If President Obama wants to keep fighting for a leftist agenda after the election, he's going to have to fall back on the power of the executive branch—and we're going to need a Congress with the guts to stop him.
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Top News Stories
- Rather Fight Than Switch
- What's at Stake
- Bet on Inflation
- Tracinski's Law of Bailouts
- When I Left, We Were Winning (subscriber-only content)
- "Marxist Politics Has Come to a Critical Juncture" (subscriber-only content)
Top News Stories
Commentary by Robert Tracinski
1. Rather Fight Than Switch
The best indication of next Tuesday's election outcome is the fact that the chatter among the political pundits has moved on to a discussion of who is to blame for a big Democratic loss and what will happen afterward.
For example, Michael Barone argues that the Democrats are being punished for moving too far to the left. (It's not his best column, but the last couple of paragraphs are worth checking out.) So Paul Krugman argues—preposterously—that Obama didn't go far enough to the left because he didn't drive us into a much, much deeper hole of debt with a far bigger "stimulus."
And there are even leftist trying to portray the coming wipeout of conservative Democrats as a good thing, since it will drive the Democratic Party even farther to the radical left. Writing at the New York Times, Ari Berman of The Nation complains that "Democrats aren't ideological enough" and anticipates that after the election there will be fewer but better Democrats.
He is actually onto something, because he names what I have been pointing to for some years now as the basic contradiction behind the Democratic majority in Congress. They got a majority by aggressively recruiting "conservative" Democrats to run in right-leaning districts—and then expecting those Democrats to come to Congress and be reliable votes for far-left party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.
In 2005, Howard Dean, who was then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, carried out a campaign to elect as many Democrats as possible. In long-ignored red states, both Mr. Dean and Rahm Emanuel, then the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, backed conservative Democrats who broke with the party's leadership on core issues like gun control and abortion rights.... The party leaders did not give much thought to how a Democratic majority that included such conservative members could ever effectively govern.
This isn't the whole story by any means, because the re-awakened cause of free markets and limited government is threatening even established leftist in left-leaning districts. But the impending wipeout of the conservative Democrats will be a huge part of the Democrats' election loss.
The big question is: what will Obama do after he loses Congress. My sense is that he plans to keep fighting for a leftist agenda, setting up two years of political warfare.
Below, Jay Cost agrees and assesses the political consequences by looking at two historical precedents. He argues—correctly, I think—that Obama has fundamentally misjudged America. Obama thinks that America has permanently "realigned" to the left, that this election is just a temporary protest vote, and that voters will eventually reject a Republican Congress and come back to support him.
He is deluded, of course, but it indicates what is at stake in the next couple of elections, starting on Tuesday. We have to defeat the Democrats by a large margin over several election cycles, so that they understand that this is not a temporary protest vote, that it's not just about the economy or about personalities, that this is a repudiation of statism.
"Would He Rather Fight Than Switch?" Jay Cost, Weekly Standard, October 23
Truman's strategy made sense in the context of 1948. The last Gallup poll before Roosevelt's death found FDR's approval rating at 65 percent, astonishing for a president who had been in office 12 years.... In recent years, analysts like Amity Shlaes have questioned how effective the New Deal policies actually were, but what matters for our purposes is what the public perceived—and the public believed the New Deal had worked. In an important sense, then, the New Deal coalition was still alive and well after World War II. Truman's vacillation in the early days of his administration swept the Republicans into power in the midterms, but his reassertion of FDR-style liberalism helped revive the Roosevelt majority.
Matters were very different in 1994. The New Deal coalition had started to fracture in 1968, when the North-South split in the Democratic party handed the presidency to Richard Nixon. The disastrous candidacy of George McGovern—which more than anything represented the revival of Henry Wallace-style liberalism—and the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter had critically damaged the Democratic majority.... The success of the Reagan administration vindicated conservative Republicanism and peeled off huge portions of the old New Deal vote....
Thus, 1946 and 1994 were very different midterm elections. In 1946, a still essentially liberal country voiced its frustration and exasperation with the painful readjustment to peacetime. Once balance was restored to the economy, the country was prepared to move back to the left. In 1994, the country was no longer liberal at its core, and the 1994 midterms were an ideological correction of the leftward bent of the early Clinton administration....
It follows that the success or failure of President Obama's response to a new Republican Congress will depend very much on whether he accurately reads the public's mind. If he thinks the country is center-right, he will accommodate, as Clinton did. If he thinks it is center-left, he will "give 'em hell," as Truman did.
So far, the president has telegraphed that he intends to fight. He has warned that a Republican victory would mean "hand-to-hand combat."...
If this is what President Obama is thinking, I believe he has bet wrong....
