Reformicons: Civil War on the Right?

There’s the old story about the Michigan state senator who said one day on the floor of the legislature, “Some of my friends are for this bill, and some of my friends are against this bill, and I’m going to stick with my friends!”

That’s how I feel about the back-and-forth playing out in the latest Claremont Review of Books over the subject of “Reform Conservatives,” aka, “Reformicons.” The estimable William Voegeli takes dead aim at what he regards as dangerous concessions to liberal premises in a long piece in the latest Claremont Review of Books. Here’s one of his key objections:

What will be harder to overcome is some conservatives’ fears that the reform conservative project entails conceding more than the inescapable need for expertise in formulating and implementing public policies. If it concedes, instead, the legitimacy of the New Deal and Great Society to-do lists for government, and confines its critique of liberalism to the use of bad means for achieving good ends, many conservatives are going to go AWOL rather than fight for those circumscribed goals. Such defections would make it difficult for reform conservatism to be the path, or even a path, to making conservatism more electorally competitive. The core conservative argument to voters would become that our five-point proposals for dealing with this or that social need and concern are bounded, decentralized, and nimble, while liberals’ eight-point proposals are bloated, intrusive, and ineffective. Even if completely true, that declaration doesn’t rank with, “Give me liberty or give me death!” and “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” when it comes to stirring conservatives’ blood.

Pete Wehner and Ramesh Ponnuru, leaders of the Conservative Reform Network effort that produced the first Reformicon book last year, Room to Grow, come to the defense. First Pete:

If Voegeli believes that the New Deal and the Great Society are inherently illegitimate and conservatives ought to wage a full-scale, fundamental assault on them—that conservatives should proudly promise to uproot every last vestige of them—then he will destroy conservatism as a viable political movement. The eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson summarized this political reality when he said, “Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics.” There is plenty of evidence that Americans are unhappy with the performance of modern government; there is little evidence to suggest that they are unhappy with the aims of modern government. It is not as though the New Deal was snuck through by a crafty Franklin Roosevelt and has been resented by the American people ever since. Whether conservatives like it or not, the pillars of the New Deal and most of the Great Society have been strongly and consistently reaffirmed in election after election, both congressional and presidential. Since the New Deal, in fact, no national politician has been elected promising to undo it, including the conservative icon Ronald Reagan.

Ramesh offers a similar defense:

To my mind, “reform conservatism” largely consists of undertaking a practical task. Conservatism has generally excelled at propounding a philosophy of government, with great stress on government’s limits. It has not, especially in recent years, been as good at outlining an agenda that would be attractive to the public. Conservative politicians have not, by and large, presented an agenda that offered tangible advantages to many people or explained how it did so.

This is not a defect inherent to conservatism. Conservatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s made the case that the conservative agenda would make American life better for most people: reducing crime, providing tax relief, ending gas lines. This was not the whole of the conservative case. But it was a politically indispensable part of it.

It remains indispensable today. So it seems to me that conservatives should identify public concerns, think through how we can address those concerns by applying conservative insights, and then argue for the resulting agenda. We should shrink government—especially in the places, and the ways, where it would do the most good. . .

Most conservatives, Voegeli writes, are interested in “leashing rather than reforming government.” I am not sure this distinction holds up. Take health care, where the most alarming recent expansion of government has taken place. There is no significant force in American politics seeking an end to all federal involvement in health care. There is no caucus in the House that wants to end Medicare, Medicaid, the tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance, and the requirement that hospitals provide emergency care to all comers, and replace them with nothing. All existing conservative proposals can therefore be described as reforms of existing federal health policy.

There’s lots more at the links above, and I do encourage interested readers to take in the whole exchange.

Two comments. Well, really a “full disclosure” and a comment. First, I’m participating in the Reformicon sequel project with a paper on energy and environmental policy. But second, the defenses Pete and Ramesh offer here, while making sound practical political points, leave undisturbed a broader problem of modern liberalism, which is the ratchet effect: once liberalism puts in place a program or new frontier of government action, conservatives who “reform” such programs are tacitly ratifying big government. Are we really going to “fix” Obamacare so that it actually works “better”?

There may not be a good answer or solution to this. And that’s why I’m going to stick with my friends!

Clinton cash; Clinton lies

There’s an interesting, though hardly surprising, footnote to the Clinton/Russia/uranium story. If reports are true, the Clintons and their backers have already been caught in at least two lies about the matter.

