Archive

July 18th, 2016

GOP, RIP?

    The Republican Party came to life as the bastion of "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men." It was a reformist party dedicated to stopping the spread of slavery and to fighting a "Slave Power" its founders saw as undermining free institutions.

    The new political organization grew out of the old Whigs and reflected the faith that Henry Clay and his admirer Abraham Lincoln had in the federal government's ability to invest in fostering economic growth and expanding educational opportunity. Its partisans embodied what John C. Calhoun, slavery's chief ideological defender, described disdainfully as "the national impulse." It was, in fact, a good impulse.

    But the Republicans who held their first national convention 160 years ago were more than just northern Whigs. Their ranks also included many former Democrats who shared a fervor for the anti-slavery cause and helped take some of the Whiggish, elitist edge off this ingathering of idealists and practical politicians.

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Divided Republicans ponder their after-Trump

    The tensions at the 2016 Republican National Convention aren't like those typically seen at the party's divided gatherings: Teddy Roosevelt challenging the hierarchy in 1912; or the moderates versus conservatives, Dwight Eisenhower against Robert Taft in 1952, or 12 years later, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, then Ronald Reagan taking on President Gerald Ford in 1976.

    Republicans meet in Cleveland on Monday to anoint their presidential nominee amid deep schisms: Never have so many of the party's prominent governors, senators, House members and, most conspicuously, former presidents and presidential candidates, avoided the quadrennial forum. But ideology is secondary.

    Donald Trump, the presumed nominee, has rolled over the party's right-wing activists, mainstream moderates and policy-centric lawmakers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan or Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

    The discussion among Republicans in Cleveland and around the country is about the future of party: Is this election an aberration, or could Republicans go the way of the Whigs a century and a half ago?

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International law isn't quite law, but it's useful

    An international court rules that China broke the law by building islands in the South China Sea. China doesn't care.

    Does that make international law a joke? The answer is yes and no.

    International law isn't the command of a sovereign backed by the threat of force. It usually can't force countries to obey its dictates and decisions. That makes it different from domestic law.

    But international law still matters. The decision against China by a Hague tribunal for violating a treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, functions as a kind of early warning sign for how other countries in the world think about China's militaristic expansion. The decision is beneficial not only to the Philippines, which brought the case, but to all the countries who have overlapping maritime interests with China in the Pacific -- including the United States, which provides security to most of them.

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We need Thurgood Marshall's wisdom these days

    Last month marked the 25th anniversary of Justice Thurgood Marshall's announcement that he was retiring from the Supreme Court after 24 years of service. Hardly anybody noticed. That's too bad. We could use his wisdom in this badly fractured moment.

    Many people within a decade or two of my age miss Marshall because of the way he voted. But that attitude, although common when we look at the court, masks something terribly cynical and even illiberal. The justice whom we love because he votes the right way isn't valued for who he is, but for the benefit we derive from him. We see him less as public servant than as simply a servant -- an ideological captive over whom we are able to exercise control.

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This is the beginning of the end of the NRA

    The NRA is not only a constituent part of the Republican Party. It is in some ways a microcosm of it. Its demographics: an aging, male, non-urban, racially anxious, white base. Its policy prescriptions: outlier positions unsupported by science. Its politics: defensive and bitterly opposed to compromise.

    Like the GOP, which dominates state governments and has reached peak numbers in Congress, the National Rifle Association appears to be at the height of its considerable powers. It is well funded, professionally staffed and deeply entrenched in U.S. politics, having fully hitched a major political party to its single cause.

    NRA ideology is popular, often intuitive and packaged in easily digested talking points and aphorisms -- "good guy with a gun," "if guns are outlawed ..." -- that are widely repeated by millions of gun enthusiasts.

    The group has been racking up victories in conservative states that have adopted wholesale the movement creed that guns on campus, in bars, at church, in cars -- guns everywhere -- constitutes both a rational public policy and an extension of liberty.

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The best punishment for Boris Johnson is his new job

    Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and member of Parliament who helped orchestrate the Brexit, will be Britain's foreign secretary. It seems like an odd role for someone who spent the last months campaigning against internationalism, someone who wrote a limerick (for a 1,000-pound prize) about the Turkish president having sex with a goat, someone who said President Obama had an "ancestral dislike" of Britain because he was "part Kenyan" and compared Hillary Clinton to "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital."

    Actually, the new gig is the perfect fit for boorish Johnson. Chairman Mao helps explain why:

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Putting behind our inordinate fear of inflation

    Why do we care so much about preventing inflation?

    When I put this query to baby boomers, they tell me that if I had lived through the inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, I would understand. But this was also a time of slow growth, deep recessions and terrible asset returns. Inflation was hardly the only problem the U.S. economy was facing. So why does it stand out so strongly in our collective memory?

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It's not just police shootings that spark protests. It's the denial of justice.

    Another summer, and police killing black men -- both armed and unarmed -- has made the headlines again. This time, it's Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. Add those incidents to the horrific shooting of 12 police officers in Dallas, and it's clear we're seeing an escalating crisis.

    And that crisis is reflected by the outrage in the streets. From Los Angeles to Detroit to Birmingham to New York, places where they have been no recent police shootings, protesters demand action, and some Americans ask: Why?

    It's not the killings alone. It's the denial of justice, over and over, that follows.

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Food debate shows Congress is bad at regulating

    In recent years, Republicans have argued that Congress is a more responsible policymaker than the executive branch. But when it comes to regulation, Congress is often much worse, and for just one reason: Executive agencies almost always focus on both costs and benefits, and Congress usually doesn't.

    As a case in point, consider the Senate's recent vote, by a margin of 63-30, in favor of a new law to require national labels for foods containing genetically modified organisms. The House is expected to pass the bill in the near future. However popular it might be, the coming law would almost certainly fail the minimal requirements that American presidents -- from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama -- have imposed on federal regulators before they can finalize similar rules.

    Since 1981, federal agencies have been required to do two things: quantify the costs and benefits of regulatory requirements, and demonstrate that the benefits justify the costs. Congress did neither -- which is typical.

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Britain may prove even easier to buy off than ever before

    In fact, I get the logic. Theresa May's first set of appointments -- Liam Fox will become minister for international trade, David Davis will run the exit negotiations, and Boris Johnson will be foreign secretary -- make a lot of sense. She has put hard-line Brexit proponents in charge of negotiating Britain's retreat from European politics. It will be impossible, from now on, for anyone to argue that voters were cheated. If these three men can't manage the United Kingdom's divorce proceedings, then nobody can.

    At the same time, May has deftly eliminated an obvious source of internal disharmony. Like Barack Obama appointing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, she has given her potentially most damaging critic a huge task that will prevent him from writing nasty articles in the Daily Telegraph. Johnson, bored and sidelined, would have had plenty of time to think up jokes about her and her government; now he'll be on a plane to Timbuktu instead.

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