In Which I Agree With National Review

When a conservative is right, s/he’s right.

And over at the National Review, Kevin Williamson is right. His article, titled: Take a Bow, Species, rejected the constant drumbeat of what is wrong with America and the world in favor of a focus on what’s right. Here are some reasons for optimism that he lists:

* Polio has basically been eradicated from the globe

* Measles and rubella will be next

* The global rate of “extreme poverty,” currently defined as subsistence on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day, is now the condition of less than 10 percent of the human race. Take a look at how the World Bank recently plotted that change:

* The overall rate of violent crime in the U.S. has fallen by about half in recent decades.

* U.S. manufacturing output per worker trebled from 1975 to 2005, and our total manufacturing output continues to climb.

* General-price inflation, the bane of the U.S. economy for some decades, is hardly to be seen.

Of course, you aren’t likely to hear about any of that from Republican candidates running for office in 2016. Unlike Ronald Reagan, none of them is remotely a “happy warrior.” Instead, they all seem obsessed with the belief that a country headed by Barack Obama must be in extremis.

This striking mismatch between the GOP’s gloom and doom worldview and our considerably more nuanced reality was addressed in a recent post at Political Animal that quoted a warning from another conservative Republican, W’s former speechwriter David Frum.

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination…If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.


When folks on the Right are right, they’re right.


  1. I feel sorry for this Kevin Williamson. Must be lonely over at the National Review. No one to have lunch with or share a bit of NPR news with by the water cooler. Co-workers don’t invite you out for a drink after work, much less to their homes for any kind of party. To hear them all laughing and talking about some recent Rush lie laid on the country. Knowing they all think that you some kind of lefty. Yep. Lonely.

  2. Republicans have two problems in terms of their service to the country. The extent of the damage that they left behind in 2008, and the extent of the recovery evident today. When your whole political strategy is to keep your minions in a state of fear and anger to keep them voting for you, reality today is a calamitous situation.

    So they avoid reality and manufacture fantasy.

    The difference between topics at the recent Democrat debate compared to the last Republican debate was stark.

    In fact if they hadn’t so screwed up Mid East stability during their turn at bat there wouldn’t be much to spread fear and anger about at all.

    Well of course there’s the Starbuck’s cup thing. And one can always get away with saying the government is too big because there is no standard for government size. And immigrants have scared Americans for the last 150 years so that’s an old standby. But, on the other hand about the same number of deaths EVERY day here from guns, as died in the Paris masacre, must be portrayed as not a problem.

    It’s so hard to keep track of! Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

    Makes one wish for the return of journalism instead of theater as our media staple.

  3. I think the global poverty rates in your piece as quoted are suspect, and even if accurate mask the fact that the poverty rate in the U.S. is increasing as what is left of the middle class is emptying into the ranks of the poor due to wage and wealth inequality and the inevitable lessening of demand. Your citation suggests that we are trailing the rest of the world in working ourselves out of poverty and are instead going in the other direction. If so, then such a state of affairs is a clear rebuke of the American exceptionalism and the status quo Frum and Williamson are trying to soft-sell with this piece. (Yes, liberals can have conspiracy theories, too, and I smell a rat.)
    The truth is that we have lost trillions of dollars in the underperformance of our economy since Bush’s Great Recession along with the wages, profits and revenues to government we would have otherwise enjoyed. (Joseph E. Stiglitz estimates the total costs to our economy of Bush’s wars, bailouts, unemployment, economic underperformance etc. to be 10 trillion dollars, and continuing via wage and wealth inequality.)

    I am not seduced by the soft propaganda of Frum and Williamson. While eradication of disease is a great step ahead for humanity, it is not clear that eradication of disease has much to do with income inequality as our “poverty class” keeps on expanding and market demand continues to go south while the one percent continues to take virtually all of the economy’s income and wealth. What good is “economic growth” to working Americans if they are excluded from sharing in the economy’s income and wealth as Wall Street gobbles it all up, including even the marginal productivity of its corporate workforces? Thus it is far from clear that the marginal productivity of the workforce such as the quote that output per worker has trebled since 1975 is of any significance to working Americans since the one percent has hogged all of the workforce’s marginal productivity since circa 1974.

    From my perspective the test of a successful economy is not just about how much gross income and wealth is generated; it is how it is shared. It involves much more than movements up and down of the Dow and a Congress captive to the banking and investment class with its capital gains, carried interest, hidden and untaxed profits overseas, Chapter 11 in bankruptcy freedom to fail and survive, and other such tax and other giveaways designed by bank and corporate lobbyists; it involves what workers can afford to put on their dinner table.

