Conservative speakers coming to CU Boulder

January 29, 2014

Dr. Steven Hayward, CU’s Visiting Conservative Scholar, has arranged for some conservative speakers to come to CU campus in February and March. It looks like these schedules could be tentative. Updates will be posted on the Conservative Thought and Policy blog.

Christina Hoff Somers
February 19
Atlas Rm. 100, 6:30-8:00 pm

Jonah Goldberg
February 25
HUMN Rm. 1B50, 6:30-8:00 pm

Roger Scruton
March 5
Atlas Rm. 100, 6:30-8:00 pm

Jonathan Adler
March 11
Atlas Rm. 100, 7:15-9:30 pm (tentative)

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
March 20
HUMN Rm. 1B50, 6:30-8:00 pm

A way forward for constitutionalists

November 21, 2013

I have not posted to this blog in almost two years. I started this 7 years ago, since I didn’t see a place to express myself politically anywhere else at the time. I’ve since found other venues for that. In this instance, I feel the need to return to this venue. I’ve been thinking of a way for constitutionalists to regain a power position in our government. It’s going to sound counter-intuitive to many, but I think it offers a way of pushing the idea forward. It’s not the only answer, and it may not apply to some, since they tend not to vote for the two major parties anyway, but I offer it for consideration.

Increasingly I’ve been coming around to the idea that the key to a return of constitutional government is not ultimately through the political process, but through education, and that includes most importantly the education of children. Most of what I’ll talk about here is not about that, but a political strategy for the meantime. However, I feel it’s important to emphasize that this cannot be the whole answer. How to go about education, I leave to others for now, as I have very little knowledge about how to educate, but nothing replaces it in the project of political reform. I am quite convinced that we got to where we are today politically because of past educational mistakes, mixed with some deliberate actions. That’s kind of a chicken and egg problem. Which came first? The intent, or the mistake?

I propose not only a takeover strategy of the Republican Party by the Tea Party, but also taking actions that goad the country to come back to conservatism. Some say that takeover is already happening, but I think something more is needed, and perhaps Tea Partiers are already doing this. I don’t know. It seems like we saw evidence of this in the 2012 election.

In the past, the Republican establishment has been able to keep conservatives at bay with moderate politicians. The scenario goes like this. Middle-of-the-road types (often called “moderates,” but I’ll use the term MOTRs) claim during the primaries that their conservative opponents are too extreme and cannot get elected. MOTRs win these primaries, successfully convincing Republican voters of this (and by virtue of the fact that many Republican voters, and independents who are allowed in open primaries, like moderates). Then, in the general election, conservatives complain that their moderate candidates don’t represent them. The same answer always comes, “Where are you going to go?” Conservatives feel compelled to vote for MOTRs, because it’s better to get “half a loaf” than nothing at all, but I think we should question whether we’re even getting “half a loaf” anymore. The presidency of George W. Bush I think did away with that notion. Bush gained office by creating a program of “big government conservatism.” He grew the government way more than prior Democratic presidents had. He knew the public wanted larger government, but he thought he could steer the country with larger government in a conservative direction with higher public spending on causes to which conservatives are agreeable. In the final analysis, I think this failed. With the election of Obama in 2008, all I see is that Bush handed the Democrats a loaded weapon, which they’ve used to attack liberty-loving Americans, and encourage more government dependency to a degree they had not dreamed of previously.

