Entries from January 2012

All Good Things…

January 6th, 2012 at 10:09 am 215 Comments

-FrumForum Goes Live

FrumForum launched itself almost exactly three years ago, on Inauguration Day 2009. Over the subsequent interval, our hundreds of contributors have reached more than 5 million individual readers. I like to think that together we have helped to move the national debate. When we launched, Sarah Palin was a leading candidate for president and Glenn Beck was broadcasting conspiracy theories on cable TV. Three years later–not so much. OK, maybe we can’t claim all the credit. But we won’t refuse some fair share.

Now like all good things, this adventure is coming to an end. I’ve been invited to move my blog and print journalism to the Daily Beast/Newsweek, a larger and more technologically advanced platform. Tina Brown is one of the great media visionaries of our time. The opportunity to work with her–and learn from her–is deeply exciting.

Starting Monday, my work will shift to the Daily Beast/Newsweek site. The FrumForum URL will forward readers to the David Frum page at Daily Beast/Newsweek. FrumForum itself will continue to exist as an archive site, preserving three years of debate–the brilliant insights of our writers–and the passionate comments of our readers. Noah Kristula-Green will join me on the Daily Beast/Newsweek team.

I sincerely thank all who participated and supported this project. The world is changed only very slowly. It’s a big rock, and as human beings we represent only very minuscule and fleeting drips of water. But change is made, and together I believe the change we have offered here has been for the good.

Above all, I thank every reader–those who dissented fully as much as those who read with agreement. Journalism in the digital age is a process rather than a product; an exchange rather than a presentation; intimate rather than abstract. That process continues as ardently as ever, but in a new and improved form and at a bigger and stronger venue.

The Cordray Crisis

January 5th, 2012 at 11:02 am 89 Comments

Constitutional abuse begets constitutional abuse.

President Obama has engaged in a dubious maneuver to force a recess appointment through a Senate that denies it has recessed.

(Brad Plumer has a good run-down of the legal issues, here.)

The president’s action has ignited a fireworks show of Republican outrage. And yes, Obama has here pushed presidential power beyond past limits.

But it’s not only presidents who can bend the rules. The Senate has also pushed its powers here beyond the usual limits. The Senate is pretending to be in session when it’s obviously not in session. It is engaging in this pretense in order to use its power over confirmations to negate an agency lawfully created by the prior Congress. Most fundamentally, the Senate here is further extending a weird quirk in its own rules–the quirk that allows individual senators to delay votes on appointments–in ways that allow the Senate minority to impose its will on the whole US government.

Over the past three decades, we have lived through a prolonged cycle of partisan revenge. Each party pushes the law to score partisan points in ways that would have been deemed unacceptable only just a little while ago. Then at the next turn of the cycle, the other party pushes the law further and wider and even more destructively. One by one, they sequentially smash the customs and traditions that enabled the US government to function. This latest episode over the Cordray appointment may be the most extreme example. But it’s surely not the final example.

It is instead an ominous milestone in the deterioration of the US political system into ever more intense acrimony and paralysis.

Santorum’s Flawed Plan for Working America

January 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am 35 Comments

In my column for The Week I discuss the problems with Rick Santorum economic plan:

Santorum’s concern for the American middle class has been one of the most attractive features of his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Alone among the Republican candidates, he took note of the freezing of upward mobility and the stagnation of middle-class wages even before the financial crisis of 2008.

So what’s his plan? Santorum has proposed a special lowered rate of federal tax for manufacturing.

A minute’s thought will suggest why this is a poor idea. What is manufacturing anyway? Building a car is manufacturing, obviously. What about building a mobile home? What about building a non-mobile home?

Assembling a computer out of parts is likewise obviously manufacturing. What about assembling a taco?

Clearly, talking on the phone is not manufacturing. What about operating a computer help center? No? But what if the center is operated by the computer assembler? Yes? Okay, now suppose the computer assembler has 80 percent of its staff on the phones, and only 20 percent on the shop floor.

The definitional problems are insuperable, and will only plunge the corporate tax code into ever more fathomless complexity.

Santorum has arrived at this impossible outcome because he has limited his arsenal of policy instruments to one instrument only: taxes, and specifically, the reduction of taxes.

Click here to read the full column.

Ron Paul’s Bad Memory

January 4th, 2012 at 10:14 am 33 Comments

Odd experience on CNN this morning.

I was on a panel that had a chance to interview Ron Paul. I asked this question:

“I attended a precinct caucus last night where the person who spoke on your behalf praised you as a strong social conservative: pro-life, anti-gay marriage. He also described you as pro-defense, he said you voted in favor of the war in Afghanistan and supported the killing of bin Laden. That’s at variance with the things you yourself have said. Would you today affirm that you support the Afghanistan war and the bin Laden killing?”

