Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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The Talents of Christian Vocation

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” –Matthew 7:20

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby case, which has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly affirming the codified rights of people who lead closely-held corporations, the once steadfast commitment on the Left for religious freedom appears to have all but collapsed. My friend Yishai Schwartz in the New Republic blames this liberal apostasy on the excesses of conservative opposition to Obamacare.

Commentary Magazine’s Seth Mandel dutifully addresses the undercurrent of victim-blaming that transmogrifies Schwartz’s insightful observation into a distressing bit of progressive apologia—after all, what were the owners of Hobby Lobby, their peers, and supporters to do? Void their actual conscience in the name of abstract “conscience protections”? Aggressively police the partisan media narrative of a case they could never hope to control?

Among many avowed progressives, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s acerbic dissent (the core of which was joined only by Justice Sotomayor) is something of a new Gospel of slippery slopes that the majority has now unleashed in the name of God. Of course, Ginsburg’s parade of horribles is exceedingly disingenuous and painstakingly countered in the very ruling she contests, but we’ll come back to that point soon.

Like many of Ginsburg’s dissenting fans, Jonathan Merritt, who has profited handsomely from his public Christianity, shores up the rising progressive consensus against religious liberty by attacking the notion of Christian businesses. He has made the following point repeatedly, in famously hostile faith-friendly media like MSNBC, before and since the Hobby Lobby decision:

“Additionally, conservative evangelicals believe that a Christian is a person who is actively engaged sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. They accept that this process is accomplished by the work of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But a corporation can neither accept Christ nor be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

So if someone (or something) can claim the label “Christian” without repentance, belief, salvation, or sanctification, what is left? Or put a finer point on it, what makes a corporation “Christian” exactly?”

It almost goes without saying among the faithful that this liberally secular misconception of how many Christians view their work is precisely backward. Ironically, Merritt touches on the reason behind this truth in his attempt to deny it:

“If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term “Christian” is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

For Christians who have “repented, believed in Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness,” obedience to God permeates every aspect of life, from the rearing of children to the vocations by which we serve our neighbors, promote the Gospel, and support our families and communities. It is profoundly unchristian to suggest that born-again believers ought to abandon the Word at the precise point at which they gain the ability to minister to the unbaptized world at large.

This very point is arguably at the heart of the parable of the talents in Chapter 25 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. To start with the obvious, the Lord pointedly rewards the servants who turned a profit on the talents he invested in them for the fact that they turned a profit in his honor. As for the non-profit(able) servant, the Lord also had a lesson (Matthew 25: 26-28, NJKV):

“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.’”

Before we go any further, let me be clear that I am not not engaging in a theological debate on New Testament hermeneutics. This parable, like any other, is open to all manner of interpretation and moralizing, and individuals in different denominations reach different conclusions for divergent reasons. I bring this parable up only to shore up what many a conservative (or liberal) Christian already knows—one’s vocation (whether in a closely-held for-profit company or otherwise) is often an extension of the ministry of one’s faith, and the economic and political compartmentalization that seems so natural to some (particularly secular) folks strikes many a true believer as a Petrine exercise in denying Christ.

Put simply, it is useless and unproductive to dismiss the faithful to an extraneous audience by progressively “mansplaining” their own beliefs to them. The real issue in this case is whether we, as a nation, will value and protect religious freedom, or not.

Here we should note that, contrary to what some might like to pretend for partisan—or perhaps ingenuously obtuse—reasons, Antonin Scalia’s Employment Division v. Smith decision profoundly limiting the prerogative of religious objection to generally applicable laws remains binding constitutional precedent. That precedent is not abrogated because the Court has now acknowledged the current government’s actions run afoul of a duly enacted law of Congress (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) long understood—and demonstrated, even under the Obama administration—to protect religious rights beyond the point of incorporation.

For the proof, let us go to the ruling. In the first place, there is a test for how religious freedom claims are to be evaluated for exemption:

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicabil- ity” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.””

