Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Election is 'Rigged' He Said


Rummaging around on YouTube I came across a seven minute ‘splainer on Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s quite interesting and even funny in places  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ33gAyhg2c To Vox it, Wittgenstein argued that if we got language right all of the other problems would fall in line.

Which brings me to the dispute of the moment, courtesy of Donald Trump, (of course), the claim that the election is rigged. Asked the question a couple of nights ago, George Will responded that Trump tended to jumble a great many things together but then seemed to support the accusation by citing the persistent refusal on the part of election officials to clean the voting rolls. It was a surprising answer from someone who as a conservative should be aware of the folly of trying to immanentize the electoral eschaton.

And here, pace Wittgenstein, a great deal of the inherent problem in this discussion is the imprecision in the term “rigged.” As Will is well aware baseball umpires have reputations for distinct strike zones. Some are likely to call as strikes pitches that are a little low, others to give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt on the outside or inside corner, and so on. The technology to call balls and strikes exists. By sticking with umpires are we to conclude that major league baseball is rigged?

America currently consists of 435 congressional districts, many more electoral units and conducts national, state, and local elections every two years. Human beings being human it would be absurd to believe that there aren’t irregularities, some intentional, in the election process.
When Donald Trump claims in October that the election is rigged this isn’t what he means or at least it’s reasonable to interpret him as saying something quite a bit more accusatory. Trump is at the very least happily implying that whatever the actual votes they (undefined of course) will find what is needed to declare him the loser. Trump isn’t saying that a couple of toes might rest on the scales, he’s saying the result is a foregone conclusion because the powers that be will never let him be president. His claim is that the election is Rigged not rigged.

One final point. A prominent actor in this plot to deny Trump the presidency is the media. This is pretty hilarious if you stop and think about it. That Hillary would be our next president was a fait accompli the minute Trump got the GOP nomination (I actually think the end date was earlier). To the extent the charge is valid, the chief conspirator was Roger Ailes and carried out by his band of renown at Fox News.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Shallow Worldliness of Never NeverTrump


We will forever be hostage to developments of which we cannot, at present, know, albeit we must proceed as if we knew what we need to know.” –Timothy Fuller

Apparently the swipe a couple of weeks ago at Never Trumpers in the New York City based WSJ for their “exquisite sensibilities” wasn’t enough. Today, from columnist Bill McGurn, we get that they/we are “cheap moralizers.” In McGurns telling of the story the puritan Never Trumpers have rejected Trump because he is “coarse and boorish” and they have then simple mindedly ascribed the same qualities to Trump’s supporters. In their disgust they’ve “ransacked history in search of the worst metaphors like college sophomores” [my emphasis].

The Never Trumpers believe that political correctness can be fought by Miss Manners, but the sophisticated, who operate in the real messy world, know this to be false. To make an omelette eggs must be broken [egg pun intended?]. The na├»ve, romantic Never Trumpers don’t realize that politics is “prosaic” that Ryan is trying to preserve the GOP majority in the House, and that the alternative to Trump is the very bad Hillary Clinton. And lest you miss the point, he begins the piece by citing Bill Maher because the worldly Bill McGurn is aware that a true statement can be uttered by anyone even ones nominal opponents.

See how easy that is? I’ve just reduced McGurn’s entire argument to a cheap signaling of his sophistication. Unlike a Socratic dialogue it seems this is a game that two or more can play.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jonah Goldberg and His Angry Readers

"freedom from extraneous purpose and irrelevant interest is the sign of all seriously undertaken thought" -- Michael Oakeshott


In recent months Jonah Goldberg has afforded us a partial window into the life of a political columnist. It seems every time he writes something critical of Donald Trump he hears from his readers. Doesn’t he know that he’s just helping Hillary? He—Goldberg--is a liberal, a know nothing sellout (to be fair, the interest alone on an evil lair must be difficult to cover), he’s only saying these things to keep the Georgetown society invitations coming. And by happy coincidence all of this has occurred at the same time as Experience and Its Modes has been re-issued which is just the book to turn to if one wishes to make sense of all this.

In Experience and Its Modes Michael Oakeshott argues that experience is modal (now that I’ve cleared that up). That is, instead of being one big whole we break experience into modes, or “platforms of understanding.” Modes determine what questions we ask, how we answer them, and what we do with the conclusions. There isn’t an object and then we think about it, the object and the way we think about it are intertwined from the start. In the course of his works he identified as modes, the philosophic, the scientific, the historical, the practical, and a poetic mode and suggested there were or could be developed additional modes. A mode is coherent or sensible within its parameters but ultimately incomplete or partial. A fundamental error—an ignoratio elenchi, otherwise known as a category error—was to approach one mode from the postulates of another, that is to fall prey to the error of irrelevancy.

It may be useful here to expand on two of these modes. For Oakeshott, philosophy or theorizing was to view things critically. To question that which we already know in order to understand it better. And it was unique in that its ‘conclusions’ produced more questions rather than ‘answers’. Whereas the other modes went on the merry way without questioning its premise, the philosopher focused on just that area even to the point of questioning the premise(s) of philosophy.

The poetic mode is defined by “the thing in itself.” We enjoy a painting because it is pleasing or disturbing not because it teaches us something. To say The Godfather is a bad movie because it glorifies the mafia is modal error because it is viewing the poetic (a film) in practical terms. A joke is either funny or it isn’t. When we ask whether a joke is good for society we’ve left the poetic moment in favor of the practical.

Now if you are still following along you can probably anticipate where this is going. A political column is a modal mutt, a mix, in various proportions, of the poetic (the column’s style or as entertainment), the philosophic/theoretical, and the practical. The columnist whose work is written to bring about a result—advance a cause, get you to vote for particular politician or party known in its pure form as ‘the hack’—is operating within the practical mode. Whereas a typical Jonah Goldberg column or his newsletter is usually more theoretical in nature than practical. And it’s amusing that the friendly advice he receives to have fewer jokes contains this modal understanding. The readers won’t take a funny man seriously.

