Blow up the Byrd Rule

So everyone is up in arms about President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s three-part plan for eliminating Obamacare.  The first step is the repeal and partial replace.  Step 2 is HHS and Secretary Price revising or eliminating most of the Obamacare regulations; and Step 3 is another piece of legislation that will implement the rest of the conservative, market-based health care reforms Republicans want to implement.  It’s that last step that Republicans rightly worry will never come to fruition.

Here’s what I can’t figure out: Obamacare took only one step — the passage of the bill in the dead of night and using reconciliation, after Harry Reid and the Democrats promised they would not use reconciliation.  Remember Nancy Pelosi’s in-your-face walk from the House office buildings to the Capitol carrying a gavel the size of a telephone pole?  From that point, the Democrats treated the “Affordable” Care Act as an enabling act, pretty much doing whatever they wanted to keep Obamacare afloat, whether the law permitted it or not.  Mandates were/weren’t enforced as needed, the IRS used money not available to it to provide subsidies, the federal government built websites for states, etc. etc.  The whole thing was one giant kluge, but once the bill passed the Democrats were off to the races, doing pretty much whatever they felt like they needed to do to make Obamacare work, no matter what the statute actually said.

So here is what I don’t understand: why do Republicans have to go through this three-step kluge to get the repeal-and-replace done?  Why can’t we pass our own act and then go off to the regulatory (or, in our case, the deregulatory) races?

The answer lies in the Byrd Rule, an arcane rule that requires that bills that change Federal budget outlay and therefore affect the budget deficit.  There is more to it than that, but that is the gist.

Republican health care reform is being held hostage by the Byrd Rule.  The Byrd Rule is completely driving the design of Republicans’ legislative health care solutions.  That seems nuts.  Should a workable health care solution to the Obamacare mess be conditioned on the arcane Byrd Rule?  Should the Byrd Rule stand in the way of effective health care reform, when the collapsing of Obamacare makes such reform urgent?  Talk about elevating form over substance.

So here’s a radical suggestion: blow up the Byrd Rule.  Heck, the latest craze among the Left is to remove any Confederate statues or Confederate flags.  By removing the Byrd Rule the Republicans can join the party and remove a rule named after a former member of the Ku Klux Klan!  Now that should be something Democrats can get behind!  But in all seriousness, half of the debate around Obamacare and the Republicans’ American Health Care Act is about the CBO’s deficit scoring.  If that’s the case, how can the full repeal and the full replacement of Obamacare not meet the Byrd Rule and be able to be pushed through in reconciliation?

This argument is a bit of a slippery slope, I admit — I imagine a lot of legislation could be considered as affecting the deficit and therefore amenable to passage using reconciliation using this basis.  In effect, we might be nuking the filibuster for legislation.  Nevertheless, it’s worth pursuing.  What Republican wants to say “we could have fixed Obamacare and gotten a cost-containing, market-based health care but we to make sure our design fit within the constraints of the Byrd Rule?”  Yeah, that’ll be a real winner in the midterms.  By the time a Republican candidate finishes explaining the Byrd Rule, they’ll be surrounded by a Middlebury mob.

If we blast our way through the Byrd Rule, repeal-and-replace can be symmetric with the process the Democrats used to foist Obamacare on the country in the first place: step 1 — pass the bill you want to pass, not the bill designed to satisfy reconciliation.  Step 2 — write (or repeal) the regs.  Done.









Anti-Semitic My Tuchas

All week I’ve been hearing about how President Trump hasn’t denounced anti-Semitism enough. CNN ran a whole report the other day on how anti-Semitism is on the rise and insinuating it’s somehow Trump’s fault because he didn’t push back against anti-Semitism strongly enough.

This is so pathetic I don’t even know where to begin. Does anyone seriously think Donald Trump is an anti-Semite or that he tolerates anti-Semites?  This is part-and-parcel of the tired, pathetic, and offensive narrative that all Republicans are racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, yadda yadda yadda.

It’s particularly rich coming from the left-wing media and the Democratic Party. The Obama Administration bent over backwards to coddle and appease Iran so it could get its precious little nuclear agreement and its oh-so-clever, oh-so-outside-the-box strategic realignment to allow Iran to become a regional power.

During the Obama years Iran launched missiles with “Israel must be wiped from the face of the map” on them. Pretty anti-Semitic, no?  (And don’t give me that garbage about you can be anti-Zionist or criticize Israel but not be anti-Semitic.  A country that talks about wiping Israel off the face of the map is talking about killing Jews.)  Not one peep from the Iran-ophiles in the Obama White House.

Iran sponsored Holocaust denial conferences and Holocaust denial cartoon contests during the Obama years. Pretty anti-Semitic, I’d say.  Response from the Obama Administration?  Crickets.

Who can forget the disgusting pictures of Secretary of State John Kerry palling around with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, the representative of a government that denies the Holocaust while publicly stating it wants to murder all the Jews in Israel? This, from the same Administration that called Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickens***”.

Who can forget Obama saying the world leader he felt closest to was Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the budding Islamic tyrant whose anti-Semitism led to a complete break in relations with Israel? Erdogan is a raging anti-Semite.  And Obama said he was the world leader he felt closest to.  Did anyone care?  Number of damns given by the left-wing media?  Exactly zero.

The leading contender for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee is a defender of Louis Farrakhan.

The Democrats booed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at their 2012 convention. The Los Angeles Times’s tapes of Rashid Khalidi speaking with Obama in the audience remain on lockdown.