The first lie pertains to the deal Bill Clinton brokered on behalf of Clinton Foundation backer Frank Giustra, in which Giustra obtained major uranium concessions from Kazakhstan. When he helped obtain these concessions for Giustra, Clinton spoke favorably about alleged progress in democracy and human rights being made in Kazakhstan. Quite likely, Clinton’s comments helped induce Kazakhstan to make the concessions.

Hoping to negate this suggestion, the Giustra-Clinton camp reportedly has claimed that the government of Kazakhstan was not involved in the deal that granted the uranium concessions. But Peter Schweizer presented Bret Baier with documents that show Kazakhstan was, in fact, a party to the deal.

The second lie came from Bill Clinton himself (this is shocking, I know). After the deal between Kazakhstan and Giustra was completed, the Kazakhs reportedly wanted a stake in U.S. energy giant Westinghouse.

This required U.S. government approval. According to Jo Becker of the New York Times, Giustra arranged for key Kazakh players to meet with Bill Clinton at the former president’s home in New York state for purposes of enlisting Clinton’s assistance in obtaining this approval.

The Times’ Becker told Fox News that both Bill Clinton (through the Clinton Foundation) and Giustra denied this meeting took place. But after Becker presented pictures from the meeting — prized possessions, apparently, of the Kazakhs who had the honor of seeing Bill — Clinton admitted that there was, in fact, such a meeting.

As ever, the Clintons seem prepared to lie (and to destroy documents) for the purpose of explaining away their ethical problems. As ever, we shouldn’t believe anything they say.

NOTE: I have modified this post slightly to reflect that Clinton’s denial that he met with Kazakh representatives in New York came via the Clinton Foundation, not directly from Clinton.

Loretta Lynch Confirmed With Ten Republican Votes

The Senate voted 56-43 this afternoon to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. Ten Republicans voted for confirmation: Kelly Ayotte, Ron Johnson, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell.

No doubt other Republicans put out statements explaining their opposition to Lynch, but I got these from Jeff Sessions and Marco Rubio, and thought they were both worth passing on. Senator Sessions’ statement:

Under our Constitution, Congress was given certain powers as a coequal branch of government not only to protect the Congress as an institution, but to restrain the other branches from overreaching. One of those powers is the Senate’s power to confirm or not confirm nominees to high office.

This check on executive powers can be used as Congress sees fit but should not be abused, just as the President should not use his nominees to advance an improper or unlawful agenda.

The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country. It is not a political position. Anyone who occupies that office must serve the American people and serve under the laws and Constitution of the United States.

The Senate must never confirm an individual to such an office as this who will support and advance a scheme that violates our Constitution and eviscerates established law and Congressional authority. No person who would do that should be confirmed. And we don’t need to be apologetic about it, colleagues.

Ms. Lynch has announced that she supports and, if confirmed, would advance, the President’s unlawful executive amnesty scheme—a scheme that would provide work permits, trillions in Social Security and Medicare benefits, tax credits of up to $35,000 a year (according to the Congressional Research Service), and even the possibility of chain migration and citizenship to those who have entered the country illegally or overstayed their lawful period of admission. The President has done this even though Congress has repeatedly rejected legislation that would implement such a scheme.

President Obama’s unlawful and unconstitutional executive action nullifies current immigration law—the Immigration and Nationality Act—and replaces them with the very measures Congress refused to adopt. Even King George the Third lacked the power to legislate without Parliament.

During her confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee, I asked Ms. Lynch plainly whether she supported the President’s unilateral decision to make his own immigration laws. Here is the relevant portion of the hearing transcript:

Sessions: I have to have a clear answer to this question—Ms. Lynch, do you believe the executive action announced by President Obama on November 20th is legal and Constitutional? Yes or no?

Lynch: As I’ve read the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, I do believe it is, Senator.

Of course, the lawful duty of the Attorney General is to enforce the law that exists, not one she or the President might wish existed.

One of the most stunning elements of the President’s scheme is the grant of work permits to up to 5 million illegal immigrants—taking jobs directly from citizens and legal immigrants.

Peter Kirsanow, Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights has written at length about how this undermines the rights of U.S. workers, especially African-American workers, and other minorities, suffering from high unemployment. At her confirmation hearing, I asked Ms. Lynch about what she might do to protect the rights of legal U.S. workers. Here is the exchange in question:

Sessions: Who has more right to a job in this country? A lawful immigrant who’s here or a citizen—or a person who entered the country unlawfully?

