Here’s my angle: I’m a political junkie with a demanding day job and a wife and toddler at home. Any big chunks of time I can find (usually long walks with my daughter when she won’t sleep any other way) I try to spend reading books. So I have to limit my political fix mostly to talk radio, skimming my RSS reader on my phone back and forth from the break room, and other stolen 60-second increments throughout the day. Which suits me just fine: Anything going on in politics ought to be able to digested by people with real lives. Something seems off about getting paid to offer political commentary: when commenting is a business, consumers have no way of knowing whether something is not worth commenting on. Which explains why every radio host begins his show with something like “lots to do today,” even if there’s not. And it explains why my news reader is often so chock full of garbage.
So for what it’s worth, this collection of commentary on the week reflects how one right-of-center ordinary gentleman sees the political conversation. If it’s not mentioned here, either I missed it or I just didn’t think it was worth mentioning. Again, I don’t get paid to do this, for better or worse. I may or may not try to do this on a regular basis.
The “Fiscal Cliff”
The President said the debt is not a problem in the short term. On election eve, I asked whether our $16 trillion debt made 2012 something of a single-issue election. No budget in almost four years; $4.6 trillion added to the debt in Obama’s first four years (more than what W added in eight years); highest deficits ever. But the comments pretty resoundingly said No, the debt’s not a big deal short term. This seemed to reflect the general mood of the voting public, too, who proceeded to reelect the President on November 6.
Now we’re suddenly about to nose dive off a “fiscal cliff.” What?
The negotiations themselves seem to be about 80/20 posturing versus policy. On both sides, but I’ve got to be honest, I think mostly on the Democrats’ side. The President doesn’t really care about closing the deficit or reducing the debt. He just told us he didn’t think it’s a big deal short term. He’s more concerned about a particular version of “fairness” where “the wealthy” pay more. I happen to think he’s wrong about that. Tax the wealthy if you think it would really fix the deficit or the debt. Make it part of an overall viable budget. But the fact that he’s made it a gauntlet seems distasteful. That he would turn taxing the wealthy into a principle to campaign on rather than merely a contingent detail to be worked out in a negotiation.
The media, of course, is daring the GOP to die on that hill. In the words of the Washington Post, Speaker Boehner “fail[ed] to persuade conservative Republicans to extend tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans and let tax rates rise for millionaires.” Would anyone really believe that the GOP would send us over the “fiscal cliff” just for the sake of tax rates on millionaires? It’s the President’s gauntlet that makes the claim plausible. The fact that he’s made this a campaign rather than a negotiation.
It’s much more plausible that, rather than dying on a hill to save tax rates for millionaires, the GOP is using the rates as leverage to get meaningful spending cuts from Democrats. I think Republicans actually believe we need to get spending in line with revenues—this isn’t a radical advancement in American political thought; they aren’t trying to claim new territory like I think the President is by staking a claim to a principle that the wealthy have a moral obligation to pay more.
But Republican’s aren’t going to get anything like the spending/revenue parity they seek. Again: The President doesn’t think debt is a problem; he is fighting for higher taxes as a principle, not an expedient; and the media has his back.
On the GOP side, lawmakers like Rep. John Campbell seem convinced they need to pass something, “Plan B” even, to prove to Americans they were willing to deal after “the cliff” happens. Hugh Hewitt and other pundits think they understand messaging better than the GOP leadership, and that, instead, Americans would punish the GOP for violating their tax pledge; that the media would spin it as a tax increase if Plan B were passed before 12/31, so therefore the GOP would have to wait until 1/1, after we go off the “fiscal cliff,” so that the same rates would suddenly become tax cuts. Craven, yes. But that’s the game the MSM forces the GOP to play, Hewitt argues.
I don’t think I buy it. I think the GOP would get hurt more by going over the cliff due to the “they just want to defend millionaires” meme than they would by compromising. There’s plenty of time for the GOP to appease their base in the next two years. Besides, their loss of credibility on fiscal issues has nothing to do with fights like this one—negotiating with a just-reelected president and controlling only one-third of the government (maybe ask why they kicked the can to exactly here in the first place). What they can’t afford to do is alienate more moderates or lose the independents they picked up this cycle. They just got beat in an election, arguably in large part because they got outplayed by the media. Don’t double down on this one. Hold your chips and reconsider your strategy.
