Out of the Storm News
WASHINGTON (Oct. 28, 2013) – Legislation set to be introduced by House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters, D-Calif., would gut crucial reforms passed by Congress last year to stabilize the 45-year-old National Flood Insurance Program.
The NFIP, which provides flood coverage to roughly 5.6 million Americans, is nearly $28 billion in debt to U.S. taxpayers and hasn’t repaid any principal on its loans since 2010. By overwhelming margins, Congress passed reforms to fix some of the program’s glaring defects, including the incentives it provides to drain environmentally sensitive wetlands and develop coastal barrier islands.
But Waters, who had been co-sponsor of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, is now calling for a four-year delay to any rate increases called for under the law. Because the bill will expire in 2017, a four-year delay would effectively render the law moot. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., also is preparing to introduce a Senate version of the legislation.
Among the changes Waters’ legislation would delay is a scheduled phase-out of premium subsidies, which historically have disproportionately benefited upper-income policyholders. According to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, 78.8 percent of subsidized policies are in counties that rank in the top 30 percent of home values, while less than 1 percent are in counties that rank in the bottom 30 percent.
“Delaying the scheduled phase-out of flood insurance premium subsidies amounts to a gift to mostly wealthy homeowners who get to enjoy cheap insurance on their beach homes thanks to taxpayer support,” said R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann.
Under terms of the bill, subsidies are being phased out over a four-year period for 345,000 second homes, 87,000 business properties and 9,000 repetitive loss properties. The phase-out for second homes started in January, while the phase-outs for commercial repeat loss properties took effect in October. The remaining 715,000 properties that have enjoyed subsidized rates will see those end when the properties are resold, suffer a complete loss or if the policy is allowed to lapse.
A separate group of policies may see rate increases as a result of updates to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance rate maps. Under Biggert-Waters, properties newly mapped into special flood hazard zones or those that have been reclassified into higher-risk zones will see higher rates phased in over a five-year period, beginning when FEMA completes its remapping project.
“It’s important that flood map designations reflect the risk on the ground as accurately as possible, and to that end, we think it is important that FEMA’s maps account for all flood protection systems, including those state and local levees that have not been certified by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Lehmann said.
“To the extent that FEMA remapping may result in genuine affordability problems for some homeowners, Congress should look to target those individuals specifically with limited, means-tested support. However, an across-the-board delay in new maps taking effect will only further imperil the program’s solvency, while also robbing those policyholders whose remapped properties show a reduced risk of flooding the opportunity to enjoy the lower rates they deserve,” he added.
From the Miami Herald:
But the conservative R Street Institute, a free-market research group, condemned the proposed rate hike delay on Monday, calling it a give away.
“Delaying the scheduled phase-out of flood insurance premium subsidies amounts to a gift to mostly wealthy homeowners who get to enjoy cheap insurance on their beach homes thanks to taxpayer support,” said R.J. Lehmann, a fellow at R Street.
“To the extent that FEMA remapping may result in genuine affordability problems for some homeowners, Congress should look to target those individuals specifically with limited, means-tested support,” he said. “However, an across-the-board delay in new maps taking effect will only further imperil the program’s solvency, while also robbing those policyholders whose remapped properties show a reduced risk of flooding the opportunity to enjoy the lower rates they deserve.”
Walter Olson has a top-notch blog post over at Independent Gay Forum that describes why increased acceptance of same-sex marriage isn’t going to lead to acceptance of polyamory.
I agree with all of his arguments and I’d add one. Gay marriage is, at the very worst, neutral for society while polyamory is pretty clearly harmful to society. The obvious harms of polyamory are likely to prevent its widespread acceptance.
Now that we’ve had almost a decade of legal gay marriage, it seems reasonably safe to say that it has no detectable negative social impacts. If it did, say, harm heterosexual marriage or lead to more illegitimacy, that would be an argument against it. But there are no harms. Illegitimacy and divorce are both down from their highs; teen pregnancy is way down.
