Presidents who misremember history are doomed to repeat it
President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress underscored this administration’s left turn. The speech was a laundry list of progressive priorities in domestic, foreign, and social policy with a price tag, when you add in the American Rescue Plan, of some $6 trillion. Biden’s delivery, heavy with improvisation, only slightly enlivened a prosaic and unoriginal text. Biden repeated lines from both Bill “the power of our example” Clinton and Barack “the arc of the moral universe” Obama. But it wasn’t just the words themselves that made me think of Biden’s most recent Democratic predecessors. The scope of his plans, increasing government’s role in just about every aspect of American life, also brought to mind the Democrats who tried to govern as liberals after campaigning as moderates.
I’m old enough to recall the last president who vanquished Reaganism. Obama spoke of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” and came to Washington in 2009 with the aim of changing the trajectory of the country just as Ronald Reagan had done three decades earlier. Shortly before his one hundredth day in office, he delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he promised to lay a “new foundation” for the country. His friends in the media hailed him as the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Barack Obama is bringing back the era of big government,” historian Matthew Dallek and journalist Samuel Loewenberg announced in the New York Daily News.
We know how that turned out. The GOP captured the House in 2010. By the time Obama left office, Republicans had full control of Washington and were dominant in the states. Reaganism survived. And now, 12 years later, the cycle is repeating. This time it’s President Biden who is likened to FDR. It’s Biden who is said to have interred the idea of limited government. It’s Biden who is marking his first 100 days in office with plans to spend trillions on infrastructure, green energy, health care, and elder and child care. The political setbacks of the Obama years didn’t temper Biden’s ambitions. They intensified his desire to leverage narrow congressional majorities into sweeping expansions of the welfare state.
Why does Biden think he can avoid Obama’s fate? Like a good lawyer, he has a theory of the case. It goes like this: Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama spent enough money to ensure a strong economic recovery. They didn’t emphasize jobs above all else. Their caution was responsible for Democratic losses in the midterm elections. And all it takes is GOP control of one chamber of Congress to spoil a liberal revival. By opening the floodgates of federal spending, Biden hopes to deepen and extend the post-coronavirus economic boom. Growth and full employment will prevent a Republican takeover. And a second Progressive Era will begin.
The problem with this theory is its selective misreading of history. It wasn’t just the economy that sank the Democrats in 1994 and 2010. It was independent voters who turned against presidents who campaigned as moderates but governed as liberals. Nor did rising unemployment stop Republicans from picking up seats in 2002. And an economic boom didn’t save the House GOP in 2018. In every case, assessments of the president—among independent voters in particular—mattered more than dollars and cents. By committing himself to the idea that massive spending will safeguard the Democratic Congress, Biden may be inadvertently guaranteeing the partisan overreach that has doomed past majorities.
Biden doesn’t give enough credit to the record of his Democratic predecessors. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in January 1993 when Bill Clinton was inaugurated. By November 1994, it had fallen to 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, the economy grew by 4 percent in the third quarter of 1994. Nevertheless, the Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years and the Senate for the first time in 8 years. Why? Because Republicans won independents 56 percent to 44 percent. Voters who had backed Ross Perot in 1992 swung to the GOP. Voters’ top priority in the exit poll wasn’t jobs. It was crime. And the failure of Clinton’s unpopular health plan didn’t help.
The 2010 midterm had similar results. The economy, while nothing to brag about, was nonetheless improving. Unemployment had been falling since October 2009. Growth, though anemic, had also returned. Republicans gained 63 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate because independents rejected President Obama’s governance. They backed Republicans 56 percent to 37 percent—an 8-point swing against a president they had supported in 2008. Why? Part of the reason was the economy. But the Affordable Care Act was also significant. Health care was voters’ second priority in the exit poll. A 48 percent plurality called for Obamacare’s repeal.
Biden’s theory also omits the contrary examples of recent Republican presidents. In November 2002 the unemployment rate was higher, and growth lower, than in November 2000. But the GOP had a good year anyway thanks to President Bush’s high post-9/11 approval ratings and a tough but effective campaign on national security.
The 2018 midterm is further proof that campaign results are not a direct function of economic performance. Democrats won control of the House despite full employment and sustained growth. Independents, who had narrowly backed President Trump in 2016, turned against him and voted for Democratic candidates by a 12-point margin. No mystery why: A 38-percent plurality of voters said they were voting to oppose Trump, whose strong disapproval rating was at an incredible 46 percent in the exit poll. Health care ranked as the top issue, with voters recoiling at the prospect of an Obamacare replacement that failed to cover preexisting conditions.
Not only do the data show that the economy is less important to the midterms than many assume, they are also a reminder that the first hundred days do not define a presidency. The fate of a president and his party depends more on his ability to maintain popularity and on his performance during unanticipated crises. While Biden’s approval ratings continue to be positive and his disapproval low, there are some warning signs: His approval among independents ranges between the mid- to high-50s, and a majority of voters disapproves of his handling of migration along the southern border. Focused on his grand plans for the economy, Biden might dismiss voter concerns over immigration, crime, and inflation until it is too late.
Sure, Biden might avoid making Barack Obama’s mistakes. But he has plenty of time to make mistakes of his own.
In anticipation of President Joe Biden’s first-ever speech to Joint Session of Congress, the Republican National Committee released a list of what it referred to as “failure after failure” to mark his first 100 days in office.
“Here is just a shortlist,” the RNC said, of what it had identified as Biden’s “many broken promises, disastrous policies, and dangerous proposals: on a variety of issues including:
Joe Biden’s first 100 days have been marked by failure after failure.
Here is just a SHORT list of his many broken promises, disastrous policies, and dangerous proposals:
Biden’s Open Borders Agenda Created A Border Crisis
1. Biden’s open borders agenda has created a border crisis.
2. Biden tried to suspend deportations, weakening immigration enforcement.
3. He has obstructed border wall construction, including through his budget request, which would eliminate all funding for the border wall. Experts say border walls work, and Biden’s construction obstruction is literally throwing the border wide open.
4. Border state Democrats warned Biden’s White House about a border crisis fueled by his polices but the administration ignored their warnings.
Biden’s Border Crisis Boomed
5. Now, experts estimate 1,000 illegal immigrants are escaping into the U.S. each day during Biden’s border crisis.
6. There were 172,331 border apprehensions in March, 5 times the number in March last year.
7. Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody in March, the highest monthly total ever recorded.
8. Customs and Border Protection forecasts 184,000 migrant children will cross the border by the end of FY 2021, which would be the highest number ever.
9. There has been a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border from this time last year.
10. Thanks to Biden’s border wall obstruction, smugglers are exploiting gaps in the wall that were previously set to be built.
11. Officials warn of a “boom time for gangs,” traffickers, and smugglers as they take advantage of Biden’s border crisis.
