Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
Democrats shouldn’t put themselves in a fiscal straitjacket.On Thursday, the best House speaker of modern times reclaimed her gavel, replacing one of the worst. It has taken the news media a very long time to appreciate the greatness of Nancy Pelosi, who saved Social Security from privatization, then was instrumental in gaining health insurance for 20 million Americans. And the media are still having a hard time facing up to the phoniness of their darling Paul Ryan, who, by the way, left office with a 12 percent favorable rating.
There’s every reason to expect that Pelosi will once again be highly effective. But some progressive Democrats object to one of her initial moves — and on the economics, and probably the politics, the critics are right.
.. The issue in question is “paygo,” a rule requiring that increases in spending be matched by offsetting tax increases or cuts elsewhere.
You can argue that as a practical matter, the rule won’t matter much if at all. On one side, paygo is the law, whether Democrats put it in their internal rules or not. On the other side, the law can fairly easily be waived, as happened after the G.O.P.’s huge 2017 tax cut was enacted.
But adopting the rule was a signal of Democratic priorities — a statement that the party is deeply concerned about budget deficits and willing to cramp its other goals to address that concern. Is that a signal the party should really be sending?
.. Furthermore, there are things the government should be spending money on even when jobs are plentiful — things like fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and helping children get education, health care and adequate nutrition. Such spending has big long-run payoffs, even in purely monetary terms.
Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money very cheaply — the interest rate on inflation-protected 10-year bonds is only about 1 percent. These low borrowing costs, in turn, reflect what seems to be a persistent savings glut — that is, the private sector wants to save more than it’s willing to invest, even with very low interest rates.
Or consider what happened after Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act, going to great lengths to pay for the additional benefits with tax increases and spending cuts. A majority of voters still believed that it increased the deficit. Reality doesn’t seem to matter.
.. Anyway, the truth is that while voters may claim to care about the deficit, hardly any of them really do. For example, does anyone still believe that the Tea Party uprising was a protest against deficits? From the beginning, it was basically about race — about the government spending money to help Those People. And that’s true of a lot of what pretends to be fiscal conservatism.
.. In fact, even the deficit scolds who played such a big role in Beltway discourse during the Obama years seem oddly selective in their concerns about red ink. After all those proclamations that fiscal doom was coming any day now unless we cut spending on Social Security and Medicare, it’s remarkable how muted their response has been to a huge, budget-busting tax cut. It’s almost as if their real goal was shrinking social programs, not limiting national debt.
.. So am I saying that Democrats should completely ignore budget deficits? No; if and when they’re ready to move on things like some form of Medicare for All, the sums will be so large that asking how they’ll be paid for will be crucial.
it is, essentially, a kind of shrine to the political career of Mr. McConnell, not unlike the exhibits on Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron you’d find at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
.. it memorializes a politician who shows no sign of leaving the stage any time soon.
.. What’s most unusual, though, is what it chooses to highlight. There are a few artifacts from Mr. McConnell’s youth — his baseball glove, his honorary fraternity paddle — but most of the exhibits are devoted to the elections Mr. McConnell won, starting with high school and on up through Jefferson County executive and the Senate.
.. When I visited the room while researching my 2014 biography on Mr. McConnell, I was struck by what was missing: exhibits on actual governing accomplishments from the Senate majority leader’s four decades in elected office.
That absence confirmed my thesis that Mr. McConnell, far more even than other politicians, was motivated by the game of politics — winning elections and rising in the leadership ranks, achieving power for power’s sake — more than by any lasting policy goals.
.. it is becoming increasingly clear that Mitch McConnell is creating a legacy for himself, and it’s a mighty grand one.
.. Mr. McConnell has created the world in which we are now living. Donald Trump dominates our universe — and now has the power to fill the second Supreme Court seat in two years. Mitch McConnell, who has promised a vote on whomever the president nominates “this fall,” is the figure who was quietly making it all possible
.. First, there was Mr. McConnell’s vigorous defense, going back to the early 1990s, of the role of big money in American politics
.. helping shape the conditions for his appeal.
