A Less Perfect Union: How Will Conservatives Restore States’ Rights?

Note: the following article was originally written in early June for another venue, but I’ve reprinted it here because I think its point is still relevant. It is also cross-posted at RedState.

Thanks largely to the Tea Party movement, the United States is thinking harder about individual liberty and states’ rights than she has in years. But despite identifying the problem, conservatives aren’t any closer to enacting a viable long-term solution for taming our federal leviathan.

Several efforts show promise. Many states have challenged the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance, guaranteeing an eventual ruling from the Supreme Court. Though worth doing, that’s far too risky a basket to put all our eggs in, since it relies on a majority of the justices to rule based on the text of the Constitution rather than their personal ideologies.

In his popular book Men in Black, constitutional scholar and talk radio host Dr. Mark Levin suggests that Congress should restrain such activist judges via its constitutional authority to place limits on the courts’ jurisdiction and to impeach especially odious judges, and advocates constitutional amendments to give judges term limits and give Congress a supermajority veto over Supreme Court decisions. All these proposals are worth exploring in further detail, but even if enacted, there would still be legislative statism to deal with.

In Minnesota’s 2010 gubernatorial race, unsuccessful Republican nominee Tom Emmer backed a state constitutional amendment forbidding federal laws from taking effect without approval by a two-thirds vote in the state legislature. This proposal’s practical failings are obvious—preemptively nullifying all federal laws until the high bar of supermajority support is met would drastically complicate the law’s execution, and there’s no reason to expect state lawmakers’ decisions will be significantly more pro-Constitution that Congress, instead of simply turning on whether a particular majority happens to agree with whoever controls Capitol Hill at any given time.

In his recent book Power Divided is Power Checked, talk radio host Jason Lewis floats a more radical solution—a 28th Amendment, which would expressly affirm each state’s right to secession: “any state whose inhabitants desire through legal means and in accordance with state law to leave this union of the several states shall not be forcibly refrained from doing so.”

Secession is one of the Right’s more heated inter-movement debates, often distinguishing Libertarian from Republican, Northerner from Southerner. This conservative believes secession-at-will is a dangerous doctrine which undermines the rule of law and forgets the nation’s founding principles. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Jay all considered the national Union an indispensible safeguard of liberty, and “Father of the Constitution” James Madison explicitly denied secession’s legitimacy, explaining that, as a mutually-binding legal compact, the Constitution cannot be broken by any single party.

Moreover, conservatives need to be honest about secession’s full implications—by breaking away from the country, a state wouldn’t merely be rejecting an unjust administration, but also rejecting our very Constitution as no longer worth defending within the system of government it establishes.

So what is the answer? Taking unconstitutional laws to court would certainly be worthwhile. So would Levin’s proposed remedies. But these aren’t magic bullets, and conservatives need to recognize that the problem is more complex than “good states versus evil feds.” Indeed, bad national politicians don’t just fall from the sky; they start out as bad state and local politicians.

Why do so many Americans accept statism? Because the rest of us have failed to be vigilant in our own backyards. For decades, we’ve let progressive presuppositions about government and society gradually infect our politics, education, and culture. To really change course, we must retake our institutions at the local level, particularly with renewed scrutiny of what our schools are—and aren’t—teaching. We can’t expect future generations to recognize betrayals of our founding principles if they don’t even recognize names like Locke or Publius.

We didn’t get here overnight, and we shouldn’t expect a constitutional rebirth overnight either. Every level of American government and society needs to be scrubbed clean. Meaningful, lasting reform is the work of generations, which will demand from each of us more patience, tenacity, and fortitude than ever before.

