Prager and the Wolf

Part of what is so disheartening about President Donald Trump leading the Republican Party is discovering that thoughtful people–perhaps even people who you admire–will ignore, excuse, or even endorse Trump’s worst aspects. The kinds of people who saw profound meaning in Barack Obama’s annoying idiosyncrasies (omitting the words “our Creator,” when quoting the Declaration of Independence, for example) appear curiously unable to connect the dots on President Trump’s most troubling behaviors.

Conservative commentator, Dennis Prager, is one such person who I once very much admired. He does not know whether President Trump holds racist views in his heart that inform his policy decisions. Neither do I. Nor would Mr. Prager or I look to the mainstream American left for any elucidation on the issue. But the question is serious enough that Prager writes a piece arguing that the evidence against Mr. Trump is specious.

Here’s why Prager is wrong:

In the first place, Prager argues that the left has lost credibility on using the word “racist,” writing:

“The left labels anyone who opposes race-based quotas, or all-black college dorms, or the Black Lives Matter movement ‘racist.’”

Therefore, he argues, because liberals call so many innocuous things racist, they threaten to embolden “real” racism.

This is mostly true.

I think of the braindead attacks on Senator John McCain, calling him a racist, for referring to then-Senator Barack Obama as “that one,” when distinguishing between their voting records. I think of the many attacks calling President George W. Bush a racist despite the diversity of his cabinet, his electoral successes among Latinos, and his tireless work improving conditions in many African nations–improvements that are recognized across the political spectrum.

But Prager’s argument has two sides: while liberals may overcharge racism, conservatives underestimate it with the same zeal.  A Pew Research Study released last year expresses that very point. It finds that Democrats believe that not enough attention is paid to “real” instances of racism, while Republicans argue that too much attention is paid to “fake” racism. Both can be true: Democrats may pay too much attention to “microaggressions,” while Republicans prefer to ignore racial disparities in police shootings and incarceration.

But all this really means is that the right has lost just as much credibility on the issue of racism as the left.

Prager writes:

“On race the Left has cried wolf so often that if real wolves ever show up, few will believe it.”

And, so here we are: The Left is calling Mr. Trump a wolf, and Mr. Prager suspects that they might be seeing a giraffe.

The event in question finds President Trump in negotiations about DACA recipients and the future of a diversity lottery immigration program. The bipartisan negotiation would have ended the diversity lottery, in exchange for allowing the people who used that program to live legally in the United States (some, for decades) to join the class of DACA recipients and earn the chance to be granted permanent status. Upon learning that some of the people who benefited from the diversity lottery were from Haiti and Nigeria, President Trump asked why the U.S. should allow those people from “shit hole” countries to stay. He reportedly followed up by asserting that we needed more people from countries like Norway.

If whatever subtlety that exists eludes you, as it has Mr. Prager, what the President reportedly said is that if these people were from European countries–regardless of their value to the United States–they should be allowed to be incorporated into the DACA program. Otherwise, they should be sent home at government expense because of where they came from, not because of who they are and what they have contributed.

This sounds like racism to me, but not to Prager who defends Trump’s assertion by tying an imaginary “moral state of an immigrant’s country” to the likelihood that immigrants from those countries would use American welfare benefits.  (Remember, Mr. Trump did not say that the United States needed fewer immigrants who would use welfare benefits– that would have been more tenable.) As it were, none of Prager’s other arguments have anything to do with Trump’s statement, in fact, as nimbly as he claims not to know what Trump actually said, he more boldly asserts to know what Trump meant.

The point still remains, that Prager appears to suffer from the same affliction that the Pew study finds among conservatives more generally. It is true: if this were the only insensitive thing that Mr. Trump said, then one could plausibly deny that Trump is a racist. Just as sharp teeth, alone, do not a wolf make.  

But if only Mr. Prager would touch the pelt of the man who lied about knowing who David Duke was; if he would let the teeth of the man who precluded blacks from living in his developments pierce his fingertips; if Prager would listen to the howl of the beast who said that a Republican judge could not do his job professionally because he is of Mexican descent; study the scat of this animal that peddled a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace. If only Prager would enter his picture into the Google Arts and Culture app, he would see that Mr. Trump keeps coming back–wolf.

The New American Threat to World Order

Gideon Rose wrote an impassioned, yet wrongheaded, defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that his policies keep America, and the world, on a positive track.

 

“The key to Obama’s success has been his grasp of the big picture: his appreciation of the liberal international order that the United States has nurtured over the last seven decades, together with his recognition that the core of that order needed to be salvaged by pulling back from misguided adventures and feuds in the global periphery.”

 

Rose, then proceeds to absolve Obama’s failures by relegating them to “feuds in the global periphery,” while elevating Obama’s obscure successes to the pinnacle of foreign policy genius–all in the name of maintaining the liberal international order.

