Public Nuisances

Public Nuisances

By From the July 2010 - August 2010 issue

Revolt of the Masses

WASHINGTON -- Owing to the promotion tour for my new book, After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery, I have been meeting with what the intelligentsia once called "the masses." They read books. They pay taxes. They attend lectures. Oh, and by the way, they are now a lot more prosperous and even more civilized than the intelligentsia, today's version of which are actually anti-intellectual and occasionally only semi-literate.

The reason that "the masses" are a lot more prosperous and even civilized is that they have been participating in our free-market economy for years. It has made their lives easier, and they recognize it. As Arthur Brooks, the urbane president of the American Enterprise Institute, demonstrates in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future, seventy percent of Americans favor free enterprise, with only a glum thirty percent turning their tremulous palms up to the nanny state.

At any rate, after talking with thousands of ordinary Americans on talk radio and at book receptions, I have come to the conclusion that America has arrived at a historic turning point. It is not just that Tea Partiers are revolting against big government. It is something more. Usually a revolt against big government has meant that restive Americans wanted their taxes lowered, but as for cutting government back they were vague. They favored economies but certainly no cutbacks in their entitlements -- a loaded word, that, entitled to whom from what? -- or government subsidies. What makes this a historic moment is that growing numbers of Americans now accept that they too are going to have to forego at least some of their so-called entitlements. They recognize that the budget crisis is that grave.

For well over a decade simple demographics suggested that a budget crisis loomed for such programs as Social Security. Yet our politicians -- as the phrase had it -- merely kicked the can down the road. We have now arrived at the end of the road. What hastened our arrival at this dead end was the profligacy of the most inexperienced and left-wing president in American history. Budgetary overhang was ominous when the Prophet Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then he confected the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $787 billion stimulus package, a hugely imbalanced budget, and his trillion-dollar healthcare monstrosity that he lyrically promised would save a trillion dollars. All told, it has been the largest increase in federal spending since World War II.

During times of growth, federal spending is usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It is now rising from 21 percent of GDP to 25 percent. As a percentage of GDP, the national debt will double within a decade unless the citizenry gets control of the budget. From my travels among the citizenry, I have come to the conclusion that Americans are they are ready to do so. This fall they will elect representatives who will cut their entitlements. That will be a new day in American politics.

As Michael Barone points out in the Washington Examiner,"It has long been a maxim of political scientists that American voters are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal." That has changed. In a pungent line he observes, "pork is not kosher," and he goes on to observe that "the political scientists' maxim seems out of date." From my recent experience on the book tour, he is right.

If the Republicans take the House of Representatives this autumn as I think they will, the Republican leadership had best arrive with plans to undo President Obama's folly. Equally important they had best have plans to cut entitlements and other spending in such a way as to avert our present rendezvous with bankruptcy. I am confident they can. In After the Hangover I outline a plan for fiscal solvency. Before you accuse me of boasting, let me hasten to add that I lifted much of that plan from Congressman Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future." It is posted on his website and ready to be implemented. If I did not believe that, I would not have pilfered it. This might have been an act of grand larceny, but it was the grand larceny of a patriot.

The Taranto Principle Vindicated Again

WASHINGTON -- The exposure of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as a hoaxster boasting of a non-existent record of service in the Vietnam War is a splendid example of what is known as the Taranto Principle. Someday the Taranto Principle will be taught in all the journalism schools, assuming one or two survive the present detumescence of journalism. Formulated by the inimitable Wall Street Journal editorialist James Taranto, the principle posits that when the Liberal mainstream press indulges a Liberal politician's deceits or fails to hold the politician accountable for his misbehavior, it encourages the politician to ascend to a higher level of misbehavior.

Thus, for years Senator Jean-François Kerry was wont to boast of his exploits in the Vietnam War. His sympathizers in the press never bothered to remind him or to remind the citizenry that Kerry had embellished his military record and - worse! -- upon returning from Vietnam he cast his lot with the rising anti-war movement. As an opponent of the war he even was emboldened to appear before Congress and mendaciously testify that his comrades had "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals, and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."

This garbagespiel was televised nationally and he should have known that tapes of it were readily available in 2004 when he ran for president. Nonetheless, rather than stressing less controversial aspects of his years of public life, thanks to the Liberal press's indulgence of his exaggerated claims to heroism he made the risky choice of running as a veteran of the Vietnam War. That angered those who had served with him and their revelations about his service sank his candidacy. The Taranto Principle is vindicated.

It has been vindicated again with the revelations about Blumenthal. For years he has been fawned over by the Liberal press. Pari passu with the passage of time, he has gone from being a young man who sought five military deferments during the Vietnam War to claiming repeatedly and falsely that he actually served in the war. On the way to making those false claims he did indeed enlist in the Marine Reserve, but he never served in the war.

In 2008, the New York Times reports that he said in a speech, "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam." At another point in 2008 the Times reports that he informed an audience that "I served during the Vietnam era," concluding that "I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse." As recently as a few weeks ago he publicly recalled being spit upon when "we returned from Vietnam."

Now his campaign for the United States Senate is in grave jeopardy. Perhaps it could all have been avoided if years back the press had taken a look at his claims, reported them, and chastened him from making the increasingly bold assertions of nonsense.

As an addendum to the Taranto Principle let me add an observation. Increasing numbers of candidates for public office, particularly at the national level, seem given to fantasy. They are encouraged to tell dramatic stories about themselves. The press loves it. Goaded by the Taranto Principle it is not long before those stories become total fantasies. Blumenthal is obviously one of those fantasists. Had he not been tripped up this week, he might have soon been telling the electorate about his Congressional Medal of Honor. Possibly if he somehow manages to win the Democratic primary he still will, and then when the stakes are so high and the possibility exists that a Republican might beat him, will the Times raise doubts about his Congressional Medal of Honor? Taranto will be watching.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.