George Sarant

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THE MAN ON THE WEDDING CAKE

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The President seems increasingly clueless as to what his job responsibilities are. It is as though all the ceremonial aspects of the presidency have superseded the substantive requirements of the position, so that being president consists of photo-ops, giving speeches, and other ribbon-cutting type affairs. He remains detached from everything else, whether it be meeting with members of congress, solving problems, or otherwise dealing with the substance of things. Whenever things go wrong he says he is “angry” about them, but does little to rectify the situation, deflecting blame elsewhere, even though many of these problems originated in his own administration. He thereby absolves himself of any responsibility for Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying revelations, fumbling over Syria, presiding over five of the six largest deficits in history, a sputtering economy, and, of course, Obamacare. It is deeply troubling that none of these things have been adequately resolved. The President may be genuinely angry about these things, but many of them, at the very least, are a consequence of who he appointed to office, including zealots who were obsessed with radical reform, based not upon empirical evidence but ideological presumptions as to the way things ought to be. As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” (in the office of the President).

But disengagement cannot be an excuse for ineptitude that is broad and consistent. One would be hard pressed to identify anything within the purview of the president that is going right these days. This is a result of some degree of competence at the superficial aspects of the presidency, i.e. ceremonial pomp, but complete incompetence at everything else. It is also unsurprising to anyone who could see through the glow of media cheerleading, given that he never ran anything in his life before. Yet he was elevated twice to what was, until he assumed office,  the most powerful position in the world, but now, at least according to Forbes, that distinction belongs to Vladimir Putin. During this presidency the US has been seriously weakened in the world, as well as at home, and it will take a lot of time and effort to undo what has transpired.

He did belatedly, and superficially assume responsibility for Obamacare, which he and his party obviously own, but he remains a true believer in his own narrative, and is the most partisan occupant the White House has ever seen. Seldom have we witnessed more confidence with less actual justification for it. He is like the man on top of the wedding cake, peering down on all below, oblivious to the meltdown that is happening. As we witness the government unraveling before our eyes he does not shoulder all the blame, but he has done nothing to fix the damage, and too often has made things considerably worse than they had to be. What is remarkable is not that his approval ratings are at an all time low, but that 41% still view his administration positively. The real tragedy is that we have to endure years more of this presidency while the situation in the US and the rest of the world remains dangerously rudderless, at least until the next election. In the interim congress may gain more power as the president becomes more of a lame duck, a prospect that is not all that reassuring. We can only pray that no serious crises explode abroad in the meantime. What we need to identify in the time ahead, is someone who is capable of competently running things, solving problems, and working congenially with the congress in order to undo all the damage that has been done. Until that happens we can’t even think about moving forward again.

Written by georgesarant

October 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM

THE SUPREME COURT ON HEALTH CARE

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The Supreme Court’s decision on health care legislation was announced this morning, and in the best possible outcome it upheld the Affordable Care Act, but explicitly not for the reasons its supporters argued for. In the last congress the argument was made that the government could compel people to buy insurance under the Interstate Commerce clause of the constitution. The court rejected this out of hand, and instead upheld the law on the basis of the government’s power to tax, effectively naming proposed penalties what they are- a tax. The Democrats under Nancy Pelosi had claimed virtually unlimited power for the government by interpreting the commerce clause so broadly as to render it meaningless. The court decided that the government does not have the right to compel individuals to behave a certain way under the clause, thereby sharply limiting its application to actual commerce.

Chief Justice Roberts made the right decision, given the political dynamics of the day. If he had sided with the four dissenting judges, all Republican appointees, it would have been characterized as a political decision. The President has tried to undermine the court through outrageous, unprecedented attacks, and one can only imagine the reaction if the court had overturned his signature piece of legislation. In this decision the court reasserted the primacy of the constitution, which the left is increasingly prepared to ignore in pursuit of their agenda. By their reckoning if the constitution stands in the way of some supposed “higher good,” it should be ignored or stretched to oblivion.