[T]he idea of 2008 as a realigning election implicitly misframes the process by which voters shift their allegiances. The election of 1932, for instance, did not signify an electoral realignment. The realignment came during the New Deal as FDR used the powers of the federal government to shift the loyalties of the voting public.... [T]he Reagan Revolution lasted as long as it did because of the tremendous prosperity of the 1980s. In each instance, the president who pulled off the realignment did so by contrasting his record of successful governing with the failures of his opponents.
This essential ingredient is missing for Obama in 2010.
2. What's at Stake
If President Obama wants to keep fighting for a leftist agenda after the election, he's going to have to do it without his party controlling the legislative branch of government, which means he's going to have to fall back on the power of the executive branch—and we're going to need a Congress with the guts to stop him.
Unfortunately, after a century of attacks on the Constitution, the executive branch has an awful lot of arbitrary power. So the president can seek to impose his agenda by using the unchecked authority of the regulatory agencies—particularly the EPA's attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, restricting the energy usage that powers the entire economy.
But this also points us to one of the top priorities and most effective actions the new Republican majority can take. Jack Wakeland pointed me to the article below by a leftist who, in projecting how a Republican majority could defund the regulatory agencies, offers them an excellent blueprint.
Note particularly that this proposal relies on the ability of the House to control the federal purse-strings. It depends only on a Republican majority in the House and—since budget bills can't be filibustered—a bare majority in the Senate. And since the president can veto a budget but can't originate one, all that a Republican Congress needs is stubbornness and resolve.
Jack adds: "Can a Republican majority in Congress repeal ObamaCare? No, not against a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto. Can a Republican majority in Congress prevent the premature withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan? No, that's the president's policy prerogative.
"But it can de-fund the regulatory agencies. We can expect a Republican majority in the House to do as much as they did after the 1994 election to cut some funding to the regulatory agencies. What the Republican Party did in 1995 with control of both houses of Congress was weak, but with a Tea Party caucus active in their ranks in 2011, we should look for deeper cuts.
"On November 3, we should all start lobbying for a 100% cut in the budget for CO2 regulations at the EPA and other regulatory agencies; a 100% cut in funding to such pseudo-scientific climate research projects as those going on at NASA's GISS.
"On November 3, we should all start lobbying for a 100% cut in the budget for the development of regulations to implement ObamaCare at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other regulatory agencies.
"On November 3, the incoming Republican majority in the House will need all the urging, support, and encouragement we can give them. We shouldn't complain too much about how little spine Republicans have when they're pursuing the reform of government power. This is a republic. Our vocal urgings and support are the calcium from which a congressional majority gets a spine. After standing them up for election with our votes and sending them to office with our approval, we have to help them stand up and face the fire from the political enemies of liberty. We have to help point out the enemy's weak points and exhort them to aim well, shoot back, and hit the vital places in our enemy's ranks.
"We have to push the Republican majority to not give up, to not give in to their altruist urges. We have to urge them to stick to their guns."
"It's the EPA and OSHA, Stupid!" John B. Judis, The New Republic, October 22
Democrats are warning that if Republicans capture the House—and perhaps also the Senate—in this November's election, they would abolish cabinet departments, repeal Obamacare, and privatize social security. They might want to do these things, but they won't be able to overcome a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto. What they will be able to do, however, is undermine the work of regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)....
That's exactly what happened after the Republicans captured the Congress in November 1994 when Bill Clinton was president...
In the budget that year, the Republicans—not constrained by a filibuster—were able to get their way. They cut the EPA's overall budget by 25 percent and cut its critical enforcement budget by 40 percent and put 17 riders on the budget bill limiting the EPA's ability to police industries. They cut OSHA's already barebones budget by 16 percent and put a rider prohibiting OSHA from adopting new rules on ergonomic industries (like carpal tunnel syndrome) that had first been proposed in 1990 by George H.W. Bush's administration....
EPA director Carol Browner complained that from October 1995 to February 1996, EPA inspections had been reduced by 40 percent because of budget cuts. And there's a clear lesson there. If you don't have the people to enforce regulations on pollution or worker injury, it doesn't matter how tough the rules are....
A similar tale could be told of what happened in other regulatory agencies after the Republicans won Congress in November 1994. And the same thing could happen next year if the Republicans win back the House—or the House and Senate—this November. That's reason enough to worry about the outcome of the coming election.
3. Bet on Inflation
Since the beginning of the bailouts, I've been warning that the Fed's expansion of its "infinite balance sheet"—basically, the Federal Reserve printing money to pay for the bailouts—has created an inflation time-bomb. Now investors are starting to openly agree, bidding up the prices of special Treasury bills whose interest is adjusted for inflation.
So there's another aspect of Tracinski's Law of Bailouts, another way in which every dollar spent on government "stimulus" destroys at least one dollar in private capital. And the destruction of our wealth through inflation has barely begun.
