Competing Nightmares

We live in a strange political times. One of the strangest things of all is that winning candidates get elected because of who they are not. Donald Trump got elected in 2016 because he was not Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden gets elected in 2020 it will be because he is not Donald Trump. If Donald Trump manages to get re-elected it won’t be because of his sterling personality. It will be because Biden’s habit of playing footsie with his party’s increasingly assertive radicals is a bridge too far. Or because his obvious problems with cognitive decline have become too obvious to ignore for suburban voters who decide he is not worth the risk. The devil you know and all that. 

Consider the theme that Michelle Obama rolled out on the first night of the convention: Empathy. Joe Biden is empathetic; he is one of us; he knows what you are going through and he is here to help. As a matter of electoral strategy this is probably a pretty smart move, especially when it’s part of a larger bait-and-switch effort. After all, it’s a lot easier getting people who like you to vote for you. Especially when you consider that President Trump, during his tenure, has displayed about as much likability, decency and empathy as say, Ted Bundy. (Apologies to Ted.)

The problem is that all the empathy and flag waving doesn’t cover up the stark reality of the situation, which is that the Democratic Party is increasingly driven by its most radical members. Those members have graduated from being frustrated junior-high hall monitors to legislators. And they include Kamala Harris, the imaginary centrist whose voting record in the Senate is a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders. As a result the values of the party’s leadership and the party’s members are increasingly at odds. Consequently, the party has chosen to emphasize “moderation” in its messaging, but its policy preferences are actually those championed by its radicals. 

The truth is, if Biden is elected and the Democrats take the Senate and hold the House, the U.S. is in for a ride on the wild side. The Democratic Party has promised massive increases in taxing, spending and borrowing. They have promised to include in the Fed’s mandate a requirement for the central bank to seek racial equity. For those unfamiliar with the code, “equity” refers to equal outcomes, not equal opportunity. They have proposed lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60 even though the program is already insolvent.  The party seeks to increase payments and eligibility for Social Security by increasing taxes on “the rich”.

The Party has announced that it will seek to eliminate the Senate filibuster “if necessary”.  The Party has threatened to pack the Supreme Court and to eliminate the Electoral College. And don’t be surprised to see the party seek the imposition of a wealth tax. 

Yes, Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. And he is not a psychopath. But that hardly justifies the enthusiastic embrace of economic illiteracy. Which is an accurate description of the policy prescriptions of Joe Biden and the party of which he is nominally in charge.

JFB

Government by Executive Decree

According to press reports, by Executive Order President Trump is preparing to suspend the payroll tax through the end of the year retroactive to July 1. He also intends to extend supplemental jobless benefits, although at what level and for how long remains unclear. Add to that his intent to impose a partial moratorium on evictions and assistance with student loans and you have a perfectly tuned re-election program aimed squarely at the economic illiteracy pandemic now afflicting the voting public. 

The program would be a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, both in its particulars (Article 1, Section 8, clause 1) and in its violation of the separation of powers.  The precedent for this Constitutional vandalism was firmly established by former President (and University of Chicago Constitutional law lecturer) Barack Obama. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Constitution locates the taxing power in the Congress, President Obama ordered the IRS not to enforce the penalty for non-compliance with the coverage mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.  

While on the hustings, the Obama Administration argued that the mandate did not constitute a tax. However, in front of the Supreme Court the Administration argued that the mandate was in fact a tax. The Supreme Court agreed with them and declared the mandate to be a tax. It was a tax that the Administration pointedly refused to enforce. 

It is worth noting that the mandate was a necessary element of the bill for two reasons. First, the CBO used the mandate to overestimate how many young people would comply with the bill, thus reducing the cost estimate.  Second, the CBO cost estimate served to bolster the Obama Administration’s risible claim that the bill would reduce unit costs and therefore consumer insurance rates. 

In the event, Republicans asked a prescient question: What would happen if a Republican President announced he would not enforce a different section of the tax code, for instance the capital gains tax? Progressives gave their stock answer: “That will never happen”, they said.  That by the way is answer they usually give when pressed about the potential consequences of promoting lawless activity. 

Well, here we are. The president, a Republican, has said that unless certain conditions are met, he will indeed refuse to enforce the tax code in a way that is liable to help him electorally.  And let’s not kid ourselves. This type of lawless governmental behavior has become the rule, not the exception. 