Civil society is only possible to the extent that all sides agree on a basic framework of rules. But if one side does not accept the legitimacy of the rules the entire basis of social co-operation is undercut. There is a disturbing trend on the left towards claiming powers for the state it does not possess under the constitution. But in the absence of the rule of law such power becomes arbitrary and abusive. Thus we have legislation proposed, the content of which remains a mystery, until, as Pelosi stated, the bill is passed. This kind of contorted logic has characterized the whole process with regard to the act. What they do not seem to understand is that if the limits of the constitution are abandoned by one side, the other side can do the same, to their detriment.

The health care issue is far from settled. It remains a piece of legislation passed over the objections of a majority of the public, but now it has been restored to the democratic process. It will now be discussed and debated as it should have been in the first place. Each side has a clear position diametrically opposed to the other, and it will now be an issue in the November election. Thus. it will likely be resolved by the political process. That is why we have elections.

Written by georgesarant

June 28, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Posted in government, Politics

POLITICS, EMOTION, POWER

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I am tired of political rancor and messages that have a near hysterical urgency that is frequently unwarranted by the facts. It really gets intense in a national election year and things are said and done that are often regrettable. Political passion is seldom rational. Of course there are things that political opposites say and do that are infuriating, (although it is mostly more say than do) but before responding to something with a tirade, especially online, it makes sense to stop and take a breather because whatever you post or send can stick around forever. Just as it is wise not to sign important documents when you are half-asleep or otherwise indisposed, so it is unwise to express yourself on anything important while you are angry. I’ve been there myself and know the routine, but one tends to mellow with age and hopefully grow wiser. 

In politics each side tends to demonize the other, assuming they are more formidable than they actually are. Fear of what the Other might do is a big motivator in political life, but that fear often exaggerates the power the other side actually has or can wield. That said I am not suggesting that both sides are equivalent. They are not, and I agree with Bill O’Reilly that the far Left is especially venomous. These are people of the sort who have published the home addresses of individuals they disagree with or even threateningly visited them. This is the sort that disrupts speeches and attacks people they don’t agree with. I find this particularly unwise because the right, if it chose to be, would be far more formidable in any sort of physical conflict or show of force, but fortunately for these radicals, conservatives are more peaceful, in part because they have greater respect for social constraints, standards of behavior and manners. They also have no equivalent to the evil currency speculator George Soros, who is giving some $100 million to left-wing groups, to among other things, dig up, fabricate, and throw dirt on political opponents. Even the Democratic party has adapted an awful fabrication in actually training people to attack virtually any political position the other side takes as “racist” to try and obscure the substance of things. These tactics are actually based on fear, insecurity, and a feeling of powerlessness, as well as irrationality, but that does not make them any less despicable. 

Nothing infuriates me more than the abuse of power by those who have it over those who don’t.  Liberals like to think of themselves as great opponents of such activity, but they are often the ones doing the abusing. Take the odious editor of Vogue pressuring people to design for the Democratic Presidential campaign. What designer will say no? Newhouse should be held accountable for this. It is the same in show business. Most actors or performers are too self-involved to be particularly political, yet you see many of them line up in support of candidates or fundraisers. There is no doubt that if they are at all political they tend to be on the left, but their participation is often due to pressure from studio executives and agents who hold great power over them and are monotonously liberal, as well as peer pressure. After all what sense does it make to alienate at least half of your audience unnecessarily?

Over the course of my life whenever I held any kind of power I’m happy to say that I never used it to compel anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do. Instead I usually found myself banging up against the powerful. I paid a steep price throughout my life for political views I never hid, starting in graduate school, where I endured considerable mental anguish and was completely alone, as symbolized one time when I was sitting in the cafeteria when someone announced that busses were coming to take people to a demonstration. The place completely cleared out and I was literally alone. In those days there were no support structures around at all like the conservative think tanks, organizations, and media that exist today. Actually, if I think about it, it began in high school, where I was a favorite of an honors class history teacher until she found out I was supporting a Republican (Rockefeller at the time, not even a conservative). Ironically in a class exercise of a mock election campaign she prevailed upon me to advocate the candidacy of George Wallace just to cover all the candidates because no one wanted to do it, this being Brooklyn, NY. So when the time came I got up and spoke with a mock southern accent (which wasn’t hard for me having family from the South, i.e. my aunt owned the Robert E. Lee hotel in Jackson, Mississippi), had friends acting as cheerleaders and there was hysterical laughter in the class. When the time came to vote, the class actually elected Wallace based on my performance, not his politics. Well the teacher went ballistic and freaked out, outraged and furious that the majority of her honors class would actually vote the way they did, and refused to submit the election results to the larger school tally. Notwithstanding the fact that she prevailed on me to do something I really didn’t want to do, she never spoke to me again after that and my grades subsequently took a dive, as a result of typical liberal tolerance. So it went on in life in since I was frequently in fields controlled by the left. Often when I inconveniently turned out to be more articulate than them while taking what they viewed as the “wrong” position,” I was the subject of particular hatred. 

