When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning. One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker. That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack. I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.
Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies. Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success. That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically. Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily. They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks. So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.
Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks. As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.
And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a military solution. When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.
If Republicans wanted to ensure that the Kansas Senate seat stayed in GOP hands, they would join the suit by Democrat Senate candidate Chad Taylor and ask to have Pat Roberts’ name removed from the ballot so that it could be replaced by the primary’s runner-up, Milton Wolf.
That they would never even consider doing that tells you that the national party would rather lose a seat than to have it fall into Tea Party hands.
Why Republicans will gain at least 9 seats in the Senate and reduce the number of Democrats in the House to below 190 seats, their lowest level since 1930.
The RCP average has Dems and Repubs deadlocked at 45 seats each, with ten more too close to call. Unfortunately for Dems, seven of those seats are in red states and three are in purple. Not one seat is being fought on favorable terrain where the President’s popularity might keep the Democratic senate nominee above water.
Speaking of which, President Obama is underwater himself. Not just underwater, but an anchor. At this point in the 2010 election cycle, President Obama was more unpopular than popular, but by only four points: approximately 49-45. Today the RCP average has the margin at 13 points, with only 41% of voters approving of the president’s job.
Worse than that, while the President himself is unpopular, his policies themselves are even more unpopular. A recent ABC/WSJ poll found disapproval for his presidency to be 51%. But the disapproval levels for his policies lagged even that: 54% against his handling of the economy, 56% against his international affairs, 56% against his implementation of health care, and 59% against his immigration policies. Worse still, now that terrorism is becoming a concern with more Americans, the greatest number of Americans ever support Republicans over Democrats on this issue by a 55 to 32 margin. Compared with 2010, Dems have fallen 10 points and Repubs have gained 4 on an issue they already led and that wasn’t a top concern four years ago. Republicans, who began the year thinking that they could again use Obamacare as a cudgel against Democrats, have discovered that they have a whole arsenal of clubs from which to choose to beat their opponents. On virtually every issue Democratic positions are overwhelmingly unpopular.
Still worse for Democrats is that re-districting since 2010 has worsened their position. Racial gerrymandering is the main culprit. Most of the 41 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be returned to Washington in January with huge margins of victory. Democrats have built these districts’ lines to ensure a large amount of black representation in Congress. Many such seats are more than 80% Democratic. In a 50-50 nation where one-tenth of the House seats are hugely Democratic, that leaves many fewer Democrats to sprinkle around the rest of the country. For years, Republicans have had a Brer Rabbit attitude toward Democratically-led racial gerrymandering, as it gives them a disproportionate edge in the rest of the country. So in House seats that aren’t CBC house seats, President Obama is on average even more unpopular than he already is nationally.
On this date four years ago the RCP average had the GOP favored in 207 seats and the Democrats in 193. All 35 tossups broke for the GOP. The House in big elections tends to break big for the winning side. This year, the GOP is favored to win 230 seats—27 more than they were favored to win at this time in 2010. Democrats are favored in only 188, 5 fewer than in 2010. Of the 17 tossups, 13 are currently Democratic-held. Just as in the Senate, Democrats are fighting a reeling defense everywhere in the House. Worse for Democrats is that between September 11, 2010 and the 2010 election, the map widened in the GOP’s favor. They saw their lead slip such that on election day, the RCP average had them ahead in only 171 seats. On average, every seat moved over one notch; seats that had been leaning Democratic became tossups, forcing Democrats to defend even more turf. If a similar movement occurs again, expect Democrats to see another dozen or so seats slip away where they are currently favored to win.
And here’s why that might happen. Democrats spent the summer of 2010 fluctuating between 41 and 44 percent support on the generic congressional ballot question. This summer they are in exactly the same place. In 2010 the GOP began its rise out of the same region right around the 4th of July. But until then they were neck-and-neck with the Dems. This year the GOP looks to have begun its climb about six weeks later and now finds itself five points ahead of where it was just three weeks ago and with the highest level of support it has enjoyed all year. If this is indicative of undecideds breaking against the Dems, it will reflect in races where Democratic incumbents currently look safe.
