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“Not Much To Chew On”: Conservatives Show A Lack Of Appetite For Sen Mike Lee

Whoever thinks there’s no such thing as a free lunch has not been to the Heritage Foundation.

After Sen. Mike Lee’s speech to the conservative think tank Monday, his listeners didn’t rush to the front of the room, where the Utah Republican was greeting well-wishers, but to the back to get in line for sandwiches, cookies and soft drinks provided gratis to the hungry young conservatives who sat through the hour.

Such an inducement may have been necessary to fill the room for Lee, who is not exactly an electrifying speaker. His colleague Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fellow first-term senator with tea party backing, packed a much larger auditorium at Heritage in February. But Lee is no bomb-thrower; he is amiable and cerebral and uses phrases such as “We can start ensuring policy sustainability” and “The true and proper end of political subsidiarity is social solidarity.” Even Lee’s former Senate colleague Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who took over as Heritage’s president this month, apparently had more pressing business elsewhere.

This lack of appetite for Lee helps explain why the vision he outlined for conservatives, though worthy, is unlikely to receive serious GOP consideration. He essentially wants a return to “compassionate conservatism,” but there are a few big problems: George W. Bush tarnished the notion (by giving it lip service but little else), Paul’s libertarian wing is ascendant in the party, and Lee has little to propose other than vague notions of federalism.

Lee, a young man with a round face and thinning hair, diagnosed the conservatives’ condition fairly well. “The left has created this false narrative that liberals are for things and conservatives are against things,” he said. “A liberal proposes an idea, we explain why it won’t work and we think we’ve won the debate.”

Lee sounded much like Bush when he campaigned in 1999 against the “Leave us alone” conservatives. “Freedom doesn’t mean you’re on your own,” the senator said. “It means we’re all in this together.” He even echoed Bush’s “No child left behind” phrase as he argued for a “voluntary civil society that strengthens our communities, protects the vulnerable and minds the gaps to make sure no one gets left behind.”

Lee criticized Bush for misapplying the philosophy, referring to “one politician’s occasional conflation of ‘compassion’ and ‘bigger government.’ ” He also criticized past conservatives for overusing federal power and for being intolerant (“The price of allowing conservative states to be conservative is allowing liberal states to be liberal”). His criticism of Paul’s libertarian wing was particularly colorful: “This vision of America conservatives seek is not an Ayn Rand novel. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Frank Capra movie.”

But as a practical matter, Lee wasn’t offering anything much different from the Rand acolytes. He spoke of an end to “corporate welfare” — an admirable goal, but his targets were the same old villains such as Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. He employed the usual straw-man characterization of liberals: “They attack free enterprise. . . . Elite progressives in Washington . . . believe in community organizers, self-anointed strangers, preferably ones with Ivy League degrees.” (This from a man who is the son of Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, grew up in McLean and went on to clerk for Samuel Alito.)

Lee’s grand solution is one that conservatives have wanted for decades: the devolution of power to state and local governments. “We must make this fundamental principle of pluralistic diversity a pillar of our agenda,” he said, in a typically airy phrase.

But how? A questioner asked the senator how to “translate what you’re saying to benefit the 40 percent at the bottom” rather than “protecting the 1 percent.”

Lee’s answer provided nothing specific. “When you take government out of the equation,” he replied, “it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game between this top percentage and that bottom percentage.”

Another questioner asked whether the government should support the “social entrepreneurs” who Lee said are crucial to strengthening society. Again, he had no specifics. He said the government should “establish a neutral set of rules” for all. To do more, he said, would be “destructive.”

A third questioner asked bluntly: “Which policies . . . help promote these vibrant communities which we as conservatives want to foster?”

Lee replied: “The single most important policy would be federalism,” which means making “as many decisions at the most local level as possible.”

That’s a philosophy, not a policy. If Lee wants conservatives to rediscover compassion, he’ll have to provide something more substantial for them to chew on.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Changnesia”: The Man With The Worst Memory In American Politics

No wonder he looks surprised so often.

