Column: Positions and personality trump party and region
Next year you will enter the Twilight Zone where the governors of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland are Republicans and the governors of North Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisiana are Democrats. It is the middle ground between working-class realignment and the rising American electorate, between polarized parties and disaffected independents, and it lies between the pit of man’s ideology and the summit of his pragmatism. This is the dimension of American politics that reveals the overriding importance of a candidate’s personal qualities and issue positions. It cannot be ignored.
The coverage of recent Democratic victories in Kentucky and Louisiana has emphasized President Trump’s failure to drag Republicans past the finish line. Analysts have focused on Democratic strength in the suburban regions of these states, as well as in the suburbs of Mississippi where the Republican won by a surprisingly slim 5 points. Both of these storylines are important. But so is this one: Candidate attributes and positions matter more than a state or nation’s partisan tilt. President Trump and his 17 Democratic challengers might want to pay attention.
The relationship between individual characteristics and party allegiance was clearest in the Bluegrass State. Republicans won every statewide office but governor. Incumbent Matt Bevin had the unhappy distinction of being the least popularstate executive up for reelection in 2019. It showed. His abrasive personality hurt him in negotiations with teachers’ unions and in the implementation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The memory of his 2014 primary challenge against Mitch McConnell still stung. Bevin fought the Republican-controlled legislature, blocked people on Twitter, and made up nicknames for his opponents. Stop me if this is sounding familiar.
Bevin’s Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, was the son of the previous governor. Beshear attacked where Bevin was weakest, on education and health care, and did his best to avoid cultural issues such as gun control (he supports red-flag laws) and abortion (he’s pro-choice). He campaigned as if President Trump and impeachment did not exist. “This race is about nothing going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said on the trail. His localization of the race worked. Beshear attracted a high crossover vote—16 percent of Republicans. A Libertarian spoiler candidate also helped.
If Bevin strayed too far from the political golden mean, John Bel Edwards never wavered. When he was elected in 2015, Bel Edwards recognized the tenuous nature of his position as the Democratic governor of a deep-red state. He opposes gun control and abortion and worked with the Trump administration on criminal justice reform. He signed a pro-life heartbeat bill that alienated him from abortion rights groups but cemented his identity as an independent-minded Democrat. His Medicaid expansion enrolled half a million people who are wary of Republican cuts. He ran for reelection as the defender of the cultural and political status quo against businessman Eddie Rispone, who despite having an inspiring personal story lacked stage presence and was unable to tie Bel Edwards to the progressives in charge of the national Democratic Party. The incumbent won 51 percent to 49 percent.
Likability and empathy matter more than wonkiness and purity. In 2004, more voters held a favorable opinion of President Bush than of John Kerry, and Bush enjoyed whopping margins among voters who cared most about strong leadership, having clear positions, and telling the truth. In 2012, more voters held a favorable opinion of President Obama than of Mitt Romney, and voters said Obama was more in touch with the people. He also won among voters who said caring for others was a priority. In 2016 the electorate held unfavorable opinions of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but Clinton lost to Trump by 17 points among voters who disliked them equally. Trump narrowed the “cares about me” gap to 23 points from 63 points. And he won by an incredible 68 points on the most desired candidate quality: the ability to bring change.
Democrats have candidate attributes in mind as they evaluate potential 2020 nominees. A November 19 Gallup pollshowed that 60 percent of Democrats would rather have a nominee who has the best chance of defeating President Trump than one who agrees with them on the issues. A majority of Democrats surveyed said that Joe Biden is the most electable, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren far behind at 16 percent and 15 percent. Half of Democrats would rather have a moderate as the nominee than a liberal or a conservative.
Biden’s strength among moderate Democrats and lead over Trump nationwide and in swing states are responsible for his frontrunner status. But the first caucus is more than two months away, and the rules of the Democratic primary give the party opportunities to choose an unlikable and extreme nominee. They have plenty of options.
Nor is President Trump out of the game. The New York Times/Siena poll of the battlegrounds found him within the margin of error against Biden. A November 20 poll of Wisconsin registered voters from Marquette University Law School has Trump leading Biden, also within the margin of error. Trump’s debut reelection ad acknowledges that “he’s no Mr. Nice Guy,” but touts a record of accomplishment that even Democrats recognize as impressive. And he will have plenty of time and resources to define his opponent negatively.
How ironic if Democrats so concerned with electability in the primary find themselves backing a flawed and uninspiring candidate in the general. Because, you see, fate can work that way in the Twilight Zone.
Cartels in Mexico aren’t just fighting over drugs, they’re fighting over industries, and it might well trigger a new and much bigger migrant crisis on the U.S. border.
Two important and interrelated news stories largely passed under the radar Wednesday as the House impeachment hearings continued to dominate the headlines. Both stories concern the deteriorating state of affairs in Mexico and have huge implications for immigration, the southwest border, and U.S. national security. It’s a shame more Americans aren’t paying attention.
The first was a report from BuzzFeed that as of Wednesday the Trump administration began carrying out a controversial plan to deport asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras—not to their home countries, but to Guatemala, which the administration has designated a “safe third country,” meaning that migrants from those countries must first apply for asylum in Guatemala before seeking asylum in the United States.
The move is part of the administration’s broader strategy to reduce the number of Central Americans seeking asylum at the southwest border, which last year saw a dramatic increase in illegal immigrationlargely driven by families and minors from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The second story was a Los Angeles Times dispatch from the Mexican state of Michoacán, where rival cartels are waging war not over drug trafficking routes but over control of the multibillion-dollar avocado industry. More than a dozen criminal groups are fighting over the avocado trade in and around Uruapan, the capitol of Michoacán, “preying on wealthy orchard owners, the laborers who pick the fruit and the drivers who truck it north to the United States,” writes reporter Kate Linthicum. Organized crime in Mexico, she explains, is diversifying—it isn’t just about drugs anymore:
In parts of Guerrero state, cartels control access to gold mines and even the price of goods in supermarkets. In one city, Altamirano, the local Coca-Cola bottler closed its distribution center last year after more than a dozen groups tried to extort money from it. The Pepsi bottler left a few months later.
In Mexico City, bar owners in upscale neighborhoods must pay taxes to a local gang, while on the nation’s highways, cargo robberies have risen more than 75% since 2016.
Compared with drug trafficking, a complex venture that requires managing contacts across the hemisphere, these new criminal enterprises are more like local businesses. The bar to entry is far lower.
The report also notes that homicides are at an all-time high in Mexico, and that cartels have taken control of migrant smuggling in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders the Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, the busiest stretch of the border for illegal immigration.
All this comes on the heels of the massacre of an American family in Mexico, including three women and six children, earlier this month by cartel gunmen, as well as the defeat of a detachment of the Mexican National Guard by cartel forces in the city of Culiacan last month. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has no strategy to reduce cartel violence and no intention of fighting the cartels.
So what do these two news stories from Wednesday have to do with one another, and why would they have major implications for the United States? Simply put, what has happened in Central America is now happening in Mexico. The difference is, when asylum-seekers from Mexico start turning up on our border we won’t be able to deport them to a third country or easily turn them away. If you thought the border crisis was bad last year, wait until hundreds of thousands of families in Michoacán and Tamaulipas decide to flee the cartels and seek asylum in the United States.
To really appreciate the gravity of the situation in Mexico you have to understand some of the dynamics behind the border crisis, which has been driven by Central Americans fleeing societies that are in a state of collapse. Widespread extortion, kidnapping, and violence from gangs throughout the Northern Triangle, combined with grinding poverty and scarce economic opportunities, has prompted hundreds of thousands of Central American families to head north.
