July 11th, 2013 at 1:00 pm
The Supreme Court’s Real Prop. 8 Legacy
As usual, Troy puts his finger on the essential issue in an otherwise complicated matter. Writing with John Yoo for City Journal recently our Senior Fellow explains how the Supreme Court’s ruling in California’s Prop. 8 case – that the official proponents of the traditional marriage law have no standing to defend it when state officials refuse – will have a chilling effect on direct democracy, and with it, dash any hope of checking radical leftwing politicians.
“Regardless of how one feels about gay marriage as a policy matter, the Court’s ruling creates a chilling legal precedent for the future of direct democracy—that is, passing laws by popular vote. The opinion dictates that any law that an electorate passes can be invalidated if it is challenged in court and the state’s constitutional officers refuse to defend it. This amounts to an executive-branch veto for laws approved by an electoral majority. Direct democracy is far from perfect; it often oversimplifies issues and insulates voters from the consequences of their policy choices. At its best, however, it allows popular majorities to tighten the reins on out-of-touch politicians. The Prop. 8 ruling loosens those reins.
“All conscientious Californians should be disturbed by the sweeping implications of the Prop. 8 ruling, but it augurs especially poorly for the state’s shrinking cadre of conservatives. With every statewide elected office and both houses of the state legislature controlled by Democrats, only the initiative process gives California conservatives a real chance to have their voices heard. As a result of the Court’s ruling, California liberals now have a mechanism by which to frustrate this last meaningful check on their dominance. The state’s future will only grow dimmer, and the Supreme Court will deserve the blame.”
The entire article can be read here.
February 9th, 2013 at 4:44 pm
Death of Deliberative Democracy?
If you’re someone who thinks that democracy works best when citizens and their representatives take time to deliberate (i.e. reason and think together), then a new Fox News/Bing collaboration will not excite you.
Bing is teaming up with Fox News to bring State of the Union viewers an interactive experience with real-time polling and social media aggregation.
The project is spearheaded by Microsoft’s Mark Penn, the Democratic strategist and pollster, and promises to meet the “growing need for up-to-the-minute political information and second-screen experiences that are a great companion to political broadcasts.”
Bing Pulse will allow anyone to vote every five seconds on their feelings about the address and the results will be shown live on the site and on Fox News Channel.
“We think this will be the largest live online poll in history,” Penn writes in an announcement of the project.
It’s also history’s most useless poll. Allowing people “to vote every five seconds on their feelings” about a message as they’re hearing it would be great if we wanted to know people’s reactions to words instead of sentences. It’s bad enough that most political dialogue has been reduced to competing sound bites. But at least sound bites are designed to trigger reactions based on thoughts. From Penn’s description, this new venture is tracking little more than raw emotion in five second intervals.
January 11th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
Can Romney Defend Democratic Capitalism?
I’m glad to see the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page echoing Troy’s advice to Mitt Romney to get out in front of the Bain-bashing and make a full-throated defense of free market capitalism. But as both Troy and the Journal seem to allude to, Romney doesn’t appear capable or willing to make the case for democratic capitalism; the kind of market economy that emphasizes equal access and opportunities instead of guaranteed outcomes.
The way I’m using the term, democratic capitalism disdains the unfairness many perceive in the crony capitalism of Obama’s Solyndra deal, and in the bailouts of companies deemed too big to fail. Americans don’t like it when public employee unions get tenure protections and better benefits than the private sector. People feel cheated when General Electric pays no federal income taxes thanks to loopholes only the wealthy like Warren Buffet can exploit. For the free market to work, people have to trust it, and right now Wall Street, the White House, and many other entrenched special interests from unions to rent-seeking businesses are making everyday Americans think the capitalistic system they’ve been sold is far from democratic.
