Archives: 03/2012

The GOP of the Future?

Ross Douthat wonders whether Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign might be not “the last glimpse of the Republican past, but as a plausible sketch of the Republican future.” Douthat sees Santorum as what I would call a “Big Government conservative,” that is, a person who identifies as a conservative and supports a larger role for government in both the economy and culture.

Let’s try to put some numbers on Douthat’s speculation. A recent essay by James Stimson and Christopher Ellis provides useful data and analysis for this task. To use the Stimson-Ellis summary, we need to make the reasonable assumption that 20 percent of the nation identifies as “liberal” and 35 percent as “conservative.”

Stimson and Ellis find that about 10 percent of the nation identifies as conservative, affirms cultural conservatism, and rejects free market policies. Another 4 percent identify as “liberal”, support cultural conservatism, and reject free market policies. So the Santorum base, as it were, is about 14 percent of the population. However, this estimate assumes that people who identify as a liberal would vote for Rick Santorum. The actual Santorum base, in other words, is much closer to 10 percent than to 14 percent of the population.

Compare this range to other numbers indicated by Stimson and Ellis. About 13 percent of the nation identify as conservative and support free market policies. A little over 1 percent also identify as liberals and support less government control of the economy. Another 13 percent are consistent liberals in supporting both economic interventions and cultural liberty.

The Santorum base is certainly not a majority among conservatives; it is also not the largest group among those identifiers. Stimson and Ellis find that 29 percent of conservative identifiers support Big Government in the economy and the culture.  That means 71 percent of conservatives do not support Santorum’s outlook. That hardly seems to be a foundation for a future GOP.

Perhaps Douthat believes that Santorum’s anti-free market policies will attract enough people in the nation as a whole to convince GOP voters that he (or someone like him) can win a general election. But about 50 percent of those who say they are conservative do not support cultural conservatism. Is it likely that the 45 percent of the nation that does not identify as liberal or conservative will be drawn to a party and candidates espousing cultural conservatism?

Attorney General Holder and Executive Power

AG Eric Holder gave an address on Monday where he offered a legal rationale for the power of the president to kill American citizens who are outside of the United States and who are suspected of terrorist activity.  George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley responds:

On Monday, March 5, Northwestern University School of Law was the location of an extraordinary scene … U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder presented President Barack Obama’s claim that he has the authority to kill any U.S. citizen he considers a threat. It served as a retroactive justification for the slaying of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last September by a drone strike in northeastern Yemen, as well as the targeted killings of at least two other Americans during Obama’s term.

What’s even more extraordinary is that this claim, which would be viewed by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution as the very definition of authoritarian power, was met not with outcry but muted applause. Where due process once resided, Holder offered only an assurance that the president would kill citizens with care. While that certainly relieved any concern that Obama, or his successor, would hunt citizens for sport, Holder offered no assurances on how this power would be used in the future beyond the now all-too-familiar “trust us” approach to civil liberties of this administration.

Read the whole thing.

Previous coverage here.   And Colbert’s segment, “Due or Die,” is here.

Save the Cato Institute

No doubt you have read about the lawsuit that Charles and David Koch have filed to give themselves majority control of Cato’s long-dormant shareholder arrangement and therefore control over the Board of Directors, which has heretofore run the Institute for 35 years with no input from the shareholders. Already the Koch forces have managed to put 7 people on the Board.

For now, our friends should know this: We believe this effort is a direct threat to the independence, nonpartisanship, and libertarianism of the Cato Institute. Koch control would destroy 35 years of hard work by our Board, officers, staff, and donors to build the Cato Institute’s brand and reputation. We intend to fight it. And we intend to win and to preserve our independence.

To read more go to SaveCato. And “like” the Facebook page Save the Cato Institute.

There are many links at those sites. But you might be especially interested in Tuesday’s New York Times story. And Steve Chapman’s short item at the Chicago Tribune.

This misguided attempt at corporate control of an independent, nonpartisan think tank is bad for the Cato Institute and bad for the libertarian movement. We hope that everyone will come to see that, soon, before any more damage is done.

‘Textbook Case’ for Handguns in DC

In today’s Washington Post, Courtland Milloy says a recent stabbing in DC provides a ‘textbook case for legalizing handguns in the District.’  Here’s an excerpt:

Someone like Wright would never have been able to prove that he needed a gun to walk his dog — until Sunday, that is. By then, of course, it would have been too late.

