Why progressivism fails

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Environment, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 28 March 2014

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.

Comments Off

Fighting the last war

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 3 October 2013

The nearly four-year-long stalemate of the Great War ended only because fresh American troops arrived on the front lines in the summer of 1918 at the rate of 10,000  a day.  Twenty-one years later the Allies envisioned another lengthy trench-style war when they relied upon a line of interconnected, powerfully-fortified concrete bunkers named after French Minister of War, Andre Maginot.  A generation after the First World War, and only six weeks after the second war began in earnest, the whole of France was under German rule.

A mere 100 hours after the American-led offensive to liberate Kuwait began, the war was over. A dozen years later a similar ground offensive was nearly as quickly concluded . . . but that war was only beginning.

It is human nature to extrapolate linearly from the past.  Investment advisers in the 1920s and  the 1990s, as well as real estate professionals in the oughts, forecasted incredible and continuous increases in value.  Climatologists 30 years ago observed sharply colder winters of the late-seventies and forecasted a new ice age; a generation later many of those same scientists watched temperatures climb and extrapolated that to a future of rising seas and scorched lands.

Here we are today, eighteen years after the last government shutdown and Democrats blithely predict a certain public relations victory while many Old Guard Republicans, still snakebit by the past, fear for their electoral futures.

Life has a way of not staying on script.

Comments Off

Unable to serve

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Education, Military | Posted at: Monday, 29 July 2013

Conventional wisdom holds that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country. Others believe that the war in Iraq has forced the military to lower its recruiting standards.

. . . studies that examined the backgrounds of enlisted personnel refute this interpretation.

I have to admit that in 2001 I accepted the CW that the militarily disproportionately accepted poor minorities. And then I checked for myself. I did a very similar analysis to this Heritage Foundation study and discovered a very similar result: Americans from the poorest backgrounds are the least likely to join the Army.

A few notes about my study:

1. It was three computers ago and I’ve lost all the raw data, but the results are still clear in my mind. Take that for what it’s worth–yes I encourage skepticism–but to partially allay that, I posted the same thing back in 2005.

2. I looked at FY 2001 Active Army enlistments, USMA enrollees, and ROTC contracts. That was before September 11th for all but the last three weeks of the year. Additionally, it was only Army data. Sad for an Army man to admit: of the services, the Army has the worst record when it comes to marketing to high quality applicants. In other words: if the Army looked good, the other services (especially Marines and Air Force) are bound to look even better.

3. I didn’t break my data down into census tracts, but to zip codes, which is a less discrete variable. However, I did look at individual zip codes with which I was personally familiar, and I found that evidence from those areas matched the results of the overall study.

4. I looked at census data for 17-24 year olds, which is a the usual target market for Army recruiters. It’s unclear from the Heritage study how they accounted for age.

Bottom line results of my study: the least likely quintile of zip codes to send recruits into the active Army, was the economically lowest-ranked quintile. By far. In other words, the 20% of poorest neighborhoods were the least likely to send people into the Active Army (the easiest of the four services to enter). My going-in hypothesis was the opposite. I expected the poorest neighborhoods to provide the most recruits. I was wrong.

Instead, I suppose, that the poorest neighborhoods are those that are the most likely to produce 17-24 year olds who are ungraduated from high school, with a disqualifying criminal record, and/or unable to pass a drug test.

More to the point: One-fifth of our nation’s children are growing up in neighborhoods where they don’t even have the military as a realistic possible path to betterment. Ouch.

MORE:

Paul Mirengoff

 

H/T: Insty

*Standard disclaimer to tell you that these are my opinions only and not those of DoD, and cetera.

Comments Off

Beware the apparatchikacy of the Civil Service System

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Sunday, 16 June 2013

Frank J. Fleming wonders “Why does the government hate conservatives?”  And by “government,” he implicitly means the 1.8 million civilian employees of America’s largest employer.  It’s a good question.  But I think that it doesn’t go far enough in wondering who these 1.8 million people are.

