More on Red and Blue families

Ross Douthat writes today some further analysis of the provocative new book and Red and Blue families in America, on which I wrote last week.

Read it if interested, because what follows is not (with one exception) a summary.

Notable to me is that the Blue state approach does not produce lower teen pregnancy rates, just lower birth rates. In other words, the price of the “new equilibrium” of the professional classes is widespread abortion.

Some years back I read an arresting summary. Part of America thinks everything would be hunky-dory if every teenager in America was sexually active if they were all faithfully contracepting (and aborting when contraception failed). Another part thinks teens shouldn’t be sexually active and refuses to acquiesce (e.g., “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but if you do, here’s a condom – wink! wink!”).

That may be an exaggeration, but it often seems only slight. The tacit assumption of the “pro choice” side is that the new economic arrangements, and the contraception and abortion that keep us competitive in that millieu, are good or at least neutral.

Tactical shift coming in Supreme Court confirmation fight?

Since Roe v. Wade was imposed on us by the Supremes 37 years ago, there has been a pervasive “abortion distortion factor”:

The “Abortion distortion factor” is that phenomenon whereby when established rules of law encounter the abortion right, the established rule is bent to accomodate the abortion right.

(Bopp, James, in A Passion for Justice – A Pro-life Review of 1987 and a Look ahead to 1988, at page 80) That factor has been huge in most Supreme Court appointment battles since 1980 – generally couched in code words and litmus tests that fooled no observant observer.

The successor for Justice Stevens may face a significantly different constellation of questions, centering on “Obamacare” partly because that issue works to the benefit of the Republicans though so pervasive is the Abortion Distortion Factor that it won’t be entirely out of play:

Another set of questions could prove embarrassing for Democrats who have lauded Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade for creating a right to privacy that includes contraception and abortion. “How can the freedom to make such choices with your doctor be protected and not freedom to choose a hip replacement or a Caesarean section?” asks former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey in The Wall Street Journal. “Either your body is protected from government interference or it’s not.”

McCaughey also notes that in 2006 the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon ruled that the federal government couldn’t set standards for doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s death with dignity act. So does the Constitution empower the feds to regulate non-lethal drugs in contravention of other state laws?

Such questions may not persuade an Obama nominee to rule that Obamacare is unconstitutional. But they can raise politically damaging issues in a high-visibility forum at a time when Democrats would like to move beyond health care and talk about jobs and financial regulation. Stevens apparently timed his retirement to secure the confirmation of a congenial successor — but some Democrats probably wish that he had quit a year ago, when they had more Senate votes and fewer unpopular policies.

Where’s a Conservative to turn on election day?

There’s too many good, smart people blogging and too few running for office.

Daniel Larison, to whose blog I just resumed subscribing, has several items in the last week on the incoherence of “movement conservatism” – i.e., the fake conservatism of the current G.O.P., Fox TV, TownHall.com, etc..

In The “Republican Obama” Syndrome on April 6, he writes, in the context of Movement Conservative Hosanna’s for some neophyte named Marco Rubio, about a paradox:

Obama causes a very strange reaction in Republicans. On the one hand, they want to regard him as a joke and an incompetent, but they also desperately want to find someone who can imitate his appeal and success, and so it is almost as if they go out of their way to anoint whatever young politician they come across as their new hero and then disregard all of the person’s liabilities by saying, “Well, he’s no more inexperienced than Obama was” or “She’s still better than Obama!” It is an odd mix of contempt for Obama mixed with admiration for Obama’s success and an even stranger need to outdo him in the categories that originally caused them to view Obama so poorly.

In Hawks Are Just Embarrassing Themselves on April 7, he deconstructs a particular hawkish comment (about Obama’s supposed contribution to “a startling period of auto-emasculation” in nuclear policy) and thus reveals a common genre of attack on Obama:

“The substance of Obama’s positions is unchanged from the previous administration, but it is imperative that I make him appear as a weak buffoon, so I will simply invent a complaint about entirely superficial appearances that mean nothing.”

[The author of the lame hawkish comment] is just one among many conservatives thrown into apoplexy by basically nothing.

One Republican Obama critic actually lamented that “Obama will downsize the military-industrial complex.” Really?! And that’s bad?!

On a roll, on Thursday Larison questions in The Triumph of Ideology the claim that the conservative mind has closed by denying that the “Movement Conservative” mind was ever open.

