Friday, August 01, 2014

The Limits of Executive Authority

The House has authorized a suit against President Obama for exceeding his authority in rewriting the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The White House calls this frivolous and the President himself claims he is being sued for doing his job. People on the left are insisting that the House should impeach the President or drop things. The far right agrees with this.

If the suit is successful, future Democrats will look back and thank the current Republicans. Just a few years ago they were ready to impeach President Bush for signing statements. Obama's executive orders go much further. Presidents matter. Do they really want to give this much power to President Cruze?

Presidents need wide powers to do their jobs. Bush could not wait for Congress to give him authorization to ground airlines on September 11. Clinton issued multiple orders on bin Lauden alone. Nixon issued a temporary wage-price freeze. These orders were limited in scope or length.

FDR holds the record for most executive orders. His first 100 days are considered a model for new presidents but it should be remembered that the Supreme Court rolled back most of these.

Obama expresses frustration that Republicans will not act on pressing matters such as immigration reform but this has become a vicious cycle. Legislation is a series of compromises. By refusing to enforce the letter of the law, Obama makes Republicans reluctant to pass new legislation for fear of giving Obama further powers to abuse.

The ultimate danger is that Congress will become irrelevant as the President accumulates more power. I'm not suggesting that this will happen during the Obama administration but this is the logical end to a President making up his own legislation.

So why not impeach? There are three valid reasons. The first is that it would be far more frivolous than the lawsuit. Impeachment by itself does nothing but add a footnote to the President's biography. Once impeached, the matter moves to the Senate which voted on removing the President from office. This takes a super-majority. All of the Republicans and half of the Democrats would have to vote in favor in order for this to succeed. This will not happen which is why the left is pushing for an impeachment vote.

The second reason is that it would not force President Biden to reverse Obama's orders.

The third reason is "President Biden" although that is not as strong an argument as it used to be. Biden has a history of being wrong on most things but he still knows how to work with Congress and he might be a better president than Obama. Or he might not. It's best not to find out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

TIme for Hillary?

As Hillary Clinton continues her book tour, the constantly asked question is if she plans on running for president? She has several advantages: name recognition, the ability to raise huge sums of money, experience running a presidential campaign, and a thicker resume than the current resident of the White House.

Hillary can also take advantage of voters who want a female president and aren't picky about who. She can also take advantage of the so-called "war on women" and the outrage against Republicans over it.

But before she gets fitted for her inaugural dress, let's go over her negatives:

Her age and health
Hillary is getting old. Her supporters have tried to defuse this by pointing to President Reagan's age and claiming sexism. The fact is that Reagan's age was an issue in both 1980 and 1984 when he ran for reelection. Age was also a factor for Bob Dole and John McCain.

Hillary's health is also a valid issue. Her husband, Bill, has had major heart problems. She falls a lot. One of those falls was so bad that she had double vision for a month and had to wear corrective glasses. Other health issues may come to light.

Foreign Affairs
Hillary was Secretary of state. Many of today's problems began during her tenure. She was personally involved with the reset with Russia. If things continue to go wrong in the Ukraine, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or Syria, she will have to spend her time excusing herself instead of running.

Obama Fatigue
President Obama is not very popular right now. As a Democrat and former member of his cabinet, Hillary will be seen as running for an Obama 3rd term. McCain did well running against Bush as well as Obama but he was already known as a maverick and had no direct ties with the Bush administration. Hillary was a member of the Obama administration so it will be much harder for her to run against him. At the same time, a significant portion of Democrats still support Obama and Hillary will need their support to win the nomination. It will be difficult for her to do an about-face in the general election.

Clinton Amnesia
It's been a long time since the Clinton's left office. Hillary's appeal in 2008 was the promise to turn things back to the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, before 9/11 and the Bush wars. Promising to turn the clock back 16+ years will just make Hillary seem old and out of touch.

Younger voters do not have clear memories of the Clinton years. Some voters weren't even born when Bill took office and anyone under 30 will barely remember the Clintons.

Clinton Fatigue
2012 was the first election since 1976 that didn't have a Clinton or Bush running (I"m including Hillary's primary run in this). 2016 may have both a Clinton and (Jeb) Bush running. A lot of people are tired of these political families.

While voters under 30 didn't really know the Clintons, the ones over 30 were sick of them by the time they left office. We don't really want to be reminded of Vince Foster, Whitewater, blue dresses, etc.

Hillary Herself
In 2008, the presidency was Hillary's to lose. She was the clear front-runner with all of the advantages she has today (her resume was a bit thinner) and fewer of the disadvantages. Regardless, she managed to lose. A quick recap is in order.

Hillary began the campaign with a sense of inevitability. Her campaign was built around this. She had a huge campaign fund and she spent it with the idea of wrapping up the nomination by Super Tuesday. She concentrated on delegate-rich states and ignored caucuses in smaller states. She did win the most delegates on Super Tuesday but not enough to give her the nomination.

