Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Wednesday, January 22, 2020


January 21, 2020
I read George Will’s latest book, The Conservative Sensibility, for two reasons.  I was interested to know what that “sensibility” might be.  I was hoping to find a more rational approach to conservatism than that provided by modern Republicans, especially since their captivity by Trump. Although Will is no fan of Trump, I was disappointed.  Will’s conservative sensibility is in fact a political argument in which one must take sides.  It offers little in the way of meaningful political insight.
My reaction to Mr. Will’s book is not that of an old foe.  For many years I admired his columns, even when I disagreed with him.  That ended when he took an abrupt right turn in the early 1990s, abandoning a philosophy he had expressed many years earlier, a "belief in strong government, including the essentials of the welfare state."1  (The abruptness of the change is illustrated by his views on term limits.  He dismissed the notion in a column in January, 1990, but adopted it as a necessary change in a book published in 1993).2 At times over the past three decades he seemed to be pulling back from an anti-government stance, but  he has embraced it in this book.
My reaction also is not that of an annoyed leftist.  I am, by temperament and inclination, conservative.  I am a political liberal — a progressive in Will’s terminology —  by conviction. That being the case, I accept liberal ideas on their merits, but am sympathetic to views which are genuinely conservative.  I suspect that many people share that mixture of ideas and impulses. 
The book’s purpose, Will tells us, “is to suggest how to think about . . . the proper scope and actual competence of government.”[xvii]3  His view is narrow, consisting primarily of a desire for limited government. The Founders, Will says, learned from philosopher John Locke this peculiar lesson: “government exists for the modest purpose of protecting liberty, understood primarily as freedom from government.”[291] 
In appealing to the Founders, Will tells us how far we have moved — strayed— from their project of limited government, a government, as he sees it, not simply limited but small and quiescent, “maintaining order, protecting property, and otherwise staying largely out of the way of individual striving.”[65] There is now, and has been for a century, he argues, a “conflict. . . between the founders’ vision and the progressives’ explicit repudiation of this . . . .”[xxxvii] 
Will stresses natural rights.  He cites Locke’s theory of such rights, and claims that the “American project, distilled to its essence, was, and the conservative project is, to demonstrate that a government constructed on the assumptions of natural rights must be a limited government.”[xxix]  “Any government is legitimate if it secures natural rights and rules by the recurrently expressed consent of the governed.”[149] A “properly engaged judiciary is duty-bound to declare majority acts invalid when they abridge natural rights.”[160] He refers to those rights listed in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   
“Government’s primary purpose is to secure pre-existing rights.”[23] The purpose of “the Constitution’s architecture . . . is to protect liberty.”[214]  Is the right to liberty limited by race, or does it pre-exist in suspense and somehow come into being for different people at different points in history?  How would people without rights acquire them?  In the real world, it’s by government action; rights are what the law enforces.  Will insists on the natural variety: “Government does not create rights; it does not dispense them.”[23] 
However, in a discussion of the evolution of the federal government, he bumps up against the fact that blacks did not have those natural rights in the Founders’ day, and fudges the description of how they came to acquire them.  The Civil War “affirmed equality of natural rights” he tells us;[290] more accurately, the government created rights for those who previously did not have them.
Mr. Will denounces, on principle and as a departure from the Founders’ model, the increased power of the executive branch at the expense of Congress.  “The ever expanding powers and pretenses of the presidency have become a menace to America’s Madisonian balance of separate powers.”[105]   In the age of Trump, there is merit in criticizing unchecked presidential power, and in Will’s call for a larger role for Congress; it has, for example, ceded war powers to the President.  However, most of his argument about “the swollen presidency”[101] and the fading of Congressional power is in aid of his desire to dismantle the administrative state, to which too much, he believes, has been delegated.  
Although Will thinks that Congress should be more assertive, he continues to favor term limits,[140-41] which would make it less so.  He  acknowledges that term limits would rob Congress of “institutional memory,” and that it would require more Congressional staff to fill the void.[141]  He supports such an expansion even though the unelected expert staff resemble those at the administrative agencies he denounces. 
Will opposes “rent-seeking,” i.e. influencing government programs to gain private advantage:
As [the] government has become ever more important in the allocation of wealth and opportunity, it has become an ever more enticing target of rent-seeking factions, which are incited by the government’s interventionist behavior. The necessary, and probably sufficient, cause of this misuse of government was the death of the doctrine of enumerated powers.[xxxi]
Political contributions are a vehicle for seeking favors, but he opposes limiting those contributions.[86 ]
His favorite branch is the judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court, which he, unlike most conservatives, wants to be activist.  Again, his aim is cutting back the power of government, by imposing the limitations he sees in the Constitution. The “judiciary’s primary duty is to defend liberty.”[163]  The government bears the burden of persuading the Court “that its action is both necessary and proper for the exercise of an enumerated power.”[163] (emphasis in the original)  “[A]ll government interventions in the process of society’s spontaneous order are presumptively of dubious legitimacy.”[208]
In his discussion of “the judicial supervision of democracy,” Will asserts that “Lockeans stress rigorous judicial protection of individual rights, especially those of private property and the freedom of contract that define and protect the zone of sovereignty within which people are free to act as they please.”[159] He thus declares, in effect, that the protection of property and contracts is essential to liberty.  That, he says, has become part of our governmental structure, because the “Constitution is John Locke’s political philosophy translated into institutional architecture.”[171] “It is from Locke that Jefferson and other Founders derived their understandings of the natural rights to life, liberty and property,”[171] now using Locke’s formula and dropping the Declaration’s substitution of the pursuit of happiness for the last term.  
The Founders “understood that the right to property could not be severed from an implied corollary right: the right to contract to create arrangements important to the acquisition and disposition of property.”[172]  Did they so understand?  Never mind.  Will, in disapproving of government regulations, is promoting a long-abandoned theory of property and contract rights, in the process declaring his approval of Lochner v. New York,4 an infamous 1905 decision which upheld the “right” of workers to “contract” for — submit to — unlimited overtime work.[164-72]
In a chapter on economics, Will speaks of the advantages of a market system, which most of us would concede, and advises us that the USSR and the National Industrial Recovery Act were failures, as if anyone proposed copying them.[248-50]  He claims that “a commercial republic — a market society — promotes the habits (virtues) of politeness and sociability.”[228]   I must admit I hadn’t noticed that.  He is concerned about deficits and national debt, which is entirely reasonable, but what should be done?   
In the Introduction, referring to “the unsustainable trajectory of the welfare state” Will said, “Everyone understands what must be done: a mixture of increases of taxes and reduction of promised benefits.”[xxx] He is consistent in his criticism of welfare, but it’s not clear where the tax increase would cone from, for  he dislikes the progressive income tax. [269-79 ]  He denounces the swollen size of government, but doesn’t suggest which agencies, functions or programs should go, except to note that the effect of “redistributive ideology is to legitimate the existence and activities of the agencies of redistribution.”[282]
Will credits Lincoln with reconnecting the nation to “the Founders’ premises,”[151, see 517] but those premises apparently no longer included limited government, for the government headed by Lincoln was as active and intrusive as it is possible to be, using military power to prevent states from seceding, from achieving what they no doubt saw as their liberty.  Will acknowledges that the “Republican Party’s commitment to minimalist government could not survive the first Republican presidency.”  However, he sees that development not in the war itself, not in such acts as suspending habeas corpus,  but in the freeing of the slaves.
As the Civil War changed from a war to restore the Union as it had been to a crusade for a “new birth of freedom,” the federal government came to be regarded differently.  It was seen less as a threat to freedom and more as a provider and enlarger of freedom. The proximate cause of this change was the Emancipation Proclamation, which was made possible by the Union victory at Antietam [Creek in Maryland]. In a sense, John Locke died at Antietam.[291]
The last two sentences are  baffling, and this adds to the puzzle:
Reconstruction in the South, and government-driven economic development in the North and West, reflected a redefinition of American freedom as something to be served by, not threatened by, government power. . . . The post-Civil War Republican Party normalized vast government interventions in the nation’s economic life.”[291-92]
The death of Locke presumably is a metaphor of a major change of philosophy in which natural rights and limited government fade from the picture.  The Constitution no longer would be his philosophy as “institutional architecture”  All this from emancipation?  Surely Will does not consider the Proclamation to have been a mistake, so why does he go out of his way to suggest that the big, activist government he disdains flowed from it? 