One of the reasons this mass exodus turned into a crisis is that unlike earlier waves of illegal immigration, these migrants weren’t single adults from Mexico who could be quickly deported under U.S. law. They were migrant families and minors seeking asylum from noncontiguous countries, which meant they had to go through an entirely different legal process that takes much longer.
The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, faced a choice: either release large numbers of people who had crossed the border illegally or detain them in inadequate facilities that were never designed to hold children and families. The administration responded with a host of new policies, some of which have been struck down by the courts, designed to deter Central American asylum-seekers and reduce illegal border-crossings.
Designating Guatemala as a safe third country is one of those policies, despite the reality that Guatemala is by no means a “safe” country (like El Salvador and Honduras, it’s one of the most violent countries in the world). The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “remain in Mexico,” is another such policy, which forces asylum-seekers to await the outcome of their case in Mexico, often in dangerous border cities where they are vulnerable to exploitation by cartels and corrupt officials.
The upshot is that as Mexico descends into warlordism marked by widespread criminality and gang warfare, we should expect ordinary Mexicans to respond the way ordinary Central Americans have. Eventually, they’ll leave. Many of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands, will at some point head north and claim asylum. When they do, the border crisis that we’ve been dealing with for the past year will seem insignificant—a prelude to a much larger and intractable crisis, for which there will be no easy fix.
A vexed Supreme Court is now considering the legal status of the highly popular program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA. DACA’s survival is now up for grabs in three related cases before the Court, which are being consolidated under the name Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California. The Court displayed its angst about the legality of DACA during last week’s oral argument for the case.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama initiated the program whereby children who were brought into the United States illegally became eligible to remain for two-year renewable periods so long as they did not committed any felonies or misdemeanors. As designed, the program does not offer these “Dreamers” a path toward citizenship, but it does authorize them to get jobs, obtain driver’s licenses, social security, and a host of other privileges. There are now close to 700,000 Dreamers in the United States, and they have often excelled, as students, military personnel, and workers. Most emphatically, they are not “far from angels,” let alone “hardened criminals,” as President Trump scandalously tweetedon the day of oral argument.
Fortunately, the debate before the Supreme Court rose above that low bar. At issue was the Dreamer’s “reliance interest” in the continuation of the DACA program. The notion of a reliance interest is old and runs throughout the law. It holds that a claim that is otherwise imperfect becomes fully protected once the recipient relies on the promises or actions of the defendant—here the government—to its detriment, and thus cannot be returned to his original position. As a substantive matter, I think that DACA was a welcome modification of national immigration policy. But as a legal matter, the issue is more complicated.
Of course, Trump’s election as president marked a dramatic reversal in immigration policy. In September 2017, Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution to the DACA issue, which, to him, boils down to the simple fact that the Dreamers, having come to the United States illegally, have no right to remain in this country. No such deal was worked out, and the Trump administration issued an order to terminate the program. The order was promptly postponed in the lower courts on the ground that Trump was not exempt from the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which provides that a court “shall … hold unlawful and set aside agency action … found to be … arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”
What is odd about the current dispute before the Supreme Court is that it subjects the Trump administration’s DACA decision to close scrutiny without once asking whether the same level of scrutiny should have applied to then-President Obama’s decision to create DACA in the first place. It is still an open question whether or not Obama had such legal authority in June 2012 to issue his own executive order. On multiple prior occasions, as in October 2010, Obama had repeatedly denied that he had the power to remove or alter the legal status of these individuals by saying “I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.” Yet less than two years later, Obama reversed himself and unilaterally imposed a new legal regime under the fig leaf that he was only exercising the most traditional form of prosecutorial discretion, whereby a prosecutor may decline to pursue a case under the law if he thinks that the evidence is not strong enough to warrant pursuing the case, or that other matters have higher priority.
But the outer limits of that discretion is a decision not to prosecute, not on the strength of individual facts, but for an entire class of persons, such as the dreamers. I regard this practice as questionable at best. If a president can refuse to deal with minor, non-violent offenses, can he also refuse to prosecute serious offenses because he thinks that the penalties are too steep? But even if he can rethink prosecution for broad classes of cases, he may not unilaterally change the status of illegal aliens (the statutory term) under state law.
As such, in my view, the DACA program was flatly illegal at the time it was first issued, because no amount of administrative review under the APA could cure this initial defect by making administrative findings about the strength of the supposed reliance interest. Yet, it was not possible for anyone to immediately challenge the program on its face before implementation. The reason for that is the standing doctrine engrafted onto Article III of the Constitution that restricts access to the federal courts to cases in which there are concrete and discrete “injuries in fact” to a particular person that are traceable to government action and capable of remediation in the event of a favorable decision. In the case of DACA, this standing doctrine means that the case can only be brought by some party that suffers that kind of discrete injury, which cannot be any general member of the public at large.
This narrow interpretation, however, misreads the key language of Article III, which states that “the judicial Power shall extend to all Cases in Law and Equity” that arise under the Constitution. The requirement of particularized injury is satisfied whenever an individual is subject to a deportation under the immigration laws. But the limited definition of standing—itself a term nowhere found in Article III—ignores the phrase “in equity,” which has long included challenges against ultra vires action—those beyond the power of any corporation, charitable organization, or local government. In other words, the legality of DACA should in principle be subject to challenge by any citizen who thinks that the program is illegal. If many such cases are brought, they can be consolidated into a single proceeding.
Accordingly, no recipient of DACA benefits could challenge the statute, and it is a tough sell to say that a state has standing to challenge the statute simply because it must issue driver’s licenses to Dreamers. While the driver’s license argument was accepted in 2015 by Judge Jerry Smith of the Fifth Circuit in Texas v. United States, a case which challenged DACA-spinoff program DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents), its thorough examination is of limited precedential value because its judgment was affirmedone year later, without opinion, by an evenly divided Supreme Court.
The standing issue would be trivial, however, if any citizen of the United States was entitled to challenge the illegality of any presidential order. Accordingly, the correct procedure needs an expedited review of DACA’s constitutionality before it was put into place. It is always easier to decide on the legality of a program before it is implemented, not afterwards.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Hence the glacial pace at which DACA reached the Supreme Court has made it plausible for individual DACA claimants to insist that their reliance interest should force the Trump administration to do what the Obama administration never did— namely, give a set of reasoned justifications under the APA for reversing Obama’s original DACA order.
But their argument is suspect on two grounds. The first is that the reliance interest claim is weak in this context. There are all sorts of ways for individuals to rely on the decisions of other parties in organizing their own conduct. Company S, for example, contracts with local government L to remove snow from the streets. The contract lasts for several years, during which time X buys an automobile that he parks by the street. If L and S agree to reduce the frequency and quality of the snow removal services, X does not have a claim against either solely because he relied on their joint decision when he purchased his automobile.
In the language of contract law, a Dreamer is an “incidental beneficiary” who does not acquire rights against the government simply because the past implementation of DACA improved the Dreamers’ overall position. It is perfectly rational for every DACA recipient to take full advantage of the program. But it is not possible for them to claim that their past good fortune gives them any future entitlement to program continuation. Any waivers of enforcement power in two-year chunks can be stopped at any time.
The point has not been lost on defenders of DACA who grimly understand that the whip in all immigration cases lies with the President, such that the best they could hope for is a delay in action whereby the Court insists that the Trump administration offer a more detailed justification for its decision. Indeed, one reason why the oral argument proved so frustrating is that there was still judicial doubt—as expressed by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan—as to whether the Obama program was illegal when issued. Hence Justice Ginsburg pressured Solicitor General Noel Francisco to explain the “strange element” whereby he argued first that DACA was flatly illegal, and then asserted that the Trump administration had ample discretion to end the program because of its policy reservations on its ends and purposes.