As a writer, Goldberg is showing us his work as he considers a particular event or political problem. The question he asks and the arguments he uses are at least as important as his conclusion. But for the mono-modal reader of the practical kind the only consideration is the expected practical outcome(s) associated with the column. He wants answers, a dogma, and his side to win. A political columnist is either on the Trump train or off it. What train you’re on, what side you support is for this reader the only relevant consideration.

One final thing. You may have noticed, at least to the degree I’ve been successful, that this post doesn’t really tell you how to read a political column, still less how to write one. The attempt has been to understand “a particular goings on a little better.”

Footnote: the comedian Jon Stewart was on to this modal character albeit disingenuously His Daily Show mixed the poetic (comedy, laughs for laughs sake) with the didactic. When the practical content of the show was criticized he retreated to the defense that it was all comedy, I.e the critic was guilty of a ignoratio elenchi.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Am I Really Voting For Hillary?


Like, numbers unknown, I am a long time conservative who is not planning to vote for Donald Trump in November. And of course I’ve seen many times the Trump supporter claims that not voting for Donald is tantamount to a vote for Hillary [hereafter NVT=VFHRC]. While I think this argument is seriously flawed, I don’t deny that it has some merit.

Besides math, I take the NVT=VFHRC argument to rest on two propositions; 1) an understood initial position, and 2) the view that turnabout is fair play.

On the first, it seems reasonable to say that before things get started it is quite valid to take it as given that long time conservatives will vote for the Republican nominee. If your team’s quarterback, who started as a sophomore and junior, decides sometime during the preseason that he’s no longer going to play it’s understandable that team, coaches, fans are going to feel let down. They had proceeded on the reasonable assumption that the team was set at quarterback. A key point in the primaries is to find a candidate that can appeal to independents—electability—it being taken as given that conservatives will fall in line.

On the second, I think the argument would go as look we hated McCain and Romney with a passion. Didn’t you notice how desperate we were to find an alternative to Romney in 2012? But we voted for them anyway because we were told to be practical and understood it to be our duty to support the eventual nominee. And now when OUR candidate is the nominee, you put your nose up and declare he’s too declasse to support [insert your favorite image of blind rage here]?

What I believe is being lost sight of in a history of normalcy is the element of contingency in both of these propositions. The conservative starts the election cycle with a presumption of voting for the Republican nominee. As your QB I WAS planning to play my senior year, but then you hired as coach a man who poisoned my dog. I too--perhaps for very different reasons—wasn’t keen on either McCain or Romney but like you sucked it up and voted for them. But this nominee, this Trump [because of my overly exquisite sensibilities?] is too much. Better in the long run to lose to someone, even Hillary (and of course here, a critical variable is just how bad do you believe Hillary to be), than to put Trump in charge and to be associated with him.

Awhile back, in a context I can’t recall, Jonah Goldberg observed that “it’s all in the dosage.” That covers a great deal of ground. I’m long past the expectation that my votes are going to be tasty and delicious, but I’m not inclined to cast a vote that will kill my sense of self however mistaken that sense may be.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Quick Post on Good Behavior


As Donald Trump has put male behavior towards women front and center for the moment, I thought I would share this from Ken Minogue’s essay The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought:

I pluck from the current headlines a proposal made in Britain by the current minister for Schools and Children—a title that would’ve provoked notable derision from Oakeshott. New guidelines for schools should require that boys from the age of five onward must be taught respect for girls as one element in a curriculum at something called ‘personal development.’ Oakeshott knew, as most of us do unless we are ministers of the crown promoting a faith, that men refraining from acting violently toward women is part of the absorption of manners they acquire in the interstices of early life, partly by imitation of adults and partly by absorbing elements of the chivalric convictions that have almost perennially been a presence in European life. The notion that such subtle and central modes of conduct can be disseminated propositionally by a taught course of a didactic kind, is a piece of rationalism that no sophisticated person would take seriously.”

The only thing I would add here is that Minogue is quite wrong in his conclusion. A great number of ‘sophisticated people’ would take the described proposition seriously.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Normalizing Trump


The old Candid Camera show came to mind today. If I recall correctly, the usual setup was to insert something bizarre into a regular situation and then observe the lengths to which the unsuspecting participants would go to treat the highly irregular as normal.

What brought this to mind was a Bill Kristol tweet on Wednesday night:

“Lefty media types: Stop. Take a breath. You loathe Trump. Fine. But it's now hampering your ability to report & analyze the race accurately.”

A fair point (that also presumably applies to many NeverTrumpers like myself) but also not particularly insightful. If you are on Twitter during any major political event you know something like this is a constant.

A more interesting line of inquiry (he wrote modestly) is to explore whether something like the opposite of what Kristol is warning against is at play. What really stands out this cycle is the stubborn insistence of treating Donald Trump like a normal candidate. A notable political commentator can proclaim after Trump’s Wisconsin speech “that if conservatives hear this speech, he can win” and the same commentator and others on Wednesday were insistent that Donald appeared “presidential” in his meeting with the real Mexican president.

Both propositions would perhaps have merit if it wasn’t for everything else. We’re to take his reading of a speech in a completely different idiom from his other speeches as dispositive? To say of Trump that he looked presidential because he looked sober enough standing behind a podium for an hour or so is silly delusion considering the months of jackassery by the same Donald Trump.

Similarly, Rich Lowry tweeted at one point during the Arizona immigration speech:

Very important passage here on proposed changes to legal immigration system”

It probably was, but as the immigration speech was, per usual, a verbal Jackson Pollock, to fasten on a particular point seems quite wrongheaded. Like saying in regard to Pollock, ooooh that was a good paint throw! The upper left hand corner is very effective!

