Tag: Politico

Has President Obama Given up on Changing U.S. Foreign Policy?

Today in Politico I have an op-ed titled “How Washington changed Obama.” In the piece, I argue that the recent appointments of Leon Panetta as secretary of defense and Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA, combined with revelations in the recent New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, suggest that President Obama has given up on changing U.S. foreign and defense policy:

Panetta is a dubious choice to fulfill Obama’s recent pledge to trim military spending. Any secretary charged with realizing that pledge would need extraordinary credibility with Capitol Hill Republicans, many of whom are determined to continue raining money on the Pentagon regardless of the nation’s parlous fiscal position. Despite having once been a Republican, Panetta ran for Congress as Democrat and has served prominently in Democratic administrations. He is unlikely to craft the pragmatic consensus needed to give the Pentagon a haircut.

Petraeus’s nomination poses a different problem. He has spent the past decade focused— at the behest of his commanders in chief —  on what we used to call the “global war on terrorism.” But is U.S. nation-building in the Muslim world the most important national security and intelligence problem we face today?

[…]

The U.S. desperately needs to change its focus. We account for roughly half the world’s military spending, yet we feel terribly insecure. We infantilize our allies so that they won’t pay to defend themselves and instead allow us to do it for them. We stumble into small- and medium-sized foreign quagmires the way many people eat breakfast — frequently and without much thought.

Read the rest of the op-ed here.

Cross-posted at The National Interest.

The Transparency Contest Heats Up

Back in January, I wrote in Politico about the potential for House Republicans to “eclipse” President Obama on transparency. Perhaps the most important element of that piece was the subtle pun on the “government in the sunshine” motif. (Sunshine? Eclipse? Get it?) House Republicans appear to be more ready than ever to move forward on transparency with the announcement by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) of a working group to update the House’s use of technology.

That could end up as so much window dressing—Twitter accounts for everybody!—or it could result in substantive changes, such as publishing bills and amendments in real time (from committee markups, too) and tagging them with semantic data to make their meaning readily and instantly available to the public. How about publishing the House video feed (committee feeds, too) with real-time tags indicating what bill is being debated and who is speaking? That kind of data will give the public entrée to the House like they’ve never had before.

Meanwhile, President Obama seems to have ducked a meeting at which he was to receive an award for his transparency work. It didn’t strike me as quite fitting for him to get such an award. He’s good on transparency but has not reached the lofty goals he campaigned on. The House Government Reform Committee is having a hearing on the Freedom of Information Act today (9:30 am EST start-time), an area where the administration seems also to have come up short of expectations.

Now, whatever miscue prevented the president from accepting his transparency award is not substance, and the formation of a task force is not substantive change either. But the Republicans appear to have the keener interest in transparency at the moment.

Watch this space for the results of work we’ve been doing to show both Congress and the president how to be more transparent. So the irony is not lost on you the way that sunshine/eclipse pun was, I’ll put it in italics: You can’t see our transparency work quite yet. But soon we’ll set out what House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration should be doing to win plaudits on the transparency merits.

Correction: Charles Mahtesian at Politico Did NOT Agree with Chris Matthews

In my recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Myth of Corporate Cash Hoarding,” I quoted Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball asking Politico’s Charles Mahtesian an apoplectic question about businesses “sitting on their money” just to keep the economy weak and hurt Obama’s reelection chance in 2012.   Then I carelessly added an erroneous superfluity −writing that “Mr. Mahtesian concurred.”

My apologies to Charles Mahtesian (and congratulations for having had the good sense to disagree with Chris Matthews).

In reality, Mahtesian wisely dodged Chris Matthews’ bizarre interrogation about corporations willfully refusing to spend idle cash until after 2012 election.  Mahtesian instead switched to talking about business going “whole hog” during the 2010 congressional election (this show aired September 27).

Here is the transcript:

MATTHEWS:  You know, a great question, Charles, that wasn‘t on my list to ask, but I‘m going to ask you because you seem like a sophisticated guy of many parts.  Do you think business can sit on those billions and trillions of dollars for two more years after they screw Obama this time?  Are they going to keep sitting on their money so they don’t invest and help the economy for two long years just to get Mr. Excitement, Mitt Romney, elected president?  Would they do that to the country?

MAHTESIAN:  Well, I won’t touch the first question, Chris, but…

MATTHEWS:  That was all one question, bro!

MAHTESIAN:  Oh!  I prefer splitting the two.  I’d say that I think what you’re going to see the business community do is really go whole hog at this election right now because either way, you know, I think they can envision a scenario in which they lose … because, for example, number one, if the president has a Republican House, that’s probably going to be a rough scenario for them anyway because that’s what the White House wants if they want to get elected in 2012 — re-elected.  So, probably the best-case scenario for them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MAHTESIAN:  So you know, either way, I mean, I think they — they weigh the equities, and you know, see it as a 50-50 endeavor.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I just hope business starts spending.

ObamaCare, Round 2

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

House Republicans are expected to approve a bill on Wednesday that would repeal the Obama health care law. But they are not yet offering a specific replacement for “Obamacare”. Will they pay a price politically for not immediately presenting an alternative? Or is the 2010 law sufficiently unpopular that repeal itself will be enough heading into the 2012 elections?