Governors, for instance, often rely on declaring tax holidays, sometimes targeted to dates, sometimes targeted toward geographies. Except that generally sales taxes are not transaction taxes—they are use taxes, and so cannot be legally declared exempt for certain situations within the meaning of the law. And not to put too fine a point on it, there has not exactly been a rush to enforce laws protecting people and property from rioters in large American cities. Nor has much mention been made of the obvious fact that the rioters are on the whole, whiter than the police departments they are accusing of systemic racism. 

 So here we have a situation where a Republican president is threatening to refuse to enforce the law because he expects it to redound to his electoral benefit. It is a stunt that progressive politicians have been pulling for years (See DACA). The depth of the cynicism is notable though. Since there is no “pay for” mechanism and since it extends through election day, it is aimed at a short term goal, namely Trump’s re-election campaign. 

It also creates creates several other political advantages for Trump and the Republicans. He will have the space to claim that he unilaterally delivered on several Democratic-populist goals, namely student loan assistance, and an eviction moratorium. But it does something else that could prove excruciatingly painful for progressives. By suspending payroll tax collections, it would bring the day of insolvency for Social Security that much closer. 

The Social security system is already being battered by the economic downturn with its mass unemployment. A six-month month suspension of payroll tax receipts would constitute a direct and massive hit at the solvency of what we laughingly call the Social Security Trust Fund, thus bringing the day of reckoning closer. 

It should also be noted that something like 75% of taxpayers fork over more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. Progressive hysteria aside, the income tax system falls overwhelmingly on people in the upper brackets.  A suspension of the payroll tax would therefore have two important impacts, one direct, the other indirect. On the political side, if the Democrats were to resist, they would effectively be denying a substantial tax cut for a huge proportion of the voting population, particularly the blue collar workers they are trying to win back for the 2020 Presidential contest. 

There is an important indirect consideration as well. A suspension of the payroll tax, and even more so with somewhat reduced supplemental unemployment insurance, changes the back-to-work calculation. It would raise net after-tax compensation for workers who go back on the job, thereby increasing the incentive to work and reducing the incentive to stay home. That would likely increase the pace of economic recovery. 

But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The price to be paid for all this is in the disaster known as public finance. Federal, state and local governments are piling up horrendous deficits and off balance sheet obligations at an unsustainable pace. The time to address those obligations could be, and probably is, just around the corner. The problem is that a pervasive free-lunch mentality has contributed to the creation of a dependent and subservient portion of the population. 

The other price we pay is continued lawlessness by government. By continuing to operate by decree justified by bumper sticker sloganeering, government becomes progressively more authoritarian. It fails to perform its primary function of securing natural rights and protecting ordered liberty. The evidence of failure is all around us, whether it is the near universal failure of urban public schools, public distrust of basic institutions, or the collapse of traditional institutions like the family, spurred on by public policies designed for centralized command-and-control of citizens’ everyday lives. 

JFB

The Season is Upon Us

When January of 2021 comes rolling around it is virtually inevitable that a supremely ambitious, self-serving, vicious and ignorant partisan hack will take the Presidential oath of office. The only question is whether the hack will be named Donald Trump or Joe Biden. In plenty of respects it makes little difference; in others it could make a big difference. There is just no way to predict it. 

Partisans who, for some mysterious reason, consider both themselves and President Trump to be conservatives, make two arguments for supporting Trump’s re-election. First they argue, Trump has compiled a sterling record of Judicial picks. Second, the alternative to Trump is socialism or some variant of it. While there is a real possibility of this, the jury is still out. 

Donald J Trump

While it is true in this writer’s estimation that Trump has indeed done a fine job in selecting judicial appointments, it is doubtful (and I am being charitable here) that this results from some Trumpian judicial philosophy moored to originalism or textualism. Instead it reflects the work of Mitch McConnell, who does espouse a relatively conservative judicial philosophy, and has done so for many years. It also includes Senator McConnell’s ongoing vigorous defense of the First amendment, an amendment that finds no friend in either the White House or in Progressive circles. 

The issue of judicial picks as an important electoral consideration begins to lose (some) of its salience when the discussion of a second term for Trump comes up. That is not only because Trump plainly has no idea what he talking about with respect to judicial philosophy (or much else for that matter), but also because a second term would introduce us to Trump unplugged. Trump without filters so to speak. In such a case there is no good reason for Christian Evangelicals to assume that Trump would continue to nominate conservative judges. After all during the Republican primary season he did refer to the possibility of appointing his famously liberal sister, then a sitting judge and an abortion rights enthusiast, to the Supreme Court.  

