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Bureaucratic Opportunism

from Holman Jenkins, Jr. at The Wall Street Journal, Regulation vs. The American People

Mr. Obama wanted to be a “transformational” president like Reagan, but transformational presidents both lead and listen to the public, and they get their mandate through the ballot box. Unilateral regulation is not the way to a meaningful legacy. It invariably degenerates into omnidirectional bureaucratic opportunism, which is the real legacy of Mr. Obama’s “frustration” with the American people.

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Ideas Still Matter

At Stumbling on the Truth Cliff Asness points to the opportunities Trump missed at the first debate inBusinessman, Defend Thyself:

Much has been made of “fact checking” this election cycle. Not enough focus has been put on “idea checking.” Unfortunately for free-market conservatives and libertarians, we can’t count on the Republican nominee to articulate why progressive economic ideas are so often so wrong. There were many frustrating examples in the first debate of Donald Trump failing even to challenge Hillary Clinton’s obvious conceptual whoppers. Worse, when Trump did attempt a defense, he often cast free enterprise and business in a negative light. Trump simply can’t—or won’t, because it’s not what he truly believes—combat the falsehoods of progressivism, or honestly and skillfully defend free enterprise and business in general.

Throughout the debate, Clinton advanced numerous “four Pinocchio” economic stories. Trump repeatedly failed to call her on them, or to represent the free market, or even the business community, remotely well. Every time this type of chance is missed, more voters are lost to the falsehoods of ever-bigger government, anti-business hysteria, and class warfare. That we have a Democratic nominee who is overtly hostile to economic liberty is, sadly, not surprising. That we have a Republican nominee who is incapable or unwilling to argue for freedom and the prosperity it brings is something worse.


By being either unable or unwilling to stand up for the ideas of the Constitution or free market capitalism, Trump allowed the bad ideas of Clinton to go unanswered, giving them credence.  This inability to articulate principles and understanding has cost him the support of the thinkers on the right and in the middle, and ultimately the election.

Ideas do matter much more than the populist rhetoric and reality show theatrics.

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Redefining Liberty

I attended a Hillsdale College Free Market Forum in Atlanta last week. I was able to meet Don Boudreaux from Café Hayek, one of my daily go to blogs, and Ronald Pestritto, a history professor at Hillsdale.

Ron authored three books on my bookshelf: American Progressivism: a Reader, Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, and Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings .  They are an excellent window into the origins of the Progressive movement.

In an address on the Principles of the Entitlement State, he spoke of the redefinition of liberty by Franklin Roosevelt in his Commonwealth Club Address in 1932.  FDR spoke of the transition of the United States from its founding due to the settlement of the continent and the industrial revolution.  This is consistent with Woodrow Wilson who found principles embedded in the Constitution to be contingent on the times and unsuitable for modern political life.

The framers saw liberty as a natural right which preceded the government, and that the citizens instituted government to protect those rights.  With liberty perceived to be  threatened by a new economic order FDR sought power for the government to protect individuals from threats to their liberty from sources other than the government such as the powerful business trusts.  Instead of a protector of liberty the government could grant liberties due to its power.  The more power the government had the more liberties it could bestow. This innocent sounding transition from the protector to the grantor of rights was used to justify the growth in power of the government that characterized the Progressive movement.

George Will characterized the Progressive pivot as the point where liberty was superseded by majoritarian democracy in his essay in National Affairs, The Limits of Majority Rule. Pestritto contends that perhaps it is more accurate to say that liberty was redefined by FDR to require the power of the state to do more than protect pre-existing natural rights.

The outcome of a century of growing Federal Power in the name of Progressivism and the evolution of the entitlement and regulatory state allows us to see the dangers of uncontrolled government power and the wisdom of the original principles of limited government power.  Would the original Progressives have approved of the expansion of government to its current size and power?

William Voegeli in Never Enough mirrored Pestritto’s examination of the redefinition of language by FDR:

“According to Sidney Milkis, “FDR’s deft reinterpretation of the American constitutional tradition” gave “legitimacy to progressive principles by embedding them in the language of constitutionalism and interpreting them as an expansion rather than a subversion of the natural rights tradition.” Significantly, FDR conveyed this orientation by enthusiastically embracing “liberalism” as the designation for the New Deal’s philosophy, sending the term “progressivism,” with its clearly implied critique of the American founding, into a long exile. To do so he wrested “liberalism” away from the defenders of limited government, who acceded unhappily to calling themselves “conservatives.”


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The Silver Lining from a Fractured Tea Party

From Erick Erickson at The Resurgent, The Tea Party is Dead. Good Riddance

The tea party began through common cause and it died because too many of its members failed at discernment and, as a result, were betrayed from within and from without only then to grow too angry for anyone to ever want to join their cause except the fringe. One silver lining of the movement was that it found a Republican Party of old white men and left it with younger, more diverse officials. The old white men did not back Allen West, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, and others. But the tea party movement did in its early days. Because of the tea party, for the first time since the Civil War, the congressional district wherein Fort Sumter resides had a black congressman and an Indian-American Governor. That congressman is now South Carolina’s Senator and that Governor may be a future Presidential contender. The group portrayed as racist by the media in 2009 and 2010 broadened the color spectrum of the GOP. That is worth remembering.


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When Democracy Trumps Liberty


George Will wrote an excellent piece in National Affairs, The Limits of Majority Rule.  My very brief summary and a few comments:

  1. The Progressive pivot of about 1890- but reached in full bore under FDR  is when democracy superseded liberty as the main purpose of the constitution .
  2. The Supreme Court of the modern Progressive era  in its activist mode sought more to affirm the democratic functions of the Congress than the liberty protection functions of the earlier courts.
  3. This supremacy of Democracy was objected to by Lincoln in its use to justify the Kansas Nebraska Act permitting slavery in districts where it was earlier forbidden in the Missouri Compromise. Slavery was extended under the guise of expanding Democracy because the states could now VOTE on whether to permit slavery. How is that for historical irony? Democracy is two wolves and sheep deciding what is for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed sheep.
  4. Democracy is an essential part of our Constitution, but necessarily restrained in its majoritarianism by  the natural and individual rights of the Declaration and the Constitution.
  5. The Declaration is a necessary component of the Constitution.
  6. The expansion of the administrative state to the regulatory and welfare state was supposed to be an expansion of majoritariansim but has ironically been used to expand special interests at the expense of the majority.  The majority  of citizens want Uber but government seeks to protect the cab special  interests- often under the guise of protecting the majority.
  7. There is a tension in a defined continuum between Democracy and Liberty. Perhaps that is the more salient continuum to describe our current debates, rather than left /right, conservative/liberal, socialist/capitalist.

The piece is a bit longer than most that I post, but it is an essay in a major policy publication, not an article in a magazine.  I would not omit a paragraph in it. It is worth a full read.