And despite all this, Donald Trump and the Republicans are supposedly the ones with the anti-Semitism problem.

During the protests against the Iraq War it wasn’t hard to find the International ANSWER folks making anti-Semitic remarks. International ANSWER, darling of the radical Left and fellow traveler of the Democratic Party.  Here’s what the Anti-Defamation League had to say about International ANSWER:

In addition to its anti-war activity, IAC and ANSWER have sponsored and organized numerous anti-Israel events, rallies and demonstrations in the United States. ANSWER in particular has positioned itself as the leading organizer of the large rallies against Israel that usually take place during periods of heightened tension, including the Gaza War in the winter of 2008-2009 and the summer 2006 war in Lebanon. These protests, often co-sponsored by other anti-Israel organizations, regularly featured anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, expressions of support for terror and offensive Holocaust imagery likening Jews and Israelis to Nazis.

ANSWER and IAC have both repeatedly expressed support for terrorist groups determined to dismantle the state of Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as “resistance” groups fighting U.S. forces abroad. Hamas and Hezbollah flags and signs expressing solidarity with these groups are often on display at ANSWER and IAC-organized anti-Israel rallies. IAC representatives have also attended conferences in the Middle East with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives to discuss strategies for shoring up support for these groups.

Not once are the Democrats made to account for the anti-Semitism of International ANSWER, the organizer of goodness knows how many left-wing protests. (Take a look at the anti-Trump protests and the anti-Iraq War protests.  Plenty of pre-printed International ANSWER placards.)  No one is worried that the remarkable overlap between Democratic Party supporters and International ANSWER might represent a strain of anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party.  No sir.  It would violate the laws of the universe for a Democrat to be racist or anti-Semitic.

Does it occur to anyone that the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe might be because Europe has been inundated with Muslim immigrants coming from countries that teach anti-Semitism? How about the Jews that were trapped inside a Paris synagogue by rioting Muslim extremists?  The Times of Israel reported that some of the refugees in refugee camps in Europe hated Israel more than Syria, even though it was Syria the refugees were fleeing!  That is pathological.  Maybe CNN could spare a moment from its wall-to-wall “Trump is a racist-anti-Semitic-homophobic-threat to democracy” and report on this?

When the Democrats push back against all the anti-Semitism that has infected the international left and their supporters, maybe we could take their protestations that Trump isn’t fighting anti-Semitism strongly enough seriously. Until then, they can go pound sand.  It’s all pretextual garbage designed to make the Republicans look anti-Semitic.  I’m not fooled.

Don’t Plame the Trump Administration

Less than a month into the Trump Administration, the Democrats have already begun executing the playbook they used to nearly destroy the Bush presidency.  The Democrats are trying to do with the Michael Flynn episode what they did with the Valerie Plame affair – cloaking their efforts to destroy a presidential administration in their ostensible concern for national security.  With the Flynn matter, Democrats are clothing their efforts to undermine the Trump Administration in their ostensible national security concerns about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians.  As an added bonus, the Democrats get to cement their false but self-soothing narrative that the Russians were responsible for Trump’s victory, not their message or their candidate.

This poses huge dangers for the administration that it must get on top of immediately.  To survive and reassert their authority, the Trump Administration must take a number of actions.

Get Congressional Republicans in line and shut down open-ended, broad-scope investigations into Flynn and other Trump Administration officialsCongressional Republicans are trying to look bipartisan by sharing the concerns of the rabidly partisan Democrats and supporting investigations into Flynn’s conduct and the conduct of other officials.  This is fraught with danger.  The same Democrats who stonewalled on the real scandal of Benghazi and pooh-pooed the idea that Hillary Clinton’s server might have been insecure and hacked suddenly interested in national security investigations?  Congressional Republicans need to say sorry, but we’re not fooled.  Congressional Democrats concern for national security only seems to fire up when GOP boogeymen are in the crosshairs. Already, they are saying they not satisfied with Flynn’s scalp and they want broader investigations into Trump Administration officials.

We’ve seen his movie before.  The Valerie Plame investigation is the model for what is about to happen.  Remember when Joe Wilson said he wanted to have Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs?  That’s what they’ve got planned for the Trump administration.  The Plame investigation severely damaged the Bush administration and nearly made it impossible to prosecute the war in Iraq.  It helped cement the false narrative that George Bush lied the country into war and then vindictively retaliated against Joe Wilson, who supposedly only spoke truth to power, by outing his wife as a CIA employee.  And it paralyzed the administration, making it nearly impossible for it to implement and execute the surge that led to victory in Iraq.

Only years later did Congressional investigations conclude that Wilson was a liar and the report from his trip to Africa actually supported the conclusion that Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake uranium in Africa.  But who remembers that?  All we remember is that an administration official, Scooter Libby, was convicted of perjury.  And who recalls that Judith Miller, one of the journalists who refused to testify, recently realized that investigators may have misinterpreted information they used to convict Libby?  No one remembers that either.  And very few remember that the special prosecutor continued the investigation even after identifying the leaker of Valerie Plame’s identity (Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage), obtaining Libby’s perjury conviction well after the ostensible subject of the investigation had been discovered.  The whole thing took on a life of its own, with the Democrats and MSNBC fanning the flames the whole way.

