Downton Abbey Meets Hitler’s Jugend? David Brooks and the Great Divide

David Brooks and the Great Divide

Or … Downton Abbey Meets Hitler’s Jugend?

A Caution


Jay B Gaskill

Also posted on the Policy Think Site

Thanks to my many readers for your email comments.  See my response as an addendum at the very end of this.



“…we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.

“If we could jam the tribes together, we’d have a better elite and a better mass.”

My emphasis….

Ordinary working people are bit of a mystery to the mysterious 1%, to many in academia and –apparently – to David Brooks.  To Mr. Brooks’ credit, he is a sufficiently deep and careful thinker to be aware of the problem and to have dedicated a good portion of his thought and writing to the task of bridging that social gap.

Early life experiences are critical.  I was a fortunate lad because I grew up in a middle-class family during an age and in a part of the country where college bound-kids worked summers to save tuition money. Every summer from high school through the last summer before I entered law school, I worked in construction (highway building and in one case sewer pipe fabrication), using shovel, chainsaw and jackhammer, driving dump trucks and road rollers, belonging to the laborers union and the heavy equipment operators union at various times.

I learned every swearword in my coworkers vocabulary (not nearly as offensive as the curses that littered the language of the thousands of criminals I would later represent) I took the measure of coworkers as they took mine – without preconceived notions or expectations.  These men were and are much more intelligent than the conventional wisdom within the elites would have it, and their lives were not by any means culturally impoverished, just (dare I say it?) less effete.  We were voluntarily jammed together in a natural way that allowed mutual respect to be acquired and tacitly acknowledged.

Once upon a time, someone first combined the best of intentions (let’s improve humanity) with the power of government (let’s pass a law) and “voila!” there were consequences, often malign.  Two rules govern what tends to happen when we attempt to make a better social order via coercion–

(1) The Law of Unintended Consequences;

(2) The Perversity Rule.

Software engineers and 21st century social scientists (at least the subset of the latter whose work habits are sufficiently free of ideology and political interference) are keenly aware of the unintended consequences rule.  The Perversity Rule warns us that every improvement project, every non-profit exercise that involves large sums of money, every large undertaking that pursues broad, loosely defined purposes is an opportunity for less high minded types to exploit or pervert.  These types, like warm weather termites, inhabit every political project.  Both rules operate in every military conflict, revolution and grand social experiment.

There is no reasonable prospect that a large scale “national service” program, forcing the mixture of tribes –as the Brooks’ Op Ed puts it, will end well…if it does end.

The goal is a worthy one at least in the abstract.  But – if you subtract the racist perversity of German National Socialism – the social class integrative goal of the Hitler’s Youth initiative was strikingly similar.  And if that goal was to achieve – through coercion – a degree of social cohesion, it was strikingly “successful.”

“HJ membership was made compulsory for youths over 17 in 193, and for all over the age of 10 in 1941. By 1939, Hitler Youth membership comprised 90 percent of the country’s youth.

My wife and I are fans of the NPR series Downton Abbey, the gripping story of a decent upper class British family during World War I.  Millions of viewers can readily see the role in that bloody struggle in accelerating the erosion of British class privilege and social disconnectedness…and the staggering social cost in maimed bodies, broken relationships and piled corpses.   Woodrow Wilson and others cheered us on.  Classes and tribes were mingled, but at what cost?

Beware what you wish for.



Volunteer service, like the peace corps is different and laudable.  Compulsory military service in time of peril is the least objectionable form of compulsory service.  The Swiss military service example is not what David Brooks describes, a social engineering class-mix experiment, but the continuation of a long tradition that has enabled a tiny nation to cling to its independence.

There is no such compelling rationale for civilian national service, especially for the purposes that David Brooks espouses.

War and national peril can justify extreme measures and sometimes these deadly episodes have a few good side effects, class mixing, new technologies, new medicines, etc. but war, as such, also exacts terrible costs.  It seems to me that WWI’s costs exceeded the benefits.
WII is another matter.

But for the exigencies of war and national peril, where in the constitution is involuntary servitude sanctioned?


Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

First published on the Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 dot Blog

Forwards and links are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, contact the author –



A Breadwinner Surge


Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Also posted —

My fellow Americans:

We are on a collision course with economic reality.  The United States of America owes trillions of dollars more than it can pay back for a generation.  There are two million fewer jobs[i] today than when the current administration took office. The puny annual growth rate in our gross domestic product is not enough even to generate paying jobs for the new workers that constantly show up hoping to enter our work force, let alone enough to make a dent in our desperate growing army of unemployed and underemployed.

The incumbent administration has led us into a trap.  There aren’t enough rich people left to tax at the levels that could erase the current one trillion dollar annual deficit, let alone to begin payments on the national mortgage.  The taxes needed to carry that load will depress economic activity and turn the current grim economic slump into a desperate and dispiriting new norm.

We can do better.  We must do better.

We are underwater, just like a large family that is making mortgage payments with credit cards, trying to make it with one breadwinner who is working part time.  Nothing this administration has tried has succeeded because the primary breadwinners in this country all work in the private, profit-making world.  They support all the government workers, retirees, dependents and beneficiaries.  But these primary breadwinners are a shrinking part of American life.  They are the golden geese on which the welfare of everyone else depends.  And their world, a realm where men and women work and create real goods and services that real customers using real money pay for, is being smothered.

Year to year, the political load on private, profit-making, job-creating commercial activity in the USA has become more and more suffocating.

