"The good news is, conservatism is not completely dead." This was the tongue-in-cheek reassurance offered by a speaker at the National Review Institute summit last week, as related by Mark Steyn. On the contrary, I thought it was an encouraging week. Marco Rubio was on the wires, and that’s always good for conservatism. On the policy front, gun control seems to be stalling, and economic reports gloomy. But the immigration debate is buzzing. And there’s not even a “cliff”!
Linking Immigration and Education
Marco Rubio is pleasing moderates but worrying the hard right with his leadership on the immigration front. But a few commentators are pushing an interesting intersection of immigration and education policy. AEI recently published a policy brief by David Feith entitled Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education, underscoring how important education is to any successful immigration policy. One of the most successful recent policies to give immigrant children quality education: Charter schools. Illinois, of all places, authorized $98 million to the UNO charter network in 2009 to build new schools in overcrowded neighborhoods. And it’s working. So why not link effective school choice to comprehensive immigration reform? As Hugh Hewitt wrote this week, “regularizing these children and then condemning them to the worst performing elementary and secondary school does nothing to advance the assimilation goals of the genuine immigration reformer.”
My understanding is that, at the very least, the average charter school is on par with the average public school, but costs about half as much. Thus, even if school choice doesn’t improve education for those who opt for charters, they won’t do any worse, and there will be fewer kids per class and more money left over for existing public schools. A true win-win. Traditional reform faces a roadblock in teachers unions, who, according to former California Democratic Senate Leader Gloria Romero, “don’t want the change we need" and "will spend millions of dollars to stop it.” Sen. Romero spoke at the Federalist Society Western Conference last Saturday, and I got a chance to speak with her briefly over lunch. She made many powerful enemies speaking her mind on this issue while in the Senate. Governor Jerry Brown, though a professed rogue beholden to no one, is, when it comes to the teachers unions, is the kind of good politician who stays bought. Without a linked immigration-education reform, then, the prospects for true-blue California improving its dismal 47th place education ranking are grim.
As for the federal government’s immigration power, reformers have an end-around. Hewitt asked Erwin Chemerinsky this week if the federal government under its plenary authority in immigration matters can mandate these children get school choice. “Absolutely,” he responded, before later admitting “I’m against school choice” because he’s opposed to letting parents use the government’s money on parochial schools. Given the influx of millions of immigrant kids who have a short time to become assimilated and educated before they join a difficult job market, should such issues keep these kids from getting the best education we can possibly provide?
That’s the argument, anyway. I think it poses a worthy challenge.
Now for some excerpts from Rush Limbaugh’s interview of Sen. Marco Rubio this week:
RUBIO: . . . . I think there’s this false argument that’s been advanced by the left that conservatism and Republicans are anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. And we’re not. Never have been.
. . . . Now, it was dealt with in 1986 in a way that was counterproductive. Well-intentioned, but counterproductive because, A, they granted a blanket amnesty to three million people at the time, or that was the estimate, and, B, they didn’t do any of the enforcement mechanisms. And so our point is if we’re gonna deal with this, let’s deal with it once and for all and in a way that this never, ever, happens again.
. . . .
RUSH: The fear that many people have is that the Democrats aren’t interested in border security, that they want this influx. For example, if 70% of the Hispanic vote went Republican, do you think the Democrats would be for any part of this legislation?
RUBIO: (laughing) Well, let me make an argument to you on that. People always say to me, "Well, aren’t you worried about the political implications?" I am confident, I really am, maybe people don’t share this confidence, I am confident that, given a fair chance, I can convince most Americans, including Americans of Hispanic descent, that limited government and free enterprise is better for them and better for their upward mobility than Big Government is. Because that’s the reason why they came here. You look at people that come from Latin America. They come to get away from stale stagnant economies where the rich keep winning and everybody else keeps working for them because Big Government dominates those economies. . . .
. . . .
You know, our argument about limited government is always harder to sell than a government program. It always has been. I mean, it’s easier to sell cotton candy than it is to sell broccoli to somebody, but the broccoli is better for you, and the same thing with a limited government. Yeah, it’s a lot easier for a politician to sell people on how a big government program is gonna make their life better, but I think ours, once we sell it, is more enduring and more permanent and better for the country.
Luigi Zingales and Arthur Brooks have made this point in their recent books. It rings true. I really hope it is.
Chuck Hagel’s Uncomfortably Bad Confirmation Hearing
All you need to know is in Chris Cillizza’s lede yesterday: “Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was, at turns, halting, befuddled and, often, just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. And it almost certainly won’t keep him from becoming the next man to lead the Pentagon.” After listening to clips, one does begin to wonder whether he’s all there.
Debt, Deficit, and Krugman: What, Me Worry?