And lest you get caught up, as is fashionable, one the term “person,” the majority notes (my emphasis):

“HHS argues that the companies cannot sue because they are for-profit corporations, and that the owners cannot sue because the regulations apply only to the companies, but that would leave merchants with a difficult choice: give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations. RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice. It employed the familiar legal fiction of including corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons,” but the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees. Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them. Pp. 16–19”

In case your objection, like Merritt, is over whether a corporation is for- or non-profit (and here let us remember, as Schwartz notes, that churches, newspapers, schools, and other charities are all corporations), the justices also have an answer:

“HHS and the dissent nonetheless argue that RFRA does not cover Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel because they cannot “exercise . . . religion.” They offer no persuasive explanation for this conclusion. The corporate form alone cannot explain it because RFRA indisputably protects nonprofit corporations. And the profit-making objective of the corporations cannot explain it because the Court has entertained the free-exercise claims of individuals who were attempting to make a profit as retail merchants. Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U. S. 599. Business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the “exercise of religion” that this Court set out in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, 877. Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law. States, including those in which the plaintiff corporations were incorporated, authorize corporations to pursue any lawful purpose or business, including the pursuit of profit in conformity with the owners’ religious principles. Pp. 20–25.”

But, Smith! you (and Ginsburg) say, noting its appearance in the prior passage:

“Also flawed is the claim that RFRA offers no protection because it only codified pre-Smith Free Exercise Clause precedents, none of which squarely recognized free-exercise rights for for-profit corporations. First, nothing in RFRA as originally enacted suggested that its definition of “exercise of religion” was meant to be tied to pre-Smith interpretations of the First Amendment. Second, if RFRA’s original text were not clear enough, the RLUIPA amendment surely dispels any doubt that Congress intended to separate the definition of the phrase from that in First Amendment case law. Third, the pre-Smith case of Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc., 366 U. S. 617, suggests, if anything, that for-profit corporations can exercise religion. Finally, the results would be absurd if RFRA, a law enacted to provide very broad protection for religious liberty, merely restored this Court’s pre-Smith decisions in ossified form and restricted RFRA claims to plaintiffs who fell within a category of plaintiffs whose claims the Court had recognized before Smith. Pp. 25–28.”

The majority even goes so far as to assume the prerogative of the government to mandate cost-free contraception:

“The Court assumes that the interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods is compelling within the meaning of RFRA. Pp. 39–40.

(2)The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA’s least-restrictive-means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. The Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS’s stated interests. Pp. 40–45.”

Taking into account all of Ginsburg’s objections faithfully, the majority nonetheless observes that existing U.S. law—not the Constitution, mind you—requires more accommodation of the religious beliefs motivating closely-held corporations, whatever the profit motive, than Obamacare’s unelected regulators allowed. (Here we should note that Justices Kagan and Breyer pointedly renounced Ginsburg’s musings against RFRA’s protections for profit-making corporations.)

And let’s be clear, as the President would say, that the Obama administration essentially argued that closely-held corporations should be forced to fund everything from non-kosher products (whether Jewish or Muslim) to late-term abortions to assisted suicide were government bureaucrats to mandate it. If opponents of this ruling are fine with that reasoning, they should say so openly and clearly.

As for the supposedly slippery slope, the majority notes the slide is actually quite sticky (my emphasis):

“The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. See post, at 32–33. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

… HHS analogizes the contraceptive mandate to the requirement to pay Social Security taxes, which we upheld in Lee despite the religious objection of an employer… We noted that “[t]he obligation to pay the social security tax initially is not fundamentally different from the obligation to pay income taxes.” 455 U. S., at 260. Based on that premise, we explained that it was untenable to allow individuals to seek exemptions from taxes based on religious objections to particular Government expenditures: “If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax.” Ibid. We observed that “[t]he tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.” Ibid.; see O Centro, 546 U. S., at 435.

Lee was a free-exercise, not a RFRA, case, but if the issue in Lee were analyzed under the RFRA framework, the fundamental point would be that there simply is no less restrictive alternative to the categorical requirement to pay taxes.”

So contrary to what you may have heard, contraception is and will be no less accessible now than it was just two years ago. Corporations, like individuals, will still generally and broadly be compelled to follow laws. Women, gay people, nonbelievers, and so on will be no more oppressed tomorrow than they were the day before yesterday. And the Supreme Court is not in the business of legislating the hyperbolic political grievances of the Left (or the Right). The only legitimate grounds for opposing this ruling is either because one believes, as Breyer and Kagan do, that the contraception mandate passes the RFRA test (an understandable disagreement) or because one outright opposes RFRA.