Buckley’s Observations on Libertarianism Sound Awfully Familiar

I recently acquired a copy of The Jeweler’s Eye, an old collection of essays by the late, great William F. Buckley, and found the following passage especially worth sharing, since it describes an unhealthy and counterproductive subset of the Right that is still active today:
In 1957, Whittaker Chambers reviewed Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Miss Ayn Rand, wherein she explicates the philosophy of “Objectivism,” which is what she has chosen to call her creed. Man of the right, or conservative, or whatever you wish to call him, Chambers did in fact read Miss Rand right out of the conservative movement. He did so by pointing out that her philosophy is in fact another kind of materialism – not the dialectical materialism of Marx, but the materialism of technocracy, of the relentless self-server, who lives for himself and for absolutely no one else, whose concern for others is explainable merely as an intellectualized recognition of the relationship between helping others and helping oneself. Religion is the first enemy of the Objectivist, and after religion, the state – respectively, the “mysticism of the mind,” and “the mysticism of the muscle.” “Randian Man,” wrote Chambers, “like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.”

Her exclusion from the conservative community was, I am sure, in part the result of her desiccated philosophy’s conclusive incompatibility with the conservative’s emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral; but also there is the incongruity of tone, that hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is itself intrinsically objectionable, whether it comes from the mouth of Ehrenburg, or Savonarola, or Ayn Rand. Chambers knew that specific ideologies come and go, but that rhetorical totalism is always in the air, searching for the ideologue-on-the-make; and so he said things about Miss Rand’s tone of voice which, I would hazard the guess, if they were true of anyone else’s voice, would tend to make it eo ipso unacceptable for the conservative. “…the book’s [Atlas Shrugged’s] dictatorial tone…,” Chambers wrote, “is its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal…resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber – go!’ The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too, in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture….At first we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.”

As if according to a script, Miss Rand’s followers jumped National Review and Chambers in language that crossed the i‘s and dotted the t‘s of Mr. Chambers’ point. (It is not fair to hold the leader responsible for the excesses of the disciples, but this reaction from Miss Rand’s followers, never repudiated by Miss Rand, suggested that her own intolerance is easily communicable to other Objectivists.) One correspondent, denouncing him, referred to “Mr. Chambers’s ‘break’ with Communism”; a lady confessed that on reading his review she thought she had “mistakenly picked up the Daily Worker“; another accused him of “lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations”; still another saw in him the “mind-blanking, life-hating, unreasoning, less-than-human being which Miss Rand proves undeniably is the cause of the tragic situation the world now faces….”; and summing up, one Objectivist wrote that “Chambers the Christian communist is far more dangerous than Chambers the Russian spy.”

What the experience proved, it seems to me, beyond the unacceptability of Miss Rand’s ideas and rhetoric, is that no conservative cosmology whose every star and planet are given in a master book of coordinates is very likely to sweep American conservatives off their feet. They are enough conservative and anti-ideological to resist totally closed systems, those systems that do not provide for deep and continuing mysteries. They may be pro-ideology and unconservative enough to resist such asseverations as that conservatism is merely “an attitude of mind.” But I predict on the basis of a long association with American conservatives that there isn’t anybody around scribbling into his sacred book a series of all-fulfilling formulas whcih will serve the conservatives as an Apostles’ Creed. Miss Rand tried it, and because she tried it, she compounded the failure of her ideas. She will have to go down as an Objectivist; my guess is she will go down as an entertaining novelist.

The conservative’s distrust of the state, so richly earned by it, raises inevitably the question: How far can one go? This side, the answer is, of anarchism – that should be obvious enough. But one man’s anarchism is another man’s statism. National Review, while fully intending to save the nation, probably will never define to the majority’s satisfaction what are the tolerable limits of the state’s activity; and we never expected to do so. But we got into the problem, as so often is the case, not by going forward to meet it, but by backing up against it.

There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord. I do not feel contempt for the endeavor of either type. It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, as it is to speculate on whether God’s wishes would be best served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast on this particular morning. But conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action. We can read and take pleasure in the recluse’s tortured deliberations on what will benefit his soul. Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest was not only a masterpiece; it was also a best seller. And we can read with more than mere amusement Dr. Murray Rothbard’s suggestion that lighthouses be sold to private tenants who will chase down the beam in speedboats and collect a dollar from the storm-tossed ship whose path it illuminates. Chesterton reminds us that many dogmas are liberating because, however much damage they do when abused, it cannot compare with the damage that might have been done had whole people not felt their inhibiting influence. If our society seriously wondered whether or not to denationalize the lighthouses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationalize the medical profession.