One truth almost universally and uncritically accepted is that the American civil service system implemented by degrees during the early Progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a good thing.  Perhaps now is the time to question the wisdom of government by tenured appartchiks.  Whatever its downfalls, the spoils system at least had the benefit of a thorough housecleaning every four to eight years.  Absent such high turnover, the current system erects a legalocracy of inefficiency behind which anonymous and unfirable cogs operate with impunity for decades and generations.  Without fear of ever being outside the system, government workers themselves have every incentive to complicate that system in their own favor.  Rules become undecipherable, the pace of action becomes glacial, and budgets grow unsustainably large.  Meanwhile, administrations come and go and the bureaucracy continues to grow.

James Taranto has argued that if the ongoing IRS scandal didn’t generate in the White House that it is actually a far worse outcome for Americans than if the President himself directed the targeting of conservative groups.  His point is that if the targeting is spontaneous, then it is indicative that the government itself has become politicized.

A return to the spoils system, admittedly, would not fix that, as almost definitionally such a system is partisan.  But there is a difference between a partisan government that owes allegiance to a temporary leadership and a politicized government whose only allegiance is to the continued growth of government itself.  As Taranto argues, if this is the case then “government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.”

While Democrats generally embrace a larger government, they would be mistaken to believe that they too aren’t in the crosshairs of certain branches of the bureaucracy.  In the realm of Defense the tilt of those who work there has been generally Republican, as that party has been more predisposed to greater Defense spending over the last couple generations.  The entrenchment is so deep that even when a Nobel Peace Prize winning President who ran on a platform of decreased wartime activity finds it difficult to reverse course.  One can’t help but to wonder how much of the argument in favor of opening yet another Mideastern front in Syria came from self-serving bureacrats whose departments and budgets would expand as the result of the military action.

Isolated from firing as they are, civil service bureaucrats are impervious to change.  At worst, they hold the line and wait four to eight years for a change in government.  But they never retreat.  And hence, the apparatchikacy continues to grow.

Returning to Fleming’s question we stumble across the obvious answer, Why does government hate [fiscal] conservatives?  Because fiscal conservatism necessarily means a decrease in the size of government.  And nothing is more dangerous to the bureaucracy that has become the fourth branch of government.  What is scariest is that if the apparatchikacy itself wins in a battle against the citizenry that supports it, then we are no longer citizens, but have instead returned to the days of 1775 where we are subjects of an unelected government.

UPDATE:

A. Barton Hinkle raises the same concern:

” . . . it is not a happy thing to note that the fourth branch of government – the administrative state against which Republican politicians rail – is largely impervious to elections. And that despite the uproar over domestic surveillance, an activity the election of Barack Obama was supposed to curtail, the general consensus seems to hold that such monitoring will continue unabated. Politicians come and go; autonomous agencies and mass surveillance are here to stay. Elections still matter a great deal in the U.S., but they matter now less than they once did – and less than they should.”

* These opinions are my own and not those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

Comments Off

A dirt cheap price for freedom

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Military | Posted at: Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Conservative Pundits are Outraged that Army Major Nidal Hasan has received approximately $278,000 since he allegedly shot dead more than a dozen Soldiers at Fort Hood more than three years ago.  I wish they would reconsider their outrage, because this is what “presumption of innocence” means.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is different from the individual state legal codes in the sense that when you are accused of violating it, it is your employer who is going to determine your guilt.  The normal criminal defendant can return to his job–or at least a job–while he awaits trial.  It is not possible that a military defendant could be removed from the service before trial–for to do so would punish his pursuit of career advancement were he to be found not guilty.  Furthermore, were defendants to be deprived of their livelihood while they awaited military trial by court martial, they would be deprived of their livelihood just by being accused.

To those conservatives who decry this condition, imagine this unfortunately all too plausible scenario:

A Coyote News reporter hot on the trail of a controversial secret Administration program to support rebels in a far-off land discovers classified documents that shows that those rebels are in fact terrorist affiliated and that the Department of State knew about it and still provided them with Stinger missiles.  The Administration, afraid of the political fallout were the revelation to become known, charges the journalist as a co-conspirator in the leak.  Were that Coyote News reporter subjected to a criminal justice system that denied him his paycheck while he awaited trial, the mere accusation of criminality could be used to subdue whistleblowers and to punish innocents.

Now sure, there is little doubt that Nidal Hasan is guilty of murdering his comrades.  But we have a system that does not express guilt as shades of grey.  You are or you are not guilty.  And until a jury of your peers finds you guilty, you are presumed innocent.