Any “bipartisan” investigation of the Flynn matter will turn into a circus.  Undoubtedly someone will say something that doesn’t perfectly comport with something someone else says, and there will be a whole new round of scandals, manufactured outrage, calls for more investigations, and I’d bet dollars to donuts, a special prosecutor. 

All this needs to be nipped in the bud now.  Flynn has been cut loose.  The administration cannot afford to have its nat sec officials embroiled, day after day, in Congressional investigations.  Congressional Republicans on the intelligence committees need to rein this in and prevent an open-ended investigation that will prevent the administration from doing its job.  It does not pay for the Republicans to be the “bigger person” and showing genuine concern about Flynn when all the Democrats are looking for are GOP scalps.

Remind the world that the only reason the Democrats are fired up about Russia is that it is a handy excuse for their election lossesThe nub of the entire Flynn controversy is that Flynn talked to the Russian ambassador just as the Obama Administration began taking action against Russia for its supposed meddling in the presidential election.  That is, the Democrats’ ginned-up, recently discovered concern about Russia is what underlies the entire Flynn matter.  The Obama Administration only began taking a hard line on Russia in the last few weeks of its tenure, probably to help reinforce the notion that Russia somehow helped Donald Trump win the presidential election.  Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine and indiscriminate bombing and atrocious human rights violations in Syria didn’t lead to serious consequences for Russia.  Only when the Democrats went looking for someone to blame the election loss on did Russia enter the crosshairs.  Remember, the Democrats failed to pin the election on racism (Jennifer Palmieri at the Harvard Institute of Politics), the unfairness of the Electoral College system (and the effort to persuade Republican electors to be faithless), “fake news,” and James Comey.  But with the Russian hack of the DNC and the supposed Russian support for Donald Trump, the Democrats got traction.  So they settled on “the Russians did it” as the reason for their loss and took steps, such as expelling diplomats and imposing sanctions, to reinforce that narrative.  Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador got caught up in this.  It seems perfectly reasonable for an incoming National Security Advisor to speak to foreign ambassadors during the transition – isn’t that what transitions are for? – but because the conversation occurred with the backdrop of the hysteria about the supposed Russian involvement in the election, suddenly the contact became nefarious.

Any investigation needs to have as a main focus the leakers of information about the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.  Those are serious concerns that, as journalist Eli Lake has pointed out, reflect the “deep state” using intelligence to commit a “political assassination” of a domestic government official.  That’s police state and banana republic stuff.  If the Democrats can’t get behind that aspect of any investigation, we’ll know their concerns about the whole Flynn affair are a sham and they are only using the Flynn situation for partisan advantage.

Get people into the agencies, prontoThe agencies have had weeks without political leadership as the Democrats have bogged down the confirmation process to an unprecedented degree.  Democratic bureaucrats have had weeks to create all kinds of mischief.  The agencies need adult supervision and they need it yesterday.  Republicans can no longer allow the Democrats to slow-walk their nominees.  Trump administration personnel need to be running the agencies.  Now.

Release the secret parts of the Iran deal and more of the document trove from the Osama bin Laden raidThe Washington Free Beacon has reported that former Obama Administration officials and others who support the Iran deal orchestrated the leaks and stories about Flynn because he planned to release the secret elements of the Iran deal.  The Trump Administration should make it a priority to release the secret portions of the Iran deal.  They should do this anyway as a matter of good policy and civic hygiene – there is no good reason why in our democracy the public and the legislature should not know the details of a supposed world-saving agreement.  If it embarrasses former Obama Administration officials, too bad.  The public has a right to know.  And if the former Obama Administration officials really did orchestrate a campaign that led to Flynn’s ouster, embarrassing them would be an added bonus.  It would also be a warning – try this with other Trump officials, and you will pay dearly.

As for the bin Laden documents, there is no good reason why at least more of them have not been released.  The public should see at least some of them.  This is a gong the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes has been banging for some time, and he is right.  It’s time to see more of the documents and get a better explanation for why we can’t see others.  If that embarrasses the people who apparently orchestrated the defenestration of Mike Flynn, so be it.  Not my problem.

Change the subjectTime for tax reform.  Get the economy humming again.  One thing we learned from the Clinton Administration is that an administration can weather a lot of scandal when the economy if going strong.  If tax reform succeeds, the economy will roar to life.  Americans won’t want to disturb that.  Under these circumstances, Americans will view efforts to defenestrate more Trump administration officials and destroy the administration with much greater hostility, same as they did to the Republican Congress that impeached Bill Clinton.


An Open Letter to Democrats and the Left

A little more than eight years ago, I was watching the election returns at a bar in Arlington, Virginia called Mr. Days after a long election day and a long year of volunteering for John McCain’s presidential campaign. As the election returns came back showing a convincing Obama victory, I remember feeling sadness that my volunteer efforts had come to naught and concern for the future of the country.  I worried about our national debt, what our foreign policy would be under the new Obama Administration, and whether the economy would recover from the housing crisis and recession that followed.  I remember my fears and worries of a Democratic-controlled House, a Democratic-controlled Senate, and a Democratic President implementing policies I did not support and feared would cause great harm to the country.  I remember, too, how some Obama supporters in the bar gave me a little grief for having lost.  In short, I remember feeling a lot like how you are probably feeling now.  Believe me when I say I am sympathetic to your situation, because eight years ago I was living it myself.

And it was especially challenging in 2008 for those of us that supported John McCain. While the country was caught up in the genuine triumph of electing the first black president, my emotions were decidedly mixed.  I could not fully enjoy the historical moment because I knew that policies I did not support and in many cases fervently opposed would soon be enacted in law, regulation, and executive policy changes.