Five pages after declaring the death of Locke, Will indicates that the conservatism of the present day is a recent construct: “Contemporary conservatism was born in reaction to the New Deal and subsequent excessive enlargement of the state.”[296] Does that mean that conservatism now is unconnected to Locke?  According to the index, he is mentioned twelve times on subsequent pages.  Each of those references could be classified as merely historical, but Will continues to appeal to the Founders, who were, he says, taught by Locke.  See the reference below to his “Borne Back” chapter and his summary in the Introduction.[xxix].  Perhaps Locke is to be resurrected.
Somewhat inconsistently with his praise of Lincoln, Will thinks that greater power in the states would be better; he would return the election of Senators to state legislatures.[140]  However, in attacking hyperactive government, he criticizes certain regulations as corrupt, but all of his examples are from states. [209]
Mr. Will deplores, with cause, the condition of the culture: “Today’s culture is a reason for thinking that perhaps people should be a bit more circumscribed by manners and mores. . . . America’s normally sunny disposition has become clouded by anxieties about the uses to which freedom is being put.”  Is liberty, after all,  not an unmixed good?  “When norms come to be considered optional or, worse, repressive, liberty degenerates into license, which is not a blessing.”[348-49]  What is to be done?  Perhaps government, for all its faults, might contribute: “a function of law is to use incentives to point people toward worthy ways of living, thereby strengthening what the polity considers essential virtues.”  Of course, our government has done the opposite: “It has done much harm by destigmatizing and encouraging dependency.”[351]  Again: “Today, . . conservatives correctly argue that our government has become a deforming force, corrupting the country’s character.”[528]
He makes valid points about the excesses of liberal identity politics.  He regrets, appropriately,  the lack of common purpose, but his emphasis on individual liberty seems to run counter to that. He refers to “the progressive project of diluting the concept of individualism,” which is “a prerequisite for advancement of a collectivist political agenda.”[338]
In a chapter entitled “Welcoming Whirl,” Will sets forth his views on religion, which are negative. He disposes of the myth that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.  He describes himself as an “amiable atheist;” with or without amiability, that is an unusual stance for a conservative.  He seems to be advancing a theory that conservatism is better off without a religious foundation — or, at least, does not require one — but advises those who want limited government to look to religion for support.[473]
That chapter includes a section entitled “Cosmology and the Conservative Sensibility,” which emphasizes the contingency of life and continues his critique of religion. “Conservatism,” he thinks, “should embrace and cultivate a cheerful, even exuberant acceptance of the unplanned and the undersigned [undesigned?], in the cosmos and in society,” and in “the unplanned complexity of the whirl . . . .”[486]  I wonder how many conservatives would be attracted to that free-floating view.
In that and the following section, Will discusses science but, notably, fails to mention contemporary climate change, the science of which he questions.5  He finds Darwinism useful in supporting his preference for an “order produced by lightly governed individuals consenting to arrangements of their devising.”[503] 
In the final chapter, “Borne Back,” he reiterates that theme: “The Founders bequeathed to posterity a republic that throve under a limited government that provided social space for the creativity of society’s spontaneous order.”[516] We must recapture that: Lincoln’s “public life was devoted to reconnecting the country to the principles of the founding. That is conservatism’s core purpose today.”[517]  On the last page, 538, Will asserts that “the past has become a reproach, judging the present for its departure from the Founders’ blended patrimony of philosophy and prudence. So the question now is: Can we get back not to the conditions in which we started, but to the premises with which we started?” 
Debates regarding the proper functions and limits of government will go on as long as the nation exists, and are healthy if carried out in realistic and specific terms.  Not all of the arguments for limitation come from the right, and the advent of the imperial presidency is neither a new nor a distinctly conservative insight. Administrative regulations can become overly complex.  However, it contributes little to a search for good solutions to argue that everything wrong or annoying about the federal government exists because progressives have abandoned a narrow interpretation of fundamental American principles.
