Dissents Of The Day

Several readers jump on this quote of mine:

“Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.” Perfectly happy? No. Accepting of reality? Trying to be.

There’s no new formula here. It’s just Machiavellian. Ask yourself: Why on earth would Hillary stake out a position in favor of some philosophy, doctrine, or model that she plans to sell us on?  One that already has its legions of paid detractors?  A nice, book-length box into which she can spend 8 years cramming the world?  Instead she takes on the unsexy and, obviously, less academically palatable task of judging the world as it is: a 3D chess game where the rules change constantly.

Labeling and categorizing reality based on something you read is just another ideology. I don’t think Hillary stands for “nothing” because she’s not into that game. I think she stands for enlightened self-interest, as expressed through a desire to see America win those games in which she chooses to engage, to the greater glory of, of course, herself.

The question should not be, “Is Hillary Clinton a moral leader?” The question should be, “Is Hillary Clinton America’s best bet to lead in a post-moral world?”

It’s not craven, cynical, or even strictly selfish of her.  It’s her acknowledgement that we live “after history.”  It’s intuitive, I think.  It’s that bedrock Clinton talent of fingering the wind.  Is she right?  She’s a better bet than Ted Cruz, or some other deluded hack.


While I’m personally horrified by the prospect of Hillary Clinton running for president, her policy vacuity may be the only thing I don’t hold against her. You write, “Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.”

In other news, the sun rises in the east and the sky is blue. Vacuous standard-bearer candidates are the norm, not the exception, in American history. And rightly so: Prior to WWII, the president had so little real power that his personality only mattered in the most unusual of crises. (Which is to say, Washington and Lincoln.) People usually voted the party, not the man. And since WWII, the executive branch has become so large that while the more powerful president’s personal gifts and faults matter more than formerly, the hundreds of appointed bureaucrats drawn from his party’s activists matter much more to most policy questions than does the president himself. Or herself. So people today should vote the party, not the man, and public opinion research suggests that in the main they do so.

Historically, a candidate who stands for something usually loses his party’s nomination to a candidate whose policy vacuity makes him an empty vessel for voters to fill with their own preferences. American parties usually nominate Zachary Taylor, not Henry Clay. “Availability” was once the polite term for the virtue of being a supposedly electable policy cipher. Abraham Lincoln was “available,” as were Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton. As were Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman when nominated for vice president.

In the modern era, only Goldwater, McGovern, and Reagan stand out as true policy candidates (Obama had much the effect of a policy candidate, but his stated policy disagreements with Hillary in 2007-08 were minuscule. Perhaps call Obama a “biography” candidate, alongside Kennedy.) All other major nominees were “available” – to the extent that they had any known strong policy commitments, they were nominated in spite of them, not because of them.

So, Hillary Clinton. Vacuous? Yes. Troublingly so? Not in the context of American politics and history.

The trick, ultimately, is not demanding that every presidential candidate be a policy genius. The trick is reducing the reach of executive authority so that the vacuous mediocrities we tend to elect can do less harm. If we had given George W. Bush the powers and duties held by Rutherford B. Hayes, the world would barely have noted his time in office.

Another piles one:

I was a very strong supporter of Obama from as soon as he gave that speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and now I’m perfectly happy with electing Hillary Clinton as a Democratic President who stands for nothing. Why?

Two reasons: first, because I just want Hillary to maintain what Obama has achieved. I don’t believe she could have passed the stimulus or the ACA or even Dodd Frank, but he did. Now she can keep the Republicans from dismantling those and flushing the country down the toilet like they did under the Bush administration. She also doesn’t need to stand for anything to elect liberal justices to the Supreme Court who will begin to undo the current court’s disastrous decisions on guns, corporate speech, and women’s rights. He didn’t get immigration reform or cap-and-trade, and neither will she against a group of Republican Know Nothings.

Which brings me the second reason I want her: the first female President will probably win big, and losing three (or four!) consecutive elections against rising demographic odds and twelve (or sixteen!) years of obstruction and no new ideas will eventually bring about the implosion of the current Republican party, which is focused only on taxes and abortion, and the recreation of a Republican party that can compromise again. Obama did the heavy lifting on the liberal agenda as much as can be done, and frankly I don’t want the Democrats to go all Elizabeth Warren off the deep end, with post office banks and $15 minimum wages. All I want is someone to put liberals on the Supreme Court and wait for the Republicans’ own bile to wear them down to nothing. And who better to do that than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

The real point of what I’m sure has been a flood of criticism should be this; don’t always conflate the unintended consequence with “misadventures in big government.”

