Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, August 8, 2013
They Said It:
Feuding among american conservatives for the title True Conservative is nothing new. Ever since conservatism in America crystallized as a recognizable school in the 1950s, more than a few limited-government conservatives, or libertarians as they have come to be called, and more than a few social conservatives — and their forebears, traditionalist conservatives — have wanted to flee from or banish the other. To be sure, the passion for purity in politics is perennial. But the tension between liberty and tradition inscribed in modern conservatism has exacerbated the stress and strain in the contending conservative camps. Fortunately, a lesson of political moderation is also inscribed in the modern conservative tradition, and nowhere more durably or compellingly than at its beginning.
Peter Berkowitz, “Burke, Between Liberty and Tradition,” The Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, December 1, 2012.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, RAND PAUL, AND THE “COLLAPSING” GOP.
We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but the Republican Party is destroying itself. It is, in the words of so many political observers, “imploding.” Chris Christie is attacking Rand Paul. Rand Paul is attacking Chris Christie. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham will both be primaried out of office from the Right. John Boehner’s job as Speaker may be in trouble. Marco Rubio has made everyone – Right, Left, and otherwise – dislike and distrust him. And Ted Cruz . . . well . . . what do you say about a guy like Ted Cruz? He’s just plain crazy. Right? And scary. And . . . crazy. Or so we’re told. And all of this is bad for the GOP and, by extension, for the country. CNN commentator and Washington Post group columnist Ruben Navarette put it this way over the weekend:
American humorist Will Rogers once said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
The old saying goes that, come election time, Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall apart. The tradition in the GOP has been that, if you ran for president and came up short — Ronald Reagan in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1980, John McCain in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2008 — next time, it would be your turn. Among Democrats, it was a free-for-all. Hillary Clinton was thought to have a lock on the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, but Barack Obama had other ideas.
That’s how it has long been in our politics. Republicans were the party of order, Democrats were prone to chaos.
No more. In 2013, the Democrats seem pretty well organized . . .
Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in a series of messy food fights . . .
And at least one GOP scuffle — the one between Christie and Paul — is downright nasty . . .
[W]hat we’re seeing from Republicans isn’t just politics as usual. There is nothing wrong with a little conflict and soul-searching to recalibrate what a party stands for between elections. But this has gotten awfully rough. Warring parties could find it hard to forgive and forget when they need to close ranks against the Democrats.
This isn’t like the political tussles of old.
This is horrible! It’s frightening! It’s downright dangerous! Or at least it would be all of those things if this assessment of the GOP were even remotely accurate. But it’s not.
The fact of the matter is that, as far as media and much of the rest of the ruling class are concerned, the GOP is always on the verge of collapsing from internal tensions. This theme in contemporary American politics is almost as ubiquitous as the hackneyed and shrill charge that the nation has become “ungovernable,” largely because of Republican intransigence. At any and all times, the Republican Party is tearing itself apart and, simultaneously, uniting to stop the “desperately needed” Democratic agenda. Don’t ask us how that’s possible. Magic, we suppose. What else could it be?
Still, a cursory glance at our archives shows that in the last ten years, we’ve written almost a dozen times about the “internecine” war in the Republican Party. The party was, at one time, coming apart over Iraq. Then it was falling apart over George Bush’s reelection campaign. Then it was imploding over Social Security reform. Then it was the Medicare drug benefit. And the Iraq surge. And John McCain’s quixotic presidential campaign. And . . . and . . . well, you get the point. The GOP is, as we said, always coming apart at the proverbial seams.
Navarette – among others – insists that this time, it’s different. This time, the party really is collapsing. And maybe that’s the case. We don’t know. We’re not seers. We can’t tell if the current spat between Christie and Paul will destroy the world’s second-oldest political party. Perhaps it will. But we doubt it.
In truth, the wars of words among the GOP grandees are a sign of intellectual health. For starters, they serve as proof that the mainstream narrative about the party being entirely “homogenous,” is absurd. The GOP may not attract a terribly diverse group of followers as measured by skin color. But it attracts a far more diverse collection of intellectual and policy positions than the Democrats could even imagine. Additionally, and more to the point, these internecine Republican squabbles provide much needed debate over the crucial issues of our time. And, for the most part, the Republican Party is the only one of the two major parties that engages in such debates.
Consider if you will, the example that the Democrats set when they were determined to take back the White House and to “restore” the nation after George Bush’s eight-year reign of terror. They, as has become customary, engaged in a long, drawn-out primary process whereby a host of “diverse” candidates made their cases to the party’s base. But, of course, those “diverse” men and women weren’t really all that diverse. Hillary Clinton wanted to be “not Bush.” Barack Obama wanted to be “not Bush.” Joe Biden wanted to be “not Bush.” And on and on . . .
From a political perspective, this made sense. Bush was incredibly unpopular. And any candidate who ran convincingly as “not Bush” would likely be the next President of the United States.