 

As problematic as Rose’s evaluation is, his argument continues to fail on its own merit, especially in light of our changed approaches to rogue and dictatorial regimes. The liberal international order that the United States created after World War 2, enticed illiberal states to change their ways in order to enjoy the spoils of cooperation. Participation in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, and other intergovernmental organizations required member states to pursue liberal institutions that secure peace. Free press, free elections, representative governments and open societies make for peaceful, predictable partnerships–the kinds of partnerships that have led to the relative peace of the post World War 2 era, and the worldwide rise in economic prosperity. Failure to insist upon the adoption of liberal institutions rewards despotism, and can even enrich tyrants.

 

Yet, that’s exactly what Obama’s foreign policy has done.

 

In 2008, Senator John McCain criticized Obama’s desire to legitimize rogue states by opening diplomatic ties with them. Obama called McCain’s charge an appeal to the politics of fear. He went further, saying, “we need to…use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” This rejoinder sounds consistent with what Rose, and others concerned with preserving the liberal international order, would welcome. However, even if Rose considers the Iran Nuclear Deal, the normalization of relations with communist Cuba, and the lifting of the weapons embargo with communist Vietnam, peripheral items, these Obama policies do not support the liberal international order. They do, in fact, quite the opposite.

 

Rose argues, for example, that Obama exercised sound judgement by responding tepidly to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2013, in part, because Ukraine (not a NATO member) didn’t deserve our protection.

 

“This policy seems eminently sensible,” Rose writes. “NATO members have an ironclad security guarantee of American protection, which Washington will unquestionably enforce if necessary…Ukraine will probably join the liberal order eventually, when circumstances permit. But it is not the United States’ job to fight to bring it in before then.”

 

Contrast this with our new stance with Vietnam. Vietnam persists as a communist nation, replete with political prisoners and basic injustices. Hours before Obama landed in Hanoi, the Vietnamese people held an election in which more than 98% of Vietnamese citizens voted to legitimate the illegitimate and oppressive regime. Still, Obama strengthened this regime–promising to sell it F-16s, drones, surveillance equipment and electronic warfare capabilities so that “Vietnam [can] fully link its kill chain between ‘see-ers’ and ‘shooters.’”

 

If this effort were meant to “pressure” Vietnam into liberalizing, then Obama would be serving the liberal international order. However, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere notes, “neither the Americans or [sic] the Vietnamese spent any time pretending the change had anything to do with actual democratic reform. Obama didn’t make a show of calling for it. President Tran Dai Quang didn’t make a show of pretending he was for it. They both knew it would have been a joke.”
What incentivizes nations to pursue liberalism–often reducing the power of the ruling class–when the benefits of the liberal global order fall upon illiberal states as well? Doesn’t Obama’s approach to these hostile states undermine the liberal international order? Or do a stronger Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam exist only in the periphery?

The Krazy Konservative Kleavage

Seventy-two percent of the voters in 2012 identified as white. Thirty-five percent of the electorate self-identified as conservative. Mitt Romney won these groups 59% and 82% respectively. Still, though, Romney lost. He lost because President Barack Obama won three quarters of the non-white vote, including a staggering 71% of Latinos. This led to the Republican “post mortem” report, an exhaustive examination of the many challenges that face the party, especially in Presidential Elections. The report named many areas of improvement, but the most controversial prescription called on the Party to increase its minority outreach.

 

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.” Furthermore, “we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

 

Many Republicans–Big Tent Republicans–agree with these findings. Romney’s vow to make life for illegal immigrants so difficult that they would “self-deport;” failed to comfort the millions of immigrants and their families, and sent the message to Latinos that Republicans don’t “care about people like me.”  Moreover, Romney’s approach failed to address the complexity of the illegal immigration problem.

 

On the other hand, many other Republicans reviled this conclusion. They argue, instead, that Romney lost the 2012 election because he wasn’t–like them–a “true conservative,” ignoring that he represented the “true conservative” choice in 2008, when he ran against John McCain. “True conservatives” say that they believe in absolute ideological purity, but that does not appear to be so. Instead, “true conservatives” are singly concerned about Mexican immigration. These Republicans believe that across the nation, white conservatives simply refuse to come to the polls to vote for Republican candidates who are not conservative enough, and until a “true conservative” becomes the nominee, Republicans will continue to lose elections.

 

The numbers, however, belie this conclusion.

 

By “true conservative’s” estimates, for example, George W. Bush is more conservative than both McCain and Romney. In 2000, 29% of voters self-identified as conservative, 34% in 2008, and 35% in 2012. Bush earned 82% of the conservative vote in 2000, McCain earned 78% in 2008, and Romney won 82% in 2012. In other words, Romney won more conservative votes than each of these recent predecessors, McCain earned more conservative votes than Bush, and fewer self-identified conservatives came out for Bush than did for both McCain and Romney.

 

Was George W. Bush not conservative enough to attract these phantom “true conservatives?” Why did so many more conservatives come out to support a “less conservative” Mitt Romney? Impervious to evidence, “true conservatives” dig in their heels.

 

As candidates entered the 2016 Presidential Race, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer: Among others; senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Governors Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and John Kasich; conspicuously represented the Big Tent Republicans–the Republicans who got the memo in 2012. Senator Ted Cruz, and hotelier Donald Trump represented the “true conservative” wing of the Party.