I think many would argue that the mortgage industry worked remarkably well until recently. But then something seemed to happen. A round of deregulation coupled with record low prime lending rates. What wasn’t to like? New and innovative mortgage products and low monthly payments for everyone. And not a regulator in sight to sour the party atmosphere. So why is anyone surprised at the size of the hangover?

What galled me about the Jacoby column is that it attempted to lay the blame for the sub-prime mortgage mess at the feet of a program (Community Reinvestment Act of 1977) designed to redress a very specific issue of discrimination. We can all debate the program’s success, and whether Congress should have even been the vehicle to tackle “redlining.” But Jacoby, and by his quotation DiLorenzo, tried to link the current debacle to the CRA without even discussing simple things such as a correlating trend of increasing foreclosures. Go back to the Jacoby column for a moment. He mentions interest only loans as one of the risky mortgage products. I agree completely. But I know several realtors and until recently, say the 1999-2000 timeframe, they tell me that an interest only loan was a rarity. Now this is anecdotal information, but a more convincing argument would have addressed this issue with some backing statistics. And I did go look for DiLorenzo’s article about the CRA which provided more detail, but no statistics as backup that I could find.

What is ironic is that government does need to be watched. Unrestrained growth in government programs is dangerous, not to mention expensive. But you can’t expect to win these debates by latching onto something as unlikely as a direct link between the CRA and the current sub-prime meltdown.

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

If the Obama campaign is allowed to frame the Iraq debate about the initial decision to go to war, then the campaign never has to deal with what actually matters to U.S. security today — how best should the country handle the situation on the ground now?  Just as McCain should be forced to answer what are the consequences of a prolonged US presence in Iraq, Obama should be forced to answer what are the consequences of rapid withdrawal.  And both must justify to the public their rationale and forward planning well beyond "staying for 100 years" vs. "engage in regional diplomacy."

Let’s be clear-eyed about this, as opposed to merely rhetorical.  The multiple players with interests at stake in Iraq mean that, absent a either a US presence or a stable Iraqi governmental authority that is backed by force, whether American, UN, NATO or otherwise, Iraq is highly likely to descend into a much more fertile ground for a civil war pitting Sunni radical against both Sunni moderate and all Shia. How best would either candidate handle a situation whereby US departure equates to Al Qaeda in Iraq versus the nascent Iraqi government versus Iran versus Kurdistan versus Turkey versus, potentially, the Persian Gulf Sunni states with the most to lose from regional instability? (Kuwait, Saudi, UAE, and Oman). Obama was certainly right about the wrong decision to go to war. But that decision didn’t simply stop history, it created new realities in the region that actually do matter to US national security – both economic and political. My problem with Obama’s "Iraq policy" is that it appears to advocate rapid withdrawal without regard for the consequences. McCain, at the very least, has made the honest acknowledgement that there are consequences of both staying longer or withdrawing rapidly, and he’s made decision that staying longer carries less risk than hasty withdrawal.  McCain is at least attempting to focus the debate on where it should be – on what matters tomorrow.  How much longer will you keep letting Obama slide by taking credit only for his correct decision so many yesterdays ago?

Dissent Of The Day

One among many:

Come on.  She was acting as a public defender – a thankless, low paying job that’s absolutely essential for a free society.  Of course she’s going to impeach a witness – even a young one – in a trial that, if it was like most sex crime trials, was largely a "he said, she said" affair in which her client risked the absolute ruin of his life. I am a staunch Obama supporter, and generally think Hillary is a slimy, Rovean scumbag with no agenda other than her own power (today’s "traditional dress" photo saga has raised my blood pressure several points.)  There are, as you ably demonstrate, myriad proofs of this. The fact that she was once a public defender and therefore, gasp, defended someone, is not one of them.

Dissent Of The Day

For those interested in the history of British conservatism:

As a historian of Britain (specializing in the Whig party) I watched with interest the video you linked to (and praised) about the history of the Tory party.  Although an American who votes Democratic, if British I would almost certainly support the Tory party.  But this video is hardly what’s going to make me do it, for while a good amount of it is accurate and interesting, other bits are, to use a phrase, problematic.

First, Burke and Pitt both self-identified as Whigs and while most of Pitt’s followers became "Tories", the idea that Burke created the philosophical underpinnings of the Tory party grossly neglects the fact that his legacy is far more debatable than that.  You, for instance, have far more in common philosophically with Burke’s bete noir Thomas Paine and his emphasis on the equality of all men than you do with Burke’s single most important political importance–the necessity of a hereditary elite.

