Category Archives: Domestic Policy

History is not a cartoon

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Confederate statues are under fire.  Cultural warriors are demanding their removal.  The more aggressive activists are taking matters into their own hands.  What’s feeding this frenzy?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for putting a leash on radical protesters vandalizing public property.  But if statues in the public square send the wrong message, haven’t these modern-day de-Stalinists got a point?

Bad Southern generals fought for slavery.  Noble Northern generals fought for freedom.  What could be more straightforward?   The right thing to do is honor the Union fighters and cast aside Confederate tributes – right?

Not so fast.  History is a bit more complicated than an episode of The Lone Ranger.  The guys in blue were no saints.  And the guys in gray weren’t so clearly the villains they’ve been made out to be.

Let’s start with General Ulysses S. Grant.  The leader of the Union forces is credited with saving our great nation.  Okay, but he also ordered the expulsion of Jews from territory conquered by the Union Army.  Grant’s “General Order #11” was a vile racist edict that could have served as a template for Nazi policy in Europe a century later.

Grant later became our 18th President.  His White House tenure is considered one of the most corrupt and ineffective in history.

Other Union leaders offered no greater portraits of public rectitude. In their literally scorched earth march through the South, General Sherman and his men intentionally terrorized civilians with actions clearly violating rules of war prevailing at the time.  These same military leaders then carried out brutal campaigns against Native American populations.

In contrast, the Confederate army was more constrained.  General Lee was a principled man, who insisted that civilian populations and property be spared wherever possible.  As evidenced by his writings, he also gave no quarter to Grant’s anti-Semitic sensibilities.

But Lee chose the wrong, losing side of the war.  For what was from his perspective an honorable decision, he is vilified.  Having graduated near the top of his class at West Point, he resigned his U.S. Army commission to stand with his native State of Virginia when it seceded from the Union.

Under today’s litmus test of identity politics, this transgression is irredeemable.  So Lee’s statues are coming down while Grant’s image still adorns our $50 bill.

When complicated men are reduced to caricatures, the debate is no longer about history.  Or even values.  Commemorations become a flag to be captured.  Politics decides what gets a place on the mantle.

Popular this year?  Get a statue.  Next year?  Only time will tell.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Identity Politics, Race Relations

Common sense defense

Carson Black conservatives get under the skin of most liberal commentators, and Ben Carson’s steady rise in the presidential polls have been driving the pundits outright batty.  Detractors have seized upon Carson’s comments relating to Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and most recently about guns and self-defense.

In the latest provocation, Carson told CNN he thinks “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed… there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.”

Put aside that a certain class of opinion makers thinks it offensive and indefensibly hyperbolic to make references to Naziism in the context of any contemporary policy debate.  On the face of the issue, critics seem to reject a self-evident observation.  As Dennis Prager offers on TownHall: “No normal person thinks that armed Jews would have prevented the Holocaust (nor did Carson make such a claim). But no normal person should think that it would have not have been a good thing if many European Jews had weapons. The hallowed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began with the Jews in the Ghetto possessing a total of 10 handguns. Imagine if they had a thousand.”  The Federalist’s Daniel Payne adds detail how the Nazi regime engaged in systematic confiscation of weapons from political opponents, including Jews in particular, and maintained strict gun control as a means to dominate civil society.

Opponents of gun rights are not interested in delving into these historical realities because they want to deny the nexus between gun ownership and self-defense.  In their view, the availability of guns leads to more, not less, criminal violence, not to mention accidental injuries and death.  If only we had more “common sense” gun control, they assure us, the body count of innocents would plummet.

But what is common sense, anyway?  A feel-good compulsion to “do something” when tragedy strikes?  Or is it more sensible to check emotions at the door and look at the empirical evidence about gun violence?

There is a lot of data bandied about by both sides of the issue, and it is hard for any fair-minded person to say the data is conclusive.  What is indisputable is that violent crime has been nosediving for years, even as Americans have more guns than ever before.  Proponents of “concealed-carry” laws think this fact tells the whole story, but it is impossible to prove causation.  In other words, you just cannot prove that more generous gun rights will further reduce crime.

Of course, by that count, it is even more difficult to defend the merits of gun control.  Here is where the policy “laboratory” of our federal system offers insights to anyone who cares to look.  Cities like Chicago, with some of the most stringent restrictions, have some of the worse records on gun violence.  Even Harvard scholars cannot seem to agree whether gun control reduces gun violence or not.

Our nation is based on individual liberty.  Like a doctor whose first duty is to do no harm, our government must not take freedom from the people without just cause.  The burden of proof is on the state, not the citizen.