 

In an appeal to his Republican constituents, Trump attacked Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish. Cruz did the same to Marco Rubio. This line of attack meant to elicit visceral concerns about Mexican immigration, also suggested that the Big Tent candidates shared a secret agenda to serve the interests of Hispanics over American (white) interests, and implied that neither Bush nor Rubio can be trusted. In fact, Cruz openly accused Rubio of saying one thing on Univision–in Spanish–and another to the American public–most of whom do not speak Spanish and cannot fact check Cruz’ claim with certainty or ease. Interestingly, in 2012, Newt Gingrich argued that he was the “real conservative,” as opposed to Romney, and he employed this very same kind of attack, arguing that Romney’s bilingualism (French, in his case) raised questions about his fealty to America.

 

Big Tent Republicans, on the other hand, make the case, as did Rubio, that speaking Spanish helps deliver the conservative message to more people. In keeping with the Big Tent goal of expanding the Party, Bush and Rubio argued that bilingualism was a tool to welcome new people into the GOP.

 

“True conservatives’” favorite attack against Big Tent Republicans regards immigration policy. Rubio faced intense castigation for working with a bipartisan team of Senators to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would have penalized, with a fine and repayment of back taxes, any of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States who chose to accept this punishment. Then, this group could earn legal status–even citizenship. The bill strengthened the E-verify program, and mandated businesses to participate. It passed the Senate with 68 votes, but died in the House.

 

“True conservatives” cheer the bill’s failure, calling it “amnesty,” as if the word has no definition. Rubio bears the scars for participating in The Gang of 8 (not to be confused with the Gang of 14 that “true conservatives” hung around John McCain’s neck in 2008). “True conservatives” believe that law enforcement officers should hunt illegal immigrants, take them from their houses and places of employment, send them to immigration courts, detain and deport them. Both Trump and Cruz say that they will do all of this and build a 50 foot wall along the Southern border.

 

At this point in the 2016 election, half of the 4 remaining candidates are “true conservatives,” while the other half are Big Tent Republicans. Unfortunately, the “true conservatives” are winning.

gty_rubio_trump_cruz_kasich_split_jc_160303_16x9_608

This schism suggests that Republicans have learned nothing from their 2012 defeat. “True conservatives’” appeals to xenophobia have unsurprisingly attracted support from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and other white supremacist groups. Trump’s reticence to denounce this wing of his supporters further validates the fears minorities have about the GOP. If ever one would wonder whether or not Republicans “care about people like me,” one only need remember that rather than trying to appeal to minorities, the Republican Party prefers to court nonexistent white people.

 

Most of the candidates who worked to expand the Party have dropped from the race for lack of support. While some conservative commentators may argue that a majority of Republican voters do not agree with Donald Trump, the fact remains that Ted Cruz represents the same wing of the divided Republican Party. Neither candidate works to welcome new members to the GOP rolls. In fact, they both push minorities away. As a result, millions of potential Republican voters will vote Democrat, and the Democrats will win another Presidential election.

 

Voting for Marco Rubio, on the other hand, presents the Democrats with a true challenge: no longer can they take minority votes for granted, because Rubio actively courts them. For every Democrat surrogate sent to speak in Spanish on behalf of their white candidate, Rubio, himself, can answer on his own behalf. The image of Rubio sharing a stage with Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy will be a galvanizing image for the Republican Party.

 
As it happens, though, “true conservatives” continue to win more Republican votes. So when Republicans lose in November, prepare for another hand wringing report about the lack of minority outreach. Prepare for the accusations that the GOP nominee was ideologically tainted. For had he been a “true conservative,” millions upon millions of whites would have shown up to vote Republican.

The Art of the Pointless

Is politics still the “art of the possible?” In America, today, it appears as if politics has become the art of the pointless. Congress finally passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, along with a defunding of Planned Parenthood, and sent it to President Barack Obama–for veto. None of the lawmakers who supported the bill thought the president would sign it, but Republican constituents would have still demanded it be done. John Boehner’s House of Representatives passed an ACA repeal about 40 times, knowing the Senate would never bring the bill to a vote.

 

Why fight unwinnable battles? Apparently, futility is good politics.

 

Donald Trump sits atop the Republican polls, a seemingly unstoppable force–at least until actual votes are cast. His plan to fix the immigration crisis consists of building a giant wall along our Southern border and “making Mexico pay for it.” The wall will cost upwards of $20B, face eminent domain challenges across multiple states, and will do nothing to staunch the sizeable minority of immigrants who fly into America and overstay their VISAs. In short, it’ll never happen.

 

No matter. Mr. Trump’s supporters also like his policy proposal to curb domestic terror attacks by restricting immigrants and visitors who confess to being Muslim. If you ignore that a cunning jihadist can lie about his religious orientation and gain access into his target, the idea is almost plausible. Except that such a policy would run so far afoul of the law that crafting the language of the legislation would be an exercise in futility.

 

Perhaps Donald Trump isn’t such a viable candidate.

