Tag: goldwater

New Obamacare Lawsuit Targets Arizona Gov. Brewer’s Illegal New Taxes

In 1992, after seeing their taxes raised 8 times in 9 years, the people of Arizona overwhelmingly approved Proposition 108, a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to require tax and fee increases to be passed by a 2/3 vote in each of Arizona’s legislative bodies.  Since then, Prop 108’s supermajority requirement has protected Arizona taxpayers from the kind of special-interest-driven tax increases that typically don’t enjoy public support. As a result, Arizona’s tax burden has fallen over the years, to the state’s great economic benefit.

Recently, however, as part of a brazen effort to force through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Governor Jan Brewer – who ran for reelection last year as a staunch opponent of Obamacare – sidestepped Prop 108 in a way that threatens to eviscerate its taxpayer protections and otherwise violate Arizona’s stricter-than-normal adherence to the separation of powers.

Because the Medicaid expansion will cost Arizona an untold sum, and did not receive the 2/3 majority required for it to raise the taxes to pay for itself, Brewer employed more creative means to raise Arizonans’ taxes: delegating the taxation authority to a state bureaucracy and calling it an “assessment.” This approach takes advantage of Prop 108’s exception for “fees and assessments that are authorized by statute, but are not prescribed by formula, amount or limit, and are set by a state officer or agency.” Interpreted Brewer’s way, the exception allows the legislature to delegate a taxing power to state agencies that the legislature itself doesn’t have. If read this way, the exception would forevermore swallow the rule and impose an outcome contrary to Prop 108’s stated purpose.

Accordingly, our friends at the Goldwater Institute last week filed suit in state court on behalf of state lawmakers – including Rep. Adam Kwasman, a good friend of mine who’s now the vice-chair of the Arizona House Ways & Means Committee – and their constituents, challenging the new tax as a violation of Arizona’s constitution and the state’s separation of powers.  Goldwater argues that the hidden tax violates Prop. 108’s supermajority requirement for new taxes, and that Arizona’s strict separation of powers prohibits the delegation of taxing power to an unaccountable state bureaucracy.

Goldwater is clearly in the right. Prop 108 was adopted for the plain purpose of preventing precisely this type of special interest tax-and-spend behavior – behavior the people of Arizona will be even less able to oppose if state courts determine that a bare legislative majority can delegate taxation power that it doesn’t itself possess. Brewer’s Medicaid expansion, meanwhile, threatens to take the taxing power out of Arizonans’ hands and give it to bureuacrats and the special interests that lobby them.

It will be a shame if Arizona courts permit Brewer’s newfound insistence on enabling Obamacare to effectively neuter a constitutional provision supported by more than 70% of voters. For more commentary on the case, read Josh Blackman.

This blogpost was co-authored by Cato legal associate Julio Colomba.

End of an Era, Passing of an Age

Yesterday’s giants continue to exit the arena:  I missed the news cycle on this, but two weeks ago Bill Rusher died at the ripe old age of 87.

Rusher was a conservative writer and activist, and the publisher of National Review in its first few decades.  Although he mostly dropped off the public stage after retiring from NR in 1989, he had latterly been involved with such Cato-friendly groups as the Pacific Research Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation.

From the Wall Street Journal’s obit-itorial:

In the early 1960s, Rusher and others built the foundation for what became Barry Goldwater’s successful run for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1964. While Goldwater lost, his candidacy signaled the conservative ascendancy within the GOP that culminated in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

Rusher wrote a successful syndicated column for 36 years in which he exhibited his fundamental optimism about America and its purposes—even through the dark days of reckless government expansion after 2008. Having once thought Reagan should mount a populist, third-party challenge to the GOP in the 1970s, Rusher and the tea party were kindred spirits. He had a deep faith in the ability of the American people to regain their bearings after a political mistake.

He was also a man of great personal dignity and superb taste who we recall once offering us the very good advice that, “The best restaurant is the restaurant that knows you best.”

It is this last bit that has perhaps stuck most with me about the man, whom I met a few times in college because Rusher enjoyed mentoring young right-of-center writers.  I remember well talking with him late into the night about how to balance intellectualism and activism, or more simply how to put ideas into action.  Well into his 70s by then, Rusher had this cool, stylish charm, a lively mind behind a steely manner (and an impeccable wardrobe).

Not quite a household name any more even in conservative circles, Bill Rusher will certainly be missed in my household.

Can the GOP Recover Its Principles?

Today, Politico Arena asks:

How helpful is it to the GOP to have its chairman say the party’s “credibility snapped” while in power and it became “just another party of Big Government?”

My response:

If GOP chairman Michael Steele means it, it’s very helpful for him to say that the party’s “credibility snapped” while in power and it became “just another party of Big Government?”  You first have to recognize a problem if you want to solve it.