What I propose is a political strategy whose aim is to teach the people that their desire for bigger government is misguided, such that it will open an opportunity for Americans to search for an alternative. The strategy is simple. Absent monetary influence, I think it’s all we have. It will involve taking many losses, and bearing them with resolve. It will involve experiencing the burdens of big government, and suffering its predations. It may not work, but I do not see an alternative. I think we must be firm about what we prefer. I think we must tilt our votes towards those candidates for office whom we can surmise have skills in governing, and who have our priorities of constitutionally limited government at heart, and in mind. If we do not have such a candidate to support, we must not vote for MOTR Republicans. Instead vote for Democrats, no matter whether they’re moderates or extremists, or vote for an existing third party, if some prefer. As I heard one Tea Partier say (I think Sen. Ted Cruz of TX), in order to take back the country we must first take back the Republican Party. To do that, there must be an accommodation between constitutionalist voters and the party establishment. If the Establishment continues to offer up milquetoast candidates, we must be willing to accept party defeat for the time being to teach the party apparatus that their choices are not acceptable, and to teach the people, to the extent possible, what their desire for bigger government (with the Democrats) really means. This means of course that we will continue to suffer the predations of government, if the public’s desire for that continues, but it’s an unfortunate truth about humanity that people often do not change until they experience pain. They must feel the overbearing character of big government to seek an alternative, and we must be willing to bear it with them until they learn that this is not the way forward.

Some will feel alarmed at this proposal: Vote for Democrats?? Yes, if no suitable Republican candidate is available. The reason for my “madness” is simple. If the public indicates it wants bigger government, I suggest we give it to them, full on. What I want us to turn away from is the “frog in the slowly warming pot,” that ultimately “cooks” it alive. I think we will be able to make our point most effectively with stark contrasts in the political process. Rather than give big government slowly, give it quickly with gusto. People will feel the impact of it more quickly. If it comes on slowly, people will become inured to its effects–they’ll get used to it. Expectations will be lowered, and people will not aspire to anything better.

Some will point to my stance and say that this is asking for dysfunction, because we are displaying an unwillingness to compromise. That is not true. I recognize the need for compromise in our government, but there are some compromises that are not worth taking. In fact what many are calling “compromise” today–continuing to overspend at an alarming rate, and continuing to destroy constitutional government–is downright crazy. We all know it. All the traditional motions towards compromise by Republicans have gotten us is a larger, more oppressive federal state that is repressing small private enterprise, creating more government dependence to a point where nearly half the country is in such a state, and where the government is borrowing 40% of what it spends, increasing the debt to proportions not seen since WW II, with no end to it in sight. Many in the Democratic establishment have convinced themselves that this is not dangerous. They can continue growing the state, creating a larger and larger financial burden on the country. Money is no object. Absent full Democratic control of the presidency and Congress, they prefer dealing with moderate Republicans, who will vote along with them to continue growing the size of government, with their feckless protests, indefinitely. The Democrats, as far as I’m concerned, are a lost cause for the time being, but if this country is going to have a chance in the future, we must not see this as acceptable behavior on the part of Republicans. We must have a conservative party, with some power, to go to.

Some might also ask if this is just asking for ultimate defeat. If the country does not learn to reject big government, and continues going back to the same “well” for solutions, despite its failures, won’t this strategy ultimately lead us to a one-party state, and perhaps the end of the country itself? I say we are on that path already. Voting for Republicans, without regard for their inclinations for smaller or bigger government, will not stop it. It will only slow it down, but not change course. That I find unacceptable as well. I’ve had this sense since 2011 that the country needs to make a stark choice about which way it is going to go. If it is determined to keep going down the same path, voting for MOTR Republicans will not change our fate. It will only delay the inevitable. It will seem like we have made an alternate choice, but we will, in fact, have chosen a slight modification of the status quo, which still leads in the same direction. That’s not the kind of decision I’m talking about.

There have been increasing calls for constitutional conservatives to break away from the Republican Party and create a third party, but I caution against this. Creating a third party will not change the political landscape one iota. It will not instantly create a new majority. What people need to do is change their minds. That can happen within the existing system of two major parties. Being a part of the Republican Party creates an opportunity for engagement, to change the minds of people who we need to convert to our side of the argument. It also lets them know that we are not their enemy. We agree with them on many principles, but we have a different approach towards achieving them. They may say it doesn’t look like a strategy for success, and on that they have a point. The Tea Party is a minor, though somewhat successful, movement within the Republican Party. Success for our goals will only come when the American public learns that big government doesn’t work, and we learn to communicate, and educate, the public to that fact effectively. Part of what will help with that will be the public experiencing the downsides of big government.

