When all politics aren’t, in fact, local

Former U.S. House Speaker “Tip” O’Neal is most commonly associated with asserting that “all politics is local.”  As we’ve moved away from Federalism and republicanism toward democratic homogenization in this country, I think that’s become less and less true:

Coloradans are drawing a line in the asphalt when it comes to California’s growing influence on their SUVs, trucks and votes.

The Colorado-based Freedom to Drive Coalition filed a lawsuit this month against the state’s adoption of California’s zero-emissions vehicle standards, arguing that the rules violate state law and would add thousands of dollars to the cost of the heavy-duty vehicles favored by drivers navigating Colorado’s snowy roads.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Electoral College are balking at the lopsided flood of cash pouring in from California to prevent Colorado voters from overturning the National Popular Vote bill, which Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed into law in March.

Figures compiled by Protect Colorado’s Vote show that more than 98% of the donations to Yes on National Popular Vote have been from Californians, while Coloradans have contributed 99% of the revenue raised to exit the compact.

“Obviously, California is incredibly engaged in getting Colorado’s votes,” said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who heads the referendum campaign.

This situation exemplifies why the Electoral College was put into place.  Without it, just 9 States (California, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and Florida) could elect the president, since they account for just over half the U.S. population.  Other States would become mere subsidiaries of one of these population centers.  Those who want the popular vote to prevail in presidential elections know they face an uphill battle to amend the Constitution.  Thus the “National Popular Vote” bill effort in many states, trying to put together a coalition to lump together a bunch of States to do what I believe to be an unconstitutional end-run around the Electoral College.

As the article above shows, what may work for California (and that’s arguable) may not apply to the conditions of another State, like Colorado.  This is one of many reasons the Founders intended most governance to be local (State and below), with the Federal government largely charged with handling the external affairs of the federation of States.  Too much of the divisiveness in this country is driven by efforts to impose “one size allegedly fits all” solutions from Washington, D.C. (or Sacramento, in this case).  What’s tragically ironic is that the loudest proponents of unitary government suddenly find their inner secessionist whenever the Federal Government goes against their agenda.  States like New York are passing local bills enshrining the legality of abortion, since many expect Roe v. Wade to be reviewed, revised or overturned in the next few years by a Supreme Court with more constitutional originalists on its bench.  The Left will stick up for “States’ rights” in such a scenario, but more times than not, they are happy to use Federal power to bludgeon the entire nation into compliance with their agenda.

Campaign financing has been another insidious erosion of local politics.  Note in the linked article who is funding the two sides of the National Popular Vote campaign.  Why are Californians allowed to contribute to campaigns in Colorado?  Another example is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes.  Once she won her primary in 2018, out-of-state money provided the majority of her general election campaign financing.  How does this square with the idea a ‘representative’ reflects local opinion and priorities?  (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

What this does is turn every Congressional/Senatorial race into a national campaign.  We hear about the outsize influence of billionaires.  Well, guess who has the wherewithal to fund candidates all across the country?  That’s not the vision the Founders had in mind.  Want to reign in the influence of campaign contributions?  Two steps: only allow individual citizens (not corporations, PACs or any other organizational source) to contribute, and require them to contribute only to their State/local races.  As is often pointed out, only the office of the presidency was designed to be elected by the entire nation.  The current campaign financing model undermines that.

A truly federal system allows for variations and experimentation of policy to best meet local conditions and aspirations.  We have moved away from that to our great detriment.  How about some of that magic “diversity” when it comes to letting locals set their own agenda?  Save the Federal power for things that truly matter to everyone — like upholding the “Life” part of “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” by protecting the unborn.

Out-Reaganing Reagan

For four decades, Ronald Reagan has been the benchmark against which ‘conservative'(*) candidates have been measured.  Following the misery of the Jimmy Carter years, Reagan posed a simple question during his re-election campaign in 1984: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

It would appear President Trump could easily do the same:

3 yr returns

It’s worth noting that FDR’s results followed that of Herbert Hoover (of the “Hoovervilles” Depression-era fame).  In other words, FDR had lots of room to run just digging out of the smoking hole that followed the 1929 market crash.  Truman and Eisenhower both benefited from the post-World War II era, when the U.S. economy was more than a quarter of the entire world’s Gross Domestic Product.  That was the era when “Made in the U.S.A.” took off, while other countries dug out of the destruction of the preceding years.  Trump, on the other hand, has had to renegotiate or abandon bad trade deals (*cough* NAFTA *cough*) and reverse the huge regulatory burden strangling small business growth.

I focused on the stock market returns to this point simply because that’s a common metric the chattering class uses to gauge a presidency’s success.  Given these results, I’m sure they’ll find another yardstick to use over the next year.  But it’s not an isolated marker.  Minorities are enjoying record unemployment rates.  Three years into Obama’s first term, overall unemployment was 8.3%.  Three years into Trump’s, it’s at 3.6%.  Reversing the Democrats’ war on energy production allowed the U.S. to become the world’s largest oil producer for the first time since 1973.