Biden’s Crisis Of Leadership On The Border
13. When Biden finally admitted there is a “crisis that ended up on the border,” the White House then insisted that is not their official position in a completely insane walk-back, and that “children coming to our border… is not a crisis.”
14. Biden still does not have any plans to visit the border.
15. Kamala Harris laughed when she was asked if she would visit the border, and still has not visited the border even after being named Biden’s crisis manager.
Border Officials Struggle To Cope With Biden’s Disastrous Agenda
16. The Biden administration is releasing some illegal immigrants caught crossing the border without a court notice, and sometimes without any paperwork at all.
17. Border facilities are “stretched beyond thin” because of the crisis.
18. The Donna, Texas facility, one of the few facilities exempted from Biden’s media blackout, is at more than 16 times its capacity. Even Dr. Fauci admitted that packed crowds of migrant children is a “major concern.”
19. To deal with the surge, the Pentagon was forced to approve multiple military bases to house unaccompanied migrant children.
Biden Is Doubling Down On His Border Failures
20. Biden is restricting media access at the border to hide the true extent of the crisis and dodge accountability. When asked why his administration is denying press access, Biden conceded he is purposefully waiting to provide transparency at border facilities.
21. Instead of reversing course, Biden has doubled down on his failing open borders policies.
22. Biden has even removed civil penalties for illegal immigrants for a “failure-to-depart.”
Biden’s Anti-Energy Agenda Is Destroying Jobs
24. On day one, Biden abandoned Keystone XL pipeline workers, forcing thousands into unemployment with the stroke of a pen. American workers and families effected by his job-killing decision are still struggling to get by.
25. We are still waiting for Biden to announce a plan for these workers. Psaki said she had “nothing more” when asked about how Biden plans to replace oil and gas jobs killed by his energy policies.
26. When asked about the workers forced out of work by Biden’s policies, administration officials have dismissed concerns, saying they need “different [jobs],” “different education,” and that there are “jobs that might be sacrificed.”
27. While Biden implements policies to kill American jobs, he is kowtowing to China and Russia so they cooperate with his environmental agenda.
28. Biden is blocking new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which if kept in place threatens millions of jobs.
29. Biden nominated an Interior Secretary that believes oil and gas extraction on public lands should be permanently banned.
Biden Is Proposing Massive Job-Destroying Tax Hikes
31. Biden’s proposed tax hike would raise the combined tax rate on U.S. businesses to the highest of any country in the G7 or OECD.
32. Biden’s first tax proposals are already breaking his campaign pledge, “If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.”
33. According to reports, Biden is planning to propose even greater tax hikes, raising taxes on capital gains to over 43%.
34. According to administration officials, he is showing an increased openness to a carbon tax.
Biden’s Proposal Is Not An Infrastructure Package
35. Only 7% of the spending of Biden’s proposed “infrastructure” package is for roads, bridges, highways, airports, waterways, and ports.
36. His administration has lied about the job creation that’s possible under his infrastructure plan. Even CNN and The Washington Post called Biden out on misleading the American people on job predictions.
37. In terms of Biden’s broader Green New Deal agenda, The Washington Post and Associated Press have noted that many of Biden’s proposals will destroy more jobs than they create, and create jobs that pay less than the jobs they destroy.
39. The Biden administration is promoting a business that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is actively invested in to the tune of millions of dollars. Granholm is set to profit off of the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money Biden wants to spend as part of his infrastructure package.
On Schools, Biden Has Put Special Interests First
40. Biden repeatedly campaigned with American Federation of Teachers boss Randi Weingarten, who is leading the anti-science charge to keep America’s schools closed. Now that Biden is president, he has refused to call out the group.
41. Biden has caved to Democrat special interest groups at the expense of millions of children and families across America, even though the science shows that keeping schools closed has devastating effects on the mental health, social and economic situation, and academic achievement of children.
42. His stimulus bill put special interests before schools. The $1.9 trillion wish list only spends $6 billion, 0.3% of the bill, on K-12 schools this fiscal year with NO REQUIREMENT that they reopen.
44. Biden has conceded he has no plan to open high schools.
Biden Is Refusing To Speak Out Against The Growing Anti-Police Rhetoric In The Democrat Party.
45. The Biden administration has refused to condemn anti-police comments from Democrat members of Congress.
46. Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to condemn Maxine Waters’ inflammatory comments around the Chauvin trial that “we’ve got to get more confrontational.”
47. When Nancy Pelosi repeatedly defended Waters’ call for confrontation, Biden kept silent.
48. When every House Democrat voted to endorse Waters’ call for protestors “to get more confrontational,” Biden refused to speak out.
Biden’s Flip On Court Packing
49. Even though Biden criticized court packing for decades (check out these comments from 1983, 2005, and 2019), he has refused to speak out against House and Senate Democrats abandoning decades of bipartisan agreement by proposing court packing legislation.
50. He is even going a step further and actually establishing a court-packing commission.
Biden Says Goodbye To Bipartisanship & Hello To Extremism
51. Despite his campaign promises Biden is rejecting bipartisanship in favor of a hyper-partisan process to pass trillions in spending without Republican support.
53. He has resorted to governing through executive order, issuing far-left decrees at breathtaking speed.
55. Biden declared that “no amendment to the Constitution is absolute” when discussing the 2nd amendment.
57. Despite promising unity and compromise on the campaign trail, the only unity Biden has shown is with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. He has spoken to Xi and Putin more times than Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy.
Biden’s Georgia Boycott
60. Aided and abetted by misinformation peddlers like Stacey Abrams, Biden encouraged a boycott of Georgia.
61. Thanks to Biden’s lies about a law that actually expands voting opportunities, Georgia’s Cobb County is set to lose more than $100 million in tourism revenue.
62. What’s worse, Biden supported the boycott KNOWING it would hurt Georgia’s businesses and workers the most.
63. After Democrat Raphael Warnock admitted to spreading misinformation about the Georgia law, Biden is rallying with the senator in Atlanta tomorrow. Biden should apologize to Georgians instead.
Biden Backs The Democrats’ H.R. 1 Power Grab
65. By supporting H.R. 1, Biden is supporting a bill that would force states to allow paid party operatives to harvest ballots.
66. H.R. 1 would also threaten freedom of speech by turning the FEC into a partisan organization.
Biden Embraces Far-Left Spending Proposals & A Minimum Wage
67. Biden has dedicated trillions in wasteful spending for progressive pet projects.
69. Biden is backing a $15 federal minimum wage mandate, which the CBO says could eliminate up to 3.7 million jobs.
70. He is pushing defense cuts in his budget.
Biden Is Caving To America’s Enemies
71. Biden has refused to criticize Xi Jinping, even saying he didn’t “mean it as a criticism” when he called Xi undemocratic.
72. When discussing China’s human rights abuses, Biden downplayed those concerns, saying “culturally there are different norms.”
