The populist right in India, and the US

All eyes in India have understandably been on some important political developments over the past few days.

First, the by-election results of 3 parliamentary seats and 2 legislative seats were made more interesting by fact that BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party, and India’s largest) had to face a surprising rout in the strongholds (Gorakhpur, Phulpur) of Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister (Yogi Adityanath) and Deputy Chief Minister (Keshav Prasad Maurya).

Second, there has been talk of other regional parties joining hands and forming an Anti-Congress Front. Two days after the election results, the exit of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its decision to pass a no confidence motion (which BJP is likely to win) has certainly made the fight for 2019 more interesting.

While it remains to be seen whether the opposition parties in 2019 can give the BJP a run for its money, those interested in US politics will have closely followed the result of a Congressional by-election (18th District) where Democrat candidate Connor Lamb (a 33 year old Marine) defeated Republican Candidate Rick Saccone in a close contest. This is a significant win after the triumph of Senator Douglas Jones in Alabama. Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate Seat in Alabama (a Republican stronghold referred to as “Ruby Red”) since 1997.

The US President, who is quick to comment on virtually every issue, on Twitter, remained silent on the result of the 18th District.

The US President did state, at a private fundraiser for Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley, that the Democrat candidate’s stance on key economic issues was akin to that of Trump:

The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis, Trump said. He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican?’ He sounds like a Republican to me.

Lamb conservative on social and economic issues?

Trump’s views were echoed by a number of other Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Lamb a “pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservative.”

While Republican Representative Chris Collins of New York said that he doesn’t “think you’ll see another candidate like Lamb,” another representative from the state of Pennsylvania, Mike Kelly, argued that Lamb was “more like a Republican.”

There is some truth in the President’s assertions, because Lamb did support the President’s imposition of tariffs on aluminium and steel imports. Said Lamb: “we have to take some action to level the playing field.” Even on issues like gun control and abortion, his views were to the right of conventional Democrats, though not absolutely in sync with the Republicans.

Why Trump can not ignore this defeat

Irrespective of what US President Donald Trump may say, the fact is that he had won the state by 20 points in the US Presidential election of 2016, and his economic agenda had found strong resonance. Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, had also campaigned for Saccone.

Significantly, in the last two Congressional elections, Democrats had not even bothered to field candidates in PA 18.

The announcement to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel had been made one week before the election, clearly with an eye on reaching out to large sections of ‘blue collar workers’. The US President calculated that he would be able to regain his popularity, but the results clearly show that Trump’s ‘ultra nationalism’ and economically inward looking policies by themselves will not suffice. He will also need to change his style of functioning and not continuously sack individuals.

Republican Speaker Paul Ryan himself had dubbed this verdict as a ‘wake up call’. Other Republicans have been forthright in their analysis of the defeat and blame Trump’s approval ratings for the same.

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said:

There is a very real problem facing Republicans in the months ahead and that problem is Donald Trump’s approval rating.

What does Lamb’s win mean for the Democrats

Lamb’s victory may also result in some changes within the Democrats. Lamb has been pitching for a change in leadership and does not get along particularly well with Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives:

I have said, and I continue to say, that I think we need new leadership at the top of both parties in the House.

Pelosi however was quick to deny that Lamb’s criticism of her had anything to do with the outcome:

I don’t think that that really had that much impact on the race […] He won. If we hadn’t won, you might have a question, but we won — the ‘D’ next to his name was very significant.

The electoral verdicts in India and US have one common message: ‘economic insularity’,  and the whipping up of ultra-nationalist emotions can not make up for vacuous policies.

There are messages for the opposition in both the US and India; in spite of right wing nationalism having failed to address substantive issues, the voter is looking for new options — leaders with imaginative ideas outside of the cozy club .

If one were to specifically look at India, the fence sitters may not be particularly happy with the existing order, but does that imply that they will automatically tilt towards the opposition? The politics of doles and sops will not work. A progressive social agenda, which is in sync with the diverse ethos of this country, has to be complemented by a pro-reform economic agenda (which is of course inclusive, and sensitive to the concerns of the poorest).

