Archive for November, 2008

They Told Me If I Voted for McCain…

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

A now four-decade-old piece of political wit reminds us that Conservatives were told in 1964 that if they voted for Senator Barry Goldwater (running against President Lyndon Johnson), the US would be bombing Vietnam within a year. Darn it, if the warnings weren’t right. Conservatives voted for Barry Goldwater and the US was bombing Vietnam within a year. With a similar tongue planted firmly in cheek, we can amuse ourselves with President-elect Barack Obama’s recent choices and actions.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would retain President Bush’s Secretary of Defense and pursue a policy of gradually turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqis rather than implementing a quick withdrawal. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain and Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense pursing precisely the deliberate strategy of yielding responsibilities to the Iraqis as they are able. Given the recent status of forces agreement with Iraq, Obama will be following Bush’s withdrawal schedule.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would continue to have a hard-nosed woman leading the State Department who supported the Iraq War when it was initiated. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain and Hillary Clinton will be the Secretary of Defense.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would we have free-trading-believing financial-world insiders leading the country’s economic team. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain and Timothy Geithner, President of the New York  Federal Reserve who was instrumental in the bailouts of Bear Sterns and AIG, will be the new Treasury Secretary.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would keep President Bush’s tax cuts. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain and the Obama Administration will keep the Bush tax cuts for at least a little while longer.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would maintain an aggressive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to track terrorist plotting against the United States. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain and to the chagrin of the hard Left, Obama, whether out of political conviction or convenience, supported a FISA bill rejected by Congressional Democrats.

They told me if I voted for Senator John McCain, we would nominate an Attorney General who believes that the Geneva Accords do not apply to those detained at Guantanamo.  Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain, and Eric Holder, the likely attorney general, believes those held at Guantanamo are “not prisoners of war” and are thus not entitled to Geneva Accords prisoner status.

They told me if I voted for Senator McCain, we would have a third Bush term. Darn it, if they weren’t right. I voted for McCain, and we are in many ways following a Bush economic and foreign policy strategy.

Gasoline Stimulus Package

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Our government is now considering the possibility of a stimulus package to prop up the staggering economy and how big this package should be. Whatever the ultimate wisdom of such an idea, it seems that the recent precipitous drop in gasoline prices alone is providing some measure of stimulus. Focus for an instant on gasoline alone and neglect the savings in fuel oil and the propagation of the reduction of the price of oil through the economy. Any savings from lower costs for fuels other than gasoline will only add to the total we compute below.

According the the Energy Information Administration in 2007, the US consumed gasoline at the rate of 18,457 thousand barrels per day (or 18,457 million barrels per day). Integrated over a year, this amounts to about 6.7 billion barrels. One barrel of gasoline is about 31 gallons. Hence over the course of a year, Americans drive through 209 billion gallons. Gasoline has plummeted  from $4 a gallon to about $2. As a consequence, Americans will save over $400 billion from what they would have paid for  gas.

Last year the government attempted a stimulus package returning $300 to $1200 per taxpayer yielding a $168 billion in stimulus. This provides a way a scaling the stimulus we are receiving from decreased gas prices. Is this stimulus enough? We do not pretend to know here, but we are already stimulating at four times the rate we did earlier in the year.

Moderate Choices So Far – Save One

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Since President-elect Barack Obama has only reached the collective national consciousness over the last few years, it was very possible for people to project on the attractive politician the qualities they would want in a leader. Many believe he will moderate the highly-partisan and far-Left Congressional leaders Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and US Senate Leader Harry Reid. Given Obama’s history in Chicago and his voting record in the Illinois State Senate and US Senate, there was no reason to believe he holds moderate political views. It is not likely that he is a closet moderate. However, it might the case he has few political convictions and simply angles for current political advantage. In any case, Obama appears to making some wise selections and at least one foolish appointment to his cabinet.

At this point, it appears as though Obama will allow Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue on in the new Administration. Gates is not a highly political person. Since he replaced former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gates has managed to turn the Iraq War around while not unnecessarily antagonizing Democrats in Congress.  Iraq is looking more and more like a success. The steady reduction in the number of causalities and turn over of security responsibilities to the Iraqis will diminish Iraq as an issue. The re-appointment of Gates will protect Obama on the political Right and the angry Left will be forced to endure a quiet American success rather than a loud American defeat. Unless Obama terribly misjudges, Iraq will not become a Vietnam.