There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Until now, that is.

The congressman talked to Bloomberg TV this morning, and reporter Peter Cook raised the prospect of some kind of compromise with Democrats, in light of Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) Senate Democratic budget. Take a look at Ryan’s response:

“Well, I would say to the Patty Murray school of thought to the President Obama school of thought, they’ve got their tax increases. They got $1.6 trillion in tax increases that are just now starting to hit the economy. But we have yet to get the spending cuts.”

Now, right off the bat, it’s important to note that Democrats didn’t get $1.6 trillion in tax increases. Earlier this year, they got about $600 billion in new revenue — Ryan is only off by $1,000,000,000,000 — which Republicans on the House Budget Committee found so offensive, they included the money in their own budget plan. Maybe Ryan forgot about this?

But even if we put that aside, there’s the matter of Ryan’s assertion that Republicans haven’t already successfully received spending cuts. The problem, of course, is that Ryan seems to have forgotten 2011, when Democrats accepted nearly $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, with no accompanying revenue, as part of the GOP’s debt-ceiling hostage strategy.

At the time, Ryan boasted about all the spending cuts he and his party had won by threatening to hurt Americans on purpose. Less than two years later, the far-right Wisconsinite appears to have forgotten about the policy altogether. How is that possible?

It’s not just today, either. Ryan keeps reinforcing suspicions that his memory is alarmingly bad.

Ryan doesn’t remember that he used to refer to his own plan to end Medicare as “vouchers.”

Ryan doesn’t remember taking credit for the sequestration policy he later condemned.

Ryan doesn’t remember learning about Democratic alternatives to the sequester.

Ryan doesn’t remember what happened with the 2011 “super committee.”

Ryan doesn’t remember Bill Clinton’s tax increases.

Ryan doesn’t remember the times he condemned social-insurance programs as “taker” programs.

Ryan doesn’t remember all of the times he appealed to the Obama administration for stimulus funds for his congressional district.

Ryan doesn’t remember his marathon times.

Ryan doesn’t remember how much he was inspired by Ayn Rand.

Ryan doesn’t remember his own speeches.

Everyone can be forgetful once in a while, but the Republican Budget Committee chairman seems to forget rather important details and developments so often, it’s rather unsettling.

The alternative, of course, is that Ryan’s memory is fine and he shamelessly lies when it suits his purposes, but why be uncharitable? Let’s instead just assume that the poor congressman suffers from a terrible memory.

Maybe it’s some weird political version of Changnesia?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2013

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hell Isle”: A Commonwealth Of The United States Where “Funny Talkers” Need Not Apply

Check out what the loopy Ayn Randroids are up to now. In long-suffering Detroit, a libertarian real estate developer wants to buy a civic crown jewel, Belle Isle, the 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—think the Motor City’s Central Park—and turn it into an independent nation, selling citizenships at $300,000 per. Not, mind you, out of any mercenary motives, says would-be founder Rodney Lockwood—but just “to provide an economic and social laboratory for a society which effectively addresses some of the most important problems of American, and the western world.” (Sic.)

Address how? Well, let’s say I’ve never seen a document that better reveals the extent to which, for libertarians, “liberty” means the opposite of liberty—at least since Rick Santorum held up the company town in which his grandpa was entombed as a beacon of freedom.

An aspiring Ayn Rand himself, Lockwood has set out his vision in a “novel,” poetically titled Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer. Although he’s actually done the master one better, by imagining he can get his utopia built. Last week he presented the plan, alongside a retired Chrysler executive, a charter school entrepreneur (who apparently enjoys a cameo in the novel running one of the island’s two K-12 schools) and a senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to what The Detroit News called “a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club,” who included the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Never let it be said Rod Lockwood (perfect pornstar name? You be the judge) hasn’t thought this thing through. The plan is foolproof: “Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion. The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws, customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.” Relations with neighboring, impoverished Detroit will be naught but copacetic, and not exploitative at all: “Plants will be built across the Detroit River…. with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing in massive amounts of capital and GDP.” (Because, you know, tax-dodging international financiers of the sort a scheme like this attracts are just desperate to open and operate factories.) Government will be limited to ten percent or less of GDP, “by constitutional dictate. The social safety net is operated charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.”

