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Bubble in the Higher Education Market, Part Two


In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned in passing that Andrew Hacker (whom I knew slightly when I was an undergraduate at Cornell more than forty years ago) and Claudia Dreifus have written a book examining the question. In the interim, The Los Angeles Times has posted a squib from the book. Here is how it begins:

At Pomona College, a top-flight liberal arts school, this year’s sticker price for tuition and fees is a hefty $38,394 (not including room and board). Even after adjusting for inflation, that comes to 2.9 times what Pomona was charging a generation ago, in 1980.

This kind of massive tuition increase is the norm. In New England, Williams College charges $41,434, or an inflation-adjusted 3.2 times what it did 30 years ago. USC‘s current tab of $41,022 is a 3.6 multiple of its 1980 bill.

Tuition at public universities, in a time of ailing state budgets, has risen at an even faster rate. The University of Illinois‘ current $13,658 is six times its 1980 rate after adjusting for inflation. San Jose State’s $6,250 is a whopping 11 times more.

This cannot go on. And when something cannot go on, ordinarily it doesn’t. My bet is that state university charges continue to increase dramatically as the public subsidy is withdrawn and that private education charges level off or even decline.

The piece from which I quote is well worth reading. Hacker and Dreifus document the dramatic increases since 1980 in the money allocated to sports, to administration, and to the salaries of tenured faculty. The book is no doubt worth looking at as well.

Defeatism Among Conservatives


For almost my entire lifetime, the friends of liberty have been in retreat. They have accepted the welfare system, and they have temporized with the administrative state. With regard to domestic affairs, they have been in competition with the progressives – but only in one particular. The battle has been over who can better manage the system. In effect, what we have witnessed is a struggle between two species of progressives – managerial progressives who for the most part come out of the business world and intellectual progressives drawn from the academy. Only rarely in the last century have we had a genuine conservative as President – a man guided by an understanding of what the Founders had in mind when they adopted the Declaration of Independence and framed the Constitution. Only rarely has the Republican Party presented itself as a party of principle. The prospect terrifies many of those who consider themselves conservatives. They cannot imagine our departing from the New Deal order. All that they really want to do is to slow down the liberal juggernaut.

It is not always wrong to temporize. That is precisely what one should do with evils likely to disappear if one leaves them alone. That is what one should do with evils beyond one’s capacity to change.

But occasions do present themselves in which institutions and practices that once seemed entrenched and impregnable can be disposed of, and on such occasions temporizing is disastrous. We spent much of the Cold War attempting to accommodate the Soviet Union – and rightly so. In the beginning, they had the best artillery in the world and a great many divisions; later, they had nuclear weapons.

But a time came when shrewd observers recognized that the revolutionary generation had passed from the stage, that the Soviets had lost their élan, and that their economy was imploding. These men persuaded Ronald Reagan that what had always been deemed impossible was well within our grasp – that it had become possible to roll back communism without a nuclear war. And he, in turn, had the courage and the resolve necessary if an American leader was to seize the occasion and subject the Soviets to pressure that they could not bear. The proponents of Realpolitik recoiled in horror, but Reagan pressed on.

We now live in the worst of times. We are subject to a President and a party intent on fixing elections; on denying to workers faced with unionization the secret ballot; on shutting down conservative talk radio; on marginalizing Fox News; on demonizing Rush Limbaugh, the Koch brothers, and John Boehner; and on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.” This is the meaning of the massive expansion of federal expenditure and regulation under Obama; it is the likely consequence of Obamacare; and it will come to pass if we do not reverse course, repeal Obamacare, radically cut back federal expenditure, pare regulation, and balance the budget without imposing – except perhaps for a short time – additional taxes.

We also live in the best of times. At no time in the last sixty-four years has American public been as fed up and aroused as they are now. At no time have they been as well-informed. At no time have they been as open to genuine change. The onslaught of Barack Obama is the last gasp of the welfare state. The Social Security Administration is now paying out more than it takes in. Medicare and Medicaid are dependent on general revenues. If we do not cut back, we will have to pony up – and if we choose to pony up, we will soon discover that marginal tax rates affect conduct – that you can raise taxes and collect considerably less, rather than more, in revenues. This is a time for decision, and the American people know the score.