.. he was well aware that he, as someone lacking in natural campaign talents, and the rest of the Republican Party, as more business-oriented than the Democrats, would need to maintain the flow of large contributions to be able to win elections. “I will always be well financed, and I’ll be well financed early,” he declared after winning his first race for county executive, in 1977.
.. culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling eliminating limits on corporate spending on elections, which Mr. McConnell followed up by blocking legislation to disclose the identity of large donors.
.. the spread of big money in politics had done so much to sour the public on government, creating a ripe target for the Tea Party and, later, for a billionaire populist running against “the swamp.”
.. laid the groundwork for the right-wing insurgency of 2009 and 2010
.. his decision to withhold Republican support for any major Democratic initiatives in the Obama years. This meant that Republicans had less influence on the final shape of legislation such as the Affordable Care Act than they would have had as fully willing negotiators... fueled the rise of the Tea Party, which was motivated substantially by the notion that Mr. Obama was “ramming things down our throats”.. his refusal to hold a confirmation hearing, let alone a vote on Merrick Garland, Mr. Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that the nomination was made a full 10 months before the end of Mr. Obama’s term. This refusal exploded norms and dismayed Beltway arbiters who had long accepted Mr. McConnell’s claim to be a guardian of Washington institutions. It also provided crucial motivation to Republicans who had grave qualms about Mr. Trump but were able to justify voting for him as “saving Scalia’s seat.”.. Mr. Obama had been prepared that September to go public with a C.I.A. assessment laying bare the extent of Russian intervention in the election. But he was largely dissuaded by a threat from Mr. McConnell... During a secret briefing for congressional leaders, The Post reported, Mr. McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”.. Mr. McConnell’s doing away last year with the 60-vote requirement for Senate confirmation, to get Neil Gorsuch seated.. In the 1970s, when he ran for county executive in Louisville, he secured the pivotal endorsement of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. by pledging to back collective bargaining for public employees (a promise that went unfulfilled), and while in office he worked effectively behind the scenes to protect abortion rights locally... Mr. McConnell saw the rightward swing of the Reagan revolution and decided to hop on board for his own political preservation as a Southern Republican. These days, Mr. McConnell has made explicit, with taunting tweets among other things, that he views long-term conservative control of the Supreme Court as his crowning achievement... Holding a long-term majority on the court greatly aids his highest cause — Republican victories in future elections — as recent rulings on voting rights and gerrymandering demonstrated once again.Whether Mr. McConnell decides to add an exhibit in the Civic Education Gallery documenting his role in the rise of Donald Trump is another matter. The final historical judgment on that score will not rest with him, in any case.
It would be difficult to overestimate the meaning of Paul Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress even as he occupies the office of Speaker of the House. So let’s estimate.
Twice in the past three years, the sitting Speaker has walked away from the office. Ryan only became Speaker because John Boehner, his predecessor, quit rather than suffer through a challenge from the bomb throwers in the Republican House conference. There’s no precedent for this in American history. The Speakership has been one of the most powerful offices in the world. Now it’s apparently more agony than ecstasy for a Republican.
.. A Republican likely won’t be elected speaker after the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s decision suggests he and others have seen enough internal data to know their capacity to hold their 23-seat majority is slipping away.
.. That makes 42 GOP retirements among the 237 Republican members of the 115th Congress—a number vastly higher than any recent Congress’s.
.. the Ryan retirement isn’t just a sign. It’s like a fireball from the sky. And it will occasion more retreats and embolden more Democrats.
.. the GOP is Trump’s party now, not Ryan’s.
.. His mercurial nature and habit of punching down have combined with general GOP support for Trump personally to prevent any such rump from emerging in the Congress. He’s already claimed the scalps of two Republican senators—Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—who attempted to do just that. How did their standing athwart Trump help them or anyone?
