Token Dissonance

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


Leave a comment

The Oregon Promise

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.” –Winston Churchill

What do you mean civil liberties are partisan noise?

Freshman U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the political world by storm with his Mad Men-era throwback to the talking filibuster against CIA Director nominee John Brennan. His stand against the most questionable aspects of Obama administration’s drone program was as simple and straightforward as it was—or should have been—avowedly nonpartisan. Paul wanted to highlight and clarify official U.S. drone policy—which Brennan helped author—on such seemingly important questions as whether executive discretion allows for extrajudicial killing of American citizens on American soil. After thirteen hours or so, he finally got his answer.

Rand Paul is certainly a rising star, especially among more libertarian-minded Republicans and Independents, for his perspicacious commitment to individual rights. However, this latest showdown on the real limits of limited government reveals far more about contemporary politics in America than the evolving possibilities for Ron Paul’s heir. As once strident progressives shrink away from their principles before Barack Obama’s remote agenda of unfettered homicidal prerogative—with a certain junior Senator from Connecticut going so far as to describe the defense of our civil liberties as “background noise”—only one Democrat (three, if we’re being exceedingly charitable) exercised the moral integrity of speaking truth to the power of his own party. So raise your glasses to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (and, perhaps, to fellow Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Dick Durbin).

If you’re not affiliated with the Great State of Oregon and yet find that the name Ron Wyden seems inexplicably familiar, it is probably because you have indeed encountered it before—fairly recently, in fact. In the last election cycle, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan championed a sensible proposal for making Medicare solvent through the foreseeable future, rather than only until my nine-year-old cousin can legally drink. The once bipartisan plan was developed, in part, by none other than Ron Wyden. That did make for some awkwardness last year.

Before that, this Left Coast Democrat promoted a bipartisan approach to tax reform with Judd Gregg, and later with Tea Party favorite Dan Coats, that was praised—with reservations—across the political spectrum. The pro-growth Wyden-Coats plan aimed to “hold down rates” on individuals and corporations while closing various loopholes. (Sound familiar, Mr. President?) Rather than relying on gimmicks like the Buffet Rule or pretending there is no federal spending problem, Ron Wyden has shown that effective tax reform can be fiscally and economically responsible without raising tax rates on anyone.

Earlier still, the Oregonian teamed up with Utah Republican Bob Bennett to push a promising third way on healthcare reform (which, incidentally, helps give the lie to liberal notions of conservative intransigence) to the ire of (some) leftists and unions. To make a rare point of agreement with Ezra Klein, Ron Wyden is far from perfect, and he has voted along with much of Barack Obama’s lackluster agenda. But this particular “ardent liberal” manages to remind a bipartisan audience how statesmen should govern—a perspective generally lacking in the White House and among some on Capitol Hill. Without boasting much in the arena of “conservative bona fides”, Oregon’s senior Senator has championed many a libertarian cause. I expect some savvy conservative actors could make better use of that than President Obama has of the notorious eloquence of Chuck Hagel.

Oregon was once a Republican State—from Dewey through Reagan—and George W. Bush came within 7,000 votes of turning it red in 2000. Nowadays, the Beaver State is home to a rambunctious mix of staunchly liberal and solidly conservative voters, not unlike Iowa or Colorado, and the Democrats run the show. But the parties are not yet monolithic, and nothing lasts forever. Whatever becomes of Wyden, Paul, or anyone else on the political stage, successful leaders from here onward will have to expand the realm of possibilities and the states in play for innovation.

The old ways won’t work anymore. It’s time for a new take on change.

Advertisements


13 Comments

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?


4 Comments

Fear and Consequence

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“They remain in the same place: They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits. They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.” –White House meeting attendee

“We have to make sure that people who vote for socialism feel the consequences of voting for socialism.” –Bill Whittle

“Elections have consequences, America, and at the end of the cliff, I won!”

