Tag: Cass Sunstein

‘Libertarian Paranoia’ Strikes Deep?

In case you missed it, in his Bloomberg column last week, law professor and former Obama administration OIRA head Cass Sunstein offered tips on “How to Spot a Paranoid Libertarian.” They’re people who “have a wildly exaggerated sense of risks to liberty, who adopt a presumption of bad faith on the part of government, who have a sense of victimization, who ignore the problem of tradeoffs, and who love slippery-slope arguments.” I probably know some folks who resemble that remark.

In the column and a follow-up blogpost, Sunstein distinguishes between “Paranoid Libertarians” and libertarians in general, who are “speaking on behalf of an important strand in America’s political culture.” And he’s right that virtually all ideologies, libertarianism included, attract some swivel-eyed, conspiratorial adherents who use too much ALLCAPS in their emails. 

What Sunstein doesn’t have is anything resembling a case that “libertarian paranoia” is worth worrying about. In fact, beyond a few anodyne statements like “paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy,” he barely tries to make one.  

But, Sunstein suggests, something of what he’s getting at can be found in a 2005 paper on “Libertarian Panics” by his colleague Adrian Vermuele.

I remember that paper very well, having blogged a fairly lengthy critique of it when it came out. It hasn’t improved with age.

The basic argument is plausible enough: Vermuele holds that the same biases and cognitive flaws that can make Americans hysterical about the risk of terror can also make us hysterical about the risks of government abuse. Thus, the salience of past examples of government overreaction to security threats—like WWII Japanese Internment—could lead us to overreact to liberty threats from government in the same way we might overreact to terrorist threats to security.

But when Vermuele gets to specific examples of destructive “libertarian panics,” there’s very little there there. The paper offers two: the American Revolution and the PATRIOT Act. 

Obama as Reluctant Deregulator: Four Months Later

When President Obama, following his midterm “shellacking” at the polls, announced his belated conversion to the cause of regulatory relief, I was skeptical. I noted that, despite the reputation of OIRA chief Cass Sunstein as a brilliant scholar with an openness to cost-benefit analysis rare on the Left, the first two years of the Obama administration had been marked by a tremendous ramping up of regulatory burdens on the economy, both in areas of new legislation (ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank) and in new agency rulemakings gearing up from the “ultras” — ardently pro-regulatory appointees like Margaret Hamburg at FDA, Lisa Jackson at EPA, and David Michaels at OSHA. I also observed that in boasting of its deregulatory accomplishments, the administration chose an exceedingly minor example (saccharin’s reclassification as not being a hazardous waste) in which no one important seemed to have been pushing on the opposite side. That suggested that the Obama White House might lack the stomach to press deregulation when doing so might actually offend pro-regulation constituencies.

Yesterday the administration announced the results of its comprehensive review in which more than two dozen agencies looked at existing regulations to identify areas where burdens could be reduced [WaPo, AEI Enterprise, Wayne Crews/CEI]. As Cary Coglianese notes at the Penn Program on Regulation’s RegBlog,

[M]any of the initial rules agencies have proposed to put under the microscope seem underwhelming. Frequently they are what might be considered “paperwork” rules, with agencies hoping to find ways to streamline reporting and make more information available online. The Treasury Department, for example, plans to review an Internal Revenue Service regulation so as to correct instructions about where to file for a tax refund or credit. The Commerce Department’s plan identifies, among other things, the rule governing the “application number” and “filing date” for patents.

There’s nothing wrong with streamlining paperwork, of course, but it’s a cause that even “ultras” can get behind. Indeed, one of the largest line-item claims of savings comes from an OSHA plan “to finalize a proposed rule that would harmonize U.S. hazard classifications and labels with those used by other nations, which is expected to result in an annualized $585 million in estimated savings for employers.” As Coglianese notes, “few of the rules listed in the plans as targets for review are the salient regulatory issues of the day.” Tellingly, one of the most significant retreats on a regulatory issue in recent weeks — the EPA’s decision to pull back expensive new regulations on boiler emissions — is not boasted about, perhaps because the retreat is intended to be only temporary.

I do note with a ripple of “great minds think alike” satisfaction that Sunstein did advance, as one of his central examples of a new administration accomplishment, the EPA’s very belated recognition that spills of milk on dairy farms are not “oil spills” requiring elaborate containment and remediation measures. I had been writing about that one in this space for a while, and had specifically cited it in January as an example of the sort of craziness the Obamanauts should be trying to address if they want to be taken seriously on the issue of deregulation.