Meanwhile, only about 3.5 percent of the population identifies as gay, indicating (no surprise) that increasing social acceptance of homosexuality is not exploding the number of people who identify as LGBT. Many people, me included, have come to support same-sex marriage because it’s socially beneficial. In the long term, most of the impacts of gay marriage seem likely to be good: fewer people in intrinsically unstable “mixed orientation” marriages (leading to even less divorce), more loving two-parent homes for children and more stable family environments for gay Americans. And these positive social externalities of gay marriage are likely to increase as gay marriage becomes more widespread.
On the other hand, a long social experience with polyamory indicates that the social results are awful. If polyamorous relationships are patriarchal and primarily polygamous and limit the economic roles that women can take (as almost all known polygamous societies do) they will doom a lot of people to living in poverty. Self-described “fundamentalist Mormons” and the handful of backward Muslims that Olson mentions nearly all live in poverty surviving off of government transfer payments and even crime. Polyamorous societies will, by definition, never have enough mates to go around. Always and everywhere, this has resulted in significant numbers of disaffected heterosexual males who have no hope of finding a mate.
And legitimizing polyamory would increase the number who practice it. Unlike being gay — which, overwhelming evidence suggests, is not a choice — polyamory clearly is. Its legitimacy would increase its prevalence.
If any major modern society ever moves towards legitimizing polyamory or anything like it, the social results are likely to be an unmitigated disaster in the short term. And this will create a very strong warning to anyone going down the same path. Gay marriage is increasingly accepted precisely because its results, to date, have been good for society. Polyamory on a large scale would have negative short-term results and that’s a good reason to think it’s just not going to happen.
From Claims Journal:
“The report shows that dealing with climate change doesn’t require large-scale schemes or a total restructuring of our global economy,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a nonprofit think-tank that advocates for free market solutions. “The ideas outlined here are the basis of a true ‘no-regrets’ strategy for dealing with a significant problem”
Critics of subsidized federal flood insurance say the benefits disproportionately favor high-risk and wealthy properties.
“Delaying the scheduled phase-out of flood insurance premium subsidies amounts to a gift to mostly wealthy homeowners who get to enjoy cheap insurance on their beach homes thanks to taxpayer support,” R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow with R Street, a free market think tank, said in a statement.
From U.S. News:
In Washington D.C. this week, business leaders in the sustainability movement opened up a new dialog with conservatives. Four conservative thinkers from R Street, the Future 500 and the D.C. law firm of K&L Gates spoke with an audience of sustainability advocates at a meeting convened by American Sustainable Business Council. Participants discovered some unexpected and welcome common ground, even as they reaffirmed their differences in a candid and respectful exchange.
To listen to some of my beer snob friends talk, Belgium invaded Kansas this month. Figuratively, of course—the Belgians have not been serious aggressors since the times of Julius Caesar, and even then they were better known for superior waffle technology. Last week, however, we bar patrons learned that Duvel Moortgat, an iconic Belgian beer company, is purchasing Boulevard Wheat, the mothership of Midwestern craft beer.
As per usual, many otherwise decent flag-waving Americans are grumbling about this development. Foreigners are buying up our beer companies! What’s next, purchasing our sovereign debt? This knee-jerk reaction happens every time something seen as “American” is procured by someone with a funny accent.
It may surprise some to learn that Budweiser and Bud Light, ever-present staples of Super Bowl advertisements, are actually owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a multinational corporation based in—now this is ominous—Belgium. One might infer that a massive European company which produces beverages such as Stella Artois and Hoegaarden would somehow fundamentally alter the quintessential American beer; perhaps even render it palatable. Yet, Budweiser remains solidly foul-tasting and inexpensive, just as when an American-owned company brewed it. That someone who speaks Flemish is receiving stock options from Bud Light doesn’t negate the fact that the beverage is produced in the United States by American workers to an American market (ergo, American).
Miller, another company which technically makes “beer,” is based in Wisconsin. Yet it is owned by SABMiller, a South African company. Coors is headquartered in Colorado but owned by Canadians. Pabst beer is owned by Americans yet produced by South African-owned breweries, then consumed by hipsters.