.. some of the GOP’s wonkier agenda items are being implemented by the Trump administration–notably, in the sphere of deregulation. So, yes, it’s Trump’s party, but there’s an extent to which it’s also Ryan’s party, the conservative policy wonk’s party. Except, of course, for two big things.
The first big thing is entitlement reform, which is the issue nearest to Ryan’s heart.
.. No matter what happens, no matter the growth of the economy or the glories of #MAGA, the remorseless logic of the actuarial charts showing the government going bankrupt from the cost of Medicare and Medicaid sometime around 2030 is unyielding
.. The second big thing is the massive federal deficit, which is projected to stay above the $1 trillion mark for God knows how long. The bitter irony here is that the Tea Party–whose ab nihilo existence began the Republican resurgence in the House and Senate, and whose anti-Establishment ethos was the precursor to Trump–was obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama was breaking the bank, and rightly so. Now, the Tea Party forms the hard schist of the Republican base, and it’s clearly decided not to hold Trump accountable
Pompeo’s ascent underscores just how many politicians who came to prominence with the tea party — including Vice President Pence, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney — now occupy powerful positions in Trump’s administration. Depending on how far Trump goes to try to remake the GOP in his image, tea party alumni may form the core of a new Republican establishment.
.. The grievances that animated the movement and fed Trump’s presidential candidacy live on. The tea party’s insurgent impulses have fused with his erratic populism to become one of the three contending forces in the Republican Party — the other two being establishment Republicanism and ideological conservatism. Tillerson’s fall is a prime example of how traditional Republicans are becoming yesterday’s men and women in the Trumpified GOP. Tomorrow, will it be the ideological conservatives like House Speaker Paul Ryan?.. The Washington Post reported that Trump disdained Tillerson, the pro-big-business former ExxonMobil CEO, for being “too establishment” in his thinking, by which the president seems to have meant Tillerson’s prudence (at least in relation to Trump), adherence to traditional diplomatic protocols, and unwillingness to rip up trade agreements and the Iran nuclear deal.Pompeo, on the other hand, first won election to Congress in 2010 as a tea party favorite, in a race where some of his supporters urged Kansans to “Vote American ” to defeat his Indian American opponent... party leaders were uneasily aware that the tea party stood apart from the Republican Party and in some ways defined itself in angry opposition to the GOP establishment. (The divide plagued the speakership of John Boehner and ultimately helped lead to his resignation.).. Republican and Democratic leaders came across to tea party activists as equally uninterested in their worries about immigration, the loss of jobs and industry to global economic competition, and a social agenda of “political correctness” pushed by academia and the media. Trump built his movement by championing these issues both parties seemed to ignore and projecting a willingness to fight to the death rather than surrender... In the long view of history, the tea party was one more episode in a series of right-wing populist revolts that marked the development of the modern conservative movement.
- .. President Dwight Eisenhower, for example, squelchedSen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade, while the conservative intellectual champion
- William F. Buckley Jr. expelled the conspiracy-mongering John Birch Society from the respectable right. At other times, leaders like
- Ronald Reagan brought conservative activists into the mainstream of the GOP without permitting them to engage in intra-party fratricide.
.. When the conservative supporters of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona came together in the early 1960s, for example, they took over many state and local party organizations and threw out anyone they deemed insufficiently committed to the cause.
.. As for Burch, after Goldwater’s massive defeat, he repented and told the RNC that “this party needs two wings, two wings and a center, or I fear it may never fly again.”
.. The grievances of most tea party supporters didn’t fade with time but were inflamed by Trump’s campaign, which strengthened the movement’s tendency to view opponents as illegitimate and un-American, and compromise as treason.
.. Despite the tea party’s provenance as a conservative movement, there was little about past political patterns and practices that it wanted to conserve. Activists hoped not only to “throw the bums out” but also to get rid of anything that passed for the status quo.