Mass shootings have grabbed the headlines and prompted President Obama and his fellow Democrats to demand new laws to tighten allegedly insufficient controls on access to guns.  Nowhere has anyone demonstrated that new background checks, assault rifle bans, or magazine restrictions — let alone manufacturer liability — would have prevented the massacres at Roseburg, Aurora, or Newtown.  So why create laws that at best do nothing and at worst reduce the capacity of good guys with guns?  Just to “do something” while enriching the trial attorney lobby?

Jewish critics of Ben Carson, self-declared defenders of sacred Holocaust cows, might want to ask themselves why Israel, which is facing the most acute urban violence in years, has just loosened its civilian permit laws to allow more people to carry concealed firearms.  Time and again over past several weeks, Israelis have taken down terrorist attackers using weapons carried by bystanders or by the victims themselves.  In this case the argument is not academic.  It truly is a matter of life and death.

The liberal political elite will not admit it, but their actions speak louder than words.  They walk among armed security guards while disparaging the rights of common citizens to arm themselves.  Just like they send their kids to private schools while battling school choice for the urban poor.  Just like they fly on private jets while denigrating the fossil fuels that power the working man’s pickup.

Supporters of Ben Carson have had their fill of such hypocrisy.  They are placing their trust in common sense.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Electoral Politics, Gun Control

A sudden case of rule of law

dt_131216_cherry_picking_fruit_250x188 The executive branch of the U.S. Government — yes, the same one administered by President Obama — appears to be looking closely into the conduct of Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.

Following a request in late July by inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies, the FBI has begun investigating the potential mishandling of classified information by Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Despite her best efforts to ignore, deny, deflect, misdirect, and redirect criticism over her decision to conduct official business through a private email server, and then to scrub the server clean, the wheels of justice have started to turn on Clinton.

Perhaps this development seems reasonable.  After all, if an official who is charged with safeguarding our nation’s most sensitive communications circumvents policies and procedures designed to protect them, then something should be done about it.

Then again, the agency that can do something is the Department of Justice.  Under President Obama, this agency does not have a track record of objectivity.  Consider the lack of accountability for the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running debacle, the IRS targeting of conservative advocacy groups, the self-dealing and gross malfeasance by VA bureaucrats, and the strong-arming of investigative journalists.  While a few political appointees have been eased out of their jobs under pressure from lawmakers, DOJ has not pursued charges against any ringleaders of the scandals.  If there still are investigations underway, DOJ is setting new standards for foot-dragging.  When is the last time we heard from the White House about any of these shameful episodes?

It’s not as if DOJ couldn’t move quickly if it wanted to.  Take the events in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore over the past year.  When white police officers harmed unarmed blacks, the government found a way to move federal investigations — and their resolutions — to the front of the queue.

When it suits a political agenda, the White House is all in.  In 2009, President Obama appointed a special prosecutor to investigate possible abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of 9/11.  None of the alleged abuses occurred on his watch, so there was little political risk to the move (even if he later elected to quash any charges to avoid friction with the intelligence apparatus).

But when it comes to wrongdoing within his own administration, the president demurs.  In the case of IRS misconduct, he flatly dismissed the idea of a special prosecutor. “I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong,” he told the press, “and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it.”  More than two years later, we are no closer to resolving the issue or restoring confidence in IRS impartiality.

From the very start, this administration has used a cherry-picker approach to law enforcement.  The letter of the law matters little when it comes to our immigration or drug statutes.  States are free to legislate in direct opposition to federal prohibitions against the sale of marijuana and cities are free to shield illegal aliens from ICE detention, all without fear of reprisal from the feds.  Despite laws on the books he once claimed tied his hands, President Obama issued executive orders blocking authorities from deporting whole classes of undocumented immigrants.   Defenders called it “prosecutorial discretion.”   Of course, when Arizona or Texas employed measures to beef up inadequate border security, no such discretion could be found.  The Obama administration came down hard.

All of which makes the probe into Clinton’s email practices curious.  Why would the president green-light an investigation of his would-be successor if he has the power to quash, or at least to slow-walk it?  Some attribute the decision to the independence and integrity of his new attorney general.  Others see Frank Underwood-style maneuvers behind-the-scenes to engineer a Joe Biden candidacy.  There may be a bit of truth in both explanations, but my bet is simply that there is fire behind the smoke.  Hillary has tested the limits of our collective tolerance for the Clinton way of doing business.  Even President Obama lacks the stomach to run interference on this one.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Electoral Politics, Justice

A heart is more than tissue

80617969-640x525 When I was a twenty-something student, a friend of mine confided how he had got his girlfriend pregnant, and how he had quickly resolved the problem by getting her an abortion.  The aborted fetus was just a little piece of tissue, he explained.  Hardly anything that looked like a human life.

