How Elizabeth Warren Learned to Fight

She was Betsy to her mother, who expected her to marry. Liz to fellow high school debaters, whom she regularly beat. Now, the lessons of an Oklahoma childhood are center stage in the presidential race.

OKLAHOMA CITY — It was 1962 in Oklahoma City and Liz Herring, a new student at Northwest Classen High School, was feeling insecure. She was good at school, had skipped a grade, and now, as a skinny freshman with glasses and crooked teeth who had grown up in a town south of the capital, she was hungry to fit in.

She joined the Cygnet Pep Club to show her school spirit and the Courtesy Club to help visitors find their way around the school. She became a member of the Announcers Club, reading messages over the school’s central sound system. But it was the debate club where she really found herself. At a time when Home Ec and preparing for marriage were priorities for young women, debate was a place where they could compete on equal ground.

She loved learning about the big topics of the day — Medicare, unions, nuclear disarmament. She began carrying around a large metal box with hundreds of index cards with quotes and facts written on them.

She was competitive and had extraordinary focus and self-discipline, spending hours after school each day practicing. Joe Pryor, a high school friend and debate teammate, remembers her “ruthlessness in preparation.” By the time they were juniors, he said, “she was just flat out better than me.”

Liberaltarians

The conservative movement—and, with it, the GOP—is in disarray. Specifically, the movement’s “fusionist” alliance between traditionalists and libertarians appears, at long last, to be falling apart.

.. Libertarian disaffection should come as no surprise. Despite the GOP’s rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.

This woeful record cannot simply be blamed on politicians failing to live up to their conservative principles. Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism.

.. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government.

.. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.

.. the conservative embrace of a right-wing Leviathan has left libertarian-minded intellectuals feeling left out in the cold.

.. New York Post columnist Ryan Sager bemoaned the rise of big-government conservatism and warned that excessive pandering to evangelicals would rupture the movement.

.. Andrew Sullivan denounced the right’s fundamentalist turn in The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back.

.. 13 percent of the population, or 28 million voting-age Americans, can be fairly classified as libertarian-leaning.

.. Back in 2000, this group voted overwhelmingly for Bush, supporting him over Al Gore by a 72-20 margin.

.. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame caused something of a stir by proposing the term “Libertarian Democrat” to describe his favored breed of progressive.

.. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, fellow Montanan Tester, and Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb—have sounded some libertarian themes by being simultaneously pro-choice and pro-gun rights.

.. if Democrats hope to continue appealing to libertarian-leaning voters, they are going to have to up their game. They need to ask themselves: Are we content with being a brief rebound fling for jilted libertarians, or do we want to form a lasting relationship? Let me make a case for the second option.

.. the prevailing ideological categories are intellectually exhausted. Conservatism has risen to power only to become squalid and corrupt, a Nixonian mélange of pandering to populist prejudices and distributing patronage to well-off cronies and Red Team constituencies.

.. Liberalism, meanwhile, has never recovered from its fall from grace in the mid-’60s.

.. Conservative fusionism, the defining ideology of the American right for a half-century, was premised on the idea that libertarian policies and traditional values are complementary goods.

.. But an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends.

.. many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era—the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration—were championed by the political left.

.. capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation—the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns—have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction.

.. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture, which pushed blacks off the farm and out of the South

.. Likewise, feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework.

Greater sexual openness, as well as heightened interest in the natural environment, are among the luxury goods that mass affluence has purchased.

.. secularization and the general decline in reverence for authority, as rising education levels (prompted by the economy’s growing demand for knowledge workers) have promoted increasing independence of mind.

.. Yet progressives remain stubbornly resistant to embracing capitalism, their great natural ally.

.. Knee-jerk antipathy to markets and the creative destruction they bring continues to be widespread, and bitter denunciations of the unfairness of the system, mixed with nostalgia for the good old days of the Big Government/Big Labor/Big Business triumvirate, too often substitute for clear thinking about realistic policy options.

.. the rival ideologies of left and right are both pining for the ’50s. The only difference is that

  • liberals want to work there, while
  • conservatives want to go home there.

.. Both generally support a more open immigration policy. Both reject the religious right’s homophobia and blastocystophilia. Both are open to rethinking the country’s draconian drug policies. Both seek to protect the United States from terrorism without gratuitous encroachments on civil liberties or extensions of executive power. And underlying all these policy positions is a shared philosophical commitment to individual autonomy as a core political value.

.. their conceptions differ as to the chief threats to that autonomy.

  • Libertarians worry primarily about constraints imposed by government, while
  • liberals worry most about constraints imposed by birth and the play of economic forces.

.. At the same time, some of the resulting wealth-creation would be used to improve safety-net policies that help those at the bottom and ameliorate the hardships inflicted by economic change.

.. Progressive organizations like Oxfam and the Environmental Working Group have already joined with free-market groups in pushing for ag-policy reform.

.. the current subsidy programs act as a regressive tax on low-income families here at home while depressing prices for exporters in poor countries abroad—and, to top it off, the lion’s share of the loot goes to big agribusiness, not family farmers.

.. the president of Cato and the executive director of the Sierra Club have come out together in favor of a zero-subsidy energy policy.