In the flurry of ideas about the future of the Republican Party and the contentious talks over the Sequester of Damocles, I decided to humor my Facebook friends by posting a conservative post-election take on A Modest Proposal:

“Also, if the GOP agrees to tax hikes in exchange for something else – like entitlement reform, but only the promise of reform which we know will never come to fruition – they will predictably get slaughtered for “caving” instead of compromising, which is actually what they’d be doing. Again, the GOP doesn’t have the skill or a complicit media to explain how they compromised while Obama and Democrats didn’t…

So what do they do? They’re stuck in a no-win situation. The answer is simple: Give Obama what he wants. All of it. Don’t negotiate. Just say, “Put your plan up for a vote and we’ll pass it. You will own everything that happens moving forward. We’ll do it your way.””

Presumably, there are a good many liberals who would love this approach, as it would allow them to get everything they want with some appearance of bipartisanship. As terrifying as it seems to conservatives, many do sincerely believe that fealty to obsolescing Great Society politics is part of a robust model for a better world. But the response I received was more interesting than any of that. To quote a Democrat-voting friend:

“Well yes, Obama did win, so I want Republicans to give up on Grover Norquist and accept tax hikes on the rich, but stay true to their other principles at the negotiation table. That is what a moderate Republican would do in my eyes. And that’s what ‘negotiation’ is.”

Curiously, it’s not enough for this friend to have his policy preferences enacted over Republican objections. He wants conservatives to be complicit in the act of raising taxes for nothing more than the hot air of hope for real change later. If this were accomplished, a caricature of conservatism would share equally in any blame for economic pain to come, and future politicians could pretend that nobody “serious” foresaw the calamity. My friend aside, the crux of nearly every argument from the Left for “moderation” and “balance” on the conservative commitment to limited government and free enterprise is this implicit desire for an ostensibly substantive—but actually empty—Republican stamp of involvement in a policy agenda that comes light in the arena of serious long-term proposals for averting disaster.

There is nothing “moderate” about Obama imperiously doubling his demand for more taxes or refusing to discuss cuts he will pursue for “balance”. Even as the President campaigned today against the dangers of tax hikes on small businesses, he has already reneged on his campaign promise to support a once bipartisan effort to lower corporate taxes and make American enterprise more competitive. This “balanced approach” denudes any leverage for securing necessary cuts that Democrats are already fighting. Necessary reforms will not be popular, and they will certainly not be more readily achieved when the incentive to produce them—expanded revenue—is already conceded and enacted.

So if Democrats are so eager to avenge the myth of Robin Hood against the dastardly “rich”, independent of all else, what does the “balanced” end game look like? What are the reforms that will secure Medicare beyond the next decade? Where is the talk of addressing the appreciating regulatory burden on businesses and energy policy? If we disapprove of offshore accounts, where is the attendant discussion about why American investors find it more profitable to send capital overseas than maintain it domestically? If Clinton-era tax rates are so preferable, where is the talk of reducing state taxes to 90s levels and restoring Clinton-era spending?

The right answers to these and other questions will do a lot more good for a lot more people than all the rate hikes in the world. Republicans are not out defending the rich against all reason. We are trying to ensure an actual balanced approach is accomplished in a matter broadly agreeable and efficacious in the face of ongoing intransigence from a storm of special interests with stakes in the status quo.

But while we’re on the subject, “the rich”—however defined—are neither the enemy nor wanting for patriotism. They just want to be industrious and successful like anybody else, and they find their fortunes where our policies encourage them to do so. If our current economic climate is not sufficiently geared towards growth and broad prosperity, then we’ll be in for a long, dark ride through the next four years.

Elections have consequences, America. I hope we’re ready for them all.


2 Comments

The War on Revenue

Update: An earlier draft of this post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Lower rates of taxation will stimulateeconomic activity and so raise the levels of personal and corporate income as to yield within a few years an increased – not a reduced – flow of revenues to the federal government.” –John F. Kennedy

“We believe small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country.” –Barack Obama

What do you mean taxes have consequences?

The U.S. Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal budget deficit for the month of October 2012 was $120 billion.

For some fun perspective, Greece, Spain, and Italy produced deficits of about $9 billion, $29 billion, and $87 billion, respectively, in 2011. Read that again. In a single month, the U.S. government accumulated debt nigh tantamount to the entire annual deficits of three precariously recessive Eurozone countries. Of all the countries on Earth, only four—Japan, Britain, France, and Mexico—ran deficits in all of 2011 that exceeded Washington’s shortfall last month alone. Of all the annual surpluses of 2011—from Brazil to Sweden to Saudi Arabia—not one reaches $82 billion, let alone the $120 billion the U.S. spent by Halloween. Of course, these countries all have much smaller GDP, but it still makes for amusing comparison.