    When Johnnie Lunch Bucket can’t afford a decent lunch or put shoes on his kids, then I say the economy is not working for the many Americans and only for the few, whatever the Dow and however much income and wealth our economy is producing. Such numbers are immaterial when unshared with working America, and thanks to wage and wealth inequality run amok, they are not shared. Frums and Williamsons are effectively telling us to maintain the status quo because we have progressed nicely in certain unrelated endeavors. I think that’s a front and that if we want to uncover such flacks’ motivation for such soft propaganda indirectly delivered to be palatable, we should, in words of the street, “Follow the money,” as their backers most assuredly do. I continue to smell a rat.

  4. We’ve never been here before.

    Of course all generations can claim that but ours I believe most profoundly so.

    What will history record we did in the face of unprecedented challenges and capabilities?

    The biggest threat is our realization that the run of fossil fuels is by necessity over. Now we have to stop throwing energy away and live within our solar budget – a technologically exciting challenge but the supreme test of our political ability to live as a global species.

    Our wrestling with the global challenge has revealed to Americans another startling reality. The extreme distribution of wealth that has been a global problem for centuries also lives here.

    Imagine that!

    And yet another fact. The Middle East which is infected with extreme theology will become valueless from a global perspective. Africa without the resources.

    Holy smokes batman.

    All of this certainly can be viewed as overwhelmingly problematic (the conservative perspective) or as the birth of tremendous opportunity on all fronts (the liberal perspective).

    We are awash in a sea of change. We have to get better at it so we will.

  5. I suspect the National Review wants to make it appear the trickle down is working that is all the boats are rising on the tide. We know this is not true. The top 10% in the USA in 1956 had 32% of our nations income. The top 10% had 47% in 2014 of our nations income in 2014. The top 1% had 9% of our nations income in 1956, in 2014 they had almost 18%. The wealth transfer began in the 1980’s and with some dips during the recessions it has steadily climbed since than.

    The most common consumer goods we buy are not made in the USA anymore. Clothes, consumer electronics and off course toys are out sourced. Try to find any purchase you may make Made in the USA this holiday season.

    The take away I get from the National Review is kicking the tires is OK, but they do not want you looking under the hood. The Corporatists and establishment in both parties want us think a little tweaking will work to fix any problem.

  6. This piece reminds me of Steven Pinker’s book, “The Better angels of our nature,” which tracks the steady rise of good throughout history, despite our beliefs about increases in crime, etc. Williamson’s one statistic that makes me nervous and makes it clear that the piece is from a conservative periodical is the “output per worker” figure; I am fairly sure it is from automation and resulted in job losses.

  7. One good question to ask ourselves and others is: “if you could relocate to any other place or time, would you?”

    I wouldn’t. I’ll take our current problems and capabilities over any that ever previously existed.

    Progress is relentless despite our incessant whining.

  8. At this point, I’m far more concerned with our national defense/security than with any research from any journal.

    CNN’s reporter Jim Acosta questioned President Barack Obama Monday (today) about the current U.S. strategy against ISIS after the attack on Paris. At a press conference in Turkey, where Obama is meeting with other members of the G20 nations, Acosta asked a pointed question.

    “This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities?” Acosta asked. “And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is, and if you’ll forgive the language, is why can’t we take out these bastards?”
    Obama scoffed at the question. “Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add,” said the president.

    Watch the CNN video clip of the exchange below:

  9. I think the conclusions re: the harmful effects of the rhetoric make sense; the issues of economic health and reduction of poverty rates are another story. It defies logic to talk about fewer people living in poverty while we’re debating living wages, health care and other benefits and the shrinking opportunities for most Americans and the poverty level vs cost of living. Workers in Asia and Europe and Africa are paid like slaves; however, in their worlds, any wages are better than none. Is that a picture of the job market in the developed world in a few decades?

    One thing that seems obvious is that birth control would go a long way toward improving economic conditions in some of the poorest places. Many of the areas mentioned are those with high birth rates and low agricultural productivity.

    Also while legislation was stripping bargaining rights from many US workers, their productivity increased but their wages didn’t keep up with inflation and the cost of living. The war on union representation continues even though the right-to-work states have little to show in terms of the promised job creation (Indiana has created a few low paying jobs – what was the cost to taxpayers of creating those jobs, i.e. tax abatement, training grants, etc?) . It’s apparent that the benefits go to those who need the least at the expense of the neediest.

  10. BSH, I’m not sure what answer you expected. The clip shows how Predident Obama answered Costa’s question despite having apparently answering it in the previous 3 questions (not shown).