 

Luckily, then, there’s Ted Cruz–the Senator from Texas who led a government shutdown that did not (because it could not) achieve the goal he intended. Then again, Cruz’ goal may have been to raise money for himself, in which case, the government shutdown worked perfectly. In the last debate, Mr. Cruz ended a sharp spat with Marco Rubio by saying that he would not support a path to legal status for the tens of millions of undocumented workers already living in the United States. Refusing such a path means either accepting the status quo, a broken immigration system, or deporting each of the illegal immigrants.

 

Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants would cost somewhere between $166B and $285B. These figures neglect the less tangible costs of businesses closing, industries taking a serious hit, and the bad press we would receive as we broke up families to send more than 32,000 people out of the country every day. Imagine how the photographs from the largest forced migration from America will adorn future liberal history textbooks.

 

It will never happen, though. That won’t stop Cruz from suckering people into believing in impossibilities to his self-serving ends.

 

Before concluding that futility politics exists solely on the right, turn your attention to President Obama’s executive orders on firearms. Look, too, to his “common sense” policy prescriptions–none of which would have done a thing to stop any of the recent mass shootings or curb gun deaths, as most are the result of suicides. Still, though, gun control measures soothe Democrats’ consciences.

 

Both Democrat Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, propose to make college tuition free, at least for students attending state schools. The cost of such a plan begins at more than $70B annually. This wouldn’t be a good investment even if it weren’t paying to send people to college who can already afford to go by their own means.

 

Combine this idea with Sanders’ plan for universal health insurance (Medicare expansion), his federal jobs programs for disadvantaged youth, his $1T infrastructure policy, and his expansion of Social Security benefits, and the likelihood of any of these plans coming to fruition matches that of Ammon Bundy’s standoff ending in his victory.

 

If American voters are so frustrated with politicians, why do we settle for and insist upon feel-good, doomed-to-fail, kamikaze, gestural politics?
There ought to be a law…

Can Marco Do the Job?

In the CNBC debate, Governor Jeb Bush damaged his campaign by attacking Senator Marco Rubio’s missed votes. In part, Bush harmed himself by taking a picayune line of attack. After all, would you notice if one of your U.S. Senators was missing 30% of his or her votes? We live in political gridlock that renders pointless much of Congress’ activities. The second reason his attack harmed his campaign lies in the characteristically deft manner in which Rubio answered the charge. Like a man punching at the air after sustaining a staggering uppercut, Bush parroted the criticism of Rubio’s missed votes for days afterward, even as his poll numbers fell inversely to Rubio’s. Now, with a more solid footing, the bloody-nosed Bush insists upon taking down his protege with attacks on his youth and inexperience. This new line of attack reveals an unbecoming characteristic Jeb shares with his brother, George–mulishness in the face of failure. Attacking Rubio’s inexperience can only work if Republicans demonstrate that we have similarly failed to learn from Barack Obama’s presidency that experience has very little bearing on political success.

 

To be sure, judging a senator’s tangible accomplishments proves a difficult task. Senators’ primary responsibilities include participating in committees, crafting legislation, analyzing policy and voting. To that end, Rubio served on the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee; the Committee on Foreign Relations; the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship; and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He worked with Mike Lee to craft a tax plan and worked with seven other senators to create a comprehensive immigration plan. In short, he’s been hard at work.

 

Furthermore, Governor Bush cannot be allowed to escape his own words in 2012, when he urged Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, to consider Senator Rubio for the vice president position.

 

“Marco Rubio is my favorite [choice],” Bush told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview. “He has more experience than Barack Obama had when he ran, and…he’s certainly got the intelligent acumen and fortitude to be a good president.”

 

Bush made these remarks when Rubio had even less experience than he has now. But, regardless of whether one believes that Mr. Rubio possesses enough governmental experience to be president, the very nature of the question neglects one of the most important lessons of the Obama presidency: governmental experience doesn’t matter.

 

Barack Obama ascended to the presidency after voting “present” throughout his short stint as Illinois’ junior senator. In office, Obama passed sweeping health insurance reform, redefined marriage, named two Supreme Court justices and filled the federal judiciaries with liberal judges. His lack of experience, in other words, did nothing to prevent him from serving the leftist agenda. Similarly, whatever experience Mr. Rubio has (or lacks) in 2016 will be irrelevant as he stares down 31 of 50 Republican governors, 68 of 98 Republican controlled state legislative houses, and a Republican House and Senate.

 

What should matter most to Republicans, and to Mr. Bush in particular, are the nominee’s values. More important than an incoming president knowing where the payroll department is located, is a president who knows that an expansive federal government shrinks individual freedom, that American retreat invites anti-American advances, and that expanding opportunity for all Americans will help us grow our way out of our economic stagnation and general malaise.

 

Again, Rubio meets these criteria.

 

As the campaign goes forth, I hope that Mr. Bush abandons his inane attacks on Rubio. At least, if Bush refrains from doing so in the upcoming debates, he can avoid suffering further embarrassing  tongue-lashings from a man he named “the most articulate conservative elected official on the scene today.”