Until now, you haven’t been told that truth.  But there is good news.  The American capacity for a strong business recovery, a breadwinner surge, has not yet been permanently crippled. It is still within our power to make and implement policy decisions at the national level that can and will allow a strong durable business recovery to take hold and flourish.  Notice, I said allowed.  Decrees belong to the dumpster bins of history – like the now fully discredited Chinese communist regime of the last century that declared a series of five year plans.  “Boost farm production by 20% because we say so”, they decreed, and such decrees failed and failed and failed until the Chinese themselves turned to market capitalism.

Last year an American businessman had a private conversation with a high placed Chinese official.  He complained about the difficulties and obstacles to doing business in the USA, especially under the current administration.  The Chinese official joked, “How do you like living under communism?”[ii]

The political load on commerce in the USA can be lifted, but only by aggressive, enlightened new leadership, starting at a certain officeholder who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  We don’t need to go to the Wild West, safety-be-damned model that ignited the Chinese blowtorch economy.  But we will need to aggressively peel back the massive web of regulations, permits, delays, impact reports, tariffs, business charges and impediments that collectively constitute a political load on profit-making business activity worthy of some third world kleptocracy.

Political and policy making power must be recaptured from the hordes of unelected regulators and bureaucrats who have choked off the stream of commerce like swamp plants, and that power must be returned to the elected people’s representatives, charged with a new spirit of restraint.[iii] The urgent task is to recreate a lean, clean and supple business-government relationship that is commerce-friendly and focusses only on major health and safety issues.  Businesses need a level playing field that is at least as business-friendly as our overseas competitors, something closer to the kind that prevailed during the Reagan-era growth period.  If this sounds like back to the future, it is because we have lost our way.

This country has world-class energy[iv] and agricultural resources, unequalled high-tech creative capacity and a hugely underutilized production and manufacturing potential.  The great American recovery will start as soon we chose a new economic team in the White house.  That new beginning can happen as soon as Inauguration Day, Sunday, January 20, 2013.

Are we ready yet?


Copyright© 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

First published on the Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 Dot Blog by Jay Gaskill

Forwards and links (especially to presidential candidates and their staff) are welcome and encouraged – with appropriate attribution.  For everything else, contact the author at .

[i] That is based on reliable estimates of the total number of men and women gainfully employed.  Unemployment statistics are unreliable because they rely on self-reporting and applications for unemployment.

[ii] I have a reliable source, but I can’t reveal more.

[iii] Mark Levin’s book, Liberty and Tyranny contains an excellent exposition of regulatory power abuse. The EPA’s recent efforts to bypass the congress by declaring carbon dioxide (please do not exhale) a pollutant subject to regulation is a perfect example of the structural problem wherein unelected regulatory agencies are operating as if they were both executive and legislative bodies.

[iv] As Hoover Scholar (and farmer) Victor Davis Hanson (a center-right democrat) has pointed out.

Nuke (m) Gingrich vs. Milk (toast) Romney?

Nuke (m) Gingrich vs. Milk (toast) Romney?

The Pre-nomination Assessment by Jay B Gaskill

We’ve come too far to turn back now.” … “No bailouts, no handouts, no copouts.”

Barack Obama, in yesterday’s State of the Union Speech

Three critical assessments form the backdrop for this year’s GOP selection marathon: (1) that the current administration has squandered the baseline trust needed to govern; (2) that the country needs a fresh economic team in the Oval Office; (3) that these new movers and shakers need to be much more tuned to the needs of the private, job-creating, profit-making, productive, commercial economy than to the dependent interest groups nurtured by the current democratic establishment.

When President Obama delivered his latest State of the Union Address last night (quite possibly his last as POTUS), most knowledgeable observers understood that this was really a State of the Presidency Address, and by that measure his presidency is in trouble. Here are some samples:

“No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules…”

“We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again. … The future is ours to win.  But to get there, we can’t just stand still. ….With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  …. We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. …. [W]e set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.”[i]

From the GOP response by Governor Mitch Daniels:

“As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat. … If we fail to shift to a pro-jobs, pro-growth economic policy, there will never be enough public revenue to pay for our safety net, national security, or whatever size government we decide to have.”

The rhetorical contents of speeches like these warrant no comment here. More to the point is that 2009 interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer in which the very same president said: “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years and … A year from now, I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still going to be some pain out there … If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

One is tempted to paraphrase Mr. Obama’s rhetoric from last night, “I promise no more bailouts, no more handouts, no more copouts…really.”

In other words, the decisive thing will not be rhetoric but results.  In an earlier post, I quoted former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, an Obama liberal, who opined that by Election Day, November, 2012 – “there’s a better-than-even chance that unemployment will be back to 9 percent.”

Given the three assessments listed at the beginning of this piece – they are ones that as a center-right democrat I happen to share – and the condition of the economy, what are we to make of the fact that most GOP voters seem to be increasingly cranky and spoiling for a fight?  Is it, as some pundits are saying, a circular firing squad?

Or…might this turn out to be a good thing?


(a) If it prompts candidate Romney to come out of his closely managed bubble with a strong insurgency campaign against this well-entrenched incumbent.  And make no mistake – this is an insurgency campaign, a complex uphill struggle that crucially depends on educating, motivating and reassuring a broadband majority of the American people to reverse course during scary and unsettling times;

(b) If it enables candidate Gingrich, who is a natural insurgent, to achieve that so-far elusive balance point between combat and stability, between inner crankiness and reassuring confidence;

(c) If it spurs the incumbent Obama to make an authentic, durable shift to much more centrist policies, much as Bill Clinton did in his second term;

(d) If it leads to an open GOP convention capable of producing the ideal leader who then actually wins in November.

But what are the real world probabilities?

Scenario (d) is unrealistic, although it would be great theater.  We hear rumbles of support for Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Each candidate X scenario involves an almost impossibly late entry into the delegate hunt, an open convention that drafts one of these figures and, somehow, the creation of a national campaign organization and governance transition team with all too little time to spare before the general election.  I would love to be wrong, but I’d not bet on it.

