Reece Terry, publisher
Mark Boehler, editor
4A • Sunday, February 19, 2012
Reversing Obama’s ‘soft despotism’ requires a focus BY MICHAEL BARONE Many Republican House members, and the bloggers and tea partiers who cheered their victory in gaining a majority in November 2010, seem to be seething with discontent and eager for confrontation. They believe, reasonably, that that victory represented a repudiation of the vast expansion of government by the Obama Democrats. They want to see those policies reversed, and pronto. And if the dilatory Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the allcampaign-no-governance President Obama want a confrontation, so much the better. Such impatience is unbecoming in those who call themselves “constitutional conservatives.” It is James Madison’s Constitution that prevents the winners of one election from directing the course of public policy as unilaterally as, to take one example, the British Labor Party marched Britain into a socialist welfare state on the basis of one election victory in 1945. We have a House of Representatives 100 percent of whose members were elected in a historic Republican year, a president elected in a historic Democratic year, and a Senate two-thirds of whose members were elected in historic Democratic years and one-third in a historic Republican year. It should not be surprising that they cannot agree on policy. Most of the high-minded folk who decry “gridlock” would like the Republican House to say uncle. The Republicans bemoaning their leaders’ lack of boldness imagine that if they force confrontation they can somehow prevail. Neither can succeed in the framework the Framers gave us -- not until another election. The Republicans who seek changes in policy need to exercise prudence in framing issues in order to gain a favorable verdict from voters in the election coming up this fall. Speaker John Boehner -- who started off as a rebel himself and served as a leader when Newt Gingrich sometimes adroitly, sometimes maladroitly, moved policy in a Republican direction -- is as well positioned as anyone could be to make judgments on when prudence should override principle. But say this for the impatient Republicans: They have a worthy goal. They want to turn back the Obama Democrats’ advance into what Alexis de Tocqueville, the author (according to Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield) of “the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America,” characterized as soft despotism. Tocqueville, after describing in “Democracy in America” how Americans avoided the perils of equality by forming voluntary associations, engaging in local government and believing in religions that disciplined their pursuit of self-interest into a pursuit of virtue, painted the picture of a darker future. Above a democratic populace, he writes, “an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that.” Thus Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, foresees Obamacare and the crony capitalism that produces a Super Bowl commercial from a government- and union-controlled company that seeks Obama’s re-election. It is worth quoting more from a political thinker as far elevated above almost any other as Mozart was above almost all other composers. “Thus, taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.” That is what House Republicans are fighting to reverse. With their presidential candidates at odds, with mainstream media disparaging them at every turn, they need to exercise prudence and not give in to passion that could defeat their purpose. (Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, www.washingtonexaminer.com, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)
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Book sheds light on modern politics’ dark side STARKVILLE — When I was a little boy, my father took me for a haircut every other Saturday from a small town barber who had a love for children and an irascible wit. The barber loved gags, tricks and novelties that would make a kid laugh. Joy buzzers? Yes. “Whoopee” cushions? Always. And for the very young, there was always the “pull the quarter from behind the ear” bit. I always loved that, because I got to keep the quarter and a quarter would buy a lot in 1964. For those in journalism whose lot it falls to cover politics at any significant level, there come moments of searing clarity, brutal insight and stunning disappointment that can only be compared to learning the secret of a magician’s sleight-of-hand. Much of modern politics reminds me of my childhood barber, who taught me the value of paying attention to small details so as not to buy into the notion that my left ear really dispensed quarters. In their intriguing and entertaining new book
“We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics” (William M o r r o w , Sid Salter 191 pages, Columnist $15.99), former Mississippi journalists and current political research firm partners Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian reveal the predictably sordid but reliably comic processes and strategies used to determine which candidates win elections in this country. The pair will be signing their new book at Lemuria Books in Jackson on Feb. 21. Huffman is a former environmental researcher and aide to both former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore and former Mississippi governor and current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Rejebian is a former communications director and advisor for both the Jackson mayor’s office and to the state attorney general’s office. Both were talented new reporters for The Clarion-Ledger be-
fore leaving the newspaper business. The authors focus on their trade -- political opposition research or “oppo” -- which is best defined as seeking, finding, documenting, vetting, and ultimately packaging political dirt on opposing candidates or potential candidates for use by the politicians they challenge. But what is key to understanding the world that Huffman and Rejebian work in and that we as voters exercise our franchise in is that this “oppo” isn’t the creation of fertile minds in ad agencies. This research is factual information contained in public records or available to be verified by doing what both journalists and detectives do best -- identifying and interviewing sources, digging through records, and taking the occasional risks inherent in obtaining such information. The “truth” obtained in the quest for political opposition research can run the gamut from prior arrests to medical secrets to pre- or post-marital indiscretions. And, it is also refreshing to
learn, Huffman and Rejebian have also been forced to confront another kind of truth -- the fact that there are still some honorable politicians out there with absolutely no skeletons in their closets. “We’re With Nobody” has the frenetic pace and energy of a John Grisham novel and is a truly compelling read, but it’s a cautionary tale as well. Business Week’s Bret Berk offered this review: “Whatever the case, a clean memoir of a filthy business is a welcome perspective shift: It illuminates without slaking our blood thirst. The argument that their research into the sex lives or undisclosed dealings of politicians -- and the unscrupulous Swiftboating that can result from it -- is beneficial to democracy is debatable. The authors contribute something more valuable by exposing the mechanics behind their profession. Voters who read this compelling book may be less likely to vote under the influence of the kind of dirt Huffman and Rejebian spent their careers digging up.”