Paul said yes, but that is not in fact true, at least as to the killing of bin Laden.

In a radio interview with WHO Newsradio 1040, Paul told radio host Simon Conway that, had he been president, he would have pursued an alternate strategy.

“I think things would be done somewhat differently,” Paul said, of how he would have handled the situation, citing “respect for the rule of law and world law and international law.”

Paul says that instead of sneaking into Pakistan and killing bin Laden, he would have cooperated with the Pakistani government and put the al Qaeda leader on trial – a strategy, he argues, that has worked for the United States in the past.

“I would suggest …the way they got Khalid [Sheikh] Mohammed,” Paul told Conway. “We went and cooperated with Pakistan. They arrested him, actually, and turned him over to us, and he’s been in prison.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Paul asked. “Why can’t we work with the government?”

Paul did cast a vote in favor of the September 2001 measure to authorize force in Afghanistan, but only very unhappily according to his ex-aide Eric Dondero:

Ron Paul was opposed to the War in Afghanistan, and to any military reaction to the attacks of 9/11. He did not want to vote for the resolution. He immediately stated to us staffers, me in particular, that Bush/Cheney were going to use the attacks as a precursor for ‘invading’ Iraq. He engaged in conspiracy theories including perhaps the attacks were coordinated with the CIA, and that the Bush administration might have known about the attacks ahead of time. He expressed no sympathies whatsoever for those who died on 9/11, and pretty much forbade us staffers from engaging in any sort of memorial expressions, or openly asserting pro-military statements in support of the Bush administration.

You wonder: how much of Ron Paul’s support in Iowa rested on more successful misrepresentations of his foreign-policy record?

Update: I have added a link to the video from CNN.

The Expectations Game

January 4th, 2012 at 7:57 am 118 Comments

Byron York has a tough read on the meaning of the Iowa result for Romney.

In the end, Romney escaped humiliation, and he did it at far less cost than in 2007-2008, when he gave Iowa everything he had in his first run for the GOP nomination. “If you look back four years ago, we had 52 paid staff in Iowa, and this time around, we have five paid staff,” top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said a few hours before Tuesday night’s results came in.  “In terms of advertising, we spent $10 million in the run-up to the caucuses four years ago, and we’ve spent a fraction of that this time.  And in terms of the candidate’s own appearances in Iowa, he was here 100 days or so four years ago, and this time we’re at about 15 days.”  [It was actually a few more, but that doesn't change Fehrnstrom's point.]

So Romney avoided what would have been an embarrassing loss after his decision to go all-in in Iowa.  But what now?  He’s heavily favored to win in New Hampshire, but he’s likely to face a reconfigured field that will give his rivals the opportunity to pick up more support in the quest for a candidate to go up against Romney one-on-one. Iowa insiders predict that Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, who received ten and five percent of the Iowa vote, respectively, will be out of the race within 48 hours.  Nationally, Bachmann and Perry are at a combined 12 percent in the polls — support that will go to some other candidate or candidates, but not to Romney.  That will make Romney’s job 12 points harder.

The Iowa race ended far differently than Romney had originally foreseen.  For a while he stayed away from the state for fear of suffering a humiliating loss.  Then he moved into Iowa in hopes of winning and thereby dealing a devastating early blow to his rivals.  Nothing turned out quite the way it was expected to, but in the end, Romney managed to get away with his life.

I’d turn that interpretation upside down.

Here’s a contest that by all odds Romney should have lost. The question through the past year was: lose to whom? This was a state designed for Rick Perry to take away from Romney–and thereby launch a powerful national conservative challenge. Instead, Perry is heading home to Texas. Gingrich–another, less plausible, alternative–has collapsed into bitterness and sulk. Romney won by a narrow margin because the remaining conservative alternatives looked unconvincing even to Iowa social conservative voters. A Romney-Santorum contest is not much of a contest at all. If that’s not obvious today, it will be obvious a week from today, after New Hampshire reports.

The Secret of Ron Paul’s Success

January 3rd, 2012 at 11:11 pm 30 Comments

Based on the tiny unrepresentative sample at the precinct caucus I attended: his core group are true believers, who have absorbed his message on Austrian economics and foreign policy non-interventionism.

But when they communicate to the broader Iowa Republican rank-and-file, they repackage Paul as a much more conventional conservative: pro-life, pro-military, small government, and supportive of the operation that killed bin Laden. If Paul ever does gain altitude, he will be very vulnerable to negative advertising that exposes the truth of his beliefs and background.