 

We shall see.

How Real RINOs Threaten to Ruin the Party

However much we tell ourselves that voting in the Republican primary is light years away, the polling remains stubbornly depressing. Month after month, Donald Trump sits high atop “the best candidates the GOP has ever fielded.” Trump’s most ardent supporters argue that he enjoys this success because he is a “true conservative”–tough, decisive, honest. By contrast, Trump’s opponents are RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)–the “go along to get along” gang. Real Republicans, according to this group, are conservative to their core, people like Mitt Romney (in 2008, not 2012) and Rick Santorum (in 2012, not 2016). The only other “true conservative” running for the 2016 GOP nomination is Senator Ted Cruz, the firebrand who stood up to the John Boehner-Mitch McConnell “establishment wing” of the Republican Party by petulantly leading charges to shut down the federal government whenever he didn’t get his way.

Talk radio host, Hugh Hewitt, notes that “Frank Luntz…says he believes that the Trump voters are as solid as voters can be and that those committed to Cruz are just a touch less devoted.” These supporters, Hewitt calls “True Believers.”

Trump and Cruz “True Believers” support their respective candidates out of a sense that conservatism is under attack as much from liberals outside the party as from liberals inside the GOP–RINOs. Ironically, though, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fit the original definition of RINOs. For this reason, chief among others, most Republican voters do not trust them.

Phil Edwards writes a fascinating article for Vox describing a brief history of the term RINO as a pejorative. In it, he notes that its roots refer to the classical definition of republican (small “r”). Originally, the term referred to people and “governments that claimed to be representative, but were actually autocratic.”

In this sense, Cruz and Trump fit the bill perfectly. Senator Cruz, for example, crafted his image by leading the charge to shut down the federal government to protest Obamacare. Even though funds for Obamacare had already been appropriated, and the legislation came into being because the American people elected Democrats to represent them, Cruz used the Senate (futilely, but in an autocratic manner) to derail legislation that he opposed.

If not for Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s clever strategizing; and the Senate’s bipartisan exasperation with the obstreperous Cruz; Cruz would have shut the government down again to protest Planned Parenthood funding, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Using what essentially amounts to one-sixth of the federal government, to override the will of the people as expressed through elections, to impose the will of a minority, represents an autocratic impulse–not a republican one.

Circumstances protect Mr. Cruz from being the biggest RINO running for president this cycle. He likely would have been the most despised Republican running for president if not for Donald Trump–a blathering, uncouth, empty-headed, showboat. Examining Trump’s anti-republican impulses requires a survey of his statements rather than his political actions, as Trump has never held political office.

In his announcement speech, Trump promised to use the power of the federal government to coerce businesses to do his bidding, much like Republicans decry Democrats for doing.

“I would call up the head of Ford, who I know. If I was president, I’d say, ‘Congratulations. I understand that you’re building a nice $2.5 billion car factory in Mexico and that you’re going to take your cars and sell them to the United States…’ So I would say, ‘Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.”

When National Review editor, Rich Lowry, castigated Donald Trump, Trump called on the federal government to punish him.

“He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him,” Trump tweeted.

If a Democrat prescribed the federal government to fine a journalist who voiced a political disagreement, conservatives would rightfully cry ‘foul.’

On the subject of the Syrian refugees, Mr. Trump promised to autocratically forego immigration laws and rules regarding asylum seekers.

“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”

Don’t Republicans detest President Obama’s executive action on immigration, precisely because it is autocratic?
Today, the term RINO refers to what used to be known as “Me too Republicans.” In this regard, RINO is a silly term that serves to stifle debate more than to accurately describe living, breathing Republicans. The GOP enjoys more solidarity on issues than it ever has, and the only real differences we face concern tactics and priorities. In the meantime, though, there are those who wish to divide the party with this scurrilous slur–RINO. Ironically, they, and their “True Believers,” best fit the description of a RINO, and their autocratic impulses threaten the legitimacy of republican philosophy.

Take Our Country Back from the Plantation: 2 Things Republicans Should Stop Saying Immediately

Good politics pertains as much to good policies as it does to good rhetoric. If Republicans learned nothing else from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, we should have learned that image and rhetoric matters–perhaps more than anything else. Our mission, to increase the number of Republican voters, begins with a careful analysis of our public statements. To that end, we should avoid mindless cliches, and statements so inflammatory that they detract from their own message.

 

I’ve created a long list of things Republicans say (and shouldn’t), along with my rationales.

 

Here are the first two:

 

Take Our Country Back

 

Both Rand Paul and Rick Santorum launched their 2016 presidential bids with these words. Liberals, like ex-Attorney General  Eric Holder, erroneously claim that this phrase contains racial undertones–serves as a dog whistle, a microaggression–when juxtaposed with the presidency of the first non-white to hold the office. Like much of what the left says, this bears little resemblance to the truth. Lesley Clark scoured the annals to produce the ancient origin of this phrase, employed, first, in 2003 by presidential candidate, Howard Dean.

 

Even when employed by a Democrat, the phrase is silly, at best, and insulting at worst.