What’s truly extraordinary in the current election cycle is how adamant the commentariat has been in normalizing Trump. It’s now September and the candidate still hasn’t opened field offices in many states, still hasn’t stuck to anything like a message for 24 hours, still hasn’t given any indication that he has any knowledge of or actual interest in policy. The rest is just ephemera. Treating his playing around with the forms of politics as if they are were substantive out of habit is to concede too much to candidate Trump.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Herbert Stein on our Politics (in 1989)

“But it is the talk, and not only from the Right but also from the Left, and not only from the politicians but also from the ‘intellectuals,’ that is most distressing. People routinely say with apparent certainty serious things that are if not patently false at least highly uncertain. And there is no debate, no confrontation of facts or analysis. The things people say are not meant to be measured on the scale of truth. They are only the signs by which one indicates which team one belongs to, like the identification ‘friend-or-foe’ signals that warplanes emit. Perhaps this low quality of the discussion does not hurt, but it is surely ‘unlovely,’ in Herbert Simon’s favorite word of disapproval.”

Herbert Stein, April 1989 from On the Other Hand

Friday, August 26, 2016

Trump is Andy Kaufman


This is the week of Trump’s “flip-flop” on immigration. What is being missed is how much of the commentary is off base, is applying a standard that is largely irrelevant. The problem is of the if you are  a hammer all problems look like nails variety. In this case, our political commentators can’t help but analyze a campaign speech for its policy implications, but with Trump this concedes too much.

It was Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson who offered up the big reveal when she said “he hasn’t changed his position on immigration, he’s changed the words that he is saying.” So embedded is the analysis template that this statement was largely mocked but Pierson was merely stating what should’ve been clear from the beginning. What I take her to be saying is that Trump hasn’t changed his position because he’s never really had one (hence my putting flip-flop in quotes). In his speech on immigration Trump was doing what he’s always done, putting words together in some sort of order.

A Trump speech or interview is a performance. The words aren’t meant to put across policy ideas they’re the act. A Trump speech is closer to an Andy Kaufman bit than a political statement. Take a look at this Kaufman appearance on SNL and tell me it isn’t essential Trump (go ahead its short, and I’ll wait:


Kaufman’s later extended joke where he challenged and later wrestled woman also anticipates Trump who just substituted media personalities for women as his foil. No doubt there were Kaufman fans, like Trump adherents who took Andy to be a champion of male power and thought he was taking on political correctness (though his act pre-dated the concept). And, if memory serves, Kaufman whined and complained when he lost wrestling just like the Donald.

The Trump campaign is I maintain part con, part the pursuit of self-esteem. His words derive from the mark not his views on politics. He doesn’t want to be president, he just wants people to say that he’s “here to save the day.” Analyzing Trump statements for political content is a category error, it is, in an important way, to miss the con.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Clintons Can Multi-Task

This week’s G-File http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439184/clinton-foundation-corruption-hillary-clinton-bill-clinton-love-power is about the Clintons and corruption (but I repeat myself). In it Jonah Goldberg makes the case that the Clinton Foundation wasn’t primarily about the money and our focus on pay for play is evidence of a corrupted view of corruption. While acknowledging that the Clintons are not averse to wealth Goldberg argues the Foundation "was about keeping the Imperial Court in Exile well-tended to for their return to power."


Wellllllllllll, up to a point. I take Jonah's main point to be that the Clinton's corruption is centered on power not money and on this he is certainly correct. But it doesn't follow that all of their activities are similarly sourced, that there is a necessary unifying theory of corruption at play here.

Putin, Arafat, your pick of South America strongmen were in it for the power but that didn't keep them from amassing wealth. And this accumulation didn't just happen but was rather the result of their deliberate actions to live in a manner appropriate to their station.

I take it that the Clintons in the course of fundraising in Manhattan and Hollywood came upon the idea that there were a lot of things they'd like to have and that falling back to something like the lifestyle of their Little Rock days was positively distasteful. And it isn't hard to imagine that Bill and Hill in mixing with people who were not all that impressive but who had a lot more money than they did came to feel a bit cheated in the wealth department. The Clinton Foundation was the most efficient, politically acceptable way (working to help in Haiti!) to monetize their position of power in a way that would be completely in their control.

Yes, the foundation also helped to keep their political entourage together, but I don't agree with Goldberg that this was the central motivation. Those people weren't going anywhere as any Lanny Davis to Hillary email should make clear.

As Mel Brooks noted "it's good to be the King." First on the list of reasons why is power, but the palace, the jewels, the best food and fashion also make the list. I think the Clintons are capable of diversifying into the pursuit of wealth as well as power. The email scandal was about power, the Clinton Foundation is mostly about making money.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cleveland; Are We Even Trying to Understand?


Goodness. The arguments that presumably smart people are willing to make.

For instance, we have the reactions to the “lock her up” chant along the lines of “we don’t jail our political opponents” and “this isn’t a banana republic”. Objections made not just by Dem hacks (see Al Franken) but by conservative intellectuals.

Are we really going to take that chant out of place and time context? A majority of those polled disagreed with James Comey’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton for her use of a private server. That decision was made less than a month ago. The chant was made at a political convention which is decidedly more pep rally than philosophical symposium.

And then again the reaction to Ted Cruz’s speech last night. We get this sort of thing:

“Any party in which 'Vote your conscience & honor the Constitution' gets you booed off stage is not my party”

It’s perfectly clear that what was being booed was “vote your conscience” not “honor the constitution.” And it’s perfectly clear that the former was a rather high minded (or weaselly) way of saying don’t vote for Trump, made at a convention to nominate and get elected Donald Trump. The Trump backers took it as an affront because that’s what it was.

It would be nice if our public intellectuals didn’t spend so much time spouting cant arguments to support their initial premise.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Government's Authority and the Comey Verdict on Clinton

Many have already commented on the contradictory announcement made by James Comey yesterday in regard to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for emails while Secretary of State. Having methodically documented Clinton’s carelessness and contravention of known policy and laws Comey whipsawed to a no charges should be brought conclusion. It seems to many that the operative aspect of "no prosecutor would bring this case" was that "this case" was against the presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

As the Comey announcement shuts the door on an actual indictment and as Clinton is unopposed by a credible Republican it isn’t perhaps too early to ask what this means for a Clinton presidency. And what I have in mind here is its perceived authority.