I’ve lived through three landslide midterm elections in my adult life and all of them looked like this. But neither 1994, 2006, nor 2010 looked this bad for the party in the White House until much later in the race. Plus, in 2006 Republicans had a firewall of eight untouchable seats. No matter what happened they would keep Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This year Democrats have three fewer seats that are firmly out of reach of the GOP. Even the President’s home state of Illinois is not safe. While unlikely, a veto-proof GOP majority in the senate and as few as 175 Democrats in the House, is not out of range.
Why the GOP will miss its opportunity (again).
Republicans are not the Stupid Party™ for nothing. In 2010 and 2012 they made the mistake of nominating wackos and witches in swing states and even blue ones where they had credible alternatives who were almost guaranteed to win. This time the GOP applied an opposite, but equally stupid approach. In three states so Republican that a red dog could win, they renominated their RINO incumbents who were the only Republicans in those states who could possibly lose. Kansas, a state so Republican that FDR won there only twice, typified the stupidity, but Kentucky and Mississippi weren’t far behind. The national GOP, tone deaf as always, didn’t appreciate that the only thing less popular in Kansas than a Kansas Democrat was a Washington Republican. By propping up the dinosaur Roberts, they have ensured the loss of a seat they couldn’t lose.
Almost as bad as Republican leaders are Republican voters. In 2010 complacency cost them seats they were going to win. Going into election day, Republicans led in Colorado and Nevada and were tied in Washington. They lost all three seats. In fact, the Republican candidate failed to beat the final RCP average in every single tossup state. The Obama turnout machine turned out while Republicans stayed home thinking that they already had the win.
And in 2010 Democrats gave Republicans an incentive they don’t have now: Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she is still around. But she no longer leads the House. Almost as unpopular as she was at her nadir, is the GOP’s John Boehner. “A pox upon both your houses” is the voters’ mood.
That thinking is evident in the generic congressional question, where this year, Republicans have never been able to break away from the Dems. If “none of the above” were a choice, it would probably win. Without a hated nemesis and with lackluster leadership of their own, a landslide victory—or even control of the Senate—is not going to happen.
UPDATE: Jay Cost notes a similar trend to what I stated in the first part of this post
All in all, this is precisely the sort of poll you do not want to see if you are a Democrat. With less than two months until the 2014 midterm, Republicans are polling stronger in the NBC/WSJ poll than at any point since … two months before the 2010 midterm.
President Obama’s admission that he lacks a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State was a foolish thing for a President to admit out loud. But it is not surprising. That is because for most of our nation’s history, America has lacked an explicit foreign policy and a supporting strategy.
When we have approximated a guiding principle, we usually have done so only as far as to define what we were against: against European intervention in the Western Hemisphere under the Monroe Doctrine, against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, and against Soviet expansion during the Cold War.
The eight years of the second Bush presidency at least had the virtue of America and the world clearly understanding what the United States stood against. We stood against the use of terrorism, be it deployed in Baghdad or Britain. Of course, fabricating a strategy from opposition to a tactic is a form of reverse-engineering that was bound to be a less than successful exercise.
The last six years haven’t even possessed that murky level of clarity: withdrawal at any cost in Iraq, withdrawal on a fixed timeline from Afghanistan, intervention without aims in Libya, and a stutter-step approach to a Syrian civil war that now has America on the precipice of being on the de facto side of Bashar Al Assad, about whom the President said, “must go”. What exactly is the point?
The jumbled mess that seems to be American Middle Eastern foreign policy was pithily encapsulated by one online commenter:
“We’re supporting Shia in Iraq near Baghdad, mostly Sunni Kurds in the North, and never Kurdish independence anywhere. We support vetted moderate Sunnis in Syria who only sometimes give that support to their more radical Sunni Salafist brothers in the IS to kill the Alawite Shia Assad government they both oppose, and of course destroy the Shia we support in Iraq. We support the ultra-Sunni Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, but not their tribal affiliated Al Khalifa Sunni brothers in Bahrain. There we seem to support democracy which would lead to Shia government. We don’t support the Shia aytollahs in Iran, nor their more secular opposition which protested and was crushed a few years ago.”
Again, what exactly is the point?
In addition to lacking a strategy, President Obama’s confused rhetoric demonstrates that there also is no tactical point to our military endeavors in the region. White House correspondent Alexis Simeldinger’s recent report may look like a semantic exercise. However, “destroy” and “degrade” are very different military objectives. From such terms necessarily flow military plans to support the attainment of the President’s specified objectives. When the President himself postulates that the goal is to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, he has contradicted himself in the space of three words.