Although, on Belle Isle, “the word ‘Government’ is discouraged and replaced with the word ‘Service’ in the name of buildings.” Note the verb-tense slippage between present and future throughout. Lockwood is a realist.

He says what he imagines is a “Midwest Tiger”—helpfully explaining that his self-bestowed nickname is “a play on the label given Singapore as the ‘Asian Tiger.’ Singapore, in recent decades, has transformed itself into the most dynamic economy in the world, through low regulation, low taxes and business-friendly practices.”

Singapore. You know: that libertarian paradise where chewing gum is banned; thousands of people each year are sentenced to whippings with rattan canes for such offenses as overstaying visas and spray-painting buildings; the punishment for littering can be $1,000, a term of forced labor and being required to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”; and where pornography, criticizing religion, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot and (yes!) over-exuberant hugging are all banned. Freedom!

What are the Commonwealth’s other inspirations, you ask? “The country of Liechtenstein, which, although a monarchy, has a very effective government.”

And indeed, just like little Liechtenstein, Belle Islanders will enjoy protection from America’s security umbrella: “As a Commonwealth of the United States…Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population. It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.” In fact Belle Islanders can expect nothing but fiscal gratitude from citizens of the United States. Yes, “a citizen who lives on Belle Isle who operates an investment fund with world-wide customers will pay no income taxes” to the United States. “Won’t the US lose a lot of tax revenue?” Oh, ye of little libertarian faith. “It will probably gain revenue…. Entrepreneurs from around the world will locate on Belle Isle and headquarter there, but often have their plant operations in the US because the island is so small. Businesses producing products in the U.S. will still be taxed at US corporate rates…. the influx of capital and jobs will be staggering…. Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer? How could they deny this long standing population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.” (Sic.)

Want in? Three requirements. First, of course, you need to come up with $300,000. “Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?” “No—that will be an additional cost.” But look what that $300,000 buys you: “One of the core values” of the new nation, Lockwood writes, “is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.”

Second: approval by the “citizenship board.” (Freedom!) Third step: “a command of English.” Because nothing says “respect for all its citizens” like “funny-talkers need not apply.”

And yes, it’s true, Lockwood proposes the “Rand” as the name of Belle Isle’s currency. But I’m sure he means Rand as in “Ayn Rand,” not, you know, Rand as in “South Africa,” the former home of a social system that functioned by surrounding minority enclaves of affluent whites with a reserve army of impoverished and disenfranchised blacks. Not like that at all.

What could go wrong? What’s the downside? After all, writes Lockwood in the section of his FAQ asking, ‘What is Bell Isle used for currently?”, “It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.” Just like that dead zone between 59th and 110th Streets in Manhattan.

You can sign up for updates on the project here. Although, take note, in order do so you have to give the organizers your phone number. Because, you know… freedom.


By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, January 28, 2013

January 29, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Crazies Just Get Crazier”: Bring Me Your Angry, Your Paranoid, Your Masses Huddled In Their Bunkers…

Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it. And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV … um … thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by “Galt’s Gulch,” the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It’ll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold:

You’ll notice how right at the beginning Beck says, “You will have to literally wipe us off the face of the earth and wipe us off the map before you can erase the truth that is America.” Presumably in the regular America, the sinister forces can just come for us one by one, and before you know it America is gone, but it’ll be a lot harder if the True America is all concentrated in one city. Seems a little backward to me, but OK.

