We're pleased to announce that the Ben and Joel Podcast is becoming the City Journal Books Podcast! Although our name and home base may be changing, the content of the program will remain the same. We'll continue to offer 21st-century conversations for listeners with 19th-century attention spans with authors of books we think are interesting, enlightening, and particularly relevant to the public discourse.
In this episode, City Journal associate editor Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, a national affairs columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's The Philly Post, talk to Charles R. Kesler about his new book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism. Kesler is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont-McKenna College, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and editor of the Claremont Review of Books.
Among the questions we discuss:
• What ideas motivate Barack Obama?
• Who's the audience for this book? How should a liberal engage this book?
• Do conservatives know more about liberals' political history than liberals do?
• How did Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom" reshape American politics?
• How did Franklin Roosevelt inexorably tie liberalism to the Democratic Party?
• How did Lyndon Johnson outdo FDR and Wilson?
• Does Obama represent a "fourth wave" of liberalism?
• What do American progressives owe to the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel?
• Did history end for American conservatives in 1787?
• Do conservatives unknowingly accept liberal premises?
• And much, much more!
Please visit and "like" Ben and Joel and City Journal on Facebook to comment on this interview, as well as to receive regular updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. You'll be glad you did!
Programming note: Let's call this one the last episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" and the inaugural episode of the "City Journal Books Podcast." Upcoming guests include: Stephen Knott, Greg Lukianoff, and Richard H. Immermann.
Jonah Goldberg, American Enterprise Institute fellow and editor-at-large at National Review Online, joins Ben Boychuk to discuss his latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.
Joel Mathis received a last-minute offer he couldn’t refuse and couldn't join us for this episode—which was a shame, because Ben and Jonah were looking forward to the sparring contest. But Joel's presence is made known around 13 and a half minutes into the podcast, when Ben reads a couple of questions he had written shortly before we recorded.
Among the questions we discuss:
• What's so great about ideology?
• Why aren't liberals more willing to embrace their ideological history?
• Is the problem with liberals today that they're "bookless"?
• Do conservative arguments based supposedly on "first principles" obscure the practical effects of conservative policies?
• Who doesn't support progress?
• If he had to do it all over again, would Goldberg have written a completely different book?
• How has Goldberg's style evolved since the old days of the original G-File on NRO?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah," Gerald Fried (from "Star Trek: Original Television Soundtrack," Vol. 2)
• "Days Are Forgotten," Kasabian
• "Logical Song," Supertramp
• "The Trees," Rush
• "My Way," Sid Vicious
• "Jessica," The Allman Brothers
• "Epilogue (original version)—End Title," James Horner (from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan—Expanded Edition")
Please visit and "like" the Ben and Joel page on Facebook to comment on this interview, as well as to receive regular updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. You'll be glad you did!
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 12 for 2012, and was recorded in June. Unfortunately, editing took quite a bit longer than usual because of a technical glitch. Joel Mathis was on assignment when we recorded this one.
Of course not! That would be ridiculous! And yet Pia Lopez and I argue the question in the Sacramento Bee on Thursday. Pia, who spent 15 years in Minnesota, thinks it's a splendid idea. My take:
Personally, I find little comfort in the idea of thousands of low-information voters appearing at polling places on election day, registering on the spot and voting for the candidates they've doubtless been instructed to select beforehand.
I don't know why that vision sets liberals' hearts aflutter. If you care about the vote's rectitude, the prospect should cause anxious palpitations.
Ben and Joel welcome back scholar, author, and Powerline blogger extraordinaire Steve Hayward for a wide-ranging chat about his latest book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents from Wilson to Obama (Regnery).
Among the questions we discuss:
• Why start with Woodrow Wilson? Why not include an earlier Progressive Republican?
• What did America's Founders have in mind with the presidency?
• Are Republican presidents graded on a curve?
• Is the rationale for wiretapping and waterboarding really constitutional?
• If the president does it, is it legal?
• Does John Locke justify the Iran-Contra Affair?
• What is the charitable constitutional case for Richard Nixon?
• Does Calvin Coolidge make a comeback this year?
• Is Barack Obama an "affirmative action president?"
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Pigs (Three Different Ones)," Pink Floyd
• "Hey Mr. President," The Electric Prunes
• "Mustapha Dance," The Clash
• "Young Americans," David Bowie
• "Assemble Your Crew," The Mag Seven
• "When the Going Gets Dark," Quasi
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 3. Coming up next: Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn joins Ben and Joel to discuss "The Founders' Key."
