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American Politics

When Unfortunate Politicians Are Turned Out Naked to the World

Originally published at The Stream. “April is the cruelest month,” wrote T. S. Eliot, but for Britain’s Liberal Democrats and Labor (er, Labour) the cruelest month will always be May. In particular, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Ed Milliband of Labour will never forget the very night in May when each was stricken with what might be called “Sudden Onset SDD”— Staff Deprivation Disorder. It’s sometimes known as “Morning After Disease.” In a matter of election return minutes, Mr. Clegg lost his office as Deputy Prime Minister, lost his government car and driver, his scheduling assistant, his government computers, his government cell phone, his security detail — yea, in a sword’s flash, his salary. Likewise, Mr. Milliband with Read More ›

Reflections on the Revolution in England (and, oh, yeah, Scotland)

Our friend A. M. Radcliff offers this amusing assessment of the recent election. It is rendered even more delicious when one realizes the serendipity of yesterday’s Gospel reading in the Church of England (and throughout much of the liturgical Christian world) was John 15:13.

Greater Love

“Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay the down the lives of his friends for his own”.The words were famously used in the House of Commons to taunt the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1962 (when, in an episode later called “the night of the long knives’, he suddenly sacked seven ministers in his cabinet in an effort revive his faltering fortunes).

There is now a peculiar spice to these words, not only because they were delivered by the late Jeremy Thorpe MP. (Who, as it happened was later accused and put on trial for attempting a real murder of which he was ultimately acquitted). But also, because he was speaking as a Liberal MP, and taunting the then Conservative Prime Minister. This resonates now, as it can well be argued that the current Prime Minister –again a Conservative— has just won his election victory at the cost of sacrificing some 49 former friends. Only this time, the victims were not fellow Conservatives but rather his former coalition partners in the Liberal Democrat Party.

Having gone into coalition with the Government for five years, the party has now been savaged by the electorate, which reduced their number of MPs from 57 to 8 (even though they got 7.9 % of the national vote while the UK Independence got 12.6% but only one seat as their vote was too widely but thinly spread). It may seem a cruel paradox that the electorate penalized the Liberal Democrats for propping up the last Conservative government while increasing its support for the Conservatives themselves. This points to a critical error of judgment by the Liberal leader Nick “calamity” Clegg (as he was once known and will no doubt be again hereafter). After all, if you have been part of a government it is hard to run in the subsequent election a campaign attacking it. Was it not predictable that the electorate was likely to conclude that if you are going to support a Conservative government you might as well be a Conservative and so preferred to vote for the real thing instead?

The Liberals tactic of suggesting that their future role could be to mitigate the extremism of either main party, with whom they were however open to negotiating a new coalition, inevitably ran the risk of seeming unprincipled. Their moralizing tone was also undermined by Mr. Clegg’s infamous willingness to abandon a pledge, made in the 2010 election campaign, to scrap all tuition fees for students, since, once in government, he agreed to charge them up to 9000 each a year instead. His suggestion that his party could give a heart to a future conservative administration or a mind to a Labour one, now looks unfortunate, for the electorate as it turned out wanted neither, though in a rather different sense it did claim his head, since Mr. Clegg has now resigned, just like Mr. Milliband the leader of the Labour Party and Mr. Nigel Farage that of UK Independence Party who failed to win his own seat.

The larger story is, however, that of the Labour Party and the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). For here again, it was a coalition, or rather the mere idea of one, that proved Labour’s undoing. Historically, the Labour party has for many decades been disproportionately strong in Scotland, which, like much of Wales was seen as a Labour heartland. Indeed, without Scottish Labour MPs, the Labour Party could not have formed governments in the past. And here, David Cameron’s ill managed entanglement in the snares of the Referendum in Scotland, has born unexpected fruit, for the electorate it seems had grown tired of being presumed upon by a Labour party which they saw as very London based. While many leading Labour figures, such as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have founded their careers in Scotland, the impression was allowed to grow that their main focus was in the south. Despite losing the Referendum, the SNP gained massively from its campaigning and publicity and thus became a natural home for those who wanted to protest. Moreover, it preached a siren message that it would extract ever more funding from England in return for supporting a Labour Party which could no longer take power without it. This was doubly lethal for Labour, as it encouraged its former supporters in Scotland to leave while frightening English voters back to the Conservative party for fear that they could otherwise end up with a government effectively controlled by a small minority of Scottish Nationalist MPs.

Ultimately, the Labour party ended up routed in Scotland while also losing any claim to be a national party in the rest of the UK, where its support is now limited to the north and certain urban areas. Many forget that from its origins the Scottish National Party has had roots in the extreme left, so it was only natural that they would see their best ally for a coalition as the Labour Party, in what they described, with joyful anticipation, as a unity of progressive politics. They failed to see that this would be a hug of death for the Labour Party nationally.

