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.
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.
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.
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.
Prior to the disastrous implementation of Obamacare, has there ever been a law that fell that so far out of disfavor that the American people clamored for wholesale repeal? Yes, it was called Prohibition.
The parallels between Prohibition and Obamacare begin with the fact that both laws were the culmination of decades of “Progressive” ideals. A century ago Progressives believed that people would be better off if they were able to control what individuals were allowed to buy and sell. Modern Progressives are no different. From its first attempt in Maine in the 1850s, Progressives in both parties worked tirelessly to extend anti-alcohol laws to the entire country. This most recent bout of progressivism began sixty years ago with Democrat Harry Truman, who pushed the idea of socialized medicine. The movement received considerable advancement from Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who created Medicare, Republican George W. Bush, who added prescription drugs coverage, and Republican Mitt Romney, who built the first Obamacare-like system in Massachusetts.
Many Progressives of an earlier era wanted Prohibition for others, but not for themselves. The progressive United Methodist Church, which was officially dry but whose membership certainly wasn’t, said that, “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” A Collier’s editorial elaborated on this form of racial paternalism, “White men are beginning to see that moral responsibility for the negro rests on them, and that it is a betrayal of responsibility to permit illicit sales of dangerous liquors and drugs.” These were the attitudes of “Wet-Drys,” people who themselves drank, but who didn’t want “others” to drink. Besides racism, anti-Catholicism was rampant among earlier Progressives. Germans, Italians, and Irish (and let us not forget anti-Catholicism’s sibling, anti-semitism), flooded America’s cities during this period–and they all drank! Modern progressives similarly want Obamacare for thee, but not for me. Most infamous is that Congress specifically exempted itself and its employees from the new Obamacare requirements when it passed the law. Favored Progressive partners too–especially unions–have asked for, and gained their own Obamacare exemptions. Hypocrisy enjoys a long pedigree among Progressives.
Electoral chicanery is another similarity. There was a rush to enact the Eighteenth Amendment before the 1920 Census resulted in redistricting that would give more House seats to the cities and the immigrant Catholics who lived there. Following the census, which recorded a 21% population increase largely as a result of immigration, there was so much concern that “Wets” would gain the upper hand in Congress as well as in state legislatures, that Congress was never redistricted in accordance with the Constitution. Until 1933 when Prohibition was finally overturned, the House was stuck with the same district lines that were drawn back in 1910. A century later, modern Progressives played similar games after Republican Scott
Walker Brown’s surprise election to the Senate from Massachusetts meant that the House bill enacting Obamacare could not be ratified. Instead, an earlier Senate bill, that was nowhere near to ready for implementation and which had not gone through a conference committee, was accepted without modification in the House, and in defiance of the Constitutional provision that revenue bills had to originate in the House.
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.”
More than three years after the passage of Obamacare, one could make similar observations: there is not greater health insurance coverage but less; there is not lower health care costs, but more; and certainly, respect for the law–even from the law’s namesake and executor–has not increased, but diminished.
There is a final similarity which I am afraid might also come to pass. While it is popularly believed that the 18th Amendment was repealed, that was actually not exactly true. The 21st Amendment did not return things to the way they had been. Instead of repeal, the modfication to the Constitution gave the States special power to legislate alcohol. Because the Amendment gives the States jurisdiction, alcohol is not afforded protection under the interstate commerce clause. Each state can, and does, tax interstate sales, while they prevent residents from acquiring alcohol across state lines. This, and a whole host of other state restrictions, has created a hodge podge of laws that makes life difficult for wine-makers, retailers, and consumers alike. The only beneficiaries of such legal confusion are the descendants of Prohibition’s bootleggers who are now ensconced in legally mandated monopolies.
Similarly, when Obamacare meets its demise, it is unfortunately likely to die in such a way that the successor system will leave Americans worse off than they were before Obamacare ever became law. I hope that on this latter prediction, I am proved wrong.