The second argument Trump’s supporters make is that the alternative candidate is intolerable because he is either a socialist, a variant of one, or beholden to the Socialist wing of his party. Which of course brings up the alternative lout: former Vice President Joe Biden, who is busy rummaging around for a running mate whose chief qualification is the possession of two X  chromosomes. 

Former Vice President Biden

The search for a female VP is underway because Mr Biden promised in his last debate with Bernie Sanders (I, Rolling Stone) to name a woman to run with him. No other criteria were deemed important in the selection process, typically characterized as a potential President’s most important choice and one that gives potential voters some insight into the candidates thinking.  Assuming that is, he is capable of it.  

It is going to be difficult for Mr. Biden to find some ideological balance in his selection because he has been pretty much all over the lot in a long and supercilious political career mostly notable for its combination of vacuousness and self-aggrandizement. Consider for a moment Mr Biden’s checkered history on a whole raft of public policy issues.

After all, he did vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s before he got around to advocating for same-sex marriage as Vice President. Although he pretends to have been a dove on the second Iraq war, he voted for it and defended it as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Here he is in 2002 according to The Hill:

“President Bush did not lash out precipitously at Iraq after 9/11. He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss new inspection regimes. He did not ignore Congress,” Biden said in a 2002 floor speech given during the debate over legislation authorizing action against Iraq.

“At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation, and I believe he will continue to do so. At least, that is my fervent hope,” Biden said. “I wish he would turn down the rhetorical excess in some cases because I think it undercuts the decision he ends up making. But in each case in my view he has made the right rational calm deliberate decision.”

Then there is his ever shifting position on abortion rights. Way back in 1976 he voted for a law (The Hyde Amendment) prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. In 1981 he added the “Biden Amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting American aid from being used for abortion related research. It is still on the books. Back in 1982 he proposed a law allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade. In 1984 he supported what came to be known as the “Mexico City policy” which banned federal funding for overseas organizations that provide or expand abortion services. Then in 1995 and in 1997 he voted for bills to ban partial birth abortions; those bills were ultimately vetoed by President Clinton. 

Now, of course, Biden is in favor of federal funding for abortion on demand. 

And that’s before the history of corruption chronicled by Peter Schweizer in “Profiles in Corruption”.  It seems that Biden was the master of the sweetheart deal when government contracts were to be handed out. And surprisingly enough, brothers Frank and James were apparent beneficiaries of the largesse. As was son Hunter Biden. 

This may be where Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) comes in handy as a V.P. pick. Consider that Biden voted for the repeal of Glass-Steagall which by 2008 had turned into a cardinal sin in left wing circles. And that Biden acted as errand boy for the credit card industry for years.  Elizabeth Warren, self-proclaimed scourge of Wall Street, would provide a perfect cover for Biden’s financial shenanigans. 

Sen Elizabeth Warren

She has already passed the first bootlicking test for the post with predictable cravenness. Warren, who called for the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh over fantastical sexual assault claims that never had a shred of evidence attached to them, has decided to give Biden a pass in the matter of Tara Reade’s claim against him. A claim whose credibility far surpasses the various claims lodged against Kavanaugh.  

To nobody’s surprise, Warren announced that she found Biden’s denial of the allegations “credible and convincing”. This is the same woman who, during the Senate Kavanaugh hearings said: 

“What the United States Senate is about to do [vote in favor of Kavanaugh] hurts,” she said. “It hurts every survivor of sexual assault who has been ignored… every woman who has been told to sit down and shut up… every person who will be on the losing end of a Kavanaugh swing vote against them and in favor of states that keep American citizens from voting, in favor of corporations that cheat consumers, in favor of gun traffickers that put our children at risk. This hurts, but I want to be clear; I am not sorry I got in this fight.” 

I’d have to say she is a solid front runner in a race to the bottom. But wait,  there is bound to be more: the game has just begun. 

JFB

Democrats are Behaving Disgracefully

For the second time in 2 days the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted unanimously (except for Doug Jones, D. AL) to refuse to allow a vote by the full Senate on a $2 trillion bill designed to cushion the impact of the Corona virus. This while the financial markets are cratering, state and local governments are scrambling for resources, hospitals are stressed, small businesses are running out of cash and job layoffs are proceeding at what will likely be a record pace. 