Of course this will never happen, but you can’t fault him for a lack of ambition. It isn’t enough to pay to be a member of Glenn’s web site and listen to his radio show and buy his books. He wants you to come live in a city he designed! And what’s the end point of this? Perhaps an “Eternal Glenn” program, where after your loved one dies, you mail to Beck a small vial containing some of old grandad’s blood (harvested while he was alive, of course), and in a brief but solemn ceremony, Glenn will join the blood with that of other Beck fans in a beautiful cauldron (mini-replicas available for only $39.95), merging their essences into a powerful liquid spirit, each drop a concentrated reduction of Paranoid Cranky Old White Man, bursting with America-ness and used for anointing in secret ceremonies deep within the underground temple at Independence, U.S.A. Don’t be surprised.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Right Wing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Delusional One-Percenter”: The Case Against Mitt Romney

Every election is a choice between imperfect alternatives. I will examine both choices in turn, but the first one, Mitt Romney, has rendered the normal analytic tools useless. The different iterations of his career differ so wildly, yet comport so perfectly with his political ambitions of the moment, that it is simply impossible to separate his panders from his actual beliefs, the means from the ends. It is easy to present Romney’s constant reinventions as a character flaw, but all politicians tailor their beliefs to suit the moment; Romney’s unique misfortune is that he has had to court such divergent electorates — first a liberal general electorate in Massachusetts, then Republican primary voters of an increasingly rabid bent in 2008 and 2012, and finally America as a whole after securing the nomination.

One can plausibly imagine Romney as a genuine right-winger, first implanted in hostile deep blue territory, hiding his arch-conservative beliefs in order to secure the brass ring he coveted before he was liberated from running for reelection and unmasked himself to his fellow Republicans nationwide as the “conservative businessman” he always was. One can just as plausibly imagine him as his father’s true political heir, covertly plotting to move his party sharply leftward, a turn he would execute only once he had burrowed undetected beneath its ideological perimeter.

The true picture is a mystery, probably lying somewhere between these points. Undoubtedly, what Romney believes in above all is himself. As a friend of his told Politico last month, at a moment when his campaign appeared hopeless, Romney approaches politics like a business deal: “Just do and say what you need to do to get the deal done, and then when it’s done, do what you know actually needs to be done to make the company a success.” (This was the reporters’ paraphrase, not the friend’s own words.)

He meant this not in the spirit of exposing Romney’s fraudulence, but in an elegiac way — a lament for a great man who would do good if only given a chance. From a certain perspective, there is an understandable and even admirable elitism at work. Romney truly believes in his own abilities and — unlike George W. Bush, who was handed every professional success in his life — has justification for his confidence. He is a highly intelligent, accomplished individual.

Some version of Romney’s own fantasy — that, once in office, he will craft sensible and data-driven, and perhaps even bipartisan, solutions to our problems — surely accounts for his political resurrection. Starting with the transformative first presidential debate, Romney has wafted the sweet, nostalgic scent of moderate Republicanism into the air. Might he offer the sort of pragmatic leadership that was the hallmark of his party in a bygone era — a George H.W. Bush, a second-term Reagan, an Eisenhower, a Nixon minus the criminal paranoia? Some moderates supporting him, like reformist conservative Ross Douthat or the Des Moines Register editorial board, have filled the many voids of Romney’s program with some version of this fantasy. It is an attractive scenario to many, and one worth considering seriously.

This hopeful vision immediately runs into a wall of deductive logic. If Romney were truly planning to govern from the center, why would he leave himself so exposed to Obama’s attacks that he is a plutocrat peddling warmed-over Bushonomics? The election offers Romney his moment of maximal leverage over his party’s right-wing base. If he actually wanted to cut a budget deal along the lines of Bowles-Simpson, or replace Dodd-Frank with some other way of preventing the next financial crisis, or replace Obamacare with some other plan to cover the uninsured, there would be no better time to announce it than now, when he could sorely use some hard evidence of his moderation. He has not done so — either because he does not want to or because he fears a revolt by the Republican base. But if he fears such a revolt now, when his base has no recourse but to withhold support and reelect Obama, he will also fear it once in office, when conservatives could oppose him without making their worst political nightmare come true as a result.