Wargaming The Caucuses

January 3rd, 2012 at 3:48 pm 38 Comments

Result 1:

Romney wins, Santorum second, Paul third, Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth.

This is the result indicated by last day’s polling. If it eventuates, this will be a very short nominating contest. Romney will proceed to win in New Hampshire. Perry and Gingrich will try to make a last stand in South Carolina. Unless one or the other wins outright, their money will dry up after three consecutive losses. Santorum and Paul may remain in the race, but it will essentially be ballgame over by the time of the Florida primary on January 31st.

Result 2:

Santorum wins, Romney second, Paul third.

This is the result the press here is sort of hoping for, not because they like Santorum so much, but because they like campaigning–and nobody has campaigned harder than Santorum. Result 2 leads to the same outcome as Result 1. Santorum will not become a front-runner any more than Mike Huckabee did in 2008, and for the same reason: there is no funding base for Santorum-style religious conservatism, and he won’t travel well to New Hampshire the next week.


Result 3:

Paul wins, Santorum second, Romney third.

This is a result that causes a commotion, as much because of the revealed Romney weakness as because of the Paul upset. To calm the shock, Romney would have to score big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. On the other hand–that’s probably just what he would do. Because however you game this thing tonight, the basic logic of the campaign remains fixed:

There is no path to the nomination for Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. There might have been such a path for Rick Perry–or even very very possibly Newt Gingrich–but the entrance to that path is now blocked. That leaves Romney sooner or later. Tonight’s vote will settle the timing, not the outcome.

Ron Paul’s Personal Responsibility

January 3rd, 2012 at 12:31 pm 209 Comments

Andrew Sullivan complained yesterday that I had engaged in a “McCarthyite” attack on Ron Paul by writing the following:

A politician isn’t answerable for the antics of every one of his supporters. But there’s surely a reason, isn’t there, that racists, anti-Semites, 9/11 Truthers, and Holocaust deniers are so strongly attracted to the Paul campaign. They hear something. They continue to hear it too, no matter how firmly Ron Paul’s more mainstream supporters clamp their hands over their own ears.

Andrew’s riposte:

Notice how pure the smear is, enabled and not diminished by the first sentence. Notice the key concept of Beltway ideological policemen: there is a mainstream and a non-mainstream. Dabble with the latter at your peril. Since David has perished by the cult of the “mainstream”, it’s odd he should deploy it against others. But to throw in “Holocaust denial” and 9/11 Truthers for good measure! Really.

And notice how particularly cheap and easy it is to use such tactics against a libertarian. The traditional left is often based on collective associations, building a movement out of oppressed groups and their grievances, whether it be class or race or even sexual orientation. Libertarianism is the opposite. It’s about disassociating. When you listen to Paul saying he will not turn anyone away from supporting his platform regardless of their motives or beliefs, you are hearing a reflection of his libertarianism, not his bigotry. He will accept support from any quarter and compared with the corporate money flowing into the other candidates’ coffers, he is about as independent as a presidential candidate can be. Because he is a radical individualist, he doesn’t even understand why he should somehow explain the belief of others, or justify their support. You should ask them, not him.

This kind of gotcha-association game is particularly easy because libertarians favor liberty above all, and that will necessarily mean liberty for bigots as well as others. A principled belief in states’ rights will doubtless lead to more racist and homophobic policies in many states – but also, of course, more enlightened and successful inclusive states like Oregon or New York or Massachusetts or California. A rejection of statism might lead to more discrimination in the private sector. But it doesn’t mandate it. And it need not encourage it. A non-interventionist foreign policy will allow evil to triumph elsewhere in the world, because it believes it’s none of our business or too riddled with unintended consequences to try extirpating. That may be right or wrong, but it is not an approval of the evil of Assad or Ahmedinejad or the North Korean junta. And again, it is actually much deeper an American tradition than permanent warfare. But if you can trot out David Duke or Ayatollah Khamenei as potential Paul supporters, you have a very easy, cheap and essentially McCarthyite target. It saddens me that this kind of tactic works.

I still believe that the newsletters, because they were in Paul’s name, require a clearer explanation from Paul than the muddled ones he has given. He should not be left off the hook. And his proposals deserve a thorough vetting and discussion.

But there is something awry when a candidate is assessed not on his arguments and proposals but on the shadiness and ugliness of some of his fringe supporters.

