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Figuring Out Who the Sucker Is

As Rhode Islanders hear about the latest ideas for economic development percolating among their elected and appointed officials, whether minor-league baseball parks or big bucks for a Commerce Czar, Kevin Williamson looks to Maine for an important reminder:

When some lobbyists for a business interest—any interest group, really—come to the state capitol and tell you that they have a tremendous new idea that will create jobs-jobs-jobs-jobs-jobs, grow the tax base and get voters off the backs of citizen-legislators, listen carefully to see if the next sentence is: “All you have to do is to give us a tremendous amount of money.”

As the poker players say: If you don’t know who the sucker at the table is . . .

Perhaps Maine’s legislators were thinking to themselves: “Financiers and their lobbyists are well-known for their selflessness and their sense of public duty—surely they would not lead us astray!”

If so, they should stop thinking that.

In Maine, as Williamson says, “legislators put millions of dollars into a deal that they did not understand.”  Rhode Island is a leading example of legislators attempting to micromanage an economy that they don’t understand — that it is actually impossible for anybody to understand well enough to direct.

Perverting the Utility of Shame

Speaking of an ailing civic system, Megan McArdle’s worth reading on the subject of public shaming:

In the small groups we evolved to live in, shame is tempered by love and forgiveness. People are shamed for some transgression, then they are restored to the group. Ultimately, the shamed person is not an enemy; he or she is someone you need and want to get along with. This is how you make up with your spouse after one or both of you has done or said something terrible. …

On the Internet, when all the social context is stripped away and you don’t even have to look at the face of the person you’re being mean to, shame loses its social, restorative function. Shame-storming isn’t punishment. It’s a weapon. And weapons aren’t supposed to be used against people in your community; they’re for strangers, people in some other group that you don’t like very much.

The Internet has brought things to a sharp edge, but anybody involved in local politics — particularly if they face progressives who believe they speak for The Community — will recognize McArdle’s notion of shaming as a weapon against an enemy group.  That pretty precisely describes my experience in Tiverton.

Glenn Reynolds sharpens the edge a little more, writing:

They’re not well-meaning people who want to make our shared society better, and sometimes just get carried away. They’re angry, vicious people who want to eliminate disagreement.

At this level of conversation, though, the “they” has to be defined.  McArdle suggests that the people engaged in online social shaming probably would back away from a mob doing it to somebody in person.

Many on the political Right want to turn the psychological warfare of Saul Alinsky back on the Left, but that strikes me as a misunderstanding of objectives (or perhaps evidence that the objectives of some of our conservative friends are more alike to those of our progressive non-friends than should be the case).  Rather, we need a counter-weapon, and as difficult as it might be, the sole antidote may be standing up to the attacks and letting those who’ve sided with the attackers slowly come to the realization that they’re on the wrong side.

Getting Economic Development Wrong

Readers may get the impression of a broken record with this post.  Before I go on, perhaps I should explain to the younger folks that records were large black vinyl discs, of about 10 or 12 inches, that would spin on a table called a “record player,” with a needle following grooves in the plastic and thereby transmitted prerecorded audio.  If the record were scratched, the needle would skip across grooves and the listener would often hear the same phrase repeated over and over again.

Anyway, repetition is obligatory in Rhode Island, these days, because the people we’ve elected to public office have the completely incorrect view of economic development.  Here’s Governor Gina Raimondo’s Commerce Czar Stefan Pryor responding to the House Finance Committee’s concern that the governor intends to give him a great deal of money and discretion:

… Pryor bluntly told the committee that the corporation cannot grow the state’s economy without the programs proposed in the governor’s budget. He described a conversation he had with the corporation’s executive staff before he formally assumed his new role earlier this year. Pryor said he asked the staff how Rhode Island would attempt to compete with a company that arrived in the state with a list of project terms provided by another nearby state, such as New York.

“This is not a fictionalization. This is the actual answer I got back: We cannot — on any point,” Pryor said. 

“That’s a problem. We must ensure the appropriate level of accountability and the necessary level of flexibility to carry out this work. But the primary problem that we have is we can’t even counter. We can’t help our businesses in Rhode Island grow.”

Simply put, it should not be the role of government to take money away from the people who live in the state in order to outbid other states’ bribes to lure the economic actors whom government prefers to the state.  Rather, the government’s role should be to ensure that Rhode Islanders have the space — in stability, security, and infrastructure — to make their state a place that attracts the sorts of economic actors whom they prefer.