It would be one thing if Democratic demands were designed to improve the proposed legislation. But many of the demands have nothing to do with the crisis at hand. For example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is working hand-in-glove with Chuck Schumer has proposed including same-day voter registrations as part of a package. Democrats are also demanding additional collective bargaining power for unions, increased fuel emissions standards for airlines, and expansion of wind and solar tax credits. 

This is the same Democratic caucus that correctly pointed out that the U.S. Government was asleep at the switch when the signs of danger began to emerge back in January. Then again, Congress was briefed on the situation in closed door meetings with agency representatives. And what did Congress do about it? It had already impeached Trump on December 18, 2019 but then Speaker Pelosi held up sending the impeachment articles to the Senate until January 5. The trial began January 12, 2020 and the preordained acquittal came on February 5, 2020. And all the while COVID-19 was infecting more and more people. Nice work, guys.

It is also worth noting that on January 31, 2020 in a response to the Corona virus, Trump issued the following order” “Foreign nationals other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled in China in the last 14 days will be denied entry into United States.” Progressives who are now (correctly) complaining that the Trump didn’t act quickly enough, were also busy condemning Trump’s January 31 order as “racist” even though China was the origin of the disease. Because woke progressives are blind to anything but a burning desire to bring down Trump at all costs. And they will stop at nothing in the attempt to do so.

So while the house is burning down, the crowd that argued in favor of eliminating the filibuster decided to…filibuster emergency remedial legislation. The price of this blackmail is  the passage of a progressive wish list that has absolutely nothing to do with the crisis at hand. 

Enter Mr. Biden, the alleged moderate. For his part he is egging Congressional Democrats on, joining in the call to favor the common man over corporations and all the usual nonsense. One is left to wonder how Mr. Biden thinks people will be able to get back to work if their business go bankrupt while Chuck Schumer is busy working on solar panel subsidies. 

While all this is going on lefty Democratic media cheerleaders have actually begun to argue that Donald Trump should be denied access to media coverage until the press has had time to vet his remarks. Note that these media truth tellers had no problem with those pillars of rectitude Bill and Hillary Clinton. In any event the Trump blackout arguments are now coming from such luminaries as Washington Post media analyst Margaret Sullivan and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. The reason is obvious: Trump’s poll numbers have begun to rise, and that must be stopped at all costs. 

Given the dire situation, the behavior of the Democrats and their media cheerleaders goes well beyond politics as usual. It is indecent and even more dishonest than usual. It shows what they are really made of. And it isn’t pretty. 

JFB

Now What?

Campaign Finance

Recent events have proved to be clarifying if unedifying. Michael Bloomberg did us the enormous favor of spending over $500 million in an effort to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. For his efforts he won a total of 13 delegates; 4 in American Samoa plus another 9 scattered around the country. That’s about $38 million per delegate. Two days later former Mayor Bloomberg dropped out of the race and pledged to work for the election of Joe Biden. 

Bloomberg Drops Out

All of this would seem to provide rather conclusive evidence discrediting the idea that money is determinative in elections. Despite the evidence though, we can expect Progressives to continue their attempt eviscerate First Amendment speech rights under the guise of campaign finance reform and fighting “hate speech” because the goal is control, not clean elections or civility. 

And, by the way, if the best Michael Bloomberg could do was grab 13 delegates with $500 million, why would anybody continue to believe that Russian propaganda on Facebook was sufficient to tip the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump. 

About Those Norms

The Trump Administration—actually POTUS himself—has been criticized, frequently and correctly, for violating long held political norms. Trump, for example, launched a typically idiotic Tweet calling for Justices Sotomeyer and Ginsburg to recuse themselves from cases involving him and his administration.  And candidate Trump famously attacked a federal judge complaining that the judge, who was born in Indiana, was Mexican and therefore could not be counted on to give Trump a fair hearing. 

Well, Chuck Schumer has done Trump one better. On March 4, speaking at a demonstration at the Supreme Court, Schumer said the following referring to an abortion case before the Court.

“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price…You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

Abortion Rights Protest at the Supreme Court

Which is to say that Chuck Schumer (Harvard Law, 1974) issued a direct threat by name to sitting justices on the Court, contingent on their votes. Surprisingly enough, Schumer’s fellow progressives who were once so concerned about democratic norms, have fallen strangely silent. 