At the time, I consoled myself with the recognition that American history is replete with pendulum swings, and today’s majority will be tomorrow’s minority. I remember thinking that I would have to redouble my personal efforts to promote the policies I thought were the best for the country the only way I knew how – by working harder to get candidates I supported elected, by publishing articles and op-eds that explained my positions, and gathering peacefully to express my opinions at appropriate times.  And so, two months after Obama’s election, I found myself going door-to-door on behalf of a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates running in a February special election.

It is in that spirit that I ask you to consider how the opposition to President Trump’s nascent administration looks to those of us who voted for him. Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, including many who had not voted Republican for a long time.  It cannot be that they are all sexists, racists, white supremacists, dupes of the Russians, or some other pejorative.

The Republican Party and conservatives are not morlocks that have erupted from under the earth’s surface to reign terror upon happy eloi that were getting along just fine before we arrived. We are not a virus that has invaded the body of the Republic to transform it into a hateful mess.  We are not foreign invaders come to steal your property and destroy your communities.  We are your neighbors and members of your community that have a different point of view.

However, too much of the recent debate has portrayed us as foreign invaders upsetting the country’s inexorable march toward the “right side of history.” When you describe your opposition to the Trump Administration as “the Resistance,” you perfectly conjure a vision of the United States having been invaded by a foreign enemy.  “Resistance” brings to mind the Free French resistance or the Yugoslav partisans resisting the Nazis or indigenous peoples resisting colonial invaders.  When you hold massive protest marches the day after the inauguration – before the Trump Administration has had a chance to do anything – I can’t help but think you are protesting the fact of the Trump Administration and the fact that I and millions of other Americans supported Donald Trump’s election.  You are not protesting something the Trump Administration has done; you are protesting the fact that I am a Republican and I think the way I do.  When you describe a reasonable dispute over the proper number of immigrants, visitors, and refugees as a “constitutional crisis,” you paint those of us who support immigration changes effectively as rebels undermining the very fabric of the country.  That is not the basis of healthy debate.

Imagine how those who supported Donald Trump might feel watching Saturday Night Live open its first show after the election as if a national tragedy had occurred. Or how we’d feel watching the serious discussions of whether electors should be faithless and vote for someone other than Donald Trump.  Or facing the subtle suggestion that the Russians or “fake news” somehow tricked them into voting for Donald Trump, as if they have no capability to consume what they read and hear in a discerning fashion.

Consider also how we view the incessant boycotts of products and companies owned by people with whom you disagree. When you demand that department stores refuse to carry Ivanka Trump’s clothing lines or boycott Trump businesses, I see that as a direct attack on people that have the same outlook on government as I do.  When you hound Brendan Eich out of the company he helped create for having donated to a cause with which you disagree, that frightens me.  You are threatening someone’s livelihood because you disagree with their politics.  I see that and think it could be me you are trying to destroy.  There but for the grace of G-d go I.  I don’t look at such boycotts as simple exercises of free speech.  I view them as a deliberate threat to my existence – if I don’t conform to your world view, you might destroy my livelihood too.  Imagine how people feeling this way might react.  We might not be interested in debate, discussion, or compromise.  Instead, we might just be more interested in defending ourselves – and voting for those who we think will defend us most effectively.

I’ve had people come back to me and say, well, you would boycott people with whom you vehemently disagreed. You wouldn’t patronize a store run by a neo-Nazi or white supremacist.  To which I say, yes, that is true.  But now more than ever we need to be able to draw distinctions between mere disagreement, even passionate disagreement, and a battle with the Nazis.  Not every policy disagreement is good versus evil, the angels of progress versus retrograde neo-Nazis, racists, sexists, and white supremacists.  The Nazis, the Communists, and other embodiments of evil truly threatened peoples’ lives.  They killed people because of their religion, their sexual orientation, or their political views.  Donald Trump simply is no such thing.  We cannot have a rational discussion of issues if we equate Donald Trump, whatever personal and policy flaws of his you may perceive, and the embodiments of true evil that were the Nazis, the fascists, or the Communists.  Democrats used to speak all the time of nuance and shades of gray in foreign and domestic policy, and these are lessons it behooves us all to keep in mind as the Trump Administration takes shape.

Think, for a moment, how a Donald Trump voter might view the multi-front effort to prevent him from governing. There are unprecedented delays in approving his Cabinet.  There are executive branch civil servants conspiring to undermine implementation of the president’s policies.  California is openly contemplating secession and others are openly and seriously writing about impeachment or coups.  States, counties, and cities are considering making themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants in open defiance of federal immigration policy.  Members of Congress are already discussing impeachment and are on high alert flyspecking the administration to find any grounds on which to draw up the articles.

There is a time and a place for civil disobedience. The civil rights movement’s use of civil disobedience to bring an end to the odious and immoral practice of Jim Crow segregation was a shining example of the power of civil disobedience to right moral wrongs.  But not every policy dispute is a fundamental moral question.  Not every disagreement involves the moral equivalent of fighting and overcoming segregation.  Deploying civil disobedience over every policy dispute ensures that we will be at each other’s throats over every disagreement.  Imbuing every policy decision with moral and virtually religious significance ensures conflict well out of proportion of the issues at hand.