From a policy perspective, however, this intellectual homogeneity proved to be a disaster. Sure, Hillary and Obama differed on the details of their respective health care proposals. And Joe Biden had a unique solution for exiting the Iraq war. But other than that, everyone agreed about what needed to be done. And what needed to be done was to blame Bush. Beyond that, no serious policy or strategy was developed. No one offered a broad solution for the Islamist terrorism problem. No one dared to explain America’s global role in the post-terrorism era. No one bothered to explain, much less formulate any serious proposals of any sort. They all just agreed with another that they had to be “not Bush.”
As a result, Barack Obama was able to win the nomination simply because he was the most effective and entertaining Bush critic on the dais. He wasn’t intellectually superior to Hillary. But nor was he inferior. He was just more fun. And, of course, he was black, which trumped Hillary’s femininity.
Given this, “the One” was able to win the presidency and enter the White House without anyone taking the time to figure out how or what he would do once he got there. He entered office untested, untried, and without any serious foreign or domestic policy positions. On the terrorism front, he assumed – and the mainstream press agreed – that he was so charming that he could sweet talk anyone in the world into loving him and, by extension, loving the United States. He insisted – and the mainstream press agreed – that with a name like Barack Hussein Obama, the Muslim world would view him as a brother, a compatriot even. He believed – and the mainstream press agreed – that he didn’t really have to have any serious positions. As long as he remained “not Bush,” that alone would be enough, for the country and the world.
It goes without saying, we suppose, that this lack of intellectual curiosity, both by Obama and by his media courtiers, has resulted in less than stellar results. In Russia, the infamous “reset” has become a joke, as Comrade Putin defies Obama’s demands and mocks his authority on a whole host of matters, from Syria to Iran and from Georgia to Edward Snowden. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is waiting patiently for the American soldiers to leave, as the Russians did decades earlier, and as Obama has assured them that his troops will as well; at which point, the Taliban can get back to running the country as if it were still the 8th century. In Iraq the status quo ante is already in place, as the inevitable result of Obama’s failure to negotiate a “status of forces” agreement with the Iraqi regime. And then there is Iran, merrily on the way to becoming a nuclear force.
Throughout the rest of the Middle East, of course, Team Obama’s lack of knowledge, policy, and character is proving equally, if not more, damaging. Egypt is a disaster as are Syria and Libya. We learned last week from CNN’s Jake Tapper, for example, that the destroyed Benghazi consulate was, in fact, a CIA hub, likely used to run weapons from al Qaeda affiliates in Libya to al Qaeda affiliates in Syria. Likewise, we learned this week, that, all of Obama’s “smart diplomacy” notwithstanding, the bad guys still want to blow up Americans and the Americans still don’t know how to stop them from doing so, short of shutting down all of the nation’s foreign embassies for random periods of time. To say that the Obama administration’s foreign policy is in shambles would be giving the President far too much credit. He has no policy. And the entire world knows it.
This, of course, should surprise no one. Obama never had a foreign policy. None of the Democratic primary candidates in 2008, save perhaps the crazy little isolationist Dennis Kucinich, had any policy at all. But they all sure got along well, didn’t they?
As for the GOP, we can’t say that we expect any of the potential presidential candidates to come up with the perfect foreign policy before the primary season starts. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” foreign policy anyway, and, moreover, we’re not sure that any of the Republicans would be smart enough to understand it, even if there were one. Still, the debate is important, critically so.
Consider the Christie-Paul dust-up, the one that Navarette described as the nastiest of the bunch. Now, in truth, neither of combatants covered himself in glory, and the public didn’t learn much. But the exchange raised the issue of the all-important clash between the growing isolationist movement within the conservative community and the old neo-conservative interventionist crowd that has become the mainstream of the party in the last few decades. Believe it or not, the future of the United States rests on the outcome of this clash. And the Democrats don’t even know it exists, must less argue about it.
Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the best known and most respected mainstream, neo-conservative commentator working today, described Christie’s initial attack on Paul “electrifying.” He continued:
It was an extremely important moment. Rand Paul represents the sort of isolationist wing of the Republican party; by this direct, fearless attack on him by Christie, I think he takes up the mantle of the majority of the GOP, which is interventionist. And that’s a really important moment.
Oddly enough, what made this comment so fascinating is that the substance of Christie’s attack wasn’t electrifying at all. Not even close. Indeed, it was marginally stupid. Here what he said.
This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines . . . I think is a very dangerous thought. You can name any number of people and (Paul is) one of them.
I want them [Paul and other critics of the surveillance state] to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation . . . I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in.
Or to put it more succinctly: “Oh yeah? You like the constitution? Well . . . tell it the widows and orphans!” But what does that even mean?