Second, Pitt, in addition to building up the military, also suspended Habeas Corpus, put people on trial for their political opinions (though unsuccessfully), passed a Seditious Meetings Act forbidding people to meet privately and peacefully if the government disapproved and took other steps that even his supporter the Times called "harsh measures against the liberties" of the subject.

Third, while the Duke of Wellington did help repeal the laws against Catholic participation in government, he fought so hard against every other political reform that fellow conservatives accused him of helping to increase the chance of a revolution.

Fourth, although Pitt was influenced by Smith and did lower some trade tariffs, he never pursued free trade as a system, passed other new tariffs, and his successors in what we will call here the Tory party passed the anti-free-trade laws, the corn duties, and drove Peel out of the party in an attempt to keep them at all costs. Peel’s free-trade supporters, like Gladstone, largely ended up opposing the Tories, and opposition to free trade is one of the things that drew Joseph Chamberlain, for instance, to the Tory party.

Fifth, while Baldwin (who, note, is the PM who ended the free trade policy dating back to 1848) is given credit for old-age pensions, it was actually the Liberal government nearly two decades earlier who had created old-age pensions (under the relevant minister, one Winston Churchill), Baldwin was merely expanding the system the direction already planned before he took office.

Sixth, to give the Tory party credit for health coverage "for all" is to radically misunderstand the politics that led to the creation of the NHS.

Seventh, I’m not sure that giving the Tory party "credit" for restricting  child labor in  1937  is as much of a recommendation as the video seems to think.  This had been first proposed nearly a century before by Lord Shaftesbury (who was, I must state, a conservative).

Eight, Rent control??

Ninth, all credit to Churchill, but he was only made leader of the Tory party because Labour refused to back the preferred candidate of the Tory MPs, the pro-treaty with Hitler Halifax.

Tenth, the 1944 Education Act was passed under a National Government in which Clement Attlee was Deputy PM and while the Tory minister in charge, RAB Butler, was the primary author, it was supported by all parties in the government.

Eleventh, standards of living may have been up 50% under the Macmillan government, but given that the increases were actually quite modest this a.) does not reflect well on previous Conservative governments and b.) ignores the collapse in Britain’s relative standard of living.

Twelfth, the section about Thatcher is the most accurate, but it does conveniently ignore that a large number of the things she is credited with undoing or fixing had been created by previous Tory governments.

Thirteenth, it is news to me that John Major won the Gulf War.

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes

I’d propose that for a brief moment we look past all the debates about who said what, and what claims and criticisms are fair, and ask the real question that I think everyone should be asking Senator Obama: How in practical terms, through what policy initiatives will he fundamentally change the way things work in Washington?

I will admit to being a Clinton supporter, but not a big fan of the classic, negative skirmish that they are now engaged in. I would like to think we could have an honest, competitive campaign without this potentially divisive mess. I can relate to their frustrations though — which her supporters have felt for a long time — regarding the feel-good rhetoric that seems to be the basis of his claim to the presidency. In all the private debates I have with Obama supporters, most come down to issues of character and the need to change how the country is governed.

But how exactly? Is he suggesting campaign finance reform at a level we’ve not yet seen and which the Supreme Court is likely to throw out? Exactly what types of lobbying reform is he proposing — how is he going to ‘split the baby’ when it comes to denying access to various organizations in favor of reducing overall influence?  Is he proposing term limits and what’s his answer to the reality that in some cases it seems to increase special interest influence rather than diminish it?  If he can’t or won’t answer these questions, is it because he doesn’t know, or can’t afford the political risk?

The policy initiatives are all there. Most of them are very very close to what Clinton is proposing. And that’s why it is not irrelevant to concentrate on character and the ability to marshall broad support across the country and across the party aisle. The fight between Clinton and Obama is a fight between methods, not policies. Her method is base-centric partisan warfare with Rovian tactics and an ability to withstand the worst the GOP can throw at her. His method is outside this box, attempting to use reason and rhetoric to forge a consensus for change.

What the Clintons are saying, I think, is that this approach to politics cannot work. Appealing to reason and our better angels is a false hope. So let’s get back to the warfare. That’s their message and it’s imbued in their campaign. And that’s the choice.