Politicians sometimes say that Rhode Islanders are Rhode Island’s greatest asset, but they don’t really mean it.  If they did, they’d let Rhode Islanders maximize their own efforts toward building their lives and shaping their state.

The technocratic, Raimondian method of economic development is akin to confiscating money from the music industry in order to subsidize companies that make enhanced record players when they should be leaving the money in the economy and trimming regulations in order to allow Rhode Islanders to develop cassettes, compact discs, and mp3 players.

The Corporatist Net Is Tightening

In keeping with a recurring theme, on this site, a statement from Governor Raimondo that appeared in a Providence Journal blurb last Wednesday raises a central, fundamental question that nobody is asking as part of the discussion about how to move Rhode Island forward (or at least stop its backwards trajectory).  The topic has to do with government job-training programs:

“We have to put employers at the center of the process to determine what they need to hire workers,” she said, “It has to be employer-driven and it has to move at the speed of business.”

Here’s the question:  Why is it a legitimate government activity to shape the population to fit the needs of corporations?

Seriously.  I’m a free-market champion, and improving the business environment is critical.  But (1) that can be done by loosening, rather than tightening, the government’s grip on the reins, and (2) people, not businesses, must be central.  If businesses are telling the government what sort of employees they need, and if government is using its coercive advantages in order to shape the people to fit the request, that isn’t free market.  It’s corporatist and certain to result in long-term stagnation and a dismantling of the bridge between the have-nots and haves.

Regulatory Humility as an Illustration for Civic Principles in RI and IN

Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen believes in “regulatory humility,” and policy makers on the state level would be wise to hear her out. The concept is one that seems like common sense, but examples in government and politics more generally suggest that humility is less attractive in practice.

With reference to economic theories by the likes of Friedrich Hayek that are, she says, not exactly in dispute these days, Ohlhausen explained at a recent American Enterprise Institute event that regulators should be aware of their limits.  Especially in an era of technological lunges, regulators can’t know everything about the industries that they regulate–let alone other industries that innovation might bring into competition–while facing an unknowable future.

A skim of the legislation proposed in any state will likely show a less-than-humble approach to regulating (although some will be worse than others).

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

The Academy’s Fruits in the Grown-Up World

After coming across the subject five or six times, I finally followed a link on Instapundit to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s attempt at a left-wing explanation and, to some degree, rationalization of Rolling Stone’s fake reporting on rape at the University of Virginia.  The article reminded me of the much-ballyhooed gobbledegook that good liberal students used to churn out when I was in college.

The Bruenig passage on which most commentators have focused consists of a pair of paragraphs, the first of which explains the subtle thought of liberals in understanding oppression versus the second of which, asserting the brutish right-wing “obsession” with individual, factual cases and “specific details.”  Admittedly, it’s a telling turnabout.  The Left, in its superior thought, understands the real Truth, even if it can’t be articulated in actual facts; the Right, being less capable of the higher thought that transcends facts, extrapolates meaning from mere happenstance.

The more interesting passage, though, is the one that fully articulates Bruenig’s thesis:

Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate; it’s a way of using an individual as a metonym for systematic analysis that both overplays the role of individual heroism and effort and underplays the complicated nature of oppression as a feature of institutions, policies, traditions, and persons.

Note that this is presented as if it’s one of those examples of higher thoughts that needn’t be attached to “specific details.”  The word for that (even if only in right-wing circles) is “unsubstantiated.”  Upon a little bit of thought, in fact, it’s utter nonsense.  From Saul Alinsky’s rule to “personalize” issues to the labor-friendly “Ballad of Joe Hill” to the statement that a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic, generally attributed to Joseph Stalin, the Left has long consolidated movements into individual stories.

Bruenig is accurately describing a leftist tactic, but because the context puts it in a bad light, it must temporarily be characterized as a right-wing tactic.  It’s not unlike analysis of religious freedom laws that depends on whether they advance conservative or progressive causes at a particular moment.

The Bruenig essay brings to mind a law review article by now-Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, in which he expounded on the constitutionality of using government schools to teach that God does not exist.  (See also here, here, and here.)  In my brutish, fact-driven conservatism these two examples seem like evidence of the Left’s strategy to destroy the capacity of Americans to engage in reason, as opposed to logical gymnastics to support conclusions that are actually driven by politics and emotion.  The gobbledegook of the classroom has made its way into the grown-up world.

