Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Word to the Wise

As Republicans sharpen their knives for what looks to be an early Thanksgiving feast on November 2nd, they would be wise to heed a lesson from an unlikely mentor – Barack Obama. When the jubilations subside and the ticker-tape has been carted-out to recycling, Republicans must be prepared to offer America the leadership the country demands.

After having been banished to the wilderness only two years ago, the Republicans will indubitably be crowned victors in two days. However, a resurgent GOP, led by the pugnacious Tea Party, runs the risk of blinding itself with hubris if it fails to correctly interpret its win. Like Icarus and Obama, they may find themselves quickly plunging back to earth – setting the stage for dismal failure in 2012.

The risk that faces the GOP is the same miscalculation that the Obama administration made in 2009. Coming off an astounding victory, Obama misinterpreted his win as a mandate to lead America down a radically new and audacious path. America, he thought, had voted for him and for his new ideas. But the truth was much different and, after two painful years, reality has become palpable to the administration. In late 2008, America, blinded by Obama’s charisma and the amorphous promise of change, voted, not for Obama’s policies, but against George W. Bush.

The same story line applies to the upcoming election. America, after realizing that the administration was not the anticipated godsend, has increasingly become frustrated with the Democrats. As the party of “no,” the GOP has been able to hasten the administration’s decline; however, it has not endeared itself to the American public. Its anger and obstinacy, however justified, have not offered America the answers it has been demanding. Tuesday will be a vote against Obama and the Congressional Democrats, but not one for the Republicans.

The GOP needs to use the pending electoral win to show America that they can offer sound, thoughtful, and practical solutions to the nation’s problems. If they misinterpret the electoral results as a vote for the GOP, they will replicate the mistakes of the Democrats and fail to provide America with the leadership it wants. History will repeat itself and in two short years, the Republicans will find themselves on the receiving end of an angry and disappointed America, with a reinvigorated Obama celebrating another four years in the White House.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Mob

An atrocious display of mob mentality occured at the final Rand Paul-Jack Conway U.S. Senate debate, when supporters of Republican candidate Rand Paul brutually attacked a protesting Conway supporter from  Such tyrannical behavior is unacceptable, without exception.  Disputes should be settled with words, not fists; this is something that was supposedly taught in the first grade.  Thankfully, the Paul team has immediately condemned the act with unambiguous language.
The Paul for Senate campaign is extremely disappointed in, and condemns the actions of a supporter last night outside the KET debate. Whatever the perceived provocation, any level of aggression or violence is deplorable, and will not be tolerated by our campaign. The Paul campaign has disassociated itself from the volunteer who took part in this incident, and once again urges all activists -- on both sides -- to remember that their political passions should never manifest themselves in physical altercations of any kind.

The Tea Party Enemy

In today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen analyzed the ephemeral nature of the Tea Party.  He correctly points that this leaderless movement is a major threat to Obama, but he stops just short of making the necessary conclusion.  With parallels being made to Afghanistan, Cohen writes, "Obama is stuck in the classic dilemma of asymmetrical warfare: Who and where is the enemy?"

Cohen leaves this question hanging, going on to discuss the desire for change and raw emotion that are prevalent in the movement, concluding that, as ANR has argued before, there is much room and need to channel this into productive forums.  However, the answer to this question - and what lies at the root of Obama's problems - is that this "enemy" is America.  Whether individuals are members of the Tea Party or avoid it (possibly due to its heightened emotion) there is large agreement, across America, that the administration is out of touch with the needs of the country.  Charlie Cook, cited in another Washington Post editorial, sums it up nicely. "[Some leaders] are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don't get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life."  Maybe Obama should stop fighting this specter of an enemy and listen to the desires of America.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Juan and Done: Political Correctness Gone Too Far

Juan Williams’s recent termination from NPR provides yet another stark example of a hostile and intolerant political correctness. The left-of center NPR, after seemingly receiving pressure from a number of sources, fired Williams after he made comments regarding his personal reaction to certain Muslims on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor.

Williams, who is also an analyst at Fox News, was challenging O’Reilly on associating terrorists with Muslims, stated, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Putting aside the specific discussion of Islam and terrorism, there is a profound irony that Williams was terminated in the name of political correctness, precisely for an astute criticism of the horrid practice. In his discussion with O’Reilly, the first point that Williams made was that “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”

This philosophy is unerringly correct. Faced by pressures from left-wing relativists and, in this instance, Muslim interest groups, America has been confined to speak only in narrow platitudes and “tolerant” talking-points. Deviations, whether right or wrong, are inexcusable. But, as Williams so eloquently concluded, this creates reality-distorting paralyses, where real issues cannot be discussed in any serious fashion. This banality not only handicaps America, but it is representative of a growing illiberal intolerance.