73. Biden is failing to confront China, with Psaki even saying Biden is “not in a rush” to counter China.
74. And in yet another broken campaign promise, Biden has not confronted China over COVID-19’s origins
75. In a patten of appeasing America’s enemies, Biden is caving to Iran.
Biden Is Now A Pro-Abortion Extremist
76. Biden rescinded the Mexico City policy, forcing American taxpayers to fund abortions overseas.
77. Biden’s HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has a history of attacking religious freedom, and during his hearing, he refused to rule out using taxpayer funds to pay for abortions and defended his past votes supporting the horrific practice of partial birth abortion.
Obamacare & Biden’s Government Takeover Of Health Care
78. Biden has repeated Barack Obama’s “lie of the year” on health care, and now as president he is bringing those lies back to Washington by working to reinstitute Obama’s terrible health care polices.
80. In his time as president, he has worked to expand Obamacare as he proposes a further government takeover of healthcare. A Navigant study found that Biden’s health plan could threaten more than 1,000 rural hospitals across 46 states.
On Operation Warp Speed, He’s The Lying, Plagiarist In Chief
82. Thanks to the previous administration’s development and distribution plan under Operation Warp Speed, which Biden has falsely tried to claim credit for, millions of Americans have been vaccinated.
84. In September President Trump pledged: “Millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April.” It tuns out, he was right, and we have Operation Warp Speed to thank.
85. Biden has failed to apologize for his statements spreading doubt about the vaccine which he made on the campaign trail last year.
Biden’s COVID $1.9 Trillion Bill Was A Far-Left Boondoggle
86. Biden’s $1.9 trillion boondoggle was not a “relief” bill.
87. Through Biden’s boondoggle, Democrats insisted on sending nearly $2 billion dollars in stimulus checks to prisoners, including violent felons like the Boston Marathon Bomber. Democrats blocked an amendment to restrict the stimulus payments when ramming through their partisan legislation.
88. In fact, hundreds of billions of the Democrats’ “relief” will not be spent for up to a decade from now.
Republican Coronavirus Policies Worked, Now Biden Wants To Rewrite History
89. Biden is trying to rewrite history on the coronavirus. After criticizing the Paycheck Protection Program and repeatedly visiting businesses that received PPP loans under President Trump, Biden baselessly claimed credit for their success.
90. After gaslighting the American people during the campaign, he proceeded to plagiarize the Republican’s coronavirus response at every turn, all while lying about the Trump administration’s robust COVID response.
Biden Gives The Worst Governors In The Nation A Pass
92. Biden has failed to take responsibility for being one of Andrew Cuomo’s biggest cheerleaders. Biden even declared: “Your governor in New York’s done one hell of a job. I think he’s the gold standard.” What was Biden declaring the “gold standard?” Anti-science nursing home orders that led to thousands of deaths, rewriting reports to hide the higher death toll, and a cover-up in the face of a federal investigation so the data would not be “used against” the Cuomo administration.
93. During the campaign, Biden repeatedly applauded Whitmer’s terrible approach to the coronavirus, and now as we keep learning more about how awful her response truly was, he has refused to backtrack his endorsement of Whitmer. The policies Biden endorsed? Renewing devastating nursing home orders three times, refusing to release the data on nursing home deaths, and buying the silence of her former health director with a $150,000 taxpayer-funded confidentiality agreement.
94. Biden won’t insist hypocritical governors like Gavin Newsom open their economies. America can only recover economically if we allow our businesses to open, but instead of standing up to governors whose lockdowns are hurting Americans, Biden continues to take a backseat.
An Opaque Administration Where One Has To Wonder Who Is Setting Policy
95. The Biden administration is one of the least transparent in history, continually ignoring questions from the press.
96. Joe Biden holds the modern record for the number of days it took a president to hold his first press conference.
97. Biden has not kept his promise on ethics agreements, facing mounting pressure to disclose the ethics agreements of his appointees.
98. After establishing a cap on refugees not in line with the desires of his far-left base, Biden then backtracked and claimed that he didn’t say that the cap was “justified.”
99. Remember when Biden was silent as his press secretary claimed for days that his reopening goal was only 50% of the schools for one day a week? Was he just not paying attention all that time?
Joe Biden’s presidency has been one stumble after another. It has only been 100 days, and the American people are already paying a steep price for his failures
Ever since Ronald Reagan, presidents speaking to joint sessions of Congress have used the presence of guests sitting with the first lady to personalize the impact of the policy proposals being made.
Joe Biden is no exception. In his speech, Wednesday, given near the end of his administration’s first 100 days in place of a State of the Union address, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will act as hostess to a handful of people who, the White House said “personify some of the issues or policies that will be addressed” in the president’s remarks.
Due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19, this year’s guests will attend the speech virtually while watching remotely, the administration said, following a virtual reception held that afternoon by Dr. Biden and live-streamed on the White House website.
Those attending include, as described by the White House in a news release:
–Javier Quiroz Castro, “Dreamer, DACA Recipient & Nurse”
According to a biographical sketch provided by the White House, Quiroz’s parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was three years old. He grew up in Nashville, attending Lipscomb University from which he graduated in May 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Science of Nursing degree. Quiroz received the Spirit of Nursing Award, given yearly to a single nursing student who best delivered quality care. In 2012, using the protection of the Barack Obama-initiated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he became a registered nurse and has been on the frontlines in the fight against COVID.
–Maria-Isabel Ballivian, “Executive Director, Annandale Christian Community For Action Child Development Center
Ballivian’s biographical summary describes her as “an innovative educator, senior administrator, trainer, and advocate” who has been working to improve young children’s quality of care and education. The program she runs is an NAEYC-accredited program serving more than 200 at-risk children in Fairfax County, Virginia.
–Tatiana Washington, “Gun Violence Prevention Advocate and Organizer”
According to the White House, Washington became involved with gun violence prevention work after her aunt was killed in a murder-suicide in March 2017. She is a Policy Associate at March for Our Lives and Executive Director of 50 Miles More, a youth-led organization focused on gun violence prevention. She is also involved in the Wisconsin Black Lives Matter Movement.
–Stella Keating (she/her), “First Transgender Teen to Testify Before U.S. Senate”
Keating’s biographical outline explains she’s been politically active since age nine when she testified before her school board advocating for more innovative programs in her elementary school. At age 16, the Tacoma, Washington high school sophomore became the first transgender teenager to testify before the U.S. Senate during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Equality Act in March 2021.
–Theron Rutyna, “IT Director for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa”
The White House described Rutyna as a leader in the effort to get broadband to tribal lands in Wisconsin. A member of Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ Broadband Task Force, he has been working with the state’s tribal communities to secure funding to bring broadband access to the mostly rural communities they occupy.
The issues the president has chosen to highlight with these guests, especially, the conversion of illegal immigrants to legal ones, transgenderism, and stricter gun control measures are hardly the moderate, bread and butter kinds of issues one might expect a self-proclaimed moderate to address his first time out of the gate. Rather than unite the country, as he tried to do in his inaugural, Biden is attempting, it seems to make a moral crusade out of some of the most divisive issues the country faces. Instead of bringing the country together, he’s splitting it further apart – which may explain why his approval rating at this point is the lowest for any elected president at the same time in their administration except for his immediate predecessors.