.. cut taxes on savings and investment, cut payroll taxes on labor, and make up the shortfall with increased taxation of consumption. Go ahead, tax the rich, but don’t do it when they’re being productive. Tax them instead when they’re splurging—by capping the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and tax incentives for purchasing health insurance. And tax everybody’s energy consumption.

.. Gore has proposed a straight-up swap of payroll taxes for carbon taxes

.. Greg Mankiw has been pushing for an increase in the gasoline tax.

.. libertarians’ core commitments to personal responsibility and economy in government run headlong into progressives’ core commitments to social insurance and an adequate safety net.

.. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is now projected to increase from about 9 percent of GDP today to approximately 15 percent by 2030.

.. We can fund the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for the poor; we can fund unemployment insurance and other programs for people dislocated by capitalism’s creative destruction; we can fund public pensions for the indigent elderly; we can fund public health care for the poor and those faced with catastrophic expenses. What we cannot do is continue to fund universal entitlement programs that slosh money from one section of the middle class (people of working age) to another (the elderly)—not when most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs.

.. Instead, we need to move from the current pay-as-you-go approach to a system in which private savings would provide primary funding for the costs of old age.

Trump’s White House Is a Black Hole

The Republican Party is learning what should have been obvious from the outset: Mr. Trump’s chaotic personality can’t be contained.

.. combining it with the awesome power of the presidency virtually guaranteed he would become more volatile and transgressive.

His presidency is infecting the entire party.

.. The Republican Party once championed the principles of liberty and limited government, yet Mr. Trump is indifferent to them.

Republicans once sought to strengthen relations with Mexico; today they delight in antagonizing our neighbor. Not long ago, Republicans made outreach to Hispanics a top priority; today the signals that the president and his party send are that Hispanics are alien, unwelcome, nothing but trouble.

In 2012, Republicans defended Mitt Romney when he said Russia was our biggest geopolitical threat; today they are wholly untroubled by its effort to subvert the 2016 presidential election.

.. Republicans have long argued that human rights should play a central role in American foreign policy, from the presidency of Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush’s. Today human rights are viewed at most as an afterthought.

.. At the national level the Republican Party has become a destructive and anarchic political force in American life.

.. Rather than nourishing a sense of gratitude, he stokes grievances.

.. One White House aide, asked by The Washington Post whether John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, could have been more truthful or transparent about the dismissal of the staff secretary Rob Porter, answered honestly: “In this White House, it’s simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don’t even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate.

.. All of this is antithetical to conservatism. On balance, Republicans are seeking to conserve very little

.. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

.. The Republican Party once prided itself as a defender of objective truth against postmodernism. Today, it has become the party of perspectivism — the view, articulated by Nietzsche, that all truth claims are contingent on a person’s perspective rather than on fundamental reality. “It is our needs that interpret the world,” Nietzsche wrote in “The Will to Power.”

.. the institutional expression of Donald Trump’s distorted and impulsive personality.

.. Party leaders who were once willing to challenge Mr. Trump, to call him out now and then, are now far more compliant and therefore far more complicit.

.. Mr. Trump was and remains the people’s choice — evidence that, while the president has accelerated the worst tendencies of the Republican Party, he is not solely responsible for them. He did not appear out of thin air.

.. Americans are longing for a more ennobling, less exhausting political leader.

.. people are tiring of the incessant conflict created by politics these days.

.. But as long as Mr. Trump is president, they will feel this way. He won’t change, and neither will the Republican Party. That’s how institutional corruption happens, from the top down.

What happens when a party becomes unmoored from the truth and the American creed

a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.

.. “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself.

.. much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought.

.. Means that do not respect values that conservatives used to hold dear (e.g. free markets, federalism, family unity) are no cause for celebration.

.. if conservatives think Trump’s accomplishments are conservative, then conservatism has morphed into something foreign to those who spent decades advocating a governing philosophy rooted in

  • opportunity for all,
  • civility,
  • federalism,
  • the rule of law,
  • free markets and
  • limited but vigorous government.

.. Trump’s right-wing apologists would have us treat Trump’s racism, attacks on democratic norms, dishonesty and contempt for independent democratic institutions as matters of style. “Well I don’t much like his tweeting but …” “Well, we don’t really agree that there are good people on the neo-Nazi side.” “Well, we all knew he was a bit of a liar.

.. Call this the “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”  syndrome

.. If one puts racism so far down the list of priorities that it barely deserves a raised eyebrow — or worse, requires some fudging to cover it up — one has become an enabler of racism. If one brushes off repeated, deliberate falsehoods because they are embarrassing, one becomes an enabler of lying, a handmaiden to attacks on objective truth. These are not inconsequential matters; they are not style issues. Truth-telling and repudiation of racism are or should be top principles both for America and for conservatism.

.. Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be)

.. The assertion that we can disregard everything the president says so long as it does not become cemented in law misconceives the role of the presidency and ignores his oath.

.. His oath was not to produce tax cuts or regulatory rollbacks. He swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, including reverence for the First Amendment, an independent judiciary and equal protection under the law.

.. The party and Trump apologists who brandish the conservative moniker, we fear, have lost their way. They’ve ceased to think deeply about the substance of policy and its effects, but worse, they have inverted their once-claimed priorities. What is most important — democratic norms and objective truth — is now for too many an afterthought, and Trump’s evisceration of the same, mere differences in style. We cannot abide by this, and neither should Americans of whatever political stripe.