Ron Paul’s supporters ask that their candidate not be judged by his associates. Or by the people he chose to employ. Or by the newsletters he published. Or by the book he wrote. Or by the way he earned the largest part of his living when out of office in the 1990s. Or by his purchase of the mailing list of the Holocaust-denying Liberty Lobby. Or by the radio shows he chooses to appear on. Or by his strategic decision to reach out to racist voters. Or by the conspiracy theories to which he lends credence, from government creation of AIDS to Israeli culpability for the 1993 bombing to a putative 9/11 “coverup.”

And here I thought that libertarianism was a doctrine of personal responsibility?

May Ron Paul at least be judged by the words he has spoken with his own mouth within the current campaign? The supporters say “no” again. When Ron Paul tells an interviewer that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made race relations “worse,” we’re not supposed to consider what he might mean by “better.” When Ron Paul warns that a border fence would be used to prevent fleeing American citizens from exiting the country, we’re not supposed to conclude that he’s a paranoid crank.

Andrew deploys what might be called the ontological defense of Ron Paul, as follows:

1) Ron Paul is a libertarian.

2) Libertarians espouse individualism.

3) Racism is a form of anti-individualism.

4) Therefore Ron Paul cannot be a racist.

That is a demonstration of what might be called the deductive method of reasoning. But there’s another way to study reality: induction.

Like this:

1) Ron Paul has again and again exploited bigotry, paranoia, and hate as fundraising devices.

2) Ron Paul is a libertarian.

3) So yes, I guess it is possible for a libertarian to do that.

Here’s my question for Ron Paul supporters: why the denial of the undeniable?

Perhaps you like Paul’s message of legalized marijuana? Why not just say so? You don’t think it’s important to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? Argue it forthrightly. If you regard Social Security and Medicare as literally the moral equivalents of slavery, go ahead, make your case.

But all this excuse-making, special pleading and jiggering of the rules of evidence so as to exculpate Ron Paul from the record of his whole political life? For what?

Waiting Time in Iowa

January 3rd, 2012 at 9:33 am 27 Comments

I attended Romney’s closing rally last night in Des Moines. Very professionally done, introduction by Senator John Thune.

Three themes really stood  out:

* Romney opened with a statement about the danger from Iran. Without mention of Ron Paul, it astutely poked at the top vulnerability of the second-polling candidate here.

* He took a very tough line on China. While some express skepticism about the genuineness of Romney’s concern on this issue, I was struck by the specificity of his complaints: computer hacking, currency manipulation. He’s evidently thought about this issue. He’s no protectionist obviously, but he seems to have gained some skepticism about China’s so-called peaceful rise.

* Romney opened his critique of President Obama by acknowledging that Obama inherited a tough economy. This fair-mindedness may disenthrall base voters, but it eschews the angry paranoia that has put off so many independent voters. Plus it has the additional merit of being true.

Government Jobs Won’t Pay the Bills

January 2nd, 2012 at 4:54 pm 36 Comments

What is wrong (and right) with Joe Stiglitz’s analysis of the Great Depression? Click here for Part 1. Click here for Part 2. Click here for Part 3.

Back in the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once offered this solution to the economic problems of black America: restore Sunday mail delivery.

The line was sort of a joke, but sort of not. The Post Office of those days really did provide secure employment to large numbers of black Americans, and a seventh delivery day would require the employment of still more.

Government can always create direct employment. It’s often said that the three biggest employers on earth are the Chinese Red Army, the Indian state railways, and the UK’s National Health System, government enterprises all. When I was in the UK last month, I took part in the BBC’s Question Time program. During a discussion of youth unemployment, a member of the audience raised her hand to argue that it was very, very important that the British government hire counselors to help young people find jobs. There’s not a lot of reason to think that such counselors actually enhance youth job prospects. The eager way in which the woman phrased the question did however strongly indicate that she regarded the creation of more such positions as a great boost to her own job prospects.

Yet when Joe Stiglitz–or for that matter, President Obama–talks about government investment as a way to rescue the American middle class, they are contemplating something more interesting than merely expanding the government payroll. They are suggesting that government action can generate productivity improvements that will translate into rising wages in new economic sectors.

The analogy most often heard is the Internet. Government helped create its infrastructure, which in turn spurred all kinds of wealth-creating innovations.

Yet it’s precisely since the advent of the Internet that the gap between rich and poor has widened most spectacularly and that the wages of the middle have stagnated. I’m not claiming that the Internet drove those trends, but pretty evidently it did not prevent them.

If anything innovation seems to be accelerating the trends toward rising wages for high-skilled workers in China and India and declining wages for low-skilled workers in America. It’s hard to see why, say, cost-effective solar panels would be any different. And yet on that hope, so many are building an argument for a more intrusive and interventionist government. Unfortunately the downsides associated with intrusive and interventionist government cannot so easily be wished away.