Authority as a constitutive element of governing is distinct from power, competency, and our agreement with what is done. However much one might disagree with Comey’s decision, no one should question that as Director of the FBI he was authorized to make it. And a joke on twitter that he was promised lands in Ohio, gets to the fact that only proof of corruption, a quid-pro-quo would compromise his authority.

Further, it seems clear that authority rests on belief, on myth. It is reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch where the Amazing Mystico and Janet constructed apartment towers via hypnosis. As long as the tenants believed in them they remained standing. The foundational myth of kingdoms was the divine right of kings passed down via heredity. For democracies it is that the people have a right to rule themselves and that this is properly accomplished through representatives.

In English history rebellions almost always (always?) included more than just a complaint of bad governance. There was also a question of the King or Queen’s authority to rule by calling into doubt that they were the rightful heir. The stories of the true heir dying at birth and being replaced are directed at authority and they parallel our own birther conspiracies.

Of course such questions need not be conspiratorial and democracies may be seen as target rich environments. Charges that the government is run by whites for whites, by fat cat capitalists, by the bourgeois are all to my understanding attacks on authority. They are making the claim that authority rests with "the people" but the actual government is in the hands of only a subset.

The question is how much Hillary Clinton, having dodged what seems a quite logical prosecutorial case, will be seen as an illegitimate President from the start of her tenure. And what is remarkable here is that the Democratic Party has proceeded on this path, not only acquiescing in her nomination but tipping the scales in her favor, when the essential facts of her private server use has been well documented for months.

The likely retort that this is comparable to George W Bush being elected despite the vote counting controversy in Florida simply won’t hold. In that instance we had an unforeseen occurrence in the general election, adjudicated through the Supreme Court, with a later confirmation that the right person was declared the winner in Florida. Quite a distance from the current situation where another nominee—Biden, Warren—would also almost certainly win, and carried out with determined malice aforethought.

Undoubtedly at the Democratic Convention and the inauguration we will hear a call to restore our confidence in government, to heal our divisions, and to come together as a people. With the probable exception of Donald Trump no one is worse positioned to accomplish this than Hillary Clinton. As to the foundational perception of authority, we are pressing our luck.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Business Lesson for Cities


“I am of two minds about democracy…We would certainly tolerate no different system yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached themselves.” –Kenneth Minogue

On Redstate today Leon Wolf makes the case that the reason for the events in Dallas can be found in the historically driven perception in black communities that the police are not to be trusted as protectors. He points to the incidents of police shootings and the relative lack of cases being brought, much less actual penalties being handed out, as strongly supporting this suspicion.  http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2016/07/08/uncomfortable-reason-came-dallas-yesterday/

As Mr Wolf explores it, the lack of a simple solution is evident and it brought to mind what I take to be a contributing problem. Now as readers of these posts know, I am highly critical of approaching government from a business perspective. But there is a business idea, naturally ignored, that might be helpful here and that is what is the optimal interest of a business.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the fashion was for conglomerates. A company would consist of many otherwise unrelated business. Superior managers in the ‘best’ companies wouldn’t be limited by the size of the respective industry, profits could be smooth out, and synergies among the companies could be found and exploited.

But the reality was quite different. Synergies weren’t found, coordination problems grew, poor businesses were kept going despite failures. Young focused firms handed the conglomerates their lunch proving there was something to the jack of all trades master of none adage. By the 1980’s the theory had reversed to one of being focused on core competencies and “sticking to your knitting” and by noting that investors could hedge away volatility themselves if they so chose.
As Ken Minogue points to in the quote I opened with, part of the problem is that our governments have taken on too much (and also promised too much). Policing in the present circumstances in a way that builds trust is a formidable challenge. It would be helpful if government stuck to what it and only it can do and left the rest to others.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Course Architects are one of Golf's Problems


The course I grew up and still play most of my golf on was 9 holes when I started. In the mid-70’s additional land was purchased and it expanded to 18 holes. A subsequent land purchase lengthened the course and took it to a par 72 (greatly compromising my ability to break 80 I might add). I still like playing the course for obvious reasons, but I’ve also remarked that the club should’ve sued the final course architect for malpractice.

I offer up two examples of where I think the architect lost the plot. The left half of the tenth green is narrow with a severe slope and has a bunker directly in front of it. Now I can, or could back in the day, hit a wedge into the green so it was fair enough for me. If I was above the hole or well to the right….well I’ve hit a bad shot. But the average member can’t go for the pin when it’s placed on this side and actually hit the green without extraordinary luck and from the middle of the green they are looking at a very difficult two putt. I mean very difficult as in I’ve played Pinehurst 2 a number of times and these greens are more difficult to putt.

The sixteenth is a par 5 dogleg to the right with a creek that limits how far the drive can go. The second, layup shot has to go up an incline over mounds and bunkers and find a thin slice of fairway. Anything that lands short of the fairway stays in the rough, go through the fairway at all (and I mean at all) and trees block your way to the pin if it is on the top portion of the green. Older members can’t clear the bunkers which are in the way even to get to a point where their third shot is 150 yards long. So the bunkers, which aren’t much of an impediment for the best players ,force the seniors to hit a layup shot which takes them out of range to reach the green with their third.

Mind you this is a small town course with a pretty strong golf tradition, but also a mostly older membership. We aren’t talking about the type of course which is well stocked with scratch and one handicappers and produces state amateur champions.

