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Why Federalism Matters

Hmm. Not sure this blogging hiatus thing is going well, but … I had another thought on the election.

Right now, a lot of the liberal echosphere is in a tizzy because Trump, with a Republican Congress, might undo a lot of the things that Obama has done. I think such panic should be reserved until he actually, you know, does stuff. Right now, all we have are rumors of potential cabinet appointments (some of which, I agree, are alarming).

But … I do understand what they’re on about. Much of Obama’s legacy, such as it is, is fragile. But that’s in part because of the way he bypassed the process. The Iran Deal and the Paris deal, whatever you think of them, can be undone because they were never ratified by Congress. TPP can be rejected because Obama never bothered to get it through Congress. Obamacare could be undone because it was passed through reconciliation and has serious problems.

But here’s the thing: a lot of this “progress” could have been insulated from Trump had it been done at the state level. You want cap-and-trade? Try it out in your state. Socialized medicine? You can try, although Vermont and Colorado both rejected it decisively. Protections for LGBT Americans? Do it at the state level and Trump can’t touch it. Radley Balko has a great article in the WaPo about how criminal justice reform at the federal level may be dead, but is moving forward on the state level. And really, if mass incarceration is what worries you, the states are where you should be working since most prisoners are confined at the state level. Free college? Well, California once guaranteed free tuition at its universities. No reason it couldn’t do it again if balanced its books and got costs under control.

States can address police misconduct. States can address poverty. The only things states can’t address are foreign relations (trade, immigration, treaties) which are a federal concern.

You know why the Republican Party is so strong right now, controlling most of the states and Congress? Because they’ve been doing things at the state level. I don’t agree with all of the things they’ve done (e.g., abortion restrictions). But in doing so, they have built up formidable state political machines. And that has paid off not only in state and federal elections but in creating a deep bench of potential president candidates that could have run in 2020 had Trump lost (and will run in 2024).

The Democrats got lazy, too convinced that Obama was their deliverer and that they would control Congress and the White House forever. They thought they could deliver policy from on high. If they really want a “legacy” they need to embrace federalism. There are fifty states where they can try out their brand of progressivism. And most of it can’t be touched by Donald Trump or Paul Ryan or anyone else.

Federalism. It’s a good thing. And as a conservative-libertarian, I’m happy to devolve as much power to the states as the Left wants.

Update: A great tweet-storm from Iowahawk says this better than I could:

(For those of you not on Twitter, click that tweet and scroll down to read the whole thing.)

On Restraining Government

All right, I know I’m breaking my bogging hiatus after one entire day (almost), but I did want to make an important point.

One of the responses to concerns over what exactly a Trump Administration will do is to say, “Well, the system has checks and balances in it. Congress will have its say. The Courts will have their say. The system is very robust.”

This is, to put it mildly, high-falutin’ bullshit.

Yes, our government technically has a lot of restraints on its power — the Bill of Rights, checks and balances, the rule of law, SCOTUS. But these restraint are not laws of nature; they only work when our leaders observe certain political norms. And as we have seen many many many many times in the past, ambitious or dictatorial politicians can violate those norms whenever it suits them.

The Constitution was no impediment when Andrew Jackson (to whom Giuliani recently compared Trump) sent thousands of Native Americans to die on the Trail of Tears. The Court actually ruled against Jackson and he ignored it.

The Constitution was no impediment to Lincoln when he shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned opposing politicians, coerced Maryland into not seceding and suspended Habeas. Quite the contrary, the Court and the Congress completely acquiesced.

The Constitution was no impediment to Wilson when he nationalized industries, jailed dissenters and imposed a draft.

The Constitution was no impediment to Roosevelt when he completely rewrote the Constitution, massively expanded government and stayed in office for life.