With zero personal knowledge at the time to suggest otherwise, I took comfort in this straight-forward explanation.  And for many years since I have resisted wading too far into the emotionally charged abortion debate.  The moral ambiguities just did not seem acute enough to take a position against unfettered abortion rights.  After all, a policy that would force a woman to see her unwanted pregnancy to term is also not morally unambiguous.

Fast-forward a couple decades, and we see a brighter light shining on the less than comfortable realities of abortion on demand.  In a secretly recorded video published this week by the pro-life group Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood executive Deborah Nucatola casually discusses methods for harvesting fetal organs during an abortion procedure.

Instantly battle lines were drawn.  Conservative pundits and politicians raced to denounce Planned Parenthood for grisly, potentially illegal practices.  Liberals quickly counterattacked, defending the organization and disparaging the “anti-choice” motives of critics.

Both sides are being disingenuous when they focus on the legality of the practice.  Whether abortion providers are “selling” organs for profit or “donating” them for vital medical research, partisans seem to be fighting a proxy battle in the bigger war over abortion rights.

A more fair-minded debate would explore the ethical quandary of harvesting fetal organs in the first place.  That harvested organs might be used for life-saving medical research in no way cleanses them of immoral provenance.  We do not condone the horrific medical research conducted by Nazi physicians during the Holocaust — of for that matter, the modern day extraction of organs from executed Chinese inmates — because the victims did not freely consent to bodily assault.

Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tries to blur the issue.  “We help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research,” Ferrero insists, “and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.”

One would think he is talking about a pint of blood at the local blood bank.  Organs are more than tissue, and the patient who is granting consent is not the one whose organs are being harvested during an abortion.

On the video Nucatola explains how to “crush” the fetus in the just the right place — not to extract assorted nondescript tissue, but so as to preserve the vital organs, “getting heart, lung, liver… all intact.”

As a father I now do have personal knowledge about fetal development.  A baby’s heart starts to beat by about the fifth week of gestation.  By six weeks it is pumping blood, so that you can hear it on an ultrasound machine.  When you terminate a pregnancy at this stage, the fetus may not be viable outside the womb, but it is pretty hard to say it is just a piece of tissue.

The pro-choice industrial complex is so fearful of weakening abortion rights that it refuses to engage honestly on such legitimately problematic concerns.  The mainstream media is equal to the task, shaping the narrative about the video as a legal or political debate, obscuring the thorny ethical issues raised by pro-life activists.

The arc of history so often regaled by President Obama may be trending leftward on gay marriage and drug policy, but the jury is still out on abortion restrictions.  While most Americans are not keen to outlaw abortion, a significant percentage sees virtue in erecting a speed bump or two.

Why shouldn’t a fetal ultrasound be required before a woman consents to aborting her fetus?  Some percentage of women might reconsider their decision when they hear their little piece of tissue beating a hundred times per minute.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Healthcare

Liberty and justice for all who fall in line

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The media lit up after last week’s momentous news of the Supreme Court narrowly preserving Obamacare and establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Less noticed was a potentially more significant ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project.  This decision, which affirmed the right to claim housing discrimination based on “disparate impact,” left the door open for equal housing advocates to litigate over statistics rather than discriminatory intent.  The ripple effect of this decision will surely be felt more broadly than that of the others.

Although the Court went great lengths to define limits, it refused to undo what the White House considers an essential tool to ferret out more subtle, equally pernicious forms of discrimination.

So fearful had the Obama administration been of an adverse decision that it had cut deals to keep the question of disparate impact out of the nation’s highest court.  With a ruling in his favor, the president can now move forward with his agenda to re-engineer the composition of our neighborhoods.  The federal government will begin to take “affirmative” steps to coerce demographic change.

For the progressive movement, it is not enough that American society forsake discrimination.  To cleanse the sins of our racist past, our zip codes must comply with preordained metrics of diversity.  Developers, financiers, and even public housing agencies are racist if their activity results in statistics which do not live up to the multicultural ideal.  Never mind that the rational choices of free citizens may lead them to cluster with people who look and live as they do.

Sadly, disparate impact is just another example of progressive disrespect for the individual.

Consider President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act.  Individuals are not permitted to purchase health insurance that meets their needs if the policies do not meet the government’s mandated standards.  Apparently, people simply do not understand what the government knows is good for them, including the absurdity of maternity coverage for men and for women who cannot get pregnant.