Finally, I can’t help but have a sneaking suspicion that Democrats would be “de-normalizing” any Republican who was elected president. A lot of Democrats claim that Mitt Romney or even George Bush would be acceptable as compared to Donald Trump.  But four years ago, Mitt Romney – an absolute choir boy in the annals of presidential candidates – was made out to be a heartless plutocrat who bullied kids in high school and killed a woman with cancer and, according to one Obama ad in Ohio, was “not one of us.”  And I don’t need to rehash all the lovely Bushitler comparisons and the dark night of fascism that supposedly descended on the country during Bush’s presidency.  Donald Trump may seem different than his Republican predecessors, but from where I sit he is getting the same treatment as his predecessors did.

We are at a precarious moment in the history of our Republic. The anger and vitriol occasioned by the 2016 election and its result threaten to make partisan gridlock quaint.  This moment requires Republicans be gracious in victory and President Trump reach out to include Democrats in crafting his policies.  But this moment also requires something from you, the Democratic and leftist opposition.  And to be fair, I acknowledge it requires more from you than it does the Republicans.  Just as eight years ago, it required more from Republicans like me than Democrats.  I know it is easier to be gracious in victory than defeat, having been there myself.

For the sake of our Republic, I ask Democrats to forcefully, firmly, and unequivocally disown political violence in any form. I implore you to publicly come out and disown the use of the martial term “resistance.”  Call it principled opposition, loyal opposition, whatever you want.  But drop “resistance.”  Imagine what you would have said about Republicans if we had declared ourselves “the resistance” to Barack Obama in 2009.  You would instantly have drawn parallels to the “massive resistance” of the South to desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.  You know you would have said using the term “resistance” was inappropriate, and you would have been correct.

There should be no rationalizing the riots on the Berkeley, NYU, or other campuses. Rather, leading Democrats should make full-throated condemnations of such violence.  Republicans will make such condemnations, but they have no effect; it is us they are protesting.  Your voice carries significant weight.  If Democrats condemn and forcefully disown the political violence, even if it ostensibly supports ends with which you agree, you will do the country an enormous service.  Republicans are all too familiar with having to answer for every off-the-wall and objectionable statement an individual Republican has made.  We have been called to account for the objectionable statements of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and others, and you demanded we disown these statements, which we did.  More famously, William F. Buckley read the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement in the 1960s.  Democrats, it is your turn to disown the extremists in your midst.

Democrats should also not encourage, support, or enable the civil service from resisting the decisions of the president, the chief executive of the country. Such resistance is an extraordinarily dangerous development.  In effect, it is a rebellion against the president from within the Government.  Our country cannot function if the will of the voters as expressed in their election of the president can be thwarted by unelected bureaucrats.  The danger inherent in such a development should be obvious.  Voters will eventually figure out that the executive branch only functions when Democrats are in power.  Such an executive branch would find its claim to authority eroded and ultimately lost.

Democrats, you have an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to tolerance, to freedom of speech, and to the Republic itself. By firmly encouraging civility and respect for those who disagree, you will render an immense service to the country, far beyond winning any given election.  The restoration of our civil discourse would be an extraordinary accomplishment in these fractious, polarized times, and you are positioned to have a greater influence than anyone in making this happen.  I know it is not illegal to boycott businesses of those with whom you disagree, but it is not healthy for the body politic and for our shared community of E pluribus unum.  By discouraging resistance by executive branch civil servants to Trump Administration policies, you will maintain the norms that have kept the executive branch functioning and maintain the respect all citizens have for our government.  These are norms that I will respect when the shoe inevitably is on the other foot and the Republican party is in the minority again, if those norms remain in place.  By unequivocally denouncing violence of any form and those who use it or accept it as a fact or feature of left-wing protest, you will do more for free speech and protest movements than any protest to date by restoring the credibility and the relevance of the voices of those protesting.

But know this too: we are watching how you have reacted to this election. And for me, time is running out for you to show that you will accept, however grudgingly, the results of the 2016 election.  Time is running out to show that you are willing not only to return to the norms of civil discourse, but to enforce those norms on those within your party that stray from them.  You are running out of time to demonstrate that you are not going to reflexively oppose everything the new president does because he has an (R) next to his name.  Otherwise, I can only conclude that you do not really mind that your supporters are accusing me of racism, sexism, and whatever other -isms or -phobias they can think of.  I will be forced to conclude that you don’t entirely mind violence in the name of a progressive cause.  And I’ll know that you would gladly stand by while your supporters destroyed my business or livelihood because I disagreed with them on one policy issue or another.

I want healthy debates. It makes me rethink my own arguments and positions.  But I want to engage in these debates viewed as an equal, not as someone who is on the “wrong side of history.”  So please, debate particular issues when you disagree and seek common ground where you think you can.  But most importantly, understand that we who voted for Donald Trump care about the fabric of the country too – not just what the law permits and forbids, but the social compact between us as citizens that ensures not mere compliance with the laws but community harmony and respect.  That, more than any bill you pass or block in the next two years, would be a worthy legacy of the 2016 election.

Trump I Cannot Become GWB II

When writing my book Vietnam Envy (see a summary here), I spent a lot of time looking at the protests and opposition during George W. Bush’s second term.  There are significant parallels between what happened to George Bush in his second term and what the Left is trying to do to Donald Trump today.  There are vital lessons for the Trump Administration to learn from the Bush team’s experience.