If we could roll back communism, we can roll back the welfare state. We can eliminate the administrative state, restore the separation of powers, re-establish constitutional government, provide for legislative accountability. We can do this, or – out of timidity or a disgraceful taste for running other people’s lives – we can acquiesce. It is not a time for half-measures. Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have unwittingly opened the way for a return to first principles and a political realignment. If we do not seize this occasion now, we may never have another opportunity to change the direction in which this country has been tending for almost a century now.

In the order imagined by Woodrow Wilson and the progressives, set in motion by Wilson’s great admirer Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and extended by Lyndon Baines Johnson, we were destined to drift in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called soft despotism. But Barack Obama has awakened us from our slumber, and we have an opportunity to become again what we once were – free women and men governing ourselves within a republican order characterized by federalism and the separation of powers. At this point, the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself. The only obstacles are the ambition of the would-be managers in our own camp and the timidity of those who mistake temporizing for prudence.

Is Islam Compatible with Liberal Democracy?


Just under nine years ago, on 16 September, 2001, Richard H. Brodhead, then Dean of Yale College, convened a panel of Yale faculty members to speak on the significance of what had happened five days before. Not one of those on the panel took this as an occasion for denouncing those responsible for the massacres in New York and Washington. No one discussed the religious motivations of the perpetrators. No one laid stress on the need for retaliation. Some intimated that the United States was at fault. All urged those in attendance to consider the perspective of those who responded to 9/11 by dancing in the streets.

In Foreign Policy, in a revised version of his remarks, Strobe Talbott, who had been second in command in Bill Clinton’s State Department, urged that we take care to distinguish between “the assassins and those who mastermind and abet their operations” and “their constituencies – those millions who feel so victimized by the modern world that they want to be victims, too; those who see Osama bin Laden as a combination avenging angel and Robin Hood.” The “raw materials of what we are up against,” he contended, “are “disease, overcrowding, undernourishment, political repression, and alienation,” which “breed despair, anger, and hatred.” “Reactive, defensive warfare” he pooh-poohed. Instead he called for an international “war on poverty” – which he termed “a proactive prolonged offensive against the ugly, intractable realities that terrorists exploit and from which they derive popular support, foot soldiers, and political cover.”

What struck me when I first read about the Yale teach-in and, again later, when I perused Talbott’s remarks was the resolute refusal to take religion seriously. The same thought came to mind in 2008 when I read about the patronizing remarks that Barack Obama had delivered in a closed-door meeting with donors in San Francisco. “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania,” he observed, “and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Both Talbott and Obama took it for granted that religious faith is epiphenomenal and that man lives by bread alone. To this day, neither understands that serious political disputes always turn on moral and religious principles. Leave aside the fact that LBJ’s war on poverty was an egregious failure and that an international war on poverty would be a fool’s errand. Those who flew jetliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon knew nothing of disease, overcrowding, and undernourishment, and, in justifying themselves, they said not a word about any of these. They were middle-class; many were well-to-do. They had been educated in the West, and we owe them this much respect – to take seriously their claim that their motives were religious.

These men sacrificed their lives for a cause they believed in. If we are to give them their due, we must ask whether they were right about the dictates of Islam. This is a question we should consider, and it is a question that all Muslims sooner or later will have to confront.

I lived in Istanbul for two years, and, for seven years, I was married to a Turk; I puzzled for many years over the uneasy cohabitation of Islam and a secular state in Turkey, and I still wonder whether that cohabitation can survive. But I do not pretend to know the answer to the question I have posed here. I do, however, know this. Islam is and has always been a religion of Holy Law. It has never embraced the separation of church and state and full religious freedom; it has never been willing to tolerate apostasy – though it has been tolerant of those born Christians and Jews. To make itself compatible with liberal democracy, it would have to be willing to treat religious obligations as a private matter and give up the quest to legislate for the whole political community.

This is a tall order, and we may wonder whether genuinely devout Sunni and Shiite Muslims can ever be fully comfortable within a secular state. It is, however, good to remember that there was a time, not so long ago, when it was unclear whether Roman Catholics, not to mention Anglicans and Presbyterians, could make their peace with a thoroughgoing separation of church and state. No one – apart from the adherents of Islam – can decisively answer the question I have posed. What, in the end their answer will be . . . this is a matter of profound significance for them, and it is hardly less important for us. I can only say that – if one is inclined to interpret the religious commitments of others as a pathological response to job loss, disease, overcrowding, and undernourishment – one cannot begin to comprehend the world into which we were so violently thrust nine years ago today.

Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb, Iran!


In a recent post on National Review Online, Victor Hanson – with whom I had dinner last night – wonders whether we might be in for an October Surprise. In this case, it is, I think, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Who is Barack Obama?


In the summer and Fall of 2009 – when, thanks to the generosity of the proprietors, I was posting on Powerline – I produced a series of brief essays (linked here) exploring the tyrannical ambition of Barack Obama, the character of his agenda, and the manner in which he conveyed by gesture the contempt and loathing that he felt for our European and Israeli allies. Somewhere, along the way, I suggested that his outlook reflected that of the New Left enamored of what used to be called the Third World.

In the current issue of Forbes, Dinesh D’Souza has put flesh on the bones of what, in my case, was a matter of intuition. After reading Obama’s memoir – Dreams from my Father – Dinesh explored the words and deeds of Obama’s father with greater care than anyone to date, and he argues with considerable persuasiveness that, if you want to make sense of some of the more puzzling aspects of the younger Obama’s conduct in office, you should consider how they might look to an African opponent of colonialism who had bought into Kwame Nkhrumah’s attack on what he called neo-colonialism.

Put simply, Dinesh is persuaded that Obama is in thrall to a line of thinking that died out some time ago in the former colonies. Dinesh’s remarks are well worth reading. He himself grew up in Bombay in the aftermath of the British withdrawal. He knows whereof he speaks, and his analysis explains why our President seems to hate this country and everything that it stands for and why he is so dangerous.

The Congressional Black Caucus


The black caucus in Congress likes to think of itself as the conscience of Capitol Hill. But this year it has been beset by scandal after scandal. Mention Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters and your interlocutor is likely to roll his eyes. It looks as if Eddie Bernice Johnson and Sanford Bishop fall into the same category. Is everyone in the black caucus a crook? It would be very sad, indeed, if this were true.

A Bubble in the Higher Education Market?


In early June, Glenn Reynolds published a column in The Washington Examiner arguing that the housing bubble of yesteryear was nothing in comparison with the bubble in higher education. In the interim, Andrew Hacker (whom I knew forty years ago) and his “partner” Claudia Dreifus have written a book on the subject, and Michael Barone, Matthew Schaffer, James Poulos, Mark J. Perry, Mike Riggs, Schumpeter at The Economist, and others have taken up the theme.

They are all worth reading (especially Mike Riggs on student loans), and I agree with everything that they have said. Back in the Fall of 1998, when my former student Brigid McMenamin interviewed me for Forbes on the subject, I told her that “the B-minus student may be better off not going to college,” and I suggested military service as an alternative, ticking off – as she summarized my remarks –“the pluses: Getting paid rather than paying for something you’re not using, learning a marketable skill, discipline, and an opportunity to mature.”

The simple truth is that most high school graduates are either unsuited to college-level work or uninterested in it. The massive, much-celebrated expansion of American higher education that began in the 1950s has eventuated in a dumbing-down of our colleges and universities, and the four or more years that most students spend in these institutions are more like an expensive vacation than anything else.

I have been in the world of higher education for forty-three years. Four great changes have taken place in this period. First, the proliferation of programs in fields where undergraduates learn little or nothing – education, psychology, sociology, communications, business, and the like. Second, grade inflation on a massive scale. Third, a vast expansion in the size of university administrations. And fourth, the transformation of institutions of higher learning into a cross between country clubs and brothels (complete with condom machines in the bathrooms). All follow, as the night the day, naturally from higher education’s ill-conceived expansion.

In nearly every college or university, the faculty know where the administration parks those lacking the wit or the desire to get an education, and generally it is these departments that have grown like topsy (both in majors and in staff). In the last four decades, there has been very little increase in the number of those teaching history, philosophy, literature, and the like, and it looks to me as if, down the road, the liberal arts could conceivably get crowded out. They have already been marginalized; and, given what has happened to departments of literature in the last couple of decades and the changes that are now taking place in the history profession, it is hard to see how, when the bubble bursts, the humanities professors will be able to articulate a cogent argument as to why anyone should study what they teach.