The problem now for the SNP is that, while they have 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, (with just 4.7% of the British vote) without a coalition they can make much noise but wield no power. And they do not seem to want another Referendum yet, which might in theory secure such power, as they realize they would probably lose it. So the only way now for them, in terms of popular support, is probably down, since they face massive expectations upon which they simply cannot deliver. Yet, over the long term it has to be a danger to the Union if they are enabled only ever to complain and never be held responsible for the politics of grievance which has served them so well.
Nonetheless, since they won such a high percentage of the Scottish vote, they will be a problem for Mr. Cameron, who may be faced with the temptation of having to give Scotland even more autonomy than he promised in an ill considered panic in the last days before the Referendum. The danger here is that, if he gives full fiscal independence and removes all the subsidies from England he will be seen as exacting revenge, and will thus fuel secession, but he cannot be put in the position of being blackmailed into writing the Nationalists a blank check. Perhaps however, it was a telling image the day after the election when, in an official ceremony to mark VE day in London at the Cenotaph, the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, lined up dutifully with all the other party leaders to lay a wreath. Does this evidence, even now, the power of the “Establishment” to subsume those who would repudiate it? It is rumoured that Mr. Cameron has already been on the phone in extensive conversations with Mrs. Sturgeon, but she may be wise to beware his bearing gifts, after all, look what happened to his late liberal friends…

Mr. Cameron, however, clearly does face major problems. He is committed to a referendum on the European Union, but hopes it will leave the UK still a member. Given his shaky recent record with referenda, there has to be some doubt as to whether he can easily achieve this. And one of the reasons that the EU views such votes with disapproval is that, when asked, European electorates have a disconcerting habit of voting the “wrong” way (As the saga in Ireland when they had to keep on holding referenda until the Maastricht treaty was finally approved illustrated.) The European establishment is also disinclined to make concessions, in return for a reluctant UK membership, but without them Mr. Cameron will lack the basis upon which to argue that we should stay.

Domestically too, the Tory reputation for managing a sound economy means that many of the cuts needed to reduce the dangerously high level of national debt will now have to be implemented. Yet during the election campaign, in response to ever more rash pledges by Labour to protect spending, the Tory Party also “ring fenced” all manner of budgets. So where are the cuts to be found, unless the areas that remain unprotected are to be utterly savaged in ways that are politically unfeasible? This connects closely to one of the subjects most notable by its absence from the campaign, which is that of what Britain’s future place in the international polity of nations should be. Read More ›

Tech “Elders” Oppose Obama Internet Grab

Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder and other “elders” of the privatized Internet era expressed their alarm over drive by the FCC and Obama Administration to put Internet innovation under federal regulation in the name of “Net Neutrality”. They want an “open Internet” instead.

The Daily Caller said, “Tech elder George Gilder, a futurist author and co-founder of the Discovery Institute, told TheDCNF that businesses have no incentive to interfere with Internet freedom. ‘Their interests are aligned with an open Internet,’ he noted, ‘and the idea that Title II can impose an open internet is just quixotic.'”

A sizable media contingent covered the “elders” presser, and noted the significance of leaders such as Bob Metcalf, John Perry Barlow, Mark Cuban and Scott McNeilly, among others, speaking out on a controversial subject. Daniel Berniger organized the event.

George Gilder advised me today that the Internet companies now represent almost half the value of the NASDAQ and that putting the FCC into the role of regulating them–using the old telephone company model of 1934–could greatly damage economic growth. “It’s Obama’s biggest socialist grab so far,” Gilder said. Read More ›

Corker Bill is Still Best Hope Against Bad Iran Deal

Originally published at The Stream.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next week on the Corker/Menendez bill to require a subsequent vote on any Iran deal that the Obama Administration completes by early summer. There is great uncertainty about everything involved, however.

To start with, the Iranians and the American Administration are saying contradictory things about what they have “agreed” on. Increasingly, as the Israelis have figured out, Obama and Kerry are so eager — or is it desperate? — to get something, anything, they can call an accomplishment that they will concede practically everything other than a useless promise not to build a bomb. And maybe even that. Read More ›

In 2015, Raise Up “The Men of Issachar”

Whatever you think of the times–and they are capable of varied interpretations, aren’t they?–there is one thing I bet that most of us can agree on: we need new political leadership right now. America is full of brilliant, accomplished and morally admirable men and women. And, yes, the Constitution of the United States does operate (as Prof. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard says) to “call leaders forth.” The nation therefore is blessed with a number of upright state legislators, governors, Congressmen and Senators these days. Mansfield recently mentioned the new senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton, and the new senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse. But one could name many others.

But how will they assemble? Between now and 2016 how will some one leader of potential greatness emerge among them to match the great potential of America?