The illiberality of this type of political correctness is relatively clear. While NPR is correct to argue that “[Juan] does not have a First Amendment right to be paid by NPR for saying whatever he wants,” this fact ignores the underlying need for free speech and free press. NPR does not have any obligation to keep Williams on, but if they are committed to being a relevant source for honest news, they are foolish to silence legitimate, mainstream discussions for fear of offending those who would rather not talk about difficult issues.

This tacit illiberality is precisely why political correctness is such a handicap. Real dialogue is indispensable to the functioning of any democracy and essential for the successful handling of innumerable issues. However, it cannot progress when stifled by the heavy hand of political correctness. Williams’s fear, again regardless of whether right or wrong, is one that is shared by millions of Americans. And while, for the sake of the argument we will postpone the discussion of whether this fear is justified, there clearly are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Precisely because it is real for some many Americans, open discourse is necessary to address this trepidation – whether to assuage misguided fears or correct the circumstances that give rise to prudent concerns.

Williams’s honesty was exemplary of this type of dialogue. He was expressing a fact, not an opinion about what he felt (not a fact about Muslims being or not being a security threat). He was being honest and open. Furthermore, far from providing an opinion that such a sentiment was right, Williams was essentially offering a sort of confessional. He put forward, despite his belief that Muslims should not be categorically linked with terrorism, that he still felt something visceral.

More open dialogue of this sort is needed. By attempting to stifle Williams, NPR has contributed to a declining failure of American leaders and journalism in providing open forums for discussion about meaningful, but sensitive, topics. America’s progress will come to a crashing halt if prohibitions are continuously placed on this sort of dialogue.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On the Tea Party and Academia

In today's Wall Street Journal, the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz wrote a profound piece regarding the prominent misunderstanding of the Tea Party.  While there are many problems with the Tea Party, the fundamentals of the movement are sound.  One of the issues, as Berkowitz alludes to, is that "the tea party sports its share of clowns, kooks and creeps. And some of its favored candidates and loudest voices have made embarrassing statements and embraced reckless policies."  These individuals have become an easy target for ridicule and disregard from the Left and have prevented rational conservatives from fully endorsing the movement.

This is a shame because the principles of the Tea Party are extremely valid and worthwhile.  The concepts of limited government and individual liberty are founding tenets of the American system which have, unfortunately, been slowly eroded over the years.  The recognition of this problem and the desire to prevent the future degradation of this arrangement are these most valuable parts of the movement.

The genesis of this erosion is, however, the real issue to which Berkowitz points.  He correctly elucidates the failure of academia to instruct its students in the basic concepts of the American system.  He writes:
For the better part of two generations, the best political science departments have concentrated on equipping students with skills for performing empirical research and teaching mathematical models that purport to describe political affairs. Meanwhile, leading history departments have emphasized social history and issues of race, class and gender at the expense of constitutional history, diplomatic history and military history.
Neither professors of political science nor of history have made a priority of instructing students in the founding principles of American constitutional government. Nor have they taught about the contest between the progressive vision and the conservative vision that has characterized American politics since Woodrow Wilson (then a political scientist at Princeton) helped launch the progressive movement in the late 19th century by arguing that the Constitution had become obsolete and hindered democratic reform.
Then there are the proliferating classes in practical ethics and moral reasoning. These expose students to hypothetical conundrums involving individuals in surreal circumstances suddenly facing life and death decisions, or present contentious public policy questions and explore the range of respectable progressive opinions for resolving them. Such exercises may sharpen students' ability to argue. They do little to teach about self-government.
Unfortunately, Berkowitz's analysis is all too correct.  The fundamental principles and ideals of political science are essentially ignored throughout the country's educational system.  Students spend more time analyzing revisionist history through modern progressive lenses than scrutinizing the development and interactions of foundational theories that have made America what it is today.

This is the root cause not only of America's wayward drift but the intense emotionalism of the Tea Party.  While many Tea Partiers viscerally understand the deterioration of the country, the deleterious anger and emotion have crowded out the focus on principles that is sorely needed.  Blame for this failure does not solely rest on the shoulders of the Tea Party, but rather on the demagogues who, in their quest for political power, drown out the intellectual voices of reason with the war drums of acrimony.  There are few leaders who have the desire or ability to push the Tea Party into a rational and productive direction.