So when it comes to power, although leftists like to portray themselves as struggling nobly against sinister forces for truth and justice, in my experience they are the ones who have consistently abused power for political purposes. In fact I have yet to come across a liberal with anything like a heroic streak no matter how they may romanticize themselves. When you look around at people who have actually performed heroic deeds, they are almost always conservative, if they are anything politically. The noticeable lack of liberals is not surprising; these are the people who invented the anti-hero after all. Just think of who is more likely to perform selfless acts, or even give to charity. The evidence clearly shows it is conservatives. 

There was a time when I was bitter about my encounters with the left, but it is long gone now, and as I’ve indicated, the wise course is to avoid getting obsessively angry about anything political. In the larger scheme of things they are a bitter minority motivated by fear of the Other that doesn’t actually exist. So rather than respond in-kind and attack them, at this point I’m decidedly more oriented towards persuading them as to the error of their ways. 

For an earlier take on this topic go to: http://www.georgesarant.com/2010/09/political-passion.html 

Written by georgesarant

May 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Posted in Politics

WHERE THIS BLOG IS GOING

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I had an unexpected, surprising reaction to what was basically an aside I wrote recently about fashion classics, particularly from chic young women regarding clueless young men today. I am far from a fashion maven (indeed in some ways you could consider that piece anti-fashion, at least in terms of ephemera). But what I do have is some intimate knowledge and experience over the years with time-tested, classic men’s clothing, which consistently weathers the vicissitudes of change, so I’ve decided to do a limited spin-off blog on that subject, which in the longer term won’t be ongoing but will lay down some basics, since it appears that some guys really are in the dark. 

That will join a couple of others that reflect my more esoteric interests, as I doubt many people would share all of them. Another has to do with vintage electronic synthesizer instruments, and another on a topic I call rational conservatism, which I’m writing a book about. I’ll list the links when they are fully up. 

As far as this blog goes it will continue, although my interest is more in overall political philosophy rather than day to day events at this point, which are either ephemeral or involve ongoing issues that aren’t going anywhere soon. Everyone else writes about current events and the day’s headlines, so I don’t see much point in repeating what is already ubiquitous. Furthermore, now that we are in an election year in the US I don’t really want to be part of that. I’ve been through too many, and you can see things already heating up even though the election is still six months away. I continue to maintain that we have a really lousy system for picking a President as I wrote here, given the endless campaigning we are subject to all the time. Don’t get me wrong. This will be a critical election in terms of the future of this country and if things don’t change we are headed for disaster. But as far as I’m concerned November is too far off to be engaged at this point. 

Written by georgesarant

April 29, 2012 at 10:19 PM

NO WAY TO PICK A PRESIDENT

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A year before the election the news is dominated by the presidential race, and has been for months. Nowadays campaigns begin years before the election date and cost huge amounts of money, so it is no wonder that politicians spend more time running for office than they do actually governing. While Republican candidates have engaged in an endless series of debates, the current occupant of the White House has all but given up on governing in favor of campaigning. The chronic campaign produces two results- a dysfunctional government and elected officials who are good at campaigning rather than governing.

Permanent campaigning is a relatively recent development largely due to primary elections spread out over many months and geographic locations. Primaries are a result of the efforts of the progressive movement in the early part of the twentieth century, but only became decisive in 1960 when John F. Kennedy used them to prove his viability as a candidate and win his party’s nomination. But it is worth noting that Kennedy did not even declare his candidacy until January of that year. Nowadays it has gotten to the point where the next campaign begins the day after election day. We are subjected to all politics all the time. Is there any way to end this electoral cacaphony?