Lynch: I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone is here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they would be participating in the workplace than not participating in the workplace.

This is a breathtaking statement. It is unprecedented for someone who is seeking the highest law enforcement office in America to declare that someone in the country illegally has a “right” to take a job.

This nation is—as George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley has put it—at “a constitutional tipping point.” Professor Turley, who is a nationally recognized constitutional scholar and self-described supporter of President Obama and his policies, testified before the House of Representatives in February 2014, 9 months before the President announced his unprecedented executive action:

The current passivity of Congress represents a crisis of faith for members willing to see a president assume legislative powers in exchange for insular policy gains. The short-term, insular victories achieved by this President will come at a prohibitive cost if the current imbalance is not corrected. Constitutional authority is easy to lose in the transient shifts of politics. It is far more difficult to regain. If a passion for the Constitution does not motivate members, perhaps a sense of self-preservation will be enough to unify members. President Obama will not be our last president. However, these acquired powers will be passed to his successors. When that occurs, members may loathe the day that they remained silent as the power of government shifted so radically to the Chief Executive. The powerful personality that engendered this loyalty will be gone, but the powers will remain. We are now at the constitutional tipping point for our system. If balance is to be reestablished, it must begin before this President leaves office and that will likely require every possible means to reassert legislative authority.

One of those means is the advice and consent power. It was created for just such a time as this. It is not only appropriate, but necessary, that the Senate refuse to confirm a President’s nominees when that President has overreached and assumed the legislative powers of Congress. It is particularly necessary when the President’s nominee is being appointed specifically for the improper purpose of advancing the President’s unconstitutional overreach—all through the powers of the office to which they have been nominated.

Congress must not confirm anyone to lead the United States Department of Justice who will advance the President’s unconstitutional actions. Congress has a limited number of powers to defend the Rule of Law and itself as an institution and to stop the Executive Branch from overreaching. It is unthinkable that we would ignore one of those powers in the face of such a direct threat to our constitutional order—and it is part of an escalating pattern of overreach. Every day that we allow the President to erode the powers of Congress, we are allowing the President to erode the sacred Constitutional rights of the citizens we serve. We have a duty to this institution, to the Constitution, and to the American people not to confirm someone who is not committed to those principles but rather who will continue in violation of them. For those reasons, I will oppose this nomination and I urge my colleagues, regardless of party, to do the same.

Senator Rubio’s statement:

When we assess the suitability of a nominee to be attorney general, it is not enough to question whether that nominee is a good lawyer or an honorable person. We must also consider what type of attorney general that nominee is likely to be and whether he or she is willing to say “no” to the president if no is the answer the law and the Constitution fairly give.

I opposed Loretta Lynch’s nomination because of her failure to identify any limit on the president’s ability to ignore the laws passed by Congress as well as her obvious enthusiasm for civil asset forfeiture, which can deprive innocent people of their property rights without due process. The president has every right to appoint nominees who support his policies, but I could not support Ms. Lynch because of every indication she has given that she will put her support of the president’s policies ahead of her support of the Constitution of the United States.

Many hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee offered countless opportunities for her to show independence from the president, yet she declined to do so time and again. Pushed on the president’s unprecedented claim that through prosecutorial discretion he can unilaterally change substantive immigration law, she declared this position “reasonable.” Asked whether a conservative president could unilaterally lower taxes by simply not collecting them above a certain rate, she demurred. In fact, she seemed to indicate that she couldn’t imagine a limit to such claims to power.

I regret that Ms. Lynch failed to demonstrate that, if confirmed, she would be willing to tell the president that there are some things that he simply does not have the constitutional power to do. Because she failed to demonstrate that she would be willing to draw a line where appropriate, I voted against her confirmation.

Report: Clintons enabled Russians to gain large share of America’s uranium

If true, the New York Times report that Steve cited last night in his post “Clinton Cash — the Russia Connection” is perhaps the most explosive Clinton Foundation scandal yet. As amplified by Bret Baier of Fox News, the allegations are as follows:

In 2005, Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra visited Kazakhstan. Giustra, as we have noted is a massive donor to the Clinton Foundation and a beneficiary of Hillary Clinton’s decisiomaking as Secretary of State.