That may help to explain why government and the news media seem to operate as if the world has the padded safety of the campus, permitting concentration on abstract “deeper truths” disconnected from reality.

Acknowledging RI’s Religious Freedom Law, Surreptitiously

Except on this Web site, hardly a word has been said or written about the fact that Rhode Island has a religious freedom law on the books very much like the one in Indiana that has proven so (quote-unquote) controversial.  That’s actually pretty surprising, inasmuch as the General Assembly promoted a press release with the title, “Sen. Nesselbush blasts Indiana over discrimination, urges businesses to relocate to Rhode Island.”  You’d think journalists would pick up on the fact that Nesselbush’s proclamation requires some caveats, if it isn’t simply an expression of ignorance.

Ian Donnis, of Rhode Island Public Radio was one exception, with his Friday blog-style post, but it’s a peculiar exercise in contrasts:

In contrast to the proposed religious freedom law that generated national headlines from Indiana this week, Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been a non-issue since it became law in 1993.

I had a few uncomfortable exchanges with Donnis on Twitter, because this item on his post goes on to present the substantive contrast of the laws as one of intent.  As I put it on Twitter, “What’s the point? If you want to protect religious freedom, you have to do it when it serves the progressive cause?”

In Donnis’s post, Steve Brown, of the far-left RI-ACLU, explains that “the purpose” of Rhode Island’s law was to protect religious minorities, typically those with dark skin.  (I interpreted some cynicism in that paraphrase.)  Given the probable points of view of Brown and like-minded activists, it’s difficult not to conclude, as I suggested this morning, that the Left considers laws to be conditional to its own purposes.

Rhode Island’s religious freedom act was meant to protect certified minorities in the name of popular causes.  That is “in contrast” to Indiana’s law, which activists attack because it protects white Christians against a popular cause.  (Otherwise, the story would be that Rhode Island’s “non-issue” suggests that left-wing activists are being deceptive and unreasonable about Indiana’s version.)

If you want an interesting contrast, by the way, look to Andrew McCarthy, who takes the view of a prosecutor worried that religious freedom can become a cover for terrorist organization.  McCarthy also worries that such laws as Rhode Island’s and Indiana’s err in giving unaccountable judges the power to determine what a “compelling public purpose” is and whether a particular policy is the “least burdensome” possibility for achieving it.

McCarthy’s procedural objection would be difficult to address, unless the idea would be for legislators to lay out very specific boundaries for freedom of religion, rather than allowing judges to consider actual circumstances for the individual cases that come before them.  Whatever the case, we should consider backing off a bit in allowing government to step into the interpersonal balances of our lives.

From my point of view in Rhode Island, where the rule of law seems more like a legal fiction than a reality, the branch that interprets the language is irrelevant if the only thing that matters, ultimately, is what the current progressive talking point might be.

One of the Remaining Liberals, Not Progressive

Among the highlights of my rhetorical life was the evening when Andrew Morse and I closed down the bar (so to speak) with Peter Steinfels at the annual Portsmouth Institute conference the year he spoke.  What made the conversation enjoyable was our common baseline sense of appropriate goals for public policy and understanding of the rules of logic and discourse.

I’m therefore not surprised to read him putting forward a reasonable argument with which I agree on the matter of religious freedom:

[Various forms of discrimination based on Indiana’s religious freedom law] are all possibilities, it seems to me, although not necessarily likelihoods.  They are the kinds of possibilities that we confront in the case of all our rights.  Freedom of speech and press “makes it easier” to destroy reputations, debase public discourse, deform democracy, and feed violent psychopaths online.  Insistence on search warrants, reading people their rights, and a host of other criminal and court procedures can “open the door” to crimes going undetected or the guilty going unpunished.  Social benefits of all sorts, from health and safety regulations to income assistance, are inevitably “invitations” to cheating, gaming the system, or otherwise “abetting” unfair conduct. (That’s what libertarians are forever lamenting.) We do our best to foresee and forestall the possible risks but not by denying the rights in the first place. …

Religious freedom means that I may very well want to question, critique, refute, moderate or otherwise alter religious beliefs and practices that I find irrational or unhealthy or dehumanizing or, yes, bigoted; but knowing how deeply rooted and sincerely held these convictions are, and how much about the universe remains in fact mysterious, and how much about my own perceptions of reality could in fact be mistaken, and how much religions do in fact evolve over time, I accommodate myself in the meantime to peaceful coexistence and thoughtful engagement.  In particular I refuse to coerce religiously sincere people into personal actions that violate their conscience.  And I refuse to dismiss their resistance to such coercion as nothing but bigotry.

