Ben Wattenberg, RIP

Ben copySad news today of the passing of Ben Wattenberg at the age of 81. Wattenberg, who had been an aide to Lyndon Johnson, was one of the “liberals mugged by reality” who created “neoconservatism.” I first read Wattenberg’s late 1960s book (co-authored with Richard Scammon) The Real Majority when I was an undergraduate. The Real Majority wasn’t exactly the inspiration for Nixon’s “silent majority” of putatively conservative voters. Rather, Wattenberg recognized early on the disaster coming to Democrats for indulging the New Left and its various progeny in the 1960s—a point he deepened in the second book of his I read, In Search of the Real America which came out around 1976 if I recall correctly. (I recall in particular that he was hard on the senator from Minnesota, Walter Mondale, for embracing certain anti-American themes popular on the left). Wattenberg anticipated the waves of voters who were soon to become “Reagan Democrats.”

Wattenberg interviewed me a couple of times for his PBS show “Think Tank” (where I also first met his fresh-faced young producer named Jonah Goldberg), and in turn I interviewed Wattenberg for my first Age of Reagan books. Among other things, Wattenberg had been among a handful of Democrats who visited Jimmy Carter in January of 1980, hoping they might still be able to remain loyal Democrats despite Carter’s cluelessness, only to have Carter dash their hopes in the meeting. Wattenberg remembered it well, and contributed key details to my account of it:

“Carter’s more vigorous response to the invasion of Afghanistan had raised the hopes,” Jeane Kirkpatrick recalled, “that he had a new realism in his assessment of the Soviet Union.” Senator Moynihan wrote that Carter’s new toughness “at the very least means bringing into his administration people who share the views he now propounds. . . New policies must to some extent mean new people.” Jeane Kirkpatrick and much of the same group of like-minded conservative Democrats who had met with Carter in 1977 were invited back to the White House on January 31, 1980, at the behest of Vice President Mondale. (In addition to Kirkpatrick, the group included Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Ben Wattenberg, Elliott Abrams, Max Kampelman, retired admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Austin Ranney, and Penn Kemble.) Perhaps, it was hoped, Carter would now include some of this group in his administration, having spurned them before. Austin Ranney, speaking for the group, told Carter that they were encouraged by the change in Carter’s view of the Soviet Union, and hoped he would now appoint officials who were in harmony with a tougher policy.

Carter cut off Ranney: “Your analysis is not true. There has been no change in my policy. I have always held a consistent view of the Soviet Union. For the record, I did not say that I have learned more about the Soviet Union since the invasion of Afghanistan, as is alleged in the press. My policy is my policy. It has not changed, and will not change.” AdmiralZumwalt told Carter that existing U.S. navy forces were incapable of defending the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean oil routes. Carter responded with what was described as “a stare that in a less democratic society would’ve meant he was destined for a firing squad.” Maybe, Carter went on to suggest when the topic moved on to human rights, this group could help with human rights in Uruguay. The meeting was the last straw for these “neoconservative” Democrats, despite Vice President Mondale’s efforts to repair the damage. Mondale knew the meeting had been a disaster, and asked the group to stay after Carter left. It was to no avail. Carter, Jeane Kirkpatrick told Morton Kondracke after the meeting, “threw cold water on whatever hopes we had that Iran and Afghanistan would have a broad effect on the president’s foreign policy orientation.”

When I interviewed Ben in 2000, he was excited about Joe Lieberman being the first Jew to be on a presidential ticket, and he thought he might even cast his vote for Gore-Lieberman for that reason alone.

It was a great delight to become Ben’s colleague at AEI a little later on, where I finally got to the bottom of a question I had pondered from afar—whether his eyeglasses were permanently attached to his forehead, which was his trademark look. (They weren’t.) We enjoyed reinforcing each other’s anti-Malthusianism—much of which, I hasten to add, I learned from him in the first place. He was a great demographer, and an optimist. Another of my favorite titles of his was The Good News Is The Bad News Is Wrong.

Karlyn Bowman recalls today:

In 1975 he wrote an article for The New Republic, calling worries about a population explosion nonsense. He argued that the problem facing many societies going forward would be a birth dearth. At the time, the New Republic received more letters than the magazine had ever received about a single article, and most of them were hostile. But Wattenberg’s analysis was correct, and declining fertility is one of the most important demographic stories of our time.