There is less to Ginsburg’s objection than meets the eye. Francisco was arguing the case in the alternative—first, that the program was illegal, but then if not, that the administration could end it in the same fashion it was implemented, by presidential order. In my view, the first of these grounds is correct. However powerful the case for DACA on the merits, the constitutional principle of separation of powers does not grant to the president the power to create an entire immigration reform out of whole cloth. Asking for a memo in justification for undoing that error seems most unwise. The standards here are necessarily fluid, and that inquiry invites lower courts to keep DACA in place by constantly raising the burden of proof to extreme levels.
Ironically, if this view on legality is correct, the harder question becomes whether Trump had the power to extend DACA once he came into office after he concluded that DACA was constitutionally infirm from its inception. The whole inquiry quickly enters uncharted waters, given the evident need to allow some limited time for transitions to take place. But the matter is too urgent for it to be resolved by either presidential directive or by judicial decision. Fortunately, the same option that was available in 2012 is available today: enact DACA as is for a short-term fix, and then work through the larger immigration challenges at a more thoughtful pace. The human toll is too great to tolerate more indecision, confusion, and delay.
Dear Chairman Simons,
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) should open an investigation into Ring—a subsidiary of Amazon—and its data-sharing practices with law enforcement officials. Ring’s conduct raises a number of concerns, including fears that (1) the emerging technology may result in discriminatory law enforcement activity, (2) sensitive consumer data may be jeopardized as a result of misuse by Amazon and (3) consumers may be subjected to heightened physical security risks. Given these concerns, which are outlined in greater detail below, and Amazon’s history of data mishandling, the FTC should more deeply examine the damaging effects of these practices.
While innovative, Ring’s home security doorbell and its use of consumer data are cause for significant concern as this conduct has the potential to result in considerable consumer harm. So-called “smart home” technology, still very much in its infancy, and its misuse have the potential to cause lasting damage to consumers if the necessary precautions are not taken.
Despite the potential benefits of “smart home” technology like the Ring “smart” doorbell, the data collected by Amazon opens consumers to exposure under the promise of additional security. As a result, not only is consumer data made more vulnerable, but their physical safety is put at unprecedented risk.
As the Commission is well aware, as more data is collected by Amazon, potential data breaches become more damaging. A data breach of consumers’ home security system by nefarious actors could have direct consequences on consumer physical safety. For example, should home security video footage fall into the wrong hands, consumers’ daily routines—including when they leave home and when they are alone and most vulnerable—would be easily discernible by criminals intending to cause harm.
According to reports, Ring has already misled consumers about its data handling practices. The Washington Post reports that Ring has partnered with over 400 police departments in the U.S., “granting them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage.” Amazon was able to secure hundreds of partnerships by capitalizing on artificially low prices funded through taxpayer resources. Making matters worse, Ring engages in these partnerships without first informing its users. This deceptive practice raises, at best, tremendous ethical concerns.
Amazon’s record on data security is already cause for concern. Recently, two prominent senators have asked the Commission to investigate Amazon’s role in the Capital One data breach, which affected nearly 100 million customers. Given Amazon’s potential involvement in this historic breach and its reckless handling of consumer data captured through Ring, it would be unwise to allow this activity to continue without at least some examination from the Commission.
In addition to the data security concerns, Ring’s video-sharing arrangement raises questions about the potential for profiling. In an open letter to lawmakers, more than 30 civil rights action groups described the threat to civil liberties posed by Ring’s partnership with law enforcement. In the letter, the organizations explain the dangers of this arrangement:
“With no oversight and accountability, Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies […].”
These sentiments were echoed by another prominent senator in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In the letter, the lawmaker outlined the privacy and civil liberty concerns noted above. Amazon has not yet responded to this letter—a clear indication that, unless pressured by government officials, the company will only act in accordance with its own interests, rather than address the genuine threats expressed here. Because of this, it would be wise for the FTC to act before the situation spirals out of control.
Inaction in light of these facts would subject consumers to risks that are all too dangerous. As the top “cop on the beat,” the FTC has a public responsibility to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. Given the data security and civil liberty concerns, it would be wise for the FTC to undertake a review of the partnership between Amazon and Ring and law enforcement authorities.
This issue—that of data security and physical safety—is bipartisan in nature. In fact, it transcends politics entirely.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
 Harwell, D. (2019, August 28). Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/08/28/doorbell-camera-firm-ring-has-partnered-with-police-forces-extending-surveillance-reach/.
 Guariglia, M. (2019, August 30). Five Concerns about Amazon Ring’s Deals with Police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/08/five-concerns-about-amazon-rings-deals-police.
 Fight for the Future (2019, October 7). Open letter calling on elected officials to stop Amazon’s doorbell surveillance partnerships with police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.fightforthefuture.org/news/2019-10-07-open-letter-calling-on-elected-officials-to-stop/.
The Democrats promised the public hearings into the impeachment of President Donald Trump would produce bombshells proving he should be removed from office. Thus far, they’ve failed, making it hard to take the whole thing seriously.
After weeks of closed-door hearings, allegations that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff coaches witnesses and multiple “key witnesses” trotted out before the cameras in the past few days, the best they seem to be able to come up with is “Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from another Trump’s been messin’ around.”
They sound like a bad REO Speedwagon cover band, not serious attesters to presidential malfeasance.
In fact, as numerous Republican critics of the process have pointed out, the whole thing stinks. The impeachment train has been warming up since January 20, 2017. The first story in The Washington Post on the possibility appeared online just about 20 minutes after he’d finished taking the oath of office. All the train needed was a destination and, with the allegation that the president withheld crucial military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption, it finally found one.
The problem, as is becoming clear for the Democrats, is the lack of proof there was ever a quid, let alone a pro quo. Which is probably why they’ve stopped talking about things in those terms and are instead throwing around words like “bribery,” saying “hearsay can be much better” than direct evidence and musing about whether the president exceeded his authority by firing the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (spoiler alert: he didn’t). They’re adding to the sense of wrongdoing without offering, as of yet anyway, definitive proof it occurred because it’s more important, for political purposes, to make the president look guilty than to prove he is.
What we’re witnessing is the extension of politics by other—some might say illegitimate—means. Even if they cannot engineer his removal from office, the Democrats who lead the resistance have been working overtime for the entire length of his presidency to lessen his chances in 2020. They’re using official government resources in Washington and in the states to do opposition research, to blacken his reputation, to create narratives that will remain in the mind of the public and influence their vote the next time around. It’s unseemly—and one does not have to be a supporter of the president to admit that.
What Schiff has done up to this point reminds me of the old cooking shows my grandmother used to watch. They’d show the chef prepare some elaborate dish, put it in the oven and then—after cutting away to commercial—serve it up. The magic of TV made you overlook the fact there wasn’t enough time during the break for the dish to cook. What was served had already been prepared, just like what we’re seeing in the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The whole business has been baked in advance.
From Schiff’s committee, the investigation will move, at least according to the rules as we now understand them, to the House Judiciary Committee. There, the grounds for removing the president from office will be established and the actual articles of impeachment will be thrashed out. Hopefully, the institution of the presidency will be treated with more respect than Schiff is showing it, but that’s unlikely. The Democrats are on a mission and intend to see it through.
It’s unfortunate the current president is seen by so many Americans as unlikable. It makes it hard to see the line between his personal interests and the nation’s institutional—a division he has admittedly done much to blur all on his own. The precedents being set now by Schiff and company will give future congressional majorities a much bigger club to swing against the president and the presidency unless, as is all too often the case, the people who write about such things with a supposedly critical eye will allow for double-standards to rule the day.