By now, you have already heard ad nauseam that Barack Obama has added more than half as much debt as he inherited. You also know that spending is at the highest levels since the Second World War, and yet Millennials are still, in a word, screwed. With the election behind us and the status quo ante more or less entrenched, we should expect the president will finally offer a real, centrist proposal to subdue the debt and unburden a drowning economy in way both sides can agree.

A week past the election, however, President Obama remains obsessed with effecting higher tax rates, which his allies are insisting do not matter. Before the election, the president campaigned on the need to lower corporate taxes in order to spur growth and create jobs. Now freed from the oversight of the electorate, Obama has reneged on this oftrepeated promise and literally doubled down on plans to sap resources from what he has agreed are the engines of our economy. Either the president has “evolved” on the question of private enterprise or he places a minimal premium on political and economic integrity.

Just as edible chemicals are not interchangeable for bodily health, not all forms of revenue have equivalent effect on the economy. Put simply, taxes retard growth, but certain types do so more than others—hence the once bipartisan agreement that corporate taxes should be cut and the fact of different rates for different kinds of income. (By the way, Great State of Illinois, sin taxes are terribly regressive.) As it happens—income taxes, which have already risen at the state level—are particularly associated with lower economic growth than other kinds of revenue, and the U.S. already has an unusually progressive tax system relative to the rest of the developed world. Hence, Republicans have long admitted and embraced the need for more revenue while insisting only that tax rates not be increased. From an economic standpoint, and contrary to the administration’s demagoguery, this makes sense.

We all know that President Obama won the election, and the Democrats gained seats in Congress. The Party of gracious victors was magnanimous enough to remind everyone of this fact, ad infinitum, in case we forgot. It was really very thoughtful of them. But now that the campaign is over, we need our elected officials to get serious about fixing this economy.

Equating Bill Kristol’s musing that the country would survive a tax hike with an endorsement of the idea is not serious. You could survive an amputation, if the party in power insists on it, and we may have to negotiate an arm down to a finger because they have won the upper hand (ahem). But that doesn’t change the fact that the powers that be are obdurately committed to hurting you, and we need to discuss ways that will actually solve problems.

At the end of the day, America still has a spending problem that can never be matched by revenue, and entitlements will start to go insolvent in the next decade. I would love to see the President of the United States reckon with the reality of the mess, and I expect the Republicans in Congress, however weakened, will continue to insist that he do so.


2 Comments

Do Not Ask What Good He Does

“Or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says, America does best when the middle class does best?” –Barack Obama

What recession? I’m too cool to be unpopular.

It’s been a great weekend for those of us who want to see the kind of change in Washington that will finally move this country forward. Governor Romney, in good gentlemanly fashion, indicted the failures of a petty incumbent in debate, earned a double-digit boost in the polls, and delivered a major foreign policy address that solidifies his foreign and domestic image as compellingly presidential. As a delectable bit of dessert, President Obama was caught shamelessly lying dealing in mistruths about Romney’s tax reform plan; it turns out Obama’s cited source reached exactly the opposite conclusion Obama imputed to him. Well that’s awkward.

There are four weeks to go before the final tally of the next four years, and the president’s people are already well invested in an aggressive campaign to paint the governor as a plutocratic, extremist, flip-flopper incapable of serious conviction. (If that sounds incoherent to you, it’s probably a combination of jet lag and altitude sickness from raising your brow too quickly.) Now, the Obama campaign has produced a nifty tool on its website to demonstrate all the ways the president’s policies have allegedly helped the American people. It’s broken down by state, so I’ll focus on the two that relate to me: my native Florida and my adoptive Virginia.