If Democrats honestly now believe the once bipartisan consensus for protecting religious freedom—forcefully promoted by such disparate voices as Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy (who explicitly endorsed the two-part RFRA test Justice Alito quotes in the majority decision)—is analogous to Apartheid and Jim Crow, or comparable to slavery and segregation, then they should act accordingly. As New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie helpfully noted in his principled  evasion of a response to the Hobby Lobby ruling:

“When…your Supreme Court makes a ruling [you] gotta live with it, unless you can get the legislative body to change the law or change the Constitution.”

If liberals and progressives are willing to admit their opposition to RFRA and campaign accordingly, then I, like many a conservative, welcome the opportunity for honest debate about American values and sound policy in the modern era. Otherwise, all this Ginsburg-fueled partisan mendacity is little more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying hackery nothing.

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The Prisoner of War Games

“And when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”  –Somebody in the Media

"And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down." –Nathan Bradley Bethea

“And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.” –Nathan Bradley Bethea

As I’ve noted before, I periodically watch MSNBC to keep up with the rote dissembling of our friends across the political aisle. Although I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the predictably biased inanity of cable news (by no means limited to the “Lean Forward” crowd), it still astounds me to be wandering in an alternate universe, where grounded perspective—let alone a reasonably honest presentation of the facts—is more like a demon to be exorcised than a standard to be pursued.

So it was in last night’s performances of Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber (filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell) on the supposed right-wing partisanship surrounding the criticism of Bowe Bergdahl.

Maddow kicked off, in her usual smugly protracted historicism, with a surreal attempt to compare Bergdahl to, of all people, Iraq War veteran (and former POW) Jessica Lynch. She concluded with the not-really-subtle suggestion that critics of Bergdahl had so poisoned the well that the military might be incapable of giving him a fair trial—a claim that Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran, seemed compelled to awkwardly rebuff. Not an hour later, Melber doubled down on the notion that Republicans were seeking any means they could find to attack President Obama and politicize what should be a noble and celebrated occasion—the return of an American POW.

Contrary to this chicanery, one might expect most reasonable people to see an obvious difference between the capture of a dutiful soldier whose convoy was ambushed after a few wrong turns (Lynch) and the apprehension of a negligent soldier who, by the Army’s own reckoning, voluntarily and deliberately abandoned his post in the dead of night (Bergdahl). Did I mention that the Pentagon did not even classify Bergdahl as a POW for the bulk of his captivity?

Reasonable people might also distinguish easily between Lynch admirably correcting the media-fabricated account of her Rambo-style heroics and Bergdahl contributing to the deaths of at least half a dozen Americans in the vain attempt to retrieve him from a fate he indisputably brought upon himself. But Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber are evidently not aiming to engage with or fairly convey the motives of reasonable people.

There is no halfway decent argument that Jessica Lynch did not deserve to be honorably discharged after her service in Iraq. Thus her service was noted, even if it turned out not to be as flashy and Hollywood-ready as the media (against her will) had led us to believe. By contrast, the notion that Bergdahl should be so honored offends a great many of the warriors who wear the uniform and keep their sacred oaths to our country. Suffering does not confer righteousness, any more than falling victim to one’s own iniquity makes one a hero—especially when it gets heroes killed.

In truth, and this bears repeating, the loudly disgruntled voices criticizing the alleged deserter are not right-wing hacks but the very soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl and risked their lives searching for him in a place where older maps would warn, “Here be dragons.” The original critics are the soldiers who watched their brothers-in-arms die preventable deaths in ambushes made possible by the adjustments required to search for a man who voluntarily abandoned his post, his country, and the lives of his unit.

In fact, the notion that Bergdahl might be some sort of “Manchurian Candidate” if he ever returned home was raised in the furthest of the far Left Think Progress back before liberals predictably closed ranks, once again, around something associated with Obama:

“I’m also curious about how audiences will respond to a Manchurian Candidate-style story about a prisoner in our current wars… I’d be curious to see what the reception would be for Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a Taliban prisoner of war since 2009, if he ever makes it home.

[…]

Would the high regard in which the country holds the military mean that we aren’t willing to consider the possibility of a brainwashed prisoner of war? Or would our security concerns make us more likely to consider it?”

All that said, it is certainly reasonable to note and defend the unyielding American dedication to returning all those who wear the uniform to American soil. There were and are people on the Right—and in the military—who (understandably) questioned the discernment of releasing almost as many dangerous terrorists as were killed looking for the potentially treacherous Bergdahl in the first place. It is worthwhile to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to dutifully returning all soldiers home, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly did on his Facebook account. But that is not what the chattering armchair patriots of MSNBC were doing last night.