You probably know that Corona is a Mexican beverage, but did you know that Anheuser-Busch InBev owns half its stock? Or that my friend Jeremy (an American) consumes more Corona per year than the entire country of Mexico? Is Corona then Mexican, Belgian or American? Who can truly answer this question? (Not Jeremy, that’s for sure.) In an age of global commerce, defining any one company by nationality is difficult.
The global nature of beer companies is a positive development. Commerce brings people together, almost as well as beer does. When you combine trade with hops, you get a lot of interesting ideas and cross-national friendships and “multinational hangovers,” which are like regular hangovers, except more pretentious. What’s more, countries that do business with each other tend to avoid bombing one another. I was not particularly concerned about the prospects of declaring war on Belgium any time soon, but our pilsner exchange with the Europeans makes it that much less likely.
I think many people are disappointed not that Belgian interlopers have concerned themselves with Boulevard, but bemoan the idea that a quality craft brewer would sell out to a huge company. Personally, I would like nothing more than for Boulevard to gain a stalwart distributor and become so prolific it can muscle out Bud Light. It’s also worth noting that Boulevard’s chief executive, John McDonald, was in the market to sell his brewery, so it’s by no means a corporate takeover. No employees are expected to lose their jobs; presumably more will be added, as a capital infusion from abroad allows further expansion.
To qualify as craft beer, a beverage must be independently owned and make less than two million gallons of beer per year. They also usually adhere to specific European brewing techniques (“Belgian,” for instance). This definition contrasts with microbreweries, which make no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, most of which preemptively explode in my garage.
Even if Boulevard no longer qualifies as craft beer qua being independently owned, we are not lacking in the field. Just since 2011, the amount of craft breweries in the United States has increased from 1,900 to 2,300. Perhaps the only positive side effect of our persistent 2 percent annual economic “growth” is that we all drink a lot more and have apparently, as a country, developed a reasonable palate in the throes of our national stupor. High-quality local beverages have become so popular that they are effectively propping up the economy of Portland, Ore., which would otherwise consist entirely of artists selling paintings to one another.
Duvel Moortgat’s purchase of Boulevard Brewery means a European company bringing money into the United States. It will create jobs. More importantly, it will create more beer.
This is an unquestioningly good development.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
From the American Conservative:
Also worth watching is the subsequent panel, which illustrates some of the gender and generation gaps on the right, with panelists including Norm Singleton from Campaign for Liberty, Steve Bannon or Breitbart.com, Lori Sanders of R Street, and Brittney Morrett or the Libre Initiative
Research groups that advocate market-based policies, such as Heritage Action for America and the R Street Institute, have urged members of Congress to leave the measure in place.
The law is an an “appropriate” way to restore financial viability to the program, and it makes sense to ask those with the greatest risk to pay more, said R.J. Lehmann, senior fellow for the Washington-based R Street Institute, in a statement. Lehmann helped write the law sponsored by Representatives Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, and Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican, who lost the November election.
While politicians have repeatedly tinkered around the edges of true Citizens Property Insurance Corp. reform, this session, legislators are looking to place substantial focus on the property insurance subsidies received by Citizens policyholders who live outside the state or country.
Pointing to Citizens’ data that reveals there are nearly 180,000 non-Florida residents with Citizens policies, Senate Banking & Insurance Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, recently announced he will begin work on a 2014 Citizens Property Insurance Corp. package, which may end subsidies for those homeowners.
We believe this change to state law would be welcomed by Floridians.
According to a recent poll released by Stronger Safer Florida, a nonpartisan coalition comprised of business, consumer and environmental groups from throughout Florida including the R Street Institute, 77 percent of Floridians oppose paying taxes to subsidize out-of-state Citizens Property Insurance Corp. policyholders.
The subsidized insurance offered through Citizens is an ongoing financial risk for all Floridians.
If swift changes are not made to the state-run insurer, we are only one major storm away from having “hurricane tax” assessments added to our policies to help cover the cost of storm-related claims. An important first step in reform is to remove Citizens subsidies for these non-Floridians who maintain multiple homes.