In a sense, democratic capitalism is at the heart of Sarah Palin’s appeal. Her entire career in Alaska was built around taking down entrenched interests enriching themselves at the expense of a fair system. She exposed a corrupt state oil and gas commission; disrupted the state GOP’s patrician good old boys club by defeating an incumbent governor; and won a fight with a major oil company over its ability to exploit Alaska’s natural wealth without sharing some of it with residents. These were the accomplishments that made her a maverick and put her on John McCain’s vice presidential radar. When Palin was toying with a presidential run this time around, she gave a major speech blasting distortions of the economy that make the market less fair, and ultimately, less free. Better than anyone to date, Palin communicates the Tea Party’s angst over Big Government into a larger narrative about the dangers posed by any segments of society that threaten the democratic element in America’s form of capitalism.
Now, I’m not saying that Mitt Romney is a foe of democratic capitalism. What I’m saying is that he doesn’t appear comfortable articulating his understanding of the free market in a message that applies equally to executives and frontline workers. That’s probably because he’s never been a frontline worker. Of course, he’s worked hard – graduating with honors from Harvard law and business schools demands it – but as the son of an auto executive and governor whose first job out of graduate school was telling CEO’s how to fix their companies, Mitt Romney has never experienced capitalism from the factory floor. That means he will have a hard time explaining the virtues of capitalism to people near the destructive end of capitalism’s creativity.
Fairly or not, if Romney is the nominee liberals will savage him as a member of the 1% who made millions replacing people with technology and exporting many of the remaining jobs overseas. Conservatives who favor the free market should hope that Romney discovers how to articulate the democratic element of capitalism soon and well. He could start by reading Troy’s excellent remarks as soon as possible.
June 6th, 2011 at 5:20 pm
California’s Constitutional Crisis
A blog post last Friday by Loren Kaye at Fox and Hounds Daily provides another variation on the theme of California’s broken governing structure.
Two budget-related developments yesterday bring a small amount of clarity to the political positioning on achieving a deal. But their long-term effect is to re-allocate political power.
Controller John Chiang released a legal opinion interpreting the section of Proposition 25 that would halt salary and expense payments to the Legislature if it fails to transmit a budget to the Governor by June 15. His lawyers concluded that even if the budget is timely passed and sent to the Governor, if it is not a balanced budget, then legislators would forfeit their pay until they pass one that is balanced. This twist arises from an earlier measure, Proposition 58 in 2004, which requires that the Legislature may not send to the Governor, nor may the Governor sign, a budget that would spend more than the revenues estimated for the year. Until the Controller’s memo, this constitutional provision had no teeth. Now that provision has been given real force, and the arbiter of whether a budget is balanced – and therefore whether the Legislature will be paid – will be Controller John Chiang.
Within several hours of this disclosure, Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced that his SB 653 would be folded into a budget trailer bill. His proposal would provide broad local taxing authority (contingent on existing voter approval requirements) to counties and school districts, which would substantially increase the level of uncertainty surrounding economic development. The significance of including the language into a budget trailer bill is that those bills are granted immunity from referendum, even if passed by a simple majority vote. This was another consequence of Proposition 25 that was warned against, but pooh-poohed by proponents. This maneuver has ramifications that extend well beyond today’s budget controversy, and could presage the demise of the people’s cherished referendum power, 100 years after it was first granted.
The consequences of Proposition 25 on the power dynamics in California government go far beyond just passing the state budget. And we’re only beginning to see their boundaries tested.
So, as of last Friday, California’s Controller claimed the power to determine the state’s budget process. Maybe next week the state’s Attorney General can find a way to trump him. After that, why doesn’t the Treasurer figure out how to get in on the fun? In Golden State government, everyone wants power, but none claim responsibility.
May 24th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
Pouring Cold Water on the Arab Spring
The always-provocative strategist George Friedman (head of Austin-based STRATFOR) is out with a new analysis of President Obama’s Middle East policy today on RealClearWorld (caveat: Friedman is always provocative, but not always accurate. He wrote a 1991 book titled “The Coming War with Japan”). As usual, Friedman’s work is rife with insight, but no single passage deserves quotation as much as his dispassionate diagnosis of the Arab Spring:
The central problem from my point of view is that the Arab Spring has consisted of demonstrations of limited influence, in non-democratic revolutions and in revolutions whose supporters would create regimes quite alien from what Washington would see as democratic. There is no single vision to the Arab Spring, and the places where the risings have the most support are the places that will be least democratic, while the places where there is the most democratic focus have the weakest risings.