Instead, the talking heads impugned the motives of those with the gall to give voice to indignant troops and dissimulated even on the blatantly false notion that nobody had questioned the wisdom of exchanging high-level Taliban for Bergdahl or the policy of expending resources to chase deserters—which supposed hypocrisy and political opportunism was particularly hyped by Melber and the similarly tendentious Think Progress—the liberals get it wrong. The New York Times noted that the idea of a prisoner swap drew bipartisan criticism back in 2012:

“Until now, the administration has said publicly only that the negotiations included talks about releasing the five prisoners from Guantánamo to the custody of the government in Qatar — which some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have opposed — and not that the five might be exchanged for Sergeant Bergdahl.”

The Republican officials, like John McCain, that Melber and Think Progress (along with Media Matters) specifically single out never questioned the principle of retrieving a captured U.S. solider, they merely continued this years-old bipartisan skepticism of trading high-level Taliban prisoners to achieve that goal. McCain, for example, made clear back in February—in that very Anderson Cooper interview the hacks find inexplicably damning—that the details of any potential prisoner exchange would be critical to determining his support (my emphasis):

“COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.

MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release — Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.”

Note the Senator’s (and former POW) consistent opposition to the release of five “hardest of the hardcore” high-level Taliban leaders. It takes a certain kind of meretricious reasoning to twist a position so straightforward, whether one agrees with it or not, into something else entirely—all for political gain. But on the subject of inconsistency on this prisoner swap, it is curious that these righteous liberals neglected to mention the sudden backpedaling of support from Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill. Even progressive stalwarts like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Chris Coons refused to call the swap a good deal. Not that the pundits of the Left feel you need to know such things.

Of course, the duplicity did not stop there; Melber’s segment further included The Atlantic’s Washington editor Steve Clemons making the priceless claim that Congress was adequately consulted on the prisoner swaps before they occurred. Those of us in the real world know that such consultation—or even a polite briefing—never happened. This fact is verified by such arch-conservative knaves as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Instead, when the matter was discussed between lawmakers and the administration years ago, Politico notes that “Republicans objected to any such deal for Bergdahl, fearing it could lead to more kidnappings of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan.”

But what of all that? There are Republicans to bash! (For an idea of what a profoundly less warped telling of the Bergdahl saga might look like, the U.K.’s Telegraph offers a helpful example.)

I will not sink to the level of these Acela pundits by impugning the motives or wondering aloud about the aggressive ideological agenda of Maddow, Melber, or likeminded hacks. But I will note that they do their countrymen and the military they claim to honor a disservice by the deranged partisanship with which they contrive to weave a tale of malice and slander with the threads of legitimate objections.

To the extent that there are liberals (and some conservatives) behaving so deplorably, we should be thankful, perhaps, that not so many Americans trust the media all that much anyway.


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Across Two Aprils

“Winter just wasn’t my season.” –Anna Nalick

"Ain't no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party...stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility." - Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

“Ain’t no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party…stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility.” – Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog consistently, and I can imagine that even some of you, my more faithful readers, may be on the verge of giving up on me. If I may beseech you, don’t lose faith just yet; I will come back for you!

Today’s post is as much political as it is about the joys and opportunities of life, which for me, is something of an ode to April. In April of last year, I started my new job with a wonderful online media consulting firm that has proven as challenging as the experience has been rewarding. My boss Liz Mair (whose opinions are not necessarily reflected in anything I write on this blog or elsewhere) is a young conservative rockstar, and her offer was a fitting postscript to the unemployment saga I wrote about for my friend Danielle Crittenden Frum at The Huffington Post (whom I must also thank for providing me a broader platform to promote a conservative perspective in that famously liberal medium).

Last April, it seemed my life was finally kicking off from the prolonged turbulence of restive stagnation that seemed to strike too early (I hadn’t even reached quarter-life crisis age) and too late (Who’s still trying to figure out their life at 24?). It turned out last April was the beginning of quite the adventure, and for that I suspect Joy and Triumph may be good neighbors on my block, rather than strangers from a town where I might never be welcome.