Feel the Phony Bern

Bernie Sanders (I. Rolling Stone) has spent the better part of the last 40 years or so attacking “the establishment” and singing the praises of folks like Fidel Castro. In 2012 he threatened to “primary” (now a verb) then President Obama who wasn’t quite left wing enough for comrade Sanders taste. But on Super Tuesday he got trounced by former Vice President Biden, who among other things grabbed a commanding share of the African American vote. 

And all of a sudden Bernie-the-Authentic has decided that he has been a fan of Obama after all. So his campaign has released an ad showing what pals he and Obama were and are. Needless to say, former Obama officials have denounced the ad as deceptive, misleading etc etc. Which, of course, it is. Just like the rest of his campaign. 

The ad is below. Have a look and think about what it says about the raw political ambition of the selfless Socialist from Vermont. 

New Sanders Ad

JFB

What Do Democrats Believe?

A long time ago in a faraway place—the United States circa 2016–Democrats rightly criticized Republicans for tolerating Donald Trump’s appalling behavior. Despite—or maybe because of said behavior—Trump managed to squeak past Hillary Clinton in the electoral college to win the White House. And now the Republican Party is full of sycophants who are perfectly willing to defend pretty much whatever Trump does, no matter how outrageous. 

Democrats, unable to believe that they actually lost the election, went into full denial and launched the ResistanceTM.  Since then they have waged a non-stop campaign to delegitimize the 2016 election results and Trump’s ascendency to the White House. Partly because of the personas involved, in the aftermath political struggles have (mostly) been about personalities. 

Most of the policy disputes, with a few notable exceptions like the border wall and trade with China, have been pretty standard stuff that Republicans and Democrats have traditionally fought over.  Except that Trump has essentially scuttled the Republican’s traditional defense of free trade and adopted the Democratic argument in favor of managed trade. Moreover, there is no prayer that Trump will act to restrain the exercise of governmental power, particularly in the Executive Branch. 

So, we are left with a President (1) who barely understands the powers, duties and constraints of his own office, much less the other two branches, and (2) who has no philosophical understanding of our Constitutional structure. His policy pronouncements are therefore a philosophical void, untethered to a coherent weltanschauung. But they have a common thread, which is to say they are not random. The common thread is that whatever Trump believes redounds to his benefit is the definition of good policy. This is the Trumpian version of “my truth”. 

What about the Democrats? What do they believe, if anything? 

Well, here we have a situation in which a non-Democrat named Senator Bernie Sanders (I. Rolling Stone) is the clear front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination. And the Democratic party establishment, which up until this point has tied itself up in knots pretending that Sanders is not a “real socialist” is in full panic mode trying to figure out a way to make sure that the pesky voters don’t vote to give the party’s nomination to the non-socialist democratic socialist who really is a socialist, named Bernie Sanders. 

The interesting question is: why is the establishment so concerned?

By all accounts the party grandees are fearful that Sanders will not only lose, but that he will lose big McGovern style. Further, they fear, he would take down the House and with it, dreams of a Senate majority. Note that there has been little by way of a substantive objection to the Senator’s policy pronouncements.  Pretty much all the objections are tactical and technical. 

The Democratic establishment has been selling Bernie light for years. They have no argument to use against Sanders style socialism because they have not been able to articulate a difference between progressive ideology and “democratic” socialism. We should have some sympathy for the grandees here. They haven’t been able to articulate a difference because there isn’t much of one, if there is any difference at all. 

And despite all the pointed remarks about Sanders not being a Democrat, the fact is, he is on Chuck Schumer’s leadership team in the Senate. Registration aside, it’s pretty hard to make the case that Sanders isn’t really a Democrat at heart when he is part of the leadership team. 

So, it should be no surprise that there has been no principled objection voiced to a federal take-over of the health care system; to abolishing legal private insurance; to writing off all student loans; to increasing social security benefits even though the current system is insolvent. The party is unwilling to censure the blatant anti-Semitism of the Squad. And even the Senators who signed on as co-sponsors of the fantastical Green New Deal declined to vote for it on the Senate floor. 

What Democratic Senators actually believe and where they are willing to draw a line is a bit of a mystery. Just as it is for Republicans. 