President Obama’s ‘War on Fun’

My DC Examiner column this week focuses on Barack Obama’s transformation into our National Noodge, nudging, shoving, poking and prodding Americans into healthier lifestyles via the powers of the federal government.

A year ago, the New York Times got all excited about the “new age of regulation” the administration was busy ushering in. The president had elevated “a new breed of regulators”: folks like regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, who wants to “nudge” Americans toward healthier consumption choices, and CDC head Thomas Frieden, who, as NYC health commissioner, proclaimed ”when anyone dies at an early age from a preventable cause in New York City, it’s my fault.”

Today’s column tracks how this killjoy crusade is playing out:

Quitting smoking was “a personal challenge for [Obama],” the first lady explained recently, and she never “poked and prodded.”

Of course not. It’s obnoxious to hector your loved ones. “Poking and prodding” is what good government does to perfect strangers. And that’s what the Obama administration has been doing, with unusual zeal, for the past 2 1/2 years.

You’re not a real president until you fight a metaphorical “war” on a social problem. So, to LBJ’s “War on Poverty” and Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” add Obama’s “War on Fun.” Like the “War on Terror,” it’s being fought on many fronts…

Among them: graphic warning labels for cigarettes; a ban on clove cigarettes and possibly menthols; shutting down online poker sites; banning caffeinated malt liquor; mandatory menu-labeling and ratcheting down allowable sodium levels in food to “adjust the American palate to a less salty diet.” Even healthy “real food” aficionados can find themselves in the crosshairs, as Dan Allgyer, an Amish farmer selling raw milk discovered last month, when FDA agents and federal marshals raided his farm.

Last year, in a remarkably silly column entitled “Obama’s Happiness Deficit,” Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wondered whether the president’s political difficulties stemmed from the fact that “he doesn’t seem all that happy being president.” I couldn’t care less whether Obama’s enjoying his job. He asked for it, he got it. But if he isn’t having fun, he shouldn’t take it out on the rest of us.

Libertarianism Hits the Big Time

Michael Crowley, late of the New Republic and now with Time magazine, writes thoughtfully about Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and libertarianism. Crowley notes that Rand Paul, “more politically flexible than his father,” has plenty of unlibertarian positions. But both of them are tapping into a real strain in contemporary politics:

But he, like his father, also knows well that a genuine libertarian impulse is astir in America…. polls show an uptick in both social permissiveness and skepticism of government intervention….[Ron Paul] has already waited a long time — and it appears the country is moving his way.

This is a current trend, but it’s also deeply rooted in the American political culture. As David Kirby and I wrote in “The Libertarian Vote”:

It’s no surprise that many Americans hold libertarian attitudes since America is, after all, a country fundamentally shaped by libertarian values and attitudes. In their book It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marx write, “The American ideology, stemming from the [American] Revolution, can be subsumed in five words: antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism.”… Richard Hofstadter wrote: “The fierceness of the political struggles in American history has often been misleading; for the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. However much at odds on specific issues, the major political traditions have shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the values of competition; they have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture.”… McClosky and Zaller sum up a key theme of the American ethos in classic libertarian language: “The principle here is that every person is free to act as he pleases, so long as his exercise of freedom does not violate the equal rights of others.”…

Some people recognize but bemoan our libertarian ethos. Professors Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes complain that libertarian ideas are “astonishingly widespread in American culture.”

Much political change in America occurs within those guiding principles. Even our radicals, Lipset and Marks note, have tended to be libertarian rather than collectivist. America is a “country of classical liberalism, antistatism, libertarianism, and loose class structure,” which helps to explain the failure of class-conscious politics in the United States. McClosky and Zaller argue that many of the changes of the 1960s involved “efforts to extend certain values of the traditionalethos to new groups and new contexts”—such as equal rights for women, blacks, and gays; anti-war and free speech protests; and the “do your own thing” ethosof the so-called counterculture, which may in fact have had more in common with the individualist American culture than was recognized at the time.

In a broadly libertarian country most voters and movements have agreed on the fundamentals of classical liberalism or libertarianism: free speech, religious freedom, equality before the law, private property, free markets, limited government, and individual rights. The broad acceptance of those values means that American liberals and conservatives are fighting within a libertarian consensus. We sometimes forget just how libertarian the American political culture is.