Health Care

This entire section touts the purported benefits of a costly new entitlement that presumes “young adults” (aged 23-26) are better served by prolonged dependence on their parents than by a functioning economy that allows them to get good jobs—which would provide healthcare beyond age 26. Speaking of costs, Obama brags that 3.9 million women in Virginia and Florida will no longer have to expend $9 to $33 per month because of a bill that cuts $716 billion from Medicare, leaving it bankrupt in twelve years. But lest you think all benefits will disappear under Romney, Republicans have put forth ideas to replace ObamaCare with law that increases the affordability and quality of health care while shoring up Medicare for the foreseeable future. A better and more honest approach, reached with the understanding that everything has a cost, will be better for everyone, including women, now and for generations to come.

Energy

Glaring by curious omission are any numbers on increased solar power. It’s almost like the administration wants to pretend Solyndra didn’t happen, or maybe they’re wondering whether the government makes for a good venture capitalist, after all. They do talk a big game on natural gas and crude oil production—409.4% and 3.4% increase in each in Florida; 14.6% and 42.9% in Virginia. But the devil is always in the highly-selective details, as the president plays fast and loose with numbers and intentions:

“In classic fashion, he’s using a technicality to skirt the facts and keep the myth of energy scarcity alive,” the IER email said.  “The reality is that the U.S. has enough recoverable oil for the next 200 years, despite only having 2 percent of the world’s current proven oil reserves.” (Emphasis added.) … What the president leaves out, said the IER, is technically recoverable oil, oil we know about but cannot access due to government regulations…oil production on federal lands declined in fiscal year 2011 from fiscal year 2010 by 11 percent, and natural gas production on federal lands dropped by 6 percent during the same timeframe. In contrast, oil production on private and state lands accounted for the entire increase

You would be forgiven for wondering whether the president is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Is he committed to a full slate of American energy production to help secure our independence from foreign oil, or does he intend to limit domestic oil and national gas capabilities to boost alternative fuels? I would imagine the latter plan is conceivably defensible but for the administration’s not defending it.

Jobs

Obama is thrilled to inform you that over 333,000 private-sector jobs have been created in Virginia and Florida alone in the last two years. What he would like you to ignore is that job-creation is perilously slow, most of the recent new jobs are in government, and the purchasing power of the middle class is declining. He also neglects to mention that the unemployment rate in Florida is unchanged at 8.8%, and the defense cuts in sequestration would devastate Virginia. But if you ignore all that pesky reality, which has a well-known conservative bias, Obama has probably done some good on the job front.

Taxes & Small Business

I wonder why the campaign omits the time frame over which these tax savings purportedly occurred, or any details whatsoever about them. I can understand why they don’t want to talk about their proposed recession tax increases on the small businesses that employ millions of people. I can also understand why they would avoid the entire discussion of how Obama’s own advisers favor a tax reform plan inconveniently similar to Mitt “Inverse Robin Hood” Romney’s much maligned proposal. But I cannot understand why an administration so indignant over imagined perceived lacks of specificity wouldn’t offer any clarity of its own.

So where do your tax numbers come from, Mr. President, and why do you keep lying about misunderstanding Mitt Romney’s tax proposal?

Education

I gather we’re supposed to be thrilled that 800,000 Floridians and Virginians received nearly $4K in Pell Grants—an increase of well over 60% in each state. In all our jubilation over all these students purportedly affording college, we might almost overlook the fact that Pell Grant receipt is based on economic need. More people are receiving them because more families are going under. It’s certainly good that American students still have opportunities despite the government’s economic failures, but this situation is hardly a credit to the administration. It would be akin to your doctor demanding praise for treating an infection you only contracted because he botched an operation in the first place.

As for the question of student loans, let it suffice to say that the issue won’t affect the vast majority of student debt by terribly much. There’s also the inconvenient matter of how to pay for it. But don’t expect the Obama campaign to clarify that point.

Recovery

At the risk of restating the obvious, this latest ploy by the Obama campaign amounts to little more than a tendentious fit of hope not worth the faded Obama poster you could print it on. The president can’t run on his record, so he’s resorting to the tried and true legerdemain of pretending his rhetoric counts for truth. If he were a magician, I’d remind him that we discovered that trick ages ago. As he is the president, I’ll instead suggest that his campaign start assuming the American people have better discernment than a drug-addled hate-child of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen.

You may not think you built this bed, Mr. President, but you will lie in it. The American people will see to that.