What America and the Tea Party need are individuals who can guide the warranted, but unproductive, ire into constructive channels.  If academia continues to propagate failed leaders, other avenues should be taken to generate intellectuals schooled in the full history of America.  What is important, though, is not the means of reviving these ideas, but the end of having political and thought leaders who can cogently adduce the principles necessary to keep America on the right path.  The Tea Party's real worth will be shown if it can generate this revival.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Obama the Desperate

The growing fear in the White House is palpable. As Election Day and the looming Democratic defeat inch closer, the administration’s political tactics smack of a growing desperation to derail the Republicans at any cost. The most recent and unbecoming attacks have been unleashed by Obama upon the US Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, these misguided strategies not only put on raw display the administration’s weaknesses and failures, but will drive an already skeptical America further from the Democrats.

The latest issue began after a liberal think tank released an unsubstantiated report alleging that the US Chamber of Commerce has used foreign funds for political advertisements. President Obama quickly jumped on the bandwagon, seemingly hoping to link these supposed shady foreign dealings with Republican candidates who are often supported by the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber of Commerce was quick to respond; denying any involvement in what is an illegal practice and emphasizing that there is no reason, outside of slanderous politics, for anyone to raise the generally institution’s funding practices. In a letter, Chamber President Tom Donohue wrote:

Let me be clear. The Chamber does not use any foreign money to fund voter education activities—period. We have strict financial controls in place to ensure this.... Under our accounting system, these revenues are never used to support any political activities. We are in full compliance with all laws and regulations.
Given these facts, the administration and Congressional leaders who attacked the Chamber have been challenged by journalists to produce any evidence to the contrary. They came up empty and, turning the American principles of fairness and justice upside down, our accusers have actually suggested that the Chamber should prove that it has not done anything wrong.
However, despite lack of any evidence and criticism by much of the press, the Democrats have been unwilling to back down. During recent questioning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to drop the ludicrous attack. He stated, “The president will continue to make the case that we don't know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas.”

Tactics to distract voters are often used by both political parties. When the issues do not look favorable for the party in power, it can be politically expedient to draw voters’ attentions elsewhere. However, in general, there should be at least a kernel of truth in the diversionary issue. In this instance, this appears to be lacking. By randomly targeting an organization, based on nothing but partisan differences, the administration is acting childish. If Democrats and Republicans were to consistently use this strategy, accusing every union, business group, lobby, or other partisan organization of unproven crimes, it would clog public discourse with frivolous babble. It is one thing to raise issues – say Christine O’Donnell’s witchiness – that, even if inane, are at least based in facts; it is quite another to harass organizations simply to divert voter attention.

This makes it all the more embarrassing for the president to mire himself in such puerile politicking. Such mudslinging should be left to loosely associated lackeys and radio talk show hosts, not the president himself. The fact that Obama feels the need to partake in this faux battle reveals a deep fear of November 2nd and a determination to avoid the anticipated outcome by any means. It puts on clear display the reality that the administration does not have the self-confidence to support fellow Democrats with its record or its policy proposals. It shows Obama understands that his policies have failed America. After all, if he believed America has been happy with his administration he would campaign on his successes, not pie-in-the-sky accusations.

However, it is unlikely that smear tactics will sway an unhappy electorate. America who, driven by a poor economy, distaste with the administration’s hubris, and general opprobrium with the Democrats’ inability to successfully run the country, will most certainly see through the ploy to distract voters. But more significantly, Americans will be angered by the performance. Generally speaking, they do not want their president to stoop to this level. The office should be above this type of low-brow partisan behavior and by dragging it in the mud Obama will hurt his image.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Obama’s strategy will surely backfire and reinforce his detached image. It will further convince America that the administration is devoid of practical and acceptable ideas and it will solidify the past two years as a time of wasteful government growth and backward policies. Elections should be about ideas and policies, not mudslinging. And while both parties often fail at this, Obama’s current inability to focus on real issues and a growing strategy of smearing the Republicans only signifies that he and his party are in big trouble.

Friday, October 8, 2010

D'Souza on Obama

Dinesh D'Souza wrote a very interesting article in today's Washington Post.  He agrues that Obama is a classical anti-colonist who gets his ideas directly from his father, a man who once called for complete socialism (and a 100% tax rate) in Kenya.  His argument, that Obama focuses not on poverty and equality but upon "the rich, whom he accuses of not paying their 'fair share,'" has a ring of truth to it.  Obama certainly spends a lot of time stoking the populist flame by portraying the "rich" and "Wall Street" as greedy.  D'Souza's article certainly raises a new and interesting argument regarding this side of the President.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Conservative Purity Test