We’ve seen it before. A cover-up without an underlying crime was still a crime when it involved Richard Nixon. When it involved Bill or Hillary Clinton, not such much—at least as far as the majority of the punditocracy was willing to state. The fact they liked they Clintons and didn’t like Nixon had a lot to do with it, just as what is going on now has so very much to do with how many of the media’s elite guard simply cannot stand Trump.
Pundits who spend their time on cable news wondering why so many Americans have tuned out their “country over party!” talk need look no further than at an excellent piece in today’s New York Times, in which Trip Gabriel correctly describes the turn of events that led to Ralph Northam keeping his job as governor of Virginia:
Party officials and analysts in Virginia said Mr. Northam owed his political survival to fortuitous events as well as his own efforts.
Just days after the surfacing of Mr. Northam’s 1984 yearbook photo — with one figure in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes — the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, was accused of sexual abuse by two women, which he denied. Before the week was out, Attorney General Mark R. Herring acknowledged he had worn blackface as a college student.
With the state’s top three Democrats compromised, the desire to force them from office and make way for the Republican next in line lost appeal to many in the party.
This is exactly correct. Effectively, the Democratic party and its allies took the view that the alleged bad behavior of one top Democrat was terrible and should lead to immediate resignation, but that the alleged bad behavior of all the top Democrats was worth ignoring in case the Republican party gain an advantage. Or, to put it mathematically, Democrats in Virginia decided that one was a bigger number than three. Had Northam been the only top Democrat who was embroiled in scandal, he’d likely have gone. But, because all of them were embroiled in scandal, doing something about it “lost appeal to many in the party.”
Later in the piece, Gabriel makes it clear that, for many Virginia Democrats, the issues were simply more important:
“The liberal groups that should have continued to put pressure on Governor Northam for this scandal made the political calculation that it was better for their self-interest to shut up about it,” said Will Ritter, a Republican strategist in the state.
Whatever doubts that lingered with Democratic voters about state leadership were largely banished in the summer, when the governor called the Legislature back to Richmond to pass gun restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31.
I read the calls for Northam’s resignation, many of which accused the man of no less a crime than having reopened the wounds of slavery, segregation, and the Civil War. It is interesting to learn that these infractions can be forgiven if one organizes a symbolic special session on a hot-button issue.
Why do so many people stick with Trump despite his terrible behavior? Why won’t Republicans put “country over party?” Why is the specter of the other side so powerful relative to the realities of one’s own? Virginia Democrats know the answers to these questions. And they ain’t pretty. I wish devoutly that it were not, but this is the age we live in, and its failings are by no means limited to one side.
Column: Education, immigration, and densification
So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County.
In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one of two U.S. senators was a Democrat, Democrats held 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats controlled both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Next year, the governor will be a Democrat, both U.S. senators will be Democrats, Democrats will hold 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats will control both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Hardly anything has changed. Except for the Commonwealth itself.
President Trump so dominates the popular imagination that every election result is described in relation to his job approval and conduct in office. Trump is unpopular in Virginia, and suburban voters are eager to rebuke him at the polls. But the story of this particular Democratic winning streak is less about Trump than it is about long-running demographic and cultural transformation. He catalyzed changes decades in the making.
The former capital of the Confederacy is now a hub of highly educated professionals, immigrants, and liberals whose values are contrary to those of an increasingly downscale, religious, and rural GOP. Democrats continue to benefit from the shift in the college-educated population toward progressivism. Not only are Republicans increasingly bereft of a language in which to talk to these voters. They may be incapable of doing so. The two sides occupy different realities.
Virginia has followed broader trends of enrichment, immigration, and densification. John Warner’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 was an early sign of the Republican revival in the South. The election of 1993, which brought George Allen to the governor’s mansion, was a preview of the Republican Revolution the following year. In 2000, Allen joined Warner in the Senate.
For the next year, the governor and both U.S. senators were Republicans. Then Mark Warner won the governor’s mansion, then Jim Webb defeated Allen, then Warner replaced Warner (confusing, I know), and except for a brief appearance by Governor Bob McDonnell, Democrats have held all statewide offices since.
Over the last 29 years, Virginia has become wealthier, more diverse, and more crowded. The population has grown by 42 percent, from 6 million in 1990 to 8.5 million. Population density has increased by 38 percent, from 156 people per square mile to 215. Mean travel time to work has increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes. The median home price (in 2018 dollars) has gone from $169,000 to $256,000. Density equals Democrats.
The number of Virginians born overseas has skyrocketed from 5 percent to 12 percent. The Hispanic population has gone from 3 percent to 10 percent. The Asian community has grown from 2 percent to 7 percent. In 1990, 7 percent of people 5 years and older spoke a language other than English at home. In 2018 the number was 16 percent.
If educational attainment is a proxy for class, Virginia has undergone bourgeoisification. The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher has shot up from 25 percent of the state to 38 percent. As baccalaureates multiplied, they swapped partisan affiliation. Many of the Yuppies of the 80s, Bobos of the 90s, and Security Moms of the ’00s now march in the Resistance.
Nationwide, “In 1994, 39 percent of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54 percent associated with the Republican Party,” according to the Pew Research Center. “In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.” Last year, college graduates favored Senator Kaine over challenger Cory Stewart by 20 points.
All of these developments are more pronounced in the most important part of the state: northern Virginia. Fairfax County has grown from 800,000 people to 1.1 million. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 16 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2018. The number of Hispanics has more than doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. The number of Asians has almost tripled from 8 percent to 20 percent.
Slightly less than half of Fairfax County residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1990. Now that number is 61 percent. The median home price has gone from $225,000 to $535,000. In 1992, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot won a combined 58 percent in Fairfax. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 64 percent of the vote.
When I was growing up, Loudoun County was considered a rural area disconnected from the rhythms of the Beltway. In the years since, its population has exploded from 86,000 people to 407,000. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 6 percent to 24 percent. A county population that was 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian is 14 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. The percentage of the county with a bachelor’s degree or higher has gone from 33 percent to 60 percent. Loudoun is the richest county in America. Fairfax is second. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 35 percent of the vote in Loudoun County. Twenty-four years later, his wife won 55 percent.
As Virginia has moved into the Democratic column, the state Republican Party has become more populist, more nationalist, and more culturally conservative. The dwindling number of Republicans who spoke the language of suburbia could not escape their party’s national reputation for hostility to immigrants and opposition to progressive ideals. A similar process occurred in states like California, Colorado, and Nevada. It may also be underway in Arizona and Texas (!).
Virginia became a blue state as the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The political development of the Commonwealth is emblematic of America in the post-Cold War world. The Republican Party found it no longer could count on unwavering support from the upscale college-educated white voters who once made up its base. The cultural churn produced by a migrant-driven, globalized, information-based economy gave suburban America a different population, with a different structure of values, which looks upon social conservatives as ambassadors from Mars.
The GOP has a path to the presidency and to congressional majorities. But it does not go through my old Virginia home.
By Miklos K. Radvanyi
Historically, the fate of what has been called only since the last decade of the 20th century the sovereign state of Ukraine has been depended mostly on the whims of the major European powers. Moreover, if one would like to separate the myths from the facts, Ukraine has never occupied a fixed geographical area or has been a political, economic, and cultural entity with well-defined national uniqueness. Thus, when independence was declared on August 24, 1991, the new state of Ukraine has lacked and is still devoid of a mature national identity.
On the other hand, in the ubiquitous euphoria of the relatively peaceful break up of the Soviet Union in the West, irrational optimism, coupled with blinding emotions, prevented well-meaning politicians, self-appointed experts, and the general public to weigh with due seriousness the enormous challenges that this newly minted state will and must face. In the intervening three decades, and before Ukraine could have attained a sufficient degree of national character, successive governments have brought it dangerously close to becoming an irredeemably failed state.