What Krauthammer found electrifying, we suppose, was that Christie who has had little to say about foreign policy in the past, turns out to be an internationalist. “One of us,” so to speak. Or at least that’s what Dr. K. apparently thought he said.
The more probable explanation of Christie’s outburst is that he didn’t intend for his comments to “mean” anything. He just wanted to end the debate, to compel Paul to shut up. “Tell it to the widows and orphans” isn’t a policy. It’s a purely emotional appeal, and an absurd one at that. It is, in short, bathos cloaked as pathos. Throughout his tenure as governor, Christie’s political opponents have described him as a bully. Based on his attack on Paul, we think we see what they mean.
Of course, the big problem for Christie is that Paul didn’t shut up. He fired right back. Navarette et al. may think that this is a sign of nastiness and the imminent crack-up of the GOP. We prefer to think of it as intellectually healthy and absolutely necessary debate about one of the most important issues facing the American republic today.
In a blog post this weekend for National Review Online, the inimitable Mark Steyn noted that the “shrinking national security Right” is shrinking largely because its purported leaders have spent far too little time thinking about the country’s strategic interests in the so-called “war on terror” and even less time figuring out how to achieve them. In the end, he said, this means that “The Taliban will soon enough be back in Kabul, but Americans will be shuffling shoeless through the airports of Cleveland and Des Moines unto the end of time.”
Maybe that’s the way it has to be. Certainly, if Christie has his way, then that’s the way it will be. The same goes for John McCain. But not so Rand Paul. And not so Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. And we, for two, welcome the debate. The big names in the Republican Party may be fighting constantly, and all that fighting may look ugly. But it’s not. It’s simply the way intellectually healthy and diverse groups hash out policy differences.
As we’ve said before in these pages, we don’t actually believe at least at this point that Rand Paul has what it takes to get himself elected President. And after last week, we feel pretty sure that Christie doesn’t either. But three years is a long time. And the back-and-forth between these two – and others in the party – will not only make one of them, or someone else, a far stronger candidate than he is now, but will force him to develop a coherent policy that takes into consideration both the national security implications of the surveillance state and the potential damage being done in the name of national security to the liberties and rights of the people. This will go a long way toward clarifying America’s role in and obligations to the rest of the world. And nothing, frankly, could be more important. Steyn’s “national security right” will get a fair hearing, even if it is unsuccessful in making its case.
When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, he was, understandably, oblivious to the havoc that Islamist terrorism would wreak on this country. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he was fully aware of this havoc, but believed that he could calm the storm simply through the sheer force of his intellect and personality. In both cases the country suffered from its leaders’ lack of preparedness.
One can hope that when American’s select a new president in 2016, they will at least have a choice among Republicans based on policy considerations that are well known. Ideally, for example, they will be able to pick someone who feels that the widows and orphans should have a strong say in foreign policy decisions. Or they can pick someone who has, at least, thought about the trade-offs and is willing to discuss them in public.
So fight away, fellas. And Godspeed as you do.
BEZOS: THE GRIM REAPER.
It used to be that when a brilliant and wealthy businessman like Jeff Bezos made a large investment in a particular industry, it was widely interpreted as a sign that good times lay ahead for that industry, or, at the very least, that the industry had a future.
Needless to say, this was not the case yesterday when the amazingly astute and exceedingly rich founder and CEO of Amazon bought the Washington Post for a quarter of a billion dollars of his own money. Now, this was a bargain basement price for the iconic newspaper of record for the nation’s ruling class. But it was not pin money either, and one could assume that a man of Bezos’ reputation does not throw money away.
Nevertheless, the belief that the newspaper business is on its deathbed is so widespread, and supported by so much empirical evidence, that the purchase was indeed regarded by many as nothing more than the folly of a very rich man, akin to buying a sport franchise.
And why should it be otherwise? After all, the sale came just a few days after the New York Times sold the Boston Globe to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry for $70 million, which represented a huge loss for the Times, which bought the paper in 1993 for $1.1 billion, among the highest prices paid for an American newspaper.
Moreover, the Globe and the Post are hardly alone. As the Times story on the Globe sale notes, papers that have been sold of late have all been sold for significant losses.
The Globe is not the only paper to sell at a heavily discounted price. In April 2012, Philadelphia’s newspapers sold for $55 million after selling for $515 million in 2006. In October, The Tampa Tribune sold for $9.5 million. In recent talks on the sale of the Tribune Company’s portfolio of newspapers, analysts estimated that the entire newspaper company, including The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, was worth only $623 million.
Given this, the question still unanswered is why Bezos would want any part of this industry? Why would the incredibly successful and savvy Bezos want to be the owner of the Washington Post? Why would anyone want to own any newspaper?
We can’t say for sure, obviously, but we think that we have an idea. Consider, for a minute, the fate of another once strong but currently struggling industry – show business.