The one scenario where I could see a break-away third party working is where the Republican Party apparatus actively suppresses our voice, but there’s an increasing public support with momentum for our views. In addition, a funding coalition would be needed. Simply having different ideas will not suffice. They must be ideas that people are willing to commit to with their cash, and, living with the practical realities of electoral engagement, it must be an agenda that attracts donations to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Such fundraising can be done online in today’s world, but it might be necessary for such an agenda to attract large financial backers, rather than counting on a swarm of public excitement, and a large number of small donations.

The Tea Party has its enemies within the GOP, but I don’t see a large movement to actively suppress it just yet. I hope that does not develop. In the meantime I advocate taking the actions I’ve outlined to shape the Republican Party to our ends.

Edit 1/10/14: Glenn Beck did an excellent piece on this subject back in October. He didn’t say what I’ve said, but I think it dovetails. Where we agree is that we must do what we can to defeat what are commonly called “moderate” (or what Glenn calls Progressive) candidates in the party, in preference to pro-freedom, pro-Constitution, pro-market (I would add pro-federalism) candidates.

The end of the republic is nigh

December 1, 2011

This is going to sound overly dramatic. I believe we are headed for real political trouble in the coming decade. I don’t see a way out of it. I know there are reassuring voices who have said, and continue to say, that the election of this or that candidate will not be the end of the republic. I hope they are right, but I think they are wrong. I will explain why.

There are some who get it, that we are headed for a fiscal cliff if we continue the way we are going, but very few people, relatively speaking, understand what the real fiscal problem is. It’s apparently too complicated for most to grasp. It’s a lot easier to see things in terms of class strata, and who is or isn’t getting what.

I have come to really question the wisdom of TARP, which I once advocated in the most impassioned tones that we pass back in 2008. I have since realized that the people I was listening to back then were capitalists, but they were also anti-market business types who believe that the government should solve our problems. They probably didn’t deserve the respect I gave them. I am still not sure TARP was a bad idea, but I now take a dimmer view of it. I am now against the idea of doing anything similar to that again. We cannot afford to reward malfeasance. It just leads to more of it, which I fear we will feel the repercussions of in the future. One of the problems it has created is it has emboldened the left. It has enabled them to say, “The rich got bailed out by the government, but now the Republicans want to abandon the middle class,” by denying them unemployment and retirement benefits. This is going to come back to bite us hard! The Tea Party has been on the side of good, in my mind, looking at the situation realistically, but they’ve been cast as extremists, and the public has come to believe it. Most people now blame the Tea Party for the recent debt debacle. In my opinion the Republicans have flubbed this year. Twice now they have tried to pass large budget-cutting bills, and each time when push came to shove they backed off, resulting in effectively no change in spending. Sure, there have been some cuts, but they’re the same amount the government spends in a week. Each time it took them at least a month to get to that point, so the gains in solving the fiscal crisis are moot. It was all theater.

Some pundits have patted the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner on the back, saying they did an amazing job “changing the conversation.” Well they may lose the majority in the House next year. They’re not that popular right now. A lot of good that’ll do.

