Archives: 11/2010

Progressives Push Palin for President

Talk about Sarah Palin running for president continues to mount – in the liberal media. Conservatives smile and look away when the topic is raised. They want to watch her on TV, they want to turn out for her lively speeches, but they don’t see her as a president.

Liberals, on the other hand, are jumping up and down at the prospect of a Palin candidacy. She could win! they urgently insist to skeptical Republicans; you should get behind her. Don’t throw us Democrats in that Palin briar patch! The latest example is the star columnist of the New York Times, Frank Rich. His Sunday column is titled “Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha.” Palin’s got a huge television presence, Rich says – 5 million viewers for her new TLC series. Which is slightly less than the 65 million it would take to win a presidential election. She’s running, he says; her upcoming book tour “disproportionately dotes on the primary states of Iowa and South Carolina.” Well, yes, she’s going to both those states, along with 14 others. But the link that Rich generously provides – a citation, like an old-fashioned footnote – indicates that she will not go to New Hampshire. If I were advising her putative presidential campaign (bargain rates, Governor!), I would tell her that New Hampshire is kind of important in the Republican primary process. So is Florida, which she’s also not visiting. You could almost get the impression that Frank Rich is seeing what he wants to see – a Sarah Palin presidential campaign.

He’s not the only one. On Huffington Post just before the election, Jeffrey Feldman told Democrats, “The key to busting through election rhetoric gone stark raving mad might well turn out to be two words so simple that they have eluded the usual Democratic Party language consultants: ‘President Palin.’” Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrings his hands over her potential. New York magazine’s cover blares “PRESIDENT PALIN.” NPR jumps on the bandwagon, as does Mark Halperin in Time.

Meanwhile, as Rich acknowledges, Republicans know as well as he does what a Palin nomination would do:

Politico reported just before Election Day that unnamed “party elders” were nearly united in wanting to stop her, out of fear that she’d win the nomination and then be crushed by Obama. Their complaints are seconded daily by Bush White House alumni like Karl Rove, Michael Gerson, and Mark McKinnon, who said recently that Palin’s “stock is falling and pretty rapidly now” and that “if she’s smart, she does not run.”

Peggy Noonan spoke for a lot of Reaganites when she responded to Palin’s suggestion that being a Fox-TLC celebrity was a reasonable platform for seeking the presidency, since after all “Ronald Reagan was an actor”:

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him.

I made a similar point back in February when David Broder was pushing Palin’s prospects. And two months before that I noted that the Washington Post had run two op-eds “by” Sarah Palin in the space of five months, so that one ”might almost think the Post wanted Palin to be seen as a leader of Republicans.” In the coming months, watch for it: Democrats, liberal journalists, and red-state bloggers will talk up Palin’s chances. Republicans and conservatives who want to defeat President Obama in 2012 will try to change the subject.

Where to Report and Discuss TSA Abuses

With the TSA sticking by its policy of requiring select air travelers to submit to visual observation or physical touching of their private areas before they can fly, a number of groups are collecting reports and facilitating public discussion.

The American Civil Liberties Union has put up a page on which to report TSA screening abuses.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has a “Body Scanner Incident Report” page.

And the U.S. Travel Association has a site called “Your Travel Voice,” and a related Facebook page where people can share their stories and air their views.

The activism site StopDigitalStripSearches.org also has a Facebook page.

The TSA has a complaint form you can fill out, of course.

When you post to a Facebook page, obviously you’ll be sharing your story publicly. If you communicate with any of the organizations, you might specify whether you consent to sharing your name and your story with the media. Doing so can facilitate getting more stories and more public discussion of the government’s policies.

A “National Opt-Out Day” has been called for November 24th.

I’ve written about the strip/grope policy in terms of risk management, and suggested that acceptance of some small risk is probably superior to strip/grope or a budding national ID system. In his post ”Body Scanner Blues,” David Rittgers recaps and expands on his New York Post editorial.

Topics:

This Week in Government Failure

Over at Downsizing Government, we focused on the following issues this week:

  • For its final report, Obama’s fiscal commission’s staff might look to Clinton’s budgets for guidance.
  • The U.S. Postal Service announces a net loss of $8.5 billion for fiscal 2010.
  • A new Cato policy analysis eviscerates the “one industry [that] has unquestionably been socialistic for decades: urban transit.”
  • Benjamin Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Were he alive today, Franklin might add to the list corruption in federal housing programs.
  • The president who has brought us regime uncertainty, more regulations, more government intrusion into the economy, more debt, and is proposing to raise taxes on productive businesses and individuals wants to celebrate National Entrepreneurs’ Day?