This might be a useful marker of the line between “liberals” and “progressives.”  The former place their political faith in the civic and cultural processes that they believe will move society forward, while the latter have a zealous faith in the promised land of “progress,” which they think they know in its particulars and to which they think we can speed by any means necessary.

UPDATED: Our Nation Needs a Stronger Imagination on Fascism

In the cycle of my reading, I’m back to Sherlock Holmes, specifically Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  In “The Five Orange Pips,” the long arm of the KKK reaches out to claim the lives of one of its former members and his immediate family.  Here’s a line that might very well blow the minds of Millennials and younger Americans if they still read old books.  Holmes’s client is describing the circumstances of his uncle Elias, who had spent most of his adult life becoming wealthy in Florida:

He had made a very considerable fortune in the States, and his reason for leaving them was his aversion to the negroes, and his dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to them.

Faced which the aforementioned blown mind, the liberal Democrat would conclude that the Republican Party had changed.  I’d argue that it’s closer to the truth that people whose primary motivation is the forced conformance of others to their belief system have changed their tactics and (to some small degree) their targets, but not so much their political party, namely the Democrats.

But party affiliation is a complicating side matter to my actual reason for posting.  The Internet has exploded with activists across the country trying to destroy a family-owned Indiana pizza shop for having the poor sense to tell a local TV news reporter that, although they’re happy to serve homosexuals in their shop, they would have to decline an offer to cater a same-sex wedding ceremony.

At least a couple of people in my Twitter feed are having difficulty with my suggestion that we’re literally seeing the rise of fascism in America with this (and other) incidents.  But it’s absolutely clear.  Start with this encyclopedia description, and then consider the following points, which I’ve made politically neutral:

  • An ideological president is implementing policy in unconstitutional ways — for example, doing by executive order things that ought to require legislation. His rhetoric has been stunningly exclusionary and dismissive, including a suggestion, after a drubbing in the midterm election, that he intends to act on behalf of the masses who did not vote, for whom he presumes to speak.  He’s also taken a surprisingly active role in stoking racial and culture-war flames by offering comment on select hyper-local issues.
  • The national media, both news and entertainment, can no longer even be argued to be politically neutral, but rather aligns almost entirely with the president’s party and, more important, his ideology.  It has spent years, now, whipsawing from one of these local controversies to the other while at the same time downplaying real controversies surrounding the behavior of the president and his political allies.
  • Although their nature varies by controversy, mob-like activists are rioting, disrupting people’s daily lives by various means, and using the Internet to harass and attempt to destroy anybody who comes into the spotlight of that week’s narrative to make examples of them, whether an individual, a business, a politician, or whomever.

There are many, many details that could be added, but the point is this: Fascism is not a series of specific political beliefs; it’s a method and philosophy of organization and action.

Even if you disagree with the above list as I’d put names to it, wouldn’t you agree that somebody who takes that view is correctly describing fascism?


UPDATE (4/1/15 8:35 p.m.):

Earlier, today, I made a few mild attempts to contact the reporter who “broke” the story about the pizza parlor but received no response.  Scott Ott got the details, though, and it’s even worse than I thought it might be.  I’d thought maybe the reporter had sent out a general call for feedback and the restaurant owners had responded, but the supposedly damning video that has fascist zealots intent on ruining the business of a family of whom they’d never heard and whom they’d have never patronized anyway came when the reporter walked into the business and asked a regular small-town resident for an extemporaneous comment.  The station then played the story up for every ounce of ad revenue it could get.

So what do folks think?  Is that responsible journalism?

Incrementalism for Government, Not for People

I’ve been having an interesting Twitter exchange with Jason P. Becker (who, it bears mentioning, appears to have been paid $163,276 by the Dept. of Education as a research specialist from 2011 to 2013) about my Providence Journal op-ed on school choice funding.  The conversation took a fascinating, profound turn when we argued our way down to Becker’s core complaint:

Don’t wrap yourself the language of marginal shift when you really want a titanic change.