Ben Sasse

But there is one issue where the respective positions of the political parties were made crystal clear in a vote on the Senate floor the other day. Senator Ben Sasse introduced a bill aptly named “The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”. The bill would apply to health care providers present when a child is born alive during an attempted abortion. The bill would require providers to deliver the same care as they would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

The bill needed 60 votes to break a filibuster to get the Senate floor.  It only got 56. All Republicans voted in favor of sending the bill for a vote. With the exceptions of Bob Casey (D, PA), Doug Jones (D, AL) and Joe Manchin (D, WV) all the Democratic Senators voted to block sending the bill to the Senate floor for a vote where a simple majority would suffice for passage. One of the Senators voting to block the bill was none other than Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA), who was last seen at the Democratic debate Tuesday night loudly proclaiming her intention to abolish…the filibuster. 

So now we have clear evidence what the Democratic Party establishment really stands for and where it is willing to draw the line. They are abortion rights fanatics. They voted to permit medical professionals to withhold care from an already born baby so that it dies if the birth occurred as a result of a botched abortion. Otherwise, medical professionals are required to care for the newly born baby as is medically indicated. 

Think about that the next time you hear the speech about how they are “defending our values”. 

JFB

A Time for Choosing

It’s finally here. After what seems like years of primary campaigning, Iowa Democrats are finally about to have their say in the matter via the Iowa caucuses.  The field has narrowed considerably from the original 2 dozen or so contestants and polls suggest that soon the battle for the Democratic nomination may be a 2 man contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  That prospect already has the leadership of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) looking not so furtively at the panic button. They have, for instance, already changed the debate rules in a way that gives Michael Bloomberg a chance to appear on stage. 

Joe Biden

In analyzing elections and the strategies the Parties and candidates use to win, it is important to make a distinction between the Party professionals on the one hand, and the candidates and their coalitions on the other. Political parties are organized around winning elections. Period. Candidates organize their campaigns around issues designed to win a sufficient number of delegates to capture the nomination and then win the general election. 

Bernie Sanders

The issues that the candidates choose to organize around and then galvanize a campaign may be ideological, but need not be. Sometimes interests are sectional with ideological overlaps. Both the Civil War and the struggle over civil rights were partly driven by sectional clashes. The clash over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War represented a clash between the Republican North and the Democratic South. But the civil rights struggles of the 1960s saw an alliance of moderate to liberal Northern Republicans and Democrats, while opposition was mostly an alliance of Southern Democrats irrespective of ideology and Northern conservatives from both parties. 

In fact there are many instances where differences in regional interests and ideological interests have shifted back and forth and the Parties have reconfigured themselves accordingly. In the late 19th century the Republican Party was the party of tariffs designed to protect Northeast manufacturing, while the Democratic Party represented farmers that wanted free trade. But by 1980 the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of free trade and the Democrats increasingly promoted trade restrictions to protect manufacturing and union jobs in the Midwest. Now the Republican Party of Donald Trump promotes managed trade pretty much like the Democrats have been doing since the 1980s.   

All this is not to suggest that the Republican and Democratic policy preferences have begun to converge. They have not. What has transpired is enormous demographic, generational and cultural shifts in the respective Party constituencies that are not fully reflected in the Party hierarchies. The Republican Party has to a large degree been Trumpified; the question here is whether this reconfiguration is temporary and tactical or permanent. The results of the general election in November may provide some clues. But the result will importantly depend on who the Democratic nominee is. 

The case of the Democratic Party is in some respects much more interesting. It is clear that the Party has taken a very sharp turn to the left. Not only that, younger, more affluent Party members seem to be positioned far more to the left than older and less white constituents.  Those with college degrees are more prone to head left. 

Given the state of play there are two  questions facing Iowa caucus goers. The first set of questions is obvious: Should the Democratic Party go with a “safe” nominee like Joe Biden who appears on paper to be best positioned to defeat Donald Trump, and perhaps help the Party keep the House and win the Senate? Or should the Party go all in and nominate a very left wing candidate (like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) who promises to transform the structure of American life using the force of the state? The results in Iowa will hinge on that calculus. 

The second set of questions address an issue that is very important and more than a little disquieting. Namely, is there a truly substantive difference between the candidacies of the moderates e.g, — Biden, Klobuchar and the truly radical candidates like Sanders and Warren? The nominating process may provide an answer to that question as well. 

It was only 4 years ago that had Debbie Wassermann Schultz tripping all over herself while attempting to argue that there is a real difference between socialism—in whatever form—and the liberalism that the Democratic Party claimed to represent. And now 4 years later, Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is a leading candidate for the Party’s Presidential nomination. 

