Topic: Political Philosophy

President Obama Can’t Dictate Senate Rules

While much attention has focused on the Senate’s recent vote to eliminate the ability to filibuster judicial and executive nominations, another aspect of constitutonal separation of powers will come to the fore in January when the Supreme Court hears argument in NLRB v. Noel Canning.

The Recess Appointments Clause, which gives the president the power to “fill up Vacancies” in federal offices and judgeships that “may happen during the Recess of the Senate,” allows the president to fill vacancies without going through the normal requirements of obtaining the Senate’s “advice and consent.” The Framers understood that, particularly during the nation’s early days, the president and the rest of the executive branch would be the only members of the government in Washington for the entire year, so important offices may become vacant while the Senate was out of session. The Recess Appointments Clause would thus be an important but rarely used exception to the normal confirmation process.

For nearly 200 years, however, presidents have been whittling down the clause’s requirements. For the first three decades of the Constitution, the clause was interpreted to apply only to vacancies that occurred during a recess—perhaps because a cabinet member died—and didn’t apply at all to vacancies that existed while the Senate was in session. During the Monroe administration, the attorney general first authorized appointments to offices that were vacant during the previous recess.

Liberalish Rather than Liberal: A Kuwaiti Grades the Gulf Kingdom

Kuwait City, Kuwait—“I read your blog post,” Dr. Anood Al-Sharikh told me when we met. “Kuwait isn’t really liberal, but more liberalish, don’t you think?”

She’s right, though in the Middle East even liberalish is a major advance over ugly authoritarian systems like the Saudi theocracy. Kuwait hosts many traditionalists and Islamists who live conservatively, but there is space for most everyone. Many women, like Al-Sharikh hold professional jobs, travel the world, and dress fashionably.

Moreover, politics is freer than elsewhere in the Gulf. Kuwait is ruled by an emir who appoints government ministers, but an elected National Assembly can challenge government ministers and force a cabinet’s resignation. On Tuesday I sat through some the “grilling” of the health minister, a liberal royal who I met last year when he was working in the prime minister’s office. Animated legislators vigorously challenged his performance as well as the arguments of their colleagues while pushing a no confidence motion.

Still, the government clearly has the upper hand, aided by problems elsewhere in the Gulf. A year ago, Kuwait was host to multiple demonstrations by an angry opposition which ranged from secular liberal to Islamist. Today “things have calmed down,” noted Waleed Moubarak of Alghanim Industries. That’s positive, in his view, since you “can only sustain so much political drama.”

But more happened than people being worn out. The authorities “sucked the wind out of” the opposition movement, noted Al-Sharikh. The “government struck back effectively” in a notably illiberal fashion, jailing some people and using its various forms of influence. It even pressed Islamist clerics to issue fatwas against the opposition. Moreover, she asked, “how can anyone in Kuwait be against the government,” which offers jobs, provides homes, pays for education, and more.

Internal contradictions hobbled the opposition: by allying with Islamists, the liberals were effectively promoting a political agenda that included imposing dress codes, closing churches, executing blasphemers, and enshrining sharia as the fount of law. Equally important, the collapse of the Arab Spring had a sobering effect. A bank analyst told me “the public was fed up, it saw chaos in Egypt, violence in Syria, and said that is not for us. People decided there was more to lose than to gain if they went down that particular route.”

In fact, Kuwait well demonstrates the tensions between a democratic polity and liberal society. Thus the “liberalish” country’s fascinating paradox: today, at least, Kuwait’s hereditary emir might be more likely than an elected parliament to encourage development of a free society.

Race Has Nothing to Do with the Judicial Nominations Fight

The Congressional Black Caucus has now explicitly attacked Republicans as racist for blocking President Obama’s latest judicial nominees. Not only are they racist, but if you scratch them, you find Confederate gray. 
 
Unbelievable. 
 