Now, here we are in April 2014, and a new round of investments from the aforementioned good neighbors is coming in. In the first place, I’ve been promoted to the mercurial and ubiquitous ranks of the “strategists” of the media-industrial complex. I suppose that means somebody somewhere thinks I have useful insights to offer on political and media happenings. Of course you, my dear readers, assuredly know better, but I trust you all will keep that between us. Secondly, I made my first cable news appearance yesterday to discuss same-sex marriage and the Republican Party with a panel on MSNBC (I know, I know). I was there representing Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry (an excellent group doing excellent work), and I’m starting to think this whole pretend-to-be-an-interesting-person-with-thoughtful-opinions thing is getting out of control.

But while we’re on the subject of personal and political evolution, let’s emphasize something critical to the push for a more inclusive conservative movement. As I told the liberals of MSNBC, the reforms many of us young conservatives are pushing for are not about alienating or replacing any part of our grand old coalition. We are not Democrats, and we will not play the games of identity politics and demographic resentments. Ours is a mission of individual liberty, personal responsibility, constitutional government, strong national (and self-) defense, and protecting God-given liberty. For all the talk of a Democratic “coalition of the ascendant,” it’s an exciting time to be a conservative and a Republican because we have inspiring leaders (like Rand Paul, Tim Scott, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, etc.), bold ideas (see: National Review, Cato, Reason, Commentary, RedState, The Washington Examiner, etc.) and indefatigable drive to better this great nation and the sovereign constituent states in which we invest our lives and values.

Finding and developing innovative ways to expand our coalition to better involve the growing segment of Americans who are young, nonwhite, LGBT-friendly, and mightily disaffected will not be a task we can accomplish overnight. Nor is it something we can achieve by papering over divisive issues that function as much as a fortress of power for the Democratic Party as a prison of dependency for those who believe, for whatever reasons, that the GOP would actively harm them or their loved ones. We as Republicans will continue to keep and encourage a Big Tent that welcomes opponents of same-sex marriage and whatever other issues are at odds with the popular views of Millennials and minorities. But we cannot keep to litmus tests that undermine our support and undercut our ability to promote conservative governance .

We do not advance conservative principles by losing battles or clinging to tactics that do not persuade. I suffer no delusion that my appearance on MSNBC will move the needle of that outfit’s liberal bias in any discernibly rightward direction. But I do believe that by engaging “traditionally Democrat” people on their terms and at their level, we’ll find more interest, reflection, and even support than the GOP platform’s marriage plank will ever see again. As some thoughtful sage opined long ago, we owe it to our philosophy to learn how to win.

I hope the view from next April is roses all the way down.


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When Idols Fall

“Keep the faith with cynicism. Cut the opposition down!” –Largely Unclear

Is God in the rain…or just awkward photo ops?

In wake of the multiple scandals roiling the federal government, there have been bipartisan denunciations of heinous government actions and broad support for thorough investigations to flesh out the full extent of wrongdoing and determine means to prevent recurring malfeasance. Yet against this sober-minded harmony, a chorus of voices on the Left fringe, including in the media, is aligning to deflect narratives they rightfully interpret as ruinous to the Obama administration. Presumably, all that effort invested in promoting, electing, and defending Mr. Hope & Change™ has left them too far gone to embrace an honest assessment of a broken world with painful circumstances now.

Among these deflections is the rather odd refrain that Republicans are somehow responsible for the sins of Eric Holder’s Justice Department. (To be fair, this is a liberal step up from prevaricating on or avoiding the question of whether the DOJ was wrong to begin with.) E.J. Dionne Jr. sums up the essence of this subterfuge rather succinctly in The Washington Post:

“Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for?”

In other words, according to the unsullied liberal defenders of the White House, the Republican Party—by pressuring Obama to properly secure sensitive information—is the real force behind the covert, internal decisions of a Democratic administration to undermine freedom of the press. If you’re already confused as to how this claim could possibly hold water, I have a confession: this impish attempt at political legerdemain will never make more sense that it does now.

Across the scandal-verse, the usual suspects of MSNBC are scurrying to shield the president from the escalating probability of disaster (to borrow from the Architect) that is the IRS fiasco. As Joe Concha reports over at Mediaite:

“I do not believe what the IRS was reported to have been doing is an outrage. I believe that the IRS agents in this case did nothing wrong. Let me say it again, you won’t hear it anywhere else: the IRS agents did nothing wrong. They were simply trying to enforce the law as the IRS has understood it since 1959.” – Lawrence O’Donnell on the IRS.

“Conservatives still want to change the subject to the fake, ginned up scandal they’ve been pushing month after month.” – Chris Hayes on Benghazi.