Generations of children are trapped in public schools that do more to protect the livelihood of staff than the education of students.  Should parents be allowed to choose another school that works better for them?  Not according to the teachers unions and their guardians in the Democratic party establishment, who claim school choice undermines public education.  Their solution is to throw more of your money at failing schools.

But at least the teachers unions speak for their members, right?  Some workers think it makes sense to join a union, while others do not.  So we can let them vote with a secret ballot, where they decide for themselves which way to go, right?  Think again.  President Obama, an original co-sponsor of the dubiously named Employee Free Choice Act, would rather unionization decisions be made in public.  Under this legislation, employees would only sign a card to authorize the union — and have no free choice to decide privately in accordance with their conscience.

Who is really threatening the American worker: an employer, who has no access to authorization cards or ballots, or union bosses, who know exactly which employees have refused to sign a card?

If you think the liberal elite strong-arm the population merely to help ill-informed poor and working classes, you should take a look at our prestigious universities, training grounds for our best and brightest.  In the academy the left’s authoritarian tendencies have soared to unparalleled heights.  Students are deemed too helpless and fragile to hear ideas that diverge from politically correct orthodoxy.  Nonconforming speakers must be harrassed or “disinvited,” and students must be afforded “safe rooms” to shield their tender ears from classroom lectures that challenge their beliefs.

Yesterday Facebook was awash in celebratory posts about the monumental leap forward for American society.  Like it or not, the Court enshrined a constitutional “freedom to marry” by judicial fiat, short-circuiting the democratic process that was trending toward marriage equality on its own.  It remains to be seen whether the imposition of a mandate by unelected jurists ushers in challenges to religious freedom and other liberties we hold dear.

The left claims to honor human freedom and dignity but its methods disparage individual liberty at every turn.  When we put more faith in government than ourselves, we invite tyranny.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Education, Supreme Court

Who are you fighting for?

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Hillary Clinton officially officially launched her presidential campaign last weekend.

After plenty of analysis and calibration since her unofficial official launch via video recording in April, the Democratic frontrunner delivered an address on New York’s Roosevelt Island setting forth the theme of her campaign.  “I’m not running for some Americans, but for all Americans,” she assured the crowd. “I’ll wage and win four fights for you” — most of all a populist economic program to uplift struggling poor and middle class Americans.

The speech went on to recite a litany of liberal policy prescriptions, what commentators have interpreted as a nod to the Democratic Party’s increasingly vocal progressive wing.

If the fighter proposition represents Hillary’s long-awaited “reason to run,” then it’s worth asking how well the progressive agenda has delivered for its purported beneficiaries.

In recent months, progressives have gone to bat for raising the minimum wage, denounced proactive policing methods, and blocked the president’s bid for Trade Promotion Authority.  For his part, President Obama has taken the Supreme Court to task for threatening the viability of Obamacare.

All these positions the left portrays as salves for the downtrodden.  But who pays the bill for all this medicine?

Let’s start with the minimum wage.  It sounds good that workers should receive more pay for their labors.  Economists debate the macroeconomic impact, but one thing is for sure:  raising the wage destroys jobs at the lowest end of the wage scale.  Employers of hourly wage earners make do with fewer workers, reduce plans to expand headcount, or go out of business altogether.  Those workers remaining on the payroll get a boost, but those shut out of the workforce do worse.  What’s better for workers — low wages or no wages?

Liberal advocates (who seemingly have never had to make a payroll) like to imagine that mandated wage increases make for better, more productive employees, which compensates for the increased costs.  But if the benefits were so self-evidently compelling, it would not take the force of law to generate an increase.  Costco and other large corporations can absorb the impact, so they are happy to gain a competitive advantage while they play the role of good corporate citizens.  In contrast, small businesses, the true engines of job growth, have tighter margins and less room to give.

How about proactive policing, such as New York’s supposedly oppressive “stop-and-frisk” policies?  Under Mayor de Blasio, who pulled the plug on these measures, criminal shootings and homicides are on the rise.  The so-called “Ferguson Effect” seems to be causing police to shy away from aggressive tactics as they fear mistakes that could jeopardize their freedom, let alone their careers.  The changes are emboldening criminal elements throughout our nation’s biggest cities, destroying any hope of economic development and revival.  It’s not affecting affluent white suburbs.  Poor, minority communities of the inner city are paying the price.

Free trade?  Progressives lambast the supposed horrors trade inflicts on working men and women.  But nothing has lifted more people out of poverty than the economic growth driven by the free exchange of goods and services across borders.  Would the left be so parochial as to say job security measures stop at the water’s edge?  Putting aside the universal benefits of economic growth, free trade has a direct impact on the cost of consumer goods.  Who is most sensitive to fluctuations in the price of food, clothing, and other staples?  The people who shop at Whole Foods?  More like those roaming the aisles at Wal-Mart.