Conclusion

What is clear however is that Trump’s re-election in 2020 and Modi’s in 2019, are not a done deal. One would have to say though, that in spite of the recent UP verdict, there is a higher probability of Modi being re-elected than Trump.

It remains to be seen whether the current populist right narrative, which is a lethal cocktail of inward looking economic thinking and conservative social policies, can be countered effectively, and defeated at the hustings, by a progressive, forward looking agenda. Will India and the US take the lead in challenging this narrative?

Political Science survey (take it!)

I received the following email from a graduate student at SUNY-Stony Brook:

A team of researchers from Stony Brook University have asked us to help them study the role that emotion plays in politics. I have completed the survey myself, and it only took me a few minutes to finish. The survey is completely anonymous.

Click the link below to begin the survey:

https://stonybrookuniversity.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bDvaFRlp0rmqYBf* * *

If you choose to post it, please let me know, and please discourage your readers from discussing the content of the survey by disabling the comment section on the post.  It could bias my results if people go into it with specific expectations about the study.
Thanks so much for your consideration!

Best Regards,
Brandon Marshall
Stony Brook University
Department of Political Science

Note: This study has been approved by Stony Brook University’s Institutional Review Board protecting research involving human subjects.


The link is legit, though it took me about 10 minutes to complete it. On top of that, it wasn’t as cool as the ideology quizzes I link to, or the surveys Michelangelo occasionally conducts. The political scientists are trying to find out why Democrats and Republicans don’t like each other, so don’t expect any nuance or to learn anything new.

All the same, take the survey. Because science!

Free speech and campus conservatives: good news

The Weekly Standard recently posted an open letter from a very brave sociology professor at UCLA that’s worth mentioning here. I have just three things to add.

First, the sociologist, a self-identified conservative, is doing the right thing by urging the Bruin Republicans to cancel its proposed speech by a shock jock. The subject? “10 Things I Hate About Mexico.”

Second, as alumni I’m embarrassed. I’ve never been a fan of Bruin Republicans, but aping the tactics of Republican groups at less selective schools is pathetic.

Third, back to the open letter: it’s amazing and you should read it (link, again). Apparently, it was so convincing that the Bruin Republicans cancelled the event. What Rossman does – subtly, clearly, and powerfully – is point out to not only Bruin Republicans but everybody else involved in this fiasco that being politically conservative is not the same thing as being a member of the Republican Party. More importantly, by defending the right to speak while vehemently opposing the subject matter, Rossman makes an excellent case for moving the Republican Party in a more classically liberal direction.

Sticking up for your beliefs is important. Always has been, always will be. The pen is still mightier than the sword.

Explicando a eleição de Trump para brasileiros

Para qualquer um que acompanhou as notícias pela grande mídia brasileira (leia-se especialmente Globo e Globonews) a eleição de Donald Trump para a presidência dos EUA parece ter sido em primeiro lugar uma surpresa imprevisível e em segundo lugar a maior desgraça que poderia se abater sobre aquele país e o mundo, quando ao mesmo tempo estes perderam a chance de serem agraciados com a primeira mulher presidente dos EUA, a imaculável Hillary Clinton. Para responder a esta avaliação, faço aqui algumas observações a respeito do sistema político e eleitoral dos EUA.

Há basicamente dois partidos políticos nos EUA: Democratas e Republicanos. Diferente de algumas bobagens que vi nos principais canais de notícias, o Partido Democrata não remonta a Thomas Jefferson. Remonta sim a Andrew Jackson, primeiro presidente populista dos EUA e notório assassino de índios. Ao longo do século 19 o Partido Democrata foi o grande defensor da escravidão, e com a abolição desta nefasta instituição tornou-se o grande defensor da segregação. Woodrow Wilson e Franklin Delano Roosevelt, famigerados presidentes democratas, muitas vezes tratados como grandes heróis da democracia, foram grandes expansores do governo federal e enfraquecedores da economia americana. Na década de 1960 o Partido Democrata criou uma versão norte-americana de Welfare State que desde então mais prejudica do que ajuda os mais pobres. Do século 19 ao 21, o Partido Democrata está sempre ao lado dos mais poderosos e contra os mais pobres, não importa se dizem o contrário.