I make this prediction. Obama will win re-election next year, regardless of how unpopular he is right now. We may get a Republican senate, though. Here’s why I think that. Most of the people who voted in the House majority did not want Medicare to be cut or modified. The Republicans in the House have proposed doing that. It’s necessary. I think Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan was a good first shot at it, but even the Republican base hated it. The Tea Party Republicans put forward other proposals that cut back Medicare. The reason is it’s necessary. We can’t afford the rate it’s expanding anymore, mainly because of Medicaid’s growth in spending. Now they’re unpopular. The Democrats keep saying we need to raise taxes on the rich. That could be part of the mix, as far as I’m concerned. The reason is history shows that the top tax rate has no discernible impact on job creation. It may have an impact on GDP. I haven’t analyzed that yet. In any case, it can be the Democrats’ token issue they take back to their constituents. It won’t solve the problem, but apparently it would make the medicine go down better for some. I think it’s a worthy concession if it can be used as a bargaining chip to get Democrats to agree to huge budget cuts. Personally I think this is where the Republicans might’ve misplayed the whole situation. They insisted that taxes be off the table.

What I find really disturbing though is this year proved that this country does not have the stomach for budget cuts, at all, and we really need them now, and in the near future! The cuts that are coming as a result of the failure of the “super commission” are reversible. Maybe not next year, but the year after next. Besides, the cuts are not that significant from a budgetary perspective. The federal government is overspending by $1,400 billion a year. The cuts that take effect in 2013 as a result of the deal struck in July (and the failed “super commission”) are $120 billion a year. That’s less than a 10% chunk out of what the government is overspending. So now the government will be overspending by $1.28 trillion a year, instead of $1.4 trillion, that is if it doesn’t add on more spending after this. What accomplishment is that?

The one thing out of the Bowles-Simpson Commission that I think has real heft to it is the prediction that we are facing a known economic threat that will be caused by our government’s overspending, and it’s entirely preventable. However we may just walk right into it anyway, if we don’t get our act together and understand what will cause it. The reason being that the causes they identified are the very federal programs most voters don’t want cut: Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.

This is the reason I fear for the very existence of our republic. So long as we keep not understanding the problem, we will step closer and closer to this crisis, like a sleepwalker. The financial crisis in Europe is not helping matters. It’s causing foreign investors to buy our bonds, which makes the interest rates drop temporarily, in a flight-to-safety move. This is causing people now to question whether there’s a debt crisis in our country at all. I mean, the bond yields are at record lows! What’s the problem? However, this is only temporary. The moment we look insolvent, our bonds will be dumped like a hot potato. I imagine the Federal Reserve will monetize the debt in that instance, increasing inflation, rather than allow interest rates to float.

Once before our country borrowed 118% of its GDP, and managed to keep its AAA rating. That was during WW II. We cut spending massively in 1947/48, after the war. Here’s what’s different now from then. We keep saying we need our retirement programs as-is, but these programs will kill our economy in the next several years. Social Security didn’t really get going until the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s. Medicare didn’t get started until Lyndon Johnson’s term in office, starting in the mid-1960s. We appear destined to walk right into another financial crisis. I don’t see a way out of it politically yet.

Our past history is that electing one-party Republican governments doesn’t help the problem. It just delays the inevitable. Bush and the Republican congress spent more than Clinton did in his 8 years in office. That’s part of the reason we’re in this mess, though I hold Obama and the Democrats more culpable, because they’ve taken what Bush spent and tripled it, upping our deficits massively!

What I see we need this time around is a Democratic president with a Republican congress (House and Senate). This combination worked out well in the 1990s, because they were motivated to oppose each other. There were some contentious fights, and even a government shutdown, but they managed to get budget surpluses. I can’t imagine us getting such an outcome now, even with that arrangement, with our deficits the way they are. That would be too big a change, but I’d at least like us to get our budget deficit down to what Bush’s yearly deficits were, as a first goal, which was about $600 billion a year (and that was just 3 years ago!) That, at least, our government could manage. The thing is, I doubt we’ll get there, because getting down to that level will require cutting into programs we don’t want cut.

The long term goal is we need to have a growing economy. Here’s the dirty little question hardly anyone is asking: Grow with what? Each growth boom we had in the 20th century was spurred by invention. In the 1920s it was the invention of radio. In the 1950s it was the invention of modern appliances in our own industrial revolution. In the 1980s it was the computer revolution, and in the 1990s it was the deregulation of the internet and telecommunications. What do we have now? We won’t know unless our government deregulates small business, and establishes consistent policies that businesses can predict. Right now our government is not doing that, and we appear to have no political inclination to do so.