They didn’t call Ronald Reagan “The Great Communicator” just because he knew how to deliver a speech. The fact is, he—more than any president in recent memory—knew how to bring a complex idea to life in ways the public wouldn’t just understand but would embrace.
Sometimes this required some simplifications the media—which continually tried to prove Reagan a dunce—used to distort what he was saying. That’s not to say he didn’t get a few things wrong; every president does. On the big things, however, like the importance of economic growth and how to get it, he was very, very right.
Growth matters. The Republicans who followed Reagan into the White House either didn’t get it or couldn’t explain it. That left the door open for the media and progressives to slander and then dismiss pro-growth measures as deficit-enhancing tax cuts for the wealthy that produced greater income inequality.
The Republicans who tried but failed to follow Reagan into the White House—Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney—didn’t make it in part because they didn’t understand the need to explain how growth happens. They never communicated how the right kinds of tax cuts and deregulatory measures would cause economic expansion, leading to rising wages, more jobs and new businesses, making everyone better off while eventually bringing into the U.S. treasury as much revenue or more as the liberals claimed the tax cuts “cost.”
Reagan honed his ability to explain the politics and economics of growth to working Americans over years. As a spokesman for General Electric, he went around the country to the company’s various plants and facilities to talk to employees about the virtues of the free market system. More recent Republicans’ comparative inarticulateness may in part explain why the country appears to be embracing the soft socialism Joe Biden and his congressional colleagues are offering.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen just released a national survey of 1,200 registered voters that found 35 percent of them saying economic fairness was more important than economic growth. The fact that just over a third of the country thinks equality of outcomes deserves more focus than equality of opportunity—a key component of any pro-growth policy—should alarm Republican leaders and growth hawks.
Even when the numbers are broken down by party, the results are disheartening. According to Rasmussen, a third of Republicans now believe fairness is more important than growth. In the Reagan years and throughout the Gingrich era, which saw the first balanced budget in decades alongside a period of continued growth, a number that high would have been inconceivable.
It’s not that the GOP doesn’t believe in fairness. The free market is the fairest system ever conceived for the exchange of goods and services between willing sellers and willing buyers. It’s that they reject—or ought to, anyway—the idea that no matter where anyone starts, we all need to end up in the same place.
It’s really that kind of outcome that’s the most unfair. It presumes that no matter how creative a person is, how hard they work, how good their innovation might be or even how lucky they are, no one should do any better than their neighbor. Identical per capita income for every family—that’s the ticket.
Except it’s not. The progressive politicians’ response to the COVID crisis—shutting down the marketplace state by state while the federal government borrows trillions, inflating the debt while doing nothing to stimulate the economy—leads to disaster. It won’t take too much more of this before the United States starts to resemble Greece, and not in a good way. We’ll be comparatively lucky if it stops there, without the U.S. sliding all the way down into the same space as Venezuela.
There is a bright spot in Rasmussen’s data. “Those respondents who believe focusing on economic growth is the most important rated cutting spending and taxes as the best prescriptions” for doing so, as did those “who would rather focus on economic fairness.” Both sides agree on what needs to be done and, at least by implication, reject the Biden White House’s tax-and-spend plans. This means the growth wing of the GOP has a chance to carry the day—if it’s smart and can find leaders who can explain what is going on in ways the public can understand, even through the filter of the elite media and the opposition’s critique.
Now that she’s a member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren plans to give the progressive agenda a boost by introducing a bill that would create the nation’s first-ever tax on total assets.
This so-called “wealth tax” would consider anything and everything owned by a taxpayer in computing the taxes owed. More than double taxation – which is taxing the same income twice as happened with the Death Tax – the taxes the former Democratic presidential candidate wants to put on the books would essentially tax savings, investments, and real property over and over and over again.
According to some early static estimates, Warren’s proposal could generate as much as $2.75 trillion per year – but that does not take into account any change in behavior that might occur on the part of the taxpayers on whom it would be assessed.
A study recently released by the non-partisan American Action Forum found a wealth tax would lead to a decrease in innovation and investment, drive down wages and cause unemployment and produce a $1.1 trillion shrinking in U.S. gross domestic product over the first ten years of its existence. In subsequent decades, GDP would be smaller by about $283 billion, a 1 percent annual decrease from current projections.
The Warren plan would impose this new tax, published reports indicate, on taxpayers with assets above $50 million at a top rate of 6 percent per year while giving the U.S. Internal Revenue Service far greater power than it currently enjoys. With a wealth tax on the books, the IRS would have to hire thousands of new agents and auditors to keep track of all the assets held by those of whom the tax falls, to account for them, and assign them proper valuation at tax time.
Also included in the draft of Warren’s plan circulating through the nation’s capital is a 40 percent “exit tax” to be imposed on anyone who seeks to leave the United States permanently and is reminiscent of the so-called “tax” forced upon Jewish individuals and families seeking to emigrate from Nazi Germany in the years prior to the onset of World War II.
There are some, even in Warren’s own party, who doubt the plan is legitimate.
“We are tax law professors who identify as liberal Democrats, donate to Democratic candidates, publicly opposed the Trump tax cuts, and strongly support higher taxes on the affluent,” Daniel Hemel and Rebecca Kysar recently wrote in the New York Times. “We are worried, though, that leading figures in our party are coalescing around an idea whose constitutionality is doubtful at best.”
Warren’s plan is one of several under consideration on Capitol Hill that, on paper, raise tremendous amounts of money for the U.S. government. Unlike tax changes that achieve such ends by stimulating economic growth, however, her plan would simply redistribute income already earned, long a progressive objective.
To date, there has been no comment from the Biden Administration on the Warren wealth tax or any of the similar proposals under consideration. For his part, President Joe Biden remains committed to his promised repeal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in its entirety. If he’s successful, that would violate his repeated campaign pledge in which he vowed no American family making less than $400,000 per year would see their taxes go up “by one thin dime.”
Progressive efforts to staff the nascent administration backfire
On Nov. 2, before the first votes in the presidential election had even been tallied, the foreign policy “experts” from the Blame America wing of the Democratic Party laid out their demands. Foreign Policy described their “wish list,” which included above all else their pick of jobs in the expected Biden administration.
They’d kept their mouths shut for six months and now they wanted their reward. Or, as Foreign Policy put it, they were preparing to “take off the gloves, setting the stage for a public brawl for the party’s soul over policy and political appointments to the most senior positions.”
But Biden’s victory was less sweeping than expected, and as early as Nov. 6, Foreign Policy was reporting that progressives were panicking that the election results would “ease pressure on Biden to offer progressives key positions in the new administration.”