Please visit and "like" the new Ben and Joel page on Facebook for updates about the podcast and our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service.
What a show! Returning to the podcast, possibly for the last time, is Steven F. Hayward, author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, the two-volume Age of Reagan, and other fine books. Hayward has been stirring up trouble on the right lately, first with his essay in the fall issue of the Breakthrough Journal on "Modernizing Conservatism"; then with his recent article at National Review Online and follow-up posts at Powerline comparing Newt Gingrich to Winston Churchill.
We asked Steve to come on the podcast to confess and recant his heresy. Instead, he embraced the charges and doubled-down. Listen and judge for yourself.
(Incidentally, Hayward laid the groundwork for some of this in the second volume of his Age of Reagan. We discussed his assessment of the Reagan Revolution and the present state of the conservative movement on this podcast in 2009.)
Among the questions we discuss:
• Is conservatism failing?
• What, if anything, can replace the Republicans' "starve the beast" strategy?
• Is the welfare state really a "fact of life"?
• What would an ideal tax system look like? How about a progressive consumption tax?
• Can politicians ever stop tinkering with the tax code?
• What can Republican governors teach us?
• Does the United States need a third party?
• Is the gap between left and right unbridgeable?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "The Inquisition," Mel Brooks
• "Family Affair," Bobby Hutcherson
• "Heretics," Andrew Bird
• "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason
• "Good King Wencesles," Unknown Artist
Programming note: We've changed the way we identify the episodes. This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 4, No. 8. You might be wondering, whatever happened with Vol. 4, No. 1? Eventually, "lost episodes" become corny clichés.
Ben and Joel are joined again by City Journal contributing editor and author Nicole Gelinas, who has written some of the most lucid critiques of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement from the right. We discuss two of her articles, "Hell, No, We Won't Toe" and "Apples and Oranges," and we follow up on the central arguments of her 2009 book, After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street—and Washington.
Among the questions we discuss:
• What's the best that can be said for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators?
• What's the difference between the Tea Party protests of 2009 and the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011?
• What could Steve Jobs have taught the Wall Street occupiers?
• Utopian speculation notwithstanding, why aren't more free-market conservatives climbing on the "Occupy" bandwagon?
• Must real capitalists support Wall Street as we know it?
• What's the line between "elegant" regulation and overregulation?
• Can we have large corporations and free-market capitalism?
• Is "too big to fail" dead?
• Can conservatives learn anything good from Franklin Roosevelt?
• Risk? What risk?
• And much more!
The music of Muse is heard in this podcast:
• "Assassin (Grand Omega Bosses Edit)"
• "Take a Bow"
• "Supermassive Black Hole"
• "Knights of Cydonia"
Programming note: We've changed the way we identify the episodes. This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 4, No. 7. You might be wondering, whatever happened with Vol. 4, No. 1? Ben says he'll post it "real soon now."
Who could play that role initially? Some are touting former Indiana senator and governor Evan Bayh, but he's untested and not particularly articulate. A far better bet is newly elected California governor Jerry Brown -- a kind of Eugene McCarthy-esque figure -- who once bragged that he was going to move left and right at the same time. He is, of course, a serial presidential candidate, having run three times previously (1976, 1980, 1992). Though he failed each time, he twice ran impressively, finishing third in '76 after entering late in the process, winning (or having friendly delegates do so) in Maryland, California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. In 1992, on a financial shoestring, he finished second -- winning Maine, Connecticut, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, and Alaska, while losing California to Bill Clinton, 48-41 percent.
For Brown, the next nine months are critical, as he'll attempt to use his visibility as governor of the nation's most populous state to become a kind of Democratic Chris Christie, standing up to special interests and proposing bold new fiscal policies. If he does, he could be a formidable 2012 challenger, as he's shown a propensity in the past for running on populist themes (term limits, campaign-finance reform), while taking positions that could attract labor support (he was anti-NAFTA) and even backing from conservatives (he has supported a flat tax). As a Catholic, he does have some appeal to the working-class "Hillary Democrats" -- a part of the reason why he's done well in New England in the past.
Could he beat Obama? It's obviously a long shot. But the hope among some is that his entry into the race would so weaken Obama that Clinton might consider getting in, as Robert Kennedy once did, able to tap into a family-built organization in a matter of days. Some even harbor hopes that, under pressure from his own party, Obama might walk away from the job after one term. Stranger things have happened.