A origem do Partido Republicano é menos antiga. O GOP (grand old party), como é chamado, foi formado pela união de vários movimentos abolicionistas, e seu primeiro presidente foi Abraham Lincoln. Em resposta à eleição de Lincoln, estados escravistas do sul dos EUA romperam com a União, dando início à Guerra Civil. Embora a história do GOP esteja cheia de controvérsias, o fato é que ao longo do tempo este partido foi mais inclinado ao livre mercado, defensor mais forte dos direitos individuais e menos populista do que seu adversário Democrata.

Para além dos partidos, a população dos EUA se divide basicamente em duas correntes políticas: liberais e conservadores. Diferente do que ocorre no Brasil ou na Europa, o termo liberal é utilizado nos EUA para indivíduos de esquerda. O termo liberal passou por uma mudança na virada do século 19 para o 20, sendo adotado por indivíduos do movimento progressivista (notoriamente o já citado presidente Woodrow Wilson), que defendia a expansão dos poderes do estado e menor liberdade de mercado. Eventualmente o termo liberal tornou-se associado aos Democratas.

Conservadores nos EUA são as pessoas que querem conservar o país como este foi fundado no final do século 18. Conservadores são mais constitucionalistas do que os liberais, defendem um governo mais limitado e maior liberdade de mercado. Em outras palavras, conservadores são liberais clássicos, enquanto que liberais deturparam este termo, quando deveriam se chamar de progressivistas (embora seja altamente questionável se sua posição promove algum progresso). Eventualmente conservadores também se tornou um termo ligado a cristãos, embora esta ligação seja menos necessária do que possa parecer. Conservadores estão particularmente ligados ao Partido Republicano.

Evidentemente é impossível que a população de um país grande como os EUA se encaixe perfeitamente em somente dois partidos políticos ou duas tendências ideológicas. Os liberais em geral defendem liberdades sociais (como legalização das drogas e união civil de homossexuais), mas são contra liberdades econômicas (como contratos livres entre trabalhadores e empregados). Conservadores são contra liberdades sociais e favoráveis a liberdades econômicas. Pessoas favoráveis aos dois tipos de liberdade sentem-se pouco representadas nos dois principais partidos, e, embora em geral optem pelo GOP, também tem como opção o Partido Libertário ou o movimento Tea Party (não um partido político formal, mas sim um movimento de protesto contra o crescimento do estado, em favor do retorno aos parâmetros constitucionais). Há também socialistas, ambientalistas, comunistas, e todo o tipo de tendência política nos EUA. O fato é apenas que somente dois partidos possuem uma representatividade nacional.

O fato de que os EUA possuiriam somente dois partidos políticos expressivos foi previsto bastante cedo por James Madison, um dos Pais Fundadores e principal autor da Constituição. No final do século 18, Madison previu que devido ao tamanho do país (ainda pequeno se comparado com as dimensões atuais) e sua diversidade, um partido de projeção nacional precisaria evitar extremismos e se focar em posições moderadas, que pudessem atender à população como um todo. Foi o que aconteceu. Ao longo de toda a sua história os EUA tiveram um sistema bipartidário, variando apenas os partidos que compõem este sistema. Republicanos e Democratas tem sido estes dois partidos desde meados do século 19.

Na primeira metade do século 19 outros partidos compuseram o sistema bipartidário previsto por Madison. Mudanças variadas levaram partidos antigos a perder relevância e serem substituídos por novos. É possível que o mesmo fosse ocorrer com Democratas e Republicanos, mas mudanças na lei eleitoral realizadas especialmente na década de 1970 tornaram mais difícil a entrada de competidores nas eleições. Estas mudanças são em parte responsáveis pela animosidade de grande parte do eleitorado, que não se sente representado por nenhum dos partidos, e consequentemente não se importa em votar. Este quadro é um alerta para pessoas que defendem uma genérica reforma política no Brasil, particularmente uma que limite a entrada de novos partidos.