I am fortunate to be teaching now at Hillsdale College – an institution to which the criticism sketched out here does not apply. But before coming to Hillsdale three years ago, I spent almost a quarter-century at the University of Tulsa, watching it slowly drift away from its moorings, and listening to laments from historians, students of literature, and philosophy professors who taught elsewhere. If the bubble were to burst, it would be a good thing – certainly for the young people who refrained from piling up debt, but also, I pray, for our colleges and universities. They might find it necessary to imitate Hillsdale College, which takes neither federal nor state subsidies, and ruthlessly eliminate administrative bloat. They might even be forced to reconsider why they exist and what it means to be educated.

Demography and the Welfare State


The demographic crisis that Claire alludes to is, in part, a product of the welfare state. As Gunnar Myrdal noted in a set of lectures that he gave at Harvard in the 1940s, political communities which adopt programs of social insurance (what we call Social Security) eliminate one of the chief reasons why women and men marry and have children. He suggested compensatory tax legislation, and the Truman administration responded by legislating a very substantial tax break for those who have children. That tax break was, in effect, frozen and dwindled gradually in importance as inflation did its work, and we now find ourselves with little or no population growth. In Europe, where social insurance was invented and implemented — at least in some cases — much earlier, there is a demographic implosion. And, irony of ironies, that implosion, seconded by greater longevity, has bankrupted the welfare state: too few people laboring and paying in, too many taking out. This year, for the first time, Social Security tax receipts have been outpaced by the payment of Social Security benefits.

There is an entitlement crisis; it is time for serious entitlement reform.

Effecting a Realignment, Part Three


Why do we need a realignment? What’s in it for us? To these questions, the answer is simple. We live in a constitutional republic in which governance is always party governance. The alternative is chaos, and the chaos has a certain character.

Ours is polity based on federalism and the separation of powers. Because we distinguish the legislative from the executive and judicial powers, because the lower house of our bicameral legislature is elected in local constituencies and the upper house in the states, in our politics the centrifugal forces are more powerful than the centripetal forces. What I mean is: our Congressmen and, to a lesser degree, our Senators must spend some, if not most, of their time serving their constituents. To do so to effect, however, they must band together, make deals, and attempt to control the executive. Our parties tend, therefore, to be parties of patronage.

But patronage is insufficient for the support of durable parties, and durability is desired by the dispensers of patronage. Moreover, opinion is the element of politics. Man does not live by bread alone. When Aristotle argued that man is a political animal and connected this claim with his assertion that man’s possession of rational speech (logos) is his distinctive quality, he made public deliberation the central feature of politics. Its focus was, he said, advantage and therefore the just and the good. We may enter into an alliance for the sake of our own security and well-being, but once we have provided for these ends we are apt to concern ourselves with justice and the good. We simply cannot help ourselves.

Every one of our parties can trace its origins to a crisis in which the nature of justice and the character of our way of life was at issue. That was true for the Jeffersonians in 1800, for the Jacksonians in 1828, for the Republicans in 1860 and even 1894, and for the Democrats in and after 1932 – and it is no less true today. This is why I suggested in my most recent post that it is essential that, when John Boehner and his merry men lay out a new Contract with America later this month, they include a preamble in which they indict the Democratic Party as “a small group” intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives,” and in which they appeal to first principles and call for a restoration of constitutional government within these United States.

What can we expect from such a realignment? For a time, we can expect a government guided by the principles articulated in the preamble to that contract. What might this mean in current circumstances? An abandonment on the part of the federal government of those spheres of governance appropriate to the states (e.g., education), a repeal of Obamacare, an elimination of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, entitlement reform aimed at a gradual elimination of entitlements, a reworking of the Byzantine scheme of financial regulation devised by Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, a balancing of the budget, an extension of the tax cuts initiated by George W. Bush, and a gradual elimination of the administrative state.

We can be certain of one thing. The items on this list that the Republicans do not sign onto later this month they will not do.

What is the Administrative State?


Since this question has come up more than once in recent conversations on this site, I will address it. Our republic is based upon the doctrine of the separation of powers, which was first fully articulated by Montesquieu in his Spirit of Laws, and which was subsequently adapted by the Framers of the American Constitution and defended by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist.

