Conservatism

The GOP's Anti-Romney Majority

If there’s anything to pay attention to in the Associated Press’ most recent poll of the Republican presidential primary, it’s not the exact distribution of votes among the candidates. That story is familiar: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads the pack with 30 percent support, followed by Herman Cain with 26 percent, Rick Perry at 13 percent, and Ron Paul with 8 percent. What’s most significant is the extent to which Romney occupies a minority position within the Republican Party. Sixty-two percent of Republicans want a candidate other than him, and of that number, 97 percent want a candidate who is more conservative than the former Massachusetts governor (the remaining 3 percent are Jon Huntsman supporters). This is why it’s too early to dismiss Rick Perry as a failed candidate – Republicans don’t want to nominate Romney, and if Perry can get his campaign into shape, he has a huge pool of anti-Romney conservatives to draw support from. One last thing. Head-to-head don’t...

One out of Five Ain't Bad

AP Photo/Chris Carlson Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't win the G.O.P. debate Tuesday but he managed to rattle frontrunner Mitt Romney. Rick Perry is still a bad debater. At last night's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, he hemmed, hawed and stammered his way through policy statements and attack lines. But for the first time since entering the race, that wasn't a detriment to his overall performance. Perry didn't win the debate, but he didn't lose it either. More importantly, he achieved his main goal: throwing Mitt Romney off of his game. From the beginning, Perry went after Romney's credentials as a conservative. "I'm Texas Governor Rick Perry, a proven job-creator and a man who is about economic growth, an authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience," he said, introducing himself to the crowd. Later, Perry joined Rick Santorum's attacks on Romney's former support for Massachusetts's health-care reform, and in the most explosive exchange of the evening,...

More Reagan than Reagan

The two leading stories on the nightly news for the past week have been the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Republican primary race, a contrast so vivid that the reports could be coming from two different planets. First, we see thousands of citizens so frustrated and angry with economic inequality in the U.S. that they have organized to protest in hundreds of cities around the country. Then we see a group of contenders for president agree that the only economic problem we have is that wealth and influence are not sufficiently concentrated at the top. For the GOP, the protests renew an old dilemma. When Ronald Reagan became president, Democrats charged that he would was guided by the theory of "trickle-down economics," in which benefits are bestowed upon the wealthy, and the blessings eventually trickle down to the rest of the country — i.e. , the 99 percent. Republicans replied indignantly that this phrase misrepresented Reagan's agenda; they preferred "...

Did the Founding Fathers Screw Up?

Gridlock in Washington is no accident. It's built into the Constitution.

C.F. Payne
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation," Franklin Roosevelt declared as he campaigned for the presidency in the spring of 1932. "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Most of the experiments Roosevelt tried to rebuild the economy once he took office encountered fierce opposition. But his closing admonition -- try something -- transcends our political particularities. It's an affirmation of a specifically American common sense, a statement of our national inclination to action, an affirmation of the pragmatism that remains the country's signal contribution to philosophy. In times of trouble, try something. Who could be against that? Yet, three years into the worst recession since Roosevelt's time, a countercurrent, every bit as American as our bias for action, has swept over us. Twenty-five million Americans are either unemployed or...

History's Missed Moment

Why did the greatest failure of laissez-faire capitalism since the Great Depression lead to a turn to the right rather than the left in both Europe and the U.S.?

(Sipa via AP Images) President of France's far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen gives a press conference after protesting a French National Assembly vote that authorized a 15 billion euro aid package for Greece.
The epic financial crash of 2007–2008 should have produced a massive political defeat for the conservative ideology whose resurgence began three decades ago. Its signal achievement, liberated finance, did not reward innovation, enhance economic efficiency, or produce broad prosperity. Rather, the result was a speculative bubble followed by a severe crash. Along the way, the super-rich captured a disproportionate share of the economy’s gains, while other incomes stagnated. In the aftermath, ordinary people have suffered large losses of earnings, assets, social protections, and hopes for their children. By any measure, therefore, 2008 was primed to be a political watershed on a par with 1932. History delivered a profound teachable moment for American progressives and European social democrats. But, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, between the idea and the reality fell the shadow. Three years after the financial dominoes toppled, right-wing ideas are ascendant and right-wing policies reign...