But Dr. Rothbard and his merry anarchists wish to live their fanatical antistatism, and the result is a collision between the basic policies they urge and those urged by conservatives who recognize that the state sometimes is, and is today as never before, the necessary instrument of our proximate deliverance. The defensive war in which we are engaged cannot be prosecuted by voluntary associations of soldiers and scientists and diplomats and strategists, and when this obtrusive fact enters into the reckonings of our state haters, the majority, sighing, yield to reality, whereas the small minority, obsessed by their antagonism to the state, would refuse to give it even the powers necessary to safeguard the community. Dr. Rothbard and a few others have spoken harshly of National Review’s complacency before the twentieth-century state in all matters that have to do with anti-Communism, reading their litanies about the necessity for refusing at any cost to countenance the growth of the state. Thus, for instance, Ronald Hamowy of the University of Chicago complained about National Review in 1961: “…the Conservative movement has been straying far under National Review guidance…leading true believers in freedom and individual liberty down a disastrous path…and that in so doing they are causing the Right increasingly to betray its own traditions and principles.”

And Henry Hazlitt, reviewing Dr. Rothbard’s magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State, enthusiastically for National Review, paused to comment, sadly, on the author’s “extreme apriorism,” citing for instance, Dr. Rothbard’s opinion that libel and slander ought not to be illegalized and that even blackmail, “‘would not be illegal in the free society. For blackmail is the receipt of money in exchangef or the service of not publicizing certain information about the other person. No violence or threat of violence to person or property is involved.’…when Rothbard wanders out of the strictly economic realm, in which his scholarship is so rich and his reasoning so rigorous, he is misled by his epistemological doctrine of ‘extreme apriorism’ into trying to substitute his own instant jurisprudence for the common law principles built up through generations of human experience.”

“Extreme apriorism” – a generic bull’s-eye. If National Review’s experience is central to the growth of contemporary conservatism, extreme apriorists will find it difficult to work with conservatives except as occasional volunteers helping to storm specific objectives. They will not be part of the standing army, rejecting as they do the burden of reality in the name of a virginal antistatism. I repeat I do not deplore their influence intellectually, and tactically, I worry not at all. The succubi of Communism are quite numerous enough and eloquent enough to be counted upon to put their ghastly presences forward in effective protest against the marriage of any but the most incurable solipsist to a set of abstractionist doctrines the acceptance of which would mean the end of any human liberty. The virgins have wriggled themselves outside the mainstream of American conservatism. Mr. Hamowy, offering himself up grandly as a symbol of the undefiled conservative, has joined the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

We ran into the John Birch Society – or more precisely, into Robert Welch. Mr. Welch’s position is very well known, Scrubbed down, it is that one may reliably infer subjective motivation from objective result – e.g., if the West loses as much ground as demonstrably it has lost during the past twenty years to the enemy, it can only be because those who made policy for the West were the enemy’s agents. The ultima ratio of this position was the public disclosure – any 300-page document sent to hundreds of people can only be called an act of public disclosure – that Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist. (To which the most perfect retort – was it Russell Kirk’s? – was not so much analytical as artistic: “Eisenhower isn’t a Communist – he is a golfer.”)
In criticising Mr. Welch, we did not move into a hard philosophical front, as for instance we did in our criticism of Miss Rand or of the neoanarchists. Rather, we moved into an organizational axiom, the conservative equivalent of the leftists’ pas d’ennemi a gauche. The position has not, however, been rigorously explicated or applied. Mr. Welch makes his own exclusions; for instance, Gerald L. K. Smith, who, although it is a fact that he favors a number of reforms in domestic and foreign policy which coincide with those favored by Mr. Welch (and by National Review), is dismissed as a man with an idee fixe, namely, the role of Perfidious Jew in modern society. Many right-wingers (and many liberals, and all Communists) believe in a deus ex machina. Only introduce the single tax, and our problems will wither away, say the followers of Henry George….Only expose the Jew, and the international conspiracy will be broken, say others….Only abolish the income tax, and all will be well….Forget everything else, but restore the gold standard….Abolish compulsory taxation, and we all shall be free….They are called nostrum peddlers by some; certainly they are obsessed. Because whatever virtue there is in what they call for – and some of their proposals strike me as highly desirable, others as mischievous – no one of them can begin to do the whole job, which continues to wait on the successful completion of the objectives of the Committee to Abolish Original Sin. Many such persons, because inadequate emphasis is give to their pandemic insight, the linchpin of social reconstruction, are dissatisfied with National Review. Others react more vehemently; our failure to highlight their solution has the effect of distracting from its unique relevance and so works positively against the day when the great illumination will show us the only road forward. Accordingly, National Review is, in their eyes, worse than merely useless.
The defenders of Mr. Welch who are also severe critics of National Review are not by any means all of them addicts of the conspiracy school. They do belong, however inconsistently, to the school that says that we all must work together – as a general proposition, sound advice. Lenin distinguished between the sin of sectarianism, from which suffer all those who refuse to cooperate with anyone who does not share their entire position, right down to the dependent clauses, and the sin of opportunism, the weakness of those who are completely indiscriminate about their political associates.

The Booze Parallel to Big Government

From Patrick McIlheran:

You want the booze parallel? It’s that conservatives grasp the difference between having a beer in the backyard and getting face-in-the-toilet drunk. The left’s attitude toward government, by contrast, is that if one vodka-and-tonic is good … hey, can we get this stuff in two-liter bottles? And get that guy in a suit to pay for it?

Gurda does not grasp that conservatives have been saying for years — really loudly these past two — that there is a logical stopping point when shrinking government, and that is the outline put forth in the constitution. This is perhaps because liberals, and Gurda I gather is one, do not admit to any logical stopping point in the other direction. If some government is good, more is better — always. They think the constitution allows so little government, it amounts to “civic suicide,” as Gurda puts it. But what, then, is the upper limit?

Not that we’d reach it. Recall what started all this: Unions weren’t demanding that the governor offer more schooling or parks. To the contrary, Walker said, repeatedly, that he wants to preserve schools, parks, aid for the poor and so on even as the state copes with a $3.5 billion deficit, and the only way to do that in a state that’s already the fourth-hardest taxed in the country is to get the same amount of labor at a more reasonable cost. Walker suggested unions’ absurd benefits take a haircut and the mechanism that permitted the absurdity to begin with, collective bargaining, be reined in.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about nicer education or better services but about unions holding on to their power. Education and services will be much costlier to provide, if they have their way. Which, if you think about it, is the modern approach to prohibition: add taxes to jack up the cost to the point no one can afford much — what? tobacco? gas? booze? You name it, but it’s a lot more subtle than axing rum barrels.

New on NewsReal – Top 10 Parts of the Constitution Twisted or Ignored by the Left

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

The United States Constitution is one of the most well thought-out works ever created by mere mortals. As the Federalist Papers make clear, America’s Founding Fathers carefully considered nearly every aspect of human nature, the demands of freedom, and the nature of government when drafting it, and created a system of government designed to effectively carry out its duties without imperiling liberty, and calibrated to properly balance society’s competing commitments to self-rule and objective morality, to liberty and security, and more. Under the Constitution, the United States became the freest, most prosperous, and most consequential nation in history.

But to the Left, this magnificent document is at best a relic of a bygone era which has outlived its usefulness; at worst the product of long-dead, bigoted elites. Philosophically, they have inherited President Woodrow Wilson’s view that the Constitution was based on a theory of government mankind has since evolved past:

The makers of our federal Constitution followed the scheme as they found it expounded in Montesquieu, followed it with genuine scientific enthusiasm. The admirable expositions of the Federalist read like thoughtful applications of Montesquieu to the political needs and circumstances of America. They are full of the theory of checks and balances. The President is balanced off against Congress, Congress against the President, and each against the courts. Our statesmen of the earlier generations quoted in no one so often as Montesquieu, and they quoted him always as a scientific standard in the field of politics. Politics is turned into mechanics under his touch. The theory of gravitation is supreme.

The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day of specialization, but with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without leadership or without the intimate, almost instinctive, coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.