This is not the first time. American intentions in Libya were doomed from the start because those intentions themselves were never clear to military leaders in US Africa Command (AFRICOM) who quite literally didn’t know what the President wanted them to accomplish. You cannot have a coherent strategy if you don’t have a clear objective.
After the fact, the Bush Administration recognized this glaring deficiency when it attempted to construct a goal for the war in Iraq. Defeat Saddam Hussein, which was the original 2003 goal, is not an objective. It is a means to an objective. What Iraq was supposed to look and act like should have been the objective.
To his credit, Bush developed the objective of a self-sustaining, stable, and responsible Iraq was marginally achieved, at least by 2010. To his detriment, for at least the first three years of the war, Bush and the country muddled through the Iraq War because the Administration couldn’t even define what victory should look like so that America would know when to send its troops home. To Obama’s credit, he continued in Iraq and made great strides toward Bush’s goal during the first two years of his presidency. To his detriment, he, like his predecessor, failed to understand that after the conflict portion of war is over, peace is more of a rheostat than a switch. You can’t flip it off suddenly and expect that stability would remain.
There seems to be one cause more than any other that makes America stumble into its foreign policy mistakes. That cause is the feeling that “We need to do something”. Whether we need to do something because we feel that people around the world are being wronged or because we feel that someone has wronged us, the urge to “do something” is a natural human emotion. It arises out of sympathy for a victim or anger at an affront. But sympathy and anger are emotions. They are not logical reasons for entering a conflict.
Unfortunately, most of America’s “bad” wars seem to have begun this way. Two-hundred years ago, the fledgling nation tired of diminutive treatment from Great Britain, and so feeling that it had to do something to show Britain that it could not be pushed around, America launched a war against its former occupier at a time when it was itself then occupied by the much greater task of defeating Napoleon. The war ended exactly as it began: confusedly, and earning no concessions for America from the British. In fact, the Treaty of Ghent is one of the few treaties in history that explicitly enshrines the status quo ante bellum. Well, except for the 15,000 Americans who died as a result of the War of 1812.
A century later the president, against the wishes of the country, provided quasi-support to Allied Powers engaged in a far-off war, and then cried foul when the Central Powers attacked that support. “We have to do something” became his rallying cry and so America entered a regrettable war in which it never had any business being. When mercifully World War I came to a close, voters so abhorred President Wilson for the pointless conflict that less than a week from victory, they jettisoned 25 members of his party from the House and turned over control of the Senate to the opposition.
Wars in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, have likewise left America in no better position than before the commencement of hostilities. And all of these conflicts began over an American feeling that it had to do something. By acting on the basis of emotion instead of thought, America invited the probability that the unintended consequences of “something” would be worse than if it had done nothing. Like medieval doctors treating ailments with leeches and bloodletting, the “cure” always leaves the patient no better off than before the treatment, and often is worse than the disease itself.
Today you have everyone from National Review’s Rich Lowry to progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren saying that destroying the Islamic State should be the nation’s “Number one priority”. Left-leaning columnist Jonathan Alter says that “There’s not much disagreement on how to handle ISIS. U.S. warplanes have already flown more than 100 sorties to degrade ISIS ground forces, and many more bombs are on the way.”
Alter is probably right about what will be done, but never addressed is why America would do it. What does it expect to accomplish? How, as a result of aerial strikes, does America expect that the situation will be better?
Unfortunately, the entire debate is backwards. Instead of asking what military action we should take, we need first ask ourselves what do we want the post-military situation to look like? Then and only then can the Department of Defense propose a military plan to achieve that end result. And sometimes that plan, means no plan, because sometimes, any military solution only makes the situation worse. In other words, the first question is not “What?” but “Why?” Taking any action without a goal and the thoughtful analysis of whether or not the goal is attainable, is foolish, costly, and dangerous.
I submit that while destroying IS may end up being the right course of action, before we decide to do that, our number one foreign policy priority ought to be figuring out as our objective what we want the world to look like, and then formulating a feasible strategy to get us there.