“So now they’re (Republicans are) viewing an actual real world abuse of power scandal (the IRS Scandal), not as its own outrage, but as a means of supporting their preexisting witch hunt on Benghazi, which they really struggled to turn into a scandal in large part because they themselves cannot seem to settle on what the scandal even is. It’s a cover-up. Just don’t ask what’s being covered up…” – Hayes on the IRS Scandal being used for political gain for Republicans on…Benghazi.

“Does this mean that the IRS is hereby forever neutered from doing what is, after all, the very important work of making sure that political fundraising groups are not making a laughingstock of the rules that are supposed to limit what they do? Will we ever really have an IRS doing that important work again, giving how badly they screwed up trying to do it over these past couple of years?” –Rachel Maddow on the IRS Scandal and its potential ramifications for the agency.

Add to this Chris Matthews bloviating about how the innate racism of criticizing Obama is somehow to blame for the federal government misbehaving. (Curiously, Matthews has offered his own criticisms of the administration—for reasons that presumably don’t include racism.) The indomitable Melissa Harris-Perry topped it all off just minutes ago (with a spirited assist from Alex Witt) by reading into the late unpleasantness a GOP plot to depress the vote by inciting blanket disgust with government.

Of course, the risibly petty last stand of the Lean Forward campaign came after The New York Times sank to infamous new lows of self-parody by running the headline (on page A11): “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” You would be forgiven for thinking our national “paper of record” should be more interested in the IRS asking organizations to detail the content of their members’ prayers than in taking backhanded swipes at a political party it dislikes. Did I mention that the same IRS official—Sarah Hall—who oversaw tax-exempt organizations at the time when her unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for overseeing Obamacare? I wonder if anybody will find that tidbit problematic.

Many in the media are in a rather odd place having to brutally criticize the administration of a president they have so long supported and identified with. Some pundits, columnists, and institutions are taking it all admirably in stride, as it seems the president never properly learned how to build and sustain political goodwill—a mistake that may haunt him from now on.

Others are reverberating through MSNBC and progressive echo chambers—a sadly amusing reminder that loyalties bite as fiercely as they were held, and champions fall with as much energy as they were praised. However long any of these scandals last, we would all we wise to brace ourselves for what will likely be several long lame-duck years contorted in frothy progressive fury at the perpetual injustices of a world too cruel to ever allow Barack Obama to be the great savior the Left campaigned campaigns for him to be.

As a wounded messiah wilts before the alien glare of ineluctable inquisition, and his agitated fans thrash about with in obstreperous indignation, let us all take this moment to consult the Gospel according to Flaubert:

“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.”

And all taxpaying American patriots said, Amen.


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Right Quick: The Fallen Joe

As many readers may vaguely recall, MSNBC’s Morning Joe was not always a latte-drinking armchair crusader in chummily good standing with urban liberal punditry. Once upon a time, our reconstructed New Yorker was a duly elected Republican congressman from the Florida panhandle. Alongside Georgia’s Newt Gingrich, Scarborough partook in the 90s evolution of the then-Democratic South into a rising GOP stronghold in Congress. In those days, dear Joe was an embodiment of the famed “Contract with America” that unified conservative control in the Capitol for the first time in generations

As he has occasionally mentioned on his show, Morning Joe once opposed some of the gun control measures he now champions as “common sense” and “sensible.” Presumably, he understood easily researched truths including the practical absurdity of banning cosmetically menacing rifles and arbitrarily limiting magazines. In any case, he was quite the fan of the NRA and the constitutionally protected civil rights its millions of members defend (courtesy of The Daily Caller):

But that was back when he was Middle-American Joe, who was accountable to middle-American voters with middle-American views on civil rights, self-defense, and the proper role of law and government. Now that he wine and dines with liberal intelligentsia in Manhattan with a bank account filled by executives at MSNBC, Morning Joe Scarborough freely rambles on about the imminent “extinction” of the GOP over opposition to a gun control law that nobody believed would stop the next tragedy.

In the meantime, mainstream America has already moved on. Unfathomably to Morning Joe (although Middle-American Joe could have predicted it), many Americans are even relieved the whole mess is done. It is amazing how out of touch we get while chattering away inside our echo-chambered bubbles. But in any case, this walk down memory lane merely serves as the latest reminder of what has, in truth, long been evident. Joe Scarborough is no longer a mainstream Republican in any meaningful sense, and this fact should be obvious to everybody by now.