Fortunately, the definitions and prescriptions of our constitutional law, though conceived in the Newtonian spirit and upon the Newtonian principle, are sufficiently broad and elastic to allow for the play of life and circumstance.

Accordingly, the needs of their agenda dictate a variety of approaches to the Constitution, depending on the issue. When America needs to be reminded of its irredeemably-evil history, the Constitution is an abomination. When a certain passage seems useful out of context, it becomes an example of the Founders’ wisdom (and pay no attention to that history book behind the curtain). And when a passage seems to get in the way, it’s time to break out the historical relativism.

No more. This weekend, we’re highlighting ten of the most distorted or ignored passages in the Constitution, listed in the order in which they appear in the text. Let’s get started.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

New on NewsReal – Reagan vs. Palin? Patti Davis Says the Sarahcuda Would Make Her Dad Spin in His Grave

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Leftists are generally happy to get a hold of so-called conservatives who are willing to bash the Right, but their favorite mouthpieces are the relatives of high-profile Republicans who are willing to go against the grain. A couple weeks ago, they paraded Ron Reagan Jr. around to suggest his father’s Alzheimer’s began in the Oval Office, and one of the Gipper’s other left-wing kids, Patti Davis, recently sat down for an interview with The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove, in which she tried to argue that Reagan wouldn’t be much of a Sarah Palin fan if he were alive today:

When I tell her that Sarah Palin will be headlining one of the Reagan birthday celebrations, as keynote speaker of a lavish dinner at the former family ranch, Davis exclaims. “Are you kidding me?” She adds, “As far as Sarah Palin is concerned, I think he would be completely baffled at her fondness for shooting animals.”

Wait a minute—Reagan was against hunting? If that sounds surprising, that’s because Davis simply made it up. In a May 1983 speech before the National Rifle Association, the president called “America’s sportsmen, hunters, and fishermen” the nation’s “foremost conservationists of our national resources,” and said he “deeply appreciate[d]” the NRA’s efforts to teach children “marksmanship, firearms safety, and some of the values and ethics of hunting and the outdoors.” In the same speech, Reagan also laments “a kind of elitist attitude in Washington that vast natural resources must be locked up to save the planet from mankind.” Reagan would most likely say that, by hunting, Palin was participating in a proud, valuable American tradition; if he would find anything “baffling,” it would more likely be how little his own daughter understands his views.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

Today’s Snapshot of Conservatism in Crisis

Steven Ertelt at LifeNews reports that GOP presidential wannabe Mitch Daniels still hasn’t gotten the message on the “truce” crap:

“I guess two things,” Daniels added. “One is that, first, those remarks were directed as much to the aggressors on the other side of these questions — for instance, the proponents of gay marriage — as much directed to them as anybody with whom I’m in agreement.”

Asked if liberals have called a truce on social issues, Daniels responded, “No, obviously not. I said I was thinking of them as much as my own allies when I said it,” he said about the truce.

Wait – so you think a.) that liberals would be willing to accept a truce on social issues, and b.) that they’d be willing to do so for the purpose of enacting conservative fiscal reforms? Does anyone else see how mind-blowingly stupid this is? Mitch Daniels is unfit to be president simply for being so clueless.

“The major point, though, was something different, and it was just this: I believe…. that the arithmetic of our times says we are headed for Niagara Falls, fiscally. You cannot run any kind of enterprise — private or public — on a self-governing basis as deeply in hawk as we now are and are going to be,” Daniels added. “…. to change the whole size and scope of the federal government in a radical way, then we are going to need a very broad constituency in this country to do that…. so that’s all I meant, kind of a priority matter, first things first. Maybe we could just concentrate on that for a little while, because I think that’s the most immediate threat to the republic we’ve known.”

The fiscal crisis is already at the forefront of the conservative conversation. There are no social conservatives calling on economic conservatives to put spending, ObamaCare, or any other issues on the back burner for the sake of fighting abortion or preserving marriage. Congressional Republicans are letting us down on the fiscal front, but it’s not because they’re distracted by social issues; it’s because they’re inept and spineless across the board.

