If nominated…

Caroline Kennedy has asked Governor Patterson to appoint her to Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat. In the interest of Democracy, I have decided to do the same. I do this to offer the people of New York a choice, but not too much of a choice…. As it happens, Caroline Kennedy and I have a lot in common.

According to Wikipedia (oh come on, what? you think I’d do real research?), she “is an attorney, writer, editor and serves on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations.” I’m not an attorney, but I think I’ve practiced as much law as Ms. Kennedy has. I’ve also sat on the boards of non-profit organizations… I’ve also helped run non-profit organizations. I write and I’ve been an editor. Once, I was Black-Dragon editor for The Brandesian.

Kennedy went to Radcliffe, which was founded as a Harvard for girls. I went to Brandeis, which was founded as a Harvard for Jews.

No, I’m not Jewish. Neither is Caroline Kennedy.

Kennedy’s dad was President of the United States of America and a hero to millions. He said famous things like, Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon.

My dad is a carpenter and computer programmer and he says things like, There’s nothing to fear but being chicken.

Her step-father was an international playboy and one of the richest men in the world.

My step-father is an international archaeologist and is the richest man in his house.

Her mother wore cute hats.

My mother is a senior partner in a major national law-firm and she looks even better in hats.

Kennedy supports legislation legalizing same-sex marriage and so do I!

Kennedy is pro-choice and so am I!

Kennedy has this thing against assault-rifles (go figure!). I don’t so much.

Kennedy is an honorary chairman of the American Ballet Theatre.

I was a theater major in college and have been to the ballet.

She also supports unity of Jerusalem and believes that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital city of Israel. I agree. Go Jerusalem!

Caroline Kennedy has never held political office and neither have I. Although… I did once run for Oregon State Representative. I didn’t win (I lost to the Republican, the Democrat and… so help me, an actual, honest-to-Stalin Communist.), but by virtue of a failed bid for state office some 15 years ago, I can honestly say that more people have voted for me than have ever voted for Caroline Kennedy.

Governor Patterson, I submit myself for your consideration. I expect to hear from you soon.

Good News & Bad News

I’ve had a lot of good news and bad news in the past couple of weeks.

America is a prosperous and healthy nation to the extent that Americans enjoy the freedom to pursue their lives and their fortunes as they see fit. Freedom, if it means anything, means the right to freely associate: the right to build relationships, partnerships, families, and fortunes as we choose.

The fact that millions of voters chose to deny their neighbors these basic rights and chose to approve and enshrine a future commitment to the systematic violation of individual liberty is deeply saddening. That’s the bad news, and it’s pretty bad.

Two weeks ago, I found out that a cousin of mine is pregnant. On Sunday, two close friends told me that they too are expecting their first baby. Today, I found out that two other close friends have set a date for their wedding. That’s the good news, and the good news is pretty great.

To be sure, this change: this hope, this love: it’s personal. This is not the stuff of pundits or politicians and it shouldn’t be. This is the stuff of life.Change, hope, and prosperity do not flow from Congress or the White House, they flow from our homes, as we build our lives, change our fortunes for the better, find love and joy, and create families. I can’t imagine anything more audacious than love. Nothing speaks more to hope than a new baby, and certainly nothing makes for more of a change.

We are fortunate to live in a country where the transfer of political power is bloodless and peaceful. We are fortunate to live in a country that constrains the powers of government and–for the most part–secures our liberty. The task ahead is to ensure that everyone’s liberty is secure. That would be change I could believe in.

[Update: I’m referring here to the voters who chose to enact laws invalidating thousands of marriages and to deny the benefits of marriage to an entire class of people because…. well, because they could. The bigotry expressed in ballot measures like California’s Proposition 8, or the similar ones in Arizona and Florida pulled support from both sides of the aisle.]

Brave New World

The election is tomorrow and it appears that Barack Obama will win. The only question that remains is how large his margin of victory will be.

While I can find little comfort in the thought of an Obama victory–and even less in the prospect of an undivided government–I don’t think that the world will come to an end on Jan. 20th if Obama is sworn in. I do, however, have several reservations about an Obama administration. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to list my three biggest fears.

1) Obama and the Courts

We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.