And so the reality remains that a vote for Romney is a vote for his party — a party that, by almost universal acclimation, utterly failed when last entrusted with governing. Romney may be brainier, more competent, and more mentally nimble than George W. Bush. But his party has, unbelievably, grown far more extreme in the years since Bush departed. Unbelievable though it may sound to those outside the conservative movement, conservative introspection into the Bush years has yielded the conclusion that the party erred only in its excessive compassion — it permitted too much social spending and, perhaps, cut taxes too much on the poor. Barely any points of contact remain between party doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts. The party has almost no capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.

Economists have coalesced around aggressive monetary easing in order to pump liquidity into a shocked market; Republicans have instead embraced the gold standard and warned incessantly of imminent inflation, undaunted by their total wrongness. In the face of a consensus for short-term fiscal stimulus, they have turned back to ancient Austrian doctrines and urged immediate spending cuts. In the face of rising global temperatures and a hardening scientific consensus on the role of carbon emissions, their energy plan is to dig up and burn every last molecule of coal and oil as rapidly as possible. Confronted by skyrocketing income inequality, they insist on cutting the top tax rate and slashing — to levels of around half — programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and children’s health insurance. They refuse to allow any tax increase to soften the depth of such cuts and the catastrophic social impact they would unleash.

The last element may be the most instructive and revealing. The most important intellectual pathology to afflict conservatism during the Obama era is its embrace of Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy of capitalism. Rand considered the free market a perfect arbiter of a person’s worth; their market earnings reflect their contribution to society, and their right to keep those earnings was absolute. Politics, as she saw it, was essentially a struggle of the market’s virtuous winners to protect their wealth from confiscation by the hordes of inferiors who could outnumber them.

Paul Ryan, a figure who (unlike Romney) commands vast personal and ideological loyalty from the party, is also its most famous Randian. He has repeatedly praised Rand as a visionary and cited her work as the touchstone of his entire political career. But the Randian toxin has spread throughout the party. It’s the basis of Ryan’s frequently proclaimed belief that society is divided between “makers” and “takers.” It also informed Romney’s infamous diatribe against the lazy, freeloading 47 percenters. It is a grotesque, cruel, and disqualifying ethical framework for governing.

Naturally, this circles us back to the irrepressible question of what Romney himself actually believes. The vast industry devoted to exploring the unknowable question of Romney’s true beliefs has largely ignored a simple and obvious possibility: That Romney has undergone the same political and/or psychological transformation that so many members of his class have since 2009. If there is one hard fact that American journalism has established since 2009, it is that many of America’s rich have gone flat-out bonkers under President Obama. Gabriel Sherman first documented this phenomenon in his fantastic 2009 profile in this magazine, “The Wail of the 1%,” which described how the financial elite had come to see themselves as persecuted, largely faultless targets of Obama and their greedy countrymen. Alec MacGillis and Chrystia Freeland have painted a similar picture.

The ranks of the panicked, angry rich include Democrats as well as Republicans and elites from various fields, but the most vociferous strains have occurred among the financial industry and among Republicans. All this is to say, had he retired from public life after 2008, super-wealthy Republican financier Mitt Romney is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to have lost his mind, the perfect socioeconomic profile of a man raging at Obama and his mob. Indeed, it would be strange if, at the very time his entire life had come to focus on the goal of unseating Obama, and he was ensconced among Obama’s most affluent and most implacable enemies, Romney was somehow immune to the psychological maladies sweeping through his class.

Seen in this light, Romney’s belief in himself as a just and deserving leader is not merely a form of personal ambition free of ideological content. His faith in himself blends seamlessly into a faith in his fellow Übermenschen — the Job Creators who make our country go, who surround him and whose views shaped his program. To think of Romney as torn between two poles, then, is a mistake. Both his fealty to his party and his belief in his own abilities point in the same direction: the entitlement of the superrich to govern the country.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, October 31, 2012

November 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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