All of which brings me to this quote from an article on the sociologist Nathan Glazer who, among other things was critical of modern architecture (the buildings kind):

“contemporary artists and architects ‘do not find it easy to celebrate the common ideals and emotions of the community. It is more likely that they will celebrate themselves…Of course, any art requires some considerable assertion of the individual ego. But at the same time, great art, and certainly a great monument, requires the artist to give himself up to the constraints and demands of the task at hand.’”
One of the great problems facing golf to my mind is that too many architects have built courses without the actual users in mind. We have courses which are built with the best player in mind because those are the designs that are celebrated. And, if they are famous and look right, average players want to play them too…at least once or twice. But members are playing their course not once or twice but repeatedly and the object should be to design and build courses which fit the skill, or lack thereof, of the members.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Art Mirrors Reality, Again


An article in San Francisco Chronicle about a letter from Cassady to Kerouac that will go on auction and is likely to fetch a million dollars. The thought to be lost letter has it seems been the subject of legal wrangles over its ownership since it resurfaced. In the third to last paragraph there’s this:

It could have been a positive thing for everybody,” McQuate said, “but Spinosa tried to take all the credit and all the money.”

Which instantly reminded me of Sylvester, the surfer dude from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World:

“You could have taken a fair share like the rest of us, but no. You just had to go and grab up the whole scene baby.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

For Republican Officeholders; How to Answer the Trump Endorsement Question


Professional politicians should be far better at this than I am or wish to be. But as so many are failing, here are a couple of suggestions to political officeholders as how to answer the question of Trump support:

1. The endorsement/non-endorsement:  As a Republican I have in the past always supported the Party's nominee.
2.  The Modified Buckley:   As a Republican, the presumption is always to support the Republican nominee.

Note, that answers #1 and #2 here are not actual endorsements. If pressed the politician can always insist that he’s answered the question and wishes to move on, or feign humility by stating that the public probably doesn’t care what he thinks and that he doubts Trump's prospects hinge on his endorsement.

3.  The Early Voting Issue:  Use the question as a jumping off point to critique early voting. Note that Trump isn't actually the nominee yet and that the general election isn't until November. Close by stealing from a colleague of mine who in a different context remarked "I reserve the right to get smarter." If pressed, insist again that there is no rush and therefore no reason to relinquish your right to get smarter.
 

Donald Trump, and Having to Play a Very Bad Hand


I'm noticing lately, a bit of sympathy insinuating its way into my thought for unlikely characters.

For example, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus. At least among many of those I follow on Twitter, Reince is getting killed for supporting Donald Trump. But what honestly is he supposed to do? He is the party chairman and Trump is the party’s presumptive nominee. It’s either stated or implicit that at the top or very near it of his job’s objectives is to get the party’s nominee elected to the presidency. And the party chairman is more grocery clerk sent to collect a bill than philosophical head of the party. Reince, in short, is just doing his job (which is the most one can say for him).

Or consider Trump’s opponents in this election who are now endorsing him to some extent or another. My guess is that these endorsements are mostly based on a 2020 calculation. Candidate X is running through the following:
- I gave my word during the debates to support the nominee [see, this is why you don’t answer silly questions]

- When I’m the party’s nominee in 2020 I’m going to want the whole party behind me.

- How will I answer the inevitable George Stephanopoulos question as to why everyone should get behind me after he rolls the tape of me NOT supporting Donald Trump?

- The #NeverTrump people seem to think that in short order anyone who supported Trump will be toxic within the Republican Party. Why? What other moments of epistemic clarity can they point to that supports this belief?

And so—perhaps just like Tessio—they end up supporting Trump because it’s the smart move.

The senators and reps are making the same calculation and arriving at the same conclusion. They can’t change things in Washington if they don’t win, and they can’t feel good about winning if Trump’s supporters don’t vote for them. And so we witness what we’ve witnessed.
 
But it does raise the question of how Trump managed to lose money with a casino. Because if there is one thing that has become clear in this cycle it is that Donald Trump has mastered the art of dealing everyone else a very bad hand to play.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Republican Politicians and Rusher's Gap


This afternoon it was reported that former Texas Governor Rick Perry made public that he would support Donald Trump. Shortly after on there was the following tweet:

Phineas Fahrquar ‏@irishspy:

It bears repeating: "Politicians will always disappoint you. Always."

In short order I thought of Rusher’s Gap, a concept that was shared in William F. Buckley book or column that I can no longer place. The aforementioned Rusher is Bill Rusher the long time publisher of National Review. Rusher’s Gap goes like this:

Suppose you need some work done on your house. You call in a contractor or two and get an estimate of what it will cost. Let’s say the estimate is $10,000. But you’re a wise man of the world, you know the actual cost is going to be higher so you make what we might term a cynic’s adjustment and tack on say another $2,000. Rusher’s Gap is the amount that the actual cost exceeds your revised, adjusted cost estimate.

Yes, you and I know that politicians will always disappoint. But for conservatives, the Rusher’s Gap this cycle has really been something to behold.

A Comment on Jonah Goldberg's; Denationalizing Our Politics


In a column/post yesterday Jonah Goldberg gives us a glimpse into a new book from Yuval Levin arguing for a more decentralized politics. As someone who came into the conservative fold after hearing James Buckley’s A Plea for a Return to Federalism I’m sympathetic to the idea.

But my thinking and reading since that speech has led me to conclude, that however fine the idea, the emphasis was/is a mistake. Arguing for decentralization confuses cause for effect or put differently it ignores that in politics as in modern architecture, form follows function.

It was Michael Oakeshott who argued that our politics were dominantly enterprise association and rationalist. As anyone who has been in a decentralized business knows, the pull to the center is constant and never resisted for very long (usually the first hint of trouble). As to rationalist politics, Oakeshott defined it as “the politics of perfection and of uniformity” and noted that circumstances—the unique conditions that would argue for a decentralized approach—“are for the rationalist to be overcome, not accommodated.”

In short, decentralized politics is a fine idea but to bring it about you have to target its rationalist/enterprise association underpinnings.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Be Wary of the Businessman as Politician


If I were capable of writing a book it would be titled Untapped: Michael Oakeshott and the American Conservative Movement. You may have noticed that Oakeshott’s thought appears disturbingly often (is this guy obsessed?) around here. It’s because his thought clarifies to a degree I haven’t found anywhere else.

In his magnum opus, On Human Conduct, Oakeshott distinguished between civil association and enterprise association in regard to political activity. Conceptually this is far better than left/right (a low bar), liberal/conservative, or negative/positive liberties.