Trust me, you do not want to live under a system where the yet-to-be-tried are considered to be mostly-guilty and are essentially treated as such.  And trust me, you do not want to live under a government that has even more tools to freeze out those who speak out against it.  In other words: $278,000 is a dirt cheap price for freedom.

Comments (1)

The sequester is a bad plan . . . except compared to the alternatives

Byline: | Category: Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 21 February 2013

Let me first stipulate that the best plan would contemplate cuts across the entire budget:  to so-called entitlements as well as to defense and discretionary spending.  (BTW, it’s all discretionary spending as no Congress can obligate a subsequent Congress to its laws.)

That being said, for all the sturm and drang over a paltry 2% cut that leaves 2013 budget still greater than was spent in 2012, the secquester isn’t that bad.  Yes, the brunt of the cuts falls on defense.  So?  Quite frankly, it’s not nearly enough.  And if there’s that much waste in DoD where I work, I’m sure I could find even more in the other departments.

Here’s the problem for those on both sides of the aisle.  Nearly everybody to the right of Paul Krugman acknowledges that federal spending has to come down.  But when it comes down to making actual cuts, it’s always going to be easier to find 51% support for any program than there it is to just make across-the-board cuts.In a perfect world, we would target entire agencies and programs for closure.  (I propose a LIFO rule:  last-in, first-out; first to go Obamacare, Homeland Security, Medicare Part D, then the Departments of Energy and Education . . . )  But we don’t live in a perfect world.

I’ve seen this drama play out in a small way at EUCOM where we tried to trim staff, but in doing so, actually added bodies.  Cuts only came when they were mandated across the board.  It’s just the nature of bureaucracy that every department, agency, or directorate can argue successfully for more, even while it recognizes the existence of excess across the entire enterprise.

So let sequestration happen.  Who cares who gets the blame.  If anything, I’m blaming Republicans for not making the sequester cut deeply enough.

MORE:

Similar thoughts at NRO.

Comments Off

Things I’d like to see in 2013

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Media, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled with Obamacare that the federal government is limited in what it can mandate that the states legislate, I’d like to see one or more of the states lower the drinking age back to 18 this year.  If you are old enough to vote and old enough to serve in the military, you should be old enough to buy a drink.

Still on the subject of alcohol, I’d like to to see more states join Washington’s lead and remove the mandatory second tier of alcohol distributors that serve as legally required monopolies that raise prices and reduce the selection available to the  wine-buying public in the other 49 states.

Not that I would like to see continued violence in the Middle East, but since it is a near certainty anyway, I’d like to see it happen in 2013 without any hint that America will get even remotely involved.

I’d like to see no calls this year for any sort of extension to American involvement in Afghanistan.

I’d like to see Congress and the White House continue to be at loggerheads throughout all of 2013.  Since every meaningful compromise in recent decades has resulted in higher taxes, greater spending, bigger debt, and diminished freedom, doing nothing is Washington’s best course of action.

I’d like to see the Department of Defense deal seriously with sequestration by eliminating commands, agencies, directorates, and staffs instead of reducing either the number or effectiveness of ships, wings, and brigades.

I’d also like to see DoD kill a few hideously expensive major weapons programs this year–especially the F-35.

I’d like to continue to see the collapse of the legacy broadcast and print media.  CNN, NBC, Time, and the New York Times each have brands far larger than their real contemporary influence; it only follows that the economics of that untenable situation will catch up to them–hopefully in 2013.

I’d like to see 2013 produce no viral videos that spark any more line-dancing crazes.  The Chicken Dance, the Electric Slide, and the Macarena were each bad enough before Gangnam Style.  Please, let’s not do this again.  Ever.

And since I will have a college student in 2014, I’d like to see the higher education bubble burst in 2013.

Comments Off

Is it 1979 again?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Thursday, 6 December 2012

Six months ago, I said this about Egypt:

” . . . continuing that level of American support to the military junta that has taken over the country risks an even worse outcome, as a circa-1979 Iranian Shah style backlash becomes increasingly likely. America is already culpable in the eyes of the Egyptian majority. Every passing day that we arm Egypt’s oppressors, we increase the inevitability that an anti-government revolution grows even more anti-Western.”

I’m reminded of that prediction when I see this BBC report about the Egyptian military rolling into the area of protests against the Egyptian president. Look at that video closely. The armored vehicles that you see are American made M60 tanks and American made M113 armored personnel carriers. That Egyptian military is American equipped and American trained, largely at American expense. This has the potential to be 1979 again.

