Tag: democratic party

The Flawed Bipartisan Consensus on Military Spending and Foreign Policy

I have a new piece up at ForeignPolicy.com this morning, commenting on the GOP’s apparent confusion about government spending and the effects that such spending has on others.

The party that opposes nearly all other forms of federal spending happily embraces the military variety. Republicans assert that military spending cuts will result in massive job losses, even as they argue that cuts in other federal spending would grow the economy and create jobs in the private sector. They are skeptical that the federal government should engage in nation-building at home, but celebrate it abroad. Republican candidate Mitt Romney accuses Obama of fostering a “culture of dependency” in the United States, yet ignores that U.S. security guarantees have created an entire class of affluent countries around the world that now rely upon U.S. tax dollars to pay for their defense.

Trouble is, as I point out, President Obama “hasn’t been anxious to kick other countries off the dole.” He boasts that the “the United States is still the world’s ‘indispensable nation,’” and he pledges that the U.S. military will continue “to underwrite global security,” which doesn’t leave much for anyone else’s military to do.

Such an ambitious mission is expensive.

Obama’s unwillingness to make deep cuts in military spending confirms his rhetoric. Over the next decade, the Pentagon’s annual base budget (which excludes most war costs) will average $517 billion in constant 2012 dollars, 11 percent higher than what Americans spent during the George W. Bush years.

For many Republicans, but especially for Mitt Romney, that isn’t nearly enough. They accuse the president of gutting the Pentagon’s budget, and loudly complain about his unwillingness to undo the automatic spending cuts that would cut even more (that they, inconveniently, engineered).

Republicans could reasonably claim that military spending should get a pass because the Constitution clearly stipulates a federal role in defending the country. But nowhere is it written that Americans must provide security for others; that is the job of their governments, not America’s.

Indeed, the Republicans’ reflexive commitment to more military spending is particularly curious given their appreciation for how incentives work in the domestic sphere. Republicans know quite well that people are not inclined to pay for things that others will provide for them. GOP leaders speak often of moral hazards – when individuals or businesses behave irresponsibly because others are there to bail them out. The same problem exists in international politics, but is strangely ignored in the GOP’s plan to continue policing the world.

I conclude the piece with some unsolicited advice for the GOP nominee, but I doubt he’s listening. You can read the whole thing here.

Democrats’ Problem: Teachers and Their Unions Just Like the Rest of Us

Let’s face it: everyone is trying to make a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s normal, with people doing things because they feel they’ll make them better off. The problem starts when you insist that you’re a saint—that you’re somehow far more selfless than most other people—and you just can’t keep up the charade any longer. Welcome to the Democratic Party’s teacher union problem.

It seems that trying to keep the party’s union-heavy base happy while simultaneously appearing unbeholden to entrenched interests is going to be a tricky balancing act for the Democrats. But dealing with teachers unions—which adding the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers together have about 4.7 million members—is going to be particularly treacherous. Educators are by far the biggest unionized bloc, and almost certainly the most troublesome. Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times reports today, Democrats are particularly rent asunder on education issues, and a new movie about a parent taking on the union to turn a bad public school into a charter school—the so-called parent trigger—is driving another wedge.

The movie, Won’t Back Down, has already been panned by AFT president Randi Weingarten. But at least her union—unlike the larger and more obstinate National Education Association—acknowledges that there are education problems, and maybe the unions’ time-honored demand of “more money and no accountability” has had something to do with them.

“We bear a lot of responsibility for this,” Weingarten recently told the New York Times. ”We were focused—as unions are—on fairness and not as much on quality.”

No doubt part of the reason that at least the AFT is accepting a little blame is that it sees that teachers unions are losing the sympathies of many members of the public. People are seemingly growing tired of seeing unionized educators enjoying good incomes and expensive perks while those paying the taxes struggle and test scores languish.

The problem with the union reinvention—at least as captured by the Weingarten quote—is that it probably strikes many people as hollow. Why? Because they know that unions are run by normal people and represent normal people, and what they want first and foremost is not what’s best for kids or “fairness,” but getting as good a deal for themselves as possible. In other words, they are starting to see through unions’ selfless-angels facade—the public relations sham of people just wanting a living wage while they give the mythical 110 percent “for the kids” —and are glimpsing normal, profit-seeking human beings who have had a fairly cushy deal over the decades.

