Should Washington, DC be a State?

Is it either accurate or fair to say that there is not, and cannot be, any reason to object to statehood for the nation’s capital that doesn’t drag in racial antipathy and civil rights recidivism?

No.  Statehood for Washington, DC, is a troubling prospect.  And, it is troubling for reasons that have nothing to do with race.

The most compelling reason, however, to oppose statehood for DC is not that a city isn’t really a state, though that is true.  And it is not that DC statehood has the real potential to interfere with the autonomy of the Federal government, though that is also true.  And it is not that there are simple and practical remedies to the disenfranchisement of DC’s citizens that fall short of outright statehood and that would not threaten Federal autonomy, though that, too, is true.

No.  The most compelling reason to oppose statehood for DC is that DC is a company town.

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The Sledge Hammer

In your [Matt Welch, Reason.com] article, you predict 3 things that are likely to happen “…when people feel they cannot talk openly about a subject…”.

Here is another prediction: The Sledge Hammer.

That is the name I have given to a phenomenon I have observed many times in the last 40 or 50 years — prototypical examples are the passage in CA of proposition 209, outlawing affirmative action, and propositions 13 (CA)  and 2-1/2 (MA) limiting the rate of property tax increases.  But it might also, perhaps, be used as well to describe Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency.

The people who can see that there is, indeed, a problem but are told to shut up about it get impatient.  Then they get frustrated.  Then they get angry.  Then they get furious.

And then they swing the populist Sledge Hammer:  “Screw all of you condescending bastards!  If we can’t fix the system, we’ll destroy it!”

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A Declaration and a reminder: Many (if not most) Republicans are no longer conservative…

…and thoughtful, honest conservatives should no longer be Republican.

It’s been building to that point over the last 20 or 30 years.  That was the broad subject of my book.

But now, it is no longer building.  It is built.

To be clear (and in the interest of full disclosure): I’ve always been a conservative but I’ve never been a Republican.  Since my political awakening, that tent has always been big enough to embrace, alongside those I agreed with, a variety of people and agendas that I couldn’t, in good conscience, support.

Nonetheless, I have voted for Republican candidates more often than not.  Not for Trump, certainly, but for others.  Because the tent was, indeed, big and it included good guys along with bad guys, and always more of the former than of the latter.

I think, at this point, that is no longer true.  Unless something changes, they have lost my vote for good.

Because anyone who associates themselves with the current mob of self-absorbed, unprincipled, power-mad thugs, and with their ignorant and deluded supporters, is dragging too much baggage along with them.  It is no longer possible to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys: as long as the good guys insist on swimming in sewage, they will look and smell like sewage and will contaminate and corrupt everything they touch — including the idea and the practice of conservatism.

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Risk, Part 2: Fear and Control

Part 2 of a 2-part sequence on different aspects of how American society deals with risk:

It seems that government policy – and social convention, and cultural aspiration, and the tyranny of public opinion expressed through social media mobs – is now all too often fashioned by a destructively self-reinforcing partnership between those, on the one hand, who have lost all trust in their fellow citizens and who want so badly to be protected from risk, and even from discomfort, that they will trade away almost any freedom for a promise of a bit more security; and those, on the other hand, whose innate and fervent proclivity is to tell everyone else, with great piety and self-assurance, how to organize and operate their lives.

The more we have come to – and the more we have been taught to – rely on government to regulate the behavior of others, the less we have come to rely on – and the less we have been taught or practiced – the virtue of regulating ourselves. The more success the solipsistic fringe – economic more than cultural on the “right”, cultural more than economic on the “left” – has had in attacking and emasculating the economic and religious and social and cultural mores that historically disciplined such self-control, the less able we are to count on self-regulation and the more pressure there is to empower government to impose yet more external regulation upon us.

We can no longer negotiate and compromise – we can no longer embrace a shared process for governance rather than seeking a raw power over others – because we no longer trust each other either to have empathy or, more importantly, to act in good faith.  Why are we intolerant of risk?  Because we feel a lack of control.  Why do we feel a lack of control?  Because we don’t trust each other to do the right thing, either as individuals or as a polity.  In the absence of trust, even small risks loom large.

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Executive Agencies Independent of the Executive

Here’s a proposal: If you want agencies that set policy and priority to be independent of the Executive, don’t make them part of the executive branch!

The issue with such agencies is really that their missions are split: they are as much legislative as they are executive.  Congress, in its wisdom (or recklessness) has delegated some large measure of its legislative authority, the authority to create the rules by which we live, to such agencies; but they have also tasked those same agencies with enforcing the rules that they, themselves, concoct.