The reference to Brown's Catholicism caught me attention. I knew, of course, he was an ex-seminarian. I also was aware of his well-publicized trips to Asia to study Buddhism. Turns out, though, he married his wife Ann Gust in a Catholic Church in San Francisco -- which may or may not blunt his appeal to "working-class 'Hillary Democrats.'"
You heard it here... uh, second or third. (Tenth or twelvth, more likely.)
(Hat tip: Hayward, of course.)
That dubious distinction may well belong to the voters of Arizona's 7th Congressional District, who apparently decided to re-elect a man who called for the boycott of his own state. What's more, the voters chose a 62-year-old, ethnic chauvanist Democratic Party hack over a 28-year-old rocket scientist, for God's sake!
Somebody on the Sacramento Bee's live chat yesterday asked if any of the election outcomes surprised me. I said no. But that was before I heard about the outcome of this contest in Arizona. I realize it was always going to be a tough climb for Ruth McClung, but her defeat rankles a little. Glad I don't live there. Sure, Californians elected Jerry Brown again, but those Arizonans are really crazy.
A concered friend wrote me a cryptic, funny e-mail yesterday: "How far is the Arizona border? And how quickly can you pack?"
My reply, I think, sums up my take on why Tuesday's Red Tide barely made a ripple in California (which, incidentally, is the subject of the Scripps-Howard column this week.)
You're talking about California? I'm not too worried. Oh, sure, it's going to be a disaster, but it will be a great show. If I had my druthers, the entire GOP establishment in this state would be exiled or put on a barge and set adrift in the Pacific. They're worse than useless. But Jerry Brown is a politician and an opportunist par excellence. He'll surprise us, I think. (Maybe not pleasantly, but he'll surprise us just the same.)
Everyone needs to understand just how lame Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina were. Brown in the last week was airing a brilliant ad that put Schwarzenegger's statements and Whitman's statements side-by-side. They were practically word-for-word. I voted for her, God knows, only because I could never vote for Brown. But I had no doubt I was voting for Arnold in a pantsuit.
Fiorina constantly sounded a defensive tone, and a few days ago told a reporter she would probably have a voting record similar to Dianne Feinstein's. Way to close the deal, Carly!
What may be said of the candidates for governor and U.S. Senator may be said with even greater force about the down-ticket races, with the possible exception of Tony Strickland, who had no money or exposure in his race for controller. Lt. Governor Abel Maldanado sold out on taxes. Mike Villines, the former assembly leader running for Insurance commissioner, also sold out. Steve Cooley, who is still locked in a death struggle with Kamala Harris, the liberal Democrat D.A. of San Francisco, talked out of both sides of his mouth. The only solid stand he took during the one televised debate he had was to say he would happily accept two state pensions if elected. Naturally, Harris used that in an ad. Damon Dunn, the GOP nominee for Secretary of State, had never voted in an election in his adult life prior to May 2009. (By all accounts, by the way, Dunn is an affable fellow -- a former pro athlete and successful businessman -- with a future in state politics. Perhaps he should have picked a different race to run.)
I was disappointed with one, and only one, outcome on Tuesday night and that was the defeat of Prop. 23. What can I say? I did my best. But I'm glad Prop. 25 won. That one lowers the budget voting threshold from the two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority. (Tax increases will remain at two-thirds; and voters Tuesday approved a measure applying the supermajority to fees, too -- which may blunt Prop. 23's defeat in the long run.) But I doubt the current (dwindling) crop of Republicans will know what to do with the gift they've been given.
I don't think anything is certain here. The dynamic will change a bit in the aftermath of these elections. Now all we need are some Republicans with the skill and foresight to take advantage of it. What could go wrong?
Over at the L.A. Times, the Mighty Arnie Steinberg explains why Meg Whitman lost. Bottom line: "The vulgarity of Whitman's spending trumped any real connection with the voters."
Ladd Ehlinger at Film Ladd offers a 10-point answer to the question "What Went Wrong in California?" I don't agree with every word of it, but he makes some perceptive points and it's a fun read.
Meantime, Lance Williams at California Watch observes how "not all of the victors and the vanquished from California’s state election Tuesday were apparent from scanning the returns."
