Archive for March, 2013

25
Mar

A Conservative Victory in the Senate

   Posted by: Robert    in News

In news that is unlikely to be hailed as a major conservative victory, the Senate last week passed a budget for the first time in four years.  The Senate’s budget is rife with all of the usual vices of the Democrat agenda, including a new round of tax increases and minimal reductions in spending.  Unlike the Republican budget passed in the House, the Senate budget never balances and could hardly be portrayed by anyone as being a true gesture of fiscal responsibility.  The Democrat budget, in other words, is every bit as liberal as one would expect from the Democrats.  But its very existence is a victory for conservatism.

Ever since Republicans took decisive control over the House in the 2010 elections, passing a budget has been a major party focus.  For conservatives, a budget was promoted as a cornerstone of fiscal responsibility and a core feature of the Tea Party movement.  For liberal Republicans, the budget was a low risk vehicle which would allow them to feign opposition to big spending Democrats without taking positions on actual issues.

For Democrats, however, the story was different.  They have been generally opposed to creating a budget ever since they took control of the government in 2008 and likely for many years beforehand.  By their nature, budgets tend to constrain spending and limit the possibilities for distributing pork.  Even a grandiose, Democrat promoted budget is more constraining than having no budget at all.  The closest that Democrats have come to a budget came during the 2011 budget debate when President Obama offered a budget proposal which was never meant to be taken seriously, but was used to deflect criticism from charges that Democrats were refusing to consider any budget.  Hilariously, many Democrats refused to consider even the President’s budget proposal.

Things this time appear to be different.  Conservatives and some Republicans have continued to advocate strongly for a budget as a matter both of fiscal discipline and common sense.  The pressure on Democrats has increased substantially, heightened by increasing public disgust at the tri-monthly cycle of fiscal near-disaster.  Interestingly, despite the best efforts of the partisan political media to blame Republicans for sequestration, the public at large has been willing to blame everyone in the government, with Democrats taking at least some of the heat.  To their credit, Republicans have managed to stay largely on point with their argument that the solution to America’s rolling fiscal near-disaster is an actual budget.  With the help of Paul Ryan, Republicans were the first to deliver.

Against that backdrop, Democrats were forced to not merely talk about a budget or to have the President propose a budget which could then be forgotten.  No, this time around Democrats have been forced to vote for a budget, with a narrow majority in the Senate doing just that.  In so doing, the Democrats have been forced to accept the premise that a budget is necessary.

Forcing Democrats to accept that premise is a huge win for conservatives, because political premises are often more important than the policies that they produce.  By convincing the nation that we had a present and urgent health care crisis, Democrats were able to force Obamacare or comparable alternatives onto the public and capture the nation into being concerned about an issue that wasn’t nearly important as it had been made out to be.  If conservatives are able to be successful here with the budget — an issue which actually is at least as important as it seems — any result can only benefit conservatism.

Conservatives will still have a long way to go before they are able to see any lasting success.  The Democrat budget is entirely ridiculous and its failure to balance makes it an immediate non-starter.  But as a starting point, having Democrats focused on developing a budget is excellent news for conservatism.  It can only get better from here.

14
Mar

Budget, Ho!

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy

On the heels of the striking success Senator Rand Paul had in addressing the threat of drone strikes against American citizens, Congress’s other famously conservative Paul has come out with a full fledged budget proposal to solve the sequester and put America on the path toward fiscal sanity.  Representative Paul Ryan’s latest budget should come as a surprise to nobody who has paid any attention to his work the past several years.  Indeed, it’s substantially the same budget he proposed back in 2011, but repackaged to account for the progression of time over the past two years.  The goals of the budget have remained the same, and most of the specific policy initiatives are familiar.  Expect a video depicting Paul Ryan throwing a grandmother off a cliff any day now.

What is different this time around is the pretence of Democrats and Republicans having a common objective in budget negotiations.  To be specific, we had that in 2011. This year, any illusion of common ground is being swiftly laid to rest.

Case in point is an article in the New York Times which quotes President Obama as saying, “Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits.”  According to the New York Times, he went on to say, “It may be that ideologically, if their position is, ‘We can’t do any revenue,’ or, ‘We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,’ if that’s the position, then we’re probably not going to be able to get a deal.”  The New York Times summarizes the Democrat position in this way:  “Congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama, noting that the government has long operated with deep deficits, do not see a need for a balanced budget as long as spending is kept in check.”  A budget proposal from Senate Democrats adds $100 billion in new stimulus spending and runs a $600 billion deficit in ten years.  The contrast with Congressman Ryan’s proposal is stunning.  The Ryan proposal makes meaningful changes to entitlement programs and cuts spending throughout the government.  His proposal eventually balances the budget without raising taxes.

Fundamentally, the difference between the Right and the Left is that conservatives believe that prosperity comes from saving money, while liberals believe that prosperity results from spending.  Between those positions is no common ground, which means that there’s ultimately nothing to negotiate over.  Victory in this battle over budgets means winning outright.