Meanwhile, after almost three years of relentless pursuit of the mirage of President Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats in the House of Representatives have latched theirs and their party’s political future onto the so-called “Ukrainian quid pro quo.” Claiming that in the ominous telephone call President Trump blackmailed Ukrainian President Zelensky by withholding almost half a billion dollars earmarked for military assistance in exchange for compromising information on Joe’s and Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian activities, and thus explicitly solicited the latter’s support for his reelection, the President committed an impeachable offense under Article II, section 4 of the constitution. To add additional legal insult to a clearly political injury, the Democrats stated that they reserve the right to charge President Trump with more crimes of their liking.
While almost all of the Democrats and many like minded citizens consider this development in Washington, D.C. a potential victory for the rule of law, such assessment misses the mark. The same politicians who accuse President Trump of endangering national security, remain strangely nonchalant about the precarious domestic and international conditions of Ukraine, the future of the United States’ interests in the European theatre, and the global dimensions of three decades of erroneous policies toward one of the largest European countries situated strategically between Russia and the rest of the continent.
To start with, Ukraine is in extremely deep political, financial, economic, social, and cultural crises. Therefore, President Zelensky intends simultaneously to make peace with Russia, to carry out wholesale reforms of the economy, to fight corruption, to petition international financial organizations and donors for bailouts, and to bring his country closer to NATO and the European Union.
For the United States of America, the desirable outcome would be successes for President Zelensky personally and his administration generally on all those fronts. Here, it is important to note that prior to 2016, during President Obama’s eight years, the near consensual view among Ukrainian experts was that support for Ukraine’s superficial stability was paramount. For this reason, President Obama and his administration did nothing to move successive administrations in Kyiv to abandon the ultra nationalist policies against ethnic minorities, the arrogant criminal corruption of politicians, and the rapid impoverishment of the society. Yet, President Obama’s passivity created an American political vacuum toward Ukraine that, in turn, invited Vice President Biden to exploit the corruption ridden Ukrainian political and economic systems for his and his family’s unethical and even criminal enrichment. More importantly, because they did not comprehend the depth of the ultra nationalism and the all encompassing nature of the corruption, the Obama administration treated Ukraine like a normal state. Not having a coherent Ukrainian policy, the Obama administration in general and Vice President Biden in particular showed their collective incompetence and institutional delusion of Ukraine.
Now that the Democrats use and abuse Ukraine as a domestic political football, what happens next is an open question. Will the Trump administration be able to fashion a coherent Ukrainian policy amidst the relentless negative campaign of the opposition? Likewise, will Russia exploit the self-generated American paralysis to deepen Ukraine’s misery? Will the decisively defeated ultra nationalist Poroshenko minority provoke a civil war to nullify the results of the spring elections? As a result, will Ukraine again be dominated by the old criminal enterprise rejected recently so decisively by the voters?
For the United States of America and especially for the Trump administration, the objective ought to be clear: President Trump must state firmly that the United States of America will not compromise its fundamental values. The Ukrainian question for him is not a fight over power against the Democrats but a matter of importance about democracy and prosperity. Ultra nationalism and unwarranted cultural fanaticism will not be tolerated. Equally, the endemic corruption must be eliminated decisively and moral purity shall be reestablished. For, if corruption and immorality will continue, Ukraine will disappear as an independent nation. Finally, in direct opposition to President Obama, President Trump must emphasize to President Zelensky that he is not interested in whether he is loved or hated in Ukraine. On his part, he will act with honor toward Ukraine. In turn, President Zelensky and Ukraine can count on President Trump’s assistance if they respect the new Realpolitik of the United States of America.
Ever since President Donald Trump assumed office, he’s been on double-secret probation. And, as expected, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday voted to continue their heretofore-held-in-secret probe of his actions.
Where the authority for such a probe, as executed, comes is not clear. There are no “little-known codicils” in the U.S. Constitution giving the speaker of the house unlimited power to preserve order in times she regards as a national emergency, like when Hillary Clinton fails to win and election. What is actually occurring is a naked grab for political power, driven by partisan donors and activists applying pressure to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to drive Trump from office.
Yet rather than take the lead herself, Pelosi has assigned the responsibility for getting the job done to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The California Democrat is the right man for it, not because he’s a seasoned legislator and expert on the inner workings of the constitutional process but because he’s a “sneaky little” leaker comfortable with letting the ends justify the means.
Retired General Don Bacon, a Republican congressman from Nebraska, put it well when he tweeted Wednesday, “How can I make a judgment on the impeachment investigation if we don’t know what’s being said in these hearings? Adam Schiff’s secret investigation hasn’t released a single deposition statement. This is an unfair process not designed to get at the truth. #NoDueProcess for @POTUS.”
And “no due process” is an important point. What House Democrats voted to do has a distinct lack of it. It’s not that they’ve set in motion “Soviet-style hearings”—an analogy that, by the way, should be abandoned 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall because too few people understand it—because a semblance of due process existed even there. What we’ve got now is a Kangaroo Court, where opinions are considered evidence and guilt is predetermined.
Usually, like with the Delta’s in Animal House, we favor the slobs over the snobs. In this case, it’s reversed, with the favored Democrats and their allies acting like blue-haired old ladies going limp with the vapors at suggestions the emoluments clause of the Constitution has been violated or that a quid pro quo was dangled before the leader of another country during a phone call in which foreign assistance was discussed. Trump is surely neither the first nor the last occupant of the Oval Office to cross that particular threshold. Did we try to impeach Jimmy Carter for the quid pro quos he offered at Camp David to Israel and Egypt?
The voters may be smarter than those pushing impeachment may think. In a nationwide poll conducted at the end of October for Politico/Morning Consult, 63 percent of those surveyed described “the current media coverage of the impeachment process” as “frustrating,” 55 percent thought it was “disappointing,” 54 percent called it “negative,” and 52 percent labeled it “skewed.” Just 32 percent said it was “trustworthy.”
The Republicans have, by these numbers, at least the opportunity to defend the institution of the presidency and the electoral process if they choose to. They don’t have to defend Trump—something many of them appear reluctant to do because they fear adverse consequences at the polls.
That’s a mistake. What Pelosi, Schiff and their ilk are doing to our system of checks and balances and rule of law is far more dangerous than anything it’s been proven Trump has done.
The Democrats will impeach the president along partisan lines despite Pelosi’s telling The Washington Post in March 2019, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
Then they will try to argue, with help of the anti-Trump wing of the GOP establishment, that the president lacks the support he needs to avoid conviction in the Senate and removal from office. They think he’ll resign if it comes to that. Yet Trump will probably force a vote instead, believing, in the end, that he’ll win just like the Delta’s did. Either way, the country will be almost irrevocably damaged, as the politics of personal destruction becomes a full-blown war that the American system may not survive.
Let us restore trust in one another
As I studied Al Smith, I had to look him up and learn more about him. I found what we find in many great leaders — Abe Lincoln, FDR. It’s a focus on making our country a little better when we hand it to the next generation, and having a nonpartisan approach to team-building.
We meet in the spirit here tonight of unity, friendship and patriotism. And so I turned to history, for we’ve been through tough times in the past in our country, and often in history. I have found the way forward.
It’s tempting this evening to look back exactly a century to 1919, the year that Alfred Emanuel Smith first took office as governor of New York. It was in many ways a troubled time. Anti-immigrant fervor ran high, political corruption made national headlines. The glitz of the Jazz Age was real, yet working and living conditions for much of the American population were abysmal. The country was enjoying an economic boom, but a storm was on the horizon. So there’s a certain resonance here with today.
Tonight, I’d like to recede even further into history to 1838 and to Springfield, Ill., and an organization there called the Young Men’s Lyceum, which Abraham Lincoln’s friend William Herndon once described as a society that contained and commanded all the culture of that place.