Much of the philosophy set forth in The Conservative Sensibility is difficult to take seriously, not only on the merits, not only because of inconsistences in the argument, but because Will seems to mean less that what is said.   In the passages noted thus far, in discussing natural rights he seems to be referring to something real, a set of principles which may be discovered by reason.  He underscores this by declaring that there is a universal human nature.[35]  He states that the Declaration “affirms” natural rights, that the Constitution’s purpose is to “secure” inalienable rights.[150] He provides examples of those rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property).  However, none of that can be taken at face value; it is an extended rhetorical device.  To be fair, he has hinted early on that, perhaps, natural rights doctrine is not to be taken literally.
In the Introduction, Will starts out seeming to adhere to the reality of natural rights: “Such rights. . . are natural because they pre-exist acts of collective human will and cannot be nullified by such acts.”[xxxvi]  Again, in the first chapter, (“The Founders’ Epistemological Assertion”): “A limited government — a government whose powers are limited because they are enumerated — presupposes a reservoir of rights that pre-exist government.”[10]
However, he soon calls that into question: “Some Americans [of the founding era] thought their rights derived from history; others thought their rights could be read in the book of nature. . . . Both sets of Americans were, without quite knowing it, rule utilitarians. That is, they were saying that certain behaviors, practices and conventions are, as a general rule, conductive to happiness and flourishing.”  So, is natural rights theory of any real consequence?  “It is . . difficult, and perhaps pointless, to distinguish between, on the one hand, natural law and natural rights reasoning and, on the other hand, the reasoning of rule utilitarianism. Both. . . are recommending behaviors and arrangements they consider, as a general rule, most useful to creatures with our natures.”[12]
That might still allow him to claim that there is some reality to “natural rights reasoning.”  However, in an interview6 following the publication of the book, Will went a step further, eliminating any distinction between the two approaches.  The interviewer said, “The concept of natural rights is easier for me to understand as a legal fiction that imports certain ethics and standards . . . that are manifestations more of what we ought to have than of human nature.”  Will replied: “I agree with that. Those of us who believe in natural rights without a theological underpinning are essentially rule utilitarians. Societies flourish when they acknowledge, respect, and follow certain rules.”  In other words, natural rights are not a reality, merely a useful concept.
In that interview, he also said this (referring to economist Friedrich Hayek):
Progressives said that as society becomes more complex, there is more urgency for government to intervene and supervise it. The Hayek view is that this is exactly wrong and that the more complex a society becomes the more perilous it is for governments to intervene. As a society becomes more complicated, governments know less of what there is to know and markets—which are simply information-aggregating mechanisms—should be allowed to work.
That comment parallels the book.  Then he was asked: “Is [protecting individual rights] incompatible, though, with a government building highways or providing Medicare for all?  He replied:
Not a bit. Madison’s idea in Federalist 45 that the powers granted to the federal government would be few and defined is no longer the case. The interstate highway system started as the National Defense Highway Act. I went through Princeton’s graduate school supported by a grant provided by the National Defense Education Act. In the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of the 1960s, the federal government moved into an area of state and local responsibility, and No Child Left Behind was a subsequent iteration of that.
Then what is all the talk about limited government and enumerated powers about?
        My conservative sensibility is not opposed to ameliorative government. It is perfectly fine for the American people to decide collectively in 1935 that they want Social Security, or to decide collectively in 1965 that they want Medicare. In 2025, maybe that will be single-payer health care. Those are all within the broad parameters of reasonable democratic choice.
After the last two statements, little remains of the argument about abandoning the Founders’ model, or of his criticism of progressivism and big government. 
Here, also from the interview, is a statement by Will of the issue as he then saw it : “We need to have a conversation about the proper scope and actual competence of government. Progressives have an enormous stake in this. Everything progressives want to do depends on strong government, and that depends on confidence in government.”  That is a valid point, but it overlooks the problem that any current lack of confidence may be the result of years of attacks on government by conservatives, to which The Conservative Sensibility contributes.
In the book, Will ignores Trump, presumably on the ground that he is not really a conservative.  Trump may not be one in a philosophical sense, but he is the product of the evolution of the conservative party.  Any discussion of  conservatism should face that fact.   Will, to his credit, left the Republican Party over its likely choice of the Donald, declaring: “If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party. . . .”7   That is a worthy and important aim, but how much of that identity remained, even before 2016?