It is based on a functional division of governmental powers between the legislature, which makes laws; the executive, which enforces them; and the judiciary, which judges particular cases. At the heart of the doctrine underpinning our Constitution is the principle that powers cannot be delegated – that the legislature cannot execute the laws or judge particular cases, that the executive cannot make laws or judge particular cases, and that the judiciary cannot make or execute laws.

The separation of powers is a device for making government at a distance from the people visible, for encouraging legislative prudence and executive responsibility, and for making those who govern us accountable. It encourages public deliberation; it virtually guarantees that there will be low-level conflict between the branches of government; and it makes each branch a watchdog over the others.

The administrative state is based upon a concentration of all three powers – which Montesquieu thought incompatible with liberty – within a single executive agency. In a fashion that constitutes an abrogation of the Constitution, Congress sets up administrative agencies, empowers them to issue regulations having the force of law, to enforce these regulations, and to judge infractions. What this means is that most of what is done by our government takes place in camera behind closed doors – out of sight and out of mind.

Congressmen and Senators love this. It means that no one is accountable for unpopular measures, and it means that they are not held responsible. When I suggest that the administrative state be eliminated, I mean that we should return to constitutional government and the separation of powers – that, before taking effect, every regulation proposed by an administrative agency be discussed in the House and the Senate, be voted on and passed by each of the two legislative branches, and be signed by the President. Then, the government would be visible: we would know who is responsible; we could hold them accountable; and, if need be, we could replace malefactors with honest women and men.

Effecting a Realignment, Part Two


What does it mean for there to be a realignment, what is there to be gained from such a development, and how can it be effected? That is the question.

There have been five such events in American history: in 1800, 1828, 1860, 1894, and 1932. Some would add 1980 to the list, but I think that Ronald Reagan and the Republicans failed to capitalize adequately on the gains they made that year. Had Reagan run a principled, partisan campaign in 1984, things might have been different.

In every one of the five cases listed above, those in opposition were offered a golden opportunity by the party in power. In every case, those in opposition seized that opportunity and reoriented national policy in the aftermath. In every case, those in opposition presented themselves to the general public as a party of principle and acted as one after achieving victory. In every case, they seized upon what many perceived as a threat to republican liberty and the American way of life and acted to eliminate the putative threat.

When the Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and John Adams signed them into law, they opened the door to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Jeffersonian Republicans. When Henry Clay threw his support in Congress to John Quincy Adams in 1824, thwarted the Presidential ambitions of Andrew Jackson, and managed to pass into law large parts of a Hamiltonian program that he would eventually call “the American system,” he opened the door to Jackson, Martin van Buren, and the coalition that came to be called the Democratic Party. In the 1850s, when the proponents of Negro slavery pressed successfully for a repeal of the Missouri Compromise and Roger Taney and his proslavery Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Dred Scott case, they opened the door to Abraham Lincoln and our nation’s second Republican Party. When the Democratic Party split in the wake of the financial Panic of 1893 and the proponents of silver coinage and inflation within that party turned on Grover Cleveland and threatened to take over the party, it brought new life to the Republicans in the congressional elections of 1894 and paved the way for a decisive face-off between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan in 1896. And when Herbert Hoover responded to the economic crisis of 1929 by encouraging the Federal Reserve Board to keep interest rates high, by signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and by raising taxes and deepening the recession, it opened the door to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.

Had Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, McKinley, and FDR proved feckless in office, they would have squandered victory. But they managed successfully to represent the Federalists, the Whigs, the slave power, the Bryan Democrats, and the Hoover Republicans as a threat to republican liberty and the American way of life, and in the process they effected a return to first principles.

I would submit that Obama, Emanuel, Pelosi, and Reid have offered today’s Republicans a comparable opportunity. Like Herbert Hoover, they have managed economic affairs in such a manner as to prolong and deepen a recession. And like the Federalists in 1798, the Whigs in the 1820s, and the slave-power conspirators of the 1850s, they have acted in such a manner as to suggest that republican liberty is in peril.

What the Republicans have to do to effect a realignment is to nationalize the congressional elections by taking every major bill that the Democrats have passed and representing it as part of a larger plan aimed at reducing the American people to servitude. This should not be hard to do.