There are two consensus opinions that have formed about Obamacare:
1. The website will not work this year. Every “fix” of known flaws is going to expose (and perhaps even worsen) underlying flaws that haven’t yet been discovered because few people have gotten far enough into the website to discover them.
2. The Obamacare law itself will need significant surgery and Democrats in particular are going to need for that surgery to have to happen very, very soon.
Not yet the consensus opinion, but soon will be, is that the second item is very much like the first: attempts to “patch” flaws in the law, just like patching flaws in the code, will expose huge problems lurking beneath the surface. When Nancy Pelosi said that we had to pass the 2,000+ page bill to see what was in it, what she could have said is that we’re going to have to actually implement it to really learn what is in there. It won’t be pretty.
Now here’s some added Washington reality. Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, nothing significant will happen in Congress. Nothing. Even as millions of Americans get Blue Cross pink slips, that won’t get in the way of Congressional Christmas parties and taxpayer-funded vacations to warmer climes. Oh, sure, there will be the usual press conferences and photo ops; that never stops. But real work–the kind that is done by armies of staffers and lobbyists who write these bills–that won’t happen. This means that whatever can be done before or shortly after the fecal matter hits the rotary device on 1 January is going to have to be short and sweet.
Going back to the status quo ante bellum is not possible. The plans that are dropping people by the millions no longer exist. They can’t exist under the current law and the new laws under which they could exist, won’t be written by Congress and then implemented by the insurance companies for months. Many months. At this point there are only bad options and worse options. Nothing government can do will forestall this problem. In fact, every attempt will just make the overall problem worse and further entrench the disarray.
There is only one institution in the world, only one power, that has the ability to quickly react, and that is the free market. Forget about Washington being able to solve the problem; they have neither the time nor the cognitive ability to diagnose the problem, much less, to fix it. Instead all Washington should do is to default to the States. Each of the states already has on their individual state codes, health care laws. That’s how the bulk of the health care industry was regulated in the past–a past that was only six weeks ago. With one exception, the Federal government should just get out of the way. And that exception is that it should allow for cross-state portability. That will do more than anything else to spur the market to provide health care solutions. No minimum coverage requirements, no maternity care for 80-year old men, no 26-year old children on their parents’ plans. Nothing. Let people shop in any state to find the plan that fits them. The market will quickly move in to meet most customers’ needs. And while that won’t insure everyone, it will insure most of those who have been recently dropped or who physically can’t buy coverage now.
Will it happen? Not a chance. You see, there’s another Washington reality at work: Never let a crisis go to waste. And Democrats, as well as Republicans, adhere to that ideal. Nothing so simple could disguise the payoffs and graft that Congress can’t wait to attach to the Omnibus package to “fix” Obamacare. And that means that the fix will be long in coming and will only make matters worse.
Now go and have a Merry Christmas! (Too bad it’s going to feel more like a Groundhog Day version of Halloween.)
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is in a bit of trouble for making this statement in his Monday column:
People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
While there is some, surprisingly, the bulk of the criticism does not come from the Right for having been portrayed as knuckle-dragging dinosaurs whose acceptance of Justice Clarence Thomas’ biracial marriage and former VP Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter belie Cohen’s stereotype un-updated since the Archie Bunker era.
No, it’s actually the Left that has most criticized Cohen. The Huffington Post said, “Dear Washington Post: Please fire this man.” Esquire put Cohen in the “Newspaper Stupid Top 40.” Paul Farhi catalogues some of the others who voice umbrage at Cohen’s remarks, including Gawker, Slate, Salon, and MSNBC. All this “venom-spewing” as Farhi said, from ”people who should be [Cohen's] allies.”
Sadly, this is normal for the Left. Who could forget their outrage directed toward radio host Bill Bennett when he was asked about a statistic from the then recently-published Freakonomics that said that crime has gone down because of abortion:
BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don’t know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don’t know. I mean, it cuts both – you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –
CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.
BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.
The Leftists at Media Matters had a field day with Bennett’s comments even when their excerpts clearly exhonerated (highlighted above) him of the thought-crime of advocating the racial infanticide that they say Bennett advocated.