And of course American politics and policy deviate a great deal from those fundamental principles, which leaves libertarians feeling frustrated, even angry, and seeming extreme or radical to journalists and others. But as Conor Friedersdorf just wrote in Time’s longtime rival, Newsweek, the media have a bias toward the status quo and establishment politicians, even when current policies and the proposals of elected officials are at least as extreme as libertarian ideas:

If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants? In domestic politics, policy experts scoff at ethanol subsidies, the home-mortgage-interest tax deduction, and rent control, but the mainstream politicians who advocate those policies are treated as perfectly serious people.

And Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, made the point a dozen years ago in a review of Charles Murray’s book What It Means to Be a Libertarian (in the Public Interest, not online)

The reason that libertarians seem extreme and odd is not that they are a furious minority, angry at a world that seems to have passed them by, but rather the opposite. They are heirs to a tradition that has changed the world. Consider what classical liberalism stood for in the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was against the power of the church and for the power of the market; it was against the privileges of kings and aristocracies and for dignity of the middle class; it was against a society dominated by status and land and in favor of one based on markets and merit; it was opposed to religion and custom and in favor of science and secularism; it was for national self-determination and against empires; it was for freedom of speech and against censorship; it was for free trade and against mercantilism. Above all, it was for the rights of the individual and against the power of the church and the state….

The reason that libertarianism seems narrow and naive is that having won 80 percent of the struggles it has fought over the last two centuries, it is now forced to define itself wholly in terms of the last 20 percent. Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice if you were in Prussia in the 1850s, but in America in the 1960s? Libertarianism has become extreme because the world has left it no recourse.

Now, I don’t feel furious, angry, or extreme. I think that libertarianism is the philosophy of the American revolution, the basic ideology of America, and indeed the foundation of Western civilization. The concept of personal and economic freedom – giving people more power to pursue happiness in their own way by restricting the size, scope, and power of government – is not extreme. Nor is it reactionary. In fact, it is the direction in which civilization has been heading, with many digressions and blind alleys, since the liberal revolution of the 17th century. I am a progressive. I believe that the simple, timeless principles of the American Revolution – individual liberty, limited government, and free markets – are even more powerful and more important in the world of instant communication, global markets, and unprecedented access to information than Jefferson or Madison could have imagined.  Libertarianism is not just a framework for utopia, it is the indispensable framework for the future.

Obama Transparency Update II

An editorial in the New York Times the other day reminded me that it’s a good time for another look at the Obama administration’s record on transparency.

The editorial lauded a new policy of disclosure for the Secret Service’s logs of White House visits, naming the visitor, who set up the meeting, where it was held, and how long it lasted. The Times gushed: “[T]he administration is well on course to be the most open in modern times, with such earlier initiatives as the online Data.gov to allow citizen access to huge amounts of federal agency information.”

These things are good—and the White House certainly means well—but I’m a little less enthusiastic, and I think the Times set the bar at the wrong height: A ham sandwich is more transparent than recent administrations. Candidate Obama made some firm commitments about transparency that are better for gauging his performance.

Disclosure of White House visitor logs is a small step forward, but I agree with the Times that a three to four month delay in revealing visits is too long. Much of this information is computerized at the White House and could be revealed in real time or within 24 hours. Also, visits that are not revealed for security or diplomatic reasons should be noted as such so that the quantity of such visits can be tracked over time and misuse of this secrecy ferreted out.

It’s also slightly ironic to see the Times sing President Obama’s transparency praises while the White House flouts a transparency commitment made to the paper back in June. For a story called “White House Changes the Terms of a Campaign Pledge About Posting Bills Online,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told New York Times reporter Katherine Seelye, “[O]nce it is clear that a bill will be coming to the president’s desk, the White House will post the bill online.” It hadn’t happened yet when I wrote about it in July, and it still hasn’t happened, even though 22 more bills have passed into law since then.

Below the jump is an updated ”Sunlight Before Signing” chart, reflecting all the bills President Obama has signed to date. Still only one (of sixty-one bills) has been posted on Whitehouse.gov for five days before signing. (That’s a .016 average, baseball fans.)

The DTV Delay Act was online for five days after final passage in Congress, though not formal presentment to the president, but I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt to count it as a win.