The Constitution was no impediment to Bush when he tortured people. Or Clinton when he started wars without Congressional approval. Or Obama when he expanded mass surveillance. It did not stop Kennedy or Nixon or Johnson or Clinton or Obama abusing the power of government to punish their enemies. And there is no constraint — formal or otherwise — over the President’s power to use nuclear weapons.

The Constitution is not a magic spell. It only works when our politicians observe certain norms and agree to abide by it. And it really only works when we the people force them to abide by it. And we the people have a really shitty record of holding politicians’ feet to the fire, especially when they are of our political tribe.

I’m not saying Trump is necessarily going to be a dictator. He’s not even President yet. What I am saying is that I’m not impressed by the safeguards built into the system and their ability to stop Trump (or Clinton, had she been elected) to do what they want. If you want these safeguards to work, the only way is stop being a piece-of-shit partisan and call out your side when it does bad things. Don’t make excuses. Don’t question people’s loyalty. Hold the politicians’ to the fire. Because that is all we have. Our liberty is too important for a trust fall exercise.

The Election Post-Mortem and the Breaking of the Keyboard

I just posted this over on my own site. I have a few more posts to push out but I think I’m going to take a break for a while, probably until I put up my Thanksgiving post. This election has simply exhausted me. I have been doing this now for 12 years, nine at this site. And with the GOP descending into a populist chaos, I’m not sure how to go from here. We know that Right-Thinking will close at some point — the boost of funding helped Jim keep it going through the election. But we can’t go on much further.

Last night, I thought I was done with political blogging for good. This morning, though, after a walk and some thought, I’m not so sure. I am currently entertaining the idea of letting Right-Thinking close but starting up a new WordPress blog from the ashes. The blog would be open to posts from, basically, anyone who reads it but I would have editorial control. Another alternative is to just retreat to my long-neglected personal site. There, too, guests posts would be welcome.

But, as I said, I need to take a break from all this and think. Feel free to comment, especially if you happen to be Jim.

Read more… »

President Trump

I’ll have more thoughts later in the day, including some thoughts on the future of the blog. Right now, the popular vote is tied but Clinton could still win it slightly. So as far as the polling goes, it wasn’t entirely wrong. The result was off by 3 or 4 points, which is a big error, but not historic. The people who projected a 99% chance of a Clinton win, as I said, were too drunk on state polling.

Right now, the Left is melting down, proclaiming that this proves America is a racist misogynistic country. Maybe. But the fact is that only real victories the Democrats have had in the last 22 years — 2006 and 2008) were the result of the disastrous Bush presidency. The Republicans have piled up win after win in Congress and the State Houses. This year, they nominated a woman had trouble winning the NY senate seat in 2000, lost a gift-wrapped nomination in 2008 and was just humiliated by a semi-coherent hamster.

Maybe they need to rethink their approach to this whole politics thing.

Election Open Post

Use this post to discuss the returns as they come in. My prediction for the Presidential race:

Clinton 49
Trump 46
Johnson 4
Others 1

With Clinton winning about 300 votes in the electoral college. But as I noted last week, no results — from a Trump win to a Clinton landslide — would surprise me.

I expect the Republicans to hold the House and barely lose the Senate. I expect marijuana legalization to make some keys wins and for Colorado’s socialized medicine to go down in flames.

Results as they come in.

I’m just … well, right now … I’m just so fucking glad it’s almost over.

Janet Reno Gone

Janet Reno, one of the longest serving Attorneys General in American history, has died.

Janet Reno, who rose from a rustic life on the edge of the Everglades to become attorney general of the United States — the first woman to hold the job — and whose eight years in that office placed her in the middle of some of the most divisive episodes of the Clinton presidency, died on Monday at age 78.

She died at her home in Miami-Dade County, Fla., from complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to her sister, Margaret Hurchalla. The disease was diagnosed in November 1995, while she was still in office.

Ms. Reno’s tenure as attorney general was bracketed by two explosive events: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Tex., in 1993, and the seizing in 2000 by federal agents of Elián González, a young Cuban refugee who was at the center of an international custody battle and a political tug of war.