Teachers unions, as those of us at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom have said, are not the root problem in education, nor are they or the people they represent any more evil or good than most other people. The root educational problem is that public schools are government schools, and politics—which cannot be detached from government—rewards concentrated special interests, of which unionized teachers are among the biggest.

For the Democratic Party, the big problem is that for decades the teachers unions have insisted that they and their members as far more noble than almost anyone else. At least, more noble than anyone openly seeking a profit, which is most people. But the public is catching on: teachers and their unions are just as self-interested as most other people, and government-run schooling has enabled them to get some awfully nice, taxpayer-funded deals. So what do you do? Acknowledge the paper-mache wings have fallen off and risk the wrath of the teacher unionists, or keep up the angelic charade and hope the public stops noticing reality? Neither is a happy prospect for the Democratic Party.

Can You Spot the Difference?

The Republican National Platform on the War on Drugs in Latin America:

“The war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise. We salute our allies in this fight, especially the people of Mexico and Colombia. We propose a unified effort on crime and terrorism to coordinate intelligence and enforcement among our regional allies, as well as military-to-military training and intelligence sharing with Mexico, whose people are bearing the brunt of the drug cartels’ savage assault.”

The Democratic National Platform on the War on Drugs in Latin America:

“We have strengthened cooperation with Mexico, Colombia, and throughout Central America to combat narco- traffickers and criminal gangs that threaten their citizens and ours. We will also work to disrupt organized crime networks seeking to use the Caribbean to smuggle drugs into our country. As we collectively confront these challenges, we will continue to support the region’s security forces, border security, and police with the equipment, training, and technologies they need to keep their communities safe. We will improve coordination and share more information so that those who traffic in drugs and in human beings have fewer places to hide. And we will continue to put unprecedented pressure on cartel finances, including in the United States.”

I can’t. It appears both the Republicans and the Democrats will seek to maintain the status quo in the war on drugs. They agree that if we double-down and refocus our efforts, perhaps we can help Mexico make a small dent in the violence engulfing their country.

My colleague Ted Galen Carpenter has a piece today in the Huffington Post on how Obama and Romney are foolishly ignoring the issue and avoiding a serious debate about the war on drugs. While the violence in Mexico becomes a greater threat to U.S. national security, the candidates seem content to maintain the same failed policy that has seen 57,000 Mexicans perish.

Clinton vs. Obama

Over the weekend I stumbled upon C-SPAN’s broadcast of Bill Clinton’s 1992 speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, and I remembered how he seemed like a “different kind of Democrat” at the time. As I started watching, I heard Clinton saying:

The most important family policy, urban policy, labor policy, minority policy, and foreign policy America can have is an expanding entrepreneurial economy of high-wage, high-skilled jobs …

Soviet communism has collapsed and our values—freedom, democracy, individual rights, free enterprise—they have triumphed all around the world.

And then he got into the meat of the “new Democrat” message:

To turn our rhetoric into reality we’ve got to change the way government does business, fundamentally. Until we do, we’ll continue to pour billions of dollars down the drain.

The Republicans have campaigned against big government for a generation, but have you noticed? They’ve run this big government for a generation and they haven’t changed a thing. They don’t want to fix government; they still want to campaign against it, and that’s all.

But, my fellow Democrats, its time for us to realize we’ve got some changing to do too. There is not a program in government for every problem, and if we want to use government to help people, we have got to make it work again….

Now, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the old ways don’t work. Trickledown economics has sure failed. And big bureaucracies, both private and public, they’ve failed too.

That’s why we need a new approach to government, a government that offers more empowerment and less entitlement. More choices for young people in the schools they attend- in the public schools they attend. And more choices for the elderly and for people with disabilities and the long-term care they receive. A government that is leaner, not meaner; a government that expands opportunity, not bureaucracy; a government that understands that jobs must come from growth in a vibrant and vital system of free enterprise.

He made his famous promise to “end welfare as we know it.”

That’s not President Obama’s style. He’s not that kind of Democrat. He doesn’t talk about free enterprise as an American value, not even when speaking of freedom to students in China. Search for “free enterprise” on the White House website, and the first hit is to his famous “You didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke—which doesn’t include the word “enterprise,” or the word “free.” He doesn’t say that big bureaucracies have failed, or that we need more choice in education and health care.