On a personal note—and chalk this up to problems one is lucky to have—I have the option to take my bonus in 2012 or 2013. Normally, I’d defer taxes and take it in 2013. But this year, I guess the safe bet is to take it in 2012 before my rate (probably) goes up.
Ah, another policy fit only for professional legislators and professional writers who follow professional legislation. As I understand it, government prints money so it can fund entitlements. Printing money causes its value to go down, what we call inflation. To offset inflation, government increases entitlements. Rinse and repeat. Chained CPI cuts the entitlements so they increase behind the rate of inflation. The idea of running entitlement programs by printing money seems wrong to begin with, but if we insist on doing it, then I guess this is the sort of funny way professional legislators would invent to mitigate these complicated effects. Maybe it puts more skin in the game of the recipients and future recipients of those entitlements: put pressure on your legislators to find other ways to keep inflation low; otherwise, you’ll see larger real decreases in your entitlements.
The National Debate Over Guns Heats Up
Mixed feelings on how the conversation is playing out. I was initially encouraged by the emphasis on both sides on trying to foster a thoughtful, respectful debate. But within the week, the tragedy was mentioned as a reason to accept the President’s “fiscal cliff” proposal, and both sides of the debate seem to be parroting the exact same arguments as ever before. The conversation isn’t all bad. Ezra Klein’s had some good, dispassionate posts. I thought these examples of armed civilians stopping mass shootings at Volokh was interesting. Maybe the conversation is better on the mental health front, which I’ve been neglecting.
My intervention here is to just to point out that the problem we actually have here is one of discourse – we are forced by the Internet to nationalize problems [a good point; another reason I dislike our large class of professional opiners -tk]. This makes it much, much harder for local communities to experiment with localized solutions to threats to the moral order. If a community in, say, Connecticut wanted to ban assault weapon clips (because it made them feel safer – let’s put to one side data on efficacy!), Glenn Reynolds would lead a charge against the liberal fascists. Indeed. Heh. Yes. If a community in Tennessee wants to arm its teachers (because it makes them feel safer – let’s put to one side data on efficacy!) Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan would call them out as conservative fascists. Or loonies. Or winners of the Moore award. And we’d all get to pat ourselves on the back, but no one would actually get the benefit that law is supposed to provide, which is the helpful illusion that we’re more civilized than we actually are, and that we’re actually doing something to push back against the tide.
That is: a national conversation about guns and violence, facilitated and sped up by the internet, reduces our ability to try out different versions of the good life, and thus diminishes our capacity live together in peace.
He’s not exaggerating. Did you see how the gun control discussion went with Piers Morgan? If you think our elite paid opiners are capable of leading us in serious political discussion, Mr. Morgan is Exhibit A in opposition.
Here’s a question I’ll be asking in our upcoming symposium on Guns in America: A big reason—I’d argue the primary reason—for the Second Amendment is its function as what Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski calls a “doomsday provision” in the event of “those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed.” So why is the gun control debate always only framed around “what’s the least amount of firepower one needs to oppose a burglar” when it really ought to be “what’s the least amount of firepower a group of individuals needs to wage a legitimate and credible rebellion against a tyrannical government?” Why can’t we have a nuanced, thoughtful conversation about this?
The above quote explains a lot.
Secretary of State
Susan Rice is out of the running because of Benghazi. People are getting fired over Benghazi. CBS waited until after the election to release an edited-out clip of an interview with the President in which he acknowledges he did not call Benghazi a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden. [Correction: it was the day before the election. -tk] Weren’t we shooed along prior to the election about this? Move along, nothing to see here? Right-wing conspiracy nuts said the press was going soft until after the election. Boy, were they nuts.
I didn’t have any attention span left for Chuck Hagel. Kerry’s now apparently the pick anyway.
Judge Robert Bork, R.I.P.
Along with Judge Learned Hand, perhaps one of the most qualified jurists never to serve on the Supreme Court. As I discussed in the comments to Burt’s eulogy, he ably articulated and defended a principle of confined judicial power that, agree or not, at least poses the challenge to come up with another principle that confines that power. Turns out, it’s still easier to Bork that challenge than to engage it. Randy Barnett has some nice words as well. And originalism—even if it’s the positivistic variety—may be on the rise. I think the good judge took his interpretivism too far, and that he was wrong that our Constitution and our Founders were not informed by the natural law. But given that so few today understand the natural law or how to apply it, I cannot count it too harshly against him.
Those were the highlights from my news reader this week.