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is also an astute choice. Senator Clinton would have been the only other independent power base in the Democratic Party that could challenge Obama. She will now be incorporated in his Administration. Her political fortunes are now linked to his. As Secretary of State, she would be co-oped politically without being so close to the White House as to cause mischief. Although Clinton is not particularly moderate, she projected moderation and maturity in her foreign policy positions when running for president. I suppose to be safe, a President Obama could always arrange for those 3 a.m. phone calls to be re-directed to Clinton who claimed to be ready to receive to them.

The real disappointment thus far is the apparent selection of Eric Holder for Attorney General. Successful Attorney Generals have been both competent and apolitical. Holder is too much of a partisan to be an effective AG. Ironically, he got his start when appointed as a judge of the Superior Court of the Districit of Columbia by Ronald Reagan. Yet he has not showed the moral stature to stand up to power at personal cost in the name of justice. During the last moments of the Clinton Administration, Holder ushered through a large number of controversial pardons, including the corrupt pardon of Marc Rich, that by-passed the traditional Justice Department process. It was certainly within the authority of the President to issue pardons, but that does not obligate the Justice Department to bless them. Holder has his moment to demonstrate a profile in courage and he failed. Even the Liberal editorial board of the LA Times opined, “…the wisest course for Barack Obama would be to choose an eminent lawyer who shares the administration’s legal philosophy but can’t be caricatured as a presidential insider. For all of his impressive qualities, former Deputy Attorney. General Eric H. Holder Jr. doesn’t fit that description.”

In 1999,  Hillary Clinton was seeking the New York Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. According the National Review, “over the objections of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and prosecuting attorneys, Holder supported Clinton’s commutation of the sentences of 16 FALN conspirators.” The pardon were so unwarranted and so conspicuously political that in a bi-partisan fashion the Senate condemned the action 95-2 followed by the House 311-41. Holder demonstrated far more partisanship than the Senate and the House could muster, a high bar to overcome.

Even on the merits of the law, Holder has found himself conspicuously out of the mainstream. The US Supreme Court recently ruled in the District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment right to keep an bear arms is an “individual” rather than collective right. Even Obama himself conceded as much. However, Holder voluntarily joined in an amicus curiae brief arguing the exact opposite. If he had been AG when the Heller case came up, he probably would not have pursued it to the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment would be at greater risk.

Obama will make more decisions in the days to come, and perhaps some of the people who are now whispered choices will be disappointed.  With each choice Obama will define his presidency and so far the choices have been, with the exception of Holder, moderate and largely conventional.

It’s Over?

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Whatever the particular details around the “Mission Accomplished” sign prominently above President George W. Bush’s head when he spoke on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it returned from Iraq in 2003, all have been appropriate chastened against declaring victory in Iraq prematurely. Hence, it is with a “knock-on-wood” attitude that we have observed the steadily declining death toll among Americans and Iraqis. Indeed, from month-to-month, the number of American killed from hostile actions is very close to the number dying from non-hostile causes, ranging from illnesses to automobile. The reduction in violence is even more evident in the number of wounded which show the downward trends with less statistical fluctuation.

Is it time to declare victory? Former Green Beret, Michael Yon, an embedded independent journalist in Iraq who has often been critical of US strategy has concluded as much. He wrote in July of this year, “The war in Iraq is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.” More specifically, “A counterinsurgency is won when the government’s legitimacy is no longer threatened by the insurgents, the government is able to protect its own people and the people are participating in the government. In Iraq, all three conditions apply.”

Since July, the low death tolls are continuing their decline. This is not to say that peace is not fragile, or that  any peace can not devolve over time to war. However, victory is at hand and none too soon. If Senator Barack Obama had been president two years ago, the US would have withdrawn already, without implementing the successful surge strategy. Iraq would have been a strategic and moral defeat that would destabilized the Middle East and augmented the influence of radical Islamists, particularly in Iran.

President Obama has two choices: precipitous withdrawal endangering the present increase instability, or slowly pull out troops as the Iraqis standup. The latter policy will irritate the far Left who have counted on defeat in Iraq, but so long as the death tolls recede there will be no strong political incentive to risk defeat. Given the present situation and the long term improvement in Iraq, any Obama policy that increases military instability in Iraq now will be all to easy to blame on Obama. He is too smart to take that risk. The biggest foreign policy risk of a John Kerry presidency  in 2004 will not be a similar risk in the Obama presidency.