Barack Obama promised to “transform” America, and he has done his best to make good on that promise. We have seen the Democrats mount a systematic campaign to steal elections with the help of ACORN and similar organizations. We have watched them press to eliminate the secret ballot in unionization campaigns. We have stood aghast as they shoved through Congress on a single-party vote a series of bills mammoth in length, incomprehensible even after they were passed, and unread by those who voted on them. We have witnessed a massive expansion of the administrative state, and money has been spent in such a fashion as to threaten the country with bankruptcy. There is a crisis. It has deepened, and everyone knows it. Moreover, as Rahm Emanuel promised, his party has not let that crisis “go to waste.” It has exploited it to effect a radical transformation of the country – and the American people are aware that they have been had.

As I said in my earlier post, if the Republicans re-establish themselves as a party of principle – as a counter-conspiracy intent on defending republican liberty – and do so by means of a new Contract with America, they will win a very large victory, indeed; and they will have positioned themselves in such a way as to be able to effect a lasting realignment.

In 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt summed up his assault on the Republican Party, on the Hoover administration, and on the financiers and titans of industry so prominent in the 1920s with the following words: “A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.” What FDR said on that occasion was untrue, but in the context of the Great Depression his rhetoric was effective.

Today, however, such a claim would be well-founded. A small group of men and women – lead by Obama, Emanuel, Pelosi, and Reid and backed with enthusiasm by virtually every Democrat in the Senate and the House – really has sought “an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives”; and Americans in ever-increasing numbers now worry that their lives will no longer be free, that their liberty will no longer be real, and that they will no longer have the wherewithal with which to pursue happiness as they understand it.

All that the Republicans have to do over the next few years, if they wish to effect a realignment, is to articulate the inchoate fears inspired by Obama, Emanuel, Pelosi, and Reid and to spell out what they intend to do to roll back the administrative state and lay those fears to rest. Are the Republicans up to the challenge? This is the question we now face.

All that I can say at this time is that encouragement has been accorded the Republicans. As I pointed out in the second of my two posts yesterday, the Tea-Party Movement in every corner of the land has announced itself as a credible threat to Republicans in Name Only. Witness the ascendancy of Sharron Angle in Nevada, of Joe Miller in Alaska, of Marco Rubio in Florida, of Rand Paul in Kentucky, and of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. These days even that John McCain wannabee Lindsey Graham is assiduously toeing the line. The times they are a-changin’.

Effecting a Realignment, Part One


I have been arguing for some time – first here in August 2009, then in posts linked here and archived here, here, and here – that a realignment might be in the offing. By now, it should be obvious that such an opportunity has presented itself to the Republicans. Last week, the Gallup poll suggested that on the generic Congressional ballot the Republicans have a 10% advantage. Yesterday, as Peter Robinson has pointed out, the Rasmussen poll suggested that the Republicans have a 12% advantage – which means that the Gallup poll was not an outlier: it was indicative of a powerful trend still underway.

This in turn suggests that on the first Tuesday in November the Republicans are likely to win an historic victory. If current trends continue, I suspect that they will pick up more than seventy seats in the House and perhaps as many as twelve in the Senate. How, one might ask, can they take full advantage of this remarkable opportunity? How might they transform a victory into a realignment?

They face, I think, two obstacles – one internal, the other external – and they cannot get past the latter if they do not get past the former.

The external obstacle is simple: next to no one trusts them. Their conduct when last in the majority in both houses was unprincipled and appalling.

The internal obstacle is less easy to describe. In an earlier post, entitled Patronage, Principles, and Political Parties, I remarked on the fact that the Founding Fathers made no provision for organized political parties, that Americans thereafter found it impossible to govern effectively in their absence, and that the separation of powers tends to subvert their cohesion. Congressman and Senators are caught between the dictates of the party discipline necessary for effective governance and the demands of local constituents, and the parties they form within the House and the Senate tend to oscillate between operating as parties of patronage and functioning as parties of principle.

In a later post entitled John Boehner’s Testing Time, I argued that the Republicans will be unable to get past the internal obstacle standing in the way of their seizing the opportunity Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have afforded them unless they turn themselves into a party of principle, and I suggested that they do so by drafting a new Contract with America in which they promise to restore constitutional government in this country and spell out in some detail what this entails. In this fashion, they can bind their members to vote for a repeal of Obamacare and for rolling back the administrative state, and in this fashion they can begin to recover the trust of the American people.

