Monday, April 20, 2009

We Are The Pols Who Cain't Say Yes

White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel recently stated that Republicans have become the party of “no,” “never,” and “no new ideas.” The deployment of this prog-forma snark is akin to accusing water of being wet since Republicans, at least putatively, are supposed to be political and economic conservatives whose inherent world view is one of skepticism to new, untried, and potentially highly dangerous or foolhardy "ideas". They have not "become" the party of No but rather have always to greater or lesser degree worn that appellation with pride.

In fact the godfather of the modern intellectual conservative movement, the inestimable William F. Buckley famously charged his fledgling National Review magazine with the injunction to "Stand athwart history yelling Stop!" Progressives of all stripes, now and in the past have regarded this tendency with reactions ranging from haughty disdain to voluble profanation. Progressives like to paint themselves as thoughtful pragmatists and conservatives as sinister "ideologues" which is usually taken to mean grumpy reactionaries whose "ideas" are not only nugatory but fatally mired in the less enlightened past.

So in reality conservatives have plenty of ideas it's just that progressives despise them. The Rahm sneer would have a bit more resonance if the "ideas" that are currently being fetched up against the political wall were any "newer" than the first part of the last century. A standard litany of long floated progressive policy prescriptions hardly counts as new thinking. Indeed most of these "ideas" have been shopped around for the better part of a century without having passed substantial muster in conservative, moderate, or even centrist liberal circles. Presumably the "We Won" attitude snarkily percolating through liberal policy salons somehow qualifies a tired collation of sundry well-worn New Deal and redistributionist mantras as "new thinking".

The gyrocopter, the flying car, the Edsel and cold fusion were new ideas. They were also spectacularly and variously unworkable, unsalable, or irrelevant ideas. The newness of an idea confers no special inherent quality of goodness, efficacy, scientific accuracy, or even sanity.

So little wonder that Republicans balk at all this "newness". They now seem significantly more no-ishly conservative than before for the simple reason that the new administration is significantly less so than any in living memory. Indeed the One's outlooks and demeanors makes the Clintons look like gravely sober-sided center-rightists by comparison.

Last fall I voiced the hope that sitting in the big chair would make the One face global realities in a manner at some grown-up remove from his puerile electioneering. That faint hope has permanently dissolved in the face of his recent Apologiapallooza Tour and his fawning glad-handing of sundry tin-pot thugocrats. His politics have lunged smartly past the water's edge and swept leadenly around the globe in the pursuit of "engagement" with our putative adversaries. Much of recession plagued Europe has spurned this engagement for their own parochial, and entirely warranted, reasons but it has played most marvelously well with such liberty loving stalwarts as Ahmadinejad and Chavez.

On Le Front National the new admin. perches over a wide-mouthed legislative funnel flooding in not only oceans of fiat cash but also a gullywasher of progressive programmatics in the hope that something makes it out the narrow end past growling rottweiler paleocons and gimlet-eyed blue dogs. Luckily, as has been the case since the founding of the Republic, liberal action provokes an equal and opposite conservative reaction. Being a reactionary is, as they say these days, not a bug but a feature of conservatism without which said Republic would be infinitely worse off. As I have averred in this space before partisanship is to be celebrated not bemoaned for it is the life-blood of representative democracy.

Of course much indignant huffiness is on display by the liberal punditocracy now that the dissent is on the other foot. Apparently upon the moment of the One's ascendancy a switch flipped and dissent promptly transmuted from the highest form of patriotism to the last refuge of scabrous reactionaries. Naturally the Mother Of All Bombasts, R. Limbaugh, is to be vilified to the greatest extent possible for having the temerity to wish for the failure of the One. Ignoring for the moment the widespread context-free reporting of his oft-stated contrarianess at the very least it can be counted as a form of the dissent so recently held bosom close by liberals.