7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/if-trump-is-nominated-the-gop-must-keep-him-out-of-the-white-house /2016/04/29/293f7f94-0d9d-11e6-8ab8-9ad050f76d7d_story.html



1Statecraft as Soulcraft, p. 12 (1983)
2 The column is collected in Suddenly, pp. 235-36 (1990); the 1993 book is Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy
3 The bracketed numbers are citations to pages in the book.
4 198 U.S. 45 
5 https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/13/AR2009021302514_pf.html
6 https://www.thedailybeast.com/george-will-conservatives-would-win-if-trump-loses
7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/if-trump-is-nominated-the-gop-must-keep-him-out-of-the-white-house /2016/04/29/293f7f94-0d9d-11e6-8ab8-9ad050f76d7d_story.html

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


January 7, 2020
A news report on Saturday used the phrase “out of control.”  The reference was to the fires devastating Australia, but it could be applied as aptly to the US government.  Trump, weak and insecure, wanted to show that he is strong and decisive. Panicked by impeachment, he needed to change the subject.  Solution: risk war by assassinating an Iranian general.  Whatever the latter’s sins, it wasn’t bright to, at a stroke, unite fractured Iranian and Shiite communities against us.  Trump criticized Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq.  Reacting to Trump’s act, its parliament now has demanded that we get out completely.
Trump’s benighted followers think he is making America great again, but virtually everything he does weakens it.  His latest gambit has disrupted actions against ISIS.  His war-crime threat to bomb cultural sites has been rejected by his own Defense Department.  He played fast and loose with military aid to Ukraine, thus aiding Russia, in an attempt to corruptly influence the next election.  He has been played for a fool by North Korea, responding to its newest threat by babbling that Kim likes him.  Despite the fires in Australia, he will reject climate science and make matters worse by supporting use of fossil fuels.
Risking war is merely the latest manifestation of loss of control, of minimal rationality, in this dysfunctional administration.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


December 24, 2019
I had difficulty thinking of anything to write which would be appropriate for Christmas.  Good news and happiness are in short supply, and the state of American Christianity is depressing.  Then I stumbled across notes from our travels which suit the season.
There are many examples of, to borrow a line, the kindness of strangers.  People have helped us find the right bus or subway or otherwise given directions.  Once a driver we encountered at a gas station drove ahead of us for some distance to lead us to a highway entrance.  The two outstanding examples involve money. 
Several years ago, in Florence, as we left a church, we were surrounded by a group of young girls.  I had, foolishly, put my wallet in a front, pass-through pocket of my jacket .  The girls pushed things at us, ostensibly to get us to buy something, but in reality to disguise a hand in my jacket pocket.  After they stepped back, I noticed that the wallet was gone and exclaimed, brilliantly, “my wallet is gone.”  The girls, apparently not wanting to look guilty, had not run away.  A  man who had been sitting with a friend on the steps, came over, reached up under the back of the jacket of the oldest girl, retrieved my wallet and handed it to me.  Obviously he had seen this routine before.  As I thanked him in imitation Italian, he returned to his friend, not expecting a reward. 
Two years ago, we were at Heathrow in London.  When, at the beginning of our tour, we had taken a cab from hotel to airport, we had paid with a credit card.  On our return, casually assuming that we could do the same, I didn’t bother getting cash while at the airport.  We queued up at a taxi rank and, when our time came, were informed by the loader that no taxis there would accept cards.  As I prepared, with much grumbling, to return to the terminal, a man in the queue stepped forward and handed me a £50 note.  Amazed, I tried to decline, then asked for his name and address so that I could repay.  He waived both aside.
Two glimmers of light in the darkness.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