.. The affinity of tea party veterans for Trump is based in part on their common interest in disruption. Ryan may soon be in trouble because his authority and his orthodox conservatism have become another establishment to be overthrown
The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
gun-control advocates assume that if Republicans oppose “gun free” workplace rules, it’s because they think gunplay at work is okay — and not because such laws don’t work on people keen on shooting up their office
.. I have no doubt that Porter was good at his job. One hears reports about how he was a stabilizing presence in the White House and a reliable ally of the Gang of Grown-Ups in the West Wing. But it tells you something about the bunker mentality inside the White House that these allegations were simply too bad to check.
.. one of the great defenses of the Trump administration is its practicality and rejection of abstract theory and ideology
.. Part of my defense of ideology is that much of it isn’t abstract theory (
.. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded”
- .. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge.
- How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge;
- all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge;
- all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge.
.. it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity.
.. the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.
.. The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
.. In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.”
.. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week.
.. the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”
.. More broadly, the president doesn’t like entitlement reform, as he has made clear many times.
Conservatives once warned that Obamacare would produce the Democratic Waterloo. Their inability to accept the principle of universal coverage has, instead, led to their own defeat.
.. At precisely the moment we were urging the GOP to march in one direction, the great mass of conservatives and Republicans had turned on the double in the other, toward an ever more wild and even paranoid extremism. Those were the days of Glenn Beck’s 5 o’clock Fox News conspiracy rants, of Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” of Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers, of Tea Party rallies at which men openly brandished assault rifles.
.. AEI would provide a home for the emerging “reform conservative” tendency. Its president, Arthur Brooks, would speak eloquently of the need for conservatives to show concern for the poor and the hard-pressed working class.
.. The mood then was that supporters and opponents of the Obama administration were engaged in a furious battle over whether the United States would remain a capitalist economy at all... it was precisely because I appreciated its unwelcomeness where I worked that I had launched an independent blog in the first place... I fruitlessly argued through 2009 and 2010 that Republicans should do business with President Obama on health-care reform... It seemed to me that Obama’s adoption of ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—and then enacted into state law in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney—offered the best near-term hope to control the federal health-care spending that would otherwise devour the defense budget and force taxes upward... I suggested that universal coverage was a worthy goal, and one that would hugely relieve the anxieties of working-class and middle-class Americans who had suffered so much in the Great Recession... They had the votes this time to pass something. They surely would do so—and so the practical question facing Republicans was whether it would not be better to negotiate to shape that “something” in ways that would be less expensive, less regulatory, and less redistributive... Increasingly isolated and frustrated, I watched with dismay as people I’d known for years and decades incited each other to jump together over the same cliff.
.. There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or—more exactly—with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters—but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say—but what is equally true—is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed—if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office—Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
.. Over the next seven years, Republicans would vote again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Total and permanent opposition to the law would become the absolute touchstone of Republican loyalty. Even Donald Trump, who dissented from so much of the old orthodoxy, retained this piece of the doxology.
.. Some of the conservatives who voted “no” to the House leadership’s version of repeal may yet imagine that they will have some other opportunity to void the law. They are again deluding themselves.
.. Too many people benefit from the law—and the Republican alternatives thus far offer too little to compensate for the loss of those benefits.
.. America committed itself for the first time to the principle of universal (or near universal) health-care coverage. That principle has had seven years to work its way into American life and into the public sense of right and wrong. It’s not yet unanimously accepted. But it’s accepted by enough voters—and especially by enough Republican voters—to render impossible the seven-year Republican vision of removing that coverage from those who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act.
.. Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to “choose” to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees.
.. Health care may not be a human right, but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable, and unnecessary human wrong.
.. As Americans lift this worry from their fellow citizens, they’ll discover that they have addressed some other important problems too. They’ll find that they have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care.
.. They’ll find they have improved the troubled lives of the white working class succumbing at earlier ages from preventable deaths of despair.
.. What I would urge is that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes
- radicalism, and
- anger over
- moderation, and