The good news for conservatives is that, even despite Obama’s victory, Republicans are still seen as being the party of choice when it comes to finance and the economy.  Even better, because nothing much has changed about the Republican budget since the last time it was introduced, the Democrats have already used up most of their attacks.  Also good is the fact that the nation is surviving the sequester well enough that getting away from it is hardly the national crisis that it was made out to be.  Indeed, by proving that the country can survive with reduced spending, the sequester plays directly into conservatives’ hands.

The key for Republicans is to not negotiate a chance at victory into a certain defeat.  Republicans need to stand by Senator McConnell’s assertion after the “fiscal cliff” tax increases that additional tax increases are off the table, and will stay there.  Democrats must not be allowed to have a “balanced approach” of immediate tax increases coupled with deferred imaginary spending cuts to happen at a later date never.

The contrast between the Republican and Democrat budgets is a great backdrop for renewing the conversation about economics and government spending in America.  With a boost of momentum right now on our side, now is the time to push forward and stay strong.  After all, a balanced budget is a wonderful thing.

11
Mar

Changing the Game

   Posted by: Robert    in News

Late last week, Senator Rand Paul accomplished one of the most important conservative victories since the midterm sweep of 2010.  Taking to the floor of the Senate chamber, the Senator from Kentucky captivated the nation with a simple, though long spoken, request to President Obama.  Concerned over a memo which indicated that the administration may consider the use of targeted drone strikes on American soil against American citizens believed to be terrorists, Senator Paul wanted assurance that the President, quite simply, would never do such a thing.  And he wanted assurance in writing.

Senator Paul’s request comes with both a political and a constitutional dimension.  Politically, it should be an embarrassment to the administration that targeted drone strikes against American citizens suspected of terrorism on American soil should even be considered when they have taken great care to ensure that known members of al Qaeda have access to America’s civilian courts.  It’s made all the more egregious when you consider that the administration once publicly expressed their belief that military veterans, gun owners, and people who vote Republican are all one bad day away from trying to blow up the White House.  Constitutionally, Senator Paul spent a great deal of time talking about due process, which was a major issue for the Left back when President George W. Bush authorized the capture and indefinite military detention of American citizens on American soil.  While the Supreme Court ultimately allowed President Bush to have his detentions, in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, I continue to believe that Justice Scalia’s dissent was correct: The constitutional solution to citizen terror suspects is to suspend habeas corpus, or to try and convict them of a crime like treason.

But my point here isn’t to discuss the merits of Senator Paul’s argument, because what he did is far more important than what he said or why he said it.

To understand what Senator Paul accomplished, it’s important to understand what was supposed to have happened.  Wednesday night was the meeting between President Obama and several senior establishment Republicans to discuss finding a way out of the national “emergency” of the sequester.  The news cycle on Thursday was supposed to be about bipartisanship, and compromise, and reaching across the table, and finding a balanced approach.  While nobody was supposed to actually achieve anything, it was supposed to be the start of a dialog that would (and likely still will) result in the Democrats getting more tax increases and Republicans getting very few spending cuts.  Mostly, it would let the establishment Republicans look like they’re accomplishing something even as they actually accomplish nothing.

What actually happened was pretty much the opposite of that.

Senator Paul, the Freshman from Kentucky and son of libertarian congressman Ron Paul, took to the Senate floor for an extended speech about drone strikes against American citizens.  The issue is one that most people didn’t even know existed before Wednesday night.  Senator Paul was politely insistent that President Obama issue a written statement that he would not use drones to attack American citizens suspected of terrorism on American soil who were not actively engaging in terrorist acts.  His argument was a compelling, common sense vision for what Due Process means for citizens in America.  It was also fundamentally conservative, insisting that there is a limit on the government and demanding that the government recognize itself as being so limited.  He did not ask for a bipartisan agreement on cutting death warrants or razing taxis, he insisted on a specific, tangible result.  He dominated the news cycle Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend.

Making matters even more remarkable, the media was unable to control the story.  They had doubtlessly already written their reports about the sequestration dinner when Senator Paul stood up to begin his filibuster Wednesday night and they surely had no interest in giving attention to anything else; surely not the off-topic ramblings of the Tea Party backed son of Ron Paul.  But even in this era of perpetual filibuster, an actual speaking filibuster remains so unusual that its happening is unavoidably news.  What’s more, his subject was so resonant with American values that despite the media’s attempt to portray as crazy the notion that drones would be sent after Americans sitting in American cafes, they had no room to move as long as the President came across as sounding even crazier by his refusal to agree.  Indeed, the most coherent criticism came from people who believe that blowing up cafes with drones might, under some circumstances, actually be a good idea.

Conservatives take notice: By speaking powerfully and with the conviction of principle, Senator Paul disrupted politics as usual, captured the attention of the American people, and tied the hands of the media.  From the moment he stood up to begin speaking, he was in command of his message.  He didn’t need moderate Republicans — all of whom were with Obama and were most likely pounding their heads on the dinner table — to make his message more attractive to independents.  Bedrock conservatism won the day, as it always does when we let ourselves express it.

And best of all, when the dust settled, Senator Paul got the commitment he was after.  That makes him more effective after thirteen hours than establishment Republicans have been in four years.

Update: This post originally referred to Senator Paul as being from Kansas.  He is actually from Kentucky.  Darned ‘K’ states.

7
Mar

One Fewer Dictator

   Posted by: Robert    in News

Starting last night and all through today, the news has been buzzing about the death of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  With his passing, the world is now short one more dictator who pillaged his nation in the name of his people and earned the praise of the American Left for his frequent denunciations of the United States.  He is the latest in a line of important dictators who are no longer available to continue their policies of power and destruction.  His death ushers in an interesting new era for the world as he has was the last celebrity anti-American power broker standing who had come to prominence before the start of the global war on terror.

In his policies in Venezuela, President Chavez was a classic liberal socialist dictator.  He amassed great personal wealth by leveraging his country’s vast oil reserves, becoming ever wealthier even as his nation grew more and more impoverished.  Under his leadership, poverty and hunger increased, crime increased, and human rights became decreasingly relevant.  As the leader of nationalized “big oil,” President Chavez took aim at organized labor, firing as much as 40% of the employees who worked for his oil company in retaliation for a strike during 2002.  President Chavez has also been entirely ineffective in the fight to prevent global climate change, allowing Venezuela to become the top carbon dioxide producing nation in the region.

He is, nevertheless, adored by the American Left.

With President Chavez out of the way, there appears at this point to be something of a vacuum in the global market for powerful anti-American celebrities.  Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il are all dead, and Fidel Castro may as well be.  Of course, fellow America hater Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came out right away to declare a national day of mourning in Iran over the death of President Chavez.  Fellow America hater Barack Obama was more reserved, issuing a statement that borders on meaningless.  The new leadership in Venezuela has already jumped in with both feet as well, as Vice President Nicolas Maduro blamed President Chavez’s cancer on the United States and ejected a military attache.

What an interesting world.

4
Mar

Rejoice! Rejoice! Sequestration has Come!

   Posted by: Robert    in News

In what should be looked at as one of the greatest political embarrassments in American history, a dispute over  fraction of a percent of the largest federal budget in history has been brandied about for weeks now as if it’s a disaster no less epic than the Great Plagues of Moses.  By increasing spending levels less than originally planned, sequestration is now to blame for a whole host of national crises.  We’re now being told that, thanks to sequestration, illegal immigrants (some of whom have also broken other laws) are being placed back on the streets, air travel is being disrupted, and an aircraft carrier is stuck in port.

Oh, and old people are going to die in California.

If you think that’s all a disproportionate response to the federal government not spending money that it already wasn’t spending, you probably don’t work in Washington.  Every bit of this debate was entirely predictable months ago, from the headlines promising disaster to Democrats calling for a “balanced approach” involving spending cuts and tax increases, despite already getting tax increases for free during the fiscal cliff debate.  Anyone who ever believed Senator McConnell’s promise that “the tax issue is over” was delusional.  The good news is that it only took Republicans two months to figure out that, yes, they really did raise taxes on everybody who earns a paycheck.  I didn’t think that would ever happen.

Sadly, the political drama isn’t the most embarrassing part of this whole charade.  More embarrassing is what it says about the American electorate when they believe that sequestration will make food less safe.  Most embarrassing is what it says about America if any of it actually is true.

The consequences of America being so fragile that it can be brought to its knees by $85 billion in reduced spending increases, the consequences are dire indeed.  After all, what would happen if terrorists bring violence which shuts down the Capitol, or the White House, or — perhaps worst of all — the Office of the Department of Health and Human Services?  What ever would we do if the Iranians set upon us with a Stuxnet-like virus that, rather than disrupting centrifuges in a nuclear facility, shaved a penny a month off of everybody’s Social Security checks?  If our enemies literally blew up the government, would we really be unable to survive?

Sequestration is a unique opportunity for us to judge how comfortable we are with the level of involvement the federal government has in our lives.  It’s relatively harmless, but it shows the degree to which the federal government has become a single point of failure that touches on almost everyone’s daily lives.  When even the people who are supposedly on our side can cause major chaos over almost nothing, that should be downright frightening.  After all, were the government to be disrupted by people or nations who wish us harm, the consequences would be much larger and longer lived.

Tax increases can’t make America stronger.  Spending cuts by them selves won’t either.  The only way to strengthen America to end the danger of disaster is to scale back the scope of the federal government.  Otherwise, our country will remain a house of cards, subject to collapse in even the lightest breeze.