We could enter another Great Depression. Some Democrats even look forward to this. The private sector would be stifled. They remember FDR’s anti-business stance, and his government programs with fondness. The difference is now we have an America where a large swath of the country is dependent on government programs. We don’t want them cut, especially in this economy. If we don’t cut them, though, the economy will stay bad. Unless that political dynamic is broken, our state of economic depression will drag on for a few decades at least, not just one. What will make things worse than the last great depression is we’ll be a country that is known as a deadbeat, that can’t pay its bills. So interest rates will be high. Before the Depression of the 1930s, the government ran a revenue surplus, and always paid its bills. There will be demand for the government to borrow more and more money from abroad, or from the Fed (increasing inflation), as our demand for government programs remains insatiable, because the government will not be able to raise the necessary revenues to support all of the spending. I see tax increases as inevitable, though they are politically unpopular. I think the Democrats will eventually push them through. That’ll help some, perhaps, on the revenue end, but the effect will likely be negligible. The spending will just reach higher and higher. The private sector will eventually be crowded out. We’ll just have large corporations surviving, which will work hand-in-glove with the government, and the majority of the nation’s economy will be taken up by the government. Our transformation to a socialist society will be complete, and the constitutional republic founded in 1789 will be all but dead.

I hope I’m wrong about this, but to me the key to turning this around is breaking our societal dependence on government largesse. Unless we do that, we doom the next generation to a life of hardship.

Another Republican I won’t be voting for

May 15, 2011

Well, this pretty well seals it. I’m not voting for Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination, and I’m not voting for Mitt Romney, either, for the same reason. Gingrich said on Meet The Press today that he backs an individual mandate, requiring every American to buy health insurance, though it sounds like he just doesn’t like the way it’s done in the Obama health care bill. It doesn’t matter. I still don’t like his idea. Saying that people should have health insurance makes sense, particularly for catastrophic situations, heart attack, cancer, etc., but “should” is not the same as “must.” “Should” is a suggestion. Saying that people must have it so that everyone can afford it, as Gingrich did, is BS. It’s an overreach of government. People should buy the insurance they think they need, and insurance should act like insurance, to deal with the consequences of risks. Health insurance should not be another name for managed care.

What’s going on with inflation?

May 2, 2011

Edit 5-4-11: Decided to change the title of this post, adding the “?”, since I realized Dick Morris’s article is more an opinion piece.

Dick Morris has a good column today on “How the Feds conceal inflation.” He not only talks about the “lying with statistics” that’s going on. He also mentions what is causing the increased prices that consumers are generally seeing.

He said that if we use the same standard that we used to measure inflation in 1980, after the Carter years, then our annual inflation rate would be measured at 10% right now. I’ve been thinking for a while that the predicted problems with inflation were overblown, that it’ll be like the 1970s, but Morris is saying it will be different, because the problem is different. He said that before, the problem was the textbook definition of inflation: too much money chasing too few goods. Demand increases while supply remains the same. Now he says the problem is there’s a “price push” on the goods we buy. I looked this up, and apparently what “price push” means is that demand remains constant, but supply decreases. Therefor prices increase without increased demand. It’s the opposite problem.

Morris says that increasing interest rates now will not help this situation, though it was the solution to the inflation problem of the 1970s. He doesn’t say what the solution for this is, but I suspect it has to do with decreasing taxes and regulation, and I’d imagine decreasing the rate of federal spending, because public debt is crowding out private credit. I’d imagine that if the Fed increased interest rates we would likely see out-of-control inflation, because banks would be more motivated to lend into the private economy. This would increase supply over the long term, but also increase demand in the short term. This would force the Fed to increase interest rates higher to try to contain the increase in demand. Morris has said we’re entering a stagflationary period, but I can see now how it could get really bad.

