Archives: 01/2010

Cato Experts Live-Blog Obama’s State of the Union Address

President Obama delivered his first official State of the Union Address on Wednesday. Cato experts offered live commentary on the address. You can read their comments below.

New Ideas for Stumbling Democrats

Terry Michael, former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, has some advice for Democrats wondering what to do with a Democratic party that can’t win Massachusetts – Jeffersonian liberalism:

We have met the new center, and it is us, the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll baby boomers and our younger Gen X siblings and children. Because of our advanced age, we are the “most likely voters” that pollsters and their political clients focus on.

That is precisely the opposite of what happened in the first year of the Obama administration.

The new center tilts liberal on social issues, like gay rights and abortion. It zigs left on national security, having seen two really bad elective wars in our lifetimes: Vietnam and Iraq. But it zags right on economic questions, empowered with the democratization of information, technology, and finance, eschewing one-size-fits-all fixes from Washington. The new center embraces individual choice in the marketplace….

Democrats need to free themselves from the AFL-CIO, K Street, DuPont Circle, share-the-wealth wing of the party and run to the center on money matters, while passionately playing to their base on social issues and vigorously pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.

There’s an interesting echo there of something Michael Barone wrote today:

What Brooks has described as “the educated class” – shorthand for the elite, university-educated, often secular professionals who probably make up a larger share of the electorate in Massachusetts than in any other state – turned out in standard numbers and cast unenthusiastic votes for the Democrat….

Members of “the educated class” are pleased by Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and congressional Democrats’ bills addressing supposed global warming. They are puzzled by his reticence to advance gay rights but assume that in his heart he is on their side.

They support more tepidly the Democrats’ big government spending, higher taxes and health care bills as necessary to attract the votes of the less enlightened and well-off. For “the educated class,” such programs are, in the words of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, “boob bait for the bubbas.”

Could it really be that a lot of Democratic voters don’t really like higher taxes and government-run health care, that they would respond favorably to a socially liberal, economically sensible program? We could only hope.

Unions Fading in Private Sector But Not in Government

At the end of last week, the Labor Department reported that the share of private-sector workers who belong to labor unions fell to its lowest level in more than a century.

In 2009, the “union density” in the private sector fell to 7.2 percent, the lowest it has been since 1900. The recession caused the number of private-sector union members to fall by 10 percent last year, with the heaviest losses in manufacturing and construction.

Not surprisingly, union membership held steady in the public sector, with the share of government workers belonging to unions actually inching up to 37.4 percent. Unionization is more viable in the public sector because the additional costs imposed by unions can be passed along to captive taxpayers.

The economics of unionization are much different in the private sector, as I argue in an article in the latest issue of the Cato Journal now available online. In a competitive market, producers cannot pass the costs of unionization on to consumers without the real risk of losing market share to non-unionized rivals. This is a major, self-serving reason why organized labor typically opposes competition-enhancing trade agreements with other countries. (See the chart below from my Cato Journal article.)

The drop in union members was also another piece of bad news for the Democratic Party last week. As labor unions have become relatively more important as a constituency within the Democratic Party, they have become increasingly irrelevant in the private economy. Unions will find it more and more difficult to generate the funds for their political activities if the number of dues-paying members continues to slide.

Don’t Fear the Foreigner

You might have heard that the Citizens United decision will allow foreign corporations to become involved in American campaigns. You might have heard that from the President, in fact, whose speech decrying the decision said foreign corporations “may now get into the act” of pursuing their “special interests” in American politics.

Not true. Justice Kennedy explicitly says the Court did not decide whether Congress has the power to prevent “foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.” Nothing in Citizens United prevents Congress from prohibiting such political spending by foreign corporations. The Supreme Court might uphold such a law or it might strike it down. The upholding or the striking down of such a law was left for another day. (Other parts of existing laws would also probably preclude foreign nationals or corporations from getting involved in American elections, as Brad Smith argues).

I don’t think I like the new populist Obama as much as I did the old rationalist Obama. The old Obama would have read a Supreme Court opinion before talking publicly about it.

Monday Links

  • Beware the “Crusader Temptation”: “Afghanistan has become a target of aggressive pro-war activists in America, including feminists who believe in waging war to improve the status of women.”

ObamaCare Could Become Law at Any Time

The American people don’t want President Obama’s health care plan (see below). Massachusetts voters don’t want it.

The White House knows that the people don’t want it.  In Ohio last week, President Obama said:

the process has been less than pretty. When you deal with 535 members of Congress, it’s going to be a somewhat ugly process…when you put it all together, it starts looking like just this monstrosity. And it makes people fearful. And it makes people afraid. And they start thinking, you know what, this looks like something that is going to cost me tax dollars and I already have insurance so why should I support this.

Yet Democrats still want ObamaCare to become law, and they are very close to making it happen.  If Speaker Nancy Pelosi bribes enough House members to reach that magic number of 218 votes, she could hold the vote with as little as 24 hours’ notice.  And ObamaCare would become law.  Done and done.  Comments from David Axelrod and other administration officials this weekend indicate that they haven’t given up on the Senate bill, and suggest that they are likely pressuring House Democrats to support it.

On ABC News’ This Week, Axelrod said, “People will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it.”  He was right, though not in the sense that he meant it.  As bad as the American people think this legislation is, they won’t really know until Nancy Pelosi bribes her way to 218 votes.

Giving Away the Keys to the Kingdom?

The New York Times editorial board must be baffled by this news story about a few dozen present and former corporate executives appealing to Congress to expand public funding of political campaigns.

The appeal comes one day after the Supreme Court re-extended (some) First Amendment rights to corporations in a move the editorial board branded a “blow to democracy” that will lead to corporations “overwhelm[ing] elections and intimidat[ing] elected officials.” But now some corporate executives want to be dispossessed of the keys to the kingdom immediately after SCOTUS returned them — say what?

The executives’ appeal makes sense if you’ve read this article by law professor Robert Sitkoff (then of Northwestern, now the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard ). Sitkoff argues that the 1907 Tillman Act, which placed the first federal limits on corporate involvement in campaigns, was not adopted because elected officials wanted protection from corporations, but because corporations demanded protection from donation-seeking politicians like William McKinley and his bagman Mark Hanna. Now, in the wake of the Citizens United decision, corporations are asking for renewed protection — this time on the taxpayers’ dime.

As others have argued, corporations are subject to federal laws, regulations and taxation, just like citizens, and therefore should have First Amendment rights just like citizens. If corporations are afraid their regained rights will expose them to politicians’ demands for corporation-financed political ads, then corporate officers should follow their duty to shareholders and learn how to say no.

As for the New York Times Company’s concern about corporations having undue influence on democracy, there are a couple of things it can do to reduce that influence. For one, the New York Times Company can stop endorsing candidates for office — a practice that undermines newspapers’ claims of fair and objective reporting. For another, the New York Times Company can stop using its reporters to electioneer.