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The Half Life of Populism

From Kevin Williamson at National Review, ‘Winning’ Isn’t Winning

It is often the case that populism has a short shelf life, after which is ceases to be popular. There is a reason for that: Populism is almost always based on a false hope. Populist demagogues such as Trump arise when people are broadly dissatisfied with the national state of affairs and begin to lose confidence in critical institutions. Along comes a charismatic outsider — or someone doing a good impersonation of one — who offers an alternative. Trump-style populism is an almost entirely negative proposition: “I’m not one of Them.” What happens next is in most cases what’s been happening with Trump: The promise of radical change quickly gets mired down in the messy realities of democratic governance. (If you’re lucky, that’s what happens; absent the messy realities of democratic governance, what you end up with is Venezuela.) The “independent” man, the “outsider,” turns out not to have the experience, knowledge, or relationships to get much done. The savior doesn’t deliver the goods.

The 97% Fraud

from National Review and Ian Tuttle, The 97% Solution

Surely the most suspicious “97 percent” study was conducted in 2013 by Australian scientist John Cook — author of the 2011 book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand and creator of the blog Skeptical Science (subtitle: “Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism.”). In an analysis of 12,000 abstracts, he found “a 97% consensus among papers taking a position on the cause of global warming in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are responsible.” “Among papers taking a position” is a significant qualifier: Only 34 percent of the papers Cook examined expressed any opinion about anthropogenic climate change at all. Since 33 percent appeared to endorse anthropogenic climate change, he divided 33 by 34 and — voilà — 97 percent! When David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who formerly headed the university’s Center for Climatic Research, recreated Cook’s study, he found that “only 41 papers — 0.3 percent of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0 percent of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1 percent,” endorsed what Cook claimed. Several scientists whose papers were included in Cook’s initial sample also protested that they had been misinterpreted. “Significant questions about anthropogenic influences on climate remain,” Legates concluded.

 

 

The Function of Political Parties

from Bring Back Political Parties by Kevin Williamson at National Review :

As it turns out, political parties are — like churches, civic groups, unions, trade groups, lobbyists, pressure groups, and business associations — part of the secret sauce of civil society. In much the same way as our senators — in their original, unelected role — were expected to provide a sober brake on the passions of the members of the more democratic House of Representatives, political parties exercised a soft veto that helped to keep extremism and demagoguery in check. Anybody can run for president — but not just anybody can run as the candidate of the Republican party or the Democratic party. Third parties face an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot prevail: The Republican party was a very successful third party, displacing the moribund Whigs.

The denuded political parties provide an important fund-raising and administrative apparatus — along with a tribal identity that is arguably more important — but they do not offer much more than that. Instead, we have relatively little in the way of mediating institutions between candidates and the public at large. If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are your idea of great political leaders, then you probably don’t see a problem with that. You’re a fool, but you’re a fool who is likely to get his way in the coming years. The difference between a republic and a democracy is that republics put up more roadblocks between fools and their desires.

The project to make the Democratic party an instrument of the Clinton campaign in order to prevent Bernie Sanders from making it an instrument of his own ambitions was dishonest, corrupt, and possibly illegal.

It was also exactly what political parties are supposed to do. A little democracy, like a little whiskey, is a good thing — too much and you end up with Ted Kennedy.

The Progressive Contradiction

from Bring Back Political Parties by Kevin Williamson at National Review :

The Democratic party had an excellent reason to exclude Senator Bernie Sanders, the same reason the Republican party had to exclude Donald Trump: He wasn’t a member of the party. Sanders is a socialist independent who briefly joined the Democratic party for reasons of pure political utility. Donald Trump is a . . . whatever in tarnation he is . . . who joined the Republican party for the same reason. Trump, a sometime Democrat and Hillary Clinton donor who had been aligned with the politically insignificant Reform party, knew that he needed the GOP’s machinery to win the presidency, or to even get close, and Sanders knew that his influence and power would grow from running in the Democratic primary rather than as a U.S. affiliate of the Monster Raving Loony party. (I miss Screaming Lord Sutch.) Sanders is no fool: His lakeside dachas aren’t going to pay for themselves, and there’s no money in third-party presidential campaigns — that’s just an expensive hobby. Ask David Koch.

There is a contradiction within American progressivism, which seeks to make the political process more democratic while pushing the policymaking process in a less democratic direction. For a century, progressives have championed more open primary elections and open primaries, popular ballot measures, referendum and recall processes, and wider voter participation. At the same time, progressives, particularly those of a Wilsonian bent, have sought to remove the substance of policymaking from democratically accountable elected representatives and entrust it to unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies in the belief that panels of experts immune from ordinary democratic oversight could make hard decisions based on reason and evidence rather than on short-term political necessity and popular passions. They regarded the political parties and their infamous smoke-filled rooms as embodiments of corruption and old-fashioned wheeler-dealer politics at odds with the brave new centrally planned world they imagined themselves to be building.

HKO
The progressive pivot in our history is when the concept of individual liberty took a back seat to majoritarian democracy. Kevin illuminates this change when he observes that policy has been abdicated to non elected representatives. We were founded under the battle cry against ‘taxation without representation’., but we have evolved to ‘regulation without representation.’  Activist  courts have also relieved legislators of the need to craft clear language and to assume the responsibility for controversial rulings.

Facts Without Context

from The Wall Street Journal, A Deceptive New Report on Climate by Steven Koonin

This isn’t the only example of highlighting a recent trend but failing to place it in complete historical context. The report’s executive summary declares that U.S. heat waves have become more common since the mid-1960s, although acknowledging the 1930s Dust Bowl as the peak period for extreme heat. Yet buried deep in the report is a figure showing that heat waves are no more frequent today than in 1900. This artifice also appeared in the government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which emphasized a post-1980 increase in hurricane power without discussing the longer-term record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently stated that it has been unable to detect any human impact on hurricanes.

These deficiencies in the new climate report are typical of many others that set the report’s tone. Consider the different perception that results from “sea level is rising no more rapidly than it did in 1940” instead of “sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades,” or from “heat waves are no more common now than they were in 1900” versus “heat waves have become more frequent since 1960.” Both statements in each pair are true, but each alone fails to tell the full story.

Finally, the institutions involved in the report should figure out how and why such shortcomings survived multiple rounds of review. How, for example, did the National Academies’ review committee conclude that the chapter on sea level rise “accurately reflects the current scientific literature on this topic”? The Academies building prominently displays Einstein’s dictum “one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

HKO

This is a grand illustration of the axiom that part of the truth can be more misleading than all of a lie. We have become obsessed with the truth because some have become so reckless with it.  Facts without context can be intentionally misleading and dangerous.