Later in the interview, The Hill transcript indicates, Daniels returned to the truce issue, saying fiscal issues should take precedence and social issues like abortion should be “muted” for awhile.

“I would like to think that fixing it and saving our kids future could be a unifying moment for our country and we wouldn’t stop our disagreements or our passionate belief in these other questions, we just sort of mute them for a little while, while we try to come together on the thing that menaces us all,” he concluded.

Let me try to explain something to you, Mitch: abortion isn’t controversial because it’s “sinful” or “distasteful.” It’s controversial because IT KILLS PEOPLE. 1.2 MILLION DEAD BABIES EVERY YEAR. It’s not just another political issue; it’s a human rights crisis. (You claim to be pro-life. There’s no excuse for you to not already get this.) And if you really understood what our Founders thought about the conditions necessary to maintain a free society, you’d see that the fate of marriage has profound implications for America’s fiscal state.

This response is dead on:

“We cannot repair the economy without addressing the deep cultural issues that are tearing apart the family and society,” said Andy Blom, executive director of the American Principles Project.  “The conservative movement has always been about addressing ALL issues—economic, social and national security—that are in need of repair.”

“It’s unfortunate Gov. Daniels doesn’t seem to understand the winning philosophy of Ronald Reagan that brought conservatism to victory by addressing all three issues,” said Frank Cannon, President of American Principles Project.  “If Mitch Daniels is planning to run for president by running away from social issues, he will face a grassroots revolt.”

“The national furor over the expansion of abortion coverage and efforts to re-define marriage demonstrates the resistance he will face.  There is no appetite among grassroots conservatives to run away from these critical issues,” said Mr. Blom.  “Mr. Daniels is only causing divisions in the movement by this talk of a ‘truce.’”

I often wonder how many people realize the full extent of just how screwed up the Right is these days. I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words in Peoria, Illinois. Speaking of a similar cancerous confusion over first principles, he lamented that our “republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust.” He said we needed to “repurify it,” to “wash it in white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution”:

Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south—let all Americans—let all lovers of liberty everywhere—join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.

New on NewsReal – She Who Governs Best Governs Most?

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Feminist identity-politics arguments for increasing the number of women in public office usually rest on the premise that females have unique insight or sensitivity regarding issues like abortion, pay inequality, and education, without which disproportionately-male government cannot be trusted make sound, tolerant policy. But at the Daily Beast, Tony Dokoupil floats a new, more pragmatic argument, that according to a new American Journal of Political Science study, women simply get more stuff done:

The research is the first to compare the performance of male and female politicians nationally, and it finds that female members of the House rout their male counterparts in both pulling pork and shaping policy. Between 1984 and 2004, women won their home districts an average of $49 million more per year than their male counterparts (a finding that held regardless of party, geography, committee position, tenure in office, or margin of victory). The spending jump was found within districts, too, when women moved into seats previously occupied by men, and the cash was for projects across the spectrum, not just “women’s issues.”

A similar performance gap showed up in policy: Women sponsored more bills (an average of three more per Congress), co-sponsored more bills (an average of 26 more per Congress), and attracted a greater number of co-sponsors than their colleagues who use the other restroom. These new laws driven by women were not only enacted—they were popular. In a pair of additional working papers, led by Ohio State political scientists Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman, researchers tracked every bill introduced between 1981 and 2009, and found that those sponsored by women survived deeper into the legislative process, garnered more press attention, and were more likely to be deemed “important” overall. All of which leads the authors of the AJPS paper, University of Chicago Public Policy Professor Christopher Berry and his student and Stanford doctoral candidate Sarah Anzia, to conclude that it’s the women themselves—specifically, their skills at “logrolling, agenda-setting, coalition building, and other deal-making activities”— that are responsible for the gender-performance divide.

After a century of American political thought all-but dominated by progressive assumptions about the nature and role of government, this is likely to strike many Americans as intuitively compelling. But conservatives should instantly recognize the problem here: success and effectiveness are measured by sheer number of new laws made and amount of money funneled back home, without regard for the merit or constitutionality of any of it. Dokoupil simply assumes as a given that “more” equals “better.”

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.