Solidarity Squandered

The attacks brought us together until we let them turn us against each other--and damn near everyone else.

The day began in a dull civic deadness. It was an election day, the second Tuesday in September, in one of the world's most political cities. The weather was perfect: a cloudless Indian-summer day. The polls opened at six in the morning. But no one was showing up. Did it even matter who governed? Seven and a half months earlier, a Republican had become president and the sky had not fallen. The federal budget was in surplus. New York was about to enjoy a fiscal windfall from a new 99-year lease on the World Trade Center. The hot issue in the mayoral primary, supposedly, was how the city would spend all the money. But nobody cared. When September 11, 2001, dawned, collective rituals of civic engagement felt like anachronism. Until the hot issue was mooted when the center was transformed into twin, acrid clouds of debris and incinerated human flesh, and everything, as we used to say, changed. How did September 11 change America? We became, of course, so much more frightened that our...

The Global Patriot Act

From the end of World War II to the start of the "global war on terror," international law provided crucial support for the promotion of human rights around the world. But the response to the September 11 attacks has had a profound and little-appreciated impact on international law with devastating global consequences for human rights, democracy, and constitutionalism. The Bush administration did not just persuade Congress to pass the USA Patriot Act, eliminating critical civil-liberties protections against excessive governmental powers. U.S. officials also mobilized the United Nations Security Council to require all U.N. member states to enact their own domestic versions of the Patriot Act, and many of those governments have used the new globally mandated security program to restrict rights, concentrate power, and suppress political dissent. George W. Bush was certainly no fan of international law. Whenever it became inconvenient, his administration lawyered around it. Officials...

The 9/11 President

If the attacks hadn't occurred, it's impossible to imagine Barack Obama would have been elected—but the legacy of those attacks continues to burden his presidency.

In a sense, their true enemy was less America than an arrogant future to which a vain country lay claim. This was a country that named the previous hundred years the American Century. So as much as the 19 men, who commandeered four airliners nine months, eleven days, and nine hours into the next century, despised America—despised its "pure products [that] go crazy," as William Carlos Williams described them, including a rowdy pluralism, a heedless innovation, an irreverent culture, and a reckless dream that the country named as surely as it named centuries—these men despised the way such American things were expressions of the modern age. They flew those airliners into the clock of the new century to shatter its face, wreck its watchworks, still its hands, and blast into space its numbers, and in every way that they meant to succeed, they failed. Whether they succeeded in other ways that matter more remains to be seen. America gets the politics it deserves more than we know. A nearly...

Forget the Super Congress

A lot of punditry today is being directed at the super-committee of 12 that the debt-ceiling deal establishes, ostensibly to bring our fiscal house in order. But God knows why. The idea that the Republicans on the committee will accede to any tax increases -- after House Republicans read John Boehner the riot act for talking tax increases with President Obama, and after Republicans in both houses unanimously rejected Harry Reid's bill that included tax increases as part of the mix -- couldn't pass muster with Dr. Pangloss. And even if, through acts of divine intervention and outright bribery, Republicans were persuaded to accept some tax hikes, the price they'd exact in return -- raising the eligibility age on Medicare, reducing Social Security benefits -- would be too high for congressional Democrats to accept, even if Obama has already signed off on them. Far more likely, as Ezra opined today, that Democrats will simply accept the cuts put in place by the trigger, which exempt...

On Again, Off Again

The growing rift between Republicans and Wall Street.

(Flickr/pinksherbert)
Do Republican leaders in Congress answer to Tea Party activists or to Wall Street? That question will be answered in the next few weeks as the debt-ceiling fight comes to a head. The choice that GOP leaders make will influence more than fiscal policy or the financial markets; it will also shape the 2012 election and reveal the true identity of today's Republican Party. Wall Street has been urging Republicans to approve more government borrowing for months, arguing that it is too risky to use the debt-ceiling cap as a hostage in the budget battle. That message was delivered during a series of meetings in April between GOP leaders and top Wall Street executives and has been repeated often by the finance sector's ubiquitous lobbyists on Capitol Hill. As Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican from Staten Island told The Wall Street Journal : "Wall Street understands that if we default on our obligations, our markets are going to crash. ... They're doing their job and talking to a lot of members...