And then there’s the showpiece of the Obama presidency, the Affordable Care Act.  Far from bending the cost curve down, the ACA, with its assortment of taxes, regulations, and mandates, has made health care less affordable not more.  Yes, the most impoverished uninsured have gained premium support or access to Medicaid, but at a cost of diminished benefits and increased out-of-pocket costs for the vast majority of the population.  The result hardly comports with a commitment to fight “for all Americans.”

The list goes on and on.  Liberal environmental decrees, labor regulations, and energy policies all sound good from the ivory tower, but cut deep in the real world where people struggle to pay the bills.  In their fervor to coerce societal change, the left rarely takes account of the damage left behind.  Nothing does more good for more Americans than economic growth, and the surest way to help the most vulnerable in our society is to unshackle the economy.

Now that’s something worth fighting for.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Economic Policy, Electoral Politics

Let the money flow

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For as long as people have been running for office, critics have bemoaned the corrosive influence of money in politics. For years these self-appointed reformers have pressed the strong arm of government to limit who can spend what to advance a political objective.

One of the bigger reform movements of the past generation culminated in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or “BCRA.” Spearheaded by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), BCRA (also known as “McCain-Feingold”) tightened constraints on spending, especially outside of formal campaign infrastructure. McCain made the reform effort a signature issue and has worn it as a badge of honor ever since.

A number of legal challenges have since chipped away at the restrictions of BCRA, leaving McCain and other advocates increasingly demoralized. In particular, ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down certain limits on spending by corporations and unions. The 2010 decision helped spawn the proliferation of so-called “SuperPAC” organizations, which can raise unlimited funds for the purposes of making independent political expenditures.

McCain was dumbfounded. “[T]he system is broken,” he griped to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I predict to you there will be scandals.”

And scandals there will surely be, as there have been in nearly in every political administration.

But is the free flow of money really to blame? How did it become an article of faith that more spending makes our political culture dirtier than before?

Put aside that every attempt to regulate political spending turns into a game of “whack-a-mole.” Campaign professionals always find a way to skirt the rules and satisfy the demand to spend money.

Perhaps it’s worth considering instead whether our founders had a good idea when they enshrined the right of free expression in the Constitution. What is a greater menace to our democratic culture: individuals and organizations competing freely with resources of their own choosing, or a bureaucracy enforcing arbitrary boundaries with criminal penalties?

Would-be protectors of our society fret that President Obama raised $1.1 billion to get reelected in 2012, and that leading candidates for 2016 will go even higher. Total political spending in 2012 probably topped $5.8 billion. This may seem like a lot until you realize that the automotive industry spent over $14 billion advertising in the U.S. last year alone. Shouldn’t the selection of our political leaders and public policy warrant marketing dollars at least as sizeable as those for the newest Toyota Tundra?

What campaign finance warriors really object to is not the volume of money in politics. What really grates at them is the ability of wealthy donors to spend their own money as they see fit.

Launching his campaign for president late last month, the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders summed it up well. “The country belongs to all of us and not just the billionaire class,” he told a meeting of reporters and editors at Bloomberg. It doesn’t seem to matter that politically active billionaires span the political spectrum, including Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers on the right, and Tom Steyer and George Soros on the left.

When you pick apart the money in politics critique, it sounds a lot like the misguided FCC policy calling for “Equal Time” in broadcasting. In today’s multifaceted, highly competitive and fragmented news content marketplace, it doesn’t really matter if a broadcaster favors a political faction. Disaffected citizens can turn to alternative networks, talk radio, online publishers, social media, and more.

Likewise, it doesn’t silence debate when a billionaire backs a pet cause or candidate. How many millions did Michael Bloomberg spend fruitlessly to back gun control candidates in Colorado? How much did Sheldon Adelson’s multimillion dollar support for Newt Gingrich derail Mitt Romney’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination? What about Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate efforts in the 2014 mid-term election campaign?

The simple truth is that big spending adds color, content, and energy to our political culture. It opens doors to political messages and candidates that might otherwise go unnoticed. When 20 or more candidates are legitimately competing for the GOP nomination in 2016, we can thank generous wealthy donors and their SuperPACs for our wide array of choices. If there is any hope of a candidate rising to challenge Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, it will also depend on a few big-spending sponsors.

A free society depends on more liberty not less. Those who would handcuff political speech in the name of a level playing field are no different than those who push for taxes and subsidies to advance a favored industry. The only ones who benefit from government limits on campaign spending are incumbents and entrenched special interests. As long as funding is transparent, we should let it flow.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Electoral Politics