We urge the Florida Legislature to implement needed changes that protect hardworking Floridians including homeowners, businesses owners, renters, churches and charitable organizations that call Florida home year-round.
Mass media are in complete denial of the voluminous scientific literature supporting e-cigarettes as harm-reduction products. A recent report on National Public Radio is representative. The host set up the story in classic fashion, pitting “expert” harm reduction naysayers against lay e-cigarette users, store owners and marketers. The argument was settled before it began.
Are the media unable to find tobacco research and policy experts who support e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction? Although we are relatively few, we are widely published and highly visible – testifying, editorializing, providing interviews when invited. Independent and articulate authorities on tobacco harm reduction in the United States include:
Carl Phillips from Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives
Michael Siegel at Boston University
Joel Nitzkin at R Street
Gil Ross at the American Council on Science and Health
Jeff Stier at the National Center for Public Policy Research
International experts include:
David Sweanor in Canada
Karl Erik Lund in Norway
Riccardo Polosa (interviewed here) and Pasquale Caponnetto in Italy
Tobacco harm reduction is a worldwide phenomenon, and it deserves balanced and judicious media coverage. Journalists, start with this list.
- Chris Christie says climate change is real, human activity plays a part: New Jersey Gubernatorial Debate
- Private management could make the national parks a source of revenue, instead of expense: PERC
- Farm bill conference to starts Oct. 30: House Agriculture Committee
- Mild hurricane season shouldn’t breed complacency: Daytona News-Journal
- Pitting credit unions against the banks: Politico
- Surplus lines market supplying private flood insurance in Florida: Tampa Tribune
WASHINGTON (Oct. 1, 2013) — The R Street Institute welcomed today’s introduction by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., of legislation to tackle the $29 billion problem of frivolous lawsuits brought by patent assertion entities, better known as “patent trolls.”
Under the Innovation Act, standards will be raised for “initial pleadings” by patent holders who claim infringement, requiring more detail about which patents are allegedly infringed and in what ways. It also proposes standards for when the loser of a patent infringement case can be asked to pay the victor’s legal fees.
The bill also would allow courts to join parties that have interest in the patents in question and to limit discovery until the patentee has constructed its claim, and it would permit manufacturers to intervene in suits against end users of their products.
“This bill offers a very promising update to the America Invents Act, addressing a broader range of issues and aiming not only to foster innovation, but also to protect legitimate patent holders,” R Street Policy Analyst Zachary Graves said. “If Congress were to combine these ideas with others, such as Rep. Darrell Issa’s proposal to expand significantly the AIA’s business method patent review process, it could take a significant step in the direction of real reform.”
My friend Mark Calabria at the Cato Institute has a good piece in Roll Call that makes the case for allowing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program to lapse. I’m sympathetic to him in the medium term but, given the enormous precedent Congress has set of paying for terrorism losses, I’m more enthusiastic about the idea of changing the program to bring in more private capital rather than getting rid of it altogether right away.
I think he also raises some good points about the ways that direct public coverage and real estate investment trusts can spread the risk of TRIA. The unique nature of workers’ compensation insurance – that is required of all employers, that it is no fault, that it must cover all types of losses, even those from nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological attacks – means that we may need some support for that line of business for a long time to come, maybe even forever.
There’s one place—one small place—where I think Mark is dead wrong. He writes:
By making available under-priced insurance, property owners and developers have a reduced incentive to construct and rehabilitate structures to better withstand a terrorist attack.
Personally, I just don’t think this argument holds much water, in at least three ways. First, terrorist attacks are intended to spread terror and would be nearly as effective even if good “mitigations” are put in place. In the World Trade Center, essentially everybody who was in an office below the impact locations survived in large part because the towers had done a very good job preparing and conducting drills against a serious fire. The fact that there was a 99 percent survival rate didn’t blunt the force of the attacks or make them less horrible. Similarly good mitigation won’t do so elsewhere.