In contrast, Obama had a 50-state campaign. His supporters were more excited and managed to shout down Hillary supporters in caucuses. Obama won a string of caucuses unopposed after Super Tuesday while Hillary restarted her campaign. The air of inevitability moved from Hillary to Obama. At the end of the primaries, neither candidate had a majority of the delegates but Obama's string of victories assured that he got the nomination.

Hillary probably learned her lesson in 2008 and won't let herself be outmaneuvered like that again. Regardless, 2008 shows flaws in her judgement.

Another lesson from 2008 is that Hillary isn't a very good campaigner. She comes across as shrill and insincere. She does best when she runs as a concept rather than as a candidate. Her popularity suffered a slight drop when she entered the public eye again on her book tour.

Hillary's biggest asset is her inevitability. That will let her raise huge sums and garner a lot fo votes from  people who have been waiting years to ratify her.

At the same time, she suffers from staleness. It is likely that a Republican governor will be the candidate and will seem young and fresh in contrast. We saw in 2008 how easily Hillary could lose her inevitability.

History says that the Republicans have a very strong chance of taking the White House. It tends to change hands after a 2-term president. The Republicans could still falter and nominate a candidate who makes Hillary look good but, all things being equal, Hillary's chances are slim.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Question That Could Sink Hillary's Presidential Campaign

Hillary Clinton has a tin ear about the wealth she and her husband have accumulated. She mistakes a cash-flow problem with being broke. True, they left the White House in debt and had to get a co-signer on their two multi-million dollar properties but they also knew they would be able to earn millions in speaking fees and book advances. The average person who is broke and in debt does not have those advantages.

She also complains that they had to earn twice as much because of taxes. While there is a slight dig at Mitt Romney there, the main complaint is that she resents paying so much in taxes.

Think of the stir it would cause if some intrepid reporter called her on this:

"Madam Secretary, you have complained how hard it was to pay off your debts and get ahead because you had to 'earn twice as much money because of taxes' but your take for a single speaking fee is enough to qualify an individual as 'truly wealthy' according to President Obama. Most in your party consider this a fair share and would like to see taxes on the wealthy such as yourself raised much higher. Do you agree with them?"

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Death of the Progressive Compact

The Progressive Movement was all about expanding the size and scope of government. The biggest obstacle to this was the way that the government was set up. From the founding through the early 20th century, government worked as a spoils system. Every time an office changed hands, all of the workers were let go and replaced with supporters (and relatives) of the new office-holder. This acted as a check on the size of government.

The Progressives offered a compact with the American people: "We will clean up government, filling it with the best people we can find. They will discharge their duties fairly and dispassionately and, since they are freed from the profit motive, they will be more efficient than private industry."

This compact led to drives to "clean up government". Civil Service was instituted. Applicants were tested to find the best candidates and Civil Service boards were established to assure that workers were not fired to make way for political appointees. Many (most?) small cities changed their mayor to a ceremonial position and hired a city manager to actually run things.

The recent scandals at the IRS and the VA hospitals show the limits of the Progressive compact. We have ceded enormous power to the IRS with the promise that it would only be used appropriately. In the IRS scandal, the agency was used for political reasons. Now, any time a conservative is audited, there will be suspicions that it was for political reasons.

The VA scandal is even worse. The VA system has been held up as an example of how all medical care should be organized. Now it has come out that government programs are at least as subject to mismanagement as their commercial counterparts.

These twin scandals should cause Progressives to question their basic beliefs. The idea of the dispassionate, professional is a fiction. People have opinions outside of their job. Having a government monopoly on a service allows an organization to hide its structural problems (at least for a while).

The Progressive compact with America is broken and we must resist further expansion of government.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What you don't know about the Hobby Lobby Case

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that the AFA (Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare) has to make an exception for closely-held corporations with religious objections to birth control coverage has been talked about as a conflict between "your religion and my rights". This completely misstates what the case was about.

First, birth control is not included in the ACA. It was added by administrators.

Second, the same administrators already allowed an opt-out for religious institutions. They even came up with an alternative plan. All a certified religious institution has to do is file a form and its employees are eligible for birth control from the government.

Third, Hobby Lobby did provide coverage for 16 types of birth control. They objected to 4 specific after-the-fact products because of their belief that these amount to abortion and their related belief that life begins at conception. When discussing women's health, keep in mind that these products are not recommended as regular birth control and repeated use can damage a woman's health.

Fourth, the Supreme Court did not decide the case on constitutional grounds. It decided that the administrative rules conflicted with a law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was passed in 1993 by near unanimous vote of a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Clinton). Their reasoning was that laws take precedence over administrative rules and that the government had already established an alternative for employers who took a religious exemption. If Congress wants all employers to pay for birth control, they will have to amend the law. It is not up to bureaucrats.