"In Bond Frenzy, Investors Bet on Inflation," Christine Hauser, New York Times, October 25
At a time when savers complain that they are earning almost no interest from their bank accounts, some investors on Monday bought United States government bonds that effectively had a negative rate of return.
Bizarre as it sounds, that is correct. In an auction of a special kind of five-year Treasury bond, investors paid $105.50 for every $100 of bonds the government sold—agreeing to pay the government for the privilege of lending it money.
The reason is that these types of bonds offer a guaranteed protection against inflation. So, if inflation soars—as some economists worry might happen, with the government seeking to give the economy a boost by flooding it with money—the value of the bonds would go up accordingly.
The investors who took part in the $10 billion auction are betting that inflation, now at about 1 percent annually, will rise to a level that more than compensates for the premium they paid.
"It was good demand considering the negative yields," [Guy LeBas, the chief fixed-income strategist for Janney Montgomery Scott] said. "They are counting on the Fed to be successful in generating inflation."...
It was the latest sign that financial markets are positioning for a rise in inflation.
4. Tracinski's Law of Bailouts
Here's another aspect of how government spending destroys wealth: the fact that the money spent on the bailout is utterly ineffective at any of its stated aims. The editorial below describes an inspector-general's report on the management of TARP funds, detailing how that spending achieved none of its alleged goals and instead vanished into a morass of bureaucracy and corruption.
"TARP: Obama's Black Hole at Treasury," Washington Examiner, October 26
A new report from Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the Treasury Department, says it all: Americans have "entirely legitimate concerns about the lack of transparency, program mismanagement and flawed decision-making processes that continue to plague the program." Under President Obama and his Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, the department's management of TARP has made a mockery of the Freedom of Information Act, even as the program has clearly failed to accomplish its stated purposes. Barofsky cites numerous failed TARP goals, including increasing lending, alleviating unemployment and preserving home-ownership against the foreclosure meltdown....
"When Treasury refuses for more than a year to require TARP recipients to account for the use of TARP funds or claims that Capital Purchase Program participants were 'healthy, viable' institutions knowing full well that some are not or when it provides hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP assistance to institutions and then relies on those same institutions to self-report any violations of their obligations to TARP, it damages the public's trust to a degree that is difficult to repair."
5. When I Left, We Were Winning (subscriber-only content)
What are the consequences, in action, of announcing that we will "surge" our troops in Afghanistan, at the same time we announce that we are going to withdraw them? The consequence is simultaneous advance and retreat: a brilliant tactical success in the battlefield, matched by spectacular failure on the political and diplomatic front.
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6. "Marxist Politics Has Come to a Critical Juncture" (subscriber-only content)
The headline above might sound like breaking news from 1989—which it is. But it was actually said recently by a Communist politician in India's West Bengal region, where the world's only elected Communists look to be on their way out.
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"Communists in India Fight to Hold On to Mission," Jim Yardley, New York Times, October 21
Lenin's statue still rises near the center of the city, and portraits of Stalin and Marx still hang inside the biggest union hall. Anyone doubting the local political dominance—and cold war humor—of India's Communists need only visit the street in front of the United States Consulate: It was long ago renamed for Ho Chi Minh.
In the past 33 years, India's Communists have built a political dynasty here in the state of West Bengal, staging one of the most remarkable runs in any democracy by winning seven consecutive statewide elections....
Instead, the country's Communists are struggling to remain relevant. For years, they have largely failed to capture the imagination and the support of the masses beyond their regional strongholds of West Bengal and the state of Kerala. And now even their three-decade hold over West Bengal is disintegrating as critics accuse them of betraying the rural peasantry and presiding over the decline of a state once regarded as an intellectual and economic center of India.
"I never thought I would write against them," said Mahasweta Devi, one of West Bengal's most famous intellectuals and a social reformer who is now deeply critical of the governing Left Front coalition, which is led by the Communists. "Leftist politicians are losing the battle because they have not cared enough to deliver the goods to the people."...
Institutions like the police, schools, universities and hospitals have become deeply politicized, critics say....
When the Communists won re-election in 2006, the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, campaigned on a pro-industry slogan of "Destination Bengal," promising to attract factories and jobs. Since then, development officials say the number of Internet technology jobs has nearly tripled to more than 100,000, despite a perception that the state has largely missed India's economic boom.
But it was the highest-profile industrial project, a planned car factory for India's most famous corporate conglomerate, Tata, that became a debacle as farmers revolted against the land acquisition....
The Tata factory was canceled in 2008 and plunged the Left Front coalition into recriminations and re-examination. Meanwhile, outside critics blamed Communist leadership for a broader governance breakdown, saying that the quality of institutions had eroded as party loyalty and ideology became paramount....
"Marxist politics has come to a critical juncture," said Kshiti Goswami, the public works minister and a member of one of the smaller parties in the Left Front.