Topic: Government and Politics

David Brooks Unhinged

David Brooks went completely off the deep end last night in critiquing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s Republican response to Barack Obama’s address to Congress. According to Brooks, “in a moment when only the federal government is big enough to actually do stuff- to just ignore all that and just say ‘government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,’ it’s just a form of nihilism.”

Now, I thought Jindal’s speech was rather banal and poorly delivered, but since when is it nihilism to oppose “corruption, earmarks, and wasteful spending”? Apparently, government should just do “stuff.” It doesn’t really matter whether that “stuff” is good or not, whether it will actually stimulate the economy or not. And of course, there is no problem with the fact that that “stuff” includes a government takeover of our health care system, an unworkable and expensive energy policy, an extension of a federal education policy that has failed to educate our children, higher taxes, greater debt, and more spending on just about everything. To oppose all of that is “nihilism.”

Then count me as a nihilist – or maybe I just believe in liberty.

Prince of Darkness

Interesting interview with Robert Novak (AKA  The Prince of Darkness).

Some snippets:

Q: The atmosphere in politics today is so bitterly partisan. What do you ascribe that to?

A: I don’t agree that partisanship is more bitter now. In the 19th century, the overriding issue was slavery, and there was no more partisan issue than slavery. Preston Brooks, a proslavery Democratic congressman from South Carolina, walked onto the Senate floor and beat Charles Sumner, the antislavery leader of the radical Republicans, almost to death with the metal end of his cane. Now, that was partisan.

Q: You mention the names of a lot of sources in “The Prince of Darkness,” which is practically a who’s who of everybody in government or politics over the past 50 years. Who were the most skillful leakers, the ones who really knew how to give good leak?

A: The word “leaker” has an ignominious ring. It connotes giving you something you shouldn’t have. I think I should have everything. So there are no leaks – there are sources.

Q: In your memoir, you describe an early meeting in the Oval Office with Reagan in which he quoted a couple of obscure 19th-century British free-trade advocates and some little-known modern Austrian economists. How underrated intellectually do you think Reagan was?

A: He was extremely underrated, particularly by the press. The press was very derisive. They were derisive of Eisenhower, too – they thought he was just another Army officer – but the attacks on Reagan were harsher. He was portrayed as stupid, uneducated, out of his element. I think he was very well educated and understood a lot of things. He was also very flexible in his policies – too flexible for my taste.

Q: You’ve described yourself as a hero worshiper in a field that doesn’t have many heroes. Who were your heroes?

A: To be a hero – my hero – the person has to be in the process of risking his life or his livelihood or his way of life for a principle. That’s hard to find in the political world. I’ve talked about the great Czech distance runner Emil Zapotek, the greatest distance runner of all time, who ended up working in a uranium mine because he supported the 1968 uprising. He was a great hero of mine – an athlete who changed his whole life for principle.

Q: You’ve had a chance to look back on your life and think about what you’ve done that was good and what was bad. What stands out?

A: Looking back, I tried to find out what the politicians were up to, which is a difficult job. I find that politicians as a class are up to no good. Looking back on my life, I regret I was so determined to do that. I ended up writing a lot of political trivia, which really made my reputation. I think when people stop me now and say they miss my column, what they’re talking about is the behind-the-scenes trivia – the kind of thing that made me acceptable to people who disagreed with me. But I think I would have been better off to write about tax cuts and abortion and less about inside politics.

Q: Only those issues or others?

A: I was very negative about the invasion of Iraq. That’s another subject I should have written more about, explained more. I thought the war was unjustified. But my stand led to a Novak-hates-his-country piece in the National Review, which caused me a lot of grief and cut me off at the White House. I should have explained more about why I took the position I did.

Q: Let’s talk about the Valerie Plame affair, which caused you so much grief. If you had it to do over again, would you reveal who she was?

A: If you read my book, you find a certain ambivalence there. Journalistically, I thought it was an important story because it explained why the CIA would send Joe Wilson – a former Clinton White House aide with no track record in intelligence and no experience in Niger – on a fact-finding mission to Africa. From a personal point of view, I said in the book I probably should have ignored what I’d been told about Mrs. Wilson.

Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you.

I bet Mr. Novak recovers from his recent surgery and returns to work so he can report on the Obama presidency.

Obama’s Shocking Speech

President Obama made good on his reputation for giving excellent speeches. He seemed calm and confident. It’s no wonder that instant polls show that most viewers liked it.

That reaction is all part of the guiding strategy of this administration: using a crisis atmosphere to amass more money and power in Washington. There’s a long history of government growth in times of crisis such as wars, natural disasters, or economic shocks. Think of FDR’s revolutionary “first 100 days” or LBJ’s driving through his Great Society programs in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

George W. Bush did it, too, with both the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq after the shock of 9/11. And in so doing, he left his successor both a presidency and a federal government with unprecedented powers, ready to be employed for a different agenda.

The difference between the Bush and Obama administration is that the latter openly proclaims its use of the “shock doctrine.” As Rahm Emanuel says, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”

And that’s the strategy behind the sweeping agenda that President Obama laid out. The president called his budget “a blueprint for our future,” and as my colleague John Samples notes, “A blueprint is a plan for the society as a whole just as a real blueprint is a plan for a building…. [This is] a plan for the remaking of America. The metaphor reveals a habit of mind at odds with a free society.” Obama promised that the federal government would impose comprehensive redesigns on energy, health care, and education. But the success of America has always been rooted in individual enterprise and free markets. Obama blames free markets for our problems, when it was cheap money from the Fed and misguided federal incentives that caused the mortgage debacle.