November 23, 2019
Republicans are thrashing about, attempting to obscure the obvious, that Trump has committed an impeachable offense.  Among other ploys, they have seized on a statement by Ambassador Sondland to prove that Trump did not propose a corrupt bargain with Ukraine.  Here is Sondland’s testimony: In a September 9 telephone call, Trump said, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy — President Zelenskiy to do the right thing,[87] ” 
Is “quid pro quo” part of Donald Trump’s usual discourse?  That alone should make one suspicious that the statement was not to be taken as the truth.  Add the fact that the conversation took place after the phone conversation in which Trump asked Zelinsky to give him political dirt (July 25), after the whistleblower’s initial complaint about the call was made known to the White House,[88] and after the whistleblower’s formal complaint was filed (August 12).  The Trump statement was an attempt at coverup by a man who knew he was in trouble.
As to Trump’s statement that he wanted nothing from Zelinsky, recall that, on June 12, he had said this “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent' -- oh, I think I'd want to hear it."
In various ways, some factual, some not, Trump’s defenders have argued that there can’t be an offense because Trump wasn’t successful in his attempt at extortion.  A variant of that, and perhaps the ultimate fallback position was adopted by a columnist at The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen.  As with other Trump defenders, consistency is not a consideration.
He complained in 2013  that the Obama administration was “conducting foreign policy by faux pas,” that its actions regarding Syria were “driven not by deliberate strategy but by slips of the tongue. . . There is no plan, no coherence to anything this administration is doing on Syria."[89]   Incompetence was something to be avoided, condemned.  That was then; now presidential incompetence is a good thing, for it provides a defense is against impeachment.
Thiessen quoted another Trump apologist, Lindsey Graham: “What I can tell you about the Trump policy towards the Ukraine is that it was incoherent.  . . . They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”  Thiessen added: “Graham may be right. Wednesday’s [November 13] impeachment hearing certainly provided no new evidence that Trump had a coherent strategy to use U.S. security assistance, and the prospect of a presidential meeting, to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.”[90]  Apparently a scheme is not improper unless artfully designed and adroitly carried out.
The testimony thus far, according to Thiessen, presumes “that the president knew what he wanted. It’s not clear he did. His handling of Ukraine seemed less the execution of an intelligible plan than a chaotic mishmash of constantly changing urges and demands.”   Does that relieve him of responsibility?  According to the Thiessen theory, yes: “[I]t looks as though the entire Ukraine debacle may be the result less of intent than incompetence. And unfortunately for Democrats, incompetence is not an impeachable offense.”  We might reasonably ask whether one incompetent to carry out so elementary a scheme as conditioning aid on a favor might be incompetent to be president.
Not only is incompetence not a defense to impeachment, it is a ground for it.  That should be obvious: a president who cannot discharge his duties is a danger to the country. Consider the condition of the executive departments, where ignorance, bias, self-dealing, conflict of interest and denial of scientific fact are rampant.  The President has a duty to prevent such corruption.  He has the power of appointment and removal, and bears a corresponding obligation to see that his subordinates discharge their duties.  That is not a radical notion.
James Madison said this in a debate in the first Congress about executive power: “I think it is absolutely necessary that the President should have the power of removing [subordinates] from office; it will make him responsible for their conduct, and subject him to impeachment himself, if he . . . neglect to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses.”[91]
It is understandable that House Democrats have focused on the Ukraine conversations because they present a clear dereliction of duty.  However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Trump’s time in office has been a workshop in impeachable dereliction.  Obstruction, both of the Russian-interference  investigations and the present hearings, is another instance.  As it is unlikely that Trump will be removed from office by the Senate, it is important, for 2020, to make a broader case for unfitness to the voting public. 

_______________________

87.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trumps-no-quid-pro-quo-call-open-to- interpretation/2019/11/21/0300795e-0c23-11ea-8054-289aef6e38a3_story.html

88.
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/us/politics/who-is-whistleblower.html

89.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/marc-thiessen-obamas-unbelievably-small- presidency/ 2013/09/16/e01838ca-1ed3-11e3-94a2-6c66b668ea55_story.html

90.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/incompetence-is-not-an-impeachable-offense/ 2019/11/13/5c473b40-066c-11ea-ac12-3325d49eacaa_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