Still, the nomenklatura have pressed on, presenting the Biden transition team with a list of 100 names they must consider for senior jobs in the new administration.
The list’s existence was first reported by Politico, but the Washington Free Beacon obtained the document and published it in full. It includes a rogue’s gallery of fringe figures—anti-Semites, operatives with deep ties to unsavory regimes, and the merely unserious and unqualified.
And it quickly became clear that the organizers did not want the list to see the light of day. The Free Beacon’s publication of the dossier elicited recriminations and finger pointing. List organizers accused the mainstream reporters with whom they’d shared the list—presumably, an accurate one—of leaking the document to their enemies (us). At the same time, they told us we’d obtained an inaccurate copy, representative only of “research materials.” False, unless they were bamboozling us all.
The contretemps is revealing of how quickly the Democratic Party’s progressive wing went from demanding to begging, and of the disorganization and unseriousness of its efforts. Turns out, one mainstream reporter said, that list organizers hadn’t even consulted with several of those named on the list before including their names and résumés without their permission.
Vanquished in the primaries and now at risk of exclusion from the new administration, they are in disarray. A compelling story, if anybody cared to cover it.
If news writers had any integrity, the headlines following the 2020 election would have read like the one on this column. Instead, the media gods who helped put Joe Biden over the top expound on why Donald Trump‘s protests are without merit and just another example of Republican sore-loserism.
The former vice president’s apparent margin of victory is not all that large. At the time this was written it was about 6 million votes out of about 150 million cast. That works out to about 4 percent and could, depending on recounts, slip lower.
In the states that appear to be making the difference—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin—Biden’s lead is extremely narrow, much as Trump’s was when he defeated former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton to win the White House in the first place. It’s hard to argue the man most of the media anointed the new American chief executive before all the votes were cast has a mandate to do much of anything.
Nonetheless, if he eventually becomes president, the calls for him to act swiftly and decisively will be frequent, loud, and—from his point of view—problematic. In the Thursday, November 19 edition of The Wall Street Journal author and political cartoonist Ted Rall argues forcefully that, without the support of progressives who held their nose and voted for him anyway, Biden wouldn’t be going back to Washington and instead would be headed back to Delaware.
Progressives who would have preferred Vermont senator Bernie Sanders may have pushed Biden past Trump in the popular vote and in the states that will determine the outcome in the electoral college, but on almost every other measure they were defeated. By a small majority, the nation indicated it may not want four more years of Trump, but it’s clearly repudiated the progressive agenda.
The GOP may have lost seats in the U.S. Senate but it’s most likely maintained control. The outcome hangs on two runoffs in Georgia—both of which the Republicans are favored to win—unless an audit of the votes pushes incumbent GOP senator David Perdue back up over 50 percent of the vote, where he was for most of election night. Right now, he’s at 49.71 percent, and the 0.3 percent he needs to avoid a runoff might be overcome just by the uncounted votes being discovered across the state.
The Republicans were also projected to lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, they won all the top targeted races, lost no incumbents seeking reelection, and gained enough seats not only to get above 200—a crucial barrier in the battle for the majority—but to put Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s ability to control events on the floor in doubt. Enough moderate Democrats are saying privately (and thanks to some propitious leaks, publicly) that they’re not willing to walk the plank for her and the “The Squad” is in for a rough going.
Looking around the country, the Republicans picked up one governorship in 2020 (Montana) and the New Hampshire state legislature. This gives the GOP the prized “trifecta” in each state which, when added to the dozens they already had, means that while Washington is gridlocked the GOP can use states to pass the reforms they’ll take national the next time they have the White House.
At the same time the Democrats, who enlisted the substantial fundraising support of former president Barack Obama and former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder in an attempt to flip legislative chambers to Democratic control, failed everywhere they tried. They may have spent tens of millions or more in pursuit of this goal with nothing to show for it. Contrary to late predictions, the GOP held on to state legislatures in Texas and Arizona comfortably when the battle for control was expected to be a close-run thing. And they held the legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and enough other key states that predictions are already being made that, based solely on the upcoming reapportionment of U.S. House seats among the states, the Republicans are headed to a decade-long majority. No wonder Mrs. Pelosi is saying this is her last term as speaker.
Even at the lawmaking level, progressivism was crushed. Voters in California, who went for Biden over Trump by about two to one, rejected an effort to repeal the 1996 Proposition 209 that prohibits the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education and contracting. At the same, in progressive Colorado, voters said “Yes” to a cut in the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. In Illinois, voters rejected a measure to establish a graduated income tax and in Montana voters limited the ability of local governments to interfere with issuing of “concealed carry” firearms permits.
If there’s one takeaway from the 2020 election, it’s that, despite the aggressive support it received from donors, elected officials, candidates for office and the mainstream media, progressivism is on the decline. Heck, Joe “I am the Democratic Party” Biden even rejected it while debating Donald Trump. The course is set and if the new president—whoever it is—is smart enough to follow it then the sailing should be smooth. If not, it’s stormy weather ahead.
Progressive Democrats have dominated San Francisco’s city government for the last 20 years, a time during which homelessness, drug abuse, the cost of living, and the city budget have skyrocketed. San Francisco is becoming an increasingly obvious problem for the national Democratic party, with vice president-elect Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dianne Feinstein all from the Bay Area.
As a succession of city governments have tacitly tolerated drug abuse and the crimes that go with that, a de facto thriving drug-based economy tragically plays out in the open on city streets every day. The city spends a small fortune each year collecting millions of used hypodermic needles from city streets and pays city workers about $185,000 annually to clean up feces from the sidewalks.
This is why $8 million in campaign money was poured into local elections earlier this month to convince San Francisco voters to replace progressive Democrats with more moderate Democrats on the city’s Board of Supervisors, and to vote down a number of local tax initiatives that would make San Francisco even more expensive and less desirable as a business location than it presently is.
The party strongly backed more moderate candidates with the view that San Francisco could make progress if a moderate majority board was elected who would in turn work productively with San Francisco mayor London Breed, who has a much better understanding of the city’s problems than the current board.
The party’s investment in bringing about more responsible governance and policies didn’t work. It wasn’t even close. The most progressive Board of Supervisors candidates won, which means that the board’s majority remains highly progressive, and thus likely will continue to block many housing proposals. Why? Because most developments would gentrify neighborhoods by replacing very old, low-density housing with new, high-density housing. And for progressives, gentrification is not an option.
Blocking new development means constraining supply, which in turn means San Francisco housing costs remain ridiculously high. How high? How about $1.1 million for about 1,000 square feet in the city’s Mission District, San Francisco’s highest crime neighborhood? For comparison, a similarly sized home in in a low-crime Atlanta neighborhood is yours for $174,900. In rapidly growing Denver, a similar home costs about $250,000.
The blocked housing developments in San Francisco would be so valuable that those residents who might be displaced could be substantially compensated. The devil is always in the details, but the status quo of keeping the economic pie much smaller than it could be is never the solution.