They don’t make ‘em like Ben any more. And I never thought to ask him whether he indeed cast his vote in 2000 for Gore-Lieberman.

Jury Rejects Conservative Law Professor’s Discrimination Claim

We have written several times–here, here and here–about the case of Teresa Wagner (now Teresa Manning), an “out” conservative law professor who sued the University of Iowa law school for discrimination based on her political beliefs. The facts of the case seemed powerful:

The underlying facts of the case are outrageous. They are what made the case important and newsworthy. Professor Wagner sought a full-time legal writing position at the University of Iowa College of Law after working there on a part-time basis. She was well known as a stalwart social conservative among the school’s faculty, which at the time numbered 49 Democrats and one Republican. The law school is overwhelmingly liberal. When she didn’t get the job and an inferior candidate did, she brought her lawsuit in federal court under section 1983, the statute that allows civil rights claims against state actors to be litigated in federal court.

An initial trial resulted in a hung jury. Ms. Wagner appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; Scott attended the oral argument and reported on it in this post. The appeals court decided the case in Ms. Wagner’s favor, on procedural issues, and remanded it for a new trial. That trial concluded today. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the law school:

The former dean of the University of Iowa law school didn’t commit illegal political discrimination when she passed over a conservative lawyer for teaching jobs, a jury ruled Monday.

After a six-day trial, a federal jury in Davenport rejected Teresa Manning’s assertion that then-Dean Carolyn Jones rejected her for the faculty because of Manning’s political beliefs and associations.

The verdict is a victory for the university in a long-running case that has been closely watched in higher education and by social conservatives. It came after about 90 minutes of deliberations in the second trial in the case, after the first in 2012 ended in an unusual mistrial.

So the jury didn’t buy Wagner/Manning’s case at all. Ninety minutes isn’t much longer than it often takes to elect a foreperson. The jury rejected what seems like provocative evidence in Manning’s favor:

Jones went along with those recommendations even though an associate dean had warned her in an email that he worried professors were blocking Manning “because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it).”

But unless you actually attend a trial and see all the evidence, it is hard to draw conclusions.

There are, perhaps, a couple of silver linings. Prof. Manning has a book contract with Encounter Books, and the publicity that accompanied the case may have prompted the University of Iowa to hire a Republican or two:

At the time, the 50-member faculty included 46 registered Democrats. Since then, the faculty has become at least slightly more politically diverse.

We should be grateful, I suppose, for small blessings.

Puerto Rico Goes Broke

Most eyes have been on Greece, where events are coming to a climax. Meanwhile, a less-noticed financial collapse has overtaken Puerto Rico. That commonwealth has racked up debts of $72 billion, which seems astonishing for an island with a population of 3.6 million, not much more than Iowa. Puerto Rico’s governor now says that “the debt is not payable.” That seems to be true of a lot of sovereign debt these days. Consequently, he is trying to put together a “broad restructuring” in which bondholders would take a substantial loss.

Puerto Rico’s debt works out to around $20,000 for every man, woman and child on the island. The governor says he is trying to avoid a death spiral:

[H]e saw that the island was caught in a vicious circle where it borrowed to balance the budget, raised the debt and had an even bigger budget deficit the next year.

The New York Times reports that many Puerto Ricans, seeing the handwriting on the wall, have walked away from the problem by “leaving for the mainland in droves.” “The mainland” would be here.

If $20,000 in debt for every inhabitant of Puerto Rico sounds ridiculously irresponsible, don’t feel superior: currently, every citizen of the United States is more than $50,000 in debt. That’s over $200,000 for your family of four. The United States is not in a death spiral; I hope that is not only because our government, unlike Puerto Rico, can print dollars. While the future can be foreseen only with hindsight, it seems reasonable to fear that sovereign debt that can’t be paid will be the world’s next financial debacle.

The Decadence of the Liberal Mind in One Sentence

As the Greek economy continues its predictable slow motion collapse, one of the early WSJ accounts of the inevitable bank closures and capital controls imposed yesterday has one of the funniest sentences I’ve read in a long time, but which is also fully revealing of the decadence of the liberal mind:

“How can something like this happen without prior warning?” asked Angeliki Psarianou, a 67-year-old retired public servant, who stood in the drizzle after arriving too late at one empty ATM in the Greek capital.