91. Impeachment: Selected Materials, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 1973, p.11

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



November 12, 2019
The new gun-control law in Washington has, predictably, generated opposition.  Some of that has come from the usual suspects.  The NRA and The Second Amendment Foundation have sued, claiming that it violates various constitutional provisions.
A small meeting of opponents of the law brought together two other factions which, in their different ways, demonstrate the growing tendency of the right wing of American culture and politics to separate itself into a hostile, potentially dangerous camp. The Seattle Times described the meeting: “So intense is the distress over new firearms regulations in the state, and [Attorney General] Ferguson’s support of them, that a group of 35 or so came together to discuss what many saw as a constructive next step: Go to court to file citizen complaints against Ferguson or maybe even attempt a citizen’s arrest of him.”[81] 
The first group consisted of members of the local branch of the  Three Percenters, an organization marked by paranoia about government oppression.  The name of the organization refers to its “rough  estimate  that only 3%  of the colonists were  actively fighting  in  the field” against the British during the Revolution.  The Three Percenters see themselves as descendants of that small patriotic band.
The web site of Washington chapter states: “We are God fearing Patriots that support our constitution, and promise to defend our country, our community, and our families from all enemies foreign and domestic.  We follow the tenants [sic] set forth by the founder of the Three Percent movement, Mike Vanderboegh.”[82]  Their By Laws recite that “Our goal is to utilize the fail safes put in place by our founders to reign [sic] in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”  Diction obviously is not the organization’s long suit.  First on its list of oaths is “I will  NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.”[83]  Rational gun control is, apparently, disarming.
The site links to that of  “The Sipsey Street Irregulars,” which contains a long “Catechism” for Three Percenters written by Vanderboegh.  It includes this:  
The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. . . . We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders' Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.[84]
One of those at the meeting said, of Ferguson, “I want to see him go to prison for treason. But I wanted the backing of the sheriff, because I don’t want to get shot by the state police.”  Anyone on the other side is guilty of treason; an armed confrontation is coming: these are the elements of a dangerous and increasingly common mind set. 
Will his sheriff protect him?  That’s a possibility.  Sheriffs present at the meeting and in the background form the second group.    At the meeting, the Sheriff of Thurston County claimed he has the power to swear in a militia.  He said he would not do so at present, but merely claiming that probably non-existent power hints at violent separatism.
Following a reference to the Sheriff’s statement, a Times editorial on the meeting described a comment by Gary Edwards, a Thurston County Commissioner: “Edwards, a former sheriff, went further, warning of dire consequences if President Donald Trump cannot thoroughly pack the courts.  ‘If we’re not lucky, we might have a revolution,’ Edwards said.”[85]   The relevance of the court-packing reference wasn’t explained in the editorial but, whether or not connected to gun control, Edwards’ comment is more divisive rhetoric.
Thirteen of Washington’s thirty-nine County Sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce the new gun-control law, or parts of it.[86]     One declared: “My job as a sheriff is to throw bad guys in jail, but it’s also to protect the constitutional rights of citizens of our county. I follow the rule of law when I believe it’s constitutional.” I wonder whether he would tolerate that selective attitude in the public. That position demonstrates the irrational extremes to which gun-rights thinking drives people.  Law enforcement officers, confronted not only by the usual level of crime, but by a flood of guns and the separatist fantasies of people like Three Percenters, ought to be the last to oppose controlling that flood.
 Trump, on September 29, launched a tweet, in part quoting a statement by an evangelical supporter, which feeds those fantasies and encourages thoughts of violence: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”     They’ll never get me, but if they do, rise up.
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81. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/discontent-over-washington-gun-laws- leads-group-to-talk-of- citizens-arrest-of-bob-ferguson/

84. http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-brief-three-percent-catechism.html

85.
https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/divisive-issues-no-excuse-for-revolution- talk-from-elected- officials/

86.
https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/voters-said-yes-to-tough-new-gun-law-at- least- 12-county- sheriffs-say-they-wont-enforce-it/



Wednesday, November 6, 2019


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November 6, 2019

Liberals, and the Democratic Party to the extent that it is controlled by liberals, have a strong tendency to court political self-destruction by carrying good ideas too far.  They forget that, whether they like it or not, many Americans are either less liberal than they, or are annoyed by what seems to be liberal arrogance, or both.  Unable to learn, resentfully unaware that criticism might be valid, they play into the hands of the reactionaries by plunging ahead.  I’m afraid that the Democratic primary race may be another example of this unfortunate tendency.  One of my concerns is the Medicare plan put forth by Elizabeth Warren.