The month was January, and Lincoln himself was just shy of 29. Violence by supporters of slavery had shattered the state and the nation. At the Young Men’s Lyceum, Lincoln rose to give an address called “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”
It’s a long speech, by my reckoning enough for 12 Al Smith dinners, and there weren’t any jokes. But the core of its message can be simply stated.
Lincoln observed great nations crumble for one of two reasons The first is aggression from the outside … [but] it was not the foreign aggressor we must fear. It was corrosion from within. The rot, the viciousness, the lassitude, the ignorance. Anarchy is one potential consequence of all this. Another is the rise of an ambitious leader, unfettered by conscience, or precedent or decency who would make himself supreme.
“If destruction be our lot,” Lincoln warned, “we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”
I think often of Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum speech because it embodies both our greatest hopes, and our darkest fears. Today, in our own time, we need only look around us. For decades, our political conduct has been woeful and a source of national paralysis. We have supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt. We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right. We proclaim what divides us and seldom even acknowledge what unites us.
Meanwhile, the roster of urgent national issues has continued to grow unaddressed and, given the paralysis, impossible to address, and all of this was approaching a level of crisis even before the specter of impeachment arose.
This is the moment for an act of remembrance. Remembrance of the core principles we used to know and live by, and that we now seem to have forgotten.
We seem to have forgotten that America is not some finished work, nor is it a failed project. Rather, it’s an ongoing experiment for which all of us bear responsibility, including a responsibility to repair.
We seem to have forgotten that the foundational virtue of democracy is trust. Not trust in one’s own rectitude or opinion, but trust in the capacity of collective deliberation to move us forward.
We seem to have forgotten that cynicism, which has now infected the Western democracies, is not realism, for all the weary and knowing heirs it affects. Cynicism is just cowardice.
And finally, we seem to have forgotten the paramount importance of those bonds of affection that Lincoln once spoke of.
We need one another more than ever when the chips are down.
Historically, we have come together in those moments; after the attack on Pearl Harbor, after the 9/11 attack on this very city. The surest path to catastrophe is to ignore our better angels and sever those bonds of affection.
It is hard work to make our democracy work, and indeed our Constitution was designed to make it hard. But as hard as it might be, it is also noble work, for we’re building a country here.
… One day [in Iraq when I was in command there] we apprehended an insurgent in the act of planting a mine on a major road. In fact, it was a road I’d just driven on. Now a prisoner bound hand and foot, he was brought to me by the Marines, because they were surprised to find that he spoke English.
He and I talked for a bit, and I made clear he was lucky to be alive and that he had an orange jumpsuit in his future. He was, no two ways about it, the enemy. At least when he was doing his day job — or his night job. America, in his mind, was the great Satan.
But before he was loaded onto a truck to be taken off to confinement, he said, “General, can I ask you something?” And so I stopped and waited for him. He said, “If I behave myself, if I’m a model prisoner, is there a chance that my family and I can immigrate to America?”
His words reminded me how America is still viewed in the world, even among those who profess to hate it, America remains a power of inspiration in their lives as well. They see our freedoms and our vitality, our long tradition of democratic government, our chaotic and exuberant culture, and they want in.
I often wished that we Americans could see ourselves through foreign eyes. This would remind us of our great good fortune, and of the good things that we have in common. The good things we too often take for granted.
In Springfield, Lincoln invoked biblical language to describe how the power of this common spirit protects our nation. He said, as truly as had been said of the only greater institution, the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, with malice toward none and charity for all, let us restore trust in one another.
This is an excerpt from a speech by former defense secretary and Marine Gen. James Mattis, delivered Oct. 17 at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City.
An individual earning near the national median at $50,000 a year would pay more than $17,450 more per year in taxes to fund Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal. That’s not even half of it.
Democratic candidates for president continue to evade questions on how they will pay for their massive, $32 trillion single-payer health care scheme. But on Monday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a 10-page paperproviding a preliminary analysis of possible ways to fund the left’s socialized medicine experiment.
Worth noting about the organization that published this document: It maintains a decidedly centrist platform. While perhaps not liberal in its views, it also does not embrace conservative policies. For instance, its president, Maya MacGuineas, recently wrote a blog post opposing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, stating that the bill’s “shortcomings outweigh the benefits,” because it will increase federal deficits and debt.
That centrist position makes CRFB’s analysis of single payer all the more devastating, because one cannot write it off as coming from a right-wing group. And its analysis is devastating, carrying it three main messages, as follows.
Consider some of the options to pay for single payer CRFB examines, along with how they might affect average families.
A 32 percent payroll tax increase. No, that’s not a typo. Right now, employers and employees pay a combined 15.3 percent payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare. (While employers technically pay half of this 15.3 percent, most economists conclude the entire amount ultimately comes out of workers’ paychecks, in the form of lower wages.) This change would more than triple current payroll tax rates.
Real-Life Cost: An individual earning $50,000 in wages would pay $8,000 more per year ($50,000 times 16 percent), and so would that individual’s employer.
A 25 percent income surtax. This change would apply to all income above the standard deduction, currently $12,200 for individuals and $24,400 for families.
Real-Life Cost: An individual with $50,000 in income would pay $9,450 in higher taxes ($50,000 minus $12,200, times 25 percent).
A 42 percent Value Added Tax (VAT). This change would enact on the federal level the type of sales/consumption tax that many European countries use to support their social programs. Some proposals have called for rebates to some or all households, to reflect the fact that sales taxes raise the cost of living, particularly for poorer families. However, using some of the proceeds of the VAT to provide rebates would likely require an even higher tax rate than the 42 percent CRFB estimates in its report.
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “the first-order effect of this VAT would be to increase the prices of most goods and services by 42 percent.”
Mandatory Public Premiums. This proposal would require all Americans to pay a tax in the form of a “premium” to finance single payer. As it stands now, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance pay an average of $6,015 in premiums for family coverage. (Employers pay an additional $14,561 in premium contributions; most economists argue these funds ultimately come from employees, in the form of lower wages—but workers do not explicitly pay these funds out-of-pocket.)
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “premiums would need to average about $7,500 per capita or $20,000 per household” to fund single payer. Exempting individuals currently on federal health programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) would prevent seniors and the poor from getting hit with these costs, but “would increase the premiums [for everyone else] by over 60 percent to more than $12,000 per individual.”
Reduce non-health federal spending by 80 percent. After re-purposing existing federal health spending (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid), paying for single payer would require reducing everything else from the federal budget—defense, transportation, education, and more—by 80 percent.
Real-Life Cost: “An 80 percent cut to Social Security would mean reducing the average new benefit from about $18,000 per year to $3,600 per year.”
The report includes other options, including an increase in federal debt to 205 percent of gross domestic product—nearly double its historic record—and a more-than-doubling of individual and corporate income tax rates. The impact of the last is obvious: Take what you paid to the IRS on April 15, or in your regular paycheck, and double it.
In theory, lawmakers could use a combination of these approaches to fund a single-payer health care system, which might blunt their impact somewhat. But the massive amounts of revenue needed gives one the sense that doing so would amount to little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking fiscal ship.
CRFB reinforced their prior work indicating that taxes on “the rich” could at best fund about one-third of the cost of single payer. Their proposals include $2 trillion in revenue from raising tax rates on the affluent, another $2 trillion from phasing out tax incentives for the wealthy, another $2 trillion from doubling corporate income taxes, $3 trillion from wealth taxes, and $1 trillion from taxes on financial transactions and institutions.