There is every reason to believe that Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a registered Democrat, will win the Party’s nomination and go on to face Trump in the general election. If that happens it will mean that the Democratic Party has made a decisive turn to the left with the aim of transforming the structure of American life from that of a Liberal market democracy into an Administrative State where citizens are transformed into subjects.   

Such an election would likely bring an end to decades of electoral stalemate where the results are separated by a few percentage points and the game is mostly played inside the 40 yard lines. Of the many possible outcomes, there are 2 that are the most interesting. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a contest that looks like the 1972 race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon in which McGovern’s liberalism was soundly rejected; in the process McGovern went on to lose 49 states, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, which has never voted for a Republican. 

On the other hand, the race could just as easily look like the one in 1980. In that case Democrats were initially encouraged by the Republican’s selection of Ronald Reagan as the Party’s standard bearer, the reasoning being that the public would never vote for a candidate as extreme as Reagan. In the event, Reagan went on to defeat incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide. Reagan carried 44 states and won with 50.7% of the vote against Carter’s 41% of the vote, while third-party candidate John Anderson’s got 6.6% of the vote. 

An election contest between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is one that could settle a lot. It would provide a much needed clarification of what the electorate thinks is desirable and achievable. An election contest between Sanders and Trump would force the electorate to consider that fundamental issue with eyes wide open. 

Let’s face it: on a personal level, Donald Trump is as severely flawed as it gets. With respect to policy, he is hardly a conservative as traditionally understood, much less a libertarian. His authoritarian tendencies are beyond dispute. He is as narcissistic as they come, which is saying a lot by Washington standards. Not only is he easily the most ignorant man to assume the Presidency in at least a century, he is incapable of recognizing the truth much less telling it. 

Which is not to suggest that Bernie Sanders is just swell. He is a misfit; a leftist crank who is incapable of seeing the world as it is. He is willfully blind in that he sees only what he wants to see. His “no enemies to the left” mindset does not permit him to utter an unkind word about any of the world’s brutal left wing dictatorships, including Venezuela’s Madura. Sanders does not simply have policy proposals—he means to fundamentally transform America’s Liberal market democracy into a socialist state. Were Sanders to get his way, America as we know it, would cease to exist. In that regard it is disgraceful that the mainstream press, in its loathing of all things Trump, treats Sanders as if he were a normal candidate, which he manifestly is not. 

Bernie Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party what Donald Trump did to the Republicans. The nominating process will allow us to see if the Democratic Party yields to Sanders and his supporters just as the Republicans did with Trump. If they do, we will know what constitutes the modern Democratic Party, just as we now know what constitutes the modern Republican Party. 

And so we have two political processes in play that could come to define America in 2020.  In the first instance, the Democratic Party will either choose to become a hard left socialist party with the aim of transforming American life using the police power of the state, or it will remain a center left mainstream party. In the second instance, if Sanders is the nominee, the body politic will face a choice between a narcissistic incumbent whose incompetence is only exceeded by his ignorance, and a socialist candidate who promises to wage a perpetual class war in a never ending search for nirvana. It is not exactly an appetizing choice; in fact it is nauseating. But it is clarifying. 

It is possible that a moderate Democrat, as currently defined, will win the nomination, in which case we will likely muddle along for a bit longer, and neither of the above scenarios would necessarily comes to pass. But I wouldn’t count on it. 

JFB

Seriously?

When listening to politicians speak it is always entertaining to observe the high opinion they have of themselves. The latest entry in the comic book hero series comes from none other than Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House. Toward the close of her presser today Pelosi noted that she will have to miss the San Francisco 49s playoff game because, she said, “I have, unfortunately, responsibilities to save our country from peril.”

Speaker Pelosi is very busy saving us from ourselves these days. Why just recently, on December 5, in the matter of President Trump’s impeachment she said: “If we don’t act now, we would be derelict in out duty.” By December 18 she had decided that “It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy.”

On December 19, the House voted to impeach Trump along strict party lines. But soon after the urgency for action seems to have faded. As of January 8, Pelosi had still not sent the impeachment articles to the Senate; nor had she appointed impeachment managers to make the case before the Senate. Pelosi, with the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, instead insisted that she needed to be assured that the Senate would conduct a “fair trial” before she sending the 2 impeachment articles to the Senate for trial. 

