Our Collectivist Candidates, Past and Present

I’ve just been reading Bill Kauffman’s fine book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism (see him talk about it here), and I ran across this quotation from Bill Clinton in 1997:

It’s hard when you’re not threatened by a foreign enemy to whip people up to a fever pitch of common, intense, sustained, disciplined endeavor.

Indeed it is. Outside of wartime it is difficult, even impossible, to rally millions of free citizens around a common aim. When you’re not threatened by war or occupation, people have their own endeavors, their own purposes, their own “pursuits of industry and improvement,” as Jefferson put it, to worry about. That’s why collectivists and statists are always trying to gin up war fever in metaphorical wars like the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the Energy Crisis.

And as I wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, this martial spirit remains a temptation to our current candidates. Barack Obama told Wesleyan graduates that “our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.” John McCain calls on us to serve “a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests,” preferably by doing calisthenics in uniform in front of city hall. Politicians like that, as Michelle Obama, “will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual.”

Posted on June 30, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Obama’s Kansas Values

The Washington Post has a front-page story on how Barack Obama is playing in the heartland of America, Findlay, Ohio. Not so good, judging by the lengthy interviews with good solid middle-Americans who believe things like this:

“I think Obama would be a disaster, and there’s a lot of reasons,” said Pollard, explaining the rumors he had heard about the candidate from friends he goes camping with. “I understand he’s from Africa, and that the first thing he’s going to do if he gets into office is bring his family over here, illegally. He’s got that racist [pastor] who practically raised him, and then there’s the Muslim thing. He’s just not presidential material, if you ask me.”

There’s plenty more in the story. Which is why Obama is now running his famous television ad, titled “Country I Love.” And judging by the Post story, the ad is working very well with those who see it, at least those who are sympathetic to Obama in the first place. Reporter Eli Saslow writes:

The new advertisement running in Findlay, in which Obama is pictured with his white mother and white grandparents as he talks about developing a “deep and abiding faith in the country I love” while growing up in the Kansas heartland…

But of course Obama didn’t grow up in Kansas. He was born in Hawaii and grew up there and in Indonesia. And the ad doesn’t claim that he did. In the ad Obama says:

I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents….They taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.

Talk about a guy who isn’t well known yet, on whom everybody can project both good and bad images. People all over America are hearing on the internet or at the beauty salon that he’s a Muslim born in Africa, and a Washington Post reporter somehow thinks he grew up in Kansas.

Posted on June 30, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

John Edwards’s Constituents

Today I saw a John Edwards bumper sticker — the first one I can really recall — on a beautiful Audi convertible parked in a luxury development in a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. Just an idle question: Do you think it’s more likely that this John Edwards supporter is part of Edwards’s much touted constituency of mill workers and “regular, hard-working Americans” or of Edwards’s real constituency of trial lawyers and lobbyists?

Posted on June 29, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

McCain and Our Fundamental Rights

Sen. John McCain issued a ringing endorsement of the Supreme Court’s Heller decision:

Today’s ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right – sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.

You can’t get much stronger than that. Except . . .  wait . . . what was it McCain said about our sacred right to free speech? Oh, right, two years ago on the Don Imus show he said, “I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt.” So when McCain says that our Second Amendment rights are just as fundamental and sacred as our First Amendment rights, maybe he’s pulling a bait-and-switch. Because he’s thoroughly indifferent to the First Amendment.

In his statement on the Heller decision McCain went on to say, “This ruling does not mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. We must always remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms.”

So true.

Posted on June 27, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Stephen Colbert and the Supreme Court

In the interview touted below by Jim Harper, the faux-neocon character played by Stephen Colbert asks constitutional scholar Neal Katyal, “Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

He’s ostensibly speaking for the four conservative justices who dissented in the Boumediene v. Bush case. But today he could be channeling the four liberal justices who dissented in the D.C. v. Heller case. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that he couldn’t imagine that the Constitution would “limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.”

It is sadly hard to find justices who don’t, in some cases, sound like “Stephen Colbert”:

“Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

For a discussion of how the Constitution does in fact establish a government of delegated, enumerated, and thus limited powers, go here.

Posted on June 26, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bush Watch

Over at RedState, they’re excited about a video narrated by Sen. Fred Thompson — remember him? — for the President’s Dinner of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s a fine video, full of stirring music and appeals to freedom and smaller government by Thompson, John McCain, and the President — Ronald Reagan, that is. In 5 minutes and 28 seconds, there was no room for a clip, a photo, or a mention of the current President, what’s his name, Bush.