Second, as my colleague Ray Lehmann points out, “if you put up storm shutters, a hurricane doesn’t plot to find other ways to hurt you.” Terrorists do plot and they tend to attack using weapons of war that are intended specifically to kill people.
Finally and most importantly, while property owners do and should have a primary responsibility for protecting their property against natural disasters and even common crimes like theft, the primary responsibility for protecting against terrorism lies with the national government. Local police forces play a role. While property owners have roles in vigilance and security, they can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do everything.
So read Mark’s piece. It makes some good points. I agree that we should eventually do away with TRIA. But I beg to differ with him on the idea that TRIA is really discouraging property owners to be on guard against terrorism.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
- North Carolina ranks at the bottom in availability of common insurance discounts: CNBC
- Despite flood, wind insurance reforms, Florida real estate market continues to boom: Sun-Sentinel
- American Farmland Trust urges farm bill conferees to maintain conservation compliance: AFT
- Congress’ climate change deniers could see their approval ratings fall: Washington Post
October 22, 2013
We understand that H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, will be on the House floor as early as Wednesday, Oct.23. This bill authorizes water projects, studies, and policies for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. H.R. 3080 fails to deliver on the reform moniker and we oppose its passage. Here are several concerns:
Backlog - The Corps has a $60-80 billion project backlog and receives less than $2 billion in construction funding annually. Even before the predictable increase in authorizations as this bill goes through the process, this legislation would only shave a few billion dollars off the backlog. In addition, the legislation explicitly protects the roughly $28 billion worth of projects that were authorized in WRDA 2007, even those that have yet to see a dime of construction funding 6 years after passage.
Authorization - We appreciate that the legislation sets up an authorization system that would not require earmarks. However, there are no sidebars on the system. Local interests would suggest projects to Corps districts that would have to study them and submit recommended projects to Congress. Without a prioritization system and criteria and with little restriction on what should or should not be submitted, the system could overwhelm Corps districts. In addition, any project that fits in the Corps mission and is estimated to return even just one penny on the dollar would be submitted to Congress. Lawmakers are not good at saying no to constituent projects. It would be far better to build in certain criteria, including significant return on investment, to the authorization system.
Forced Increased Spending – The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has received far more revenue than has been spent in recent years. The appropriate response to that is to reform the major cross-subsidies or reduce the tax rate or both. Instead, H.R. 3080 mandates greater payouts from the trust fund, which will inevitably cannibalize funding from other Corps mission areas. In addition, the bill allows federal spending on traditionally non-federal projects like confined sediment disposal facilities and berth (“driveway”) dredging. The bill also creates an “emerging harbor” category, directing as much as 10 percent of the funding to ports with less than 1,000,000 tons of traffic. According to the most recent port data, that would be a set-aside for ports ranked 136th and less in traffic, which is hardly a national priority.
Kentucky Kickback: the Sequel – H.R. 3080 includes a provision to increase the authorization for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project from $775 million to $2.3 billion (notably, less than the $2.9 billion provided in the Senate WRDA or in the FY14 CR deal that passed last week). But that’s only half the story. H.R. 3080 increases the federal share of that project cost to 75 percent (from 50) in a likely prelude to full federalization after conference with the Senate.
Our organizations would welcome significant reform of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program. But although H.R. 3080 contains reform in the title, it fails to deliver on the promise. We urge you to oppose the bill.
For more information contact Steve Ellis, steve[at]taxpayer.net 202-546-8500 x126 or Joshua Sewell, josh[at]taxpayer.net, 202-546-8500 x116.
Americans for Prosperity
Campaign for Liberty
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Heritage Action for America
National Taxpayers Union
R Street Institute
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Following the unmitigated political disaster that was the two-week government shutdown, there has been a heartening rise in the number of people on the right speaking out against unreconstructed intransigence. Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform (no RINO group by any stretch of the imagination) has penned a scathing denunciation of the tactics employed by the shutdown caucus, and even gone to the trouble of doing that which most opinion writers believe unthinkable — engaging with commenters — in order to defend his point. So far, no one has disproved him.