But economics is not the only measure of a president.  Trump’s greatest legacy may be reshaping the judiciary, returning it to a more originalist interpretation of the Constitution.  He has also been willing to confront long-standing arrangements, such as NATO, that may have outlived their utility or else continue to exist only by mooching off of America.

Given all this, it’s no wonder so many of his supporters (including me) are willing to overlook his many personal foibles.  Trump will never be a great communicator as Reagan was.  But what he lacks in polish he makes up for in brash willpower.  And in the end, that might leave him as the new benchmark for successful governance from a traditionalist perspective.

___________

(*) One has to wonder at the term “conservative,” considering how much America has been remade by ideologies hostile to its traditional way of life.

A feature, not a bug

So Congress has only passed 12 laws so far this year?  Great!  That’s still probably close to a dozen more than are necessary.

Democrats flush with a new House majority after nearly a decade in the minority are sending over a rash of bills most political watchers believe have little chance of passing the Senate, such as universal background checks for gun purchases, net neutrality, climate change, congressional ethics, expanding voter access, raising the minimum wage and more.  ((“a rash of bills,” or “a lot of rash bills?  — Jemison))

The Senate was designed to be a speed brake on ill-considered legislation (of which there appears to be a considerable amount of late). Congress should be judged by the wisdom of its output, not its quantity.  So here’s an agenda I’d offer Congress:

  1. Pass next year’s Federal Budget BEFORE the end of the current fiscal year for once
  2. Repeal the 16th Amendment, abolish the IRS and institute a national sales tax
  3. Confirm or reject whatever nominees remain before the Senate
  4. Go home and let the American people live their lives for the next year.
  5. Repeat #1, #3 and #4 annually

Who’s with me?

For those with ears to hear

I was impressed by President Trump’s State of the Union address.  It was one of his better public speaking performances, and whoever helped him craft the remarks instilled some great message discipline.  The speech covered a wide range of topics, some of which I thought could have been left for a different venue in order to tighten up the key points.  But those key points shone through, as this analysis by Glenn Reynolds shows:

So one of the interesting things about Trump’s speech last night is how it seemed calculated to demolish all the standard anti-Trump tropes from the media and from the left and to do so with compelling imagery. Consider:

Trump’s a Nazi: Praise for Holocaust survivors, and a touching rendition of “Happy Birthday.” (With Trump waving his fingers like a conductor).
Trump hates minorities: Brags about record low black, Hispanic, and Asian unemployment — while white-clad Democratic women, overwhelmingly white themselves, sat prune-faced.
Trump’s a Russian tool: Withdrawing from the INF Treaty.
Trump’s a warmonger: Without me, Trump says, we’d be at war on the Korean peninsula. Also, I’m looking at pulling out of Afghanistan.
Trump hates women: Except he got even the prune-faced white-clad Democratic women up dancing (and chanting “USA! USA!”) when he talked about record female employment in and out of Congress.

And his rebuke to socialism was designed to strip the glamour that the media have tried to imbue it with by tying it to the abject misery of Venezuela.

In debate, I think this is called cutting across your opponent’s flow. ((As a former competitive debater, I can confirm that term.  – Jemison))  And I think it’s Trump’s opening shot at 2020, as well as an effort to undercut the “Resistance” in and out of Congress. Plus, as Ann Althouse notes, despite the predictions of lefties like Robert Reich (see below) it was all wrapped in optimism and sunny American exceptionalism.

Genuinely Reaganesque.

There’s one Reynolds missed.  While I’m not in favor of the government providing taxpayer-funded family leave after the birth of a child, I was very glad to see him pivot from the “image of a mother holding her new baby” to the horrors of the recent pro-abortion legislation in New York and Virginia.  The contrast was deliberate and well-executed, followed by a call to Congress to outlaw late-term abortion (it’s a start).

Overall I was encouraged by the way in which the speech was an invitation to work together for the good of the country, without retreating from strongly held policy positions.  If the goal in politics is to capture the middle ground, I think Trump did a good job of it last night.

Naturally, many in the country today are dismissing everything he had to say.  Some, like Senator Chuck Schumer, were dismissing it even before hearing it.  No matter how reasonable Trump tries to be, nor how many facts he arms his talking points with, there will continue to be those partisans who refuse to listen.  Not only because they are invested in the Democratic party, but because they abhor the vision of America Trump’s election represents — a return to the roots, if you will.  The most “Reaganesque” moment of the speech in my opinion was when Trump pledged our nation would never be a socialist country.  The fact there were audible boos in the halls of Congress to this rejection of socialism should be a wakeup call to Americans who value their freedom.  It is not hyperbole to say there are members of Congress dedicated to subverting everything our Constitution and our history stand for.  They will not be swayed by reasonable arguments, demonstrable facts or the evidences of history.  They will have to be fought tooth and nail as if the survival of our nation depends on it.

Because it does.