In those moments, and others in between, Ms. Reno was applauded for a straightforward integrity and a willingness to accept responsibility, but she was also fiercely criticized. Republicans accused her of protecting President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore when, in 1997, she refused to allow an independent counsel to investigate allegations of fund-raising improprieties in the White House.

My opinion on Reno’s tenure is definitely mixed. On the one hand, she presided over the prosecutions of the terrorists responsible for the first WTC attack and Oklahoma City. She bucked Clinton a number of times by handing investigations over to the Independent Prosecutor that he wanted squashed, such as the Lewinsky matter.

On the other hand, she supported garbage lawsuits against the tobacco industry and Microsoft. She authorized the Elian Gonzales raid and the Branch Davidian raid (although she took responsibility for the Waco disaster). She wrecked Richard Jewell’s life and, as Dade County State Attorney, helped create the Miami Method that results in numerous bogus convictions of innocent people on child molestation charges.

When I look over her career though, the thing that stands out is that she was her own person. She made decisions based on what she felt was right, alternatively angering people within the Clinton Administration and in Congress when she didn’t agree with them. She has a sense of humor about herself and took responsibility for her decisions. For that, at least, I’ll wish her to RIP.

Some Thoughts on The Polls

There’s a nerd fight going on between Nate Silver and several other analysts about how to interpret the Presidential election polls. Silver is projecting Clinton as having about a 65% chance of winning. HuffPo and Princeton are projecting her at 98%. I have some thoughts over at my personal blog:

Put aside everything you know about the candidates, the election and the polls. If someone offered you a 50-to-1 or a 100-to-1 bet on any major party candidate winning the election, would you take it? I certainly would. I would have bet $10 on Mondale in 1984 if it was a potential $1000 payoff. And he lost by 20 points.

It seems a huge stretch to give 98 or 99% odds to Clinton, considering:

  • Clinton has never touched 50% in the poll aggregates.
  • There are still large numbers of undecideds and third party supporters who will doubtless vote for one of the two candidates (and Trump’s recent surge has come from fleeing Johnson voters).
  • We have fewer live interview polls now than we did in 2012.
  • As Nate Silver noted, the average difference between final polls and the election has been about two points.

Basically, I think Wang and HuffPo are not accounting enough for the possibility that the polls are significantly off. In the last 40 years, we’ve had one Presidential election (1980) where the polls were off by a whopping seven points. That’s enough for Trump to win easily (or for Clinton to win in a landslide).

HuffPo’s analysis seems kind of bizarre to me, actually. They currently have Clinton up 5 points in the polls. There is not a single national poll that as Clinton up by that much right now. The average polls advantage for Clinton is two points. Silver estimates that corresponds to a real advantage of three. If he’s right, Clinton has an advantage but any outcome is possible.

Wither the FBI

What?

Suddenly renewed activity on an FBI Twitter account publicizing Freedom of Information Act releases has prompted an internal bureau review of the propriety of such activity so close to the Nov. 8 election, according to a source involved in the matter.

In emails obtained by Government Executive sent to an ex-investigative reporter who filed complaints, the deputy at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility on Tuesday revealed that the complaint about possible political favoritism in tweeting has been referred to the FBI’s Inspection Division.

Here’s the story. Last week, the FBI’s FOIA account, which had been silent for over a year, started tweeting out documents relating to investigations of Donald Trump’s father, the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s pardons. I admit that I was a bit bumfuzzled by why they would suddenly do this. And a lot of people felt, especially in the wake of the Comey letter, that the FBI was trying to influence the election by dishing dirt on Clinton.

In fact, the FBI has become a focal point of controversy over the last week, with wild and frequently anonymous claims that the FBI is massively pro-Trump, is trying to tip the election and despises Clinton along with counter-claims that the FBI is favoring Clinton by not recommending charges, holding back on critical documents that implicate her and dragging its heels on the e-mail investigation. My impression — and this is just me spitballing — is that there are politicized factions within the FBI right now, vying to craft a narrative. And journalists, eager for access, are lapping up whatever they’re saying.