Civil association rules or laws are neutral and are in Oakeshott’s words “subscribed to” rather than carried out. They are purposeless except in the sense that they minimize the clashes that occur as free people pursue their own choices. The rule that we drive on the right side of the rode belongs to civil association. It merely specifies that if we decide to drive we do so on the right side, but it is indifferent as to where we go or whether we drive at all.

Enterprise association is of a completely different character. As its name suggests it is government as enterprise. An enterprise (think of business) is directed to a goal and everything it does is with that goal in mind. You are hired if you can contribute to the enterprise’s goal and you’ll be fired if your contribution is inadequate.

Oakeshott argued that neither civil association or enterprise association was possible in pure form but that civil association was compatible with free people, a populous who enjoy and value making their own decisions. He also believed that viewing government as enterprise association has regrettably become the dominant way of thinking about government (for Oakeshott, what the government should do was the critical question not its form).

Now with the above in mind it should surprise no one that men and women who have spent most of their adult lives in business and are running for office on the back of their business success will naturally view government as an enterprise association. Immersed in a world of getting things done, delivering results, of the constant pursuit of efficiency they cannot but see the idea of government as a neutral activity, one that values checks and balances, and one that deliberately sets up impediments to action as an absurdity.

In short, at least from the conservative perspective, there is much in the businessman’s outlook that should make him wary. Unless the businessman is that rare person who views government as a wholly different activity, he or she is likely to be more of a progressive/rationalist than a conservative.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Never Trump!


During the weekend the journalist/commentator Megan McArdle, noting the #NeverTrump trend on twitter, asked life-long Republicans to send her emails as to why they’d decided they would not support Donald Trump if he is the nominee. The piece is here: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-02-29/the-die-hard-republicans-who-say-nevertrump and there is a link within it to some of the material that was not included. It’s a fascinating and I think important column.

My submission, a slice of which made it into the column, is below [Note: I stayed away from any policy differences because I didn’t want to give the impression that not supporting a, b, and c would be enough for me to break with the Party’s nominee]:

I first started exploring conservative thought in 1977 after attending a speech by James Buckley as a high school student. My first presidential vote was for Reagan in 1980. I've sat out some elections because the result in my state was a foregone conclusion (example Dole vs Clinton when I lived in California), but I've never voted strategically for a Democrat or Independent.

I didn't like McCain in 2008 but voted for him. Thought Romney was the wrong nominee (because he was neutered on ACA) but voted for him in 2012. Living in Chicago my last vote was for Rahm--who I loathe--against Garcia because, this being Chicago, Rahm is the Buckley rule candidate. Vote for the video suppressor, it's important!

But I won't vote for Trump if he is the nominee. It's not just that I don't think he's conservative. It's that as President I think he'd be quite capable of doing anything, except governing reasonably well. Trump as President would essentially ruin the Republican/conservative brand for decades.

To my mind, if Trump is the nominee the conservatives have to break with the Republican Party in the clearest and most explicit manner possible. I have no illusions about Hillary. I realize the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. But something can be salvaged from being in opposition. In power with Trump at the head is to lose everything.

"The Prime Minister said that the nations [read in this context, political causes] which went down fighting rose again, but those which surrendered tamely were finished."

Five Days in London: May 1940, John Lukacs

 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thoughts on Christie Endorsement of Trump; from Chinese Philosophy


“Wealth and high station, these are what men would like to have; but it they cannot be obtained in conformity with principle [Tao] they must not be held.”

“The Master said, ‘A man of honor is not a mere tool.’”

“If the way prevails among the states, you can make yourself prominent; but if it does not prevail, then keep in retirement. If it prevails in your area, it is a disgrace to be poor and humble. If it does not prevail, it is a disgrace to be rich and honored.”

Chinese Philosophy in Classical Times, edited by Ernest Rhys

Monday, February 22, 2016

To Bring Down Trump Remember Acton and Focus on His Power

"…that soul [Kurtz] satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power."

"He could get himself to believe anything—anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party. ‘What party?’ I asked. ‘Any party’, answered the other."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

If you follow twitter and other media sites you will notice that the emphasis in the anti-Trump camp is that he is not a conservative, is woefully uninformed about politics, and is too erratic to be trusted with nuclear weapons. They will highlight his absurd, innacurate boasts about having warned against the invasion of Iraq and the oddity of a thrice married casino owner being supported by evangelicals.

To understand why Trump has thrived despite these weaknesses and to gain a better sense of how to actually take him down, it is better to think of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and to recall Lord Acton's observation that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And here it is important to understand that Acton the historian was speaking not of the actor, the person in a position of power, but the observer or how people respond and evaluate people in power.

Trump is invulnerable to normal political attacks because he occupies a position of perceived personal power, like Kurtz as demi-god, that is unlike the normal politician. This is the key to all of the free media that he has been able to garner. It isn't just the exposure, it is the constant reinforcement of the idea that this a man to whom attention must be paid.

If the above is correct then the point of vulnerability isn't the incoherence of his political pronouncements, his personal behavior or even his business tactics such as his use of eminent domain. All of these can be ignored, pace Acton, of the powerful wielding and benefiting from their power. To truly damage Trump you have to take down the perception of Trump as wildly successful businessman. That's the source of his power.

And a good place to start would be to focus on Trump's involvement in the USFL as related by Joe Nocera. The USFL was set up as a professional football league that would operate in the NFL's offseason. It had a very successful first season. Trump came in as an owner of the New Jersey Generals and characteristically, in thinking only of Trump, disrupted the salary discipline by signing stars like Herschel Walker and Brian Sipe. Then he got the League's games moved to the fall--only losers play spring football?--where they would compete directly against the NFL. And that was the end of the USFL. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/sports/football/donald-trumps-less-than-artful-failure-in-pro-football.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=1


The beauty and utility of Trump's destruction of the USFL is that it is so easily communicable. This isn't a Hillary cattle futures trade or Whitewater. This is professional football. The ONE business that every american understands. And one thing they will all be able to grasp is that for a new league to face off directly against the NFL is lunacy. Start there and then go on to his bankruptcies and other business failures. Bring down Trump the successful businessman and you will bring down Trump the putative political leader.