Happy National Entrepreneurs’ Day?

President Obama has proclaimed today to be National Entrepreneurs’ Day. The president who has brought us regime uncertainty, more regulations, more government intrusion into the economy, more debt, and is proposing to raise taxes on productive businesses and individuals wants to celebrate entrepreneurship?

I was alerted to National Entrepreneurs’ Day via an email (not online) from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The EDA email makes it clear that the administration wishes to celebrate political entrepreneurship, not market entrepreneurship.

In his book, The Myth of the Robber Barons, historian Burton Folsom explains the difference:

A key point about the steamship industry is that the government played an active role right from the start in both America and England. Right away this separates two groups of entrepreneurs — those who sought subsidies and those who didn’t. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily through federal aid, pools, vote buying, or stock speculation we will classify as political entrepreneurs. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily by creating and marketing a superior product at a low cost we will classify as market entrepreneurs. No entrepreneur fits perfectly into one category or the other, but most fall generally into one category or the other. The political entrepreneur often fits the classic Robber Baron mold; they stifled productivity (through monopolies and pools), corrupted business and politics, and dulled America’s competitive edge. Market entrepreneurs, by contrast, often made decisive and unpredictable contributions to American economic development.

As Obama administration achievements, the EDA touts increased Small Business Administration subsidies and a smorgasbord of industrial planning contained in last year’s stimulus package:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act served as the cornerstone for this new foundation by pumping $100 billion into the economy to help us tackle some of the grand challenges of the 21st century in diverse fields from healthcare IT and health research, to clean energy, to smart grids, and high speed trains. Recovery Act investments are creating a virtuous cycle of investment, innovation, and job creation that have so far led to the creation of 3 million new jobs.

Wrong. The stimulus has fueled an unvirtuous cycle of political entrepreneurship in which business interests chase federal hand-outs for endeavors sanctioned by inside-the-Beltway planners. Political entrepreneurs have less incentive to innovate and are naturally reluctant to criticize the government because they don’t want to bite the hand that’s feeding them. As Chris Edwards puts it, they become “tools of the state.”

If the administration were really interested in promoting entrepreneurship, it would repudiate the anti-market policies it has pursued thus far. That’s obviously not going to happen, so it’s going to be up to congressional Republicans to repudiate their own history of supporting federal subsidies. In other words, the GOP’s re-found fondness for limited government rhetoric is going to have to actually be matched by action.

Why Is Bill Gates Writing Code for a Coleco Adam?

Bill Gates is addressing the Council of Chief State School Officers today. According to the NYT, he’ll tell them to bite the bullet and start making sound budgetary decisions like rewarding teachers based on merit instead of time served, and not handing out raises simply for the trappings of higher learning, but rather for demonstrated prowess in the classroom. In principle, that’s good advice.

But it’s an ultimately futile effort, and here’s why:

Bill established himself early on as a pretty sharp computer programmer, and no doubt he still is. But there’s only so much you can do when the hardware you’re writing for is a pile of junk. Public schooling is the Coleco Adam of education systems.

The Adam was a pretty cute looking machine for its time (1983), but it had some fundamental flaws. Among other things, turning the power on or off had a habit of sending out electromagnetic pulses that fried the data on its storage tapes. Oops. Now a good programmer might figure how to mitigate the damage caused by that problem (I dunno, treat the two tapes as a RAID 1 array, maybe?), but then the machine also had its power-supply located in the mandatory (and noisy, and slow) printer that came with it. So if the printer had to be serviced, you were left with a paperweight. Hard to fix that one in software.

It’s the same with public schooling. By its very design, it lacks the freedoms and incentives that relentlessly allow and pressure executives to make sound decisions in the free enterprise sector of the economy. Bill’s a sharp corporate executive as well as a sharp programmer. He’ll no doubt give the state superintendents of public instruction some reasonable advice. And ultimately it won’t matter.