I believe that scenario (c) is wildly improbable.  It is painfully apparent to this old-fashioned democrat that Mr. Obama’s heart and mind belong to the arch left on domestic policy and to the Jimmy Carter left on foreign policy.  I fear we are being governed by a political chameleon whose surface appearance changes as needed, but whose core agenda does not.  I might be wrong, but don’t bet on it.

Scenario (b) is plausible in the sense that a volatile, ill-tempered Uncle Blitzkrieg might, just might, get through at least one Thanksgiving dinner without driving all of the women out of the room.  I would love to bet on a kindly, loveable Uncle Newt, but….

Scenario (a) is clearly possible.  The question is whether Governor Romney can rise to the occasion without appearing mean spirited and offputting.  In that connection, I noted Romney’s remarks to a group in a Florida metal fabrication factory after last night’s State of the Union speech. “The detachment between reality and what he says is so extraordinary, I was just shaking my head at the TV last night. This is a president who talks about deregulation, even as he regulates. Who talks about lowering taxes, even as he raises them, who talks about expanding energy resources, even as he tries to shut them down.” [< >]

I also noted that that the Rasmussen Poll now shows that GOP primary voters prefer Gingrich (53%) to Romney (28%), Santorum (16%) and Paul (10%) and that 33% hope someone new enters the race. < > …And also that that in Florida Romney leads Gingrich among Hispanic voters 35% to 15% in the Univision, ABC News and Latino Decisions survey.

This is anybody’s game at the moment. And we may be asking too much of any candidate.  Those who agree with my three assessments really need to ask themselves just two questions: Who has the makings of a really great American president, one who will bring the country together around the critically important policies? Who can not only get elected, but also has the best prospect of getting reelected?

The dirty little secret of 2012 is that the real US economy is far too deep in the crater for any leader or combination of leaders to dig us out easily or quickly.  The Great American Recovery Project may not take the decades it took to dig the current hole, but it definitely will require a disciplined effort over the course of more than one four year presidential term.

Stay tuned….


Copyright 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law, as first published on The Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 Dot Blog.  As always links and forwards are welcome and encouraged.  For everything else, contact the author directly – .





Jay B Gaskill

►As published on The Policy Think Site —

Debates are transient.  Character is not.

Romney and Santorum have character, Gingrich is one.

Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have articulated a viable foreign policy for America.  Ron Paul’s was tailor made … for the jihad.

Romney and Santorum display organization. Romney has one.

The generic republican beats this incumbent president…if the unemployment level is stuck on 8% or higher in later October.  Romney is the generic republican.

Mr. Obama may (as Ronald Trump has hinted) seek a “wag the dog” military distraction just before the election, but as Abe Lincoln said, “you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

And, to paraphrase Bill Clinton in 1992, “It’s the depression, stupid.”

Character and intelligence matter.  Heraclitus was spot on when he told us about 2,600 years ago that “Character is destiny.”

David Brooks makes a character assessment of Mitt Romney in “The Wealth Issue” – read it in today’s New York Times. Link:

Pull quote – “The philosopher Michael Oakeshott once observed that it takes several generations to make a career. Interests, habits and lore accrue in families and shape those born into them.

“The Romney family history, which is nicely described in ‘The Real Romney’by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, is a story of tenacious work, setbacks and recovery. People who analyze how Mormonism may have shaped Romney generally look to theology. But the Mormon history, the exodus, matters most.”

D’ accord.


Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law, as first published on The Policy Think Site www.jaygaskill.comThe Dot 2 Dot Blog and The Out*Lawyer’s Blog.

Forwards and links are welcome and encouraged.  Otherwise contact the author at

FDR 1932 – Romney 2012?

FDR 1932 – Romney 2012?

An Observation


Jay B Gaskill

Also posted at —

In today’s (Friday 13 Jan, New York Times) you can find David Brooks at his insightful best.

“The CEO in Politics”

In my last article (“Romney Regret?” I concluded my take-apart of the current conservative discontent with a section on What Matters Most, by making two points:

  • Passion is overrated, but trust is essential;
  • And that, in this coming presidential election, two things will matter greatly; they are temperament and character.

Davis Brooks wisely treats the Bain Capital issue as secondary, making the point that-

“…for every Michael Bloomberg who successfully moves from business to politics, there is a …Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina — former executives who were either unsuccessful in political office or who couldn’t get elected in the first place. If you look back over history, you see that while business success can sensitize a politician to the realities other executives face, there’s little correlation between business success and political success. The traits that actually correlate with successful presidencies have deeper roots.”

David Brooks is spot on this time because he’s addressing character. More…

“First, successful presidents tend to be emotionally secure. They have none of the social resentments and desperate needs that plagued men like Richard Nixon… They were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.

“…great leaders tend to have an instrumental mentality. They do not feel the office is about them. They are just God’s temporary instrument in service of a larger cause. Lincoln felt he was God’s instrument in preserving the union. F.D.R. felt he was an instrument to help the common man and defeat fascism. This sense of being an instrument gives them an organizing purpose. It gives them a longer perspective, so they don’t get distracted by ephemera. It means their administration marches in one direction, even though it is flexible and willing to accept incremental gains along the way. In sum, great presidents are often aristocrats and experienced political insiders. They experience great setbacks. They feel the presence of God’s hand on their every move. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about these things openly these days.”

I particularly agree with that last line, but I must add especially in the New York Times. And when David Brooks wrote that “Today’s candidates have to invent bogus story lines to explain their qualifications to be president”, I am compelled to add – especially Mr. Obama.