I understand that desire. Indeed, I empathize with it. But empathy is not the critical requirement of a judge. In fact, I think that the ability to put empathy aside is the single hardest job that a judge has. In announcing his decision to vote against the confirmation of Justice Roberts, Obama said,

The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.

I beg to differ. The principles of justice are not malleable in difficult circumstances. We most emphatically should not ask or judges to rule on the law, 95% of the time, but then, in “truly difficult” cases to ignore “precedent and the rules of construction and interpretation” and issue judgments based on their own “core concerns.”

My fear is that Obama will not face any serious resistance to his judicial nominations. Unlike the Bush nominations, in which more radical nominations faced difficult confirmation battles, there will be no such tempering of the process in an Obama administration.

2) The Economy

Obama’s proposed domestic policies are economically disastrous.

I don’t think, even with a Democratic Congress that even half of Obama’s proposals will pass. Obama will face growing deficits, a devalued dollar, the constant threat of inflation, and a slowing economy. Given those constraints, he simply won’t have enough money to do everything he wants to do.

But even half of what he wants to do is bad enough. Raising taxes in the teeth of a recession is dangerous and coupled with his animosity to free trade, potentially disastrous. He has already indicated a desire to pursue an aggressive agenda in his first 100 days in office and I fear that he sincerely wants to emulate the first 100 days of FDR’s first term. Obama has never indicated any inclination to trim the size or scope of government, but rather has proposed rafts and rafts of new policies, agencies, and proposals that will further restrain the economy and increase government spending.

My fear is that Obama’s protectionist, redistributive leanings will dominate throughout his administration and that the current economic problems will be exacerbated rather than alleviated and that we will all end up much, much less prosperous than we should otherwise be.

3) Foreign Policy

The challenges for the next President will not come from Iraq. They will come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq, we’ve essentially won. We’re losing in Afghanistan and it’s not clear that there’s a strategy to victory there. I think the best we can hope for is a kind of tense stability in Afghanistan and for that, we desperately need a strong diplomatic relationship with Pakistan. Obama’s saber rattling in that regard has not been helpful.

Iran is a growing threat and will undoubtedly work to destabilize the American presence in Afghanistan. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue to provide material aid to anti-Israeli terror groups and the next President will have to find tough diplomatic solutions to Iran’s growing belligerence and Saudi Arabia’s growing dominance in the region.

Russia has rediscovered a zeal for regional aggression and the recent joint military operations they conducted with Venezuela are a distinct threat to Columbia and South American trade. Obama has been decidedly lukewarm in his support of free-trade with Columbia, and his tepid non-response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia does not inspire confidence. The latter is especially troubling considering he favors admitting Georgia into NATO.

China is a growing economic force and the lure of their emerging market will do much to blunt American opposition to their regional aggression. Obama will feel pressure from his base to press China on human rights violations in Tibet, an issue on which China has not traditionally been very receptive to criticism. Additionally, China’s relationship to Taiwan is as strained as ever and could grow more belligerent if it senses ambivalence in U.S. foreign policy.

My fear is that Obama’s philosophical background will cripple his foreign policy. His domestic policy ambitions will likely be built with corresponding cuts in defense. Combining radical cuts (Barney Frank has asked for a 25% cut in defense spending) with Obama’s national service ambitions in an increasingly unstable world is a recipe for complete disaster. Regional conflicts in South America, the Caucasus, and East Asia are all likely. We are already heavily engaged militarily in Afghanistan and the Middle East and simply do not have the resources or the active forces to handle another conflict if it should demand our attention.

I hope that my fears are not realized. I hope that I am grossly wrong in my assessment of Obama’s ideology and ambitions. It may be audacious, but I Hope™ that, despite all the evidence of his voting record and political history, he will bring Change™ to Washington.

Obamatarian

Reason did a piece, “Who’s Getting Your Vote?” in which they asked a bunch of sort-of-celebrities who they were voting for. It’s long and predictably full of pithy humor and yuck-yuck jabs at the candidates. It’s also chock full of anger and a omnipresent desire for vengeance; far, far, too many of the respondents answered that they’d be voting for Obama because they want to punish the Republican party.

The idea is that we should punish the Republicans for abetting the Bush administration. The Bush administration’s failures in this regard (there are many, so let’s be specific) are the militaristic foreign policy, the huge increase in entitlement spending, the rise of the deficit, the funding of sectarian religious organizations, and the erosion of individual liberty. All granted.