Contrast this with Britain, where campaigns are brief once elections are called. I am not suggesting we adapt a parliamentary system, but rather find some way to limit campaigns to a set time in order to end constant campaigning. There are of course parties with a vested interest in extended campaigns, including the media, campaign consultants, pollsters, fundraisers, political junkies, and activists. But how long should we allow the system to be hijacked by these groups?

One way to reform the process would be to have candidates nominated by elected officials such as members of congress, the Governors, and representatives of state legislatures. Who after all best constitutes the party if not elected officials? This would likely produce better candidates who would also be better able to work with other elected officials. Those having the respect and confidence of their peers would be in a better position to lead the country. Primaries also give too much weight to activists who are ideologically rigid, when government of necessity requires consensus and compromise. Would scrapping the primaries not limit the chances of outsiders? Not necessarily. Dwight Eisenhower was nominated and elected president despite never having served in public office. Generals were often nominated in the 19th century long before primaries. Any charismatic figure who could garner support could be nominated, but for the most part we would be better off with public officials who are known to others holding office. We might, in the process return to some of the character displayed by our first five presidents, who would find openly seeking the presidency unseemly, relying instead on the regard and respect of their peers.

Under these circumstances campaigns would be much shorter and the cost of elections much lower. It would also give rise to people whose main talent is not in raising money and running for office, but in governing effectively.

Written by georgesarant

November 28, 2011 at 11:02 PM

Posted in government, Politics

BYPASS THE CONSTITUTION?

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The overriding philosophy of the left demolishes the distinction between state and society, in the belief that broad political direction of things is justified by what are, presumably, higher ends. From this standpoint the constitution becomes a nuisance to the extent that it explicitly limits government power. Thus today we have people on the left calling on the President to extend the debt limit on his own, allegedly based upon the 14th amendment. This would empower the President bypass the congress, where there are sharp disagreements reflecting the will of the people, and unilaterally dictate an expansion of the debt limit. This is typical of a left that chooses to ignore the constitution and substitute the rule of men.

We share a constitutional republic with people we often disagree with. Civil society is only possible if we agree on the basic rules. But things begin to unravel if a significant element does not. The constitution limits power; by any reading that is clear, as inconvenient as that may be to some. If the constitution is superseded by Ideology, the result is arbitrary power. In its extreme form this becomes revolutionary- consider those who want to eliminate Fox News, which is reflective of a totalitarian mindset.

The irony is that it is the liberals that are most protected by the constitution. They are far outnumbered by conservatives, and any devolution to arbitrary power would not serve them well. Those who would go so far as to employ the force of the state to get their way are laughable, for this ultimately means violence in the service of some idea. But when it comes to the means and ability to employ force, use guns, and fight, such capabilities are found on the right, not the left. Thus those on the left who would upend the constitution for their own aims should think twice before abandoning its principles.

Written by georgesarant

July 28, 2011 at 6:44 PM

MAKE THE DEAL

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There are times when a strategic retreat makes sense, even losing a battle in order to win the war. That is the position the Republicans are now in with regard to the debt ceiling-budget battle. Although polls indicate that most people agree with conservative positions on these questions, when it comes to assigning blame on the impasse, 39% blame the Republicans, not Obama. Given this reality it makes no sense to continue insist on legislation that is not going to go anywhere given the Democratic Senate, although the Republican House membership must be credited with some great ideas. The question is how to ultimately get them implemented.

It is in everyone’s interest to get this default issue behind us, and take the McConnell plan, or something similar. That puts an end to the immediate crisis until the next election, at which time conservatives will be in a much better position to capture the Senate and Presidency. At that time the President will have no cover, no basis to blame Republicans, and will have to take the fall for the lousy economy. It is important to keep the long-term picture in mind. Most goals can be reached, but after 2012, if cooler heads prevail.

Written by georgesarant

July 23, 2011 at 1:40 PM

Posted in economy, Politics