The piece deserves reading in its entirety for its thorough analysis of the region, but this is perhaps its most important point. The Middle East needs real change before hope becomes an appropriate response. Newsroom revolutions are not adequate.
March 14th, 2011 at 9:35 pm
Celebrated Historian Says Obama Doesn’t Get History
Washington is a town where being an intellectual means being relentlessly synchronized with the conventional wisdom, no matter how vapid. That’s how President Obama (no doubt a smart man by any reasonable standard — all presidents are, almost inevitably) has been elevated to the commanding heights of the cognitive elite by the Beltway press corps. Not so fast, says one guy who actually knows what he’s talking about.
In one brief run in a piece in the new edition of Newsweek, famed Harvard historian Niall Ferguson absolutely eviscerates President Obama’s glib reading of revolutionary history:
President Obama is reluctant to intervene in the bloody civil war now underway in Libya. As a senior aide told The New York Times last week, “He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic.” I like that notion of organic revolutions—guaranteed no foreign additives, exclusive to Whole Foods. I like it because, like so much about this administration, it is both trendy and ignorant.
Was the American Revolution “completely organic”? Funny, I could have sworn those were French ships off Yorktown. What about Britain’s Glorious Revolution, the one that established parliamentary rule? Strange, I had this crazy idea that William III was a Dutchman.
The reality is that very few revolutions, good or bad, succeed without some foreign assistance. Lenin had German money; Mao had Soviet arms. Revolutions that don’t get some help from outside aren’t so much inorganic as unsuccessful.
President Obama is that cocky student always ready to wow the class with a raised hand and a lithe tongue. Dr. Ferguson is the kid who actually read the material and, after a certain point, just can’t take the prima donna’s hollow showboating. Nice work, Dr. F.
February 22nd, 2011 at 11:52 pm
Gorbachev Speaks Truth to Power
As post-communist Russia has drifted further and further towards authoritarianism, one seemingly insurmountable obstacle has thwarted would-be reformers: the lack of an opposition figure who can challenge Vladimir Putin’s moral legitimacy without inviting swift reprisals from his government. That challenge is now coming from a seemingly unlikely figure: the final President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. As the UK Guardian reports:
Russia under prime minister Vladimir Putin is a sham democracy, Mikhail Gorbachev has said in his harshest criticism yet of the ruling regime.
“We have everything – a parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister and so on. But it’s more of an imitation,” the last president of the Soviet Union said.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of his 80th birthday, Gorbachev criticised Putin for manipulating elections.
In response to the prime minister and former president’s comments that he and his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, would decide between them who would run for office in March 2012, Gorbachev said: “It’s not Putin’s business. It must be decided by the nation in elections.”
He called Putin’s statements a sign of “incredible conceit”.
Asked how he thought the regime approached human rights, Gorbachev said: “There’s a problem there. It’s a sign of the state of our democracy.” He was echoing statements made by Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, during a visit to Russia last week.
Gorbachev said United Russia, the ruling party founded with the sole goal of supporting Putin’s leadership, was a throwback.
“United Russia reminds me of the worst copy of the Communist party,” he said. “We have institutions but they don’t work. We have laws but they must be enforced.”
The aging Gorbachev won’t be the figure to lead the political opposition to Putin. But his authority can provide a beacon of hope where there was none before. Bravo, comrade.
January 28th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
Mid East Situation Tests Obama’s Foreign Policy Leadership
If drawing a word picture of the increasingly uncivil unrest in the Middle East – and especially Egypt – the image would be dominated by the words “democracy,” “protest,” “youth,” and “change,” among others. If the on-the-ground reporting and television pictures are to be believed, the one word uniting these themes is “hope.” Specifically, hope in an end to corrupt government that robs people of wealth and ambition, as well as freedom and justice.