Otherwise, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is just going to join a long list of Middle Eastern public-enemy-number-ones over the last quarter-century including: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein (again), Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Muqtada al Sadr, Muammar Khadafy, and Bashar al Assad. Without first understanding the objective of American intervention, the only certainty is that after the Islamic State, we simply will find ourselves confronted by yet another “great” threat with a hard-to-pronounce name.
Further complicating the question of what to do about the Islamic State is the fact that the Middle East really is a tertiary problem for the United States. What we choose to do there puts in peril American prestige and power in theaters more important and potentially more dangerous. Both Europe, with an economically injured but still militarily dangerous Russia, and Asia, with an emerging China and a declining Japan, are much bigger concerns than a terrorist organization whose reach is limited and whose only direct attack on America has been a couple murders.
Perhaps that’s a little too crassly stated. After all, televised beheadings are incomparably gruesome. However, let us attempt to maintain some proportionality: do we really think that the best answer is to launch thousands of forces and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to end a murder rate that falls short of a Chicago weekend?
Finally, let us attempt to maintain some perspective as well. The development of IS was a wholly predictable event. The destabilization of Bashar al Assad guaranteed the emergence of IS or someone else like it. In that region of the world, the only surety was that any resultant opposition wasn’t going to be moderate and democratic. So if non-intervention in the Syrian Civil War was the right choice—and it probably was—then we should have known that this was going to happen. If the decision to leave Iraq was the right choice—and it probably was (although it certainly could have been a more measured withdrawal)—then the rise of a brutal opposition was a predictable consequence. But if this was a foreseeable outcome, what was a better alternative? It’s very likely that there wasn’t one, and that there still isn’t one.
Perhaps this indicates that the most important principle to keep in mind when it comes to deciding a strategy is best encapsulated in Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer for serenity. God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In other words, having no strategy, might not be the worst thing. (But still, you don’t say that.)
In Part II: How to create an American strategy
If you like wonky political analysis, Dan “Baseball Crank” McLaughlin has an excruciatingly detailed look at what the historical record portends for the 2016 political landscape.
McLaughlin’s conclusion based on evaluating every presidential election since the American Civil War is that a party that enjoys presidential incumbency for eight straight years almost always sees a drop-off in support in the following election. While this isn’t an earth-shattering result–almost all political analysts recognize that after two successful elections, it is very hard to win a third–McLaughlin shows that the mathematics behind this phenomenon are nearly unanimous. Even when parties do win third elections (FDR in 1940, and George H W Bush in 1988, for example), there is a pronounced drop-off in the amount of support that the incumbent party gets compared to the previous election’s results.
While I urge you to read the article, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I saw something in one of McLaughlin’s charts that has caused me to question a bit of conventional wisdom that I have always before accepted.
Conventional wisdom holds that higher voter turnout favors Democrats over Republicans. So take a look at this chart from McLaughlin’s analysis. What this shows is the total presidential vote count for each party as well as the total number of voting eligible age non-voters from 1980 to 2012.Look at the blue line for Democrats. Aside from 2008 it is remarkably steady. So steady, in fact, that with an R-squared of .978, a Democratic candidate for president can expect to receive 3.87 million more votes than the Democratic nominee did four years before. Again, aside from 2008, in the last ten presidential elections, the Democratic nominee never over or underperformed this projection by more than 2.2 million votes. I’ve reproduced just the Republican and Democratic data below and added the linear trend that is fitted to 1980-2012 Democratic vote totals except for the outlier year of 2008.
In 2008 Barack Obama overperformed the trend line by an astounding 8.5 million votes as he turned out an anomalously large number of youth, minorities, and independents. Four years later, Obama overperformed the Democratic trend by a mere 1.1 million votes, a much more historically normal result.
Now look at the red line for the number of Republican votes. It is all over the place. In 1984 and 1988, when Democratic performance was almost exactly in line with the historical trend, Republicans outdistanced them by 17 million and 7 million votes. In 1992 and 1996, when Democrats only slightly underperformed their trend, Republicans fell woefully short by 6 million and 8 million votes.
Wondering how far back the trend line goes, I plotted the same data for all post-war presidential elections. Prior to 1980 there is more Democratic variability than in subsequent years, but the extreme linearity of the trend disappears at least before 1972. (If we consider, back to 1972, the 1976 election joins the 2008 election as an outlier. These two elections, Carter’s post-Watergate election and the first election with a black man on the ballot, might indicate that modern Democrats have very little independent or cross-over appeal, and that when it does occur, it happens only as a result of an uncommon circumstance.)