Bush’s second term was absolutely consumed by protests.  There was Kanye disgustingly telling America that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” in the wake of Katrina.  There was the incessant fraudulent argument that Bush deliberately lied the US into war.  The Left created free speech martyrs and heroes out of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.  The left cynically elevated Cindy Sheehan as the symbol of the antiwar protest movement (and dropped her like a hot potato the minute Obama was elected).

There was the steady drumbeat of “grim milestones” from the media, which amplified every defeat and downplayed every success.  There was the concerted effort by the Democrats to downplay the success of the surge, with Hillary Clinton basically accusing Gen. Petraeus of being a liar and requiring her to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief.  The Iraq Study Group report (authored by one Ben Rhodes) deemed Iraq a failure and proposed withdrawal.  Worse, the Left used the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the Justice Department’s authorization of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques to make the Bush Administration into a torture-supporting moral monster, even though the investigations of Abu Ghraib did not find any evidence that anyone in the Bush Administration ordered or even knew about the actions of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib.  No matter — the “climate” the Bush Administration supposedly fostered was enough to hold Bush responsible for the reprehensible acts of a few soldiers.

All of this was a calculated effort to delegitimize George Bush’s administration and to make it beyond the pale.  This was not mere policy disagreement.  Bush was made to be illegitimate, a torture-supporting liar who would not meet with Cindy Sheehan (even though he had already met with her before she began her protest).  The Left set out to destroy Bush’s second term, to neuter him and make his presidency impotent, and with the exception of the surge, the Left succeeded.

When Obama was elected, all of the protests, the sturm und drang, the chaos in the streets, immediately melted away and sunshine and rainbows were the order of the day.  It was treated as a breath of fresh air.  It was as if the mere election of a Democrat made everything right in the world again.

George Bush had to summon immense political courage in the face of all this negativity to implement the troop surge.  As we now know, the troop surge worked, pacifying Iraq and routing al-Qaeda in Iraq.  However, the protests, the endless delegitimization of the Bush Administration, nearly made the surge impossible.  And it utterly paralyzed the Bush Administration on every other front.  Bush decided not to take out the nuclear reactor in Syria (at al-Kidar) because his administration was exhausted and unable to defend itself.  Fortunately the Israelis took the reactor out in 2007; one can only imagine what might have happened if that reactor was intact when the Syrian Civil War started.

The Left is now trying to do to the Trump Administration exactly what it did to George W. Bush in his second administration.  A media, a Democratic Party, and a Left seeks not to oppose, but to delegitimize.  It seeks to create such chaos in the streets and alarm in the body politic that the country will yearn for Democrats in office and the peace that comes with it.  The Left is engaged in ideological banditry — “vote for us, and the streets will be calm again.”  “Nice country there, shame if something were to happen to it.”  We cannot allow for calm and peace to reign in the streets only when Democrats hold office.

The Left is also creating a narrative full of half-truths and outright falsehoods that nevertheless become received wisdom, just as it did during the Bush Administration.  There is a lesson for the Trump Administration in the failures of Bush’s second term: fight back as hard as you can on everything.  The Bush Administration’s greatest mistake was in not fighting back against the vicious canard that “Bush lied and people died.”  The Bush Administration gravely erred in not fighting back against all of the negative news and the protests and countering each attack the minute it arose.  The Bush Administration gravely erred in giving ground on the famous 16 words in Bush’s State of the Union address (that the British government believed Saddam was seeking yellowcake uranium in Africa) when Condolezza Rice said those words should not have been included in the SOTU — in fact, the British government stood by the report.  The Bush Administration made a tremendous mistake when it failed to fight back against former ambassador Joe Wilson by noting that analysts concluded his report, far from debunking the reports that Saddam sought yellowcake in Africa, actually bolstered them.  The Bush Administration was badly mistaken in not fighting back against the notion that the US went to war “unilaterally” when in fact the US assembled a large coalition of countries, many of which supplied ground troops as well as financial and material support.

Bush allowed false shibboleths to take hold and eventually become received truths, false though they might have been.

This is already starting with the Trump Administration.  You can see the lines of attack:

  • Trump is in cahoots with the Russians;
  • Trump is banning all Muslims from entering the US;
  • Trump is violating fundamental American values by pausing and limiting refugees’ entry into the US;
  • Trump is a misogynist;
  • Trump’s administration is incompetent and doesn’t know how government “works”;
  • Trump’s incompetence is no longer amusing, it is now dangerous;
  • Trump’s nominees want to destroy the agencies they will head.

In effect, the Left is picking up right where it left off at the end of the Bush Administration.  There’s no buildup over eight years to a crescendo as there was during the Bush administration.  The Left is starting from exactly the spot it left off at eight years ago when it protested and demonized everything the Bush Administration did.

The same people laughing about the supposed ham-handedness of Trump’s immigration EO were silent about the Fast and Furious scandal — that got a Border Patrol agent killed and resulted in Attorney General Holder being held in contempt of Congress.  When someone gets killed?  THAT’s incompetence — indeed, much more than mere incompetence.  And as for the incompetence of the immigration EO?  The Obama Administration’s decision to end the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy for Cuban refugees has left many Cuban refugees in limbo, including some in foreign countries.  Several are being sent back to the Cuban prison island.  Do any of these weepy maudlin immigration protesters care about how the Castro regime will treat these repatriated refugees?  And what about the Clinton Administration’s removal of Elian Gonzales at gunpoint so he could be sent back to the prison island?  Doesn’t exactly scream competence either.

