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Subverting the Power of the Purse

Yuval Levin recently wrote TheFractured Republic, an intelligent look at the state of political discontent, and a recommended read.  He recently wrote Hillary Is an Embodiment of the Left’s Disdain for Democracy with coauthor Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review. He examines three reason why Hillary is the larger threat while acknowledging Trump’s significant shortcomings.


Meanwhile, the administration’s implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory reforms has empowered both old and new agencies to legislate, regulate, and adjudicate immensely complex and highly significant changes in federal law with very little oversight or accountability. But these are hardly the only arenas in which the administrative state is operating beyond the limits of our constitutional system. The immense freedom enjoyed by administrative agencies is a much more concrete and practical threat to our constitutional democracy than even the prospect of an incompetent demagogue in the White House — and it is actively championed and endorsed by Clinton and her party.

Increasingly, these agencies have absorbed portions of the “power of the purse,” which is supposed to belong exclusively to Congress. Some of them fund themselves through fees. When congressional Republicans sought to use Congress’s funding power to prevent the immigration bureaucracy from enforcing President Obama’s unilateral policy, one obstacle in their path was the fact that the fees that the bureaucracy charges go directly to it rather than to the Treasury, and so it could continue to operate as it wished without a congressional vote to fund it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the Left’s most prized achievement within Dodd-Frank. Simultaneously with its creation, it was given a statutory right to funding from the Federal Reserve rather than through congressional appropriation. In effect, it is an independent agency within an independent agency, well removed from effective congressional oversight.

The Obama administration has also pioneered another way for the government to direct money as it wishes without the involvement of Congress: reach legal settlements that include “voluntary” donations to selected nonprofit groups. Liberal organizations have received millions of dollars from Bank of America thanks to one such settlement.

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Betrayed by Elites

from The Betrayal of the Intellectuals by Victor Davis Hanson

So Beinart misses entirely what has angered the proverbial people about the so-called Washington–New York corridor’s political-media-academia elites. The people are not angry nativists opposing legal immigration, but they object to massive, illegal immigration that is neither diverse nor liberal, and whose architects never seem to experience firsthand the consequences of what they created.

Beinart worries about the corrosive effects of wealth on democracy; he should offer an extension course on how the Clintons accumulated a net worth of $150 million since Bill left the presidency, or on the methodologies by which once-convicted financial speculator and multibillionaire George Soros warps the democratic process. Or he might collate the political preferences of a Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps he could recall who was the first presidential candidate in a general election to renounce public campaign funding in order to become the greatest recipient of Wall Street cash in election history.

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The Invisible Bubble

from Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal, A Dramatic Lesson About Political Actors

“Borgen” captures this: History is human. Political leaders are driven by personal imperatives every bit as much as—often more than—public ones.

It demonstrates, knowingly or not, that to be of the left in the Western political context is to operate in a broad, deep, richly populated liberal-world that rarely if ever is pierced by contrary thought. They are in a bubble they can’t see, even as they accuse others of living in bubbles. Birgitte sees herself as practical and pragmatic, and she is—within a broader context of absolute and unquestioned ideology.

It reminded me that as a general rule political parties and political actors do not change their minds based on evidence or argument. They have to be beaten. Only then can they rationalize change to themselves and their colleagues: “We keep losing!” Defeat is the only condition in which they can see the need for change. They have to be concussed into it.


The Left wins, not because they are right, but because they are more politically united.

Read the whole article.

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Restraint and Accountability

From The Atlantic, How American Politics Went Insane by Jonathan Rauch

The Founders knew all too well about chaos. It was the condition that brought them together in 1787 under the Articles of Confederation. The central government had too few powers and powers of the wrong kinds, so they gave it more powers, and also multiple power centers. The core idea of the Constitution was to restrain ambition and excess by forcing competing powers and factions to bargain and compromise.

The Framers worried about demagogic excess and populist caprice, so they created buffers and gatekeepers between voters and the government. Only one chamber, the House of Representatives, would be directly elected. A radical who wanted to get into the Senate would need to get past the state legislature, which selected senators; a usurper who wanted to seize the presidency would need to get past the Electoral College, a convocation of elders who chose the president; and so on.

They were visionaries, those men in Philadelphia, but they could not foresee everything, and they made a serious omission. Unlike the British parliamentary system, the Constitution makes no provision for holding politicians accountable to one another. A rogue member of Congress can’t be “fired” by his party leaders, as a member of Parliament can; a renegade president cannot be evicted in a vote of no confidence, as a British prime minister can. By and large, American politicians are independent operators, and they became even more independent when later reforms, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, neutered the Electoral College and established direct election to the Senate.

Rauch’s article is a thorough look at the development that brought us here. We seek a tough balance between the restraint of government and the ability to actually govern. These restraints are particularly onerous to a government that has sought to involve itself into every nook of our lives.

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Democracy and Liberty

From National Affairs George Will writes The Limits of Majority Rule.  It is an excellent summary of the history of the court as it has moved from judicial review to activism.  The success of Progressivism has hinged on the court shifting from upholding constitutional restraints on majority rule to an activist approach to uphold the majoritarianism- what many would call democracy- of Congress.

an excerpt:

The court did not say, but it might as well have said, that majority rule requires that courts only reluctantly and rarely engage in the judicial supervision of democracy, because majority rule is the essence of the American project. There are, however, two things wrong with this formulation.

First, it is utterly unrealistic and simpleminded to think that there is majority support for, or majority interest in, or even majority awareness of, even a tiny fraction of what governments do in “dishing out” advantages to economic factions. Does anyone really think that, when the Nashville city government dispenses favors for the taxi and limo cartel, it is acting on the will of a majority of the city’s residents? Can anyone actually believe that a majority of Louisianans give a tinker’s dam about who sells caskets or arranges flowers?

The second fallacy behind a passive judiciary deferring to majoritarian institutions is more fundamental. It is rooted in the fact that we know, because he said so, clearly and often, that Lincoln took his political bearings from the Declaration of Independence. We know that Lincoln believed, because the Declaration says so, that governments are instituted to secure our natural rights. These rights therefore pre-exist government. And they include the unenumerated ones affirmed in the Constitution’s Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”



The Progressive Era can be summarized as the point in our history where democracy became more important than liberty.  The Founders and Framers clearly valued Liberty much more.

Congress is the instrument of Democracy, but the Court is the instrument of the Constitution which was designed to be a limit to majoritarianism. Democracy is important but without the limits of the Constitution and the proper supervision of the court Democracy breed demagogues and dangerous populism. The Framers understood that democracy and demagogue have the same root.