What’s interesting about the period between 1972 and 1980 when this pattern appears to have established itself is that this was the time when the Democratic Party completed its realignment. Previously it had been a coalition of geographies: white Southerners and urban Northern Catholics. Bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition before then were Midwestern farmers, Northern Protestants, and blacks.
What has changed since is that the Democratic coalition is now almost entirely demographically based and includes nearly all black voters, a solid majority of Hispanics, and a steady percentage of women. Aside from these groups, there is very little bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition since the 1970s. Again, with the exception of 2008 when Barack Obama greatly expanded his party’s vote before it collapsed back to its normal self four years later, the only growth Democrats have seen over the last four decades looks to be entirely dependent on the population growth of its constituencies.
Of course, many Democratic pundits and strategists would take comfort from such a conclusion. After all, at least one portion of the Democratic triad (Hispanics) is growing faster than the general rate of population growth. (McLaughlin addresses this point in another post here.)
On the other hand, the record of the last ten elections indicates that Republicans have far more upside potential, having bested the Democratic trend line by five million or more votes on four occasions. Democrats have never beaten that same trend by even half that amount except for once.
Of course, Republicans have also far underperformed the Democratic trendline. In 1992 and then again in 1996 voters who might have voted Republican either didn’t vote or voted for H. Ross Perot, and in 2012 a milquetoast Mitt Romney couldn’t even manage the Republican vote total amassed eight years before when the country’s population was nearly 20 million people fewer.
Sean Trende has made this point before:
” . . . census data and exit polls reveal that some 6 million white voters opted to sit out [the 2012] election. The data show these non-voters were not primarily Southerners or evangelicals, but were located in Northeast, Midwest and Southwest. Mainly, they fit the profile of “Reagan Democrats” or, more recently, a Ross Perot supporter. For these no-shows, Mitt Romney was not a natural fit.”
Less hitched to demography, Republicans are a coalition of ideas that in some years have more or less overlap and appeal than in other years and are more or less represented by a particular nominee.
In other words, the electorate includes really only two types of people: reliable Democrats who always vote no matter the nominee, and potential voters who will almost never vote Democrat but might vote Republican if their nominee can persuade them. Furthermore the number of the latter vastly exceeds the former. While in most years Democrats achieve a very predictable result based almost entirely on the mechanics of population growth, this raw political landscape allows Republicans the opportunity to enjoy earth-shattering landslides when it chooses well, or to suffer soul-crushing defeats when it does not.
And that brings us back to the question of turnout. The conventional wisdom is that because the Democrat’s voter base includes groups with historically lower turnout rates, they are the ones to benefit from higher turnout. However, the record of the last forty years places nearly the entire burden for victory on the ability of the GOP presidential nominee to excite that portion of the electorate that was never going to show up to vote for the Democrat anyway.
I remember when I was a young Soldier in Germany and America stood against the idea of countries erecting walls to keep people from leaving.
Two days ago I picked up the theme of a Jim Geraghty piece and said that Progressives are so fixated on ends that they have no allegiance to means and have no consideration for the negative consequences of their utopian dreams. On a related note yesterday, Daniel Henninger wondered “Why can’t the Left govern?”
Henninger focused on President Obama, whose only major legislative accomplishment has worsened American health care, and on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose attacks on New York’s charter schools spiraled out of control and sunk his high approval ratings to below 50%, and on France’s François Hollande, whose draconian taxes have pushed his popularity to the lowest ever recorded of a French President in the modern era.
Since in my earlier writing I made the analogy between modern Progressives and the era of the original Progressives, let me throw into the mix President Woodrow Wilson as an example of the failure of their ilk to govern. Wilson was so unpopular at the end of his second term that Warren Harding’s 26-point margin of victory still holds the record for the largest landslide of any President elected in the last hundred years. None of FDR’s elections were bigger wins. Nor was LBJ’s. William McGovern and Walter Mondale both cruised to respectable finishes compared to James Cox, 1920’s loser. Four years after he left, Wilson’s Democrats were still so unpopular that they didn’t receive even 30% of the popular vote, a pitifully low level that the losing party has never since failed to achieve.