Do these elected officials really think that the filibustering of three D.C. Circuit nominees (one of whom is black) has more to do with race than either judicial philosophy or the ongoing battle over whether this underworked court actually needs more judges? Even after Indian-American Sri Srinivasen was confirmed to that same court unanimously in May after Caitlin Halligan (who’s white) was blocked for ideological reasons?
 

Thank Inventors and Innovators for a Better Life

Hans Riegel recently died at age 90. He changed the world for the better. He brought us the treat known as gummi bears. 

Politicians routinely crusade against wealth and inequality, but that occurs naturally when people create products and offer services benefiting the rest of us.   

Today people live on their cell phones. Once we didn’t even have telephones. Thank Alexander Graham Bell, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

The internal combustion engine auto came from Karl Benz. He was a design engineer who in 1886 won a patent for a “motor car.” 

In 1903, Clarence Crane created the hard fruit candy known as Life Savers. 

Helen Greiner, a fan of Star Wars’ R2D2, came up with the Roomba vacuum cleaner robot in 2002. 

John Mauchly and John Eckert created the first computer in 1946—the Electronic Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. 

Thomas Edison gave us working light bulbs in 1879. Joseph Swan might have beaten Edison, but the latter bought Swan’s patent. 

The 3-D printer was created in 1983 by Chuck Hall. His first creation: a tea cup. 

Flight Not an Option in Public School Wars

People viciously go for each other’s throats when they’re trying to help “the children.” At least, according to a new Politico article, that’s the case over the last several years, with demonization increasingly the weapon of choice when it comes to education politics.

Several pragaraphs in, the piece gets to the inflamed heart of the problem:

The policies the two sides fight over are high-stakes indeed. They drive hundreds of billions in public spending. They could impact millions of union  jobs and millions in corporate profits. And they will have an enormous impact on where, how and what the next generation learns.

That may be why the hostility seems to be escalating.

Public schooling politics is a zero-sum game: all people pay in, but only those with political power get control. That is exactly why public schools drive such vitriol and anger. It is like politics generally, but with the emotionally charged, added stakes that people’s children and, often, their basic values, hang in the balance. Making matters worse is that basic decisions about crucial questions—including who is held “accountable,” how, and what children will learn—have for roughly 50 years been increasingly made at the federal level. As a result, people who want something different can’t move to another district or even state to get the education they want. There is no more flight. There is only fight.

Of course, painful conflict caused by public schools is nothing new, even if nationalization is making it worse and more visible. Familiarizing oneself with the history of American education makes clear just how divisive public schooling has been. For instance, see the Philadelphia “Bible Riots,” or the textbook war in Kanawha County, WV. And just because something is local- or state-controlled doesn’t free it from conflict. Cato’s still-under-construction public schooling “battle map” pinpoints well over 800—and growing—contemporary battles over basic values and rights fought at the school, district, and state levels. And that doesn’t include constant combat over budgets, teacher evaluations, school start times, math curricula, and on and on.

Ultimately, understanding why public schools are the source of unceasing conflict—and why it worsens the more that control is centralized—requires the simplest of logic: One government school system cannot possibly serve all, diverse people equally. And the higher decision-making goes, the more diversity the monolithic system encompasses.  

Government schooling essentially guarantees war without end, and increasing centralization only puts peace further out of reach.

The Sickness of Government

People shouldn’t be surprised about the botched roll-out of Obamacare and all the damaging effects of the law that are now generating headlines. Over the decades, federal efforts to subsidize and manipulate the economy have failed over and over again.

That lesson has been driven home to me in researching Downsizing Government. Farm policies, for example, have been an ongoing boondoggle for more than eight decades. President Herbert Hoover’s Federal Farm Board blew $500 million trying to stabilize crop markets, but it did the opposite by inducing overproduction and depressing prices. Every farm bill since then—including the one moving through Congress right now—has been based on two very dumb ideas: that farm businesses need welfare and that agriculture needs government central planning.

I recently came across “The Sickness of Government,” (PDF) a 1969 essay by famed management theorist Peter Drucker. It is strikingly relevant to the problems we see in Washington today from Obamacare, to farm programs, to IRS abuse, to NSA spying. Unlike, say, Ayn Rand–who at the time was writing about government from the standpoint of individual freedom–Drucker was writing from the practical perspective that Big Government simply wasn’t working.