So as we look back on the glory days of pre-MSNBC Middle-American Joe and reflect on the philosophical atrophy of years passing, let us ask the nagging question that Morning Joe will never hear:

How art thou fallen from God’s Country, O Joe, wind of the morning?


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The Hope of Damocles

“All you have to do is just listen to what’s happening out there and you realize there is progress.” –O’Brien Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Take that, fat cat!

Take that, you old fat cat!

Rachel Maddow loves truth—so much, in fact, that she prefers to keep it as far away from her audience as she can, lest either get away from her. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy her style—she really does make intellectual laziness and systemic dishonesty look downright magical. I would even go so far as to say she reminds me of many a dear friend I made at and since Yale. But however fond I might be of her personally, her political analysis—and its tendency to represent the liberal consensus on “reality”—skews somewhere between malicious and unhinged. More importantly, it’s also very insightful.

In case I was not clear enough about this in my last post, the Left is not invested in spending reform. Just as President Obama has, with liberal enabling, enhanced and perpetuated the Bush approach to national security, the Democratic coalition has doubled down on Dick Cheney’s infamous riposte: “Deficits don’t matter.” To be sure, Republicans are not innocent in the matter of squandering a hard-won surplus, but George W. Bush is long gone, as is any fealty—at least on the right—to his spending agenda. (For what it’s worth, W would have squandered much less on the stimulus.) Put simply, the Right has learned from past mistakes.

Which brings us back to Maddow and the Democratic line: there are three essential truths about the budget crisis that you will not learn from her—or the President’s—latest post-election campaign of Orwellian doublethink. First, the federal debt is on track to exceed 100% of national GDP (i.e., the entire size of the U.S. economy) in the next decade. Second, escalating entitlement spending drives this debt above all else. Third, if that spending is not resolved, we’ll lean forward into inexorable ruin.

The annual deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for four years running. Barring sequester or balanced reform, the debt—already north of 70% of GDP—will escalate beyond reckoning. In the face of fiscal reality, the Maddow-approved Obama plan calls for $1.6 trillion in new revenue—up from $968 billion—over a decade and minor spending cuts that may very well be outmatched by another round of stimulus spending. If we pretend that these new taxes (and ObamaCare) will have no deleterious impact on the economy and will meet optimistic revenue projections, they will accrue enough money to offset a single year of deficit spending in about 6½ years (again, being optimistic). In the meantime, without significant cuts that pre-election Democrats agreed are necessary, our economy sails closer to Greece on an odyssey of war against “the rich” and Grover Norquist. (By the way, the Rising Tax Brigade may soon be coming for your 401(k).)

Of this Olympian catastrophe of a plan Maddow writes, “For the left, if there must be a focus on debt reduction, the White House proposal is the right way to do it.”

It is a terrifying world indeed when the President of the United States is aiming to govern by the playbook of MSNBC. But alas, here we are with the powers that tax (or want to) from the White House on down openly belittling the very legitimacy of reducing the deficit. The Left is not invested in spending reform. One could argue that some of them are deeply invested in defeating and breaking the GOP, but I imagine most wouldn’t put it that way.

Some have argued that Obama’s plan is primarily a bargaining position from which liberals expect to compromise. That may very well be true. But if nothing else, the nature of the starting line exposes the contours of the priorities in play. In opening with a proposal that fixates on tax hikes (with stimulus!) and hedges on cuts or any pretense of serious reform, Democrats are prioritizing raising taxes over anything else—budget balance, entitlement solvency, economic growth, etc. In other words, the President and his allies are negotiating as though these once-bipartisan goals—on which both sides ran for election—are merely concessions to be won by the other side rather than shared values to guide compromise. This is the crux of the whole problem.

Notwithstanding the unusually progressive essence of the U.S. tax system, Republicans agree that revenue ought to be included in any viable deal. Call it a major concession, if you like. But a “deal” that is heavy on hubris of spite and light on enduring solutions to underlying problems is not a deal; it is a sadistic game of chicken played by recalcitrant children against the faith and credit of the United States.

If the Democrats refuse to take spending cuts seriously with looming sequester, it would be asinine to expect them to change tune once all leverage has been conceded. Going over the fiscal cliff would be terrible, and the consensus holds that Republicans will be blamed for whatever happens. But if we don’t bear in mind that there are darker ships on the horizon, the Right will be as complicit as the Left in all the turmoil to come.

Balanced recession or unbalanced collapse: which would the President prefer we choose?