Does that not violate the spirit, if not the actual text, of the Constitutional separation of powers?

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Reasonable and Unreasonable “Disclosure”

It is no more reasonable to demand that Pete Buttigieg disclose who he did work for at McKinsey and what that work entailed than it would be to demand that a doctor or a therapist running for office disclose his or her list of patients and all their medical and psychological histories, or to demand that a lawyer running for office disclose his or her list of clients and the details of all their legal troubles.

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Making the Case for Impeachment

The leaders of the Democratic Party have spent the last three years creating an appearance of partisanship and an atmosphere of skepticism: by first raising the specter of impeachment (or an invocation of the 25th amendment) to remove Trump from the Presidency immediately after his election, even before he took office and, therefore by definition, literally before it was possible , never mind reasonable or necessary, to impeach him; by encouraging various candidates in the mid-term Congressional elections to campaign on that promise (“If elected, I will vote to impeach Trump”), thus making impeachment appear to be a convenient electoral strategy rather than a serious and ethical act of accountability; and by allowing their rhetoric about his alleged crimes to get so far out ahead of any actual investigations that the rhetoric was very rarely tied in any concrete way to demonstrable facts and seemed to be driving the investigations rather than resulting from them. The message they have communicated is simple: they always planned to impeach him; they were simply looking for a good excuse.

To be clear: Trump is both an appalling human being and an awful President. He deserves to be defeated at the polls in the next election, now less than a year away.  From the latest evidence, he has also abused both the powers and the oath of his office and deserves, in this moment, to be impeached. And the Congressional Republicans have forsworn any claims either to integrity or to principle by making it clear they intend to judge him solely as partisans and enablers, not as defenders of the Constitutional order and of the national interest.

But everything that preceded this moment has primed those who are not self-declared members of the “resistance” to presume that attempts to impeach Trump are not, and have never been, about “accountability” but, rather, are, and have always been, about power — about overturning the result of an election that the Democrats really, really didn’t like. And there is a legitimate question about which is worse: Trump’s tawdry abuse of the authority of the Presidency, by using the levers of foreign policy to help in his next election; or the Democrats’ tawdry abuse of the authority the Congress, by politicizing and cheapening the power of oversight, investigation, and impeachment in order to undo the results of the previous election. If either of those becomes a common part of our political culture then we are, indeed, in trouble.  No matter which way this goes, some set of bad guys gets rewarded for their bad behavior and some damaging precedent gets established for the future conduct of politics and governance.

The question is, what could Democratic leaders do now to overcome that sorry history and to convince the justifiably skeptical that, this time, they are actually and truly acting on honest principle instead of from base partisanship?

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Trump is Reprehensible: Does That Create a Moral Duty to Vote for His Opponent?

To use an analogy that is, admittedly, intentionally, and consciously way over-the-top in order to make the point utterly unmissable:

Yes, Trump is Hitler. But, if the choice you offer me is to get rid of Hitler by embracing Stalin, can I be blamed for, instead, wishing that a pox descend upon your house as well as his?

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A radical suggestion for the presidential debate…

Please keep in mind that the purpose of the debate is not supposed to be to make the moderators look clever, or to promote anyone’s candidacy, or to stir up the “horserace” aspect of the campaign that so obsesses political junkies.  It’s supposed to be about informing the voters as to what their choices are.

You don’t facilitate that by getting the leading candidates to regurgitate whatever has already been reported about them ad nauseum or to pick petty fights with each other over subtleties and minutiae; you do facilitate that by actually giving the other candidates a voice.

I have a suggestion: Perhaps your moderators for the upcoming debate could actually direct more of their questions toward the lesser-known candidates!

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Socialism, Capitalism, and the Liberal Republic

It is true that people — not only ignorant self-described “conservatives” but also many ignorant self-described “Socialists” — often throw the word “Socialism” around without seeming to understand what it means.  But,it is also true (OK, it is at least my not-so-humble opinion) that the many articles published recently trying to explain why various brands of “liberalism” are not actually the same as “Socialism” have been overly narrow and parochial in their view of what Socialism is and entails, limiting their argument to the simplistic (and flawed) formulation that it can’t really be Socialism if the government doesn’t “own” the means of production.

But, if that isn’t the defining nature of “Socialism”, then what is? For that matter, what is the defining nature of “Capitalism”? And how do either interact, for better or worse, with the moral premises and practical structures of our Liberal Republic?

In six parts:

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