Several of the proposals CRFB analyzed would raise tax rates on the wealthiest households above 60 percent. At these rates, economists suggest that individuals would reduce their income and cut back on work, because they do not see the point in generating additional income if government will take 70 (or 80, or 90) cents on every additional dollar earned. While taxing “the rich” might sound publicly appealing, at a certain point it becomes a self-defeating proposition—and several proposals CRFB vetted would meet, or exceed, that point.
The report notes that “most of the [funding] options we present would shrink the economy compared to the current system.” For instance, CRFB quantifies the impact of funding single payer via a payroll tax increase as “the equivalent of a $3,200 reduction in per-person income and would result in a 6.5 percent reduction in hours worked—a 9 million person reduction in full-time equivalent workers in 2030.”
By contrast, deficit financing a single-payer system would minimize its drag on jobs, but “be far more damaging to the economy.” The increase in federal debt “would shrink the size of the economy by roughly 5 percent in 2030—the equivalent of a $4,500 reduction in per person income—and far more in the following years.”
Moreover, these estimates assume a great amount of interest by foreign buyers in continuing to purchase American debt. If the U.S. Treasury cannot find buyers for its bonds, a potential debt crisis could cause the economic damage from single payer to skyrocket.
To say single payer would cause widespread economic disruption would put it mildly. Hopefully, the CRFB report, and others like it, will inspire the American people to reject the progressive left’s march towards socialism.
Impeachment, and then what?
In the 20th century, no Congress brought impeachment proceedings against a first-term president facing a reelection. Both the Nixon and Clinton efforts were aimed at reelected presidents, perhaps on the theory that there was supposedly no other means of bringing them to account once they had been elected twice.
In contrast, Trump faces reelection in about a year. The prevailing mood may soon be just to let the voters adjudicate his purported sins and for a year allow the Congress to get back to — or begin — governing.
The makeup of the Senate matters. Nixon resigned before House impeachment because he feared that, if he were impeached, there might be enough Republican senators to give the Democratic majority a possible two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict him, given that the media hated his guts and the economy was souring and draining public support.
Bill Clinton knew that impeachment, facts aside, did not matter much, because the Republican Senate majority was never going to find the necessary votes to convict him, the media was on his side, and the economy was still robust.
In Trump’s case, there is little likelihood that a Republican Senate majority will lose control of its membership to render a two-thirds majority guilty vote. The economy is strong, and impeachment will become unpopular when the public knows that it will not, and cannot, remove a president. The Democrats are more likely seeking a symbolic 51 percent conviction vote, and a year of “the walls are closing in” anti-Trump chant in the press.
Polls matter. When the media and Democrats started impeachment stories and investigations, Nixon’s favorability was near 70 percent, after his landslide reelection and second inaugural. After twelve months of Watergate, he ended 1973 at about 30 percent approval. When he left office in August 1973 before impeachment, his approval was at about 24 percent.
Clinton, in contrast, enjoyed about 70 percent favorability when impeachment started and he went down only about 10 points — before rebounding and leaving office impeached but quite popular at 65 percent approval. The therapeutic Clinton lived in a pre-Internet age, and “I feel your pain” still resonated.
Three years’ worth of talk of Trump impeachment waxes and wanes. His polls accordingly slide to the low forties when “bombshells” and “turning point” frenzies flood the media, and then they inch back up to the middle forties when the bombast passes.
At this point in his presidency, Bill Clinton was gradually climbing back to near 50 percent approval; Barack Obama was right where Trump is now, at about 42-43 percent. It is hard to know whether impeachment helped or hurt Clinton because the economy was booming, he was seen as bipartisan, and the debt was finally declining. Impeachment was either irrelevant to his status or seen as a threat to it. Either way, Clinton was popular right before and after impeachment.
In Trump’s case, it may be that he ends up at about 44 percent favorability after the impeachment circus either fades or is realized, about where he was when the whistleblower hysteria commenced.
Both prior impeachment efforts were transparent, not just because key congressmen such as Peter Rodino and Newt Gingrich followed protocols, but also because both impeachments were built on damning cases from the work of special counsels. They could afford, then, to be transparent and allow the minority to make its case in the manner of most Judicial Committee hearings. In Trump’s case, however, a special-counsel investigation of 22 months’ duration has already cleared the president and not recommended a criminal referral, and there is no legal case for impeachment.
Impeachment Now . . .
For all the bluster, it is hard to see how the Democrats enjoy a winning hand. The catalyst for this version of the latest episode of the serial coup was the late, great “whistleblower” complaint. But by any definition, the anonymous leaker is by no means a whistleblower. He did not go first to the IG, but to Adam Schiff’s staff, a fact Schiff abjectly lied about. The rules prohibiting hearsay complaints were recently and mysteriously changed to facilitate the complaints like those of the current leaker — hearsay that a short time ago would not have been permissible.
The melodrama allegations of quid pro quo deal-making with the Ukrainian president were belied by Trump’s own release of the transcript of his call. The details showed bluster, not high crimes and misdemeanors, and it did not even match the whistleblower’s second- and third-hand versions of the call — a fact emphasized by Schiff’s bizarre made-up rendition, during a congressional hearing, of the transcript, which Schiff branded a “parody.” That the once coveted whistleblower will likely fade back into the bureaucratic abyss — without Democrats wanting him to be seen, heard, or cross-examined — is a testament to just how ridiculous is the latest iteration of impeaching Trump.
The word “Ukraine” now conjures up Joe and Hunter Biden as much as Trump. So its evocation serves as a boomerang, in either hurting or eventually taking out the stubborn Democratic front-runner.
Nancy Pelosi still has not called a vote for either a former inquiry or formal impeachment. She apparently wishes to allow Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee — the absurd place to start an impeachment “hearing” — to run wild behind secrecy, redactions, and refusals to call in minority witnesses and allow cross-examinations, in hopes that the carnival drives down Trump’s numbers before the public puts a stop to the freak show. Again, why not — given that the whistleblower could never sustain questions about his prior relationships with Joe Biden, Schiff, and Schiff’s staff, and about liberal lawyers prepping his complaint, and the actual leaking sources of his allegation?
The impeachment modus operandi for a while longer is by now old hat: Schiff calls in a supposed friendly witness and leaks the opening statement to the media, the latter declare it proof of Trump’s guilt, and then he keeps under wraps incriminating cross-examination questioning, if it even occurs, of the witness. The public already knows that such procedures are foreign to the American experience and violate the spirit of the Constitution — the resort of a Star Chamber inquisitor afraid he has no real case and that he’ll look stupid publicly pursuing such a chimera.
Giving Schiff such power was like arming an arsonist with a fuel tanker. Schiff has been serially caught in a number of outright lies and double-dealing. More will follow, because he is ignorant and arrogant — and oblivious to both. “Impeachment” is now a construct to divert from the Trump record, goad Trump into Twitter-frenzies, and drive down his polls to the high thirties — necessary for a serious impeachment bid.
If impeachment does not occur by Christmas, and it may well not, then the news cycle will preempt coverage of Schiff’s fading melodrama, especially if there are referrals for, or actual, indictments of, Obama-era intelligence officials. The extremism voiced on the Democratic stage will not help impeachment. The candidates themselves may come to resent the diversion of media coverage away from their candidacies and chafe if there is no compelling evidence for the impeachment stampede. In any case, far from the Horowitz, Barr, and Durham investigations being diversions from impeachment, the latest round of impeachment frenzy was likely designed to divert from the final unfolding of the greatest political scandal of the last half-century: the Obama-era intelligence agencies’ efforts to derail a campaign and then subvert a presidency.
None of the major issues aired on the democratic debates poll at 51 percent or above — not the Green New Deal, reparations, the abolishment of ICE, open borders, Medicare for all, free tuition and cancellation of student debt, a wealth tax, legal infanticide and late-term abortions, and on and on.