For decades, San Francisco’s politicians have blocked new housing to prevent highly aid tech and finance workers from moving in and changing old-school neighborhoods. Yes, the 1950s-era Italian American diner serving spaghetti with red sauce and sausage, as delicious as it is, would be gone, and would be replaced by a higher-priced restaurant with a menu tailored to serve new residents. But times and people change, and so will neighborhoods.
It is grossly expensive to prevent new development, because new development helps everyone by expanding the city’s housing stock. Build it, no matter what it is, and supply expands. As more housing opportunities open, people move, freeing up existing homes for others to move into. California grew from about 7 million people in 1940 to about 20 million by 1970, but home prices, adjusted for inflation, did not skyrocket, because new construction kept up with demand. Prices did not enter the stratosphere until local government began to block development.
Local progressives have drawn a line in the sand: no new housing unless it is new housing that they personally find acceptable. Meanwhile, about 17,000 homeless people live in the streets, according to the National Homeless Information Project, roughly twice as many as the official count. And there are now more drug users within the city than there are high school students.
San Francisco’s failure to effectively govern is a growing problem for the national Democratic party, and for reasons that go beyond the human tragedies that unfold every day in plain view, and which remind everyone that the Democrats own this.
Former San Francisco mayor and old-school Democratic politician Willie Brown knows this as well as anyone. Brown recently was interviewed and argued very candidly that the Democratic party has lost its way, and that it provides little of interest to voters outside of Sunday morning political talk shows. He openly worries about the fate of San Francisco and his party, a political party that is increasingly being dominated by wealthy elites and one that is moving far from the ideas that he represented.
Brown knows that San Francisco and, more broadly, California have run the experiment of very liberal governance, and that experiment has clearly failed. He also knows that California voters made a right turn two weeks ago by voting down tax increases and the restoration of affirmative action, and by voting to restore the right of gig workers to work as independent contractors by passing Proposition 22. By passing this proposition, voters told elite Democratic lawmakers they didn’t approve of the legislature stealing economic freedom and making it illegal for many to work as independent contractors.
California’s failure to effectively govern is a teaching moment for the rest of the Democratic party. The progressive agenda failed in California, and it will fail nationally. Without the perfect foil of Trump to hide behind, Democrats must now deliver without the benefit of simply saying that they are working 24/7 to fight against everything Trump.
Willie Brown and other old-school Democrats know that if Biden and Harris are to succeed, the party must move against its progressive wing that includes Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, all of whom favor policies that would sharply reduce economic freedom, economic growth, and our quality of life.
The national Democratic party has plenty of problems to address. The global pandemic remains. China is China. Iran is Iran. Russia is Russia. And 70 million voters remain skeptical that the party even knows they exist. What has happened in San Francisco scares the national party, because they understand San Francisco’s fate can happen anywhere if the old guard can’t find a way to take control of the party and implement moderate policies.
It is good that the national party is worried about what has happened in San Francisco. Sadly, San Francisco’s plight will continue for the time being. But we can hope that its lessons will help promote better national policies in the Biden-Harris administration.
The 2020 election was a referendum on the progressive elite, and they were soundly defeated
In a week of surprises, California’s rejection of a ballot measure that would have allowed the state to resume its affirmative action program was among the most significant.
The measure, known as Proposition 16, wasn’t defeated by shy Trump voters. Polling showed Hispanic and other minority voters evenly split on the measure, and on Tuesday it was defeated in California’s most Latino counties.
California’s result is just one piece of the mounting evidence that voters on Tuesday threw a wrench in the progressive plan to leverage a “coalition of the ascendant” and an “emerging Democratic majority” to turn the country into a woke utopia.
The 2020 election was in large part a referendum on Democrats’ race baiting and pandering, starting with the party’s own elevation of Biden to the top of the ticket. Democrats’ rejection of Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris was a leading indicator that the media missed.
Millions of voters of all races made clear that they instead prefer the old ideals: equality of opportunity, economic freedom, and a society that judges its citizens not by the color of our skin, but the content of our character.
Beyond that, the president whom Democrats have lambasted for four years as a racist and a xenophobe turned out more minority voters than any Republican candidate in decades. It’s not just that right-wing Cubans handed Trump a surprise victory in south Florida; he clinched some of the nation’s most Latino counties, improved his margins with black men and women, and even earned commanding majorities in some Native American counties. And that exit poll data does not account for the shy Trump voters, an effect we presume may well be exaggerated among black and Hispanic voters.
Senate races yielded more bad news for the progressive left. Even if Joe Biden wins the White House, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who easily overcame an $80 million challenge, will serve as a check on the ascendance of socialists such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) to the Biden cabinet. Voters may have wanted Biden, but there’s a whole wing of his party they’d prefer to do without.
Some House Democrats can see the writing on the wall. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.) reportedly told her caucus that the progressive push to defund the police and embrace “socialism” almost cost them the majority. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) advised Democrats to drop the woke speak, starting with the bizarre “Latinx.”ADVERTISING
Tuesday’s results should shatter the Democratic presumption that their party is destined to command the overwhelming and eternal support of minority voters—but it won’t. The politics fueled by racial grievance and personified by the “squad” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib is a cancer on the Democratic Party that it indulges at its own peril.
America's polarized and divided politics aren't going anywhere.
The polls were wrong. The blue wave was no tsunami. The Democratic majority did not fully emerge. Parts of the “coalition of the ascendant” drifted to the right. For a generation, American politics has been closely and bitterly divided between the parties. There has been high turnover in office, and frequent shifts in power. Majorities are unstable. No victory is permanent, no realignment durable. The stalemate goes on.
If Joe Biden becomes president, he is more likely than not to take office with Republicans in control of the Senate. That hasn’t happened in 116 years. He will certainly take office with a reduced House majority—the Democrats have a net loss of six seats at the time of writing. Six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Republican appointees. The partisan breakdown of state legislatures and governor’s mansions will resemble, almost precisely, the pre-election status quo. It’s a good thing Biden campaigned as someone willing to work across the aisle. He’ll have no other choice.
If Trump wins a second term, practically nothing will have changed in American politics, except that both Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell will have fewer votes to work with.
The country remains split. The New York Times exit poll says 37 percent of voters were Democrats and 35 percent Republicans, with 28 percent identifying as independents “or something else.” The Fox News/AP voter analysis pushed “leaners” toward one party over another. It says that 47 percent of voters were Republican or lean Republican, and 48 percent were Democrats or lean Democrat.
Only 24 percent of voters in the exit poll identified as liberal. The rest said they were moderate (40 percent) or conservative (37 percent). The Fox News voter analysis has similar results, with a slightly higher percentage of liberals (30 percent) and a lower percentage of moderates (33 percent). Conservatives were at 38 percent.
The sorting of parties by race, education, marital status, and religious practice has polarized our elites and made politics heated, noisy, and apocalyptic. Every election is billed as the most important in our lifetimes, the potential end of democracy and our ways of life. For all the fire and fury online and on cable news, however, elections continue to be decided in the middle.