Donald Trump is the worst President in American history, but because he has a loyal following, and because of the peculiarities —to put it generously — of the electoral system, with the aid of vote suppression (and, dare we say, foreign help), he might limp into another term.  I must say that I still find that unlikely, but polls show that it could happen.  In any case, it would be foolish for Democrats to ignore the possibility. Any program or attitude which drives away voters who are not committed Democrats, whether we describe them as independent, moderate, centrist, or whatever, would be ill-advised.
 
Senator Warren is one of the most admirable figures in contemporary politics, and her generous instincts and intentions cannot be doubted.  However, her advocacy of Medicare for all and her tax plan to fund it seem to me to fall into the familiar self-destructive category.  A recent poll showed Senator Warren trailing Trump in Michigan, Florida and North Carolina, only even with him in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  (Biden does better).[78]  Her plan may contribute to that showing.

Senator Warren’s tax plan seems a work in progress and descriptions of it by her campaign have varied, but its main outlines are troublesome.  The summary set forth here [79] shows that the plan is questionable as policy and as to its fiscal assumptions.  (It does contain independently valid proposals such as repealing the Trump tax cuts and taxing foreign earnings).  As I noted earlier,[80] the proposed wealth tax, which has grown to help fund Medicare, would be difficult to enforce.  Chances of getting the plan through Congress aren’t high, so advocating it may be pointlessly divisive.

The structure is complicated enough that, even if technically sound, it would be confusing and disruptive in application. It is a radical shift; incremental changes often are more successful and less frightening. Most importantly for 2020, it plays into the Republican cry of Socialist regimentation! by abandoning private insurance and increasing government control. 
       

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78. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/upshot/trump-biden-warren-polls.html

79. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/11/05/warrens-plan-pay-medicare-for-all-does- it-add-up/

80. See my note of February 17, 2019.

Monday, October 28, 2019


October 27, 2019
Donald Trump boasts, exaggerates, tells lies and generally plays the buffoon.  He is incompetent and dangerous.  Some who have been on his staff in the past have attempted to bring some level of rationality to the White House, but others pretend that Trump‘s babbling makes sense.
John Kelly, former Chief of Staff, who falls into the former category, recently described a conversation with the President shortly before his departure: “I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.[75]  Trump denied that any such meeting took place.   
His “Press Secretary,” Stephanie Grisham, whose assignment is to avoid and malign the news media, demonstrated that she belongs to category two by offering this rejoinder: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”[76]
It is Kelly’s replacement, Mick Mulvaney, who can’t handle Trump’s genius, i.e. cover for him and maintain some level of deniability.  Instead, when interviewed about withholding funds from Ukraine, he acknowledged that Trump subordinated foreign policy to domestic politics.  (The reference is to “unproven claims that Ukrainian officials assisted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign,” including a “debunked conspiracy theory that a hacked DNC server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that it was that country, not Russia, that interfered in the presidential election.”) [77]

QUESTION: So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MULVANEY: The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate.

QUESTION: Withholding the funding?

MULVANEY: Yeah, which ultimately then flowed. . . .

QUESTION: But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is, funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MULVANEY: We do — we do that all the time with foreign policy. . . . And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.
 
The White House, the “fine-tuned machine” and “well-oiled machine” of Trump’s boasts, is managing, simultaneously, to obstruct and aid the impeachment inquiry.

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75.https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/white-house/i-feel-bad-that-i-left-john-kelly-warned-trump-he-would-be-impeached?_amp=true&__twitter_impression=true

76.
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/white-house-john-kelly-trumps-genius_n_5db4eecbe4b 05df62ec 04e6b

77.
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/sen-johnson-ally-of-trump-and-ukraine-surfaces-in- crucial-episodes-in-the-saga/2019/10/28/40b9e44c-f684-11e9-8cf0-4cc99f74d127_story.html?wpisrc=nl_ most&wpmm=1