The Trump Administration needs to fight back on everything, no matter how small.  Don’t fall into the Bush II trap of not wanting to lower yourself to your opponents’ level.  If you don’t, the field will be clear for your opponents to characterize and delegitimize you and for false impressions to become received wisdom.  Trump needs to fight everything.  Once a false impression becomes received wisdom, the game is over.  As it was for the Bush Administration.

Because what is really dangerous is an Administration so paralyzed by domestic protest that it cannot act.  We cannot rely on the Israelis to destroy Syrian reactors every time.  We cannot rely on other nations to protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.  We cannot rely on other nations to keep the Russians out of Europe.  We cannot rely on other nations to keep Iran from getting the bomb.  If the Trump Administration is so paralyzed that it cannot take any action anywhere without creating unceasing protests, the world will become much more dangerous than it already is.

The Insurrectionist Left [UPDATED]

After less than two weeks of the Trump Administration, it is becoming clearer and clearer how the Democrats and the Left plan to approach the Trump Administration.  This approach is not attempting to find common ground where possible.  It is not principled opposition.  It is not mere dissent.

It is insurrection.

Over the last two weeks, we have been treated to the following:

  • Cities proudly declaring are “sanctuary cities” that will not assist the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law, with one city, Charlottesville, VA, stating it wants to be a sanctuary city as a center of “resistance”;
  • An acting Attorney General publicly refusing to enforce a legal and constitutional executive order temporarily pausing immigration from seven sworn enemies or war-torn anarchic states;
  • A Senate Minority Leader praising the insubordination of said acting Attorney General from the floor of the US Senate;
  • 14 state attorneys general, all Democrats, suing to prevent the implementation of the immigration pause;
  • Hundreds of foreign service officers publicizing a dissent cable opposing the president’s policy;
  • A Secret Service agent publicly refusing to protect the President;
  • Over 50 elected Democrats refusing to attend the Inauguration because of the supposed illegitimacy of Trump’s election;
  • National Parks Service employees using a federal Twitter account to promote views on climate change not held by their boss, the President, the chief executive of the US; and
  • Incessant lying that the Trump Administration is promoting a Muslim immigration ban when it is only temporarily pausing immigration from a handful of countries that are either formally designated as state sponsors of terror or are anarchic states where al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorists operate freely.

All these Democrats and Leftists see themselves in their own little biopics in their heads as writing their very own Letter from a Birmingham Jail, or crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or, in the case of Ms. Yates, the victim of a Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre.  The protesters are running around searching for ways to make signs and scream at the top of their lungs in the streets about the awfulness of Trump.  The immigration executive orders are just a pretext.  They’ll find something else soon enough.  The Supreme Court nominee tonight.  And then something else tomorrow.  All the protests are nothing more than easy and cheap moral preening — it’s easy to show you are one of the “good guys” by loudly and ostentatiously protesting Trump.

Where were these people Obama was doing nothing in Syria?  When he allowed the Russians into Syria?  When he let the Russians indiscriminately bomb Syrian civilians?  When he let the Russians and Iranians provide cover for Assad’s barrel bombs?  When he was killing American citizens in drone strikes and telling the NYT about how he was good at killing people?  Nowhere, that’s where.  Because Obama was a Democrat, because he had that “(D)” next to his name, what he was doing in Syria and in the broader war on terror, whatever it was, must have been moral and right according to these people.  Put that “(D)” next to your name, and you must be, by definition, working for the cause of human rights and justice.  You don’t have to explain what you are doing.  You are, by definition, a moral and righteous being whose every action is by definition geared toward justice and righteousness.

And all of this takes place against the background of the Democrats and the Left working overtime before the inauguration to delegitimize Trump — blaming the FBI and James Comey, inflating the claims of Russian interference in the election to claim with hardly any evidence that the Russians worked to get Trump elected, the phony blow-up with John Lewis, the women’s marches the day after the election, before Trump had a chance to do anything in office, the “Not My President” protests that greeted Trump’s election, the calls to eliminate the Electoral College because Trump lost the popular vote.

Well, it is time to say NUTS to all this.  In the wake of losing the Presidential election, the Democrats have chosen dishonor, and they should get war.  Imagine if, within a week of Obama’s inauguration, cities were stating publicly that they were going to be part of the “Resistance” or that the acting Attorney General would refuse to obey the President on an unquestionably legal and constitutional executive order.  We’d be hearing cries of “neo-Confederates!” or “‘resistance’ is a code word” etc. etc.  But with a Republican and Trump in office, suddenly all of this resistance is noble and moral.  Nuts to this.

It is time for Republicans to fight back double hard.  No more “on the one hand, on the other hand” arguments.  No more “yes, Trump’s order was legal, but it was implemented in a ham-handed way.”  No more of John McCain and Lindsey Graham grandstanding and opposing Trump to become the media’s favorite “responsible” Republicans.  The time for this is over.  The Democrats have made it clear that they are going to oppose everything the Trump Administration does with every fiber of their being, lying all the way to do it.  They have declared war on the Trump Administration.  They intend to throw sand in the gears of everything the Trump Administration wants to do, through ostentatious protesting, bureaucratic resistance, and non-cooperation with federal law enforcement.  President Trump did the right thing by firing the Acting Attorney General last night.  More bureaucrats should be next.

And how dare the Democrats try to tell me what are American values and what is un-American!  Who died and made the Democrats the arbiters of what is un-American?  I don’t need the Democrats to tell me what is un-American.  I know it just fine, thank you very much.

