Does it Matter if the President is a Socialist?

The short answer is yes because he would replace history’s most successful economic theory (as measured by generalized prosperity and systemic economic growth), with its least successful (as measured by the same metrics).

Now to the important question – what is a socialist?

In strict theoretical terms, socialism is the abolition of private property, everything being owned by the government. Functionally, socialism consists of the government owning “the tools of production”, that is, all business units. Politically, socialism encompasses government control of the economy. In real-world terms, it is the degree to which decision-making is centralized versus individualized.

Socialism is, by any definition, un-American. In the very first document penned by the Founders, they made unambiguously clear their views on the supremacy of the people over government by stating as unalienable rights Life (defense), Liberty (political freedom) and the Pursuit of Happiness (economic freedom). The Articles of Confederation, the second document penned by the Founders as a group, clearly demonstrates their view as the “Pursuit of Happiness” meaning a meritocracy when they stated that residents of the several states would enjoy the full range of rights and privileges granted residents of the United States, save “vagabonds, paupers and fugitives from justice.” This primacy of the people over the government is reaffirmed in their third document, the Constitution of the United States of America, where the Tenth Amendment (penned by the authors) states that powers not enumerated in the Constitution do not belong to the government. All of this is further discussed at length in the Federalist Papers, authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, which discussed the Constitution with the residents of New York prior to its ratification.

Does this endorse unfettered laissez faire markets? No, it does not. The Constitution specifically gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce, for example, and yields to the states the authority to regulate business within their boundaries. Their vision was one of placing jurisdiction to the closest practicable level of government to the problem: federal jurisdiction over only those issues not adjudicable by the states; state jurisdiction over only those issues not adjudicable by the counties; county jurisdiction over only those issues not adjudicable by towns and cities. It is a minimalist view of government, the only way to maximize individual liberty – the point of the Enlightenment and the purpose of the Revolution.

The philosophical differences between “government knows best” and the American vision couldn’t be clearer. What about practical differences?

The Founders were imminently practical people. They were farmers, merchants and shopkeepers. They understood that local solutions to local problems were always more efficient, fairer and swifter than those made at a distance. They wanted to solve their own problems, decide their own fate. They were tired of constantly having their successes punished by central government – the Stamp Act, the Molasses Act, the Stationary Tax, and all the other Intolerable Acts. They saw this as not just an attribute of an indifferent British Crown, but a natural devolution of centralized governance over free peoples. The best way to keep governance responsive to the governed (as opposed to its own desires) is to keep it as close to the people as possible. That a person’s grievance in Cleveland can be addressed from Washington, like gardening from the second floor balcony with tools tied to sticks, doesn’t mean it should be. The more remote, the bigger government gets, the more self-interested, the less efficient, the less responsive it gets.

In addition to, again, handing ones destiny to absentee rulers, erecting a highly centralized government ensures a bloated, unresponsive, inefficient and self-interested bureaucracy that is closer to the Crown than the Constitution. “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” is a subsistence outlook, devoid of hope or achievement. It also assumes an altruism of human nature that just isn’t there, hence the Ten Commandments, Hammurabi’s Code, and all that has followed.

Is the president a socialist? I don’t think so, but his programs are definitely aimed at taking day-to-day decisions out of the hands of individuals and moving them to Washington. His vision of America is vastly less generous toward the governed than it is toward the government. His view of government ensures decreasing political and economic freedom to the governed. I don’t view his philosophy of governance to be wrong because it’s evil, rather to be insidious because it doesn’t work.

Genetic Bottleneck

I came across an interesting study by Penn State’s Stephan Schuster, to be published in Nature this month, finding that any two African bushmen who spoke different languages were more different genetically than a European and an Asian. That was true even if the bushmen lived within walking distance of each other.

