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A Warrior for the Cause

gruber

From Jonah Goldberg in Townhall,  Jonathan Gruber Should’ve Been Time’s Person of the Year

For similar reasons, I think Time missed an opportunity in not putting Gruber on the cover. Tea partiers and Wall Street occupiers disagree on a great many things, but there’s one place where the Venn diagrams overlap: the sense we’re all being played for suckers, that the rules are being set up to benefit those who know how to manipulate the rules. The left tends to focus on Wall Street types whose bottom line depends more on lobbying Washington than satisfying the consumer.

But Gruber is something special. He was supposed to be better, more pure than the fat cats. Touted by press and politicians alike as an objective and fair-minded arbiter of health care reform, the MIT economist was in fact a warrior for the cause, invested emotionally, politically and, it turns out, financially through undisclosed consulting arrangements. The people who relied on his expertise never bothered to second-guess his conflicts of interest because they, too, were warriors in the same fight.

In speeches and interviews, Gruber admitted he helped the Obama administration craft the law in such a way that it would seem like it didn’t tax the American people when it did. Using insights gleaned in part from his status as an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office, Gruber helped construct an actuarial Trojan horse that could smuggle a tax hike past the CBO bean counters — because if the individual mandate had been counted as a tax, it would’ve been a big political liability for President Obama. (Fortunately for Obamacare, the Supreme Court saw through the subterfuge and called it tax, rendering it constitutional.)

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The Politics of Nostalgia

Howdy Doody

William Galston writes Populism Rises on a Wave of Frustration in The Wall Street Journal

excerpts:

Populism offers many satisfactions. Its narrative is clear and easy to understand. It identifies villains—corrupt officials, unresponsive bureaucracies, arrogant elites, large corporations, giant banks, immigrants, even the Jews. It legitimizes outrage, the expression of which is one of the greatest human pleasures. It flatters the people, whose virtue and common sense, it claims, could set the country right if only rich and powerful forces didn’t stand in their way. “The humblest citizen in all the land,” declaimed William Jennings Bryan more than a century ago, “when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they”—the elites—“can bring.”

Populism is the politics of nostalgia. It appeals to a better time in the past—whether that means the mid-19th century, when sturdy yeoman farmers and craftsmen formed the backbone of the economy; or the decades after Congress slammed shut the gates of immigration in 1924; or the mid-20th century, when assembly-line workers enjoyed secure jobs and middle-class incomes.

The ills against which populists inveigh are rarely illusory. On the contrary: Populism typically gives voice to genuine grievances, and in so doing gains credibility and energy.

“Large forces—technology, automation and globalization—are not inherently malign forces,” he said. The task for Democrats is not to turn back the clock to the fleeting period when the American economy dominated the world. It is rather, Mr. Schumer said, to “figure out ways for the middle class . . . to be able to thrive amidst these forces.”

But how? When it comes to the economy, the old answers have lost credibility. Few Americans believe that another tax cut—or, for that matter, another stimulus package—will restore middle-class opportunity. Citizens understand that something fundamental has changed, even if they cannot say what it is. You can, as Bill Clinton would say, “work hard and play by the rules” and still find yourself falling behind. You can borrow tens of thousands of dollars to finance a college education and still be a Starbucks barista. The old rules no longer apply, but it is not clear what the new rules are—if any exist.

On the Democratic side, populist economics has found its voice; not so for nonpopulist liberalism.

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. The right response to populism is to offer real solutions.

HKO

Our current choices seems to be between bad solutions and no solutions. But the lack of a solution from the government does not mean one will not develop in the market. Both parties have a real challenge to control their populist wings.  It is one thing for the OWS and the Tea Party to have their day in the media. It is quite another to let them decide important policies.

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The Ends-justifying-the-means Way of Governance

Victor David Hanson writes Epitaph for Hope and Change in The National Review

excerpts:

At home, a natural recovery after a deep recession was aborted by massive government borrowing that was wasted on abetting crony capitalists and shoring up collapsing union and pension funds. Before he is through, Obama may well have borrowed more than all previous presidents combined. In the surreal context of the present, slashing defense and raising taxes to reduce trillion-dollar-deficits to half-trillion-dollar deficits — still higher than any other before Obama — are dubbed fiscal progress.

Never has a modern president been so pampered by the press, and never has the press been so disrespected for its obsequiousness. After Obama, what will the press do? Will it investigate some future Republican abuse of executive orders, deplore serial crippling deficits, complain of a government hostile to the media, expose scandals in the IRS or VA, lament the decline of U.S. prestige abroad, tally up “illegal” Predator assassinations, chronicle bombing without congressional approval, talk of a McCarthy-like administration tapping reporters’ communications and computers, whine about an anemic “jobless” recovery, chart how a president deliberately misled the country about health care, amnesty, or dangers in the Middle East? Will it demand that the next presidential candidate release his college transcripts and medical records or details about his associates?