Republicans are no dummies. If they haven’t had a president they’re proud to be associated with in the past 20 years, they’ll reach back 27 years ago to the first inaugural address of a president they can still sell.

Posted on June 25, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Jim Webb, Drug War Peacenik?

I’ve just posted a piece at the Guardian on Sen. James Webb’s Scots-Irish ethnic populism. But he’s got his good side, too. A Virginia newspaper reports today:

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb began building a public case Thursday to change the nation’s drug laws to stress treatment over incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

The freshman Democrat held a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee to solicit testimony from prosecutors and scholars who argued that the decades-long emphasis on incarceration has been costly and ineffective.

Posted on June 21, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz: Jim Webb’s identity-based economic populism

David Boaz: The potential vice-presidential candidate supports liberal economic policies because of his Scots-Irish heritage

Posted on June 20, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

David Boaz: Jim Webb’s identity-based economic populism

The potential vice-presidential candidate supports liberal economic policies because of his Scots-Irish heritage

Richard Just at the New Republic magazine is not impressed with Virginia senator Jim Webb as a running mate for Barack Obama. Webb is fundamentally illiberal, he writes, a misogynist and an ethnic nationalist and "something of an apologist for the Confederacy." So why do lots of liberals like Webb, Just asks. "In the years since he left the Republican party, Webb has found his way to certain policy stands that liberals correctly find attractive. He was right about Iraq, and, on economics, he is right to criticise the disparity between rich and poor." Just can't figure out how a fundamentally illiberal Scots-Irish nationalist can arrive at all those good liberal tax-hiking, big-spending, trade-restricting positions that "liberals" like.

But in fact Webb's liberal positions on economic issues stem directly from his self-image as an oppressed working-class white man. When I read his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, I was struck by how it burned with a passionate hatred of the English in both England and America, who in Webb's view had been keeping his people down for hundreds of years. Throughout the book he complains about "the Wasp hierarchy" and the "Cavalier aristocracy" from which the hard-working Scots-Irish have been systematically excluded. Just notes that too: "Perhaps the most unappealing thing about Webb's worldview is that it seems to be built largely on resentment. In his book Born Fighting, you can practically feel the resentment coming off the page."

Webb complains that affirmative action "focused only on the disadvantages that had accrued to blacks," while "the white cultures whose ancestors had gained the least benefit from the elitist social structure" were "grouped together with the veneer that had formed the aristocracy." Webb points out that in a landmark 1974 study from the National Opinion Research Centre, family incomes among different white ethnic groups varied far more than the black-white differential. White Protestants other than Episcopalians were at the bottom of the income rankings. White Baptists had an educational level at the same level as black Americans and far below that of Jews. A later NORC study, he went on to write, showed that as late as 2000 white Baptists and "Irish Protestants" had less educational attainment than the national average.

And the whole tone of Webb's discussion is not "Maybe we should have done less fighting and drinking and more reading." Rather, it's: "The English have kept us down." His complaint about affirmative action is not that blacks (and other racial minorities) get it. It's that his people don't.

In a Wall Street Journal column just after his election to the Senate, Webb applied his identity-based politics to current political issues. He complained about "our society's steady drift toward a class-based system," in which the rich make millions while workers face "stagnant wages and disappearing jobs" in an era of globalisation. In his campaign he called for ensuring that "free trade becomes fair trade."

Jim Webb supports Richard Just's economic policies because he is a burning mass of ethnic resentment. Maybe liberals should worry about that.

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Posted on June 20, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,guardian.co.uk,Race issues,The Guardian,United States,US economic growth and recession,US elections 2008,US politics

Econ 101 for Democrats

Executives from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley met with Democratic staff members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week to make the case that trading in energy contracts is not the reason that oil prices are rising. Judging by Jeff Birnbaum’s report in the Washington Post, it’s not easy to teach Democrats about economics:

But the executives were met with skepticism and occasional hostility. “Spare us your lecture about supply and demand,” one of the Democratic aides said, abruptly cutting off one of the executives.

Another aide “warned the executives that no matter what arguments they muster, it would be hard to prevent Congress from acting.” So much for fact-finding and economic sanity in an election year.

Posted on June 20, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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