To better understand the benefits of a “concealed carry” firearm, consider how the encounter between Wright and Colbert might have unfolded if Wright had been armed and followed a basic self-defense protocol:

According to police reports, Colbert comes out of his house with a knife in one hand and a stick in the other. Being alert to the approaching threat, an armed Wright would now have several options. He could pull his gun, say, a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic, which speaks volumes without firing a shot: “Never bring a knife to a gunfight, pal.”

Or he could just wait until the assailant gets close enough to meet the legal definition of justifiable homicide. …

Say what you will about the perils of gun ownership, but nobody can doubt that Wright would be alive today if he’d had one.

Read the whole thing.   Related posts here, here, and here.

Check out the new Cato study on defensive gun use, Tough Targets.

Corporate Welfare: A Bipartisan Love Story

I have previously discussed how multiple levels of government work together to provide businesses with taxpayer money (see here and here). And while Republican policymakers have enjoyed making political hay out of the Obama’s administration’s Solyndra problem, the truth is that both parties are willing partners in the corporate welfare racket.

The state of Indiana continues to be a perfect example. In March 2010, NPR ran a piece on the Obama administration’s efforts to “stimulate” the city of Elkhart, which at one point during the recession had the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The story was hopefully titled, “Electric Vehicles May Energize Elkhart’s Future.” This week, the title of a new NPR piece on Elkhart is a little different: “As Elkhart’s Electric Dreams Fizzle, RVs Come Back.”

The new piece focuses on the failure of Think, an electric vehicle manufacturer, to deliver upon the promises made by the company and the politicians who gave them taxpayer handouts:

Backed by federal stimulus funding, state development grants, and tax credits, Think announced plans to produce thousands of electric cars in Elkhart annually.

Other companies lined up to make electric cars and trucks, and their parts, too, as Elkhart County, a place long known for producing gas-guzzling recreational vehicles, set out to jump-start its flat-lining economy with electric vehicles.

During his State of the State address in 2010, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said, “Our goal is to be the capital of this potentially massive industry of tomorrow.”

But two years later, Elkhart’s electric buzz has gone all but bust. Two local electric startup companies never got off the ground. Navistar is manufacturing short-range electric delivery trucks, but not yet at the level the company had hoped.

And the Think plant has delivered only about 200 electric cars, many of them to government fleets. The parent company, Think Global of Norway, filed for bankruptcy last summer.

That’s Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels – the allegedly above-the-political-fray politician who a lot of Republicans and conservatives continue to pine for as the would-be hero to deliver us from big-government Obama in November.

In December 2010, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources received Think’s first fifteen electric vehicles. Daniels stated that “we’re proud to be the first customer.” According to IDNR’s press release, “Energy Systems Network used a combination of federal stimulus funds and private donations to purchase the vehicles, then donated the vehicles to the state at no cost.”

That’s not good for federal taxpayers. But at no state cost, it’s still good for Indiana state taxpayers, right? Well, it turns out that this Energy Systems Network, which “provides development and coordination for collaborative projects and joint ventures” between Indiana universities and energy-related firms (including Think), receives money from Indiana state taxpayers courtesy of the Daniels administration.

From ESN’s website:

ESN member institutions provide industry expertise in advanced technology vehicles, distributed power generation, advanced biofuels, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Collectively, they make up a world-class clean-tech cluster with expertise that spans the energy spectrum. ESN is also fortunate to have close working relationships with government agencies and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels. ESN’s projects have benefitted greatly from funding and technical support provided by the State of Indiana and its agencies.

The bolded text is my emphasis. As it turns out, ESN has friends in high places. Take a look at the resume of ESN’s president and CEO, Paul Mitchell:

Prior to joining ESN, Mr. Mitchell served in the Office of Governor Mitch Daniels as Policy Director for Economic Development, Workforce, & Energy. In this capacity he oversaw legislation, policy, and program development for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Indiana Department of Labor, and acted as Governor’s liaison to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and Office of Utility Consumer Counselor. During his tenure with the Governor’s Office, Mr. Mitchell also led the formation of and directed the Indiana Office of Federal Grants and Procurement.

As fate would have it, I worked in Indiana Office of Management and Budget when Paul was a policy director for Gov. Daniels. Let’s just say that it didn’t take a genius to see that Paul recognized the opportunities awaiting him on the other side of the government-business revolving door. Now I’m absolutely not suggesting that illegal activity is involved here. I just think that people – especially those who view the world through a partisan lens – need to understand that the often sordid relationship between government and business is not a problem that is unique to either Democrats or Republicans.