So President Trump temporarily banned immigration from Iran.  Iran launches missiles with “Israel must be wiped off the map” painted on their side.  Are you saying you want unlimited immigration from Iran, Chuck Schumer?  “Shomer” of the Jewish people?

And, of course, former President Obama weighed in, slyly aligning himself with the protesters by saying the US should not have religious tests and that he appreciated the protesters making their voices heard.

Yeah, well, the former President doesn’t have much room to talk.  When there was an opportunity to create safe zones for Syrians before the Syrian Civil War spun out of control and the Russians intervened, he did nothing.  When the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians were targeted for systematic extermination by ISIS fanatics, he didn’t push to increase their refugee levels into the US.  Between 2011 and 2015, there was only a trickle of Syrian refugees allowed entry into the US.  So spare me the righteous lectures, pal.

When I hear Obama talking about immigration, or Syria, or the rest of the Middle East, I can only think of three words from that epic musical about income inequality and social justice, Les Miserables: GO AWAY, TENARDIER.

UPDATE: The insurrection continues.  Democratic Senators have boycotted today’s scheduled confirmation votes for HHS Secretary nominee Dr. Tom Price and Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin to prevent their confirmation.  After the Democrats asked to have them rescheduled to attend last night’s anti-Trump candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court.  They are digging their fingernails in, desperately trying to keep the Trump Administration from taking action to repeal the deeply unpopular Obamacare.  Remember when the Democrats complained about Republican obstructionism?  Remember Obama’s whiny lament about Republican obstructionism on his way out the door?  I guess obstructionism is now OK too, because it is in the service of noble Democratic ends.

The Common Sense Presidency

After one week of the Trump Administration, I think it is becoming clear that President Trump is really the everyman President.  He is looking at issues, thinking up common sense solutions, and just implementing them.  He wants to create jobs, so he opens the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline.  He wants to protect Americans from crime by illegal immigrants, so he takes actions to stop providing federal funds to “sanctuary cities” and sets the wheels in motion to build the wall.  He wants to do whatever it takes, as permitted by law, to get information from terrorists to prevent attacks.  Simple stuff.

By contrast, the Democrats are really setting themselves up to be a niche, boutique opposition party that by reflexively opposing President Trump is boxing itself into extreme positions that are unappealing to the ordinary voter.

Take immigration.  On my drive in to work this morning I heard quotes from a whole host of mayors and county executives assuring their illegal immigrant populations that they would be safe and welcome in there cities and counties.  And I’m thinking, it would be nice if they could have assured the Steinle family that their daughter would be safe.  I doubt I am the only person thinking that.  Or any of the other families who lost loved ones to illegal immigrant criminals.  Common sense says American voters will respond more favorably to someone who vows to protect them and enforce US law.

One of those mayors who promised to protect and keep illegal immigrants safe is Rahm Emanuel in Chicago.  What is he talking about?  He can’t keep anyone safe in Chicago!  Americans look at a city that has shootings and murders daily and have to wonder why the mayor is spending his time worrying about protecting illegal immigrants when he can’t even protect his own citizens.

And if you happened to look at the federal contracting website the last couple of years (FedBizOpps), you would have seen contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to build and manage camps for immigrants flooding across the border.  That is American taxpayer money at a time when we have a huge national debt and many Americans suffering in the weak economic recovery.  No one is letting multi-million dollar contracts to feed and house these Americans.

What about Obamacare?  The media and Democrats are gnashing their teeth that Obamacare recipients might lose their health insurance.  Where was that touching concern when people who were happy with their health insurance lost it because of Obamacare?  Nowhere, that’s where.  At this point, with the failure of the exchanges and the spiraling premiums, it’s clear Obamacare is a failure.  When Democrats agree that it needs to be “fixed,” that is as close to an admission that the thing is a failure as you’ll get.

And what about treatment of captured terrorists?  I think many Americans would regard as perfectly reasonable Trump’s position of doing whatever it takes, as permitted by law, to get as much information out of a captured terrorist.  Perfectly sane, reasonable position that, not surprisingly, prioritizes innocent Americans over guilty terrorists.  And opponents of this position are going to argue . . . what, exactly?  That we shouldn’t do whatever it takes, consistent with law, to get information from terrorists?  That we shouldn’t capture terrorists?  What position could Trump’s opponents take that would appeal to more than a niche, boutique group of civil liberties absolutists?  What position could they take that would oppose Trump but not appear to prioritize terrorists over Americans?

Meanwhile, the Democrats are protesting . . . who knows.  I don’t know what the women’s march was protesting, or what the “RESIST” banner people were protesting, other than the fact that Donald Trump is president.  When Gloria Steinem — last seen enunciating the “one free grope” rule in the pages of the NYT to protect Bill Clinton — is protesting Donald Trump’s treatment of women, it’s obviously all pretext.  They lost an election to a Republican, and they are upset.

And the media aren’t doing themselves any favors.  They are flyspecking every statement the Trump Administration makes.  They have become a roving band of agitated nitpickers fussing over issues no one cares about.

So some free advice for the Trump team:  Ignore them.  Ignore them all.  Do what you think is right.  If it succeeds — and I think it will — the ankle-biters will be left complaining about smaller and smaller things and sinking further and further into irrelevance.  Just like in that old cartoon, be the big dog walking down the street, and ignore all the little yapping ankle-biting dogs.