What is it about ideologue Leftists that makes them so unpopular after their failed attempts at governing?
As I said the other day, Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives. That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.
Democratic governments follow where their people lead. Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go. When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.
By Executive Order (and not, it is important to note, by an act of Congress) President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information in 1917. The CPI was known by the New York Times as the “Committee on Public Misinformation” and by harsher critics was called the ominous sounding, “House of Truth”. This was America’s World War One propaganda ministry. It fabricated German atrocities, as well as American strengths. Anticipating by nearly a century the notoriously faked photo of an Iranian missile launch, one early CPI story announced that “the first American-built battle planes are today en route to the front in France”. The false “news” was accompanied by doctored pictures that were in fact of a single plane that was still in testing. (If you have ever wondered why the horrors of the Holocaust took so long to gain traction in the American press, in part, it was because Americans were still skeptical after having been lied to by their own government about imaginary German horrors from the last war.)
The CPI’s tactics came straight from its allies in the Anti-Saloon League, which employed a similar propaganda machine and a similar virulently nativist message to advance the cause of Prohibition.
Democracies don’t like being lied to. As soon as the war was over, the magnitude and frequency of the lies became apparent. Americans quickly recognized that their entry into the war was a catastrophic mistake. The result was that by the end of the 1920s, the label “progressive” largely had disappeared from the American political lexicon, not to be resurrected for another eighty years.
Democracies also don’t like failure.
To the Progressive, ideology trumps results. Most arenas outside of government don’t work that way. A product that isn’t popular loses money. It matters not how noble the cause or its producer.
In government failure is so easy to achieve because success is so difficult to ascertain. Ironically, it is the very nature of popular forms of government that makes this possible. Democracies, because they lag popular opinion—and especially constitutional republics, that purposefully employ procedures to dampen the excesses of democracy—are necessarily lethargic beings. Results arrive at a glacial pace. It is often years after one has advanced a program that it can objectively be determined to be a success. By then it is too late for its advocates to be held accountable if it had failed.
In 2002 I was part of an efficiency project initiated at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The idea was that TRADOC should measure both the resources put into its programs and its programs’ results. For each program the objectively measurable input was money. I had no objection to this. However, since most of those programs were years-long projects, there was the need for intermediate objectives. It turned out that in almost every case, the measurable “output” was also money. If a project was expected to cost $100 million, the faster it could acquire that hundred-million was the measure of the success of the project. Each program was its own self-licking ice cream cone and no one was ever going to be judged on whether or not the program actually worked. The programs themselves became the goal. Left far behind were the goals of the original programs.
If this attitude exists within the military, a branch of government which occasionally gets called upon to deliver demonstrable results (ie, win a war), imagine how detached other branches of government are from having to account for their successes and failures. This is the perfect camouflage for a Progressive as he never has to face judgment for his results. All that matters is that he tried.
Returning to Henninger’s column, he likens Obamacare to the international anti-global warming movement and concludes that their “activity is increasingly disconnected from the issue of mitigating climate change.” It’s no wonder; Progressives steeped in a lifetime of bureaucratic myopia rarely have to achieve a measurable outcome. And on those few occasions, as in the case of Obamacare, that they are successful in shepherding a program through to fruition, they are unprepared by their upbringing as to how to create a program that actually demonstrates a successful result. So when Nancy Pelosi unfacetiously said that Congress had to pass the 2,000 page bill so that they could find out what was in it, she was confessing to being not unlike the automobile-chasing dog: “Now that I’ve caught the car, what do I do with it?”
Today’s New York Times makes this point. The White House announced yesterday that six-million people had signed up for Obamacare, a figure that “the law’s backers hail as a success.” But not so fast. Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation (an organization which has long been supportive of Obamacare) attempted to redirect the issue as to whether or not the program itself is successful.
“The whole narrative about Obamacare — ‘Will they get to six million? What is the percentage of young adults going to be?’ — has almost nothing to do with whether the law is working or not, whether the premiums are affordable or not, whether people think they are getting a good deal or not.”
Altman is right to point out that the goal of Obamacare is not that people sign up for it, but that it work. That’s something that the Progressive is unprepared for.