The Republicans will pick up 70 seats in the House, but fall just short of taking the Senate as Carly Fiorina, Dino Rossi and John Raese lose their contests narrowly. That's right, friends, get ready for six more years of Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray lighting up the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Joe Manchin seems to have some good instincts on education reform, even if he's a flip-flopper on health care and no good on cap-and-trade. Take victories where you find them, and sometimes even where you don't.
Speaking of which, Jerry Brown will win in California. His first act will be to order the immediate deportation of all uncool nieces. Brown will resolve California's budget problems in a couple of months, leaving him plenty of time next summer to visit Iowa and New Hampshire in order to mount a 2012 primary challenge against Obama.
Prop. 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, will lose. I'm afraid Prop. 23 will meet the same fate. But I'm hopeful Prop. 26, which would extend the state's supermajority vote requirement for taxes to fees, will squeak through. In any event, this is no way to run a republic.
Sharron Angle will win in a nailbiter in Nevada. Christine O'Donnell will lose in Delaware, but it won't be the self-immolation the press expects or dreams about.
That's about it! Add your picks to the comments. And don't forget to vote.
(Cross-posted at Somewhat Reasonable.)
"We found ourselves in a hole that I didn't dig, but I have dug, dug and dug to try to get out of that hole." --Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), Oct. 22, 2010.
Steven F. Hayward, F.K. Weyerhauser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, historian and author of The Age of Reagan, co-author of the annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, and cookbook aficionado, joins Ben and Joel for a freewheeling conversation about the coming election, the environment, and U.S. foreign policy.
Among the questions we discuss:
• If the Republicans retake Congress, what will they have to do to hold it?
• Should Obama emulate Ronald Reagan on the economy?
• Who is the most worrisome congressional Republican in the leadership? (It isn't John Boehner.)
• What is "post-partisan power"?
• Would a limited carbon tax work?
• Can California's Global Warming Solutions Act change the climate?
• What happens if Californians defeat Prop. 23?
• Could AB 32 be suspended anyway?
• Are liberals blind to their own domestic policy hubris?
• Are conservatives blind to their internationalist hubris?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Power," Rainbow
• "I Pay the Cost to be the Boss," Blues De Picolat
• "Natural Science," Rush
• "Masters of War," Judy Collins
• "So It Goes," Nick Lowe
Arlen Specter is OUT.
Your politics are finished. You will not be missed.
Greg Sargent reports that Democrats are amassing "bipartisan support" for legislation aimed at limiting the Supreme Court's small but vital affirmation of free speech in Citizen's United v. FEC. "The bill that Dems are planning will have more bipartisan support than expected, a Dem leadership aide confirms," Sargent writes at the Plum Line.
How much more support? "[A] Dem leadership aide says it will be introduced tomorrow with at least one more GOP sponsor in addition to Mike Castle, though the aide wouldn’t reveal who. This will allow Dems to push back by pointing out that the measure has GOP support." So at least two moderate-to-liberal Republicans will sign on. That's nice.
And what would this bill do? "The legislation seeks to increase transparency and disclosure of political spending, including provisions forcing heads of organizations spending big money on elections to reveal their personal involvement," Sargent writes. "It also seeks to prevent foreign money from influencing elections, and ensures that recipients of Federal money — contractors, TARP recipients — can’t spend cash in elections."
Foreigners are already barred from contributing to U.S. elections, not that they don't try. Prohibiting recipients of taxpayer largesse from spending on elections has visceral appeal, especially where I'm sitting.
An earlier New York Times story notes that Democrats are indeed pushing for more disclosure: "One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said." Sounds like fun.
Disclosure is controversial, of course. I tend to favor more disclosure rather than less in conjunction with fewer limits on who can give what to whom. Politics is a public business, after all. Here's what I wrote in the Scripps-Howard column in September:
The cure for campaign finance reform is fewer rules, not more. There should be little or no restriction on money in politics. There should be no limits on what a candidate can raise and spend. Political parties, corporations, unions... let them all in. The only exception should be for foreign contributions.
Transparency and instant Internet disclosure make most of the old objections and warnings about quid pro quo corruption irrelevant. If a political candidate receives the financial aid of large corporations, and public knows about it, then the question of undue influence falls to the voters to resolve. As it should be.
I realize, of course, there are strong arguments against more government-mandated disclosure rules. As Bradley Smith, the former federal elections commissioner, argued recently in City Journal: "Disclosure has resulted in government-enabled invasions of privacy—and sometimes outright harassment—and it has added to a political climate in which candidates are judged by their funders rather than their ideas." Justice Thomas dissented from part of the majority in Citizens United on that very basis.
We'll see what other odious provisions appear in the new legislation. I'm sure there will be plenty of nasty surprises. Congress has a rather elastic reading of the First Amendment. It says "make no law," ladies and gentlemen. "Make NO law."
(Cross-posted at Freedom Pub.)
After a hiatus, the podcast returns at the tail-end of tax season and tea party mania. Ben Boychuk and Robb Leatherwood last month interviewed John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes. We very much wanted to post this sooner, but paying work got in the way. Our apologies to O'Hara, who gave a great interview here.
Among the questions we explore:
• Who's running these tea parties?
• Are the tea parties really creatures of the Republican Party?
• Is there a coherent tea party platform?
• Aren't tea parties really just astroturf?
• Can the tea party movement move beyond street protests to shape political reform?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Anarchy X," Queensryche
• "Gun Battle," (From the "Billy the Kid" Ballet Suite), Aaron Copland/London Symphony Orchestra
• "New Avengers-Raw Deal Mix," Snowboy
• "Tax Free," Jimi Hendrix
• "Traitors (Verräter)," Peter Thomas
• "Always Tomorrow," The Shazam
• "Eyes of a Stranger," Queensryche
Although I mailed back the form a couple of weeks ago, today is technically Census Day. Stories about low response rates might have been premature, especially if people read the form literally and waited until today before actually filling it out. But I somehow doubt it.
I've been half-listening to talk radio this afternoon. Michael Medved spent about an hour taking calls from people who refuse to answer the form. There is a word for these people (and if you are one of them, I do not apologize for this): Morons.
Listen, conservatives. The census is in the Constitution. It's an original duty of citizenship. Either you're a constitutionalist, or you aren't. This isn't a game.
There is a political angle to the Census, too. Never mind those insulting ads about making sure everyone gets their goodies. Conservatives who resist filling out the form are helping Democrats gerrymander congressional districts in their favor for the next decade. As Ed Morrissey points out:
I’m always a little suspicious of questionnaires on ethnicity, but the Census has a Constitutional mandate — and it has far-reaching consequences. People in states where conservatives outstrip liberals could be committing political suicide if a boycott effort results in shortchanging those states in Congressional representation to the benefit of states like California, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts. It seems better to ensure that an accurate count gets taken by a concerted effort to count conservatives than the results a boycott or a “slowcott” would produce.
Fill the damned thing out, as the Constitution requires, or be content to languish in the minority for years to come. Your call.
That's the headline on this week's Scripps-Howard column by Joel and yours truly, in which we tackle the Obama administration's announcement this week of plans to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling -- with some crucial caveats, of course.
My take, briefly:
Fact is, the United States is going to be a petroleum-based economy for some time to come. Rather than rely on volatile supplies from increasingly hostile regimes, Obama should open the Outer Continental Shelf -- and Alaska and California, for that matter -- for American firms to explore and use until better, cleaner and greener technologies are ready to for the market.
Joel's take, briefly:
Politics aside, there's a real danger here: Nobody believes that the world oil supply will last forever. Offshore drilling can be useful only if we intentionally use it as a bridge to our low-carbon alternative-energy future. It should only proceed on that basis. Otherwise, Obama might just be the next in a long line of presidents who deepened our unsustainable addiction to oil, even while deploring it all the way.
Why not read the whole thing and share your take?
One thing's for sure, the controversial former Republican Congressman from California who wants to get back to the House sure ain't riding a mule. The latest radio spot from Richard Pombo, seeking to replace retiring GOP Rep. George Radanovich in California's 19th Congressional District, is one feisty ad.
Yet it's hard not to (1) admire that radio spot of his, and (2) support his staunch property-rights stance — which includes ending the senseless man-made drought in California's Central Valley. Federal policies have turned off the irrigation spigots to protect a tiny fish that may not warrant such dramatic intervention to survive. The resulting loss of jobs has helped the unemployment rate in some Valley communities rise as high as 40 percent.
Rick Moran has a pretty shrewd take on the Tea Party movement over at Rightwing Nuthouse (though I wish he had an editor to correct his minor factual errors as well as some of his grammatical infelicities). I don't agree with the analysis all the way, but I think he's on to something here:
Misinformed? Yes. Shallow? An understanding of the Constitution that runs a mile wide and a centimeter deep. Fearful? Beyond being manipulated by the cotton candy conservatives on talk radio, the fear of change is so ripe you can smell it in many sections of the country.