Há em geral uma grande distância entre o que políticos falam em uma campanha e o que fazem uma vez nos cargos. Isto é particularmente verdade a respeito de Hillary Clinton. Graças à sua vasta experiência em cargos públicos, podemos dizer com segurança que Clinton é uma política profissional que busca angariar votos com argumentos que não necessariamente irão guiar suas ações uma vez no cargo. Trump é um político novato, e assim esta mesma avaliação torna-se impossível de fazer, mas há a impressão de que sua campanha foi conduzida como um dos reality shows de que ele fazia parte anos atrás: trata-se de uma realidade produzida com o objetivo de alcançar audiência, não de realidade real. É bastante provável que Trump presidente seja bem mais moderado do que Trump candidato, para o bem ou para o mal. Simpatizantes de Hillary podem se impressionar, assim como eleitores de Trump podem se sentir traídos.

 

Extremist Republicans Did the Right Thing

There is a poll suggesting that the Republican Party is taking a public opinion thrashing for provoking a government so-called “shutdown.” I don’t think there is much of a shutdown. And I don’t think a single poll means anything. If there were four convergent polls showing the Republicans being blamed, I would still support Republican e “extremists”, including Ted Cruz.

We will not get Obamacare defunded. That was hardly ever in the cards. It was just a good time to draw the American’s people attention to the abnormality that it the federal government. It’s a good time because its own actions right now illustrate both its pettiness and its gross incompetence. Keep veterans out of veterans’ monuments and fail just about 100% on the implementation of a vast ambitious program legislated on a completely partisan basis.

In addition, thanks to the crisis, many young people will be astonished to discover that, like them with their credit cards, the Federal Government cannot pay its bills to Peter without borrowing from Paul. Nothing new here; its’ just that many citizens don’t know this simple fact.

I don’t buy the argument that, of course, there was going to be technical glitches with Obamacare. Implementation of Obamacare is a big big project, of course, but it does not involve any novel technical challenge. And they had four years. And they could have asked Facebook, for example, to take charge. The federal government rarely does a small trivial thing well. There was no reason to believe it could do a big important thing well.

The main things Pres. Obama said four years ago about reforming health care turn out to be wrong, false. I don’t think he was lying then. I believe he and his advisers never had any idea of what they were talking about. They still don’t.

I am glad there were members of the Republican Party in Congress who manned up enough to point to the obvious.

If the Republican Party suffers as a result of the present crisis, I think it will have been worth it. Personally, I am not much invested in a Party that’s a little of everything and of anything. It’s conservatism that matters, the conservative perspective on the world. It’s the perspective that says that the best government is that which governs least. It used not to be a radical thought.

Yesterday, we buried my friend Filip. I had only known him for a few years but his departure leaves a hole in my mind and in my heart. At first, he was just a needed financial adviser. Then, we became friends around conservative politics and braised sweetbreads. We had both in common because we were both immigrants. We both detested authoritarianism and we both liked earthy foods. I was reared in France. My earthy food talents are good. Filip was reared in Communist Romania. His authoritarianism detector was superb. We were complementary.

Bush’s War

“Since March 1996, Iraq has  systematically sought to deny weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special on Iraq Commission (UNSCOM) access to key facilities and documents, has on several occasions endangered the safe operation of UNSCOM helicopters transporting UNSCOM personnel in Iraq, and has persisted in a pattern of deception and concealment  regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs […]

On August 14 — the President signed Public Law 105-235, which declared that “the  Government of Iraq  is in material and unacceptable breach  of its international obligations” and urged the President to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligation […]

It should be he policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of  a democratic government to replace that regime.”

The first paragraph is from the Iraq Liberation Act of ___  .

The second and third paragraphs are from  Public-Law 105-235.

The president who signed both items was ___________?

This is lifted from the Wall Street Journal of 3/19/13. The bolding is mine.

Both pieces of legislation were enacted in 1998.