Whose Point of View?

You're the proverbial alien on our planet, fresh off the UFO. You found a job -- congratulations! -- and you've just received your first paycheck. On the stub, you notice that something, or someone, named "FICA" is skimming 6 percent off the top. "Oh, that's Social Security," your new colleagues tell you. But what's that? You turn to Google, which refers you to Wikipedia -- the free online encyclopedia that "anyone can edit" and that increasingly serves as our culture's reference source of first resort. There, you learn that Social Security is "a social insurance program" that is "funded through dedicated payroll taxes." In 2004, it "paid out almost $500 billion in benefits." It is, "by dollars paid ... the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal budget." The "Social Security (United States)" Wikipedia entry includes the long history of opposition to Social Security, from the 1930s to the present, a litany of philosophical criticisms...

Florida, Inc.

If a state were a business, CEO Rick Scott would be shown the door.

(Flickr/Governor Rick Scott)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's ever present, camera-ready grin masks the strain of an embattled politician. His approval ratings rank at the bottom among the nation's governors, and Democrats are poised to use him as the bogeyman of the 2012 election in a key battleground state. He can't match the always-sunny-in-Florida cheer of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, but Scott rivals any Wall Street CEO's unyielding optimism amid dismal earnings. "Hey, how's it going? You doing all right?" he says as he smiles and grips a woman's hand. Scott is working the halls in a place where he isn't a familiar face: the legislative office building. It's rare to see the governor leave his office, behind gigantic wooden doors at the end of a great hall, to whip votes on legislation. Lawmakers usually come to him. But these are desperate times. Scott is working to charm four Republican senators into changing their votes. With only days left in the lawmaking session, he needs a last-minute victory on a bill...

Governing Beyond His Means

Rep. Paul Ryan's foreign policy ideas are sensible, but his budget would make implementing them impossible.

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
When I saw that Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP budget guru who's led the charge for Medicare repeal, was planning a major address on foreign policy, my hopes were not high. Indeed, the speech he delivered last Thursday offered its fair share of nonsense, partisanship, and ideological ax-grinding. But in some respects, Ryan's core ideas about international relations were refreshingly sensible. For all his repeated claims that American international decline "is a choice" that policy-makers must resist, however, his speech also doubled down on budget ideas that make decline inevitable. Under the guise of preserving America's military strength, Ryan would gut our economy over the long run by weakening our physical infrastructure and disinvesting in the human beings who are our greatest asset. Consequently, even as Ryan, who has emerged as the new intellectual leader of the Republican Party, is pushing the GOP in a sensible direction on international relations, he's seeking to force the country...

Reality Bites

The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans -- but not anymore.

Scientist Kerry Emanuel (Photo courtesy of MIT)
In March, it was Kerry Emanuel's turn to do what so many of his colleagues have done before: defend their knowledge and expertise against congressional Republicans. Emanuel is a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert not only on climate change but hurricanes. In the 1990s, he coined the term "hypercane" to describe a theoretical storm that, according to his equations, could have occurred in the wake of the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs. But as the sole Democrat-invited witness before the House Committee on Science--the GOP majority had five, one a marketing professor who testified that "global-warming alarm is an anti-scientific political movement"--Emanuel's task was more like climate science 101. He merely had to stand up for what MIT teaches its students. As Emanuel explained in his written testimony, today's MIT atmospheric-sciences students can do "hand calculations or use simple models" to show why global warming is a serious...

TAP Talks to Bill Richardson

Ezra Klein: The first thing I wanted to talk about was your support for a balanced budget amendment. Tell me why you think the country needs one. Bill Richardson: We have a $9 trillion debt, and this fiscal irresponsibility is threatening not just important programs, but America's kids -- there's not going to be any funds to spend for important social programs like health care and education. My view is this: Look what happened with infrastructure, look what happened with the fact that the war has taken most of the discretionary spending -- $450 billion -- so there's no funds to repair bridges, there's no funds to deal with college loans for kids, no funds to put more into Medicaid for the states. What I would do, and if you look at this -- are you a young guy? I'm pretty young. You recall in the Clinton years when we took that very tough vote to balance the budget in the Congress. We won it by one vote, I was the whip, and it basically eliminated the tax on the rich -- the 2 percent...

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