Addendum: Note the Trump searches

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Round of Platonic Golf Anyone? - A Scalia Dissent


To get some idea of why Antonin Scalia as Supreme Court justice is held in such high regard one only need read his dissent in PGA Tour, Inc. v Martin. That it isn’t a major case may make it more accessible on its own terms. The case involved a professional golfer, Casey Martin, who suffered from a degenerative birth defect that made walking increasingly painful who sued the PGA Tour to use a by rules prohibited golf cart in competition under the American Disabilities Act. The majority sided with Martin, with Scalia writing the dissent and joined by Thomas.

Scalia’s first and perhaps most fundamental objection is that the case fits the ADA requirements. He begins:

The Court holds that a professional sport is a place of

public accommodation and that respondent is a “customer"

of “competition” when he practices his profession.

Ante, at 17. It finds, ante, at 18, that this strange conclusion

is compelled by the “literal text” of Title III of the

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),

 
This is indeed a strange conclusion. As Scalia points out the court is turning a player of a professional sport into a fan of that event. Scalia notes that one of the examples of public accommodation is a zoo. In this case, the court has confused the animals for those that come to see them. It does this by claiming the player is a customer of the PGA Tour and or of the course the events are played on. Again, as Scalia notes, this is absurd.

 The court then finds itself asking, a question that Scalia clearly thinks is irrelevant, whether walking is fundamental to the game of golf.

 

it is worth pointing out that the assumption which

underlies that question is false. Nowhere is it writ that

PGA TOUR golf must be classic “essential” golf. Why

cannot the PGA TOUR, if it wishes, promote a new game,

with distinctive rules.

 And from there he goes on memorably in a way that makes reading a legal dissent as pleasurable as reading any novel:

 

But the rules are the rules.

They are (as in all games) entirely arbitrary, and there is

no basis on which anyone— not even the Supreme Court of

the United States— can pronounce one or another of them

to be “nonessential” if the rulemaker (here the PGA

TOUR) deems it to be essential.

 

If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some

legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf— and if one

assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the

Court has made to get to this point— then we Justices

must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility.

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme

Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in

pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate

Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several

States,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, to decide What Is

Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution,

aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting

golf because it interfered with the practice of

archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of

golf and government, the law and the links, would once

again cross, and that the judges of this august Court

would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential

question, for which their years of study in the

law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around

a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer,

we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it

will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not

a “fundamental” aspect of golf.

 

Either out of humility or out of self-respect (one or the

other) the Court should decline to answer this incredibly

difficult and incredibly silly question.

 As I said, this isn’t the most important of Scalia’s opinions. But I doubt you will find a more compelling and entertaining argument in opposition to its current reach and its propensity to insert itself where it doesn’t belong.

 The full dissent can be found here:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-24.ZD.html

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wait, Conservatives Object to Super Delegates? What?


I take it that a certain ambivalence and distrust towards full blown democracy is consistent with, if not a core tenet of, conservatism. And yet in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton losing the New Hampshire primary by 22 percentage points to Bernie Sanders but still being awarded the same number of delegates, you’d get a different impression. On social media and in numerous columns conservative pundits and supporters have been either mocking or highly critical.

The reason for the New Hampshire result is the Democratic Party’s use of super delegates. Of the total 4,763 delegates and 2,382 needed to win, 712 are super delegates whose voting is not constrained by the voting in primaries. So super delegates constitute 14.9% of the total. If my math is correct a pure insurgent candidate would need to win 58.8% of the voting determined delegates to gain the nomination [2,382/(4,763 – 712) = .588].If you hang out with Vox, Salon, MSNBC this an abomination, but for conservatives? If Aaron Burr having dispensed with Alexander Hamilton seeks the Federalist Party nomination is an 8.8 percentage point higher bar in the popular will beyond the pale?

This same week, John Yoo wrote an interesting piece titled Trump and Sanders, The Founders Worst Nightmare on the founder’s view towards selecting a president. Yoo notes:

“To prevent mindless populism from seizing the White House, the Founders rejected nationwide election of the president. Instead, they created the Electoral College. States choose electors (equal to the number of their members of the House and Senate), who meet and send their votes to Congress. If there is no majority, then the House votes by state delegation to choose the chief executive.

While the Electoral College today seems Rube Goldberg-esque, it served the important purpose of weeding out emotional passions and popular, but poor, candidates.”


I suspect the real issue here for conservatives is a) the progressive tendency to overplay the idea of their being the true voice of the people, and b) disdain for Hillary Clinton. A better avenue of criticism would be Hillary’s call to abolish the Electoral College in the aftermath of the 2000 election. On that occasion Hillary stated:
         “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,…I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”


In light of recent events, an enterprising reporter or debate moderator might ask her about this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Christie Critique of Repetition in Politics is Nonsense


As you probably know, Chris Christie is widely regarded as landing a solid blow to the Marco Rubio candidacy by claiming that he frequently repeats the same material in his speeches and debate answers. This as part of a larger argument that Rubio is a scripted, inexperienced candidate in stark contrast, one supposes to Gov. Christie.
Now I will admit that of the remaining candidates I favor Rubio. That said, I find the Christie jab to be on the merits rather ineffectual, and it becoming such a big story just shows the silly importance attached to these ‘debates’. For it seems to me that anyone who runs for president should have arrived at a substantial body of understandings in regard to politics. They should have a set of stable, but not rigid, political ideas such that certain expressions, quotes, phrases will appear frequently in their speeches and comments. This isn’t improvisational comedy. The LAST thing we should seek in a potential president is day to day originality.
If we embrace the Christie rule than the obvious choice isn’t Christie, who not surprisingly gave a packaged answer in the debate to a question on drug abuse, but Donald Trump. The lightly thought out, spur of the moment, incoherent ideas of the real estate magnate is apparently what we should value in a president.