Comments Off

Leave us alone

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 30 November 2012

In doing some housecleaning, I found this forgotten essay that I wrote in February and never got around to posting.  With only a few changes for the sake of grammar, and clarity, here it is:

 

For the first time in over two years I’m afraid that Republicans could actually lose the race for the White House in 2012.  Should they do so, especially in light of the enormous advantages they have over a dysfunctional Democratic Party in 2012 (high unemployment, stagnant growth, unpopular programs foisted upon the public, and an unlikable mob–OWS–as the face of liberal activism, just to name a few) it should disqualify the GOP from ever holding the presidency ever again.  If the GOP loses the presidency, it will be the biggest victory of an outclassed mismatch since Aesop’s rabbit blew the race with the turtle.

So how could this be?  Simple, there isn’t a candidate who can unite the opponents of Barack Obama.  That alone would probably be enough to win in November.

Comparisons with Reagan, just as comparisons with FDR or JFK, almost never measure up.  That’s not because those three men were supermen–they weren’t–but because in retrospect each of them is bigger now than they ever were at the time.  Nonetheless, Reagan’s genius was in recognizing that politics is the art of addition, and not about subtraction or division.  That is still true.

The most recent not-Romney is Rick Santorum.  He is most closely associated with the “social conservative” wing of the Republican Party.  This is an important member of the family of conservatism, but like its siblings–Fiscal, Defense, Libertine, and Law N. Order–none of the conservative brethren are capable of striking out on their own.  Still, that’s what Santorum did, when he linked his opposition to the recent Obama decision to force abortificants upon churches to the canard of “birth control isn’t safe.  That is the message of subtraction.  It is a position that attracts none but the already converted.   Even worse, it is a message so offensive to so many (not to mention, so factually incorrect) that it repels those who might otherwise be attracted to his position were it couched in different terms.

What I mean bythat is this:  a Republican must unite the whole party around a simple message that resonates with all its wings.  And that message is the same now as it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan put all conservative factions under the banner of “Leave Us Alone.”

“Leave us Alone” applies to Catholics justifiably outraged by the government trampling upon their First Amendment rights.  After all, even if you disagree with the Church’s religious position, you must admit, the First Amendment accords to all religions the right to be wrong, otherwise, the right is not a right at all if its only protection is to protect popular positions.  Had Santorum cloaked his argument in “Leave Us Alone,” he would have acknowledged the freedom of churches to decide what medical procedures they would pay for, but would do so without appearing to compromise the right of people to choose to do otherwise with their own money.  It is a message consistent with (or at least, not in opposition to) the other conservative brothers. 

Rick Santorum is hardly the first to make this blunder.  Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman, each fell by failing to embrace a logically coherent message.  The problem, I suspect, is that “Leave Us Alone,” or at least its implications, is not a message that any of the current Republican candidates really embrace.  For if you truly wish to be left alone, it implies a reciprocal obligation to leave others alone as well.  For defense conservatives that means that if you want others to leave America alone, you must let be those military threats that are non-existental in nature:  Libya and the Taliban, for example.  To the law and order conservative, it implies a level of tolerance to at least some of those activities, like prostitution and minor drug abuse, that are distasteful, but are not a threat to any but those who engage in them.  To the fiscal conservative, “Leave Us Alone,” requires that we not fund any good ideas with public moneys, since, if they realy were ”good ideas,” they would find ample private funds.

You see, it’s not simply about “messaging” your support for or opposition to programs.  It’s about actually believing your message and all its implications.  And when you believe in your message, you are consistent with your message.   If there is a Republican killer this year, consistency will be its name.  That’s why it’s time to unite the Republican brand around the simple message of LEAVE US ALONE.

Comments Off

Run, don’t walk

Byline: | Category: Economy, Ethics, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 29 November 2012

If the deal is $1.2 T in new taxes and new spending now in exchange for $400 B in cuts ten or more years away, then Republicans shouldn’t walk away from “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  They should run.

The alternative is to just let sequestration take effect. The biggest hit is to the Department of Defense.  And I can tell you that the hit won’t be nearly deep enough.*

*Usual caveat about this being my view and not DoD’s, blah, and blah.

Comments Off