But in what universe does voting for Obama signal to anyone that those ideas are wrong? Obama has opposed the Iraq war, but he’s been surprisingly militant about Afghanistan, Iran and Darfur. Obama promises to expand existing entitlement programs and create new ones. He’s proposing tax increases and spending increases in the middle of a recession and seems unable to find a single government program that needs to be cut. He’s promised to maintain funding for faith-based programs. He promises to undermine property rights, is opposed to free trade, and his health plan is a disaster.

Voting for Obama signals to Republican party that you want more government and less individual liberty.

In a much more thoughtful piece at Reason, “Is There Any Hope For this Man?” Richard Epstein makes the point,

Unfortunately, on the full range of economic issues, both large and small, I fear that [Obama’s] policies, earnestly advanced, are a throwback to the worst of the Depression-era, big-government policies. Libertarians in general favor flat and low taxes, free trade, and unregulated labor markets. Obama is on the wrong side of all these issues. He adopts a warmed-over vision of the New Deal corporatist state with high taxation, major trade barriers, and massive interference in labor markets. He is also unrepentant in his support of farm subsidies and a vast expansion of the government role in health care. Each of these reforms, taken separately, expands the power of government over our lives. Their cumulative impact could be devastating.


Voting for Barr would send a message to the Republican party. Voting for Obama would not. (I think it would cost us far, far too much to deliver that message.)

Todd Zywicki has a good post at Volokh,

And from what I can tell none of those libertarians or conservatives who are Obama supporters are attracted to because of his positions (other than those who care strongly about the Iraq war and foreign policy), but rather because of who he is. Obama is a compelling personality. But in reading these encomiums to him, I haven’t seen any explanation as to how Obama’s policies on tax, trade, spending, or regulatory would be friendlier to individual liberty than what is likely to be McCain’s (as weak as those will be). As someone observed somewhere recently, this is about the first time in history that you have endorsements from people who endorse Obama on the hope that he won’t do what he says he’ll do rather than because of what he says he’ll do.

Now, if you agree with Obama, then by all means, vote for him! But there is no plausible universe in which anyone can coherently argue that a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for free-markets, free trade, property rights, or fiscal discipline.

Smart & Principled

Todd Zywicki and Orin Kerr have a couple of interesting posts up at Volokh on how voters measure intelligence.

Zywicki muses about the possibility that there’s a tendency among some people to equate glibness with intelligence,

Some thoughtful people simply have a tendency to confuse intelligence with the ability to be glib, or more precisely, to bs. And I think that is much of what it comes down to–if Palin doesn’t know the answer to a question, she just isn’t that good at making something up. Biden, by contrast, is a master bs’er, as his debate performance exhibited. As a general rule, the less informed he was about the answer to a question, the more assertive he was in answering it, such as his extraordinary answer about the legislative role of the Vice-President. It is clear that he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, yet he just plowed ahead throwing out assertions with rhetorical flair. Classic bs. Even on issues that were supposedly in his area of expertise, such as the Constitution, he wasn’t even in the ballpark of being correct. Hoven picks up on Biden’s whopper of answer about kicking Hezbollah out of Lebanon, but it is pretty much the same thing–aggressive bs covering a complete lack of any clue what he is talking about.

He makes a good point. It’s more important that an ignorant executive be cautious than decisive. On that score, Palin is the only candidate in either ticket that seems even mildly conscious of her own ignorance. When foundering in ignorance, Obama reverts to platitudes, Biden makes stuff up, McCain suspends his campaign, and Palin asks for clarification.

Kerr points out that it’s really not so much about how intelleigent the candidate really is, it’s about how much the candidate agrees with us.

…. we often end up filtering these questions through the lens of how much they agree with us. Politicians who agree with us are necessarily intelligent. After all, they have the raw candle power and the judgment to see that we are correct! And politicians who don’t agree with us are presumed to be much less intelligent: They either lack the candle power or judgment to “get it.” These sorts of intuitive judgments mix together with some of the more objective evidence (academic pedigrees, great writing or speaking skills) to form our judgments of a candidate’s intelligence.