Look at the suburbs, where a lot of those moderates and independents live. They backed Bush in 2004, then went for Obama in 2008. Two years later, repelled by Obamacare, Republicans won 56 percent of the suburbs and 56 percent of independents. Obama won reelection in 2012 by erasing those margins. The electorate in 2014, however, looked almost exactly like it did in 2010. And in 2016, Trump won the suburbs by 5 points and independents by 6 points. (He lost moderates by 11.)
According to the 2020 exit poll, Trump lost the suburbs by 3, independents by 14 (a 20-point swing), and moderates by 31. In the Fox voter analysis, Trump lost suburbs by 10 points, independents by 14 points, and moderates by 25 points. Both campaigns turned out their supporters. But the Trump campaign assumed its base would be enough to win. It looks like they were wrong.ADVERTISING
If Trump loses, it will be because voters in the middle grew tired of his antics. The public assessment of Trump’s actions was filtered through its distaste for his comportment, rhetoric, and behavior. And Trump’s personality often overshadowed or undermined the progress of his own administration.
These dramatic self-owns became most obvious, and most harmful, during the coronavirus pandemic. The elected officials who demonstrated steadiness, compassion, and concern these past eight months have seen their job approval numbers rise, no matter the actual status of their communities. Trump’s scattershot response prevented him from building on the slight uptick in support that he enjoyed last March. The voters who said the coronavirus was their most important issue went for Biden overwhelmingly.
This rejection of Trump was personal. It did not extend to the entire Republican Party. Several GOP senators ran ahead of him. The gains in the House speak for themselves. At the moment, the only governor’s mansion to flip is Montana’s. It’s a Republican pickup. Voters rejected a graduated income tax in Illinois and affirmative action in California. Even if Democrats sweep the two Georgia Senate runoffs, and Chuck Schumer gets to be majority leader thanks to Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, the chances now that he will abolish the filibuster, pack the Court, and grant statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., are nil. The Democrats dreamed of legislating the GOP out of existence. That’s not going to happen. It’s why they are so morose about these results.
The Republican challenge today is the mirror image of the party’s dilemma after 2012. Then, the GOP needed to retain its support in the suburbs while boosting support among whites without college degrees. Now, it needs to retain its support among whites without college degrees while boosting support in the suburbs. And it needs to solidify its gains among black males and Hispanic voters who responded to policies aimed at tight labor markets and economic empowerment.
It’s a tall order. But, as always, the Republicans’ best allies will be Democrats, who like all winners will interpret an electoral victory as an ideological mandate. Overreach is inevitable. And so is the backlash. The vote counting isn’t over, but the GOP comeback has already begun.
The left calls for racial quotas in the name of progress
The American dream is that any citizen, regardless of sex, race, creed, or color, can rise on his determination and merit. History is littered with examples of the reformers who worked to realize that dream, pushing the most influential institutions in the country to prize talent and hard work over wealth and connections.
The introduction of standardized testing, accessible to all American teens, was part of that push. Harvard University began administering a standardized test to all applicants in 1905. Its effect was profound and immediate: historically a landing spot for the Protestant upper crust, the school began admitting far more public school kids, Catholics, and Jews.
The increasing number of Jewish students was a major concern for Harvard president and committed progressive A. Lawrence Lowell. He tried to implement a quota on Jews, then pivoted to an admissions process that used intangible factors such as “character” and “manliness.” It worked: Jewish applicants consistently fell short.
These sorts of hazy, intangible assessments are now championed by the left. In the name of racial equality, the woke now seek to dismantle meritocratic norms and return to the quota systems that practices like standardized testing were designed to relegate to the trash heap of history.
In a lawsuit likely headed for the Supreme Court, hundreds of would-be Asian admittees allege that Harvard caps their numbers with quotas based on “personality”—an eerie echo of Lowell’s method for keeping out Jews.
The New York Times’s classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini, is calling for the end of the blind symphony audition, which drove a tripling of women’s representation in the field, so that conductors can make race-based selections. The University of Connecticut School of Medicine, where merit is literally a matter of life or death, recently suspended admissions to its honor society because the GPA-based admissions criterion did not produce an honor society that, as Bill Clinton said, “looked like America.”
The SAT—which measures intellect better and more fairly than do intangible heuristics—is under fire. University of California president and former Obama official Janet Napolitano has joined the chorus of administrators at elite universities who complain that race-blind admissions aren’t producing the desired results.
Those calling for “progress” usually want to forfeit someone else’s job. Tommasini is a white man, as are all his listed colleagues at the Times‘s “music” section. So is the L.A. Times’s Mark Swed, and Washington Post music critic Michael Brodeur, who recently penned a news report about classical music’s “long overdue reckoning with racism.”
All are curiously quiet on the “racism” of their clique. None seem ready to give up their own position for indigenous or trans critics, who surely exist! Surely they are waiting somewhere for the call from the New York Times that their turn has come, merit be damned!
As the Times‘s own Ross Douthat noted, those who stand to benefit most from this new attitude are the rich and powerful, who will be free to clear the way for their underachieving kids—the Varsity Blues scandal, legitimated by wokeness.
The new war on merit is the same as the old, and it marks regression rather than progress. It’s straight out of Lowell’s playbook: In the name of “equality,” tear down the only system we have that gives the talented a shot over the powerful.
Attorney General William Barr noted America’s slide toward despotism during remarks at the National Religious Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Wednesday. He highlighted changes in three institutional “bulwarks” that have long preserved liberty: “religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press.”
Most notable was Barr’s calling out of the “remarkably monolithic” press as a vehicle for pushing Americans toward a secular progressive program and a “soft despotism,” wherein everyone is converted “into 25-year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out.” Barr described this progressive dream as a use of the “public purse to … build a permanent constituency of supporters who are also dependents.”
Barr noted the press, having become less like objective journalists and more like political activists, maintains massive influence in directing public opinion to “mobilize a majority” toward progressive goals.
When the media becomes a viewpoint monolith, “Not only does it become easier for the press to mobilize a majority, but the mobilized majority becomes more powerful and overweening with the press as its ally,” Barr said. “This is not a positive cycle, and I think it is fair to say that it puts the press’ role as a breakwater for the tyranny of the majority in jeopardy.”
The relationship among journalists, politicians, and the American people has shifted since 2016 and the run-up to Donald Trump’s presidential election. The president has repeatedly referred to the press as the “enemy of the people” producing “fake news,” for which he has received much criticism. A September 2019 Gallup poll revealed only 41 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of faith in the mass media. Public mistrust in the press cannot be attributed wholly to Trump, however. The media’s track record speaks for itself: blatant lies over the Russia collusion hoax, Trump’s impeachment, the Jussie Smollett hoax, the Covington Catholic high school students story, and grossly mischaracterized pro-life legislation, among countless other errors. The media has even mocked Trump supporters as “credulous boomer rube[s].”