Bennett was engaging in the logical device known as reductio ad absurdum, whereby an argument is reduced to an absurdity so as to demonstrate the fallacy of the premise. It just so happens that last night I mentioned to my seventh-grade son the classic reductio ad absurdum: A Modest Proposal, wherein Jonathan Swift argues that to eliminate the surplus population of beggars, the Irish should be allowed to sell their unweaned children to be used as stew meat.
In 1729 Swift’s reader’s quickly recognized the essay as satire. Sadly, I don’t think that American Leftists today would be able to understand the argument. If their umbrage toward Cohen–who clearly was not advocating discrimination against biracial and gay couples—is any indicator, were Swift to write his classic today, MSNBC would surely charge him with cannibalism.
Prior to this week I could have dismissed Leftist outrage directed at Bennett as political fanaticism akin to the fanatic football fan who, even upon seeing the slow-motion replay, yells at the referee for blowing a call that he clearly called correctly. Heretofore, I could have accepted that Bennett’s detractors understood his argument but purposefully misconstrued it so as to appeal to Low-Information Voters who might have heard only an edited version of the exchange. Now as a result of the outrage that the Left directs against its own Richard Cohen, it is obvious that the Left isn’t trying to appeal to Low-Information Voters, but is instead made up of a large swath of Low-Intelligence Voters.
How else could one explain Obamacare? Many of the people who are incapable of understanding Cohen’s argument are the same ones who are logically incapable of understanding that Obamacare could not work the way the President promised. Unless you believed, as one commenter noted, that Obamacare was powered by “unicorn farts and pixie dust,” it was always completely illogical to believe that more people could get more health coverage without some people paying higher prices or being kicked off of their existing plans.
Another Cohen, Michael Cohen (I don’t know if he is a relation), buttresses that point (hat tip: David Henderson).
But, of course, this means that some Americans would not only lose their plans and access to their doctor, but in the case of particularly healthy individuals, reform could yield higher premiums. Beyond that, reforming such a huge chunk of the U.S. economy necessarily leads to often unanticipated changes for millions of Americans.
Acknowledging that reality would have been the honest thing to do. So would asking healthier and wealthier Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of ensuring every American have health-care coverage.
But doing so would have opened Obama and his democratic allies up to the charge that Obamacare would lead to widespread dislocations — and made the path to reform that much politically harder to traverse.
Indeed, this is precisely the argument that was made by Republicans . . .
In other words: Everything Republicans told you about Obamacare was true, but–and these are Michael Cohen’s words–you “can’t handle the truth.” What he didn’t say but is clearly implied and could have appended: “And we know that you are too stupid and too illogical to figure out the truth on your own.” Logical fallacy abounds on the Left, and this Cohen actually celebrates it.
This is where the modern Left is today: at the head of an easily manipulable cadre of useful idiots. To be sure, the Right has its share of blind adherents as well. To some, the words “abortion” and “homosexual” are like red herrings to a dog: they quickly distract. But I’m hard-pressed to find so glaring an example as Obamacare to demonstrate how easy it was to dupe millions of people who should have been smart enough to know otherwise.
For years it has been fashionable in some segments of the Right to complain that America’s public schools are engaged in indoctrination instead of education. But the Left’s slander of Richard Cohen might point at a reality far worse. It’s not that millions of Americans have been taught the wrong things–bad lessons can be unlearned. Much worse is the possibility that many millions of Americans have never been taught how to critically read and to logically think. If this is true, it does not bode well for the nation’s future.
Over at the Daily Beast Jamelle Bouie accuses Sarah Palin of rhetorical overreach by recently likening the national debt to slavery.
It just so happens that the introductory chapter of a book I’ve been working on doesn’t just employ slavery as a simile, but actually asserts that a central feature of modern government is slavery. Undoubtedly, Mr. Bouie will take umbrage at the equivalence. But I challenge him and you to refute the assertion on logical grounds. I look forward to critiques and encourage discussion if you dare to proceed . . .