Osama bin Laden is dead!

May 2, 2011

I got word rather late last night that Osama bin Laden was killed in an early morning raid by U.S. Navy Seals on May 1. Other details I’ve heard are that the Pakistani government was not told about the raid until yesterday. The U.S. government got intelligence last August that bin Laden was in a building in Abbottobad, Pakistan, just outside of Islamabad. Abbottobad is a wealthy community mostly made up of retired Pakistani military personnel. The building was 8 times larger than any other building in the area, and it was fortified against attack. It was also set apart from the community, and was only accessible by a dirt road. It was described on the news as a “mansion,” but the ABC News article I link to gives a description that makes it sound more like a large military building.

Obama said in a speech last night that the U.S. had been gathering intelligence on this location since it first learned of it. He said last week he felt he had enough information to know for sure that bin Laden was there, and he ordered a raid on it, which took place early yesterday morning. It was successful.

Reportedly, three other people were killed in the attack. One of them is thought to be one of bin Laden’s sons. Another was a woman that bin Laden’s fighters used as a human shield. There were children housed in the building, who were unharmed in the raid. No U.S. soldiers were killed.

I heard a report just a little while ago that bin Laden was given the opportunity to surrender, but he chose to fire his weapon, and so he was killed. Bin Laden always said that if it came to this, he would refuse to be taken alive. His body was taken by the Seals, and has been identified by comparing his DNA with that of his relatives. It is now in U.S. custody.

Shortly after the news broke of bin Laden’s death spontaneous celebrations started gathering at the White House, Times Square, and Ground Zero.

This is a great moment for President Obama, and he deserves praise for finally getting the leader of Al Qaida. Of course, my thanks go to the U.S. military who actually did the work! The only other “big fish” who is still at large is Ayman Al Zawahiri, who was bin Laden’s “#2″. The fight is still not over. As President Bush said, even if he was able to get bin Laden, it would not end Al Qaida as a movement and organization. That is still the case.

Edit 5-3-11: Reportedly the body was buried at sea, according to Islamic customs. The White House has backtracked on some details of the raid. See here.

Samuelson on the debt situation

April 25, 2011

Here are a couple good articles by Robert J. Samuelson. He’s of the same opinion as myself: The federal government is suicidal, and Obama is not helping matters.

“Big government on the brink”

“Obama abdicates on the budget”

Though Samuelson doesn’t say this, I think a big reason the Republicans have been so timid on budget cutting, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, is that despite their tough talk about it, the Democrats have set up the budget rules such that if there’s a government shutdown, soldiers will not receive paychecks. This was not the case when the government shutdown happened with Clinton in the 1990s. The military is a major Republican constituency, and they’d catch hell from their base for denying pay to soldiers (though they would be reimbursed once the shutdown ended). Michele Bachmann introduced a bill in the most recent budget battle to change the rules so that soldiers would continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown. Obama shot that down, saying he would veto it if it came to him. He understood what was going on, and he was not going to take the pressure off Republicans to backtrack on their demands. In the end, there was effectively no budget cut for this year, with about $300 billion in cuts spread out over the next few years, of money that was appropriated in ’10, but hadn’t been spent yet. What would be done with the unspent money was not discussed in public. Perhaps it would reduce the debt a little, but the amount is paltry compared to the size of the problem.

Some Tea Party Republicans voted against the deal that was ultimately reached, because they wanted much larger cuts, but there weren’t enough of them to force the issue.

The big “budget drama” that Republicans say will be coming, probably in May, in raising the debt ceiling is likely going to end the same way. Little change, and for the same reason. The Democrats have equalized the field, and said, “If you’re going to hurt our constituents, we’re going to hurt yours, too,” and the Republican majority in the House has been revealed as having no spine. The current congress is not up to the challenge.


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