    Here’s the situation in Syria in a 5 min video.!/story.php?story_fbid=10153796767828410&id=232843448409&!%252Fstory.php%253Fstory_fbid%253D10153796767828410%2526id%253D232843448409%26internal_preview_image_id&mdf=1

    Simple solutions anyone? It makes Israel Palestine look simple in comparison and nobody has ever found a solution to that.

    Given that complexity I believe that what we’re doing is about right in terms of protecting our interests while not investing in other people’s problems. What has our attention in Paris would be a slow news day in Syria.

    The solution to Mid East tribal and religious warfare is merely another example of the massive mess that European colonialism from going on 100 years ago left in its wake by tying people whose lives are consumed by hate together in srtificial borders.

  11. If you want a local flavor on what it’s like when competing tribes are stuck between common borders read about our Civil War and Indian Wars not to mention the fact that the real issues are not yet completely settled more than 100 years later.

  12. Pete, you’re an older man, older than I. I have six grandchildren all under the age of 10, and yes, I am concerned about their futures as US citizens.

    Frankly and with total candor, I don’t give a rat’s ass if the President or any poster here is offended by my beliefs or by my personal opinions. Likely, Pete, you’ll be dead and long gone before my progeny potentially could suffer the results of the unprepared leadership of our current President. If you’re OK with that, then fine. I am not OK with that potential situation.

  13. ISIS will only be eradicated when the 99% of the Islamic world who are NOT terrorists take on the responsibility to stamp out terrorism.

  14. Sounds like you prefer the Kurds and Syrian Rebels to win the war over ISIS and/or Bashir. That’s what President Obama supports also. We have flown over 8000 sorties to that end and have made progress (ISIS has lost about 25% of the land that they conquered) with almost no American casualties.

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t favor Mid East stability except Mid East extremists of which there are many. You’re right, I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime. I thought that there used to be chance for that if we’d moved rapidly and decisively on climate change making their dirt over there worth dirt. We didn’t so their dirt is still worth gold and that funds the trouble makers. Thank the fossil fuel industry and GOP for that.

  15. Pete, at this time I can name 15 absolutely delightful, extremely bright Muslim students in the IU School of Dentistry, students I know by name, students I’ve associated with in social environments. Aside from that I can name a few more Muslim students who’ve finished their professional studies as medical professionals at IU where my spouse and I attended their graduation party in Plainfield, IN, where there’s a large Muslim community. All my interactions with these mid-20 and older students from the Muslim community have been nothing but appropriate and lots of fun, actually.

    On the other hand, I can note that never in my several social interactions with any Muslim student or their adult family members have I heard any mention of disappointment, embarrassment, or distancing from their extremist brethren. Not one time have I overheard one of these delightful young Muslim international students or their parents note that they are not in full accord with their fellow extremists. Not that I ever brought up the topic which would be a leading question and frankly a rude question.

    From my lack of overhearing any words of distancing from Islamist extremists from what I’d call rather cosmopolitan Muslim students, I’ve decided it’s a dangerous thing for any Muslim to mention anything even slightly negative about their Muslim brothers and sisters. It’s a strange religion for sure where adherents never mention their positions as differing from the extremists in their faith.

  16. Pete, I don’t know who’s fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria. But, I’ve got a feeling that you do and you’re going to educate me.

    I’m in a mode of cultural understanding right now, a mode of scratching my head and wondering why one subset of Muslims is unprepared to dismiss another subset of Muslims who do not represent their understanding of the faith.

    Pete, you do understand that whatever you say will not change my current train of thought, don’t you? I’m not into fighting on the ground or Online at this moment, but rather, I’m into understanding the culture of the various Islamist mindsets.

  17. The point is that Muslims are dying every day fighting ISIS. That’s who the Syrian Rebels and Kurds are. So I’m sensitive when people imply that the problem is all Muslims. They are on both sides of the Mid East wars. They have way more skin in the game than we do.

    The problem is extremists and theocrats. They have them and we have them too. Theirs probably walk the walk more than our extremists do because ours just talk the talk. They’re way too comfortable to act.

    Theirs is a brutal and tough culture. Their toughness is demonstrated daily by the determination and resilience of the million refugees wandering the world looking for simple peace as our forbears did.

    I’m not looking to argue but merely to keep conversations here truthful and evidence based.

  18. “before my progeny potentially could suffer the results of the unprepared leadership of our current President” Buddy, we are all suffering from the unprepared leadership of George W. Bush, who just ran off to drink in Texas and let his VP run America down. We’re fighting his wars, recovering from his recession, and wondering where all the money he sent to Iraq went. He reeled around drunk while Rove framed liberals as ‘disloyal’ and split the country into factions.

    Get back to me when Obama vanishes for a month, leaving Biden in charge . . .

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