Of course even a whiff of actual context explains El Rushbo's remarks nicely. I dare anyone, liberal, centrist, conservative, libertarian, anarchist, what the hell ever to disagree with the proposition that wishing for the failure of policies with which one heartily disagrees is anything but plain old freedom-of-speech in action. No one wishes for Obama's failure per-se, not even Rush, and certainly not the failure of the country, but how can anyone be expected to entirely separate an individual from his political proclivities? Goodness knows GWB was relentlessly vilified and heartfelt wishes for his abject failure on every front sloshed freely about the progressive poli-sphere.

This is scarcely a new phenomenon and dates back at least as far as five minutes after George Washington's inauguration. Political infighting and voicing hopes for the failure of one chunk of legislation or the other is the true name of the game and not a lamentable anomalous happenstance. As far as conflating a leader and the the State goes we benighted Colonials have not for a goodish while ascribed to the notion that a politician may legitimately channel the Sun King and declare "L'etat, c'est moi". The proper response, in current parlance, is "Oh no you ain't".

Ah well at this point one is forced to quote noted political analyst Johnny Mercer from his seminal work on policy issues, Lil' Abner:

Them GOP's and Democrats
Each hates the other one
They's always criticizin'
How the country should be run
But neither tells the public
What the other's gone and done
As long as no one knows
Where no one stands
The country's in the very best of hands

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

T-Bone ForTwo

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just issued a report with the stunningly expected conclusion that small cars are less safe than large ones. Shocking. It appears that however much the feds think they can issue coercive mandates to the auto industry they are having a hard time repealing an inconvenient truth known as the Conservation of Momentum. Mass x Velocity equals Mass x Velocity is not just a good idea. It's the Law. And it is inviolate, unassailable, and entirely immune to the quivering high dudgeon of progressives and their relentlessly Procrustean regulatory handmaidens.

One of the Institute's cases in point is the Mercedes built Smart ForTwo. It's about half the size of an old VW Bug but yet it passes all currently relevant crash resistance regulations. No doubt this is due in large part to Daimler-Benz's stellar engineering expertise but not even those perfectionist worthies labor under the illusion that the ForTwo, or its assorted teensy brethren, can come out anything but second best in a tangle with one of Mercedes hulking 2.5 ton autobahn-burners. All of this is of course, er, crashingly obvious to anyone with a greater awareness of physics than the average three year-old or the Democratic Senate leadership. And permit me to humbly apologize to the brighter toddlers out there for the comparison.

During the late unpleasantness, defined by progressives as anything done anywhere anytime for any reason whatsoever by the Bush administration, sundry prog. pundits styled themselves as being part of the "reality based community". This rhetorically risible rodomontade revved to the redline in the consideration of any Bush effort to wed idealism to the promotion of policy objectives. The very mention of such shop-worn concepts as morality, patriotism, duty, or democracy elicited responses varying from eye-rolling snickering to brutally mocking derision. Bush, and anyone who even faintly acknowledged the importance of the aforementioned, were un-sophisticated, un-nuanced, hayseed boobs--conservative Clem Caddidlehoppers.

Well the reality-based community seems to the entity courting boobery when confronting actual realities such as the laws of physics. We must must must only sell cars that achieve wildly improved fuel economy and simultaneously we must must must make them as safe as a presidential limo in putative smashups. Any vehicular product not possessing both these entirely contradictory attributes is tarred as a death-trap and prima facie evidence of gross moral turpitude and/or criminal negligence on the part of the manufacturer.

Now it might in fact be barely technically possible to construct a vehicle with the size and fuel efficiency of the the Smart Car and the safety of its 450SEL big brother. What it would not be is commercially palatable. A vehicle, any vehicle of any size, as inherently safe as big Mercedes products are, will inevitably cost as much to manufacture. In the case of the small car it might even cost considerably more to build in similar crashability. No one, not even the most obsessively green car loather will be induced to pay 70 grand for something the size of a Smart Car even if it got 300 miles per gallon and could be launched Thelma & Louise style off Dead Horse Point without the occupants suffering so much as a widdle boo-boo.