Recalculating Romney’s Four Percent Gimmick

I have a new piece up at ForeignPolicy.com on Ron Paul and the Republican Party, focused in particular on the strong support that Paul draws from young people, with some additional speculation about where those young people will end up, if and when Paul steps back from his very public role. My instincts are that these young people are motivated at least as much by the ideas that Paul espouses as by Ron Paul, the person. If I am correct, many of them are likely to remain active in politics. I close with a warning to GOP leaders that they would be making a grave error if they ignored this libertarian-leaning voting bloc. Unfortunately, that is what the GOP’s leading candidate, Mitt Romney, seems to be doing by pushing a short-sighted plan for boosting military spending at a time when the country is awash in debt.

I have always been puzzled by the fact that conservatives who rail against welfare dependency here at home miss the pernicious effects of security dependency among our allies. Tim Pawlenty didn’t get it. Neither does Mitt Romney. Rather than questioning the mantras that have guided U.S. foreign policy for over a generation, Romney simply assumes that the United States will remain the world’s policeman, other countries will continue to free-ride on our security guarantees, and U.S. taxpayers will happily foot the bill. He proposes spending at least four percent of GDP on the military’s base budget, plus whatever additional money might be needed to fight the wars that he wants to fight (for example, this one).

I commented on the Four Percent Gimmick a few months ago, and now I have a bit more detail about Romney’s plan relative to the Obama administration’s latest 10-year projections. I alluded to these numbers in the ForeignPolicy.com piece, and below provide some more detail. (I am grateful, as always, for the help of my colleague Charles Zakaib in sorting through these, and in preparing the charts).

The chart above shows spending in nominal, current-year dollars, over the next ten years. The Obama administration plans to spend $5.7 trillion between 2013 and 2022 (the blue bars). If Romney keeps his promise of four percent for defense, he will spend at least $8.3 trillion (using OMB’s GDP projections) over that same period, an additional $2.58 trillion (the yellow bars). His budget in 2022 would top $1 trillion, and would be at least 61 percent higher than Barack Obama’s. He hasn’t said what other spending he will cut, or what taxes he would increase, to cover that difference. Until he does, it is logical to conclude that he plans to pile on more debt.

And we should remember that current laws call for even less spending than President Obama has proposed, but he has chosen to ignore the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act. GOP leaders in Congress seem equally disinterested in following through on their promise to kick the spending habit, and several have put forward plans to undo sequestration for the Department of Defense. Either way, the bottom line is more debt. As I speculate at ForeignPolicy.com, no wonder young people seem to like Ron Paul so much (and Mitt Romney so little).

Another way to demonstrate the absurdity of Romney’s plan is to control for inflation and compare it to future and past trends. Looking ahead, in constant, 2012 dollars, annual Pentagon spending will average $744.8 billion over the next ten years—again assuming the same GDP projections as Obama’s plan. That is 44 percent higher than Obama’s average budget (the bright pink line) over that same period, and nearly 59 percent higher than sequestration (the dark red line).

Now consider how this compares with the recent past. As you can see, Romney’s Four Percent Gimmick would result in taxpayers spending more than twice as much on the Pentagon as in 2000 (111 percent higher, to be precise), and 45 percent more than in 1985, the height of the Reagan buildup. Over the next ten years, Romney’s annual spending (in constant dollars) for the Pentagon would average 64 percent higher than annual post-Cold War budgets (1990-2012), and 42 percent more than the average during the Reagan era (1981-1989).

Mitt Romney may genuinely believe that today’s enemies are 42 percent more frightening than the big bad Soviets. He might believe that spending an average of $450 billion (in constant dollars) every year since 1990 has left the country dangerously vulnerable. If that is true, he should say so. More importantly, however, he should be compelled to answer the question on everyone’s mind: Where is he going to get the money to fund his Pentagon spending binge?

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Second Amendment Victory

The landmark Heller ruling said the Constitution protects a person’s right to keep a gun in his home for purposes of self-defense, at least as against the federal government (the case was filed in the federal capital city, Washington, DC). Next, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to keep a gun in the home  also had to be honored by state and local governments. The litigation has now moved on to consider whether, and to what extent, the right to keep and bear arms must be honored outside the home.

Yesterday, a federal court invalidated a Maryland law that granted carry permits only to those who could show a ”good and substantial reason” for carrying a gun (general worry about the possibility of a criminal attack was  inadequate). The Court said the Maryland law “impermissibly infringes the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”

Last month Cato released a study concerning the frequency with which persons use guns for self-defense—way more often than the average person realizes.

Cato associate policy analyst David Kopel, has more over at the Volokh blog.