 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It Wasn't the Candidate or the Campaign; Jeb Never Had a Chance


In the Iowa post mortems one thread has been that the Jeb campaign has been a historical failure. I disagree with that only in the sense that the blame is being put on Jeb and his political skills. These aren't completely irrelevant, but the biggest factor is that Jeb never had a chance. His and his donors failure is that they didn’t see that he never had a chance.

Before I explain, what I mean by establishment in what follows is that prevailing sense of ‘respectable opinion’ which if it doesn’t persuade at least is taken into account, such that if you see things differently you at least pause to consider that you’ve lost the plot. And that relationship between establishment and conservative is somewhat adversarial with the tension increasing as the conservative viewpoint becomes more ideological.

So why was Jeb doomed? Because he came after the following:

1) His father, Bush I, picks up the mantle of Reagan and promises not to raise taxes. He then raises taxes

2) His brother George, Bush II, is supported fervently for his actions after 9/11, but conservatives aren’t please with the notion of “compassionate conservatism” nor with the explosion of spending that occurs under his watch (zero vetoes!).

3) McCain as nominee in 2008 is widely perceived as the establishment choice. Conservatives aren’t thrilled but they go along with it. They don’t like losing to Obama, but deep down they understand it. Base/conservative wariness with the establishment has increased but hasn’t disappeared.

4) And now we get to the point that finally kills the Jeb campaign. In the 2012 race the perception is that Obama is a colossally bad president. If the Republicans don’t screw it up they’ll win. While the conservatives have doubts about Romney, they eventually give way to the establishment view--after a frantic and failed attempt to find a suitable alternative—on the argument that Romney is the only candidate who can/will beat Obama.

Then the Romney general election barely brings up the subject of Obamacare, which is kind of a big deal for conservatives, and ends up losing. Queue The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That is what Jeb had to overcome, plus the fact that most conservatives weren’t pleased with the royalist suggestions that would come with a third Bush presidency. The surprise isn’t that Jeb failed, it’s that so many pundits didn’t see from the start that he would (and my twitter followers will know that I had Jeb as the John Connally of this race—see 1980—from the start). Jeb was always the longest of long shots in this cycle.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Does it Matter That Ted Cruz is Disliked?

A thread on Twitter began with a post questioning why Cruz being disliked would matter if he was president with an expression of doubt that senators would actually block him out of spite. A following tweet, pointed out that all Republicans would have self-interest in cooperating. And finally that while there was disagreement over tactics there was agreement on policy.

Now all of this is true up to a point, but as argument to wave away the issue of animus directed towards Cruz by his colleagues (and I would guess it goes beyond the Senate) this fails to convince. Are we really supposed to believe that being strongly disliked doesn’t matter in politics? If so, then politics is truly alone in human endeavors.

Yes, at the general level there is policy agreement, but probe a bit and real differences emerge. Tactics in politics are hardly a matter of little importance. The extent to which cooperating conforms to self-interest doesn’t exist in the abstract it is determined.

And we need to consider why Ted Cruz isn’t liked. To some extent it is that he is intent on shaking things up and this I take to be positive. But another aspect is that he is thought to have made some serious tactical blunders (see the shutdown) that have cost the party, and to be concerned with Ted Cruz well beyond anything else. You’re really trying to tell me that this is of no account? That it won’t in anyway impede Cruz’s ability to get things done as president?

To be considered a successful conservative president, Ted Cruz will have to persuade his colleague’s and the people to go beyond what they are comfortable with; to trust him and his judgement. Everything else being equal or near equal, I’ll take the guy who is generally liked and charming over the guy who is despised.

Friday, January 29, 2016

When is the Past History


I recently finished reading The English and Their History by Robert Tombs. If you are interested in English history it is well worth a look, but it does, I think, go wrong by going too far. By which I mean that by taking his narrative to 2014, in a history book published in 2015, Tombs has gone beyond what I would consider ‘history’.

Now, I think we would agree that while the paragraph above was typed in the past that action or the thought behind it is not history. It is something like a present-past. And I would argue that when the subject is a people and a nation, history, as a distinct mode of thought and inquiry ends and journalism begins well before we get to two years ago.

Walter Bagehot argued that it took a generation to evaluate a reform. If anything, I’d say Bagehot was an optimist. If we consider what is currently going on in our colleges—dominated as they are by sixties activists and influences-- it strikes me that we can, at best, only make a tentative statement about that decade. Nor is the historian considering that period likely to have anything like the detachment that one would wish for as it is still too ‘present’.

I don’t have an answer or even know if the above is on the right track. But in reading Tombs’ history I noted a certain arc. To start there wasn’t enough material or enough complexity in the activity to make it fully engrossing, the book got better as both those conditions became less of an issue, but then at some point it starts to decline again as the present starts to take over and what is truly ‘historical’ in the past begins to recede.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Let's Not Oversell A Cruz Presidency


In a piece on Donald Trump, Roger Kimball by way of explaining the beltway Republican support for Trump, writes:

“As Rush Limbaugh put it, the GOP establishment hates Trump, but they fear Cruz. They are right to do so, because were he elected the gravy train that is business-as-usual in Washington really would come screeching to a halt.”


Welllllllllll, color me skeptical.

One of the causes of the Trump moment is that conservative politicians running for office have promised to end business as usual in Washington. Duly elected, they failed to deliver engendering disillusion or a search for someone who really means it. That Trump emphatically doesn’t mean it is beside the point. It’s the disillusion, stupid.

But for some reason conservatives can’t shake the habit. A Cruz presidency will probably mean a Republican majority in both House and Senate, but it probably won’t be filibuster proof. That the democrats will fight with tenacity to defend the current system should go without saying. If actual cuts are made the media will be sure to present them in apocalyptic terms.
A Cruz presidency will be different than Obama’s, hopefully significantly so. But there won’t be any screeching halts. K Street will go on being K Street. Sorry. The first step in political recovery is to distinguish and accept the possible from the impossible.