All the same, among those who are broadly sympathetic with the so-called “wacko birds” on policy, but not on tactics, there appears to be a creeping terror: what if the party keeps up this kind of thing? It’s hardly unheard of, even in recent political history, for a party to keep hammering a popular political point, but to such suicidal extremes that the point ceases to be popular. In fact, if that were all that was wrong, many GOPers might sleep easier.
No, what is most-troubling is the thought that the GOP will go the way of the Democrats in the 60s and 70s and allow ideology to completely carry them away; that it will cease to behave like a political party, and instead begin behaving like a revolutionary suicide cult, complete with quasi-terrorist tactics and purges of the insufficiently politically committed. Certainly, that’s the hope of many liberals. Just ask Howard Fineman, who had to apologize for his candidness after offending MSNBC’s audience of would-be Mario Savios by making this comparison in 2011:
But when the tea party arrived, they used this vote as an excuse for a kind of building takeover. I’m of the 60s generation, this feels to me like occupying the administration building, ok? That’s who the tea party people are.
Fineman’s remark, while dismissive, may be even more perceptive than is generally acknowledged. After all, while one can easily compare tea partiers to 60s era student protesters in their famous iconoclasm, their anti-establishment sentiments and their intransigence in the face of compromise, this doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem. Many groups can be compared to the 60s and 70s protesters — after all, protest movements almost invariably borrow their tactics from successful predecessors — but in the case of the tea party, it may be that more than a comparison is appropriate.
Therefore, I want to ask a different question: What if the tea party is not merely like those protesters? What if, in fact, the tea party is mostly made up of the same people? That is, what if the 60s and 70s protesters grew up to be the Tea Party?
Obviously, even if this is true in some particulars, it would be a broad generalization — after all, not every tea partier comes from the right generation to have been alive at the time of the protests. Certainly, tea party politicians like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, as well as tea party folk heroes like Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart, are too young to have been involved (Beck, for instance, was all of eight years old when George McGovern — the ultimate 70s-era suicide candidate — was nominated). However, high profile exceptions are not refutations of broad demographic trends, and when it comes to the polling on the tea party, I suspect there is reason to believe the majority of tea partiers are, at the very least, of the same generation, with the same cultural roots, and possessed of the same ideological concerns (albeit skewed differently) as the protesters of the past.
Polling from 2010, at the dawn of the movement, bears this conclusion out. Begin with the New York Times/CBS poll in April 2010, which found:
The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as tea party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.
For similar data on age, turn to a Bloomberg poll from the month before:
Tea party supporters are likely to be older, white and male. Forty percent are age 55 and over, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; just 22 percent are under the age of 35, 79 percent are white, and 61 percent are men. Many are also Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as “born-again,” compared with 33 percent of all respondents.
Combine these, and you inescapably arrive at the conclusion that the tea party is overwhelmingly a baby boomer phenomenon. Therefore, if we are going to lay responsibility for its existence at the feet of any generation, it would be the same one that was responsible for the protests of the 60s and 70s.
However, this alone need not suggest that the tea partiers are the same people as the protesters of the 60s and 70s. Late boomers missed the boat on most of those, and besides, a great number of boomers were too busy fighting in the Vietnam War to protest it, to name one complicating factor. We need more clues.
No fear. Let’s turn to a Gallup poll, also from April 2010, which found that 50 percent of tea partiers were at least 50 years old, but also that 65 percent had at least “some college.” The New York Times/CBS poll mentioned earlier found that tea partiers were “wealthier and more educated” than the general public. This pans out in the data, where 70 percent of respondents are shown to have at least “some college,” in contrast with only 53 percent of the general population.
From this, we gather the second piece of evidence — the tea party is mostly college educated phenomena. Combined with their age, we can thus conclude that, even if most tea partiers didn’t actually participate in campus protests, they almost certainly would have been spectators, and probably absorbed at least some of the zeitgeist of that era.
But this doesn’t get to the final point, which is that tea partiers share, broadly speaking, the same concerns as 60s and 70s protesters, and often use the same icons.