Certain obvious contrasts immediately come to mind: There is no literary hagiographic exercise like “Dreams of my Father” for Governor Romney. His is a transparent, factual narrative.  Mitt Romney  really was the manager who saved the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics; he really did serve as the governor of Massachusetts 2003-2007, and he really did help found Bain Capital in 1984 and really did manage Bain Capital from 1984-1990 and again from 1992-1999.

You will find no internet chatter about “Where are Romney’s ex-girlfriends?” or about missing grade transcripts or papers or questionable associations or youthful indiscretions. Of course, the absence of scandal does not in itself constitute a sufficient qualification for POTUS.  But historical authenticity is a solid start for any general character assessment.

David Brooks’ Op Ed concludes with –

“In reality, Romney’s Bain success is largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president. The real question is whether he has picked up traits like emotional security, political judgment and an instrumental mind-set from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life.”

In my own piece, I noted FDR’s 1932 race-

Recall that first election when FDR ran against Hoover in 1932? It was a referendum on Hoover’s failure, not necessarily a mad rush to the charismatic New York governor who, by the way, criticized Hoover for overspending and promised a balanced budget!  FDR’s real charisma was acquired after he was sworn in.  He earned it in wartime and depression because he was a faithful, reliable, reassuring leader. The American people, including republicans, trusted him.

The character of a great leader may or may not be presaged in a tough campaign.  One’s campaign persona is only a shadow – or in Mr. Obama’s case, a mere projection.  The real test is governance in rough times.

I believe that the American people have lost their naiveté, partly as a result of the reality of the Obama presidency.  A sober majority of the American electorate will have no fairy dust illusions when the president is sworn into office on Sunday, January 20, 2013.  That president will be required to navigate the ship of state through some of the stormiest waters we have endured in half a century.


Copyright© 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, except for the pull quotes from David Brooks, which are Copyright © 2012 by The New York Times.

This piece was first published on the Dot 2 Dot Bog and the Policy Think Site.

Forwards, links and attributed references and pull quotes are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, contact the author – .

Jay B Gaskill is a California Attorney.

Romney Regret?


Election Analysis


Jay B Gaskill

Also available on The Policy Think Site –

No GOP nominee on planet earth can reassure conservatives this year. The very issue that now most concerns the conservative commentariat about Mitt Romney is that he may be vulnerable in that, as a capitalist seeking to reinvigorate moribund business ventures for Bain Capital he behaved like a capitalist. He actually pruned failing businesses so that they could grow, refinanced others and, yes, did some firing as well as hiring, closing some doors as he opened others.

What we have in former governor Romney is a classic 1960’s conservative, taking flak from some post-modern proto-conservatives (who are trenchantly described in Victor Davis Hanson’s biting analysis – “Postmodern Populism” ).

Romney is a man out of his time, a boomer who totally escaped the boomer culture.  He is the outlier in the field as a man of natural, modest personal probity. Of course, this leaves him open to the essentially trivial attacks for being “too square” and for not being sufficiently “secular” or, alternately belonging to a “non-mainstream” faith tradition.  One unblinking glimpse at the incumbent democratic president puts these concerns in their proper perspective.

Candidate Romney is making a straightforward run for the task of governance in difficult times by staying disciplined, on-message, realistic and upbeat.

This leaves him open to the charge of “insufficient passion”.  Narcissists and ideologues evidence and inspire passion. Mitt Romney is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist.  He is moved by patriotism and a sense of duty.  How old fashioned…and how LDS.

What will matter most to voters in the closing weeks of the general election?  I will get to that, but first some perspective.

At this early stage of the nominating process, a number of democrats that I know secretly wish they had a different candidate.[1] What can we say about the current GOP conservatives?  They are as nervous and unsettled as the rest of the country.  We’re living through that kind of time.

The conservatives who are weighing in on the POTUS selection process can be sorted into three groups: bruised, itchy and clear-headed.

The bruised ones are suffering from PCAS – Post Compromise Abuse Syndrome.  These are the conservatives who feel betrayed by their go-along, get-along fellow travelers who have collaborated with the progressive agenda for the last 35 years. They share responsibility for the current fiscal crisis, the entitlement overhang, and the political/bureaucratic load on commerce.  Few can escape the scorn of this group. Truth be told, if St. Reagan were resurrected, he would not satisfy the bruised ones because of his fiscal baggage – two terms of Reagan budget compromises set the template for all the later huge deficits that republicans approved in the cause of national security.

The itchy ones are like junkyard dogs that smell blood – they are spoiling for a fight.  They represent the conservatives’ version of the pent up, “this is our moment” energy of the liberals who decided to double down on the progressive agenda as soon as they had a charismatic POTUS and working  majorities in house and senate.  The liberals’ unchecked impulse to seek a “now or never” power grab so shocked the electorate that it sparked the Tea Party and caused a major power shift in the house.

No single GOP candidate is sufficiently combative to scratch this particular itch without blowing the general election.  Newt Gingrich is experiencing a bipolar meltdown.  Governor Christie is backing Governor Romney who in turn refuses to ramp up to rabid.

The clear headed ones consist of the plurality of leaders and thinkers who are more consistently conservative on most issues than, say, Romney, Christie or Gingrich are, but remain realists.  They understand several things that seem to have escaped the attention of their bruised and itchy fellow conservatives:

One: That the incumbent president must be defeated.

Two: That Romney, Gingrich, Perry – add a name if you like–is each sufficiently conservative to effect the necessary change of direction.

Three: That to win in November, the GOP conservative base needs to turn out in record numbers, which means that their enthusiasm for the candidate must be fully engaged.

Four: That this president will use all his available tools – including starting a war – in order to win another term.  In other words, this race may be a close one no matter which candidate the GOP selects.