In my next post, I will spell out what, I believe, should be the unifying theme of their campaign this Fall and over the next two years.

What a Difference a Year Can Make!


I am just back from the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, which is held every year on the weekend immediately preceding Labor Day, and which I attend with some regularity. Last year, when this august gathering was held in Toronto, I showed up for a panel on Obama’s First Year. The participants were an intelligent lot, and they had a great deal of interest to say. But I was amazed at one omission: no one even mentioned the Tea-Party Movement.

I thought this decidedly strange. Early in August, 2009, I had posted a piece on Powerline entitled The Great Awakening, in which I compared the Tea-Party revolt with the emergence in and after 1828 of the movement of resistance to the so-called Tariff of Abominations. That event had greatly impressed Alexis de Tocqueville, and it inspired his ruminations concerning the Americans’ mastery of what he called “the art of association.” I suggested at that time that with the Tea-Party Movement we might be witnessing the beginning of a political realignment no less significant than the one that had produced the Jacksonian era — a movement which would permanently transform the character of American politics.

So, with this in mind, I put a question to the political scientists who had just spoken: “Why,” I asked, “did no one on the panel even mention the Tea-Party eruption?” No one seemed much interested in my question. One panelist responded that the movement’s appearance was indeed, odd. It had, he said, no institutional backing. Then, he and his colleagues moved on.

This year in Washington, D. C. I attended three different panels on the Obama administration and the upcoming midterm elections, and everyone was eager to discuss the Tea-Party Movement. As I listened to their prognostications, however, I could not help thinking of the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Soviet studies were in vogue, and a considerable community of scholars grew up that devoted its attention to developments within the Soviet bloc. There were those who foresaw the Soviet Union’s demise. Alexander Solzhenitsyn comes first to mind. But I cannot think of a single Sovietologist who foresaw the collapse and dissolution of communism within eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It was as if all the time that they had spent studying developments was wasted. It was as if their studies made them sensitive to the trees and blind to the forest as a whole. Scholars — especially those who pretend to be social scientists — seem to be rendered by their focus on particulars blind to the possibility of systematic change. Even now, the political scientists to whom I listened over the last few days in Washington were struggling to assimilate recent developments to the general oscillation between parties that takes place in American electoral politics. They could not imagine that this time it might be different — that it might not be appropriate to attempt to assimilate what we were witnessing to the normal political patterns, that the liberal ascendancy might be over, and that the era of the New Deal might be coming to an end.

What a Difference a Year Can Make, Part Two


Peter’s question is a good one. What is obviously different this time?

Four things, I think. First, the Tea-Party Movement. Outside of the two political parties, spontaneously, in response to a single comment made on television by Rick Santelli, ordinary Americans all over the country rallied, and the rally has been sustained now for more than a year. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime — not, in any case, on the right.

Second, the rapidity of Obama’s fall from stratospheric popularity to strong disapproval. According to Rasmussen, the gap between strong approval and strong disapproval is 23%. Something like 47% of the country, nearly half of the people, strongly disapprove of the man’s conduct in office.

Third, primary defeats within the Republican Party. The nomination of Sharron Angle in Nevada, of Joe Miller in Alaska, of Marco Rubio in Florida, of Rand Paul in Kentucky, of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. The Republican Party is undergoing a transformation as RINOs and putative RINOs are purged. When, in recent times, has anything like this happened?

Finally, the polling data — on Obamacare, on the generic ballot, on Nancy Pelosi, on the stimulus bill, on the economy more generally. The scale and scope of the shift since January, 2009 is breathtaking.

Of course, it takes two to tango. The Republicans have an opportunity. Do they have the wit to seize it? I wait and worry. But there is one reason why they might have the wit. The fate of those defeated in the Republican primaries is a warning to them all. A public hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.

And if the Republicans do seize the opportunity, I believe that there will be a realignment. The welfare state is bankrupt; Keynesianism has obviously failed; and we do not have the wherewithal to pay for Obamacare. Rome is in the process of burning, and all that the political scientists can do is to fiddle.

Paul A. Rahe

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