To the extent that Obama enjoys some successes, they largely came despite, not because of, his efforts. Enacting cap-and-trade and canceling the Keystone Pipeline did not come to pass, nor did the attempts to realize Steven Chu’s dream of European-level gas prices or Obama’s own hope for skyrocketing electric rates; banning new fracking and horizontal drilling on federal lands did not stop private entrepreneurs. The completely unforeseen bonanza of new gas and oil production on private lands has lowered energy prices and for a while mitigated the effects of Obama’s economic plan. How ironic that what he tried to stop is countering what he succeeded in implementing.

The promised most transparent presidency in history turned out to be the most hostile to journalists and the most corrupt since Richard Nixon’s. Old standby bureaucracies — the IRS, the GSA, the VA, the CIA, the NSA, and the Secret Service — are mired in scandal or suffering from public mistrust. The suspense is not over whether such scandals will tarnish Obama’s legacy, but only over how long after he leaves office will it take before the full picture of his ends-justifying-the-means way of governance becomes known. There is something like a Bill Cosby aura around this administration — a feeling that when the media and the liberal establishment are no longer invested in the day-to-day operations of the Obama administration, only then we will learn things that we would rather not. When Al Sharpton no longer visits the White House, will he be sent to jail for tax fraud?

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Mutated Progressivism

Our progressive history has mutated from a desire to protect the public from big business to such a highly regulated state that it serves to protect big business at the expense of new job creation (competitors). This is especially true in the financial sector where we need the accountability of competition more than ever.

The original idea of progressives (distinct from liberal values) was twofold. To protect the public from the big business interests of the robber baron age and to bring the same efficiency to government that business brought to their organizations. This required an elite to run the government because common voters were deemed incapable of understanding the needs and functioning of the modern state. At the same time that the common man was to be protected be was not to be trusted to make critical decisions in his life. This incongruity has long plagued the movement, especially now that the commercial environment is changing so rapidly.

The modern progressive movement still lives in the era of the robber barons and the civil rights era of the sixties. The society has largely moved on. The threats perceived by the large enterprises of the 19th century do not exist in the world of iPhones, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Uber. The social impact of this age is just beginning to be recognized.

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Undermining Cherished Narratives

Jaff Jacoby

Jaff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby writes in The Boston Globe, When ‘justice’ trumps accuracy, journalism loses

Excerpts:

But Rolling Stone’s blockbuster has imploded, undone by independent reporting at The Washington Post that found glaring contradictions and irregularities with the story, and egregious failures in the way it was written and edited. Erdely, it turns out, had taken Jackie’s horrific accusations on faith, never contacting the alleged rapists for a comment or response. In a rueful “Note to Our Readers,” managing editor Will Dana writes: “[W]e have come to the conclusion … that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”

To a layman, that “conclusion” might seem so excruciatingly self-evident that Rolling Stone’s debacle can only be explained as gross negligence, or a reckless disregard for the truth. But much of the journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching “narrative” — in this case, that a brutal and callous “rape culture” pervades American college campuses — above the mundane details of fact. Erdely had set out in search of a grim sexual-assault story, and settled on Jackie’s account of being savaged by five men (or was it seven?) at a fraternity bash was just the vehicle she’d been looking for. Why get tangled in conflicting particulars?

“Maybe [Erdely] was too credulous,” suggests longtime media critic Howard Kurtz in a piece on Rolling Stone’s journalistic train wreck. “Along with her editors.”

Or maybe this is what happens when newsrooms and journalism schools decide, like Jorge Ramos, that although they have “nothing against objectivity,” their real aspiration is to use journalism “as a weapon for a higher purpose.” Somehow it didn’t come as a shock to learn that when Dana was invited to lecture at Middlebury College in 2006, his speech was titled: “A Defense of Biased Reporting.”

Even after the UVA story began to collapse, voices were raised in defense of the narrative over mere fact.

“This is not to say that it does not matter whether or not Jackie’s story is accurate,” Julia Horowitz, an assistant managing editor at the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, wrote in Politico. But “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”

Well, if the “narrative” is what matters most, checking the facts too closely can indeed be a huge mistake. Because facts, those stubborn things, have a tendency to undermine cherished narratives — particularly narratives grounded in emotionalism, memory, or ideology.

HKO

Courts of law are imperfect institutions, but they are far superior dispensers of justice than anointed college councils, and obsequious “journalists” who have sacrificed any concern for facts at the altar of the ‘”narrative”, or a “higher purpose”.