The press wielding its power in such a way is consistent with the attorney general’s assessment of progressives, however. According to Barr, progressives prop up politics as religion, taking a no-holds-barred approach — including weaponization of the press — to achieve their desired goals, which are “earthly and urgent.”
Totalitarian democracy, says Barr, “requires an all-knowing elite to guide the masses toward their determined end, and that elite relies on whipping up mass enthusiasm to preserve its power and achieve its goals. … [It] is almost always secular and materialistic, and its adherents tend to treat politics as a substitute for religion. Their sacred mission is to use the coercive power of the state to remake man and society according to an abstract ideal of perfection. The virtue of any individual is defined by whether they are aligned with the program. Whatever means used are justified because, by definition, they will quicken the pace of mankind’s progress toward perfection.”
Barr’s Wednesday remarks are reminiscent of his November 2019 speechto the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, where he said, “[S]o-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … [T]here is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy war, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.”
The progressive left demands cultural changes, putting conservatives on the defense. It's never conservatives throwing the first punch.
A recent Voxsplainer aimed at breaking down the “War Against Thanksgiving” to bespectacled urbanites referred, mostly in passing, to the “culture war-stoking conservative media.” This is adorable, and for two particular reasons.
First, because its matter-of-fact presentation demonstrates how deeply this notion is embedded as conventional wisdom on the center-left. Second, because it’s so obviously stupid.
Of course, it’s the Fox-guzzling conservative rubes stoking the culture war, those reactionary pitchfork wielders who burn Howard Zinn books and listen to Blake Shelton sing about trucks. Or perhaps it’s the fault of cynical Beltway operators who exploit the anxieties of Flyover simpletons for profit and power.
The “culture-war stoking conservative media” is a liberal trope because it neatly comports to basic elite stereotypes about conservatism as a misguided ideology of blind rage and ignorance. The culture war itself is seen as a lowbrow battleground for reactionaries and the Brooks-Brothers elites who mine their concerns for clicks.
This brings me to the second reason Vox’s descriptor is amusing. The progressive movement is waging this war on culture by its own admission. By the essence of their mission and the definition of their moniker, progressives are on offense. There would be no cultural battles were it not for changes demanded by the left. Those of us so-called “culture war-stoking” conservatives in media are on defense. Almost always.
We focus heavily on culture because it’s what our audience finds useful. It’s what our audience finds useful because they, too, are on defense—and that’s because the left is focused even more heavily on culture. This kind of coverage is entirely a response to the left’s broad and deliberate cultural offensive, which honest progressives should fully own. The left raises proposals (or demands, more often) for cultural change. In response, we stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” (Or we’re supposed to, at least.)
Of course, media conservatives are blamed for stoking the flames of a culture war because center-left elites wouldn’t dare admit their own hands have been dirtied by something so asinine and lowbrow. Yet, curiously, they own all of these politicized initiatives to alter the culture. But you can’t have it both ways.
For instance, are the conservatives who cover transgender bathrooms stoking the culture war by virtue of their coverage, or is it the folks who introduced the idea and are seeking aggressively to normalize it? Again, to an honest progressive, the answer should be easy: the culture is oppressive and they are waging a righteous war against it.
Consider awards season, which regularly produces a stream of contrived liberal broadsides. I love Meryl Streep, but it was her choice to pit popular sports against “the arts,” echoing the snobbishness that drove voters to Donald Trump. She did the stoking, conservative media simply responded. When Sean Spicer was cast on “Dancing with the Stars,” conservative media’s coverage was provoked entirely by the left’s complaints.
As for the “War on Christmas,” an admittedly dramatic designation, it isn’t exactly conservative Christians pushing to secularize the holiday, and the push to secularize the holiday absolutely exists. Is conservative media sometimes guilty of framing cultural conflict in hyperbolic terms? Of course. But, often, what looks like hyperbole to elites—who cheer many sweeping progressive initiatives—sounds pitch perfect to conservative bystanders watching their world get turned upside down. You can go down the line on these issues, from the national anthem to comedy to statues of Thomas Jefferson to Taylor Swift, it’s never conservatives throwing the first punch.
Even the aforementioned Vox article, headlined “Trump’s made-up war on Thanksgiving, explained,” gently undermines its own contention about the culture war. In a subheading titled “It’s not a bad idea to give Thanksgiving a think,” the author suggests using Thanksgiving as a time to “[consider]” the plight of the Native American community, which is perfectly reasonable idea, but certainly calls for change. It’s also perfectly reasonable for conservatives to counter that suggestion by arguing the holiday would be better spent focusing on our “social and domestic ties,” as Sarah Hale proposed so many years ago. Either way, the would-be change agents aren’t coming from the right.
Whatever is happening with Thanksgiving is nothing compared to wars being waged on other cultural fronts. And it’s not a war being “stoked” by conservative media, but by the left. To believe otherwise is to undermine the entire progressive project.
A lot of people are dunking on Michael Moore for declaring that he now represents the center of the Democratic party, and they’re enjoying it, and they ought to. But he might not be completely wrong in that self-assessment, and it’s both a statement about him and a statement about the Democratic party.
Put aside everything you can’t stand about Michael Moore for a moment. (I know, it’s a lot.) But Moore’s political vision has always had a strong populist streak that aligns a lot with elements of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. His 1989 documentary, Roger and Me was all about Moore’s anger that General Motors was ending production of automotive parts in factories in Flint, Mich., while increasing production of parts in Mexico. Moore sees America’s corporate class as a bunch of selfish, greedy snobs who show little or no appreciation for the workers that enable their profits or the country that gave them their opportunities. That leftist view of 1989 feels pretty mainstream three decades later — and not just in the Democratic party.
In July 2016, Michael Moore shocked many of his allies by predicting that Donald Trump would win the presidential election. Moore’s assessment is eerily prescient, warning his political allies that working-class voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin felt “abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to [vulgar euphemism] with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.”
He also warned about Hillary, whom he said he personally believed had gotten a bad rap, but “nearly 70 percent of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage.” Finally, he reminded people about the unexpected victory of independent Jesse Ventura in 1998: “Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump.”
Moore’s a progressive through and through, but he periodically reveals a seething disdain for the hypocrisies and phoniness of the Democratic party’s elite leadership class. And you get the feeling that while Moore isn’t opposed to woke culture and the various crusades that rile up the Twitter Left, he would prefer a Democratic party much more focused on improving the quality of life for America’s working class. He’ll never make a film about how “Latinx” should replace the term “Latinos.”
Meanwhile, certain kinds of Democrats are nearly extinct — pro-life Democrats (other than Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards) pro-gun Democrats, the kinds of reformers who used to make up the old Democratic Leadership Council. Democrats to the right of Michael Moore are fewer, and Democrats to the Left of him are more numerous. He stood still; the party moved around him.
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.