The Crapshoot Factor: No one actually knows what the playing field will look like in October and the first week of November.  Hillary might or might not be on the ticket.  A plausible recovery might or might not be underway.  Iran might or might not be ripe for a preemptive attack on its nuclear weapons.  Or it might be too late.  Or POTUS Obama might have green-lighted a Clintonesque surgical missile strike or two.  The price of oil might or might not have exploded.  The European economic system might or might not have collapsed.  And so on…the unknowns are exponentially linked to developments mostly outside US control.

This is a make or break election.  Therefore everyone is nervous.

The Few Certainties:

  • The Obama campaign will go negative on the GOP nominee, as personally as they can get away with.
  • The American people will be feeling insecure, worried and mistrustful.
  • The economy will be the overriding issue for most Americans no matter what is going on in the rest of the world.
  • The polls will be unreliable because opinions will be volatile and fewer prospective voters will be honest to pollsters.  The focus groups and internal polls will be only slightly more accurate.


Passion is overrated, but trust is essential.  This president has broken trust with key elements in his fractured coalition. (See Noemie Emery’s brilliant analysis, “Overrated” – )

Recall that first election when FDR ran against Hoover in 1932? It was a referendum on Hoover’s failure, not necessarily a mad rush to the charismatic New York governor who, by the way, criticized Hoover for overspending and promised a balanced budget!  FDR’s real charisma was acquired after he was sworn in.  He earned it in wartime and depression because he was a faithful, reliable, reassuring leader. The American people, including republicans, trusted him.

Can you imagine a volatile, almost bipolar, Newt Gingrich inspiring or earning such trust?  …Or the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being rehired after squandering the voter’s trust in his first term?   I have serious plausibility issues with either scenario.

If Perry had been better prepared, if Cain had better staff support, if, if…. We won’t be addressing “ifs” for much longer.

I believe that in this coming presidential election two things will matter greatly; they are temperament and character.  When we are alone with our ballots in on November 6 of this year, the world will not be at peace and the country will not be in a condition of stable prosperity.  We will be worried – for ourselves and for those who will immediately follow us.

It’s going to come down to trust.  Will we be willing to trust the leadership of this precious country to X or Y? That’s it:  A simple, but momentous binary choice…and everything else follows.

Jay B Gaskill

Copyright © 2012 Jay B Gaskill as first published on The Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 Dot Blog. Links and forwards are welcome and encouraged.  For all other permissions, contact the author –

[1] They pine for Hillary, but only if she is at the top of the ticket. Secretary Clinton will not take on a sitting president and this one will never step down. A Jerry Brown could pave the way for a Hillary coup – his ego is boundless enough to make a run himself, but these scenarios are fantasies for disgruntled democrats.





Fed Chair Bernanke cannot get us out of this economic mess.

As I unpack this assertion, a Market Watch story from St. Louis; a major concession by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; a not-very-reassuring parallel offered by Paul Krugman; and a telling revelation by David Brooks are offered to set the stage.  [The details and links are appended at the very end.]



Jay B Gaskill

The liberal economist/columnist Paul Krugman would have us believe that the rampant fiscal irresponsibility if the last four decades can continue and that the task of rescuing the US economy from its dreadful doldrums can still be accomplished by monetary policy and some modest tax increases, mostly on the rich. For Krugman, monetary policy means a whole range of measure, principally quantitative easing and similar measures all of which are means to create more money via fiat.  The net effect of free money policies, however cloaked,  is to reduce the value of existing US money, including funds parked by willing investors who are waiting for a favorable business startup climate.  Dr. Krugman tries to reassure us with the information that poor England carried a similar debt load for 80 backbreaking years!

Robert Reich would remind Krugman that “external” factors like China, Europe and the “world economy” can trump any monetary of fiscal gimmicks available to the current administration. He concedes that by Election Day, November, 2012 – “there’s a better-than-even chance that unemployment will be back to 9 percent.”

The head of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, James Bullard, sees a risk that fed interest and money creation policies could touch off too much inflation. “Bullard favors an inflation target. Without one, there is always the possibility the Fed would engineer very high inflation.” [My emphasis –see the endnote.]

And the ever soft-spoken David Brooks reveals his concern with the direction of the current administration: “Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis. The progressive era is not a model; it is a foil. It provides a contrast and shows us what we really need to do.”

This is Brooksonsian code for – “the leaders of the progressive-liberal coalition (in the Congress and the White House) have brought us to the edge of ruin, and someone else has to take over before it’s too late.”

I submit that David Brooks is our Dmitri Shostakovich, a talented intellectual held captive by the Party Establishment, who has been reduced to speaking to posterity in code.  It is a measure of the seriousness of our situation that Mr. Brooks is willing to risk speaking as plainly as he did in the quoted New York Times piece.

The shift from dangerously high sovereign debt to a safer, more manageable level requires the actual elimination of annual federal deficits coupled with robust national economic growth so that the debt level shrinks as a percentage of the GDP.  This necessary transition will mark the end of the American era of defined benefit entitlements that are structurally programmed to outgrow the nation’s ability to pay for them; the end of a primarily debt financed consumption-driven economy; and the end of an unfriendly regulatory and political environment for private, profit-making commercial enterprises in favor of a primarily investment-fueled production economy.

Whether we can continue to live in a free, prosperous, growing America depends on whether and how soon we can effect that transition.

The sheer magnitude of the necessary changes cannot be materially reduced by magical actions from the fed.  That easy path was once explored by the infamous banana republics[i] that attempted to escape their self-inflicted debt burdens by dramatically increasing the money supply -metaphorically relying on currency printing presses. The result was catastrophic inflation, political destabilization and the collapse of democratic institutions. The sheer size of America’s current sovereign debt and the even more dramatic projected debt increases, driven by in-place entitlement programs, cannot be avoided via monetary policy.  The scale is too great.