Voters respond enthusiastically to determined leadership at the moment of crisis. But laws made in a crisis atmosphere, from the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to Nixon’s wage and price controls to the TARP legislation, usually turn out badly. Democrats want to use this crisis to ram through government takeovers that they couldn’t achieve in any other period. We should slow down, take a deep breath, and carefully consider whether we want a clumsy, always-behind-the-times bureaucracy to take charge of our health, our access to energy, and our educational future.

[ Cross-posted from The Hill’s Congress Blog ]

President’s Auto Gaffe No Laughing Matter

In his address last night, president Obama implied that an American invented the automobile (“The nation that invented the automobile cannot turn away from it”). It doesn’t matter that the president was unaware this is false. Politicians can’t be expected to know everything. What matters is that neither he nor anyone in his inner circle apparently thought it was important to fact check his first major speech to the nation. What other parts of his speech and policy platform are based on mistaken assumptions, we might well wonder?

Alas, some very important ones. In his campaign fact sheet on “21st century threats”, then-candidate Obama declared that

 When Sputnik was launched in 1957, President Eisenhower used the event as a call to arms for Americans to help secure our country and to increase the number of students studying math and science via the National Defense Education Act.

“That’s the kind of leadership we must show today,” he later told a crowd in Dayton, OH.

The trouble is, the National Defense Education Act was an expensive failure. The average mathematics performance of 11th graders fell in the eight years following passage of the law, according to “national norm” studies conducted by the College Board. They still hadn’t returned to pre-NDEA levels a decade later.

In last night’s speech, the president called for increased federal “investment” in public schools, on the apparent assumption that this will improve educational outcomes and with them our economy. History does not support this rosy view.

To have any hope of achieving the lofty goals he has set out for himself, our 44th president would do well to get his future proposals – and speeches – thoroughly fact-checked. While this may starve late-night comics of material, it will save both the president and the American people a lot of heartburn.

A National Talk-Show Host with Nuclear Weapons

Over at the DC Examiner, I have a piece tied to President Obama’s address before Congress tonight. It’s called “The President Talks Too Much.” An excerpt:

In recent weeks, the president has been anywhere and everywhere, with a campaign-style blitz of media appearances and town hall meetings. But, hard as it is to imagine in this era of the omnipresent president, there was a time when presidents weren’t seen much and were heard even less. There might be a lesson there for Obama.

Our founding fathers didn’t want a president who’d perpetually pound the bully pulpit. They viewed presidential speechifying as a sign of demagoguery, and thought Congress should take the lead on most matters of national policy. They expected the nation’s chief executive to pipe down, mind his constitutional business, and keep his hands to himself.

The “permanent campaign” that dominates modern presidential politics would have appalled our forefathers. Accepting the 1844 Democratic nomination, James K. Polk described the custom of the time: “the office of president of the United States should neither be sought nor declined.”

When 19th-century candidates spoke publicly, they sometimes felt compelled to apologize, as 1872 Democratic contender Horace Greeley did, for breaking “the unwritten law of our country that a candidate for President may not make speeches.”

The modern ritual of the State of the Union–with members of Congress rising to clap for every outsized promise–has grown weirdly anti-republican. Congressmen and women are members of a coordinate branch, and they ought not to be clapping maniacally like so many members of the Supreme Soviet. (George W. Bush’s last SOTU was interrupted 72 times by applause).

It would be nice if Obama returned to the Jeffersonian tradition of writing out the State of the Union and sending it over by messenger, rather than delivering it in person before Congress assembled. Of course, that’s never going to happen. There is one thing he could do, however, that would endear him to millions of Americans in the viewing public: start the speech with the following words:

“Ladies and Gentlemen: Please hold your applause to the end.”

Dems Want D.C. Vouchers Dead. Hope Someone Else Pulls Plug.

Republican leaders in the House say that Democrats are using the 2009 omnibus spending bill to try to kill the D.C. voucher program. Democrats deny the charge. Who’s right?

Created in 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was originally authorized for 5 years – a term that would have expired this June. While a typical reauthorization would have extended the program for another five years, Democrats have explicitly authorized funding only through the 2009-10 school year. If that truncated funding were not enough to worry participating families, Democrats have also called for the granting of a new veto power over the program for the DC City Council. If the bill passes as it is currently written, the voucher program can only be funded if it is reauthorized by both Congress and the City Council.

Clearly, this new language doesn’t kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program outright. Just as clearly, it puts the program on life support, and it suggests that Congress is hoping the DC Council will pull the plug for them, so that they can’t be directly blamed for kicking 1,900 children out of private schools that they have chosen and become attached to.

Critics of the program complain that, after its first two years, it had still not raised overall student academic achievement by a significant margin (though parents are happier with their voucher schools). What is less well known is that the program has proven to be dramatically more cost effective than the DC public schools. While voucher and non-voucher students are performing at about the same level, DC public schools spend more than four times as much per student. Total per pupil spending in DC was $24,600 in 2007-08, while voucher schools receive an average of less than $6,000.

If you could save 75 percent on a purchase, get the same quality of service, and know you’d be happier with the result, wouldn’t you do it? It seems Congressional Democrats would not.

New Podcast: ‘Most Banks Are Fine’

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, says Cato Senior Fellow Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr. of the country’s banking system. Since more than 90 percent of U.S. banks are doing fine, why all the talk about nationalizing them?

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, O’Driscoll explains:

If you think the bank is insolvent, certainly it should be resolved. But do we really want to see the government running very large financial institutions? In effect, we already have seen that movie, it’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and they’re not doing such a good job of it.