But really, isn’t the intelligence debate a little silly? No matter how intelligent a person is, it would be impossible to master every subject and every issue that a President would face in his term of office. The range of knoweldge is simply too diverse. That’s why a President has advisors, experts in specific fields who offer advice and counsel.

Identifying those experts and weighing their counsel is the primary job of a President. And those decisions are the primary product of the President’s principles. Those principles are much more important to the health of the nation than the President’s college grades, SAT scores, or oratorical skills.

The question in this election, as in every other, is whose principles (to the extent they are identifiable or consistent) are better?

Where McCain has identifieable or consistent principles they seem to be a mish-mash of fuzzy and indistinct notions like Western American independence, anti-intellectual populism, and the virtue of stubborness–with a smattering (but just) of limited government federalist republicanism.

Obama’s principles, where they’re identifiable, are more coherent. Obama appears to be a fairly straightforward progressive. He’s adamantly redistributionist, authoritarian, statist and anti-republican.

For me, the true test of principles are the extent to which they actually make life better, as opposed to the extent to which they claim to make life better. The extent to which principles are grounded in reality is the extent to which they are good principles. The extent to which principles hie to abstractions and float freely detached from reality is the extent to which they’re not only wrong, but actively counter-productive.

In McCain’s case, because his principles are sort of haphazardly assembled and largely incoherent, the chance that he’d actually apply good, effective principles as President is essentially random. In Obama’s case, that chance is even smaller. While Obama’s principles are coherent and largely consistent, they’re also almost entirely wrong.

So that’s our choice. It’s not a choice between Goofus and Gallant, or between Change and Different Change, or between smart and dumb. Our choice is between random and wrong.

New WPA?

Inanity from Wired:

Note to Next President: Modern-Day WPA Will Save the Economy

Beyond providing jobs — analysts say every $1 billion spent on transportation projects creates 35,000 jobs — a modern-day WPA would produce lasting benefits….

A country that’s gridlocked, crumbling, and collapsing isn’t going to serve us well. Spend the money now, enjoy the benefits later.

Mindless repeating falsehoods won’t make them true.

But in 1935 the Works Progress Administration came along. It is known today as the very government program that gave rise to the new term, “boondoggle,” because it “produced” a lot more than the 77,000 bridges and 116,000 buildings to which its advocates loved to point as evidence of its efficacy. The stupefying roster of wasteful spending generated by these jobs programs represented a diversion of valuable resources to politically motivated and economically counterproductive purposes. (Larry reed, FEE)

But hey, the political logrolling would be something to watch.

Borrow your way out of debt. Tax your way out of unemployment.

Hope and Change. Hope and Change.

Obama and the Court

After watching the debate last night, one of my first comments was that Obama’s answer to the question about judicial nominations was quite frightening.

Obama said,

If a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s the kind of judge that I want.

Orin Kerr at Volokh cites a recent Rasmussen poll on this issue:

Should the Supreme Court make decisions based on what’s written in the Constitution and legal precedents or should it be guided mostly by a sense of fairness and justice?

While 82% of voters who support McCain believe the justices should rule on what is in the Constitution, just 29% of Barack Obama’s supporters agree. Just 11% of McCain supporters say judges should rule based on the judge’s sense of fairness, while nearly half (49%) of Obama supporters agree.

On this issue, it looks like the candidate and his supporters are very much on the same page.

The problem is that the court’s responsibility is not to make law, but to interpret law. In the specific case that Obama cited, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the statute in question clearly indicated, “A charge under this section shall be filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” The Court held that because Ledbetter’s suit was brought after the 180 period had elapsed that she could not sue under that statute.

Obama would prefer that the Court ignore the law in question and instead issue a judgment based on some necessarily obscure sense of social fairness. But that way lies disaster.

Perhaps the most important application of the rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps that are referred to as due process. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy. (Wikipedia)

If we wish to seek a remedy for issues of social fairness, then we must look to the legislature. The legislature writes law. When we seek a remedy under the law, we look to the courts to apply the law as it is written, not as we might hope it may have been written.

The remedy for Lily Ledbetter lies with Congress to amend the law in question and extend the window of grievance. That Congress failed to amend that law may be failure, but the Court’s application of the law that Congress wrote is not.

If there is any principle of sound governance that I would hope we can all agree on it is the idea that the law should strive, at all times, to be clear, unambiguous, and applied without prejudice.