What’s fascinating is that, over the course of a century (or more, depending on definition), progressives have brought our country to its current position at the precipice of technocratic aristocracy by using any means necessary to take incremental steps, always dishonestly pretending they aren’t really changing anything.  By “any means necessary,” I’m referring in part to pushing legislation (when progressives have advantage there), which can than be manipulated through executive action (when progressives have the advantage there) and solidified and pushed in radical directions through the judiciary (when progressives have the advantage there).  I’m also referring, however, to the use of cultural institutions, from the media to the education system, often financed and empowered by the government, to cross all social and cultural lines for advocacy purposes.

Education is, itself, an excellent example.  Even look at a legal precedent that Becker mentioned in passing.  In the early 1970s, the Supreme Court created the “Lemon test” to determine whether religious interactions with the the government created an unconstitutional circumstance.  Among the laws shot down was a Rhode Island statute directly paying a portion of private-school teachers’ salaries.  Now, we’ve got the federal government implementing national standards, which will affect what is taught and how, and state government pushing government schools into full-day kindergarten and even preK.  In another area (for example) we’ve got the government attempting to take over healthcare.

In all of these cases, the government extends its reach incrementally, and over time, it’s reducing the space for private interactions.  Where people wish to bring their religious worldviews to those private interactions, the government is essentially strangling their ability to do so.

What’s profound is the difference that Becker’s objection draws between progressives and limited-government, free-market conservatives.  As a simple point of fact, the education savings accounts currently proposed are nothing if not incremental.  The money available for each student is limited.  It requires the involvement of parents.  Existing private schools can only accommodate so many students.  And so on.  The only “radical” idea that the legislation would advance is that the main rationale for public funding of education is to foster an educated population, not to support a government-school near monopoly.

If free-to-the-student government-run schools can’t improve enough to persuade the people who are paying for them through taxes to send their children to them, then the incremental step of the ESAs will rightly expand.  But if government schools manage to stop the enrollment hemorrhage by actually providing what we justifiably expect them to provide, you won’t see conservatives looking for ways to force parents to send their children to private schools instead.

The Terrorist, the Mob Mentality, and the Delusion of Normality

Ever wonder what it must have felt like when “normal” was a life with little communication with the rest of the world, periodic monster storms that arrived without warning, such rudimentary medicine that relatively minor wounds and illnesses could be fatal, and the perpetual threat that some invading force might sweep through and upend everything that gave people a sense of meaning in the world?

I think that sense of reality must have been in some ways opposite to the modern experience.  Sure storms, illnesses, and attacks can still occur, and sometimes they can overwhelm us, but we’re able to have so much more foresight, and we have options when threats arise.  We’ve almost reached the point of being able to be largely ignorant of the world around us because we’re protected.  It’s not that we can’t know about the world beyond our field of vision, but that we don’t have to.

If it must have been difficult to have a sense of “normal” in a less predictable and less manageable world, it may be too easy to hold on to a sense of “normal” in our lives these days.

That thought is in line with a recent op-ed from Michael Morse in the Providence Journal:

So, what to do? Do we isolate, and ignore the dark tide that is rising? Or do we live and let live, and try and make sense of a world going mad? The fact that I’m tempted to pull the blankets over my head and stick my head in the sand scares me more than mobs or terrorists. The fear of surrendering to a group mentality of aggression and oppression keeps me fighting, and speaking my mind.

Morse’s examples are the British-accented terrorist beheading people for snuff-film propaganda videos and the riots and sometimes-violent activism stoked by the Obama administration and the news media in response to a police shooting.  There are many more he could have used, from the massive financial bubble created through public policy to the fabricated fear campaign warning about rape epidemics to the collapsing international order.

Through it all, we can just go about our lives, expecting the ship to right itself, because the world will always return to “normal.”  Or maybe we hold a secret, even subconscious, hope that we’ll be gone before everything falls apart completely.

What’s disconcerting is that we can still repair most of what’s damaged in our world today and return to a path of expanding global normality with just a little bit more discernment and a little bit of discomfort in the face of those who would use our desire for a normal life as a means of steering us toward a corral and lock us in.