Even now, monetary policy still actually works to a point – before it fails. Failure is almost always the outcome when monetary measures are overmatched by politically-driven fiscal malpractice.

The current and previous administrations have behaved like a reckless teenage driver who always can count on Dad (the fed) to find new, creative ways to compensate for the consequences of bad driving.  Bernanke’s charge, to steer the economy between hyperinflation, deflation and economic collapse, is an insanely difficult exercise.

Think of driving a car on ice while political forces tip the roadway, add unexpected curves and set unrealistic goals. Bernanke was taken some unjustified flak, but I much preferred Alan Greenspan.

The immediate problem is scale.

I’ve thought of myself as a JFK, neo-con, Keynesian, in which fiscal and monetary policy are a well-coordinated ballet – tax reductions as needed, small deficits balanced by small surpluses, a tight rein on inflation, a core belief in free markets, supported, not smothered.

Scale issues have screwed up this ballet.

The monstrous flow of money that inevitably followed the dollar’s role as the international reserve currency, the post WWII recovery of Europe, the truly massive scale of fiscal borrowing and fiat-money financed sovereign debt in the West, and the emergence of the blowtorch Chinese economy have produced a perfect storm for the fed. US monetary policy is more and more being driven by these scale issues into the role of somebody tasked with bailing out a swamped boat in a storm, using only a coffee cup.

Using another metaphor, Bernanke is like a Dad being forced to buy a liability-only policy for his reckless teenage driver with a 1 million dollar deductible…’twould be cheaper to ground the miscreant driver…but that is a task best left to the electorate.

The elephant-in-the-room problem is “moral hazard”.

By the way, I think the term moral hazard itself is a verbal moral hazard.  Typically, some management type will call attention to some criminal act, a theft, fraud or embezzlement, skip over the individual moral judgment, and point out that the incentive structure that led to it is a moral hazard.  In other words, “we’re not immoral yet but we might at least think about stopping the trend someday.”

You wonder how soon the members of the Weimar culture (Germany’s dithering pre-Nazi government) noticed the moral hazard of printing money to buy faux prosperity.  This kind of vaguely amoral thinking is all too common in management and government circles (to the extent that ethical issues are even recognized) and it reduces careful moral analysis to a statistical fog.

Theft is immoral by any means, whether it’s accomplished gradually by trickery or up-front at gun point.  [Permit one aside: In my former life of crime, I thought the actual robbers I defended (as a group) were more honest, less neurotic and much better candidates for a tshuvah-driven rehabilitation than the whiny, victim group, but that is another story.]

State-engendered, monetary-driven inflation constitutes the collectivist theft of conserved earnings and reserved assets whenever it reaches that sufficient scale wherein it takes property from the common people more quickly than they can reasonably protect it.  As a society, we tolerate am ongoing “low” inflation rate, much as somebody coping with a viral infection tolerates a low grade fever.  The Weimar Republic in pre-Nazi Germany allowed inflation to move to an intolerable rate, and the resulting economic and political destabilization paved the way for Hitler.

In the 1940’s a very intelligent group of mostly Canadian Jews, among them Alan Greenspan, hung out in New York for several years with a novelist philosopher named Ayn Rand.  He and they formed a moral DNA that included a deep respect for individual human dignity centered in the power of reason, the integrity of volition and the right to property.  The fed’s original charge stressed the protection of the value of dollar, the control of inflation and coordination with growth-promoting fiscal policies to the extent they were not inconsistent with the above.

The fed will need to return to its traditional role while the executive branch and the congress need to begin the urgent task of restarting a moribund economy while stopping the deficit machine in its tracks. Raising taxes on profit making enterprises, directly or indirectly, will have the effect of chilling much needed private investments.  This leaves us with but one play, and it is manifestly not relying on the fed to create new money: We must and therefore eventually will strip away the noisome barriers and impediments to private investment and commerce that stand in the way of a sustained US economic surge. This is a no brainer, once ideological barriers are discarded…and over time they will be.  The resulting boom will be a real one, based on real production increases, generating real profits, real jobs and real revenue to the government.

As it happens, business-friendly technocratic leaders are belatedly beginning to take charge in Europe (noting Mario Monti’s new Italian government).  But their task is far more daunting than ours needs to be.  Once we understand we are out of magical solutions, there will be no shortage of real ones.  All that is missing is fresh, business-savvy leadership in Washington, DC.

Stay tuned….

Here are the promised links and excerpts from Market Watch, Krugman, et al.

By Greg Robb, MarketWatch Jan 7, 2012

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — More bond purchases, otherwise known as quantitative easing, are not likely at least in the short term because the economy seems on more solid ground, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said Saturday.

The personal consumption expenditure index — the Fed’s favorite inflation target — rose 2.5% for the 12 months ending November.

According to the minutes of the FOMC December meeting, some policymakers were worried that inflation would be too low.

“I am not worried that inflation is going to be too low. Either it will come back toward our longer-run implicit inflation target [of 2.0% or a little less] or there is some risk that it would stay fairly high where it is and not come down too much further,” he said.

Some members of the FOMC expressed concern inflation would be too low this year, according to the minutes of the December 13 meeting.

Bullard said in an interview earlier in the week that the Fed is close to setting an explicit inflation target.

This would come in a statement of the Fed’s long-run policy goals that will be under review at the Fed’s next meeting later this month.

Bullard favors an inflation target. Without one, there is always the possibility the Fed would engineer very high inflation.


Chances are the economy won’t be in great shape in the months leading up to election day. If the European debt crisis worsens, and if China’s economy continues to slow, there’s a better-than-even chance that unemployment will be back to 9 percent.