TSA Shutdown? Yes, please

Regular readers of this blog know that I absolutely loathe the Transportation Security Administration. It’s a monstrous, unconstitutional abomination that should not exist in any society that considers itself “free.” What’s more, it is demonstratively unable to meet its primary purpose: detecting and intercepting potential threats to travelers.  Perhaps the ongoing “shutdown” of the Feral Government will give Americans — and the TSA Employees themselves — a chance to rethink how ‘essential’ this function really is:.

Nobody wants to work for an employer who holds off on cutting paychecks until a more convenient moment, and that’s just what the federal government is doing during its “shutdown”—a spectacle that almost seems crafted to demonstrate how easy it is to live without the leviathan in Washington, D.C.

Understandably, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are no more enthusiastic about working when their paychecks are delayed than is anybody else on the planet. That’s why they’ve been calling-in sick in increased numbers—some to seek temporary work elsewhere in order to pay their bills—as the more-theater-than-reality “government shutdown” drags on.

Not that there’s any point to all of that [TSA] groping beyond the purely recreational aspect. Undercover investigators were able to smuggle weapons and explosives past TSA agents 95 percent of the time, according to a 2015 Homeland Security Investigator General report. Maybe that’s because agents are relying on dowsing rods or Spidey sense—they’re certainly not depending on the expensive equipment they make travelers and baggage file through.

“Because TSA does not adequately oversee equipment maintenance, it cannot be assured that routine preventive maintenance is performed or that equipment is repaired and ready for operational use,” The Inspector General office also noted.

“Security theater” is what security expert Bruce Schneier, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, calls most of what the TSA does. They’re “measures that make us feel safer without improving security… I’ve repeatedly said that the two things that have made flying safer since 9/11 are reinforcing the cockpit doors and persuading passengers that they need to fight back. Everything beyond that isn’t worth it.”

But, isn’t this an opportunity for us all? Given that the world is a better place when TSA employees and other government minions don’t do their jobs, and some are already seeking alternative employment, what a great opportunity to shut down their agencies, shrink the government, and make everybody’s lives a little better!

If it isn’t worth it, why pay for it?

Especially when the cost is measured in civil liberty as much as it is in dollars. It’s long past time we reevaluate just how “essential” large parts of the Feral Government really are. We pay for more government than we should want, and yet get less return on those payments than we need.  As for the “shutdown,” let’s keep a little perspective:

shutddown

The true fault line

Our political differences as a nation are not defined by a simple Republican-Democrat binary choice.  The real issue is whether the Constitution means what it says regardless what year it is, or whether is can be folded, spindled and mutilated by every generation’s interpretation of the day.  It should not come down to the viewpoints of nine unelected people to determine how our future unfolds.  But since that’s the reality of how our system now works, selecting the right people for that job is paramount:

If you think things are bad now, just wait a bit. It’s about to get worse, much worse.
A war is coming over the Constitution between those who would defend it and those who find it a nuisance. …

To Brett Kavanaugh’s foes, the Constitution stands in the way of grand designs they have for the federal government and your lives.

They want to control things in your lives — your healthcare, your lightbulbs, your land, your neighborhood, your dishwasher, your electric bill, your employer. That’s why a wartime coalition of Leftist interest groups have mobilized to battle over the future of the Constitution.

Kavanaugh’s foes want the Constitution to mean whatever suits their transformative agenda. Kavanaugh believes the Constitution means what it said when it was written. That it was written in 1787 doesn’t trouble him at all. …

The coming fight over Brett Kavanaugh will feature two sides with almost nothing left in common. Sure, we live in proximity to each other. But one side defends the Constitution and the other side will stop at nothing to replace it.

One side believes words have specific, objective meanings that transcend fads.  They are consistent, predictable and stand the test of time.  The other subverts words to suit their agenda and will even quibble over the definition of “is.”  Who would you rather have governing you?

Why ‘progressivism’ is regressive

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge provided a keystone speech.  He was known as a man of few words,* but the occasion of our nation’s birthday inspired him to pay homage to those who had gone before.  The entire address is worth your time, but this excerpt in particular speaks to today:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter.

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.  

Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.     ((Emphasis added)) 

For most of human history, despots and absolute rulers held life-and-death sway over their people, who had little control over their own lives.  When America is referred to as ‘exceptional’ it is in that context, rather than in comparison with contemporary nations (although it often applies there, too).  The Founding generation carefully distilled centuries of human experience into a philosophy of governance that managed to be both idealistic and pragmatic at the same time.  They recognized the dignity of the individual as a creation of God, yet also allowed for the fact we are fallen in nature and prone to abuse our authorities.  As James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution put it:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Those who want a ‘living Constitution’ they can warp to the whims of the times forget how carefully its systems of checks and balances was forged.  The chains they placed on Leviathan have been weakened over the generations by tinkerers and would-be tyrants.  The recycling of old ideas as “new” has not improved our charter, for truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  Rather, it’s demonstrated the wisdom and foresight of those who crafted it.  As the title quote for this blog suggests, we are on a wrong road.  To truly be ‘progressive,’ we need to turn back and get onto the right road.

(*) A female visitor to the White House once approached Coolidge to inform him she’d made a wager she could get him to say more than two words.  “You lose,” was Coolidge’s reply.