Back in the real, the really real, world small cars command prices that do not now and never will allow them to be built and sold for prices similar to large luxury sedans regardless of their capabilities. Not going to happen no matter how noisy the indignant stamping of progressive feet becomes. Even the Smart Car pushes the envelope to the extreme. It sells for prices that will buy much larger but still smallish sedans with very acceptable levels of fit, finish, safety and reasonable levels of efficiency. In addition they are far better suited to the usages and exigencies of being driven on U.S highways and byways. Traveling across the country in a Smart Car is possible but will be more trial than trip. Compared to a Smart ForTwo a bottom-end Hyundai Accent is a luxury car and it sells for many thousands less.

These realities matter little to the progressive political classes who, now having the whip hand, seem determined to use the automobile as an unwilling instrument of social change. Whether they can summon up enough cultural muscle to force consumers into buying tiny expensive high-mileage vehicles that are inherently less safe than larger ones remains to be seen. The only hope in this whole scenario is that the UAW has enough political muscle left to get the gummint to lay off Detroit lest the companies crater entirely and take the union's life blood with them into oblivion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


--or literally "act of faith" which may be one of the most spectacular euphemisms of all time referring as it does to Inquisitional burning at the stake. GM CEO Rick Wagoner is the latest heretic to feel the wrath of the Lord High Inquisitors of the new administration. Veteran COO Fritz Henderson took Mr. Rick's place and must be feeling less like a CEO and more like the next guy over in the tumbrel. In any case Wagoner surely must have known when the process of beseeching the feds for a bailout began that it would inevitably lead to him being required to fall on his sword.

Whatever benefits accrue to being CEO of a major corporation the act of ascension to these giddy heights must be tempered by the fact that one is effectively stretching out ones neck on the executioner's block. Even the abjectly penitent CEO's donning of the dollar-a-year hair-shirt fails to keep the hounds at bay these days. Now the exec must channel Lewis Carrol and attempt to achieve six impossible things before breakfast. Detroit execs are being coerced into not only figuring out how to become profitable in a deep recession but also to somehow find the ocean of cash needed to drastically increase overall fleet mileage, reduce CO2 emissions, increase safety margins, increase recyleability, cut labor costs without actually cutting jobs, and to "invest" in new untried and to date unprofitable electric power technologies. Not surprisingly every one of these mandates is effectively contradicted by most if not all of the others.

The Obamanation has ganged up on the auto manufacturers for the simple reason that it affords them the opportunity to jumpstart their grand overarching agenda of fighting climate change in ways that merely propping up financial institutions can not begin to do. Flinging countless billions at Wall Street is a major and costly annoyance whereas the political PR value of bashing Detroit cannot be denied because the Big Three stands second only to Big Oil in the progressive pantheon of corporate villainy.

They can get away with this because the general public has little idea of how the auto industry works or how huge the regulatory burden with which they must deal. Unfortunately most politicians have very little more understanding of these issues and progressive pols not only know very little but care even less. The exigencies of modern product development cycles and cost-effectiveness considerations are mere trifles to be brushed aside as either niggling irrelevancies or venal corporate foot-dragging. In effect the auto industry is guilty until proven even guiltier.

It must be a source of severe irritation for the O'nation that the auto consumer is proving so un-obligingly consistent. In a recession with sales off roughly 40% overall the most popular vehicle is still the Ford F150 pickup truck. Folks are buying far fewer vehicles but the mix of those vehicles that are selling is virtually the same as a year, or two or three, ago. So the administration's tactic is to browbeat manufacturers into no longer offering what the public clearly wants to buy and to force them to begin making vehicle lines that currently consumers in large part do not want to buy.

As Rahm Emmanuel has said it would be wrong to let a crisis go to waste. The crisis is touted to be severe recessionary auto sales drops endangering big chunks of the country's industrial infrastructure. So let us give Detroit City the cash they're begging for but let us not waste the opportunity to hold their feet to the fire in service to the progressive regulatory wish-list held in abeyance until the ascension of The One to power.

Thank goodness Ford has not yet taken the thirty pieces of silver so there might be hope for Henry's heirs. Regarding GM and Chrysler they, if they survive at all, bid fair to become wholly owned subsidiaries of the Federal Government who in good, green, and union approved, fashion produce nothing anyone wants to buy at prices no one can afford.

2012, and/or sanity, seems a very long way off.