On the other hand, the administration has had a string of foreign policy successes…
Read more:

Robert Reich in the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, Insight.


Now, the fact that federal debt isn’t at all like a mortgage on America’s future doesn’t mean that the debt is harmless. Taxes must be levied to pay the interest, and you don’t have to be a right-wing ideologue to concede that taxes impose some cost on the economy, if nothing else by causing a diversion of resources away from productive activities into tax avoidance and evasion. But these costs are a lot less dramatic than the analogy with an overindebted family might suggest.

And that’s why nations with stable, responsible governments — that is, governments that are willing to impose modestly higher taxes when the situation warrants it — have historically been able to live with much higher levels of debt than today’s conventional wisdom would lead you to believe. Britain, in particular, has had debt exceeding  100 percent of G.D.P. for 81 of the last 170 years.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times


One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination.

In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis.

The progressive era is not a model; it is a foil. It provides a contrast and shows us what we really need to do.

David Brooks in the New York Times

[i] The hyperinflation episodes in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile & Peru in the 1980’s, not to mention Germany (Weimar) 1920-1923, provide us with a sobering reminder: Political destabilization follows hyperinflation and dictatorships follow destabilization as predictably as the night follows the sunset.  Just how close to that scenario we Americans willing to go?

2012 – Cautious Optimism -The Future of Politics and the USA

Conservatism, Liberalism and Our Future

The Dots Connected


Jay B Gaskill

January 2, 2012 ◄

2012 is a year of major transitions, some of which will not be immediately apparent to the casual observer and many clueless policy makers. Three major economies will begin tectonic shifts. America will set the stage for its reemergence as the world’s exemplar of progress:

Europe will begin the painful shift away from its incoherent blend of highly productive, self-sustaining economies linked at the aorta to unsustainably underproductive, dependency economies. The new European model, whether the euro survives as a unitary currency, in a two tier form or not at all, will have one key feature: The failing entitlement models will be decoupled and made more accountable for their own misallocation of resources. There is just not enough free-floating altruism in all of Europe for the highly productive economies to voluntarily carry the entitlement load of the highly unproductive ones. The governing institutions of the EU cannot operate as an uber-government over the strong objections of its members. The forms of governance may remain, but the reality of an EU super-state will not gel in its present form.

China will be forced by internal pressures to move from what is essentially a slave labor, subsidized-production economy to something closer to the current American one – a credit-fueled consumption model. The pressures to increase wages and to relax restrictions on consumption cannot long be resisted in China, especially when its sovereign lending represents unspent money-in-the-bank that can be used to ease the conditions of Chinese labor. An important caution: China’s model, a mix of police state executions, wealthy, oppressive party elites, de-facto local autonomy for high tech areas, masses of rural poor trying to migrate to cites, and the collapse of communism as a unifying moral paradigm, cannot be sustained. Chinese communist party leaders do not sleep well these days.

The USA will be forced by external circumstances to abandon its decades-long credit-driven consumption binge in favor of the more sober investment-driven production model. In the short and midterm this means “work harder, consume less”. In the long term, America’s success will be, once again, the exemplar that leads the world into a better place

The common thread in all these shifts is the breakdown of the command economy model (whether socialist, communist, mercantilist, or crony-capitalist) and the collapse of the various liberal subsidized-idleness models. As a result, what we now think of as liberalism and conservatism will change. All in all, I am cautiously optimistic. Let me introduce my optimism with two recently published letters of mine. After that, I will connect the dots.

Among my favorite sources of information and analysis, I particularly enjoy two intelligent conservative-leaning publications, First Thingsi, which reflects an interreligious, catholic-centered perspective, and Commentaryii, that exemplifies a Jewish point of view. Both are driven by a shared concern for the advancement of human dignity in the context of our common moral heritage, the ongoing struggle for human freedom, and a belief in American exceptionalism.

And both have recently published letters from me – one defending Ayn Rand from an ideological/religious attack (in the form of a movie review), and one containing my take on a Symposium on America’s future.

First, from the journal,

First Things:

First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

my letter as published in the August/September 2011 issue….

“I’ve been reading First Things for more than a decade now, and David Bentley Hart’s takedown of Ayn Rand (“The Trouble with Ayn Rand,” May) stands out, but not in an admirable way. Many conservative Christians, among them Roman Catholics, will be offended at such a vitriolic attack on a famous conservative humanist author, and I use the term vitriolic advisedly (“just a little spiteful,” in Hart’s confession).

“I grant you that Rand, an autodidact Russian émigré (the daughter of a commercial family whose property was confiscated by the Soviets, and an anticommunist intellectual who fell in love with America) was indeed an atheist. But unlike Phillip Pullman, she did not attack or brutally caricature the Church, and unlike Nietzsche, whom she actively disliked, she did not attack Christianity.

“Taken as a whole, Ayn Rand’s creative output is a celebration of life and human creative powers. I suspect that she is on David Hart’s personal Index Librorum Prohibitorum because she embraced “greed” over self-immolative sacrifice. Rand’s passion for creative freedom as a moral imperative was a specific commitment that transcended “mere” greed and belies the parodic attempts to marginalize an original, serious ethic, relevant to the modern human condition and, at least to this believer, something that represents a valued addition to the larger Christian worldview.

“Ayn Rand’s fiction and philosophy is not Christian by any stretch, but it is an expression of life-affirming, anti-tyrannical humanism. God forbid there would be a movie of one of Eric Hoffer’s books.”