Here are some excerpts from Drucker, but his whole essay is worth reading:

Americans’ Liberty Matters More than Washington’s Credibility

For two weeks most Americans didn’t notice that the federal government had closed.  Other nations complained that the shutdown undercut America’s position as a great power, but Americans must debate fundamental issues despite the criticism of foreign governments.

Some analysts worried that the partisan budget deadlock would ruin America’s international reputation.  For instance, Sina Toossi of Foreign Policy in Focus argued:  “It is clear that politicking in Washington is reaching the point where consequential damage is being done to the broader and longer term national interests of the United States.”

Secretary of State John Kerry joined the America-bashing.  He warned that if the partial shutdown was “prolonged or repeated,” people might question America’s ability to “stay the course” and whether the U.S. can “be counted on.” 

The shutdown may have been a foolish political tactic, but such hand-wringing was silly.  For all of the drang und sturm in Washington, people elsewhere barely noticed.  American politicians looked stupid, but that’s nothing new.  International policies, treaties, and alliances remained unchanged.

Moreover, as I pointed out in my latest Forbes online column:

Even more important, nothing changed outside of government.  The U.S. economy remained the world’s largest and most productive.  American entrepreneurs continued to circle the globe looking for business opportunities.  U.S. culture continued to hold sway most everywhere people travel and electromagnetic waves reach.  American people continued to visit other nations as tourists, athletes, missionaries, educators, and humanitarians.  The world didn’t wait on the U.S. since the American people didn’t wait on their government.

President Obama did cancel a trip to Asia.  Aleksius Jemadu of Indonesia’s Pelita Harapan University opined that the “Obama administration has to convince again partners in Asia that the United States is really serious about the plan to focus on Asia.”  Shihoko Goto of the Woodrow Wilson International Center similarly contended that even a friend like Japan is “beginning to regard Washington’s political impasse as the beginning of the end of U.S. influence in the region.” 

Yet Washington’s Asia policy remained the same.  U.S. military forces continued to provide what amounts to defense welfare to prosperous and populous allies throughout the Asia-Pacific.  (Unfortunately!) 

Of course, the president missed some meetings.  But most of the work at international gatherings is done by staff, and none of the president’s planned trips were particularly important.  The Secretaries of State and Commerce—officials more influential than the heads of state and government of most other nations—attended the largest gathering.  Moreover, political leaders the world over routinely forgo foreign travel in response to domestic political crises. 

Still, Secretary Kerry was worried:  “The question no longer is whether our politics stops at the water’s edge, but whether our politics stops us from providing the leadership that the world needs.”

Yet a world so utterly dependent on the U.S. is not good for the U.S., let alone the rest of the world.  In fact, American and foreign leaders alike hype Washington’s importance for their own ends.  U.S. officials enjoy their supposed indispensability and bask in lavish attention accorded by other states.  Foreign governments enjoy foisting their most difficult problems on America while benefiting from all manner of financial and military subsidies. 

American Security Project’s August Cole complained that “America is losing its ability to lead globally on the strength of its actions and ideas, to support a vibrant free-market system, to nurture a responsive democratic political system and to uphold a social contract that honors economic and social progress.” 

The nation’s vibrant free-market system and responsive democratic system are under serious threat, but not from the recent political battle.  The danger comes from ever more expansive government. 

For instance, Washington’s take over of American health care is bending the cost curve up.  By inflating health insurance expenses government is threatening economic growth and job creation.  By raising government costs the Obama program is weakening federal finances.  Finally, by imposing unpopular legislation amid a cascade of lies—such as that everyone could keep their own insurance if they wanted—the administration is undercutting American democracy.

While the shutdown was counterproductive, only political vigilance and concerted action can preserve a vibrant market economy and responsive political democracy.  That battle must be fought even if other nations look askance at the result.  What other think matters far less than preserving liberty at home.