Note that there is nothing to stop the government from expanding the alternative program for providing birth control. The Justices even pointed that out in their ruling.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Obama the administrator

I've seen several columns and posts on President Obama's managerial skills in the last few days. The unanimous consensus is that he has none. This should not be news. Prior to his run for president he had never managed anything bigger that his senate staff. Even his campaign was tiny compared to the US government.

The expectations from his followers was that he would rise to the occasion on the basis of his superior intellect.

That has not happened. In fact, he shows no signs of learning from his mistakes. The White House is organized to keep bad news from him so he is constantly learning about scandals from the news. When a scandal hits, he never fires anyone.

The right knew this all along. The left is just coming to realize it. In fact, they are embracing it.

One of the big questions of our time is the proper size and reach of government. Since Reagan, the right wants less government. Since the Roosevelts, the left has wanted more.

Obama stands at the heart of the debate. He is a champion for bigger government and a cautionary tale against it. The right has only to point to the Obamacare rollout to argue against further government programs.The right's argument is that government programs are too big and complex to be manageable and Obama has proven them correct.

That's where the President's lack of managerial skills comes in. The problems that have happened under his watch are not the fault of bad government in general. A better administrator could have made everything work.

The problem is that the Democrats are not advancing any administrators. Hillary Clinton did a poor job as Secretary of State. She spent most of her time traveling instead of running things. Probably she was getting out of the way of the people who were actually managing the State Department while burnishing her resume.

The Democratic alternative to Hillary is Elizabeth Warren. She has the same problem as Obama - very limited managerial experience. Like Obama, people want her because of her ideology.

This is a dilemma for the Democrats. Their case for big government requires competence at the top but they are choosing leaders based on ideology rather than competence.

Until the left starts advancing competent candidates, the right wins this argument by default. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Doing what's right

Consider the case of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who is defying the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over grazing rights on federal land. The Left was always against him because he is fighting the government. The Right has largely abandoned him for two reasons - he is a crackpot and he has some offensive theories about race. While I expect no less from the Left, the Right should rethink their support.

Some wise heads in the Right say that we should pass on Bundy. He doesn't even recognize the authority of the federal government. We should choose someone less radical. The problem there is that people who become symbols are usually cranks and crackpots of some sort.

In Bundy's case, the issue is the federal government in general and the BLM in particular picking winners and losers. 20 years ago they decided that federal land in that county could be better used than by ranching. An endangered tortoise was found on that land and Bundy was ordered to reduce his herd size considerably. In effect, the BLM decided to make him a loser. Bundy was not alone. At the time there were a dozen or more ranchers in that county. Now Bundy is the only one left and he is only still in business because he defied the BLM.

But it didn't have to be that way. 30 miles away the BLM picked a winner, a large wind farm. That area has the same endangered tortoises but for them, the BLM has a solution - move them somewhere else, possibly the land Bundy is grazing.

So Bundy may be a crank but he has a point about the power of the government to ruin people's lives.

The other point here is that racists have rights too. I can understand the reluctance of conservatives to associate with someone who says that "the negro" was better off as a slave. The Left has been characterizing the Right as a group of racists for decades. Bundy gives them a chance to claim guilt by association.

Abandoning Bundy because of his racial beliefs is part of a general movement within the Left and it should scare everyone. Rights are supposed to apply equally to everyone. That is why the statue of Justice is blindfolded. But the Left does not see it that way. 12 years ago Charles Krauthammer pointed out that conservatives think that liberals are stupid and liberals think that conservatives are evil. More recently, the Left has been acting on this by denying rights to people who think the wrong way. If you are a racist then you should lose your cattle herd or your basketball team. If you supported an anti-gay marriage initiative then you are not fit to run a major Internet company. While these are big examples, little ones exist and have become pervasive. There is a controversy within Science Fiction because a conservative writer was nominated for a Hugo award (one of the highest awards). Other writers have complained that most publishers will not consider an author who is not a committed Marxist (seriously). Nationwide, kids who even think of guns are punished.

The idea here is to establish a left-leaning societal norm where no one is allowed to have a conflicting opinion. Conservatives have long know that we have to keep our mouths shut in polite company. Now this is beginning to have teeth where people with the wrong views are punished.

Liberal should be wary of this. Societal norms can shift quickly. in 2008, Candidate Obama figured he would get more votes if he was against gay marriage. By 2012 society had shifted and he calculated that being for it would give him more support. Things could shift again.

Once you start denying rights based on opinion you run the risk of losing those rights yourself. They cease to be "rights" and become privileges that can be revoked.

The Left sees themselves as being on the "right side of history" and expects that things will never change so they are perfectly happy removing the concept of inalienable rights and substituting privileges granted by the government. The Right needs to fight against this, even if it means siding with racists.