Which presumably means Bill Clinton will have to write a different speech when he nominates President Obama for reelection on Wednesday night.

Now don’t get me wrong. There was plenty of old-fashioned Democratic liberalism in Clinton’s 1992 speech. He talked about “what all of us must give to our Nation,” which fits well with Obama’s view. He denounced outsourcing, he proclaimed that “health care is a right,” he promised billions in new federal spending and lots of programs.

He even deplored polarization and “the stereotypes that blind us,” reminding us that today’s complaints about polarization are nothing new. And I was struck by the way he delivered that complaint. He said that “for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what’s really wrong with America is the rest of us—them.” And he elaborated:

Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.

All good points. Too much stereotyping. Too much polarization. Too much partisanship. Except that his list of stereotypes was very partisan. What about “Them, the conservatives”? “Them, the rich”? Aren’t those polarizing stereotypes too? You’d think a different kind of Democrat would have deplored all the stereotypes that politicians use to divide people.

David Maraniss writes in today’s Washington Post that “on most of the big issues, there is little or no space between [Clinton and Obama] as pragmatic liberals.” Maybe so, but in his campaign—and in his response to a midterm electoral rebuke—Clinton certainly gave voters the impression that he was a “different kind of Democrat,” one who appreciated the limits of government and the virtues of free enterprise. This week he’ll presumably have to give a full-throated defense of a president who never said that the era of big government is over, who increased the food stamp rolls by 14 million after Clinton reduced them by 11 million, who increased the national debt by $5 trillion compared to $1.6 trillion in the Clinton years. No doubt he’ll do a great job.

Back When Democrats Cared Enough to Advocate What Works

Many, if not most, of the stated goals of the Democratic Party have universal appeal in the United States. Foremost among those would be reducing poverty and ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education.

The problem with the Democratic Party today is that its leadership seems not to understand the kinds of policies that will achieve those goals. Instead of finding out what works and implementing it, they simply call for new government programs on the assumption that those programs will work (or, if you’re jaded, on the assumption that doing so will get them re-elected).

It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when one of the most prominent Democrats in the nation was so deeply committed to these goals that he was willing to advocate the policies that would achieve them—special interests be damned.

Scott Walter has a little of that story at Philanthropy Daily.

To plagiarize Instapundit: more like this, please.

Woodward’s Narrative

The New York Times reports that the book, Obama’s Wars, by longtime Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that is scheduled for publication next week, depicts an administration completely at odds over the war in Afghanistan.

According to Woodward, the president concluded from the start that “I have two years with the public on this.” He implored his advisers at one meeting, “I want an exit strategy,” and he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

It’s unfortunate that the policy debate over Afghanistan will be further spun into a left-vs.-right issue. After all, there are growing, if nascent, signs that some on the political right have reservations about our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), who earned an 80 percent favorable rating from the American Conservative Union, was a GOP co-sponsor to Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) resolution to force the removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In March, Congressman John Duncan (R-Tenn.) came to the Cato Institute and explained why “there is nothing conservative about the war in Afghanistan.”

And as Cato founder Ed Crane wrote last year in the pages of the LA Times:

Republicans should take this opportunity to return to their traditional non-interventionist roots, and throw their neoconservative wing under the bus and forcefully oppose the war in Afghanistan. The Republicans have a chance at this moment to reclaim the mantle of the party of non-intervention — in your health care, in your wallet, in your lifestyle, and in the affairs of other nations.

I am not a conservative, and neither are many of my Cato colleagues. But these comments are intended to highlight that leaving Afghanistan is far beyond Left vs. Right. In fact, many conservatives used to deride nation-building as a utopian venture that had little to do with the nation’s real interests. In the case of Afghanistan, troops are being deployed to prop up a regime Washington doesn’t trust, for goals our president can’t define. There is a principled case to be made that a prolonged nation-building occupation is weakening our country militarily and economically. It’s a question of scarce resources and limiting the power of government. The immense price tag for war in Afghanistan can no longer be swept under the carpet or dismissed as an issue owned by peaceniks and pacifists, much less “the Democratic Party.”