Second, in the magazine,


From its founding in November 1945, COMMENTARY has been “an act of affirmation.” It remains an expression of belief in the United States, perhaps most of all in America’s central role in the preservation and advance of Western civilization and, most immediately, the continuing existence of the Jewish people.

as published in the January 2012 issue…

From reading COMMENTARY’S [November] symposium on America’s future, it became clear to me that short term and long term optimism are easier to achieve than that pesky midterm variety. Humanity’s long-term optimism has a venerable history, based on the enduring affirmation of human life. Our species’ moral compass points us there.

The 960 Jewish warriors and loved ones who stood against the Romans at the fortress on Masada two millennia ago – refusing to surrender, killing themselves rather than giving the attackers the satisfaction of victory – were realistic optimists. Their optimism was not unlike that of the struggling immigrant parents who work themselves into bone deep weariness day and night so their children will have better futures. It is the same as the optimism of the inventor, the creative artist, and all others who understand that in the sacrifices and rewards of their personal creative struggles, it is actually possible for a few to lift up the lives of the many who will come after them.

The reasonable optimism of the entrepreneur with a potentially valuable innovation is grounded in the creative experience, in contrast with the unreasonable optimism of the obsessive gambler. It is the optimism of those who understand that setbacks and failures are built into the processes of creation. It is the essential optimism of all of us who believe in the future.

It seems that, early in the 21st century, the utopian liberal game has run its course. But the power of post-modern liberalism in all its forms, within the academy and the larger intelligentsia, is robust. That power has flowed from the prevalent credibility of the “leveling” ideologies as the primary agent of ameliorative change. This was cemented by the historical association of conservatives with the repressive right wing defenders of kings, tyrants, royalty and other malefactors of unearned privilege.

Short term optimism flows from the reasonable prediction that there will be a conservative surge – “fire truck” conservatives are typically brought to power when the excesses of liberalism become too painful. The pending sovereign debt crisis will inflict pain sufficient to discredit liberalism in all its forms for some years to come.

But midterm optimism is another matter. What happens after the fire is extinguished? What sort of enduring political and intellectual leadership will emerge from the ashes? The answers to these and the related questions critically depend on two things: one, whether the coming crisis will be widely recognized as the result of fundamental contradictions within “liberalism”; and two, whether a new conservatism can address the future with a simple, powerful philosophy that unites its core precepts with a theory of human progress. If the answer to the second question is yes, then so will be the answer to the first.

Conservative intellectuals like John Podhoretz have their work cut out for them, even before the new garments are ordered.”

Jay B Gaskill

Connecting the Dots

It is clear to me that contemporary political liberalism has lost its way, and that conservatism in some form is needed to provide the necessary corrective, hopefully in time to prevent more damage. As I observed several years ago in a popular essay, Liberalism is a secular religion, there is an important sense in which most of us, whether we are classic or modern conservatives, are all liberals. I began that piece with the disclaimer, “All thinking people who respect human life and dignity are liberals in the larger sense. So that makes me and most thinking conservatives liberals, too.” I went on to identify the illiberal elements of the political liberalism of the hard left. My purpose was “not to debate the merits of the public policy issues that make up the catechism of the left, but to explore the notion that, collectively, these views are a catechism. There is no better explanation for the extreme resistance of the ‘political liberal’ group to all rational argument.”

Liberalism’s enduring project – currently overshadowing its historic commitment to liberty – is to mitigate the harshness of Darwinian competition on the people. Conservatism’s enduring project – formerly superseding its waning commitment to inherited privilege – is to protect the legitimate earnings of the people. In former times, neither ideology evidenced a particularly robust focus on the truly greater project: fostering the special conditions of ordered liberty in which creative human enterprises thrive – the very enterprises that constitute the fountainhead of all human progress, whether in the arts, technology or our social arrangements.

This was the core insight led me to connect the major dots. The immediate problem, as I put it in my Commentary letter, is “whether a new conservatism can address the future with a simple, powerful philosophy that unites its core precepts with a theory of human progress.”

I believe that new variety of conservatives (a type that I’ve referenced in an article below as “Renaissance conservatives”) will quickly adapt and connect core conservative values to the project of fostering, protecting and anchoring the human creative enterprise.

This adaptation proves to be a natural fit. As a bonus, it also supports the resumption of a fruitful dialogue with the subset of enlightened, freedom-loving liberals who understand that the creative project, writ large, necessarily requires protected freedoms that have always been closely associated with the conservative project. These are the very freedoms essential to the functioning of creative communities throughout history. They include the right to uncensored, unregulated expression, to the legally protected retention of one’s legitimately acquired property and earnings (particularly intellectual property and the fruits of one’s innovations and inventions) and the protection of voluntary mutual exchange, whether of ideas, art, goods, services or any other value that free men and women, working for themselves, can generate.

These notions are the bedrock of the creative civilization imperative. It is a powerful idea, one that has the potential to transform both liberalism and conservatism. And, not coincidentally, the special conditions for a large scale, ongoing creative efflorescence have strongly rooted themselves in the New World, protected by the American constitutional structure of governance. The American experiment is at its very core the first modern example of a creative society grounded in protected liberties. As the force of this idea spreads and the policy implications sink in, the stage will be set for the Great American Recovery. Once again, our example will lead the world.

These ideas are developed in the following articles, available on The Policy Think Site:

The American Creative Surge (PDF download -75 pages)

Political Liberalism as a Secular Religion

Living in the Ayn Rand Universe

The Dialogic Imperative (PDF download, 41 pages)

Copyright © 2011 and 2012 by First Things and Commentary Magazine, respectively, as to the quoted letters that were edited and published by those two periodicals, and Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law as the author of those letters and of the additional material herein. As always, links and forwards are welcome and encouraged. For other permissions or comments, contact the author via e-mail: .

i First Things is edited by RR Reno. Link:

ii Commentary is edited by John Podhoretz. Link: