Published for The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2013
Many are arguing these days that President Obama has forged a new majority coalition of women, minorities, young people and upscale cultural liberals so large and durable that he can do what no president has done before—pursue a very liberal agenda without serious opposition or defections from his own party. Demography is destiny, this argument holds, and it is irrevocably on the side of Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party.
Yes, there will be fewer whites and more minorities in the future, and Republicans will have to adjust. But the situation is more complicated than that.
Start with the obvious: If demographics were determinative, then Republicans shouldn’t have gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives in 2010—the largest midterm shift since 1938—while also taking 30 governorships.
When presidential re-elections yielded realignments in the past, the winner earned a bigger share of the vote than he had in the past. FDR won 60.8% of the vote in 1936 after winning 57.41% in 1932. But Mr. Obama won 51.06% in 2012, down from 52.87% in 2008. Over the course of his first term, his support dropped among young people (a swing of 2.4 million net votes to Mitt Romney), women (a net swing of 1.6 million votes to Mr. Romney), and African-Americans (a net swing 945,000 votes).
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Published for Commentary Magazine, January 29, 2013
I recently read a splendid book by Harry Clor, On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, whose purpose is to “articulate a coherent, defensible case for moderation as a virtue, the possession and encouragement of which is important for us.”
Maybe the best way to begin is to be clear on what Clor says moderation is not. Political moderation is not, he writes, the antithesis of holding principled and wholehearted commitments. It’s not simply a matter of being in the middle of two extremes. It is not “tepid, middle compromise” between opposing ideals.
Like thoughtful scholarship, political moderation, according to Clor, takes a disinterested account of opposing perspectives on complex questions. It is synonymous with proportionality. And it recognizes limits and takes into account circumstances. For example, determining how much liberty and how much restraint a society embraces can’t be answered in the abstract; it depends on circumstances. “A course of action, policy, or pronouncement that is valid in some or most cases would be wrong, even disastrous, in certain situations, and there will be exceptions to any proposition you could affirm,” Clor writes. Immoderation, on the other hand, “is characterized by a one-sided or absolute commitment to a good that is in fact only one good among several.”
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Published for Washington Post, January 17, 2013
The rapid onset of the flu season this year has led to illness, absenteeism, hospitalizations and, tragically, death. It has also led to speculation, misinformation and just plain falsehoods about the illness and the government’s pandemic policies. Here’s a primer on what’s definitely not true about the flu.
1. This season, the flu is deadlier than ever.
The influenza virus is one of the leading causes of death by infectious disease in the United States. It killed an average of 36,000 Americans annually in the 1990s. Approximately 675,000 Americans died in the great influenza of 1918-1919, and 70,000 perished in the Asian flu outbreak of 1957-1958. To put these numbers in perspective, about 400,000 Americans died in World War II.
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Published for The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2013
President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over his proposed more than $1 trillion increase in the debt ceiling as a matter of principle because Congress “should pay the bills that they have already racked up.”
Set aside the obvious—that he championed the spending and signed the measures that racked up the bills, which Republicans opposed. There may be no person in America with less moral authority than Mr. Obama on this issue. Six years ago he led a Democratic effort to defeat a $781 billion debt-ceiling increase.
On March 16, 2006, Illinois’s junior Sen. Obama argued on the Senate floor that raising the debt limit was “a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.” He complained that “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren,” and added, “America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.”
Even by Washington’s lax standards, Mr. Obama’s complaints today reek of hypocrisy.
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Published for The Wall Street Journal Online, January 8th, 2013
On a summer’s day in 1981, a college kid stepped off a Manhattan elevator into a place he had imagined himself only in his dreams: the offices of The Wall Street Journal.
I was there to meet editorial writer Adam Meyerson. He was seeing me on behalf of the editors of the American Spectator, to assess whether I was worth the $129 investment in a round-trip plane ticket to Bloomington, Ind., for a job interview.
Mr. Meyerson managed to put me at ease without in the least diminishing the awe stirred by the environs. At the time, I had no way of knowing that three years later I would join him on the editorial page, for a Journal career that would see me stationed in Brussels and Hong Kong, and dispatched to war zones from Lebanon and Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It has been a rollicking good ride.
I use the past tense because this shall be my last Main Street column. Come Friday, I take up residence as editorial-page editor at the New York Post, another fearless newspaper whose own proud history dates back to Alexander Hamilton. As I bid farewell, I offer a few thoughts about what it is about The Wall Street Journal that has made it such a congenial home for me.
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Published for National Review’s ‘The Corner’, December 4, 2012
The seemingly endless series of budget showdowns that have characterized the last two years has a lot of people frustrated, and understandably so. But I think it’s a mistake to attribute that pattern to a failure to seriously bargain, as many critics suggest. It is in fact the only plausible outcome of bargaining given our increasingly problematic fiscal situation. A lasting bargain — a middle-ground deal that provides a solution that endures for many years, of the sort reached in the 80s and 90s — is not really going to be possible in this situation. And the frustration about this has to do with a failure to grasp just what our situation is, and just how different the goals of the two parties are at this point.
It is true, as the self-declared sober moderates among the talking heads remind us, that there is a kind of middle ground between what the two parties are asking for. That instinct is in fact where the so-called “Bowles proposal” that John Boehner offered the president on Monday came from. At a November 1, 2011, hearing of the supercommittee (you can find the transcript archived here, the text quoted below starts on page 50), Erskine Bowles asked for some time to present an idea. Here’s what he said:
Chairman HENSARLING: I would note, prior to Senator Simpson’s departure, he did mention, Mr. Bowles, that you had something you might want to present. Without objection, I would certainly yield you a couple of minutes if I understand you have something else you wish to present to this committee.
Published for CNBC, November 16, 2012
Tony Fratto and Austan Goolsbee (4:15)