Included in Pelosi’s particulars for a fair trial is a demand that the Senate call witnesses that she declined to call when the impeachment inquiry was underway and she had the power to do so. And the Senate rules that Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer find so onerous were the ones used in the impeachment trial of then President Bill Clinton. Those rules were approved at the time by all 100 Senators. Which means that Chuck Schumer voted for them the last go around. 

In the meantime, most of the Democrats in Washington, and all the senior ones, have signaled their disagreement with Trump’s decision to order the killing of Iranian General Soleimani. The latest argument is that Soleimani wasn’t an imminent threat to U.S. interests, thus the killing was illegal. That is quite an interesting argument because it implies that the U.S. President can only take action if an enemy combatant poses an imminent threat. Unless of course they are prepared to argue that Soleimani was not an enemy combatant despite the fact that he has spent decades supervising terror campaigns against the U.S. and its allies, not to mention killing American soldiers and civilians. 

The argument is especially hard to swallow when you consider that previously they had no objection to President Obama’s order to kill (without trial) Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemini-American Imam (born in Denver) who planned terrorist operations for al-Qaeda. His 16-year old son was also killed in that drone attack. Nor did Democrats object when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton successfully convinced Obama to start a war in Libya without Congressional approval. Obama said he ordered U.S. military intervention in Libya’s civil war in order to protect Libyans and enforce “the writ” of the international community. 

So judging from their behavior it would seem that what matters is who is taking action rather than what the action is. Which is why serious people do not take them seriously. 

JFB

Seriously?

Rivals for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) and “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg (D. South Bend IN), have taken to firing at each other over the issue of transparency. Each is busy pretending that other has failed to produce sufficient detail with respect to past earnings, although neither has explained why it matters other than to drop dark  hints about corruption. 

The real reason has nothing to do with corruption, for which there is no evidence whatsoever. It is actually part of the ongoing progressive rhetorical war on success and embrace of the politics of class war and resentment. They are each afraid that their past employment and the amounts they earned will make them appear “elitist”. Which, of course, they are. And to quote Jerry Seinfeld: not that there is anything wrong with that. 

To put the absurdity of all this in context let’s take a look at the numbers. Elizabeth Warren disclosed that she earned about $1.9 million over the last 3 decades from legal work she earned while moonlighting. That is about $63,000 a year, not adjusted for inflation; hardly an amount to get excited about. After all she earned those rather modest fees by providing legal services. But apparently the word “earn” is verboten in progressive circles for anything over the minimum wage. 

In response to pressure, Peter Buttigieg prevailed upon previous employer McKinsey & Co to allow him to disclose details of his work at the consulting firm during his tenure there from 2007 – 2010. In 2019 compensation at McKinsey for new employees with an undergraduate degree included a base salary of $85,000 and a maximum bonus of $20,000 with a cap of on total cash compensation of $105,000. For MBAs and PhDs the respective numbers are: salary $165,000, bonus cap $65,000 and total compensation capped at $230,000. 

Those numbers are fairly modest by Wall Street standards, given the level and quality of educational attainment. But they are sufficiently high to stir up resentment among Democratic Party primary voters. So consider this absurdity: while the Democratic Party has increasingly attracted highly educated, highly compensated voters (largely because the Republican Party is pushing them out the door) the party’s progressive base has taken to launching vituperative  attacks on highly educated, highly compensated citizens. 

This little intramural war does raise a substantive question though. As they battle for the Party’s nomination, is it possible that Elizabeth Warren and Peter Buttigeig actually believe the economic nonsense they are trying to peddle? Are they really ashamed of the relative success they have achieved in their respective careers? Does Elizabeth Warren actually really truly believe that a vibrant society can co-exist with the central planning she proposes for roughly everything? Does Peter Buttigeig seriously believe that a society of 330 million people with a $20 trillion GDP needs Mayor Pete’s Power Point managerial socialism and an ever expanding bureaucracy to attack the fundamental issues that America needs to address? It would be closer to the mark to say that the “solutions” offered by Warren and Buttigieg et.al. are more likely a source of the problem, not the answer. 

It ought to be painfully obvious that all society’s have elites. Some are market based and are therefore more likely than not to be meritocracies; others are based on some variation of the Divine Right of Kings and depend on courtiers to run the show, which seems to be the direction in which the Democrats are headed.

JFB