Serious question: Unless and until I accept the general theory of Keynesian economics, should I bother listening to Paul Krugman? Perhaps the converted find comfort when Krugman says, as he did in an NPR interview Tuesday, that “We’re not going to run out of cash because we print the stuff.” But I find it somewhat alarming. I suppose that’s because I suffer from what Krugman calls a “psychosomatic disorder” and an “obsession” that causes me to imagine that “the deficit is an urgent, crisis issue.” This is the tactic made respectable by Theodor Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality published in 1950. As Christopher Lasch writes in Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography, “The Authoritarian Personality had a tremendous impact on Hofstadter and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism. This procedure excused them from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation. Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.” Krugman’s found the loophole in the president’s recent injunction against name-calling: it’s ok if your opponent’s a conservative—everyone knows they’re all crazy.
During his interview, Krugman acknowledged that “Twenty-five years from now – yeah, something’s going to have to give,” and “It’s certainly something to think about but not – at a time of mass unemployment, mass suffering.” Later, he again says “yes, let’s bring down that deficit; let’s worry about the debt. But we don’t – not now. So now is not the time.” This sounds to me like procrastinating. Why wouldn’t we make the same justification, on grounds of “mass suffering” or otherwise, a year, 10 years, 25-years-less-a-day from now? Here’s Krugman’s response:
I agree that if you take the aging of the population, and you take the rising health care costs, that if you look at where the U.S. budget is likely to be in the year 2030, let’s say, it does not look sustainable. Something has to give. We’re going to have to do some combination of more revenue, find a way to spend less – whether that means reducing benefits or it means just getting serious about controlling health care costs, which is my preferred route. In the year 2030, we’re going to have to run our budget very differently than the way we run it right now.
The question is what, exactly – people are saying, therefore, we can’t run budget deficits now. That makes no sense at all. The amount of extra debt that we will or will not run up in the next few years is going to have – be almost irrelevant to our ability to pay those bills in the year 2030. And so people will say, oh, well, so we have to commit now to cutting entitlement spending in the future – which again, that may be something’s that’s going to happen. But why – if the threat is that at some future date, we will have to cut benefits; and that people are saying, so to avoid that, what we have to do is commit now to cutting future benefits – wait; what, exactly, have we accomplished? What have we done that is different?
What’s different is that we’ve set about the necessary task of managing expectations. FDR understood the importance of expectations by making Social Security withholdings a line item on Americans’ paystubs. Every pay period they would see money taken out, which would reinforce their expectation of receiving benefits, which would ensure that “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” Turns out, he was right. And if we don’t begin tempering these expectations now, it won’t be politically possible to make the necessary changes when “something’s going to have to give” in 25 years as Krugman acknowledges.
One last comment. Economic questions seem to be relegated to “dueling experts,” and average Americans are made to believe they’re unqualified to pass judgment. But as John Kenneth Galbraith said, “In the case of economics there are no important propositions that cannot, in fact, be stated in plain language… Complexity and obscurity have great professional value; they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades… They exclude outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class.” “The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery.” It seems like an imminently plausible rule of thumb that there’s a problem when you’ve got more debt then the entire country produces in a year. It is no answer to say that we are not in trouble of paying our debts because, as Krugman says, "we print the stuff."
Paul Ryan Surfaces
Paul Ryan had a good showing on Meet the Press last Sunday. He rejected austerity, insisting we’re working to avoid a debt crisis that would bring on European-style austerity. The difference is, the president doesn’t think we have a crisis. This was also his response to David Gregory about the parties failing to talk with and understand each other: If there’s a disagreement on something as basic as whether there’s a crisis, the proposals are going to be far apart indeed.
On makers vs. takers, Ryan deftly responded that this is about opportunity: The president’s characterization of safety nets, that they “free us to take the risks that make this country great,” is a strawman. No one is suggesting the safety nets be removed. The president begs the question regarding when we ought to be concerned at the number of Americans perennially depending on these programs. Doesn’t this suggest we might be focusing too much on benefits and too little on opportunity? Ignoring that question suggests the president is not actually talking about opportunity, or about the government being a backstop or a safety net, and instead is talking about, well, something different.
So, yes, we need a safety net. But beyond a certain line, that net no longer incentivizes more opportunity and risk taking, but something different, and perhaps opposite. Ryan responded perfectly to Obama’s building strawmen to win arguments:
“This is the straw man argument. The president I think said the week earlier that we have suspicions on Medicare and taking care of the elderly and feeding poor children. When he sets up these straw men, which is to affix views to his adversaries that they don’t have, to win an argument by default. It’s not really an honest debate. Here’s the point we’ve been making all along. We want to have a safety net. A safety net that’s there for the vulnerable, for the poor, for people who cannot help themselves. But we don’t want to have a culture in this country that encourages more dependency that saps and drains people of their ability to make the most of their lives.”
“Political conquest or political compromise?” Gregory says “it’s reminiscent, isn’t it,” that Obama wants to stop his opponents like the GOP did in 2009. Bob Woodward and others on the panel did not push back very hard against this premise. He’s in scorched earth mode. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus seems to agree, pleading with the president not to interject himself in the immigration talks for fear that “It would be a sabotage of the process,” and that “what nobody who actually wants to see this passed wants, is an ‘Obama White House’ branded bill getting introduced. Yet he still flew to Las Vegas to threaten if Congress didn’t pass a bill fast enough he’d introduce his own.
Enjoy the Super Bowl! Go Harbaughs!