The conservative mind of the sort described by Kirk is one that is both grounded in principle and also very capable of critical thinking and self-criticism, but what I think we have seen in recent years is not much the closing of such a mind as its replacement by an ideological mentality that is basically hostile to a conservative mind …

Where conservative intellectuals once had to prove themselves by the strength of their arguments, they could now increasingly get along by repeating not much more than slogans and audience-pleasing half-truths …

The creation of the conservative media as an “alternative” to mainstream media gave way to conservative media as a near-complete substitute for their conservative audience. At one point, there was a desire, which I think was partly very genuine, for greater fairness to the conservative perspective, but this soon morphed into the need to construct a parallel universe of news and commentary untainted by outsiders …

[T]he supposed radical reactionary extremists [so labeled by Movement Conservatives] were actually the far, far more reasonable ones who were not advocating all of the things that have become so important to movement conservatives: aggressive war, reckless power projection, expansion of state surveillance and detention, exaggeration of the nature and scope of foreign threats, and absolute deference to the executive in “time of war” ….

I’m not keen on Obama (and neither is Larison), but give me some criticisms that aren’t brain-dead sound bites, for gosh sake!

One wonders where Republican hawks can possibly go from here. They have almost three more years of an Obama Presidency to endure, and already they have gone mad with alarmism, hysterics and overreaction to fairly ho-hum policy decisions. Obama needs a credible, sane opposition to keep him in check and challenge him when he is actually wrong. Right now, he doesn’t have that, and all of us will suffer for it. His own party will not hold him accountable, because a President’s party never does, but in any contest between an erring Obama and a mad GOP the latter will keep losing.

(Deterrence and Disamarmament, April 8, again by Larison – emphasis added).

I’ve been reading for the first time Russell Kirk’s classic, The Conservative Mind (alluded to by Larison), and I am struck by the extent to which today’s putative conservatives are not true conservatives, but hawkish and cynical statists. Having lost the “evil empire” in 1989, they keep looking for enemies we supposedly can and must eradicate, and dissing the Democrats for insufficient eradicatory zeal.

Do you think I exaggerate? Are you going to fling 9-11 at me?

My take on 9-11 and terrorism, after more than a little vacillation, is “if there’s no solution, there’s no ‘problem.'” Problems have solutions. Terrorism has no solution and thus is not a problem. Terrorism instead is an evil, a dark mystery with which we must live for the foreseeable future – taking reasonable precautions, of course, but stopping short of “aggressive war, reckless power projection, expansion of state surveillance and detention, exaggeration of the nature and scope of foreign threats, and absolute deference to the executive in ‘time of war.’”

In 1972, I voted for McGovern over the patently-crooked Nixon. Having absorbed in subsequent years the radical change wrought in the Democrat party that year (I’m thinking of blogging on that change), I’m not sure I could do something like that again. Not that I slavishly follow its endorsements, but Indiana Right to Life announced this week a blanket policy of endorsing no Democrats in 2010. My first reaction was negative, but it’s a decently-thought-out position:

Whereas the Democratic Party officially endorses the right to unrestricted abortion on demand; and

Whereas Democratic leadership continues aggressively to advance federal policies that undermine the right to life of unborn children; and

Whereas Congressman Brad Ellsworth, Congressman Baron Hill, and Congressman Joe Donnelly betrayed the trust of pro-life Hoosiers by voting for the pro-abortion federal health care reform bill; and

Whereas the Democratic caucus in the Indiana House, under the leadership of Speaker Pat Bauer, continues to block all legislation aimed at limiting, restricting, and reducing abortions in the state of Indiana; and

Whereas candidates of the Democratic Party are responsible for the policies and actions of the party and its leadership;

Be it resolved that the Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee will grant no endorsements to any Democratic candidates for any public office.

Still, Republicans: give me a credible choice! Voting for McCain was the hardest Presidential vote I’ve cast since 1972. I’m beginning to understand people who stay home muttering “to hell with them all.”

Obamacare and the future of the Democrat Party

Interesting column at the Washington Post today from a columnist I can’t remember reading before, Matt Miller, a progressive think-tanker, about why Obamacare is driving Republicans to distraction. (I guess I’m going to use “Obamacare” as shorthand for a while, although Obama let Congress write “his” signature legislation.)