Now, to many, this may be counter-intuitive. How could tea partiers share the same fears as 60′ protesters? Easily. Let’s start with this quote by Michele Bachmann, in the midst of the most recent government shutdown fight:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
Oh wait. Actually, that’s Mario Savio speaking at Berkeley in the 60s.
Okay, well, what about this from Glenn Beck, talking about the bureaucracy in the health care law:
We asked the following: if President Obama actually tried to get something more liberal out of George Soros in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received — from a well-meaning liberal — was the following: He said, “Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?” That’s the answer! Now, I ask you to consider: if this is a firm, and if George Soros is the board of directors, and if President Obama in fact is the manager, then I’ll tell you something: the federal government are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw material[s] that don’t mean to have any process upon us, don’t mean to be made into any product, don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the university, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!
Actually, no, that’s Savio again, with a few names changed to bring the speech up to date.
I’m being glib, but this point goes deeper than the quote of a major student protester from the 60s and 70s, though that certainly shows how tea party rhetoric sounds almost exactly like the rhetoric of the 60s and 70s.
What is the issue, for instance, that galvanizes tea partiers arguably more than anything else? Obamacare. And what was the piece of Obamacare that provoked the tea party caucus to risk a government shutdown, specifically? The individual mandate. In fact, I could swear I remember a certain tea partier saying this about it:
The mandate was such an ominous thing, I felt as if it was going to trickle down to me.
No, wait, that’s Dylan McDermott talking about (what else?) the Vietnam-era draft, arguably the true predecessor of Obamacare’s mandate, insofar as it was a major policy instituted by a deeply liberal president in order to prop up a legacy-building policy which ultimately came to negatively define his presidency due to its poor execution. And lest we forget, the draft was also (though with more success) compared to slavery, and still is to this day by its opponents.
And speaking of slavery, let’s consider that one of the major icons of the tea party movement is Martin Luther King Jr. One sees this in the timing of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, which coincidentally featured Martin Luther King’s niece Alveda King as a speaker. Not only that, but Alveda King herself drew an explicit link between her uncle and the tea party movement:
“My daddy, Rev. A.D. King, my granddaddy, Martin Luther King, Senior — we are a family of faith, hope and love. And that’s why I’m here today,” King said. “Glenn says there is one human race, I agree with him. We are not here to divide. I’m about unity. That’s why I’m here, and I want to honor my uncle today.”
Numerous tea party websites have honored King as well. Granted, King is a major figure in American history, and an icon of moral courage. Yet he also figures prominently in the memories of those who (like most tea partiers) were alive at the same time and bore witness to his death.
And then, there’s the final common thread: generational paranoia. One sees this not only in the much-mocked tendency by some tea partiers toward paradoxical slogans like “keep your government hands off my Medicare” (a contradiction noted in the NYT/CBS poll from 2010), but also in the words of major tea party figures about those younger than them. For while the slogan of the 60s and 70s appears to have been “don’t trust anyone over 30,” these days, one could be forgiven for thinking it was “don’t trust anyone under 30.”
Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Glenn Beck on young people:
The most important aspect to understand is this is not spontaneous and it will cascade throughout the Middle East. I hope to God that it does not but I bet it touches Europe and then the world. It will not have a singular ideology but it will mean revolution, destruction and change and it will be led by young people. Because anyone over 30 knows that chaos never leads to anything good.
Sociologist Theda Skocpol, who has studied the tea party and published on them, sums up the same attitude this way:
There’s certainly a worry about a change in the social composition of America. But we found in our research that they also resent young people — including in their own families. They think young people are not measuring up. That the grandsons and daughters and nieces and nephews expect to get free college loans, and don’t get a job, and hold ideas that are not very American in their view — like Obama. Obama symbolizes all of this.
This sort of outsized contempt, as opposed to mere disinterested eye-rolling, seems fairly abnormal. However, coming from a protest movement that was defined to a great measure by its opposition to the values of its elders, it makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that millennial values are basically the very image of the sort of dutiful, technocratic liberalism that boomers rebelled against in their youth, and are still rebelling against now, albeit from the right. For a thoroughly unscientific sampling of this, look at the comments on any article about young people on a conservative website, and see how long it takes for someone to mention the fear that young people will liquidate their elders in order to get a health care system that serves their needs — just like those “finks” who sent boomers to die for their wars.