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has performed yet another analysis of the so-called conservative purity test - the call by the supposedly "pure" members of the GOP to purge the RINOs.  Unsurprisingly, a high number of historical giants within the Republican Party failed to pass muster - including both Bob Dole and Gerald Ford.  Why is it that so many insist on purging the moderate and "liberal" Republicans from the ranks of the GOP?  Isn't the goal of a political party, particularly in a two-party system, to expand the tent to include as many allies as possible?  Even if one disagrees with a liberal Republican, it is likely that there is more ground for agreement with them than a Democrat.  Driving them from the party helps no one but the other side.  If the conservative members of the GOP really want a more pure (whatever that means) party, they're better off trying to convince these "tainted" Republicans of the rightness (pun intended) of the conservative viewpoint, thus keeping them in the fold.  After all, while ideology is important, in a democracy, numbers matter too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Union of Selfishness

The teachers’ unions are once again on the defensive, following the recent release of the much lauded movie, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” The film, made by the same people that created “An Inconvenient Truth,” has fomented a surge of discussion on the woes of the American education system and, in particular, the dastardly effects of teachers’ unions.

The documentary highlights Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, as a paragon of what is right in education reform. Rhee, who recently sat down with The Washington Post for an interview, underscores human capital as the number one issue facing the system. In particular, she emphasizes teacher evaluations, pay-for-performance metrics, and tools to attract competent principals as key factors in improving underperforming schools.

Rhee could not be more correct in focusing on what are essentially competitive, free-market solutions to education’s woes. Unfortunately, as America is starting to realize, the teachers’ unions are standing in the way of the reform needed to help the country’s children. This battle has been all too clearly demonstrated in New Jersey, where the endearing Republican Governor, Chris Christie, has taken on the egocentric teachers’ union, heaping much deserved shame upon them for their inordinate selfishness. In a rousing speech (see video below), Christie bluntly countered the all-too-common argument that the unions add any value to society. The interest of the unions is not that of the teachers, who as he admits are mostly well intentioned, and certainly not that of the students, but solely of the union as a vested interest. Christie has continued his campaign against the obdurate unions in a recent political speech in Iowa, where he mocked the unions for their power hungry nature.

The issue is systematic of the market distorting effects that unions – or any consolidated power – have in industry. They often are founded with the notion of protecting a specific marginalized group, but quickly devolve into powerful and obstinate special interests that rarely help those they purportedly represent and always disrupt the industry in which they operate. Unions played a significant role in destroying the Detroit auto industry and have continued to drag America’s education system through the mud.

The problem is that the teachers’ unions not only prevent the best teachers from being favorably compensated and encouraged to excel, but also protect those “teachers” who are utterly useless. The infamous “rubber rooms,” which have been eliminated in New York City largely in name only, are a prime example of the harmful effects of these unions. Likewise, unions are often opposed to such logical and widely accepted business models such as merit-based pay. As The Economist points out, the DC teachers’ union turned down an offer from Rhee to double teachers’ salaries if tenure was removed and merit-based pay instituted. How such a refusal by the union helps the teachers – particularly the good ones – is questionable, but the harm done to students is palpable. A mock discussion, articulated by Christie, between a child and a parent sums up the foolishness of the unions,

To believe that, this is what you have to believe: Let's say your son comes home and he says, "Mom, Dad, I can't study. I can't study, I can't work, my grades are suffering, because you know, Mrs. Smith, she's not getting her pay raises. And it gets worse," he said, feigning whines. "She actually has to pay 1.5 percent of her salary for health benefits. I cannot focus. I cannot focus with that knowledge. Mom, Dad, stop the madness. Give this woman her raise and her free health benefits and I'll get all A's."
Ultimately, it is the schools and the students – and hence America – that suffer. The backward, selfish, and short-sighted policies of the unions sap resources that could otherwise help students. Instead, these resources aid the institutional structure of the union and the worst-of-the-worst teachers. If America wants to continue its growth and not see our children and economy continue to fall behind those of China and India, it is time to break the stranglehold that these partisan interests have on our schools.

Is Obama an Idealist?

What is Obama's foreign policy?  The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt asks this in a recent editorial.  As Hiatt points out, Obama has recently increased his pro-democracy rhetoric; however this stands in contrast to Obama's historical approach to foreign policy.  After an early start of kowtowing to foreign powers, a refusal to work with the revolutionary movement against the Iranian regime, and an increase in relations with tyrannical regimes, it is surprising to see democracy promotion coming from the White House.  It seems unlikely this is the result of a hidden idealism, particularly in light of Obama's (inept) realist approach.  Unfortunately, it is most likely nothing more than empty rhetoric - a bone tossed to the democracy promoters in his base.