The Dangers of Judicial Activism

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Whenever a court over rules a law, it is, by definition, in conflict with the democratic decision of the people. We, however,  wisely give courts the authority to interpret between laws that are in conflict and to hold us collectively to state or the federal constitutions, laws we democratically agreed would be supreme law.

The courts have  a prudential obligation to exercise this authority sparingly lest they diminish the moral authority of judicial system and decrease the ability of courts to exercise such authority in crucial cases. When overturning long-held societal conventions, courts must be able to point to a clear constitutional mandate. If courts are perceived to be acting politically rather than under legal authority, they distort the balance between the legislative and judicial processes.

The courts were correctly used to overturn racial discrimination when practiced by state or federal governments in the twentieth century, but it took federal law, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to eliminate any legal sanction for racial discrimination. The endorsement by a popularly-elected legislature completed the process.

By contrast, the clearest recent example of the overstepping of judicial authority was the Roe v. Wade decision which concluded from ambiguous and dubious constitutional jurisprudence that states essentially have no right to regulate abortion in at least the first trimester. If there were clear rather than convoluted authority to support the decision, it would have been easier to reconcile it with popular opinion.

At the time of the decision in 1973, abortion was still prohibited in many states, but legal in quite a few others. The country was coming to grips with how it wished to deal with issue. If the courts had declined to preempt the political process, we would now probably have a web of diverse laws from state to state, some more liberal some less so on abortion. Some states would be more rigorous about parental notification and about waiting periods. It would have been far easier to experiment with the different approaches from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

These political decisions would have carried the moral authority of the majority and resulted far less rancor. If mistakes were made, they could more easily been undone. Instead, we have a divisive issue that has made the appointment of each new Supreme Court justice an acrimonious affair and has distorted jurisprudence in other, particularly free speech, cases.

You might think that the courts would have learned their lesson in dealing with these  highly-charged social issues, but in 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that the Massachusetts Constitution required that the state offer same-sex marriages. This decision survived in Massachusetts and indeed in a 4-3 decision the Connecticut Supreme Court forced that state to recognize gay marriages.

The consequence of such judicial meddling is that across the country states are passing laws directly preventing same-sex marriages. Despite the rather overwhelming Democratic national victories last Tuesday, the issue of gay marriage failed miserably at the polls. After a California Supreme Court decision compelling the state to recognize gay marriages, Proposition 8 passed with 52% in California vastly out performing presidential candidate, Senator McCain who managed only 37% of the vote. The Proposition 8 decision was a particularly dramatic vote, because it imposed a state constitutional amendment to tie the hands of the California Supreme Court. It is not politically healthy to have people overturn a court decision by referendum, but this is what happens when decisions are removed from the legislature where they are more properly decided.

Other states followed California’s example. Arizona and Florida passed anti-gay marriage propositions, also out polling Senator McCain in those jurisdictions. Arkansans voted for an act to prohibit non-married couples from adopting children and becoming foster parents;  an act largely directed at same-sex partners.

Given expected changes in the national culture including relentless promotion of a pro-gay rights agenda in the national media, it is reasonable to expect that some states will vote to recognize gay unions in some form. The most likely is some civil union arrangement that provides for simple inheritance and other financial rules that mirror some marriage protections. These will be instituted in fits and starts using different models as different jurisdictions find ways  to deal with the issue.

There is no reasonable construction of most state constitutions and the national constitution which compels acceptance of same-sex marriages. The more courts attempt to force the issue the more likely there will be political blow back that will undermine the authority of the courts, increase the political acrimony, and extend the time before which some reasonable and widely popular resolution of the issue is accepted.

Congratulations to President-Elect Obama

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

It is now the appropriate time to congratulate President-Elect Barack Obama. Although we find here his policies to be in severe error and in many ways a threat to liberty, his election brings an important salutatory result. With the election of an African-American president, we have erased one more vestige of a sometimes ugly past that included slavery, Jim Crow laws, and all manner of discrimination against black Americans. The legal discriminatory restrictions passed decades ago, but this election provides evidence that Americans now generally see beyond color. Given the historic nature of this election, race has played a thankfully small role.

Conservatives now should regroup and re-articulate our vision of freedom and stand up to those who would trade freedom for security. We should, at all costs, avoid an Obama version of “Bush Derangement Syndrome” that polluted politics for the last eight years.