I’m not talking about Obama-type change. I’m talking about the undercurrent of change that constantly runs through history and that occasionally, breaks ground in a flood that, when it ebbs, reveals a much altered landscape. Most people who inhabit such a place are not prepared for, nor can they manage the seminal changes that have made the familiar, unfamiliar.
America has been undergoing a radical change for more than 20 years. Our entire economy has flipped from being industrial-based to service-based, with the consequent changes in wages, lifestyle, and mores occurring faster than many can absorb. The old moorings by which most of us clung have been torn away and some have been let adrift — strangers in their own land.
The catalyst that revealed this was the financial crisis and the growing realization that recovery will be a slow, painful process no matter whether we stupidly try to spend our way to prosperity or cut taxes and risk even higher deficits, thus stifling growth. Millions of jobs are gone and it will take years to recreate the kind of economy where anyone who wants a job can get one.
With all of this happening, can you blame the tea partiers for grasping at the one talisman that has served as a steadying influence on America for 222 years? The Constitution as legal document and patriotic connection to our past is as a life buoy tossed to a drowning man. Given that there are far worse symbols upon which citizens could tie themselves — including the Communist Manifesto as some of the anti-war protestors appeared to have embraced — you would think that critics would grant tea partiers a little slack in their choice of iconic American notions to idolize.
That last is a bit naive, I think. The Constitution of the Tea Party movement is a decidedly unprogressive document. What right-minded 21st-century American could possibly take such a thing seriously? I guess we'll find out soon enough.
My friend Daniel Watts is running for Davis City Council. Watts ran for governor in the 2003 recall circus, and although he didn't do quite as well as Cruz Bustamante or Mary Carey, he made a respectable showing. He had planned to run for governor again this year as a Democrat, but the Jerry Brown Juggernaut was simply too much to overcome.
Instead, Watts is taking on local government. Wise choice. The Davis Enterprise reported Tuesday about his plans (subscriber-only link, alas):
Watts vows to make student issues a priority. In fact, his campaign platform focuses almost exclusively on student rights and improving the city-student relationship.
Watts said he noticed other candidates addressing the city budget, public safety and the school district.
'Their concerns were the same concerns that any other city has,' he said.
Meanwhile, he said, Davis' massive college student population is being neglected.
'There is a voice for those other issues on the City Council already,' he said. 'But nobody is addressing those student issues.'
Contrary to popular belief, starving students don't qualify as "indigent," so Watts is on the hook for a $732 filing fee. He's accepting donations via Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help a fella out.
Former eBay CEO and California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is riding high in the polls after her appearance at the GOP state convention. The latest Field Poll has Whitman leading Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner by a whopping 49 points. Poizner immolated himself six weeks ago with his bizarre press conference claiming that Whitman's campaign tried to intimidate him into abandoning the contest.
Apparently, she's leading Brown, too.
Don't worry, it won't last.
It's early yet. Whitman is spending a fortune acquainting herself with voters and tearing down Poizner. But her message is lame, hackneyed and clichéd. As Rep. Tom McClintock said over the weekend, Whitman might as well be Schwarzenegger in a skirt.
The Los Angeles Times wonders if Poizner "can pull a Gray Davis." What's that? Get himself recalled?
The Poizner campaign maintains that polls at this phase of the campaign are meaningless.
Not convinced? Take a look at the headline from the Field Poll almost 12 years ago to the day. The headline of Field's March 18, 1998, survey read, "Harman moves ahead of Checchi and Davis in Democratic field for governor."
That would be Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the candidate who eventually finished with 12% of the vote, and Al Checchi, the former Northwest Airlines executive who finished with 13% in the June 1998 primary election.
Primary rules for that election were slightly different than they are now. In that election, voters from either party were allowed to vote for whichever candidate they wanted. Gray Davis was the top Democratic vote-getter that year with 35% of the overall vote. Republican Dan Lungren, who did not have a competitive primary, was the top Republican vote-getter.
But three months before the election, Davis' victory was anything but guaranteed. The March 1998 survey found Davis with just 11% of the vote. Harman had 17%, while Checchi was favored by 15% of those surveyed.
Well, that's interesting. Interesting but totally irrelevant, that is.
