of political candidates?

My response:

Post-Tucson campaign trail rhetoric won’t change because, as Charles Krauthammer put it brilliantly in yesterday’s Washington Post, fighting and warfare are routine political metaphors for obvious reasons: “Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power – military conquest. That’s why the language persists,” why we speak of “battleground states” or “targeting” opponents.

That doesn’t mean that no charge is “out of bounds.” It’s perfectly all right for Sarah Palin to “target” 20 potential swing districts – Democrats do the same. And her use yesterday of “blood libel,” as Alan Dershowitz explains, is entirely acceptable too. What is out of bounds is the kind of scurrilous charges we’ve seen from The New York Times, the Paul Krugmans, E.J. Dionnes, Jonathan Alters, and their ilk, that the Tea Party and the political discourse around it contributed to the Arizona shooting – when there isn’t a shred of evidence to support that, and every indication that a lone mentally disturbed individual was responsible.

But far deeper issues are at play here, and they’re brought out in a penetrating piece by Daniel Henninger in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “Why the Left Lost It.” He points first to the devastating, potentially sea-changing midterm elections – “Republicans now control more state legislative seats than any time since 1928” – which “came atop the birth of a genuine reform movement, the tea parties.” And the debt crises, state and federal, that animate the Tea Party pose a mortal threat to a liberal agenda that stretches back at least to Goldwater.

As Henninger writes, the divide between today’s left and its conservative opponents “is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the ‘intensity’ that exists now between these two competing camps.” Read it.

Conservatives, Liberals, and the TSA

Libertarians often debate whether conservatives or liberals are more friendly to liberty. We often fall back on the idea that conservatives tend to support economic liberties but not civil liberties, while liberals support civil liberties but not economic liberties – though this old bromide hardly accounts for the economic policies of President Bush or the war-on-drugs-and-terror-and-Iraq policies of President Obama.

Score one for the conservatives in the surging outrage over the Transportation Security Administration’s new policy of body scanners and intimate pat-downs. You gotta figure you’ve gone too far in the violation of civil liberties when you’ve lost Rick Santorum, George Will, Kathleen Parker, and Charles Krauthammer. (Gene Healy points out that conservatives are reaping what they sowed.)

Meanwhile, where are the liberals outraged at this government intrusiveness? Where is Paul Krugman? Where is Arianna? Where is Frank Rich? Where is the New Republic? Oh sure, civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald have criticized TSA excesses. But mainstream liberals have rallied around the Department of Homeland Security and its naked pictures: Dana Milbank channels John (“phantoms of lost liberty”) Ashcroft: “Republicans are providing the comfort [to our enemies]. They are objecting loudly to new airport security measures.” Ruth Marcus: “Don’t touch my junk? Grow up, America.” Eugene Robinson: “Be patient with the TSA.” Amitai Etzioni in the New Republic: “In defense of the ‘virtual strip-search.’” And finally, the editors of the New York Times: ”attacks are purely partisan and ideological.”

Could this just be a matter of viewing everything through a partisan lens? Liberals rally around the DHS of President Obama and Secretary Napolitano, while conservatives criticize it? Maybe. And although Slate refers to the opponents of body-scanning as “paranoid zealots,” that term would certainly seem to apply to apply to Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the Nation, who stomp their feet, get red in the face, and declare every privacy advocate from John Tyner (“don’t touch my junk”) on to be “astroturf” tools of “Washington Lobbyists and Koch-Funded Libertarians.” (Glenn Greenwald took the article apart line by line.)

Most Americans want to be protected from terrorism and also to avoid unnecessary intrusions on liberty, privacy, and commerce. Security issues can be complex. A case can be made for the TSA’s new procedures. But it’s striking to see how many conservatives think the TSA has gone too far, and how dismissive – even contemptuous – liberals are of rising concerns about liberty and privacy.

Fear Can Affect Thinking, But Not This Time

In his Washington Post op-ed this morning, “Obama Underappreciation Syndrome,” Charles Krauthammer mocks President Obama’s latest explanation for his, and his party’s, low popularity. “[W]e’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared,” explains the president.

This is rich loam for derision. “Opening a whole new branch of cognitive science – liberal psychology – Obama has discovered a new principle: The fearful brain is hard-wired to act befuddled, i.e., vote Republican.”

Krauthammer rightly takes the campaigning president to task. But he scopes his critique a bit broadly. It’s pretty close to uncontroversial that the logic centers of the brain shut down when certain stimuli produce a fright response. That’s good. Leaping at the sight of a snake was an important part of surviving in the thousands of years before ambulances and anti-venom.

But not all stresses produce this response, and President Obama is misapplying the fright response to the current climate of unemployment, expanded government control of society, and galloping spending and debt. The fear response doesn’t explain Democrats’ unpopularity.

But it does explain other parts of our policy discourse. There is at least a good argument—one we featured in our book Terrorizing Ourselves—that fear preempts careful, rational cogitation about some risks. The existence of another human animated to kill you in ways you can’t predict can interfere with the mental responses we need to secure both ourselves and the blessings of liberty. There may be chronic fear-based habits; the brain grows to meet the demands of its host.

But none of this relates to the economic and political stresses of today or the related woes of the Democratic Party. Rather, it is economic and political conditions that voters are responding to, in a manner that is by no means illogical or pathological.

Krauthammer Misreads History

Charles Krauthammer calls same-sex marriage “the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history.” Really? Some might say that ending “till death do us part” was more radical. And maybe ending the requirement that the bride promise to “love, honor, and obey.” And how about the end of polygamy? Polygamy was probably the most common marital system in the broad sweep of human history, but now it is virtually unknown in the Western world; indeed, ahistorical conservatives warn that allowing two people of the same sex to make a vow of marriage could lead to polygamy.

More currently, I would suggest that the truly radical redefinition of marriage is the revolution over the past generation in the idea that people should marry before they cohabit or have children. Barely a generation ago cohabitation simply wasn’t acceptable; now it  is just assumed. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy is celebrated on the cover of People and no one seems to much care. In 2009, for the first time, more 25- to 34-year-olds were unmarried than married. A writer as smart as Krauthammer should be able to see that that gay liberation and gay marriage are a product, not a cause, of the unprecedented redefinition of sex, marriage, and childrearing.

But like socially conservative politicians, Krauthammer is not about to confront his friends, colleagues, and fans by denouncing that radical redefinition of marriage. Sensing discomfort with rapid social changes, he shouts “Look over there!”

Reducing the incidence of unwed motherhood, divorce, fatherlessness, welfare, and crime would be good for society. But it’s not easy to figure out what to do. That’s why social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.