Giustra’s goal was to buy uranium mines in Kazakhstan. Pursuing this objective, he and Clinton met with leaders of the Kazakhstan government.

It proved to be a win-win for all concerned. Giustra got major mining concessions, which were approved by the Kazakhstan government. Kazakhstan got Bill Clinton publicly to praise its alleged progress in democracy and human rights. Clinton received a $31 million donation to his Foundation from Giustra, along with a pledge to donate $100 million more.

The deal with Kazakhstan made Giustra’s company, Uranium One, a major player. It proceeded to buy large amounts of holdings in the United States.

Uranium One thus became an attractive target for Russia. In fact, Russia made a hugely attractive offer to purchase the company.

Such a deal requires approval by the U.S. government, including by the Secretary of State, who then was Hillary Clinton. During the period when the deal with Russia was under consideration, the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from key Uranium One shareholders. These contributions were not disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Hillary had reached with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.

During this period, Bill Clinton also received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank that was promoting Uranium One stock.

Hillary Clinton duly approved the deal. It made the Russian company Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.

The deal left huge amounts of U.S. uranium under the control of Russia. The New York Times estimates this share at 20 percent. But Peter Schweizer told Fox News that it amounts to up to 50 percent of projected U.S. uranium output.

The Russians are free to use the uranium for any purpose. They could sell it to Iran.

According to the New York Times, at the time the deal was made, both Rosatom and the U.S. government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. But, says the Times, records show that these promises have been repeatedly broken.

Quite apart from concerns about what Russia will do with American uranium, there is also the fact that America is short on uranium. The Times quotes energy author Marin Katusa who says that while we get one-fifth of our electrical power from nuclear plants, we produce only around 20 percent of the uranium we need, and most plants have only 18 to 36 months of reserves.

Katusa concludes that “the Russians are easily winning the uranium war.” Adding the obvious, he notes that this “is not just a domestic issue but a foreign policy issue, too.”

The Russians aren’t the only winners. Frank Giustra won big. So did the Clintons who raised tens of millions, if not more, in this saga. Even Kazakhstan came away with something, though whether it contemplated Russia controlling its uranium is another matter.

Only America is the loser.

If Liberals Understand Trade Policy, Why Can’t They Understand Immigration Policy?

There is a fundamental contradiction between the Obama administration’s trade policy and its immigration policy, a fact that is too seldom noted. A reader sums up the point well:

Last night Obama was on Hardball and countered the left-Dem attacks on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. This issue has the potential to really drive a huge wedge into the Dem-left coalition.

But what struck me was the perhaps subtle link with, and contradiction of, the Obama position on immigration with the rationale for the Trans Pacific Partnership.

[T]he TPP, [Obama] said, … will allow the United States to do what it does best — which is not compete for low-wage manufacturing jobs of the sort that Warren, Reid, and the president’s critics believe will be outsourced. “That ship has said,” Obama explained. “We can only compete for the high-end, where we’re adding value. It’s IT, it’s talent, it’s innovation — that’s the kind of stuff we can sell around the world.”

This is exactly right as a matter of economic strategy. But the rationale for an immigration policy of more or less unlimited legal immigration contradicts this argument. The immigration rationale is the familiar “jobs Americans won’t do” claim, and the bogus assertion of huge economic benefits, principally just aggregate GDP growth along with actual deterioration of per capita GDP and virtually no benefit to existing Americans on net, along with all the adverse impacts of huge population growth like overcrowding and environmental degradation.

The “jobs Americans won’t do,” though, are in precisely the low value-added sectors of the economy. That’s why Americans don’t want to do them. But rather than have America move up the value chain, the immigration celebrationists want to import not the “cheap foreign” products, but the cheap foreign workers instead!….by the scores of millions…to do the “jobs Americans won’t do” and preserve the low value-added sectors.

Effectively, it’s a form of import substitution that is the objective of protectionism in trade of goods and services because the alternative to domestic low value-added industries in the U.S. is…imports. The special pleaders wanting cheap foreign labor prefer that we import millions of Mexicans to pick their tomatoes and cucumbers rather than import the crops. It is economic insanity when carried out on as a large a scale as they want, quite aside from the grotesque giantism that their immigration plans entail.

We should note this contradiction between trade policy and immigration policy wherever possible. All claims that immigration provides the benefits of economic growth should be met with the simple point that “this isn’t the economic growth we’re looking for.” We want the existing American population to enjoy increasing per capita GDP growth —- from the highest value-added sectors possible. We want to be Switzerland, not India or China.