Policies So Good, You’re Not Allowed to Say “No”

Kevin Williamson’s “Utiopia’s Jailers” would be good assigned reading for a low-level political philosophy course:

The Left’s heart is still in East Berlin: If people want to leave your utopia and have the means to do so, then build a wall. If they climb over the wall — as millions of low-income parents with children in private schools (very commonly Catholic schools) do — then build a higher wall. …

It isn’t just education, of course. In much of Canada, private health insurance is effectively banned. The existence of private insurance is a very strong indicator that there are some people who are not entirely pleased with Canada’s single-payer system. (Monopolies rarely have happy customers.) So they opt out, at least in part, exercising the right of exit that is the most fundamental of civil rights. This is an affront to progressive values. Solution? Ban private health insurance. …

… try opting out of Social Security or Medicare and see how long it takes for Uncle Stupid to put you in prison as a tax evader. Those metaphorical prison walls are almost always political veneers for actual prison walls.

A more difficult question is why we let them do it.  In East Berlin, there was the little matter of an invading military force, but Americans are letting progressives rope them down like an incrementally compliant Gulliver.  Williamson’s examples give a good indication of the answer.

Acquiescence to the pitiful likes of President Obama and former Governor Chafee, let alone the legions of Whitehouses, Cicillines, Foxes, and so-ons, requires a long-term effort to miseducate the population, promise them things at others’ expense, and gain a patrician’s power over them.  As the wall goes up, the effort of dismantling it becomes greater and greater, making it easier and easier to succumb to the hope that the malicious builders will stop after one more row of bricks.

They won’t.

In Rhode Island, Taylor Swift’s Rights Are Our Rights, Too

The headline for a new statewide property tax proposed by Rhode Island’s Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is that pop star Taylor Swift will be among the hardest hit.

A few years ago, Swift purchased a $17 million mansion on the Ocean State’s coast, which means the governor is looking to cull around $43,000 from the starlet’s fortune.

In its first year, the tax is projected to collect $11.8 million from the accounts of the 2,359 households who own second properties worth over $1 million.  As Raimondo put it during her recent budget address, the tax “asks those among us who are most able, to pay a little more.”  As if to emphasize the point, the tax is not technically imposed as a tax on property, but on the privilege of owning it, which makes the tax even more radical than it appears on its face.

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

Progressive Faith in Caesar’s Divine Ratchet

Ross Douthat (who, by the way, will be in Rhode Island for this year’s revived Portsmouth Institute conference) catches something in the attitude of Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer:

Unless, of course, you just define “worked” to mean “changed public policy without the opposition being able to stop us,” in which case we’re just dealing with Caesarism justified by consequentialism, and Pfeiffer’s argument is the boasting of a successful machiavel, unmoored both from constitutional norms and his boss’s own once-professed ideals. Which seems like the more accurate reading of the account he’s giving Chait: It’s less a story of how this president forged a political strategy better suited to our polarized times than it is a story of how Obama realized that a second-term president in an era of gridlock doesn’t need to be politically successful to put his stamp on major policy arenas … he just needs to let go of any principled concerns about what a president can and cannot do.

… expediency is all: A given move is a success if the opposition fails to find a way to block it, the hemmers and hawers are proven wrong if the president isn’t impeached, and the state of your party doesn’t really matter because an unbound presidency is all that progressivism really needs.

Two observations, here.  First, Caesarism wasn’t just an attitude toward the enactment of policies.  It was also a variation of dynastic succession, with the current ruler literally adopting people to put them in line for ascension to the role.  One reason the state of your party might not matter is if the regime has reason to believe that its party can’t lose the newly powerful executive office.  (This puts rumors that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett cued up the Hillary Clinton email scandal in an interesting context, although the White House has denied it.)

The second observation tempers the conspiracy theorizing somewhat.  Progressives’ worldview is built on many articles of pure faith, but among the chief ones is belief in the ratchet of progress.  They believe that each step of their transformation of society locks in.  To them, a policy like ObamaCare or the FCC’s takeover of the Internet or the absorption of millions of illegal immigrants can never be undone, so straining to get policy to that next tooth on the gear is worthwhile, because the aftermath isn’t reversal, but rest.

One of the great deficiencies of progressive thought, though, is precisely its failure to comprehend the importance of maintaining the culture and mores — Douthat’s “principled concerns.”  Putting too much pressure on the ratchet can cause it to break, leaving the society vulnerable to invasion or simple collapse.  And lunging to reach that next step means that the activists don’t have the institutional strength to hold power and prevent their sacrifice of the rule of law from becoming a pretext for a dictatorship that even they wouldn’t like.