Writers of all stripes are focusing on the importance of President Barak Obama’s administration to ‘get it right’ on its position towards the protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, and Jordan. To date, Obama’s only foreign policy precedent in this realm is the lack of solidarity he showed towards pro-reform forces in Iran. Could this week’s much wider conflagration see the implosion of Obama’s claim to be the worldwide symbol of change-hope-youth-democracy-uplift?
The complicating factor in all this is an American strategic interest that supports secular dictators over Islamist radicals. Continuing that choice makes sense if those are the only options, but the remarkable thing about the protests is that Islamist groups (like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) are not (yet) at the forefront of the movements. Right now, it seems like most people are rebelling against the type of Mafioso government that keeps vast swaths of citizens repressed.
If nothing else, the knowledge and skill required at this level of foreign policy should serve as a warning to any 2012 presidential contenders (including the man likely to want a second term). In these situations, you only get one chance to make the right decision, so you’d better be prepared.
October 12th, 2010 at 7:48 pm
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee (Finally) Gets One Right
Recently, the committee conferring the Nobel Peace Prize decided to give the award to someone who actually deserves it: jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Excerpts of his writings can be found in Q & A form here. In the snippet below, Xiaobo explains the importance of continuing to pressure the Chinese regime to free its people from dictatorship:
Does your struggle for democracy in China have any significance for the rest of the world?
To eliminate the negative effects of the sudden rise of dictatorial communist China on world civilization, we must help the world’s largest dictatorship transform into a free and democratic country as soon as possible. In the great cause of global democratization, China is a key link: if China is in the game, then the game is on for everyone.
Therefore, whether to let the CPC dictatorship, which has taken more than one billion people hostage, continue to degrade human civilization, or to rescue the world’s largest hostage population from enslavement, is not only a matter of vital importance for the Chinese people themselves, but also a matter of vital importance for all free nations.
Were China to become a free country, its value to human civilization would be incalculable. It would inevitably follow in the wake of the global collapse of the Soviet Eastern European totalitarian empire to bring about another global avalanche among the remaining dictatorial systems. It would be difficult for dictatorial regimes such as North Korea, Myanmar, Cuba, and Vietnam to continue, and those Middle Eastern countries with firmly entrenched dictatorial systems would also suffer a great blow. ~ The Negative Effects of the Rise of Dictatorship on World Democratization, 2006
Now, think about this plea in light of the Obama Administration’s position that the U.S. considers human rights concerns as secondary to economic cooperation.
August 22nd, 2010 at 3:31 pm
Is Thomas Friedman Defending the Bush Doctrine?
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman offers what may be the most thought-provoking commentary on the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq:
In short: the key struggle with Islam is not inter-communal, and certainly not between Americans and Muslims. It is intra-communal and going on across the Muslim world. The reason the Iraq war was, is and will remain important is that it created the first chance for Arab Sunnis and Shiites to do something they have never done in modern history: surprise us and freely write their own social contract for how to live together and share power and resources. If they could do that, in the heart of the Arab world, and actually begin to ease the intra-communal struggle within Islam, it would be a huge example for others. It would mean that any Arab country could be a democracy and not have to be held together by an iron fist from above.
Considered in the most favorable light, this was the hope propelling former President George W. Bush’s decision to depose Saddam Hussein. If Iraq could be successful, then the path would be open to other Arab nations to trade the strong man model for stronger civil society.
So far, the jury is still out; especially with Iraqi politicians locked in disputes over a power-sharing agreement after an inconclusive national election. (Perhaps if the U.S. State Department had exported our winner-take-all system instead of the Europeans’ proportional scheme, the Iraqis would at least be able to get on with governing after they vote.)
Friedman’s column is a welcome addition to the debate about how the United States can best remake other countries. As of August 2010, probably not much. At the end of the day, the solution to what ails the Muslim world lies in the ingenuity and statesmanship not of some “great man” ready to play the part of George Washington or Nelson Mandela, but in the collective will of the Iraqi people.