Civics lessons from MSNBC

If gross hypocrisy were a crime, MNSBC anchors would be doing time. National Review’s Jilian Kay Melchior has led the way exposing how MSNBC luminaries including Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry, Touré Neblett and Joy-Ann Reid have had plenty to say about taxes and “how we’re all in it together,” in spite of their own histories of owing the IRS thousands of dollars. The Free Beacon’s David Rutz explains:

MSNBC, the liberal network that advocates at every turn for a progressive revenue system, is home to four tax delinquents who have all lectured their audience about tax fairness over the years.

Rev. Al Sharpton, PoliticsNation host and civil rights activist, has more than $4.5 million in state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses, according to the New York Times. The IRS filed a $70,000 tax lien against MSNBC weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry and her husband earlier this month.

The Cycle co-host Touré and former The Reid Report host Joy Reid, still a contributor, are also in debt to the government. National Review reviewed public records and reported Touré owes more than $59,000, while Reid owes nearly $5,000. Representatives said their debts are in the process of being resolved.

Rutz has much more, with relevant links, here.

Making a lemonade out of these lemons, the Free Beacon’s David Rutz has been compiled the inspirational video below.

Via Glenn Reynolds/InstaPundit.

Another Establishment Voice Slams Obama

Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins University is a certified member of the foreign policy establishment, and therefore no partisan conservative. He writes lucidly in the latest issue of The American Interest about the fundamental differences between arms control with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and with Iran today. Today’s arms talks with Iran are more significant than our talks with the Soviets, which is why Mandelbaum is dismayed with the weakness of Obama’s arms diplomacy:

For all the contemporaneous attention they commanded, the arms control talks and agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union had less significance than do the current negotiations with Iran. . . If the Islamic Republic becomes a nuclear weapons state, other Middle Eastern countries will likely get nuclear weapons of their own. If that occurs, the conditions that forestalled nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union will be absent. . .

During the Cold War American arms control policy was linked to Soviet foreign policy. When that policy waxed aggressive, it became politically impossible to gain the necessary political support in the United States for an arms control accord. . . The Obama approach to the Iranian nuclear program has had, if anything, the opposite effect. As the negotiations have proceeded the Iranian regime has expanded rather than pulled back from the initiatives that threaten the security of countries aligned with the United States.

The article cannot conceal that Mandelbaum thinks Obama is naïve in his Iran strategy. He not only thinks we shouldn’t take military options off the table, but that an effective campaign against Iran could be done at relatively low risk to ourselves.

In the current negotiations, by contrast, the United States is far stronger than Iran, yet it is the United States that has made major concessions. After beginning the negotiations by insisting that the Tehran regime relinquish all its nuclear facilities and cease all its nuclear activities relevant to making a bomb, the Obama administration has ended by permitting Iran to keep virtually all of those facilities and continue some of those activities. How did this happen?

Part of the explanation may lie in Barack Obama’s personal faith in the transformative power of exposure to the global economy and his fervent desire for an agreement to serve as a capstone to his presidency. Surely the main reason, however, is that, while there is a vast disparity in power between the two parties, the United States is not willing to use the ultimate form of power and the Iranian leaders know this.

The only certain way to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons is to destroy its facilities for doing so. President Obama has occasionally hinted that he is prepared to do this—“all options are on the table,” he has said—but over time this threat, such as it is, has lost credibility.

But most significant is his concluding paragraph:

[F]inally, if the Obama administration is in fact resolutely opposed to the use of force to keep Iran from making nuclear weapons, then American foreign policy has changed in a fundamental way. For more than seven decades, since its entry into World War II, the United States has carried out a foreign policy of global scope that has included the willingness to go to war on behalf of vital American interests. There is no higher or more urgent current American interest beyond the country’s borders than keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of an aggressive, theocratic, anti-American regime located in a region that harbors much of the oil on which the global economy depends. If fighting to vindicate that interest has become unthinkable, then American foreign policy has entered a new era. Whatever else may be said about this new era and the kind of world to which it will give rise, one thing is certain. By promulgating this new foreign policy (if that is what he is doing), Barack Obama will have achieved one of the goals he set out for himself when he came to the White House: he will be a transformational President.

That’s not an endorsement.  Read the whole thing, as a they say.