Posts Tagged ‘Walter Russell Mead’

The Incredible Shrinking President

June 13, 2014

That is the title of an article Walter Russel Mead has written in the Daily News. When you consider the contrast between the hype when President Obama was first elected and the public’s increasingly negative view of his job performance, he certainly seems to be shrinking. He came into office promising to heal the planet and now it seems he can’t get anything done. As Mead puts it,

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Less than two years after voters gave President Barack Obama a strong mandate for a second term, the White House is struggling against perceptions that it is losing its grip.

At home, the bungled rollout of the Obamacare website and the shocking revelations about an entrenched culture of incompetence and fraud in the VA have undercut faith in the President’s managerial competency.

Abroad, a surging Russia, an aggressive China, a war torn Middle East and a resurgent terror network are putting his foreign policy credentials to the test. With the GOP hoping to seize control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections, and the inevitable decline in presidential power that occurs as second term presidents move toward lame-duck status, Obama risks being sidelined and marginalized for the remaining two years of his term.

Mead has more to say about the president’s troubles but it is the second to last paragraph that intrigues me.

With 30 months to go, Obama still may have a chance to regain control of both the domestic and international agendas, but to do that he’s going to have to change his approach. He needs to focus on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day business of governing; six years into his administration, the public is fed up with promises and hungry for concrete accomplishments.

That has always been the problem with Barack Obama. He seems never to have been very interested in the day to day business of governing at any point in his political career. His colleagues in the Illinois State Senate and the US Senate remarked that he pref erred giving speeches on the Senate floor rather doing the actual work of preparing legislation in committees. He didn’t seem all that interested in the details of his most important legislation as president, Obamacare.

It is worth contrasting President Obama with another liberal Democratic president who had an ambitious agenda to change America, Lyndon B. Johnson. Both men believed in the power of the federal government to make life better for every American and both entered office with bold plans.On the whole, Johnson was more successful than Obama has been. Johnson was able to get Congress to pass his Great Society programs and civil rights legislation by large, bi-partisan majorities. Johnson took a personal interest in his policies and had an active part in designing the Great Society. Lyndon B. Johnson had spent twenty-four years in Congress before becoming John F. Kennedy’s vice president, serving in both Houses. He knew just who to talk to in order to get a bill passed and he knew how to persuade, intimidate or neutralize his opponents. He was a gregarious man who seemed to genuinely love politicking and policy.

That just isn’t Obama’s style and I doubt it ever can be. He just doesn’t seem to like dealing with members of Congress of either party all that much. There are reports that he is frustrated by the need to lobby people in Congress to get bills passed and would prefer to meet with world leaders and interesting people. He seems to believe that he can get things done by making grand proclamations and then every right-minded person will rush to make his policies happen. It seems that he does not believe that the people who oppose his policies might have different values or priorities and some compromise might serve the interests of both sides. Instead he thinks that any opposition can only be to personal dislike, racism, greed, or some other base motive. Johnson had great skill in crafting legislation to appeal to a broad majority. Obama seems not to be interested in trying

Since it is unlikely that a fifty-two year old man will be able to change his entire personality, the next two years of Obama’s presidency will undoubtedly be much like the last six. It’s going to be a long two years.

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Indiana Rejects Common Core

March 27, 2014

Walter Russell Mead has some interesting things to say about Indiana’s recent rejection of the Common Core federal education standards. He approves of the move not so much because of any defect in the standard but from a sense that a one size fits all program for a nation as large and diverse as the United States is not desirable. Here are his reasons.

First of all, families should have as much freedom as possible to shape their children’s education. And the closer to the grassroots level educational decision-making resides, the more likely it is that parents can help shape important decisions about their kids’ education.

Secondly, it’s clear that our educational system is in the midst of a period of change, as it needs to be. Society is changing, the economy is changing, yet our educational system is still a product of the Industrial Age. It’s designed to produce people who are good at following directions, coping with boredom, and sitting still for long periods of time. Coming up with a new model suited for the 21st century is going to take time and experimentation. Letting cities and states (to say nothing of individual schools, whether public, charter, or private) try out new approaches is the best way to do this. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

More broadly, as the U.S. continues to grow, we need to work much harder to keep important decisions at state and local levels for the sake of national unity and the health of democratic society. The individual American has almost no influence over decisions at the federal level, but at state and local levels grassroots coalitions and social and civic organizations can make a real difference. America is based on the idea that ordinary people should be responsible for their own lives; a mass society dilutes that necessary freedom and authority. Our democratic society will wither away if Washington tries to make all our important decisions for us. Centralization of power also tends to exaggerate and heighten political polarization. Let Texas live as it pleases, and let Vermont be Vermont. America will be happier and more peaceful when smaller units of government make more of the really consequential decisions.

This last argument is one to keep in mind. We think of ourselves as a democracy, the sort of country in which the people rather than a king or dictator rules. Yet, how democratic can a country with a population of over 300 million actually be if all the major decisions are made by a centralized government in a distant capital? One person out of 300 million simply has no voice. Pundits and professional worriers always complain when fewer than half the electorate actually votes in any national election, but why should they? One person voting in any national election, presidential , senatorial or congressional really isn’t going to make a difference. As centralized government over a country as large as the United States can’t really be very democratic at all, despite the number of elections that are held. By necessity, any such government must tend to be despotic just in order to get things done. Three hundred million people are never going to come to any consensus on any issue.  For this reason,we would be a whole lot better if most of the decisions that affect people’s lives were made at the state and local level, where an individual could make a difference.

I also think that a lot of the so-called culture wars over social issues would be a lot less intense and divisive if we got away from the idea that the federal government should impose one solution over the whole country. Take same-sex marriage. Why not let California legalize it while Iowa could ban it? That way people in both places could be happy.The same could apply to abortion, gun control, and many other issues. If you don’t like the way an issue is handled in your state, well, it is easier to change policies at the state level and you could always move.

Of course, the progressives hate the very idea of the federal government yielding any of its power. It is a lot harder to make fundamental changes when you have to deal with 50 states than with one federal government. They always profess to love diversity, except in matters where diversity really counts.

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Rising Climate Change Skepticism

March 22, 2014

Walter Russel Mead wrote about the rising rate of climate change skepticism in a recent post at the American Interest. Mead is something of  a moderate environmentalist in that while he agrees with the environmentalists on many points, he is also aware that the Green’s alarmism and their playing fast and loose with the facts has caused a great deal of damage to their credibility and effectiveness. His views on global warming aka climate change are close to my own so I will quote him at length.

 

 

 

Before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way. At the most basic level, climate scientists have a very solid grasp on a relatively simple set of facts: certain gases, carbon dioxide among them, “trap” the sun’s heat in our atmosphere, much like a greenhouse’s glass. Humans have been emitting these gases at very high rates of late, and that’s a problem, because it will lead to a warmer climate and a variety of new challenges to which life on earth will have to adapt, ourselves included.

The devil is, as usual, in the details. Our climate models weren’t able to predict the recent plateau in warming over the past decade or so, a reflection of our incomplete understanding of the “fiddly bits” of Earth’s climate. The central problem here is the enormous complexity of the system we’re dealing with. Our planet is filled with many different feedback loops and relationships, some of which we understand, but many of which we remain ignorant of. Because of that, any prediction of what might happen when we ramp up one variable like carbon dioxide is going to have a significant margin of error.

But the green movement has made a habit—and for some a living—of exaggerating the dangers of climate change to justify unworkable policies. In the past this probably produced some short-term payoff in terms of public support, but over time it has weakened the credibility of not just the environmental movement but the scientific understanding that these greens claim to be advancing. This recent Gallup poll reflects a damning fact for today’s greens: Climate alarmism tops “big oil” money as the leading cause of climate skepticism.

 

A great deal of my own skepticism regarding global warming is due to the fact that actions of the people most involved in promoting the idea are not the actions of honest people who have the facts on their side. If the facts were on their side, they would feel little need to slander their opponents by referring to the as “deniers” or implying that they are all funded by Big Oil. They would not corrupt the peer review process by attempting to censor any paper that opposes their received wisdom nor would they exchange e-mails discussing the best “tricks” to “hide the decline“. They would not call for jailing people who disagree with them. They would admit that current models have done a poor job of predicting changes in climate and work to create better models instead of dismissing and contrary facts as disinformation and insisting that the science is settled.

English: Graphic illustrating the percentages ...

The American people seem to have trust issues on the subject. Why would that be? Based on Rasmussen polling of 1,000 American adults conducted July 29-30, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many who would consider the results of the Gallup poll that Mead refers to as an indication of the ignorance of the American people, especially those who live in flyover country. I think that it shows that the bitter clingers are smart enough to know a con when they see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Emigration to Mexico

February 27, 2013

One of the more contentious issues of our time is immigration, particularly illegal immigration from Mexico. Many conservatives fear an ever growing tide of immigrants who refuse to assimilate or become productive citizens and so become reliable Democratic voters. Many liberals hope for an ever growing tide of immigrants who refuse to assimilate or become productive citizens and so become reliable Democratic voters. Yet, there are signs that this debate is starting to become somewhat anachronistic as Mexico begins to develop economically and its birthrates decline. It may well be that in the not too distant future that Mexico will become the sort of country that people want to move to rather than leave. Walter Russell Mead writes about this in a couple of posts.

Mexicans don’t want to leave their native country any more than Americans do theirs, according to a new Gallup Poll. Only 11 percent of Mexicans said they would emigrate if given the chance, down from 21 percent in 2007 and equal to the 11 percent of Americans who would do the same.

Fears that America will be overrun by a mass of poor workers from Latin America are looking more and more like yesterday’s news. Birthrates in Mexico are falling, and the economic situation continues to improve. At 5 percent, Mexico’s unemployment rate is nearly three points below ours. In 2012, its GDP grew by nearly 4 percent, and foreign investors, encouraged by the turnaround, poured $57 billion into stocks and bonds in the first nine months. Forthcoming reforms in the telecommunications and energy sectors may also help those industries to boom. The country’s economic forecasts are so promising that the Financial Times has dubbed it the “Aztec tiger.”

This is good news. As the Mexican economy improves, immigration pressures will continue to abate. Who knows? If the trends continue, maybe we’ll even see southbound migrants outnumbering northbound ones.

Another four years of Obama may well turn America into the sort of third world sewer that people risk their lives trying to escape. What of the Mexicans already in this country? Will they fail to assimilate, remain trapped in low paying jobs or government relief and so become Democratic voters forever? Maybe, but maybe not. Mead talks about some interesting changes.

There’s a lotof talk these days that the GOP has lost American Hispanics “forever.” A recent poll by Gallup suggests the picture may be a litte more complex. After the November Presidential election, some Dems hoped and Gopers fretted that the Republican Party face imminent death unless it attracted more Hispanic voters by changing it’s immigration position. But if Gallup is right, some other factors might be at work.

The poll doesn’t look all that political on its face. The survey found that 60 percent of Hispanic Protestants are very religious—measured by weekly service attendance and how important the respondents said religion was to them—compared to only 43 percent of Hispanic Catholics. In addition, the number of Hispanic Catholics has declined over time, while the number of Hispanic Protestants has stayed steady:

Overall, the finding that younger Hispanics are proportionately more Protestant and that all Hispanics are becoming proportionately more Protestant over time suggest that the percentage of Hispanics who are Catholic may continue to slip in the years to come…This will be particularly true if today’s young Hispanics maintain their proportionally higher Protestant identification.

Mead discusses the possible future of the Catholic Church in America, and the institutional changes which have made it less helpful to new immigrants, and so less likely to command their long term loyalty. I am more interested in the political implications.

But the most startling implications of the trends reported by the survey are political. Being religiously observant in any faith correlates strongly with voting Republican; this goes double for evangelical Protestantism. There are exceptions to this trend, of course. Many Black Christians who theologically and culturally fit in the evangelical tradition are reliable Democratic voters. But overall the correlation holds: evangelical Protestants who spend a lot of time in church are among the most reliably Republican voters in the country.

If a lot of Hispanics are picking up their Bibles and heading off to church, this suggests that over time the GOP share of the Hispanic vote will grow.  Over the decades, another trend will likely reinforce that one: as immigrant groups become better established in the United States, their economic interests and their issue priorities often change in ways that benefit the GOP.

Take immigration. This is a burning issue with serious personal stakes in many Hispanic households in America today. But Polish-American and Italian-American households don’t necessarily feel the same way. On the one hand, each succeeding American generation is a little farther from the homeland and the family ties are a little more attenuated; on the other, as other countries develop and their demography changes, there is less interest in the old country in coming to the new.

We will have to see what happens. I would caution anyone who is predicting the long term dominance of either political party not to be too certain. I seriously doubt that we will see again a forty year period of time in which one party is in complete, or near complete control of the government, predictions of demographic changes notwithstanding.

The Republicans really ought to do more to peel away some African-American voters from the Democrats. The fact that 90% of the Black vote Democrat these days has been an absolute disaster for them, witness Detroit.

 


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