Rather than introduce any of these agendas in Congress, Democratic House and Senate members obsess over Trump. Democrats may scream “Now Trump has a record,” and he certainly does. But it is mainly characterized by near-record-low unemployment, massive new gas and oil production, strong growth, and a vibrant stock market. Trump pushed, as he promised, his four signature agendas, designed to separate him from all 16 of the 2016 primary candidates — being tough on China, unfair trade, and open borders; and having fewer optional overseas military interventions — often against congressional and court opposition.
All caused hysterias, but the public more or less supports calling Beijing to account, securing borders, insisting on reciprocal and symmetrical trade, and it opposes intervening again in the Middle East, given past displeasure with Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and de facto U.S. independence from Middle East oil.
The Democratic field resembles that of 2003 as it was entering Bush’s reelection year of 2004, when unhinged Howard Dean was the front-runner, and blow-dried phony John Edwards seemed the only alternative — until old warhorse John Kerry entered to reassure Democratic donors that they would have a choice between a quasi-socialist and a helium-filled suit. The tripartite choice now is between a 78-year old who is an avowed but increasingly frail socialist; a 70-year-old who has in the past fabricated her identity and is running as a socialist in all but name; and a 76-year-old white guy who has trouble stringing together simple sentences and thoughts, and who failed in two earlier presidential bids due to plagiarism, lies about his bio, and racially insensitive remarks.
How weird to watch a triad of private-jet-flying, SUV-driven, privileged multimillionaire old white people railing against multimillionaires, fossil fuels, and white privilege.
There are no moderate fringe candidates pulling any of them to the center, but rather incompetent, off-putting hard leftists such as the hyperactive Beto O’Rourke, the self-righteous Pete Buttigieg, the whiny Kamala Harris, the incoherent Cory Booker, and a host of other forgettables. If Warren or Sanders is nominated, neither will raise much money — given that Wall Street, Corporate America, and Silicon Valley do not equate their Democratic loyalties with a suicide pact.
If Biden survives, he will raise a great deal of cash, and his future depends on how well he remembers where he is, whom he is surrounded by, and what he is supposed to say.
The State of the Union
No one knows what the state of the union will be in November 2020. If unemployment stays near the near-record peacetime low of 3.5 percent, the economy still chugs along at 2 to 3 percent growth, and there is a decrease in illegal border crossings and staged caravan melodramas, Trump will be in a good position against any Democratic candidate to repeat his 2016 performance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. A Warren or Sanders McGovern- or Mondale-like candidacy would make his reelection much more likely.
Scandal, Wars, and Depression
What sinks presidencies, either preventing reelection or de facto ending them in stasis and crises are unpopular wars (Vietnam, Iraq), perceived recessions (1980, 1992), or major scandals (Watergate). Trump may cause furor by pulling back tripwire troops in Syria, but the move will probably continue to poll at over 50 percent with the public. He is unlikely to insert forces in optional engagements. A tit-for-tat missile or bombing response to an Iranian or ISIS attack would likely win approval.
Impeachments and scandals, as the case of Bill Clinton reminds us, are two different things. So far, Donald Trump is the most transparent, investigated, and cross-examined president in history. The result is not much dirt, but a lot of now-predictable and boring duds — the voting machines, impeachment 1.0, the emoluments clause, Stormy, Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, the 25th Amendment, the McCabe-Rosenstein Keystone Kops coup, Robert Mueller’s investigation, taxes, and now Ukraine.
The public may find the latest blood sport amusing at first and support an inquiry. But as it drags on and Schiff burns up the Constitution, they will tire and prefer to weigh in during the election — when they will likely opt for a continued resurgent U.S. and a strong economy over socialism and finger-wagging at a sinful America.
Column: The political contradictions of progressivism
“The fact is there is no more money. Period,” says Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.
She’s talking about the teachers’ strike that has paralyzed her city’s public schools—enrollment 360,000—for the past week. The public employee union is demanding more: more money for salaries (only eight states pay teachers more than Illinois), more support staff (Illinois ranks first in spending on administrators), more teachers per student. Their cause has attracted national attention. Elizabeth Warren joined the picket line.
Which is ironic. Lightfoot is not some stingy Republican. Nor is she a centrist Democrat like her predecessor Rahm Emanuel. She’s as progressive as you can get. But she now finds herself in the same position as many of her political brethren: facing criticism for failing to reconcile the contradictions in the left’s agenda.
Lightfoot has discovered that there is no limit to the appetite of the constituencies generated by government spending. She has learned that the special interests bargaining for higher benefits also desire policies that make such benefits unattainable. I hope she’s taking notes.
Chicago Public Schools has run a deficit for the past seven years. Why? Pensions granted to earlier generations of teachers are expensive. And the cost is growing. A quarter of the school budget is devoted to benefits—money that can’t be spent on classrooms, facilities, and instruction. Expect that number to rise as America goes gray and the bill comes due for the promises we made to ourselves.
The federal government can put Social Security and Medicare on the credit card for as long as demand for U.S. Treasuries is high. States and municipalities don’t have that luxury. There is an upper bound to what even the most progressive mayors and governors can grant the lobbies that mobilize voters for their campaigns. But it’s a glass ceiling. Public sector unions are eager to break it.
Nor does being woke protect you. It’s impossible to appease fully the groups fighting to claim resources and honor. They often won’t take yes for an answer. GM might tout to investors the fact that it is “leading in gender equality.” That didn’t stop the UAW from striking.
Public policy inspired by the ethic of social justice inflames the tension between progressive leaders and the voting public. Andrew Cuomo might sympathize with Mayor Lightfoot. His fealty to environmental groups has backed him into a corner. Banning fracking and canceling pipelines hasn’t just denied New York revenues, jobs, and lower energy bills. It also led energy supplier National Grid to cancel gas hookups in Long Island. Cuomo had to retaliate before the company restored service. Want to be a progressive? Claim credit for resolving a crisis of your own making after threatening to unleash state power on private actors responding to price signals. Cuomo makes it look easy.
Gavin Newsom also has been struggling to reduce the conflict between the imperatives of the new progressivism and the quality of life of everyday people. He has his hands full. Rising numbers of homeless have led to a breakdown of public order in areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Land-use regulations have restricted the supply of housing, leading to high prices and shortages, and Newsom’s answer is statewide rent control that will make things worse. California’s budget depends so heavily on revenues from the wealthy that it might not recover from another out-migration like the one the state experienced after a 2012 tax hike.
Pacific Gas & Electric is a case study in the progressive self-own. The state-regulated utility spent years deferring maintenance while it invested in renewable energy and promoted the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among the consequences of its neglect were terrible wildfires that devastated communities. The ensuing legal bills drove PG&E into bankruptcy. It says it’s been forced to engage in “de-energization”: purposeful mass blackouts to prevent further damage and legal action. In early October more than two million people were left in the dark. No house, no power, no prospects—welcome to the California Republic.
The contradictions of progressivism generate crises of affordability and governance. But the political class suffers few consequences. Chicago, New York, and California remain Democratic strongholds. What scattered opposition exists is internal to the political machine. On rare occasions parts of the coalition splinter from the whole and are able to defeat radical measures. Think of Bill de Blasio’s stalled plans to cancel entrance exams for New York City’s magnet schools. For the most part, though, the Democrats’ hold on power continues. It’s one monopoly progressives don’t seem to mind.
Are the voters in these communities merely complacent? Are they so content with the patchwork of benefits and status the jerry-rigged welfare state provides that they tolerate dysfunction? Or is the partisan alternative so appalling they won’t even consider it?
Questions worth pondering as progressives prepare to scale up their model nationwide. Who knows? One day, President Warren might be on the other side of that picket line.