Shock 1: Losing big. For starters, Republicans simply have not lost on an issue this big in decades…

Shock 2: The quest for security. The next blow is the dawning awareness that the quest for economic security in a global era is reshaping politics. The instant premise of Republican analysis — that the public will never tolerate Obamacare’s repeal once it is implemented — concedes the point that health reform will bring a measure of security that families crave…

Shock 3: The death of the tax issue. The final shock is the cruelest of all: the demise of the tax issue that’s defined the Republican brand since Ronald Reagan…

Until Obamacare, I had said that the parties had become very similar in economic policy. Miller thinks the Republicans engineered that, and I think he’s onto something:

Media coverage features so many breathless political ups and downs that it’s easy to assume each party tastes victory and defeat in equal measure. But as a matter of ideology, these overheated fights take place between the 45-yard lines on a field that conservatives shrewdly tilted to their advantage several decades ago.

Meanwhile, in the less-august-than-Washington-Post blogosphere, a Democrat explains with many charts and graphs why his party is doomed because their “tent” is too big:

Time and again in American politics, Republicans have voted as a unit to frustrate our disorganized Democratic majority. No matter what’s on the table, a few Democrats will peel away from the party core; meanwhile, all Republicans will somehow manage to stay on-message.

I think that’s what Matt Miller is referring to as the GOP keeping the game between the 45 yard lines.

Society works, government is sclerotic

I have breathed much economic doom and gloom in the brief life of this blog. It is remarkable to me how many people I come in contact with who feel the same way even as the official media view seems to be this is just another down cycle like all the down cycles before.

But my view nonetheless is not unanimous. James Fallows, writing in the Atlantic, outlines How America Can Rise Again.

Fallows brings to his task considerable experience living abroad, most recently in China, where he saw its emerging economy first hand. He gives a number of reasons why each of our major economic problems is really minor or can be fixed.

The catch is, we lack the will.

The most charitable statement of the problem is that the American government is a victim of its own success. It has survived in more or less recognizable form over more than two centuries—long enough to become mismatched to the real circumstances of the nation … Thomas Jefferson’s famed wish for “a little rebellion now and then” as a “medicine necessary for the sound health of government” is a nice slogan for organizing rallies, but is not how his country has actually operated.
Every system strives toward durability, but as with human aging, longevity has a cost. The late economist Mancur Olson laid out the consequences of institutional aging in his 1982 book, The Rise and Decline of Nations. Year by year, he said, special-interest groups inevitably take bite after tiny bite out of the total national wealth. They do so through tax breaks, special appropriations, what we now call legislative “earmarks,” and other favors that are all easier to initiate than to cut off. No single nibble is that dramatic or burdensome, but over the decades they threaten to convert any stable democracy into a big, inefficient, favor-ridden state. In 1994, Jonathan Rauch updated Olson’s analysis and called this enfeebling pattern “demosclerosis,” in a book of that name. He defined the problem as “government’s progressive loss of the ability to adapt,” a process “like hardening of the arteries, which builds up stealthily over many years.”

On second thought, maybe Fallows and I are closer than first appeared. Able but unwilling eventuates about the same as unable.

Okay: You can stop holding your breath now.

I decided to blog when I saw how different my FaceBook posts were from anyone else’s. It seems the most interesting things in my life – things that aren’t too personal to share, anyway – are ideas I encounter. That’s a problem – people ought to be more important to me than they seem to be when it comes down to how I actually live my life day-to-day, week-to-week. That probably makes me a fairly typical intellectualoid 21st Century American. I’m working on changing that, so don’t expect me to blog as if my life depended on it.

G.K. Chesteron wrote:

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas.  He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer.  Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.  The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaler.

I’m perhaps the teetotaler, but I hope you’ll like at least some of the ideas that intoxicate me.

As I begin this conceit, I anticipate that I will have mostly links with a few comments. In politics, the links are apt to be from the New York Times or the Washington Post editorial pages – not because I’m under illusions that these liberal institutions are right about things, but because as NPR beats heck of of Rush or Beck, these serious papers put to shame most others simply as newspapers and as troves of interesting editorial thinkers – and my favorite, the Front Porch Republic blog. The comboxes at FPR can be pretty lame at times, but the contributors are top-notch guys (and a few gals) who are in the tank for neither major party.

In religion, Father Stephen Freeman’s Glory to God blog produces more gems-per-post than any other I’ve yet found. Subscribe yourself and eliminate the biased middle-man. Of course, he’s Eastern Orthodox, as am I; so if you’re not Orthodox, I venture you’ll find his thinking unusual – a different sort of Christianity than is normally seen in North America.

I’m not sure I’ve followed all the rules for a canonical blog. I picked a title, a subtitle, a theme, and posted an “about.” Then I posted this. So the look of the blog is itself a work in progress.