This lends credence to the theory that non-Africans are descended from a single breeding female – our Mitochondrial Eve – who migrated from what is now Kenya to what is now Yemen ~150,000 years ago (and whose descendents apparently went on to populate all of non-Africa). Others may have crossed with her, and their maternal ancestry eliminated through some as of yet not understood mechanism. For example, the Toba supervolcanic eruption in Indonesia ~70,000 years ago caused an Ice Age that lasted for 1,800 years, reducing the non-African human population from about that of Boston to about that of Fenway Park. Mitochondrial Eve’s descendents, possibly further afield from Toba than others (the Levant, Europe, the Steppes, whatever), could have been the sole survivors. The rest of Africa, particularly the southern home of the bushmen, was free to intermingle and diversify their DNA-base.

The study also found 1.3 million tiny variations that hadn’t been observed before in any human DNA, suggesting that mitochondrial DNA may be more important to genetic diversification than previously thought, only 7,000 or so generations having passed since “Eve” migrated.

The engineering mastery and elegance of nature never ceases to amaze me.

Indiana Update 1.0

Two-term Senator Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat who would probably be on the short list of early 2012 front-runners if a Republican was in the White House, could suffer from the anti-incumbent fever raging in the country these days. In somewhat of an early surprise, four-term Representative Mike Pence from Indiana’s 6th District was polling 3 points ahead of Bayh in late January[1]. Two other Republicans had announced (ex-US Representative John Hostettler and ex-Indiana state Congressman Marlin Stutzman), but Bayh is leading both (by 16 and 22, respectively).

Then February 10th, former Senator Dan Coats (R) announced that he was entering the race for Bayh’s seat, and thus sets up what may be a preview of things to come. It seems that the announcement was made by Indiana Republican National Committeeman James Bopp in an eMail to state Party officials. To say that this was not warmly received is a bit of an understatement. The next day a Huntington [IN] Tea Party group circulated an eMail with the subject line, “NO to RNC/Coats for force feeding us this crap sandwich,” while Emery McClendon, a Tea Party organizer, distributed an eMail to activists declaring that the [RNC] push for a Coats candidacy “is the Republican Party’s way of slapping we the people in the face … ”

This has shades of New York’s 23rd, where the state party anointed Dede Scozzafava (R) for re-election. Local conservatives, claiming she was more liberal than Bill Owens, the Democrat running against her, wanted the Party to endorse Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate. The squabble drew national attention and several national figures also backed Mr Hoffman. A few days before the election, Ms Scozzafava dropped out, claiming a lack of support, and endorsed Mr Owens, who went on to win the seat (73,137 to 69,353, with 8, 582 voting for Scozzafava, whose name was still on the ballot).

This is illustrative of the inherent conundrum of populist movements.

In what may be a bright spot for Democrats, Tea Party-inspired candidates are going to run into resistance from state and national GOP organizations as well as Democrats. The extant powerbrokers won’t give up their vested positions easily, and some races – particularly in the hundreds of House races – could be lost if infighting can’t be resolved in enough time to clarify the ballot for voters.

At this point, I’m moving Indiana’s senate seat from a probable Democrat save into the toss-up column, though it could move back. Mr Bayh was a popular governor, is a well-liked senator, and it’s too early to see if Coat’s entry will split Pence’s support. But for right now, the national mood has changed this race.

[1] Rasmussen polled 800 likely voters on a Bayh-Pence head-to-head contest, between January 21 and 24, and found Bayh (D) 44%, Pence (R) 47%, with 9% undecided.

Trouble in River City

Cracks are beginning to show in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s once impregnable political armor. Last week he had to apologize after it surfaced that he called liberal groups “f****** retarded” in a private meeting. People are ripping chief political strategist David Axelrod. A spate of recent losses in races that Democrats should have won have some clamoring that the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee is the wrong job for Tim Kaine. Some say the President Obama shouldn’t have pushed healthcare before stabilizing the economy, others say he let it idle in the Senate for too long. Comments like this have been around for months, but what makes these different is that they are coming from tenured Democrats[1].

The descent of the Obama Presidency has eclipsed “fickle” Independents and “ignorant” Republicans, and now embraces well-known and long-serving Democrats. The far left is irritated that government takeovers of energy and healthcare seem to be stalled, and the mainstream left is irritated that the Party essentially failed to get anything post-stimulus through their legislative majorities. With their Senate supermajority gone and both simple majorities in existential danger, the infamous Democrat circular firing squad is beginning to form.