 

What does it mean to “take the country back?” America belongs to Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between–even the politically unaffiliated. Besides, if one party “has it,” does that party take it for exclusive use, like a petulant child?

 

For conservative Republicans, this phrase fails for another reason. “Take Our Country Back” can connote a chronological shift–a vow to take America back in time, to an era marked generally by better social morals, but also by egregious civil rights shortcomings. This undermines our assertion that conservatives believe in moving America to a brighter future, even as we do so via time-honored traditions and values.

 

Better phraseology exists (e.g.: “Win back the White House,” “Win back the Congress,” etc.).

 

Republicans should bury this hackneyed trope.

 

Democrat Plantation

 

This one is very problematic.

 

Herman Cain boasted, in 2012, of having “left the Democrat Plantation a long time ago,” echoing similar statements by former Florida Representative, Allen West. Louisiana State Senator Elmer Guillory likened the Democrat Party to a plantation. Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, said that liberals hate him because he dared to “come off the plantation.” The list of Republicans equating the Democrat Party to a plantation runs unfortunately long. What you may notice about these speakers is that they are all black–and all wrong.

 

As a black conservative, I empathize with the general frustration that they feel. To them–to us–black allegiance to a party that does little more than pay lip service to a desperately struggling people can be vexing. Just as Frederick Douglas, in his autobiography; decries slaves’ ready willingness to drink, fornicate, fight and waste their precious little money during Christmas celebrations, rather than conspire to break from the shackles of unjust servitude; conservatives (of all colors) detest seeing blacks living in deep privation in Democrat strongholds like Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland.

 

Republicans, black Republicans in particular, should make the case that we are the party founded on love for black people. Instead, though, by invoking the Democrat Plantation rhetoric, we insult black Americans (calling them stupid), and our enslaved ancestors (downplaying slavery).

 

Chris Rob explains this nicely in a piece posted on the DailyKos:

 

“I’ve never really understood the argument. Black people trade their votes to Democrats for the ability to sit home and collect government checks or something like that, right? But you know that doesn’t sound like slavery at all, right? I mean, first, you argue that black people just want to be taken care of and do nothing all day, except cast a couple of votes when the time comes. And in exchange, we get free food, housing, and health care. That’s insulting enough. But then you suggest that such an arrangement would be akin to the slavery of our ancestors. As though American chattel slavery consisted of slaves lolling around all day watching t.v. and waiting for the next election. The first claim is infuriating, the second, unforgivable.”

 

 

I note that the greatest offenders of this rule are often, themselves, black. Imagining the firestorm that would engulf a white public figure for claiming that blacks voting Democrat do so out of a plantation mentality suffices to show the daftness of the phrase.

 
Republicans, don’t say it. Leave stupid sayings to the Democrats.

The Free Exchange (15-008)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


(Entirely Negative) Thoughts on Ted Cruz’ Candidacy

Black and Red Fan writes:

Holy cow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I wrote any comments on any of your pieces. I’ve been reading them, loved them, and had lots to say but life got in the way and to my delight, you’ve been so productive that I can’t believe how much time has passed. I hope you’ll forgive me commenting on past pieces since many of the comments have closed on those pages.

You and I have always disagreed on this guy. I am sure that you and I both agree with Cruz on many things but I know that it is his methods that you don’t like since they hurt our cause. And I am coming around to more of your point of view. I think the problem is that I just may not be as aware of the negative effects that he has on the conservative movement. I probably care less about what the press says than you but maybe I should. What I appreciate about Cruz is his willingness to fight, engage the enemy, and him being fearless in articulating our conservative position without any shame or caution. After suffering through the disappointing decision of President George W. Bush to not fight back during the majority of his second term, it seems like we conservatives lost our mouthpiece. Since they already dominate the media, Hollywood, and the schools, I felt like a handicapped mute without a champion on our side. Cruz is one of the few that courageously speaks out and doesn’t care about the consequences. I realize that’s not necessarily a good thing but it speaks to my huge thirst and appetite for someone to stand up for us.

The following is a good example

Nonetheless, I’m surprised that he is running for president and wished that he wasn’t. He has no chance and he could serve more effectively as a senator. I just hope he doesn’t start tearing down other GOP candidates like Rick Perry did in 2011. But the specific examples you mention in your piece are all true, as well as what you wrote about how Cruz plays into the leftists who paint us as extreme lunatics. And so your piece is a sobering one that was good for me to read and put Cruz in perspective. But I wanted to let you know why I cheered for him when he was gathering attention, although I realize now that he was being counterproductive. I don’t think I am alone in us conservatives wanting someone to fight back fearlessly and boldly. And on a side note, my vote for Republicans who I publicly detest are Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Rick Perry. That would be a interesting topic one of these days.

J Hunter:

It’s always good to hear from you. Thank you for your perspective on this piece.

I’ll begin by saying that there are things about this essay that I regret–mostly that my piece is entirely negative. I don’t like dumping on other Republicans, but I want to be honest as well. With politicians like Ted Cruz, it’s a tough balancing act for me.