It’s often useful to turn to Biblical history for salutary examples, and so we see that the Book of 1 Chronicles 12:32 tells of a time in King David’s Israel when “the men of Issachar” arose to help steer the state. They were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do–200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command.” It’s fine material for a sermon, not to mention a blog post! I commend, for example, this one. Read More ›

Advanced Sausage Making in Congress

The US House’s passage tonight of the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” bill to fund the government for nine months had bi-partisan support. But it saw defections from some conservative Republicans and a huge Democratic break from the White House (which had helped negotiate the bill with Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid). Nancy Pelosi, who had been on board, wound up attacking the bill, calling it “blackmail”.

Now a fascinating drama is developing in the Senate. Ted Cruz gets maybe seven or so Republicans against the bill while Mitch McConnell gets 38 or so GOP votes for it. But the real story is on the Democratic side. The GOP in Congress is more conservative than in years gone by, but the Democrats are far more liberal, too. So how many votes does the articulate progressive hope Elizabeth Warren get versus Harry Reid?

Consider: if Reid wins, the far left of the party becomes bitter. Warren grows in the esteem of the rank and file of the Democratic base. But if Warren somehow prevails, the “deal” probably evaporates before the vote is even taken, and excuses have to be made by Obama and Reid on why the bill they helped craft is now a bad one. Congress goes home, as the “shutdown” occurs over Christmas. But, like I said, in that case, it clearly would be the Democrats causing the shutdown, which would be embarrassing for the President. Of course, one should never underestimate the desire of the companionable media (NPR, the networks, the New York Times) to save the Democrats’ reputation through some slight of hand. One amusing possibility is that the Administration finds that a “shutdown” doesn’t mean, you know, a shutdown in any real sense. Read More ›

Venerable New Republic Now Less Venerable

I read The New Republic, the venerable liberal journal founded by Progressives a hundred years ago, and even under the new owner management of Chris Hughes, a Facebook billionaire, I find it stimulating. That doesn’t mean that I agree with it, but just that it is less predictable and knee-jerk left-wing than, say, the editorial page of The New York Times. Unfortunately, Chris Hughes, age 30, thinks print is on its way out and that the future of the magazine is digital.

On their way out as a consequence are the editor, Franklin Foer, and senior editorial writer, Leon Wieseltier. The latter has been an icon of TNR for ages. Read More ›

Mix Just Immigration Aims with Jobs for Legal Americans

For three decades there have been two issues that politicians regarded as so thorny they were best left alone: health care and immigration. The moving parts in each subject are complicated, and feelings run so strong that Presidents and Congresses long decided to speak only in general terms on the topics and otherwise leave them alone. Now we have seen what happens when one party (call it the President Obama party) decides to impose a health care solution. The clean up is still going on five years after passage of the misnamed Affordable Care Act and it will continue long into the future. Even more so, sadly, immigration. Fortunately, some critics are bringing up one of the veiled aspects of Read More ›

How Hillary Could Win

677px-Msc2012_20120204_408_Clinton_Hillary_Frank_PlittThere’s a widely accepted assumption in the media that Hillary Clinton has to move left in order to consolidate her claim to the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. She gave credence to that assumption recently when she burbled fulsome praise for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, probably he most threatening potential rival on the left, and then made some remark about corporations not being responsible for their success.

However, while the left wing of the Democratic Party was her natural home in her early days of Saul Alinsky, Vietnam and Watergate, her most sincere and winning base now is the center of her party. She will get most of the feminist vote, no matter what. Even another woman, like Warren, doesn’t have her unbreakable record.

Plus–labor. The unions are very frustrated with Obama and the way Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker have trounced public employee unions in the states, while the Obama Administration sides with environmentalists on major energy and other economic projects. Unions can make a huge difference in Democratic primaries.

She also will inherit the Obama base among blacks, largely because she had it to begin with in early 2008, until Barrack became a likely winner. She doesn’t need to move left to get their support. Elizabeth Warren or any other likely primary foe (including Joe Biden) lacks her appeal.

And she has huge support on Wall Street, where she is known as the “candidate from Goldman Sachs.” The immense power of Wall Street in the Democratic Party is slowly dawning on the middle class and working people generally (how times change!). Crony capitalism is a certain theme for Republicans. But until the summer of 2016, Clinton could benefit from the backing of Wall Street and Hollywood–and swamp her opponents in fundraising.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have damaged the Democratic brand in many states–such as Appalachia and much of the Middle West–by pro-growth economic policies and hostility to Obama’s hostility to energy development. So Democrats in those states will be looking for someone who can carry the ticket–and it won’t be Elizabeth Warren.

A “Clinton Democrat”, therefore, might well try to “triangulate” (in the old phrase) by advocating for pro-energy policies at the same time as she advocated for “real progress” on alternative fuels. She could argue persuasively (and please her big business/Wall Street friends) by calling for more infrastructure investments–roads and bridges, etc. Indeed, she could please the “builders” and the environmentalists at the same time by calling for a gas tax increase tied exclusively to transportation’s unmet needs. She could call for a buildup of the military, even while pledging to keep the country out of “new wars.” Read More ›