Doug Wilder, America’s first Black governor and no wild-eyed radical, is advising the president to jettison his current staff and find some credible people whose expertise is governing rather than campaigning. “Getting elected and getting things done for the people are two different jobs,” he says[2]. After three devastating losses in gubernatorial and special elections, the “don’t worry, be happy” message is beginning to wear a little thin among individual Democrats who see no leadership from the National Committee or the White House.

They’re running out of people to blame for the failure of their programs… maybe they should take a look at their programs.

Even as the “save us from 8% unemployment” stimulus bill was being passed, Cap-and-Trade was pronounced dead on arrival by the Senate, not because Republicans were being obstructionist, but because spiking the cost of energy is the last thing you need while trying to spur economic recovery. Any pretext that it is necessitated by global warming has lost all credibility. Essentially scrapping carbon-based energy without a bridge technology in place is a guarantee of weakening economic performance – renewed and deepened recession. Making energy rapidly and increasingly more expensive – the whole purpose of Cap-and-Trade – eats into profits (i.e., newly created wealth, or GDP-growth), precluding new hiring. What can be passed on to consumers obviously will diminish disposable income (i.e., consumer spending), further depressing recovery. Whenever it’s invoked, it will cost us a trillion dollars in productivity, which will cost the government taxes on a trillion dollars of GDP. Even if Cap-and-Trade was a good idea (and it’s not), this is possibly the worst time to threaten the economy with it.

Healthcare failed to get through Democrat legislative majorities in both Houses because the American people got a look at it. It is so hopelessly convoluted – and Members scoff at the idea of actually reading it – that to seriously consider passing it into law would be irresponsible. The only way they could keep the 10-year cost under a trillion is to start the taxes and fees immediately and hold off on the entitlements for three (Senate) or four (House) years, and take half a trillion out of Medicare. It doesn’t even work then. Part of the deal the White House cut with the AMA was that doctors and hospitals wouldn’t see any decrease for a while – they are reduced to trying to sneak the “Doctor Fix” through under separate legislation (because it can’t be included in the actual healthcare bill as it kicks costs back over a trillion). A complete restructuring of a sixth of the economy is too much for the people to blindly accept from a bunch of politicians. Once again, even if this was a good idea (and it’s not), this is possibly the worst time to shock the economy with it.

Attempting to put them both through during a severe recession is unbelievably detached from economic reality.

If I were on the Republican team going to the televised “bipartisanship” meeting on the 25th, I would need only one question – “everyone in this room who will vote to cut Medicare by $50 billion in next year’s budget, please hold up your hand.”

[1] See Alexander Bolton, Congressional Democrats point finger of blame at Rahm Emanuel, in The Hill, February 9 2010 and L Douglas Wilder, Obama needs a staff shakeup, in Politico, February 9 2010.

[2] Wilder, ibid.

Opportunity Lost?

I have yet to hear or read about a truly fundamental opportunity uncovered by the Town Hall meetings/Tea Party movement. Much of the rage expressed by those phenomena have centered around some basic, common sense travesties routinely carried out by our representatives in Washington: voting (either way) on 2,000-page bills that nobody’s read; backroom deals (effecting, but intentionally hidden from the American people); the bribing of public officials for votes. The “sausage making” that was exposed as the process by which the healthcare bill (a focus of the aforementioned meetings/movement) was brought about.

This isn’t an Obama administration foible, or even a Democrat prevalence. This is how your government works.

It’s the “business as usual” we were warned about. And this is the golden opportunity that is being squandered away – there should a raucous, honestly bipartisan, foot-stomping, red-in-the-face demand to STOP! “No wonder government can’t get anything right – nobody knows what it’s up to. One group of aides write the bills, other groups of aides reads them, then people from neither group vote on them. This is absurd and it’s insulting!”

This is also why any politician who promises you “transparency in government” is lying to you. They can’t deliver on it, and they know it. “But,” Obama apologists implore, “he couldn’t dictate to Congress how to hold their legislative meetings.” That’s correct, but what about those White House meetings in which the AMA, the pharmaceutical industry and the unions were bought off? Do you really think he wanted those to be C-SPAN’ed negotiations “so all could see who was standing up for the drug [medical/union] companies and who was standing up for you”? Me neither.

This assault on process is so effective because it’s indefensible. You can’t spin it. What’s being overlooked is that this same reaction could have been generated by these same arguments during the Bush administration (or anyone else’s in recent history). As I say, this is how your government works.

No wonder we have drifted so far from the Founders’ ideals. Their revolution was against imperial government … a ruling class lording over subjects. This very sort of thing.

… and They’re Off!

Usually these off-year elections don’t heat-up much before six months out, but this year it seems that the race is already on. The highly contentious nature of the year-long healthcare battle, and the disgusting way in which it was waged, produced public ire against specific congressmen and senators. In politics, perception is reality, and the perception began growing that the administration just didn’t get it. The August town halls were a public relations disaster for incumbents – in spite of the media’s constantly portraying citizens as clueless idiots, Members came off as out of touch, arrogant and dismissive. That started it.

The tea party movement took off, and instead of actually committing journalism, the press continued its “clueless idiots” interpretation of the largest grass roots movement since the ‘60s. Virtually everything Washington has done increased voter frustration – bailouts and takeovers, “man-caused disasters”, an obviously political “stimulus” package, cap-and-trade, moving the KSM trials to New York, healthcare, Mirandizing the crotch-bomber after just 50 minutes of questioning, on and on.

Part of the why behind an early season this cycle is that many Democrats suddenly realized that the “clueless idiots” vote. They’re falling away like over-ripe fruit. Almost daily we’re treated to another Democrat congressman or senator who has suddenly decided to “spend more time with the family”. All other things being equal, an open seat is easier for the opposition party to capture than it is to unseat an incumbent. This, added to the dissatisfaction factor, has helped generate an early start to campaign season.

Keeping in mind that the historical norm for off-year elections is for the White House party to lose 3 Senate seats and 20 House seats, it will take a net gain of 10 seats in the Senate and 40 in the House to change political leadership in those institutions. I’ll admit to watching the Senate more closely than the House, because the 60-seat supermajority was razor-thin, requiring absolute partisan lock-step to pass or block anything controversial. The Senate became a laboratory for watching the influence (or lack of it) of public opinion on elected officials.

Of the four open Senate seats formerly held by Democrats (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois and North Dakota), two are likely going Republican (Vice President Biden’s old Delaware seat and North Dakota’s), Chris Dodd’s Connecticut seat is leaning Democrat, and President Obama’s old Illinois seat is a statistical toss up. The five open Republican seats (Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio) are 1-0-4 as to Republican (Florida)-Democrat (none)-Toss Up (Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio). I see the open seats, as of today, yielding a net Democrat loss of two seats, with five too close to call.

Of the six closely contested Democrats up for election this year, California’s Barbara Boxer and Indiana’s Evan Bayh will probably retain their seats, while Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Nevada’s Harry Reid will likely lose theirs. Colorado’s Michael Bennet’s and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter’s races are still too close to call. I don’t see any Republican seats up for re-election likely to change polarity this year. Another Democrat loss of two seats with two more too close to call.

So as of now, Republicans stand to gain four Senate seats, but with seven races within the margin of error and large numbers of undecided, I can’t imagine that all of them will retain their seats – especially Arlen Specter, whose party-changing repulsed both parties in Pennsylvania. Real Clear Politics’ Generic Congressional Vote switched over to Republicans for the first time in early November[1], and holds at favoring the GOP by 3.2%.

But then, their just approaching the first pole.

[1] RCP averages the following polls for their Generic Congressional Vote: NPR/GQR, 800 likely voters; Rasmussen Reports, 3,500 likely voters; Democracy Corps, 836 likely voters; CNN/Opinion Research, 955 registered voters; and Pew Research, 1,214 registered voters.