This would be not be the first time the FBI has played politics. Under Hoover, the COINTELPRO program infiltrated and disrupted political groups they didn’t like. This culminating in spying on MLK, discovering he was cheating on his wife and sending him a letter urging him to kill himself. They’ve also played politics on a smaller scale, famously tarring Richard Jewell as a terrorist so that people wouldn’t be afraid of further attacks at the ’96 games (an accusation that almost certainly contributed to his death at a young age).

But this is the first time I’ve seen both side making credible accusations that the Bureau is trying to influence an election. This is … not good. This indicates Comey is either doing this on purpose or has lost control of his own bureau. I would say there should be an investigation, but, given the time constraint, that would mean either Clinton or Trump doing it, neither of whom can be trusted. Probably the best thing would be for Obama to appoint a bipartisan investigation team (comprised of former FBI officials or, better yet, former officials from another federal law enforcement agency) to figure out what’s going on here. Because the FBI should not be playing politics. They should be doing their damned job.

Why You Don’t Vote for the Worst

You may remember, back in 2008, there were a lot of Republicans who said that they should cross over into the Democratic primaries and vote for Clinton. The reason, they said, was because Clinton was a worse general election candidate than Obama and that it made it more likely that the Republicans would win. Lee had some colorful comments on the subject that proved perspicacious.

To all those Limbaugh/Hewitt drones who voted for Hillary in the open primaries, the idea being that McCain could beat Hillary but not Obama. I ask, are you out of your fucking minds? Have the last 16 years not taught you anything? When you have a chance to kill a beast you take it, lest the beast rise up and slash out your throat.

You cannot count on the Clintons losing anything, ever. They are the sleaziest, most disgusting family in the history of American politics. We had a chance to be rid of Hillary once and for all, and when she is elected president, you fucking right-wing talk show morons will have nobody to blame but yourselves.

Clinton eventually lost, but the primary was very close. Had Clinton not come so close, the DNC would not have spent the last eight years making absolutely sure she was the nominee in 2016.

Moreover, supporting Clinton in 2008 ran the very real risk of electing Clinton in 2008. As it turned out, there was no way McCain was going to win with a depression hitting. And for all of Obama’s failures and flaws, I’m convinced that the last eight years would have been worse under Clinton.

This is something I’ve said many times: we should always push for each party to nominate its best candidate (or their least bad one). Elections are hard to predict. In 1991, Bush 41 looked invincible, so much so that SNL did a skit where Democrats debated to not be the nominee. In 1992, he was smoked by a philandering hillbilly and the Mayor of Munchkintown.

As early as last year, according to the Podesta emails, the Clinton campaign was hoping that Trump would be their opponent. The Federalist has a brutal takedown of how many liberals openly pined for Trump to be the nominee. Conservative journalists, who had stories of Trump’s corruption and scandals, looked in vain for the media to carry the torch. The entire Liberal Echosphere was invested in making sure Trump was the nominee so that Clinton would win.

And so here we are, a week out from election day, with Clinton clinging to a 2-point lead in the polls and Trump surging. The Democrats are panicking and not without reason. But this is at least partially a dish of crow. You wanted this guy. You dumped on reasonable conservatives like Jeb Bush. You openly prayed that a bridge-builder like Rubio wouldn’t get the nod. You slammed Kasich as being somehow worse. Enjoy what you have helped create.

Yes, the Republicans own this shit show. But the Democrats and their media allies have a least a partial stake. And let this burn in the lesson: never ever support the worst candidate on either side. Always hope that each side nominates their best. Because elections can turn on a dime. And the next thing you know, that horror show — whether that horror show is Clinton or Trump — is the most powerful person on Earth.