Progressivism exists outside the arena of accountability. Its practitioners have never been judged on ultimate outcomes. While it is in the pursuit of their programs that they often can claim a noble rhetorical advantage, It is only after their program is law that it is on full display. Then the autopsy of its failure exposes their lies and the anti-democratic subversions employed to bring about a program the population never wanted. And that is why when Progressivism fails, it fails spectacularly, and why the Progressive is so often ultimately judged to be a governing failure.
Jim Geraghty pens a controversial piece wherein he opines that liberals are more tolerant of the hypocrisy of other liberals than are conservatives. Before I get to that portion of his argument, I’d like to address his conclusion with an historical analogy. Geraghty writes:
“As long as a particular position or stance lets progressives feel good about themselves, they will embrace it. Thus the measuring stick of Obamacare is not whether it’s actually providing the uninsured with health insurance . . . but whether a liberal feels that it’s a sign that he cares about the uninsured more than other people.
Liberals will deem Obamacare a failure only if it stops making them feel good about themselves.
The original Progressives advanced another misbegotten law that made them “feel good about themselves”, even while it destroyed the country. That law was Prohibition. In 1925, H.L. Mencken observed,
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
It would be another eight years after what was obvious to Mencken was finally obvious enough to Progressives that Prohibition was repealed. And even then, it was not the obviousness of the chaos created by Prohibition that turned Progressive minds. It was the fact that by 1933 Congress finally got around to re-apportioning districts–a decennial requirement that was purposefully (and unconstitutionally) ignored following the 1920 Census, because Progressives knew that if they counted the nation’s newly arrived Catholics and Jews, that their beloved Prohibition would have gone to an earlier grave.
Still, even after Prohibition died with the 21st Amendment, Progressives consoled themselves with the belief that it was a “noble experiment”.
There was absolutely nothing noble about Prohibition or about its supporters, who employed more dastardly tactics even than just using unconstitutional measures to over-represent the nation’s more rural (dry) areas instead of its burgeoning urban (wet) cities.
Daniel Okrent catalogued just some of the evils that Prohibition’s adherents used to advance their cause. They actively cultivated the support of both flavors of racists, typified by the overtly bigoted Arkansas congressman John Tillman, as well as soft bigoted paternalists like the United Methodist Church which explained in an official publication that “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” They encouraged anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism, as both religions were associated with alcohol’s manufacture, sale, and consumption. They stirred up nativism, specifically directed against Irish, Italians, and Jews. They not only allied with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, they made the modern Klan and purposefully harnessed its hatred in order to enjoy the benefits of the fear unleashed by strong arm tactics that closely resembled those of Nazi brownshirts a decade later.
Most unforgivably of all, Progressives attacked all things German as war began on the Continent. A year after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and claimed that those Americans “born under other flags . . . poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” The metaphor was well-chosen. While not an avid dry himself, Wilson wanted those supreme executive powers that only war could bestow. If that meant further stoking nativism to bring those zealots closer to his aims, then so be it.
Yes, what I am saying is that early Progressives supported their cause so fervently that entry into World War I–the single most disastrous American political mistake of the last hundred years–became a desirable means of achieving their Prohibitionist ends.
And all of what I just described is the horror that occurred before Prohibition’s enactment. History tells us full well the terror unleashed as a result.
Those early 20th century Progressives are the intellectual forebears of modern Progressivism. Therefore, it should surprise us not that a movement which allegedly supported greater democratization in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment’s extension of the franchise to women, also purposefully blocked blacks from the polls and diminished the value of an urban immigrant’s vote. Women supported prohibition; blacks and immigrants did not. Hypocrisy has a long pedigree in progressive politics.
In an answer to his own question “Why [is it] so hard to make progressives live up to their own rules?” Geraghty comes close to the truth when he says that Progressivism is about making progressives “feel good about themselves”. But even closer to the truth is this oft-quoted observation from C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Progressivism is the belief that they know better than others how others should live their lives. There is nothing that they won’t do, there is no ally so abhorrent, there is no rule so inflexible, that a Progressive won’t embrace the unthinkable to advance their cause. That is because they do so with the approval of their conscience. (As an aside, this is why some strands of “Christian” conservativism have far more in common with Progressives than they do with most conservatives.)
In short, the end justifies the means–even if that end is measurably (as in the case of Prohibition and Obamacare) worse than the beginning. Adherence to means has no meaning in the progressive mind.