If they make great decisions, these execs will at best get a pat on the back. If they make terrible ones, it likely won’t affect their compensation or careers much, because millions of families have little choice but to send their children to the official state-run schools. Given the state-run system’s monopoly on $13k / pupil of tax funding, it’s hard for most parents to pay for a better quality education for their kids.

This is a systemic problem. Without the necessary freedoms and incentives, good decisions made today will eventually be supplanted with worse ones in the future because public schooling has no built-in mechanism to consistently encourage the good over the bad.

Bill, it’s a hardware problem.

President’s Statement about GM IPO Reveals a Defensive Politician

I don’t particularly relish picking on a president who, on virtually every policy front, is showing all the markings of a man in way over his head.  But the president’s actions and statements are becoming excruciating to watch—like a highly-touted Olympic figure skater who can’t complete a maneuver without falling to the ice. 

President Obama’s salutary statement about GM’s IPO yesterday reveals a man so focused on defending his policies that he can no longer conceal the incongruity between his political objectives and the country’s imperatives.

American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM, and that’s a good thing. (My emphasis)

Besides revealing the president’s preference for LIFO accounting procedures, the statement strikes me as sub-presidential.  Shouldn’t the POTUS be concerned about  American taxpayers getting back all of the money invested in GM?  Even though former President Bush is complicit, shouldn’t the sitting president of a country that owes its wealth, freedom, and future to the endurance of the rule of law and the other long-standing, bedrock institutions that were defiled and abused to bail out two automakers issue a statement of regret and reassurance that such extreme measures will never be undertaken again? 

I think President Obama missed an opportunity to make amends, build a bridge, and reassure businesses and investors that the White House will do its part to reduce the economy-stifling problem of regime uncertainty going forward.  But, then again, that might have been too presidential for a politician who appears motivated more by avoiding blame than by advancing the country’s best interests.

Obamacare and the Drug War

I wrote an op-ed for National Review (Online) last week showing how conservative exploitation of the Supreme Court’s broad misreading of the Commerce Clause to reach intrastate medical marijuana facilitated liberal exploitation of the same to create the individual mandate in Obamacare.

A principled stand on the limits of federal power does not begin and end with health care. The Commerce Clause is a double-edged sword: Conservatives cannot wield it in the drug war without making it a useful tool for advancing progressive visions of federal power.

I’m happy to see Barton Hinkle, winner of the 2008 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, pick up on my writing and drive the point home in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch:

So far, many conservatives outraged over Obamacare do not seem to have reconsidered their enthusiasm for national drug prohibition. Whether they do so could provide a good indication as to whether they’re standing up for a principle — or merely against the president.

Hinkle points to a recent Heritage Foundation paper opposing Prop. 19, California’s referendum on marijuana legalization. The Commerce Clause makes a prominent appearance:

In 2006, the Supreme Court held in Gonzales vs. Raich that the Commerce Clause confers on Congress the authority to ban the use of marijuana, even when a state approves it for “medical purposes” and it is produced in small quantities for personal consumption. Many legal scholars criticize the Court’s extremely broad reading of the Commerce Clause as inconsistent with its original meaning, but the Court’s decision nonetheless stands.

Yes, the decision “nonetheless stands.” That doesn’t make it right. Several prominent conservative drug warriors signed on to an amicus brief in Raich endorsing an expansive use of the Commerce Clause. Copy, paste, and replace the word “marijuana” with “health insurance,” and you just wrote a Department of Justice brief for any of the suits defending Obamacare across the nation.

Or, for a good laugh, go read former Oklahoma congressman Ernest Istook, now working for Heritage, who frames the health care debate as “Obamacare vs. Limited Government.” As he puts it: “Straining to find a constitutional basis for mandating that everyone must buy health insurance, Obama’s lawyers resorted to the all-purpose Interstate Commerce Clause.” Istook signed on to the drug warrior brief in Raich.

There’s no good reason for this inconsistency. State attorneys general from both sides of the aisle opposed the federal intrusion in Raich. Deep red Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana touted their drug warrior prowess but argued against an overly broad Commerce Clause reading on federalism grounds. True blue California, Maryland, and Washington argued that the Controlled Substances Act did not bar states from regulating intrastate markets.

I make many of these points in a Cato Podcast, Conservatives, Obamacare, and the Commerce Clause. For some more Cato work on the drug war, check out how Portugal decriminalized drugs without the social ills that conservatives forecast, and how ending the war on drugs would save billions annually.