As you may or may not know, on the opposite side of the country from The Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post, big time Hollywood studios are laying off staff. Big shot actors like George Clooney are taking pay cuts and complaining that their new, hedge-fund bosses expect to see results in the form profits. And the usual summer blockbusters are turning out to be enormous flops. As Deadline Hollywood reported over the weekend, viewers are continuing to stay away from movies in droves:
This is yet another weekend that confounded and confused Hollywood as domestic numbers are coming in lower than projected and only international grosses are saving Summer 2013 . . .
[T]he #3 film Sony Pictures Animation‘s The Smurfs 2 (3,866 theaters) bombed in the U.S. and Canada where even the most wretched family fare can [usually] catch a break at the summer box office. This 3D hybrid live-action/CG animated sequel couldn’t even make in its first five days ($27.8M) what the 2011 original grossed in its first three-day weekend ($35.6M). Ouch! Guess little blue people creep me out and North Americans, too. The domestic total fell way short of the $35M first projected by the studio which blames too many PG films at the multiplex. But even the foreign cume was blah: $52.5M from 43 territories was “not enough to make up for U.S. underperformance,” a Sony exec tells me.
None of this, we should note, is particularly revelatory. Hollywood has been struggling for a long time. Indeed, nearly eight years ago, we wrote about Hollywood’s troubles and predicted that said troubles would be persistent and potentially fatal. The details of our piece are, largely irrelevant at this point, except in that they show that the traditional movie business has been in serious trouble for a very long while.
But then, this is the traditional movie business we’re talking about. Are movies really dead? Is entertainment really no longer profitable? The answer in both cases is “no.” It’s simply a fact that the old Hollywood business model no longer works. Most Americans don’t have $50 to $100 bucks to take the family out to a movie every weekend. And so they stay in. That’s not to say that they don’t watch movies or aren’t entertained. But the distribution of said entertainment has changed, and changed dramatically.
Where do more and more Americans get their movies, TV shows, and other entertainment? They get them from online streaming service that transmit, flawlessly and in high-definition, content to televisions and entertainment centers that are bigger, clearer and more theater-like than anyone could have imagined even a decade ago.
And who is one of the industry leaders in providing streaming entertainment? None other than Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com.
Bezos, of course, didn’t buy himself a movie studio and start making films because he wanted to tell “important stories.” He bought Hollywood’s content and put it on his web site, where he uses it to draw people to the site. Amazon “Prime” for example is a stroke of Bezos-ian genius. You pay a minimal annual fee to Amazon, and in return you get to view as much “Prime” free content as you want – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, if you want. You also get free two-day shipping on all products Amazon carries. Free entertainment. Free shipping. And a world of products right at your fingertips. What’s not to like? Certainly from Amazon’s perspective, there’s nothing not to like. All of which is to say that Jeff Bezos took a dying industry, bought up its content, and turned it into a massive fringe benefit that consumers receive simply for doing their shopping at Bezos’s store.
So, now, why does the guy want the Post? For much the same reason, we suspect.
As we noted eight years ago, a big part of the reason that Hollywood was failing was because it was producing content that was often hostile to and contemptuous of its audience. Hollywood is manned almost exclusively by Leftsists who produce films for other Leftists. And who in this country wants to waste the money to go to a movie just to be insulted by a bunch of preening liberals?
On Amazon, of course, movies cost considerably less. Moreover, they are extensively reviewed and graded by average viewers rather than elitist film critics. All of which is to say that Amazon’s streaming services take the sting out of Hollywood’s pretensions. Viewers can search for content that suits their opinions, and even if they make a poor choice, they’re only out five bucks rather than fifty.
Whether anyone in the business will admit it or not, Big Journalism suffers from precisely the same problem as does Hollywood. The mega-newspapers are suffering for a variety of reasons, but a big one is their contempt for their would-be readers. As in Hollywood, mainstream news is produced almost exclusively by Leftists for Leftists. And in the age of the internet, that’s clearly a recipe for killing an industry.
Bezos, of course, doesn’t care about the Leftists or their biases. And frankly, he probably doesn’t care about the hard-copy of the Washington Post either. What he’s after is news content – just as was after entertainment content. In buying the Post, he also bought a massive, news-content provider, one that comes complete with a legion of well-known, well-respected, and well-liked reporters and columnists . . . errr . . . “content providers.”
Some of these content providers will be too liberal for mainstream Americans. But some will not. And all of them will draw readers and SHOPPERS! to the Amazon site. In the long run, this will undoubtedly destroy the Post as a newspaper, just as it will destroy what remains of the others newspapers and much of the rest of the traditional news industry. At the same time, it will make Amazon an even bigger and more powerful company and Bezos and even richer and more powerful man.
When all is said and done, we wouldn’t be surprised if Bezos emerges far more powerful and far more important in the distribution of news than either the Grahams or the Sulzbergers could ever have dreamed.