PJMedia picked up a piece I wrote the other day. Go there and read the whole thing. [Edited: Below is an excerpt from the pre-edited version I wrote. I think that it is a little more clear on a few points.]
The irony of NATO’s past quarter-century is that its most recent entrants are its most enthusiastically pro-NATO, and yet they offer the least reason to the other members to justify a united response in their defense. They know the danger of Russian expansion. They’ve lived it. But the further east NATO expands, the less immediate the danger that the fall of those regions represents to the more western members. More simply put: Is there anybody who really thinks that Californians want to risk a nuclear war with Russia in order to save the likes of Albania?
For twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, until the Russian invasion of Georgia reminded them of what a mutual defense treaty really means, Americans forgot that NATO wasn’t a clubhouse; it was an actual club—the kind with which you beat an opponent to death. And by admitting new members you agreed to swing that club if any one of the members was attacked.
Today, NATO is not a club; it’s a glass bat. The power of a glass bat is in the threat of its swinging. But once it makes contact it shatters into 28 pieces and loses all its power. This is true of any large coalition, but especially one so culturally and geographically far-flung that it can’t seem to agree that Russia even is an enemy.
Arguably, NATO is already shattered, the fault of which lies at the feet of America’s last President, who short-sightedly used its one-time-use power against a non-existential threat in Afghanistan. (The truth is that President Bush could have received the help of most NATO nations in Afghanistan even without the NATO imprimatur and without swinging the glass bat. After all, he did so in Iraq.) Most of the 28 NATO nations gave all that they could give over the last 13 years in Afghanistan. There is no more that they can reasonably expect to extract from their populaces.
Knowing all too well the real costs of warfare makes countries less inclined to intercede when there appears to be no real immediate importance to the threat. It was because the memory of World War One was so fresh in the minds of the Allies, that Hitler was allowed to re-arm Germany, march into the Palatinate, annex Austria, and forcibly annex a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia, all without Western Europeans lifting a finger to stop him. And that was two decades after a war that the Allies won. Immediately on the heels of the thirteen-year muddle of Afghanistan, there is even less likelihood that all 28 nations are going to sign on to the task of poking a Russian bear unless they really see that the bear is bearing down on them.
So when un-uniformed Russians appear in military formations in tiny Narva and say that they are there to protect Russian lives from Estonian transgressions (and there will be just enough merit to the claim to cloud the argument), how will NATO react? Will it rush headlong into war, obeying its mutual defense obligations just as the Central Powers did after the assassination of a minor royalty in 1914? Or will NATO react with a shrug, just as war-weary Europeans did when Hitler marched unopposed into Vienna?
I’m guessing that Russia thinks that NATO is an already-shattered glass bat and that it will pursue the latter course. And if he’s right, Vladimir Putin can finally record the hour of NATO’s death. Then Europe’s only Emperor will go about exercising greater authority over European affairs without American interference.
But if Putin is wrong in his calculation of NATO resolve . . .
That’s the question ABC News asks:
Bob Shlora of Alpharetta, Ga., was supposed to be a belated Obamacare success story. After weeks of trying, the 61-year-old told ABC News he fully enrolled in a new health insurance plan through the federal marketplace over the weekend, and received a Humana policy ID number to prove it.
But two days later, his insurer has no record of the transaction, Shlora said, even though his account on the government website indicates that he has a plan. . .
Obama administration officials acknowledged today that some of the roughly 126,000 Americans who completed the torturous online enrollment process in October and November might not be officially signed up with their selected issuer, even if the website has told them they are.
It obviously is a bad thing to lose health insurance even if the prospect of needing it is just a theoretical abstraction. It is far worse for that abstraction to become a concrete reality. If, after January 1st, many thousands of Americans find that they need the health insurance that they think that they signed up for, then the Obama administration is going to be pining for the days when their approval ratings were in the low 40s.
This ABC News report suggests that the “fix” now being touted by the White House is actually a front-end website that isn’t connected to a back-end that can deliver the ordered product. We’ll know soon enough. But nothing about Obamacare to this point should give anyone any confidence that we won’t be seeing scores of tragic stories of procedures denied, prescriptions unfilled, and deteriorating medical conditions.