No warning? Check.  Retired public servant?  Check.  But, but . . . how can we run out of other people’s money? We still have pension checks left. Hello, Detroit? I think we’ve found your next mayor.

For more on how “no one could see this coming,” See Steve Hanke, “Greece: The Financial Zombie State.”

Our false messiah

President Obama recently denied that he ever promised, if elected, to heal our partisan divides. Referring to our so-called political gridlock, thus spake Obama at a fundraising event at the home of Tyler Perry: “When I ran in 2008, I in fact did not say I would fix it. I said we could fix it. I didn’t say, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.’” As David Rutz demonstrates in the handy video compilation below, however, Obama’s denial was — how to put it? — contrary to fact.

Why would Obama make such a demonstrably false representation? It seems to be a matter of habit, but it is more than that. As always, he seeks to exploit the ignorance and will to believe of his supporters. The man has done much “fundamentally transformating” the United States, as he promised a few days before his election in 2008. Even so, however, Obama’s coming was not the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” or we began to bridge our deep political differences. Whatever his accomplishments by his own lights, he has proved a pathetically false messiah.

Via David Rutz/Washington Free Beacon.

Could Gay Marriage Lead to . . . Tax Reform?

Morningafterwise, we didn’t have to wait long for conjectures like this from Time:

Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions

. . .  Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.

Or the New York Times a few days before the Obergefell ruling came down:

Schools Fear Gay Marriage Ruling Could End Tax Exemptions

Conservative religious schools all over the country forbid same-sex relationships, from dating to couples’ living in married-student housing, and they fear they will soon be forced to make a wrenching choice. If the Supreme Court this month finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the schools say they will have to abandon their policies that prohibit gay relationships or eventually risk losing their tax-exempt status.

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to ban gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a “fundamental national public policy” under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships.

I’ve got a simple remedy for this: let’s abolish the corporate income tax. Problem solved.

Aside from the genuine problem of the government deciding what it and isn’t a bona fide religion (such as Scientology), and the problem of trying to untangle the labyrinth of civil rights law as it may now apply to gay married couples (the little old Baptist lady who won’t rent her extra unit to an unmarried straight couple has generally received a pass in housing discrimination laws, but now?), the corporate income tax is a corrupt mess of special deals and complexities that nearly all economists agree retards economic growth.  As is well known, the U.S. now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world, but many major corporations pay very little because of how it can be manipulated. Let’s get rid of it and replace it with some kind of consumption tax.

It might not just be the corporate income tax that suddenly has a new constituency for reform.  I’m looking forward to next April 15, when so many new gay married couples file their first 1040s together, and say—“Hey wait a minute! What’s with this marriage penalty business!” 

My old mentor M. Stanton Evans liked to joke about that favorite 1960s-era cliché: “Any country that can land a man on the moon can abolish the income tax.” So here’s my corollary for today:

“Any country that can legalize gay marriage can reform the tax code.”

More seriously, there remains the problem of accreditation for religious colleges that refuse to submit tamely to the new order.  Look for the Dept. of Education to start churning out Title IX-style “Dear Colleague” letters offering the “informal guidance” that they better start flying the rainbow pride flag, or else.

Presumed guilty: Duke revisited

Last week FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff posted the video below on InstaPundit with a link to this post introducing it. The video is also posted on YouTube with this introduction:

In 2006, the nation was rocked by allegations that three Duke lacrosse players had raped a woman named Crystal Mangum at an off-campus party. As Mangum’s story began to unravel, the focus of the case shifted from the supposed criminal behavior of the students to the fact that a large number of Duke faculty members wasted no time in presuming that the students were guilty of something, as well as Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong’s now-infamous disregard of basic due process and the presumption of innocence.

Yet today, colleges, at the prompting of the federal Departments of Education and Justice, are determined to show the very same disregard for due process that led to an unjust disaster in the Duke lacrosse case. In this video, Professor KC Johnson, who literally wrote the book (along with Stuart Taylor) about the Duke case, explains what happened in 2006 and how the government and colleges are failing to learn the lessons of the past.

Here is the video.

Lukianoff recommends FIRE’s Guide To Due Process and Campus Justice. The ever more timely book by Taylor and Johnson is Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.