There’s no doubt that Cruz rubs me the wrong way:  I find him repulsive, slimy and recklessly self-serving. But, still, I regret not writing more about some of his positive qualities.

He is, without a doubt, a brilliant man. He understand political issues and he understands the importance of conservative remedies. Mr. Cruz can speak compellingly and connect with many conservatives, including those of us (like you and me) who have been starving for a fighter.

As it happens, though, my general feelings about Mr. Cruz are overwhelmingly negative. I don’t see him as a “brave” fighter any more than Nancy Pelosi is a “brave” fighter. He represents a Republican stronghold, unlikely to disagree with him. Scott Walker, Bruce Rauner, Chris Christie: these people are brave. They face opposition and vitriol on a daily basis and stand up for conservative principles. Bravery, is not telling your friends what they want to hear. Furthermore, bravery is not leading good troops into a losing battle. And that’s what Cruz’ “fight against Obamacare” was–a kamikaze mission.

Cruz’ doomed-from-the-start filibuster against Obamacare was aimed squarely at raising his personal profile.  He undermined then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was winning a budget fight with President Obama, to do something that would have had absolutely no effect on Obamacare. The funds for Obamacare had already been appropriated, so there was no possibility of his filibuster defunding it. If Cruz is no fool, then, he knew this before he started. A government shutdown would not have (nor did it) affect the program one iota. That didn’t stop Cruz from equating good Republicans who didn’t stand with him to “Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people ‘Accept the Nazis.’”

Charming.

So, Cruz says that voting against Obamacare (as every single Republican in Congress did), but not endorsing his self-aggrandizing publicity stunt was the same as appeasing an anti-Semitic, genocidal, socialist dictator.

Even if Harry Reid would have allowed a separate, clean, bill defunding Obamacare to go to the President’s desk (BIG if), everyone in America (Cruz included) knows that Obama would not defund his signature piece of legislation. So what was the point?

Ted Cruz used the filibuster–reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” discussing Ashton Kutcher, and bootlicking Rush Limbaugh–to raise money for himself (no surprise, he’s running for president). In other words, like a sleazy televangelist, he snookered frustrated Republicans across the country, who believed the lie that he pedaled, that he could bring an end to Obamacare with his stunt, into parting with their hard-earned money.

That is despicable beyond words. And unforgivable.

Moreover, Republicans need unity more than anything right now. Ted Cruz, in my estimation, is far too polarizing within the Party to make him our nominee. Add to this a further complication: our mission in every election is to persuade independents to vote for us. We cannot win with just Republican supporters anymore than Democrats can win with just Democrat partisans. Mr. Cruz will alienate (scare away) the voters that we’re trying to enlist. Our job as Republican voters is to nominate the most conservative candidate who can win. That man is not Ted Cruz.

If, we have the unfortunate pleasure of welcoming Cruz as our Party nominee, I will rally for him, sing his (2) praises and convince everyone I know to vote for him, because a Cruz White House beats any Democrat White House. I pray, though, that we don’t put ourselves in such a perilous position.

Thanks for the comments.


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3 Reasons Why a Big Republican Field is a Good Thing in 2016

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 2016 Candidates


Every day, it seems, a new Republican enters the 2016 nomination race. Media reporting on announced, as well as potential candidates, like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, adds to the wall of noise and to the anxiety for Republican voters interested in winning the White House and improving the Grand Ol’ Party’s reputation. As 2016 shapes up with Governor George Pataki, Governor Rick Perry, Senator Rick Santorum and Senator Lindsey Graham among the most recent entrants to the race, I would like to share 3 reasons why my anxiety is subsiding, and if you’re a Republican, why yours should too.

Reason One: A Crowded Field Indicates an Optimistic Outlook

Especially when you consider the expenses involved with running for president, candidates must believe that he or she can conceivably win the nomination and the general election before getting involved in the race. Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Santorum, specifically, know how much money presidential races can cost. Surely, Rand Paul has experienced this vicariously through his father’s perennial races.

Marco Rubio may face the greatest sacrifice, as Florida law precludes candidates from appearing twice on a ballot. That means that if he loses the nomination for president, he’ll also lose his senate seat.

Still, though, these men, and the throng of other candidates, choose to spend their own money, time and reputations on a bet they believe will pay off.

The Democrats, on the other hand, enjoy a particularly weak field aside from their frontrunner who enjoys name recognition and deep pockets. Even Hillary Clinton, though, exudes an air of vulnerability (rather than inevitability), and the Republican bench senses that.

Reason Two: RNC Changes Diminish the Prospect of a Protracted Intra-party Fight

The spectre of 2012 still looms in Republican minds, and we remember the crowded stage of 10 candidates (11 if you count Gary Johnson) debating “vulture capitalism,” a manned trip to Mars, and a $10,000 bet. President Barack Obama smartly looked on while Republicans did his bidding–eviscerating each other publicly so that he could sustain the attacks on the eventual nominee simply by parroting his primary opponents’.

RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus, well aware of the effect the vicious primary debates had on Governor Mitt Romney, the party nominee, has taken steps to avoid that this time around. First, the RNC shortened the primary season so that the party has more time to coalesce around a nominee. Second, instead of holding 20 debates, as we did in 2012, 9 are scheduled with no more than 3 more discussed as possibilities. Finally, Priebus plans to make better use of the thresholds needed to participate in debates. In other words, a candidate must have a certain percentage of support before he or she can grace the debate stage.

Reason Three: The Large, Diverse, Field Quells Anti-Republican Stereotypes

Though Democrats incessantly work to paint the Republican Party as one hostile to racial minorities and women, that argument continues to lose steam every time one looks at the GOP office holders and presidential field. With Republican women like Governor Susana Martinez, Governor Nikki Haley, and Senator Joni Ernst in the forefront of our party, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina appears much less like an outlier. Furthermore, Martinez and Haley share their statuses with Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio; and accomplished Neurosurgeon Ben Carson as people of color.

Compare the Republican field to the Democrat’s (all white, mostly male and mostly rich) and what the GOP offers better resembles the diversity of America.

More Republicans will enter the race, and the GOP is a richer party for it.

To What Degree Does College Matter?

Usually, presidential candidates hail from an incestuous web of elite universities–Yale and Harvard, predominant among them. Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, however, wishes to become president of the United States without that distinction. In fact, Walker dropped out of college, never earning a bachelor’s degree (So did Rand Paul, by the way). For some, Walker’s missing sheepskin disqualifies him for serious consideration in the presidential race. That view is wrong.

Susan Milligan writes a piece in U.S. News and World Report that reflects some of the apprehension felt about potentially nominating, and even electing, the degree-less Governor Walker. Chidike Okeem, a conservative blogger, more vehemently rejects Walker’s candidacy in light of his academic deficiency. He calls the notion “beyond absurdity,” and writes that conservatives who dismiss Walker’s degree-critics as elitists “show the embarrassing way in which anti-intellectualism is treated as a sought-after virtue within mainstream conservatism.”

In truth, Milligan, Okeem; and others who believe that Walker does not deserve serious consideration as a presidential candidate without a college degree; make an erroneous assumption based on a misunderstanding of what a college degree communicates. (Hint: college degrees make no claims upon a graduate’s intelligence or ability to perform work outside of the classroom.)

Milligan argues that the baccalaureate degree serves as evidence that one is qualified to work.

“Would we choose long-distance runners for the U.S. Olympic team who couldn’t run faster than an 11-minute mile, just to show that the team is reflective of the American populace as a whole,” she writes.

Clearly, the answer to her question is “no.” But her analogy fails because there is little (if any) correlation between finishing college and running the free world. A more appropriate formulation of Milligan’s question would be: “Would we choose long-distance runners for the U.S. Olympic team who run as fast as everyone else on the team, but do so barefoot?” I’d imagine that the answer to that question is, “Maybe.” So, too, should be the appropriate approach to Walker’s (hypothetical) candidacy.

Okeem’s argument particularly resonates with me because I worry about anti-intellectualism infecting the conservative movement.

Okeem asks, “Are those who suggest that college dropouts should be routinely considered for the office of President…arguing that the presidency is less tasking or important than the plurality of jobs listed on Craigslist that specify only holders of a baccalaureate degree should apply?”

Again, the answer is no. But Okeem’s question demonstrates a lack of understanding about why many employers require degrees of their applicants. Clarifying that distinction requires me to lean on the work of Dr. William Irons, a leading social anthropologist, and one of the professors I studied under at Northwestern University (where I did graduate, by the way).

Irons categorizes weddings, military boot camps, and college degrees as Hard to Fake Signals of Commitment (HFSC). HFSC demonstrate a dedication “to behave in a particular way even if it is contrary to self-interest.” In other words, employers do not know what level of commitment an applicant will display toward an organization, but they do know that an applicant’s commitment to an organization is easy to fake, as one may simply state that he is committed to show up and perform his assigned duties satisfactorily. Talk is cheap. A word can be easily broken. But a college degree signals to an employer that an applicant was willing to spend time, money, and mental energy–often foregoing immediate gratification–in order to attain a certificate that may prove beneficial in the future. A college degree, in the amount of energy required to attain it, proves a much better indicator of the level of an applicant’s commitment.

Therefore, any criticism about Walker’s lack of a college degree can only be useful if it questions Walker’s sense of commitment. Arguing, as some have, that Walker’s quitting college with so few credits needed to graduate indicates a lack of commitment, is a point worthy of debate–a point to which I counter by saying that while the education gained in college can be enriching and lead to a more complete understanding of a range of topics, what a graduate learns in college–even if he or she takes certain classes and earns good grades–cannot be presumed. We all know political science majors who do not understand Hobbes’ Leviathan, Plato’s Republic, or Rousseau’s Social Contract; whether they read these pieces or not.

That said, a college degree serves to communicate a HFSC. Through his work as a governor, his clear understanding of policymaking and politics, and his many successful years of public service, Walker has demonstrated his commitment to performing dutifully the role of an executive. His record makes up for his missing degree.