The primary reason given by the Bush administration for the attack on Hussein’s Iraq was to search there for weapons of mass destruction. We now know there were no such weapons on any significant scale. I keep arguing on this blog that:

  1. There were many other reasons to destroy the Hussein regime and,
  2. There were very good reasons for any reasonable person to be misled about the existence of such weapons in Iraq.

Mostly, it was that the Hussein regime sabotaged the inspection process to which it had agreed as a condition of peace following the first Gulf War. It would be hard to understand the high risks taken to hide things by one who had in fact nothing to hide! (Read this sentence again.)

The important persons and organization who were fooled into believing in the existence of the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were numerous and varied. They included several western intelligence services and many important politicians.

In 1998, a prominent member of one of the two main American political parties (prominent then and prominent now) said the following,

“Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”

I am not faulting the politician who said this for blindness then but for irresponsible, dishonest amnesia now.

The politician in question is __________________________

(Answer below as a “Comment.”)

The quote is lifted from the Wall Street Journal editorial on 3/20/13.

Friedrich Hayek: Champion of Liberty

From Richard Epstein:

Thus Hayek’s 1940 contribution to the “Socialist Calculation” debate debunked the then-fashionable notion that master planners could achieve the economic nirvana of running a centralized economy in which they obtain whatever distribution of income they choose while simultaneously making sound allocations of both labor and capital, just like in Soviet Russia.

Hayek exposed this fool’s mission by stressing how no given individual or group could obtain and organize the needed information about supply and demand conditions throughout the economy. The virtue of the price system was its use of a common unit of measurement—money—to allow various actors to compete for a given resource without having to lay bare why they need any particular good or service. The seller need only accept the highest bid, without nosing around in other people’s business. The interaction between buyers and sellers allows for constant incremental adjustments of both price and quantity. Old information gets updated in a quick and reliable way, thereby eluding the administrative gauntlet of the socialist state.

This essay, which y’all should read, was sparked by the attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan’s supposed intellectual influences F.A. Hayek and Ayn Rand.

Ron Paul’s Legacy

Ron Paul will not get to speak at the GOP convention, but his legacy will hard to miss over the next decade of American politics. His son is now a Senator in Kentucky, and his Audit the Fed bills have lots of bi-partisan support (in the House anyway; Senators, for some strange reason, seem to like the Federal Reserve an awful lot).

His foreign policy, which initially attracted me to libertarian ideas, is the most important legacy, however. I can tell because the GOP loathes it so much that they won’t give Congressman Paul the time of day they know they need for his support.

From Foreign Policy: Continue reading

Tea Party in the People’s Green Republic of Santa Cruz

On April 15th, my wife and I went to a tea party to protest the Obama-Pelosi spending and its probably consequences. (For those of you who read me from overseas: April 15th is the last day Americans may pay their federal income tax without a late penalty. They also pay taxes to their state, to their municipalities, and others.) Nothing extraordinary about our attendance; millions of Americans did the same. However, for us it was in Santa Cruz, California.

Santa Cruz is a perfect 1970s political throwback, except that today’s Greens warn against global warming instead of global glaciation. We even have flower children here. I believe at least 90% of residents of the country of Santa Cruz voted for Obama. If someone showed me it was 98%, I would not be surprised. Santa Cruz is the kind of town were strangers would address you at the coffee-shop with anti-Bush remarks without hesitation. It did not cross anybody’s mind that you might actually have voted for Bush (twice, in my case).

Well yesterday, at the height of the gathering, there were about 140 people demonstrating in front of the post office. That’s a fairly small number as compared to the tens of thousands some media showed at the Alamo in Texas, for example. Also, the time of the protest was ill-chosen. It began at 2, when most people are at work. The most impressive observation about this anti-spending demonstration was the density of approving  car horn honking it generated. I have never heard so much honking in the past ten years in the area. It seems to me each of the pro-fascist, anti-anti terrorist demonstrations produced much less honking in spite of the town’s leftists near-consensus.  At the Santa Cruz tea party, 9 out of 10 signs were crudely hand-made, not evidence of top-bottom organizing surely. I think some people in the middle are switching sides because they are appalled by the first 80 days of Obama-Pelosi.  Continue reading