To sum up, at bare minimum, the tea party rank-and-file appears to be motivated by the same concerns that motivated protesters of the 60s and 70s, albeit filtered through a conservative lens. It is so motivated, because it is demographically nearly identical to the profile of the people who started and perpetuated those protest movements — that is, highly educated baby boomers.
And based on the government shutdown fight, they appear to still want to put their bodies on the gears, wheels, levers and apparatus of Washington’s ‘machine.’ For the sake of the country, one only hopes they will not permit those who share their concerns to be crushed in the process.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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- Could tight money have been the cause of the housing bubble?: The Money Illusion
- Why wildlife would take care of the zombie apocalypse: Boing Boing
Ken Cuccinelli, currently behind in the polls by more than seven points, will not win the November election to become Virginia’s next governor. This spells very serious problems for the Republican Party that I’m (mostly) proud to support. But the problems aren’t those that many party insiders are likely to harp on. Instead, they’re fundamental issues related to style and governance.
First, however, it’s important to dismiss the easy excuses that some party insiders will throw around after what seems like an almost sure whomping at the polls. Cuccinelli’s campaign has not been particularly bad. In fact, it has put together the single best campaign ad I’ve seen in recent memory — this great spot about the attorney general working to free a wrongly convicted man. Cuccinelli himself is pretty good on the stump, smart in debates and hasn’t made any George Allen-style gaffes while on the trail.
Hot button issues that obsess the left, like climate change and abortion, haven’t had much of an impact either. I work on climate change issues myself and believe they should be taken seriously but I have a hard time imagining a case where they would determine how I would vote in a state-level race. Polls show that other Americans don’t care much about climate change either. And states have almost no ability to impact global climate anyway.
Abortion probably does sway a few votes but, again, there’s very little that Cuccinelli or any other candidate in any state can or will do about the overwhelming majority of abortions that take place during the first nine weeks of pregnancy. People who actually vote pro-choice on abortion issues almost universally support partial birth abortions (a barely disguised form of infanticide that’s overwhelming unpopular) and wouldn’t support any candidate who describes him or herself as “pro-life” anyway.
So then, what gives? Two things stand out.
First, Cuccinelli’s own style and emphasis doesn’t reassure anyone who isn’t already a committed movement conservative. It’s fine, even refreshing, to see a politician who always speaks his mind, but when that mind is obsessed with culture war issues, it’s not helpful to most voters.
Republicans who want to win need to take a gentler, funnier, less serious style more in the mode of Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and current Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli hasn’t learned this.
Second, Republican candidates, particularly at the state and local level, must do more to describe how they will actually govern. No matter who was actually responsible for the shutdown (I’d personally blame both Democrats and Republicans), the public certainly blames Republicans and federal spending-heavy Virginia felt its consequences most severely. This puts more pressure on Republicans to put forward a positive agenda.
Since McDonnell has governed well by investing in transportation and schools while maintaining the state’s AAA bond rating and avoiding large tax increases, Cuccinelli had a record to run on. But, inexplicably, he hasn’t done that. While the candidate’s webpage has some good wonky ideas about offering $10,000 bachelor’s degrees, many of his plans for governing remain undeveloped. His energy and environment agenda, for example, is almost all blather about the need to “drill baby, drill” while ignoring that Virginia isn’t a major energy producer and won’t be in the future. What’s advertised as a “detailed policy plan for jobs” consists of a one-page plan to cut taxes. While I personally think this is a good idea — provided that one can find enough spending cuts to maintain the state’s AAA bond rating — it’s hardly much of a vision for governing.
These problems, furthermore, are symptomatic of problems the GOP faces almost everywhere else in the country. Unless the party changes its style and develops a different agenda for governing, Republicans are going to lose a lot more elections like the one in Virginia.