I’ve amended the chart to highlight an interesting thing: Two-thirds of the time (41 of 61), the White House has held bills for five days or more before President Obama has signed them. The only thing keeping him from fulfilling his promise as to these bills is the simple failure to post them on Whitehouse.gov. It’s hard to understand why the White House is not taking this easy step. The “Presidential Actions” page seems like a good place for it.

On measurable commitments, we have seen weakness, but, as I say, the White House certainly means well. This was confirmed for me again last week when Cass Sunstein, the new administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, invited a small group of transparency advocates including myself in for a meeting. We highlighted many angles of the transparency issue to him, mine being earmarks.

During the campaign, now-President Obama said, “[W]e will put every corporate tax break and every pork barrel project online for every American to see. You will know who asked for them and you can decide whether your representative is actually representing you.”

Since then, it has been WashingtonWatch.com, not the White House, tracking and disclosing earmarks. But an OMB representative told Federal Computer Week in August that it would begin tracking and disclosing congressional earmarks from the request stage in the next budget cycle.

I passed a copy of the FCW article to Sunstein and some of the OIRA staff members who joined us at the meeting. I’m hopeful that they will follow through on this commitment. I’m looking forward to reporting tangible results to go along with the good intentions flowing from the White House!

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Five Days? Posted (Linked)? Posted Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 No 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 No 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 No 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 No 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 No 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-48, The Miami Dade College Land Conveyance Act 7/31/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-49, The Judicial Survivors Protection Act of 2009 8/3/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-50, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 46-02 21st Street in Long Island City, New York, as the “Geraldine Ferraro Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-51, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 601 8th Street in Freedom, Pennsylvania, as the “John Scott Challis, Jr. Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-52, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2351 West Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach, Florida, as the “Elijah Pat Larkins Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-53, The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-54, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 41 Purdy Avenue in Rye, New York, as the “Caroline O’Day Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-55, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 431 State Street in Ogdensburg, New York, as the “Frederic Remington Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-56, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 123 11th Avenue South in Nampa, Idaho, as the “Herbert A Littleton Postal Station” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-57, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1300 Matamoros Street in Laredo, Texas, as the “Laredo Veterans Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-58, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 702 East University Avenue in Georgetown, Texas, as the “Kyle G. West Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-59, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 19190 Cochran Boulevard FRNT in Port Charlotte, Florida, as the “Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Boehm Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-60, To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-61, Recognizing the service, sacrifice, honor, and professionalism of the Noncommissioned Officers of the United States Army 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-62, A joint resolution granting the consent and approval of Congress to amendments made by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact 8/7/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No

We’re Terribly Czarry

My former colleague Dave Weigel makes the excellent point that the supposed explosion of “Czars” under this administration is, in significant part, a function of journalists trying to make the same old “deputy undersecretary” sound sexier. Which is a shame, since it means that the pernicious and the benign get lumped together under the same sensationalist label – one whose public effect is to normalize the idea of unaccountable individuals within the executive branch given sweeping powers to solve specific problems, whether or not that picture is accurate.

I don’t know how much it can be attributed to the Czarmania, but I’m especially puzzled by the apparent emergence of legal scholar and prospective OIRA Adminstrator Cass Sunstein as the new hot bogeyman for conservatives. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which Sunstein’s been tapped to head, was created in 1980 and is precisely the sort of agency conservatives should love – tasked with catching inefficient and excessively burdensome regulations before they go into effect. It has, unsurprisingly, been most active under conservative presidents, and is one of the few offices where fans of limited government should want a vigorous, influential, and intellectually formidable director at the helm.

Now, Cass Sunstein is not somebody I agree with on a great number of things. On the day he’s tapped for a seat on the Supreme Court bench, I’ll break out in hives. But it’s awfully hard to imagine any realistic alternative – anyone Obama might actually have appointed – who would be better in the OIRA post from a limited government perspective. (I considered some of the specific concerns being raised about Sunstein back in the spring and found that they ranged from exaggerated to simply mendacious.) That’s one reason hardcore progressives have, in fact, been freaking out over his nomination. They must be pinching themselves  now that it seems Glenn Beck is out to do their work for them. Say what you will about the tenets of “libertarian paternalism,” but at least it’s an ethos that would demand a far lighter touch on markets than the unreconstructed technocracy of your average regulator.