Kulturkampf comes disguised as public health About a month ago, people who thought religious institutions shouldn’t be forced to pay for things they morally oppose were unremarkable, boring even. Now, they are waging a heinous War on Women. Through the twisted logic of statism run amok, opposition to a new Health and Human Services mandate forcing employers to buy insurance covering contraceptives becomes opposition to access to contraceptives altogether. White House spokesman Jay Carney calls a Senate bill to allow employers to forgo buying coverage for services they oppose -- as they have throughout the nation’s entire history up to this point -- “dangerous and wrong.” Three Democratic women senators, Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Barbara Boxer (California) and Patty Murray (Washington), wrote in The Wall Street Journal that critics of the mandate “are trying to force their politics on women’s personal healthcare decisions.” How are they proposing to do that exactly? The Catholic bishops are merely fighting to keep institutions affiliated with their church from getting coerced into participating in what they consider a
moral wrong. They are the agents of a status quo that the day before yesterday wasn’t Rich considered Lowery objectionable, let alone National an assault Review on women’s health. Supporters of the mandate like the three senators cite the statistic from the Guttmacher Institute that 99 percent of women who have been sexually active in the U.S. have used birth control. This doesn’t sound like a country facing a crisis of contraception. But prescription contraceptives are expensive, the senators argue, costing as much as $600 a year. (Or, looked at another way, less than $60 a month.) Never mind that a vast government apparatus exists to provide poor women access to contraceptives, from Medicaid and community health centers to Title X. There are roughly 4,500 Title X-funded clinics around the country. They are required to provide free birth control to the poor and subsidized birth control to people with incomes between 100 percent and 250
percent of poverty. They serve about 5 million people a year. By any reasonable standard, we are one of the most lavishly contracepted society in the history of the planet. Whoever wrote the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus circa 1800 B.C., with its references to crude contraceptives, would be shocked and awed at the bright, cheery display of condoms at the average drugstore. At drugstore.com, a pedestrian pack of 12 goes for about $10, with no stigma attached. A Centers for Disease Control report this year found that among teen mothers who had unintended pregnancies, only 13 percent said they had trouble getting access to birth control. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, an expert on out-of-wedlock births, says the category of unplanned pregnancies is more ambiguous than it sounds. It includes women who weren’t planning a pregnancy right away but were still thinking about getting pregnant so weren’t zealous in their use of contraception. Of all the causes of the explosion in illegitimate births, limited access to contraception can’t be high
on the list. At the same time that we have seen a profusion of contraceptives that are dazzling in their variety, impressive in their efficacy and democratic in their widespread accessibility, out-of-wedlock births have gone from 10 percent in 1970 to 42 percent today (largely among poor women with access to governmentprovided contraceptives). In its extension to religious institutions, the HHS mandate can only reach a very narrow slice of the population. Women who aren’t poor enough to get government assistance, yet aren’t well off enough to afford their own contraception, can’t get any other help, and have no alternative but to work for an objecting religious institution. On behalf of this vanishingly small number of women, the Obama administration is willing to risk a political backlash and a rebuke in the courts. If the mandate were only about extending contraception coverage, exempting religious institutions would be obvious. But it’s more than that. It is about bringing institutions thought to be retrograde to heel, and discrediting their morality. It is kulturkampf disguised as public health.
Prayer for today
A verse to share
O God, help us to share in your work of bringing healing and salvation to the world. Amen.
Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. — Luke 12:29 (NRSV)
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Published on Feb 19, 2012