Poizner could have been a contender, if he hadn't come off as a desperate loser. More likely, though, Brown is holding back, waiting for the Republican candidates to savage each other, and fully expecting to unleash his well-heeled surrogates. Oh, and though they might deny it, the press looooooves Jerry.
So don't put too much stock in the polls at this point. And never, ever count out Jerry Brown.
I've said it before, but in light of this column today by none other than Jonah Goldberg, I'll say it again: "Big business" and "big government" are two sides of the same coin, and it's a mistake for conservatives to side with one over the other. The problem again is the adjective, not the noun.
Here's Goldberg making a related point in USA Today:
The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not "right wing," it's vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these "crony capitalists." But only if the politicians can actually deliver. The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.
That's good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it'd be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer.
This also relates to the arguments we had here and at Joel's place about the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United campaign finance case. If you're going to inject politics into business by way of regulation, it's only natural that business will seek to inject itself into politics to protect its interests. Hence: "Vampiric" big business.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the case of McDonald v. Chicago, which is challenging the Second City's 30-year-old ban on handguns. McDonald is the sequel to Heller v. District of Columbia, in which the justices ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arms in federal jurisdictions. If the court follows its own logic in McDonald, it will "incorporate" the language of the Fourteenth Amendment with the Second Amendment, extending the right of gun ownership to the states.
That would be a very good thing, of course. But as Randy Barnett argues in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, what's most interesting about McDonald are the questions the justices aren't asking.
At the McDonald argument, it seemed obvious that five or more justices will vote to apply the Second Amendment to the states. This would be a great victory for gun rights—one that until a few years ago would have been unimaginable. But it was also obvious that most were deeply afraid of following a text whose original meaning might lead them where they do not want to go. When it came to following the written Constitution, a visitor from another planet would not, I suspect, have been very impressed.
Barnett has bigger game in his sights; namely, the Fourteenth Amendment's "Privileges and Immunities" clause: "Justice Scalia insisted that the right to keep and bear arms is right there in the text, which of course is true. But so too is the Privileges or Immunities Clause, which, unlike the Court's due process jurisprudence, has a historical meaning that helps define and limit the rights it was meant to protect."
There is more, of course. Much more, in fact. Barnett continues the argument over privileges and immunities with Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy. And David Kopel weighs in on the question of "reasonable regulation."
The Orange County Register editorializes Wednesday on Jerry Brown's official entry into the 2010 governor's race:
In his announcement video, Mr. Brown spun his age and experience – he has also been California secretary of state and mayor of Oakland and currently is the state attorney general – as an advantage during a time of crisis. The question of the day is: which Jerry Brown will show up?
In the 1970s he acquired the moniker Gov. Moonbeam for his advocacy of sometimes utopian, or just plain eccentric, projects. He had a strong environmental record (as these matters are understood in conventional political terms) and railed against Big Oil. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 and 1980. In 1982 he lost a U.S. Senate race to Republican Pete Wilson, who later became governor.
Jerry Brown's experience as mayor of Oakland – a position in which people can see readily whether potholes are being filled or the fire and police departments show up when called – may have tempered his eccentric utopian streak with some fiscal realism. In his announcement he promised no new taxes and a downsizing of state government.
Actually, what Brown promised was no new taxes without the approval of the electorate. That could be interpreted in all sorts of mischievous ways, and I'm sure we'll see a ballot initiative or two, and a tax hike or two with or without the people's endorsement. Brown is shrewd -- very shrewd -- and all of Meg Whitman's (or Steve Poizner's) money may not be enough to overcome old Jerry's savvy.
I've been writing lately about the centralization of education under the Obama administration. Nothing is available online at the moment, but it should be real soon now. The problem is, centralization and bureaucratization -- two horrible words -- lead to rigidity and... well, stupidity.
Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes, offers a trenchant critique of Barack Obama's centralizing tendencies:
From health care reform and transportation to education to the environment, the Obama administration has--from the beginning--sought to expand the power of the central state. The president's newest initiative to wrest environment, wage and benefit concessions from private companies is the latest example. But this trend of centralizing power to the federal government puts the political future of the ruling party--as well as the very nature of our federal system--in jeopardy.
Kotkin, who currently teaches at Chapman University, still considers himself a "social democrat." He would rather see government foster economic policies that work to the benefit of the lower and middle classes. Inasmuch as that requires government to get the hell out of the way, it's tough for me to disagree. Kotkin's latest book is "The Next Hundred Million: America at 2050."