For better or worse, we’ve had two major parties for most of our history, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.  At least since the New Deal, the Democratic Party has been the party of government, especially over economic affairs.  By contrast, since the Goldwater revolution of 1964, the Republican Party has claimed to be the party of individual liberty and limited government, although that claim was often undermined by calls for restricting certain personal liberties, and the party was slow, as were parts of the Democratic Party, in supporting the civil rights movement.  But broadly speaking, in our recent history the two parties have been distinguished, nominally, by their different conceptions of the proper role of government.

At no time was that contrast more sharply drawn than during the Reagan administration.  Yet even then there were internal struggles between the Reagan people and the Bush people.  Recall that when Bush ‘41 became president, he called for a “kinder and gentler nation,” which was a slap at Reagan’s limited government principles.  And eventually, of course, he broke his “no new taxes” pledge.

After Bush lost the presidency, the Gingrich “Contract with America,” leading to the Republican take-over of Congress for the first time in 40 years, was supposed to return the party to a principled, limited government path.  It did so briefly, in those heady days of 1995, but by the end of the year the siren song of government power was calling and the party started its slow slide, at the end of which it was barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party.

Thus, it was no accident that in 2000 the party selected as its standard-bearer George W. Bush, who had been utterly absent from the intellectual ferment of the Goldwater-Reagan years.  Not unlike his father, Bush ‘43 stood for “compassionate conservatism,” a slogan ripe with promise for government programs.  And the Republican Congress, now rudderless, was anxious to supply them.  If the party stood for anything, it was incumbency protection.  What better example than the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” bill, which Bush signed while saying he thought it was unconstitutional.  What’s the Constitution among friends?

But rudderless, unprincipled government could not go on forever, and so in time it came crashing down upon the Republican time-servers – and the real party of government took over.  Immutable principles, however, such as you can’t get something for nothing, favor no party, and so Democrats too are facing, or will soon face, the harsh realities that flow from abandoning political and economic discipline.  If the Republican Party can recover the fundamental principles that are captured in the nation’s founding documents, and take them to the people, it will then fall to us to decide what we want.  And if we too believe in something for nothing, we will have no one to blame but ourselves for the consequences that follow.  But at least we will have had a choice, which we have not had in recent years.  So, yes, Mr. Steele’s call for a return to principle is helpful.

The Closing of the Conservative Mind

If you’re unclear what’s wrong with conservatism these days, I urge you to check out the tragicomic dustup accidentally provoked last week by my colleague Jerry Taylor at National Review Online’s “The Corner” blog.

I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow recount of the fracas, but happily a convenient compendium of the relevant links is provided here. Go read the whole thing; you’ll be entertained, that’s for sure. For present purposes, suffice it to say that Jerry made two basic points: (1) talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are not popular outside the conservative movement; and (2) the two have a habit of making “dodgy” arguments even when their positions are sound. He might have added that the sky is blue and A comes before Z. For his effrontery Jerry was verbally beaten to a pulp by his fellow Cornerites.

The whole thing seems like an updated version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, except this time the crowd turns on the truth-telling kid and gives him the Rodney King treatment. And that response to Jerry’s innocent and obvious points captures the essence of what has gone wrong with the conservative movement. That the flagship publication of the movement will brook no criticism of demagogic blowhards like Limbaugh and Hannity says it all:  A movement founded on the premise that “ideas have consequences” has suffered a calamitous decline in intellectual standards.

Richard Posner agrees. In a recent blog post, he offered this withering assessment of the state of the conservative mind:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of managment and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

I don’t endorse every detail of Posner’s bill of indictment, but the broad thrust is correct. Movement conservatism has regressed to something like the days before National Review was founded – back when Lionel Trilling could say that conservatism consisted of nothing but “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” And as Jerry’s trip to the woodshed demonstrates, those gestures can be very irritable indeed! Conservatism today has degenerated into a species of especially unattractive populism, pandering to the pro-torture-and-wiretapping, anti-gay-and-Mexican prejudices of a dwindling, increasingly sectarian, increasingly regional “base.”

Some who sympathize with libertarian and free-market causes are cheered by the anti-government rhetoric and Tea Party theatrics now increasingly in evidence on the right. Perhaps, they think, the old Goldwater-Reagan conservatism is making a comeback. Sorry, but I seriously doubt it. On the contrary, I worry that good free-market ideas are going to get tainted by association with an increasingly brutish identity politics for angry white guys and the women who love them.

In order to make gains for the cause of limited government, we need to convince smart people that we are right. We need to win the battle of ideas in the intellectual realm by making better arguments than our opponents, and we need to educate the public so that it is less susceptible over time to “rational irrationality.” None of this can be accomplished by consorting with and apologizing for merchants of intellectual junk food, or by making common cause with some of the ugliest cultural attitudes in contemporary America. Greater economic freedom will not come with pitchforks and torches; it will come, as it has in the past, by reshaping the elite consensus.