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

As a long-time reader and big fan, I have to admit I’m disappointed by the turn your blog has taken recently. At your best, as in the Conservative Soul, you really do represent a conservatism of doubt, retaining a healthy dose of skepticism, willing to reconsider your opinions, always remembering that you might be wrong and admitting it when you are However, recently you have thrown all of that aside and become gushing, almost fanatic in your praise of Obama and in your contempt of the Clintons. Right now, I don’t see the difference between you and Hugh Hewitt, and that saddens me. Whatever Hillary does, you consistently show bad faith, interpreting her actions the way the Devil reads the Bible. Similarly, Obama apparently can do no wrong.

Moreover, if Obama ever does get elected, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, just like you did with Bush. No man can possibly do everything you seem to expect of him. A healthy injection of skepticism would do wonders. Please take a deep breath and calm down. Useful mental exercise: Surely there must be something you like about the Clintons and something you dislike about Obama? Please, make your blog interesting again.

Here goes. I admire Hillary Clinton’s stamina, diligence and, at her best, pragmatism. Her political professionalism and discipline are amazing. At times, Obama seems to believe a little too much in his own messiah-ness, which is not the source of his strength. I don’t care for his proximity to organized labor. On the role of government, I’m far to his right. But after the GOP in the Bush years, I don’t feel like punishing the Democrats for being big government. I feel like punishing the Republicans. They’re the ones who’ve committed treason against conservatism, not the Democrats.

Substantively, I don’t have a massive policy case against Clinton if I don’t have one against Obama. They really do represent a very small difference. Clinton is also very able. Her work as a Senator for New York has been admirable. She’s straddled on the war but I don’t feel angry at her the way some of the netroots types do. God knows I have no leg to stand on. My case amounts to concerns that she would entrench a cynicism in politics that’s wrong for the times, that her polarization and trust issues are insurmountable, and that eight years in a White House should be enough for any power couple.

Does that help?

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

I think you’re missing something, and snippily telling people to Google Obama on this or that is not an answer. Those of us who follow this stuff closely know that Obama has position papers on this or that. But Hillary is doing a better job of conveying substance, and that resonates with people for whom her policies will have an impact on their everyday lives. For the most part, these are people who don’t spend their time on their laptops all day — they’re busying holding down one or two jobs, taking their kids to school, maybe trying to get a college degree at night —- and they certainly don’t have time to Google a bunch of white papers, or read blogs. They get their info from speeches, ads, magazines, debates, and the mass media generally.

What do they hear from Obama? Some of those most inspiring and uplifting rhetoric they’ve heard from any major politician in decades. They hear a way better sermon than they’ll ever hear at church. What do they hear from Hillary? Admittedly more plodding speeches about how she will advance this or that policy on healthcare, education, etc. Most importantly, they see someone who, while somewhat plodding, just seems like she will work very hard on solving problems that matter to them.

Furthermore, when people read articles on Obama, including your very well-written one in The Atlantic, what type of info do they get? Soaring prose on how Obama’s "face" will change the world, how inspiring he is, how he will "bring us together" in some vague, unquantifiable way. I’ve got to say — his advocates aren’t doing him any favors with lightweight defenses of him.

These are intangibles to some degree, Andrew, but Obama kind of comes off like a motivational speaker (at which he excels) while Hillary comes off as a nose-to-the-grindstone executive. Which one speaks to people where they live?

Dissent Of The Day II

A reader writes:

I share your opinion of Romney, but I’m afraid the graphic showing the relative net worth of  is a classic example of how to mislead with graphics.  The chart purports to show the net worth using the height of the candidates– a simple bar graph where the bars are replaced by images of the candidates.  In this case, Romney  is 7x the net worth of his nearest competitor.  However,  the images are two dimensional, so the *area* of the Romney image is 7 times 7 = 49x, giving the impression that Romey’s worth is 49x larger.  Furthermore, humans infer that other humans are three dimensional (even Romney!), thus we intuit that Romney’s net worth correlates with his *volume*, which is 7 times 7 times 7 = 343x larger.

Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

It’s become a cliche to write that Senator Obama "transcends" this or that distinction. You ought to be more cautious.  Promises to immanentize the eschaton, whether made by Democrats or Republicans, are unlikely to be fulfilled. I admire Senator Obama, but his campaign is exempt from neither political nor natural law.  You will eventually pin him down, discover his private banalities, and see him as a normal politician.  A request: Your polemical writing is most incisive when sharpened by the spite of boredom.  Senator Clinton puts you in this mood.  Try writing about Obama while you’re thinking about her.