My response:

Does anyone really expect the scores of new House Republicans, who’ve just now arrived in Washington, to already have a plan to replace ObamaCare? Let’s be serious. The first step for new members is to keep their campaign promise by voting to repeal this unpopular scheme – if for none other than symbolic reasons. The next is to hold hearings and then to start defunding various of its provisions. And in the course of that, a better approach will emerge, one hopes. Remember, Republicans were shut out of the process that created ObamaCare.

Yet at the Arena this morning we see the usual Democratic responses. Timothy Jost writes, for example: ”Health care is rapidly becoming unfordable [sic]; to the government, to employers, to ordinary Americans.” So government, for which health care is becoming unaffordable, is going to solve that problem?! How? By printing money? By imposing price and service controls? That’ll be popular – with doctors and patients alike!

The basic problem is too much government in the health care arena. It’s anything today but a market. Those approaches that have reintroduce market forces – like health savings accounts – have worked quite well. We have them at Cato. We like them. But they won’t be allowed under ObamaCare. Why? Because the Democrats know what’s best for us. What’s best, they believe, is for us to be dependent on government for our health care. No thanks.

TSA’s Strip/Grope: Unconstitutional?

Writing in the Washington Post, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen carefully concludes, “there’s a strong argument that the TSA’s measures violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.” The strip/grope policy doesn’t carefully escalate through levels of intrusion the way a better designed program using more privacy protective technology could.

It’s a good constutional technician’s analysis. But Professor Rosen doesn’t broach one of the most important likely determinants of Fourth Amendment reasonableness: the risk to air travel these searches are meant to reduce.

Writing in Politico last week, I pointed out that there have been 99 million domestic flights in the last decade, transporting seven billion passengers. Not one of these passengers snuck a bomb onto a plane and detonated it. Given that this period coincides with the zenith of Al Qaeda terrorism, this suggests a very low risk.

Proponents of the TSA’s regime point out that threats are very high, according to information they have. But that trump card—secret threat information—is beginning to fail with the public. It would take longer, but would eventually fail with courts, too.

But rather than relying on courts to untie these knots, Congress should subject TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to measures that will ultimately answer the open risk questions: Require any lasting security measures to be justified on the public record with documented risk management and cost-benefit analysis. Subject such analyses to a standard of review such as the Adminstrative Procedure Act’s “arbitrary and capricious” standard. Indeed, Congress might make TSA security measures APA notice-and-comment rules, with appropriate accomodation for (truly) temporary measures required by security exigency.

Claims to secrecy are claims to power. Congress should withdraw the power of secrecy from the TSA and DHS, subjecting these agencies to the rule of law.

The Tea Party’s Other Half

Emily Ekins and I have an op-ed in today’s Politico pointing out that while the Tea Party is united on economic issues, there is a split virtually right down the middle between traditional social conservatives and those who think government should altogether stay out of the business of “promoting traditional values.” Candidates and representatives hoping to appeal to the Tea Party, we argue, need to focus on a unifying economic agenda that takes into account this strong libertarian undercurrent.

We conducted a survey of 639 attendees at the October 9, 2010 Tea Party Convention in Virginia, one of the larger state Tea Party gatherings of its kind to date. We included the same questions from Gallup and the American National Election Studies that David Boaz and I have used to identify libertarians in our previous studies, “The Libertarian Vote” and “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.”

In our new survey, we found libertarians were 48 percent of Tea Partiers, versus 51 percent who held traditional conservative views. We defined traditional conservatives as agreeing that “the less government the better,” and that “the free market can handle these problems without government being involved,” but also believing that “the government should promote traditional values.”  Tea Party libertarians agreed that less government is better, and prefer free markets, but believe that “the government should not favor any particular set of values.”

These findings help refute the assumption that the Tea Party is just another conservative group, both fiscally and socially. The data should also caution Republicans not to over-interpret potential midterm gains in the House and Senate as a mandate for social as well as fiscal conservatism.

Our survey replicated the methodology of a Politico/Targetpoint survey from a Tea Party rally in April, which also revealed an even split between libertarians and conservatives. At the time, journalist David Weigel criticized this finding because it sampled a tea party rally that featured Ron Paul. No surprise, Weigel reasoned, that the survey “skewed” libertarian because Ron Paul’s supporters “were out in force.”

This Tea Party Convention in Virginia also featured Ron Paul—as well as Lou Dobbs, Rick Santorum and Ken Cuccinelli. With this more wide-ranging speaker line up, it would be harder to argue that the crowd skewed libertarian. If anything, we might have expected the sample to skew conservative.

While ours and Politico’s surveys sampled local tea party events, add to this a new national survey from The Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard on the role of government. It found respondents who support or lean toward the tea party split on the social issues: 42 percent moderate-to-liberal, 57 percent conservative or very conservative. These three data points, taken together, suggest that our findings would likely hold up if we repeated the survey at other tea party events nationwide.

Many still mistake the tea party as one large group, sharing common interests, which our research shows is incorrect. For instance, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson made this mistake, in an widely circulated op-ed earlier this week, asserting that the Tea Party has “the worldview of the American right – and the polling shows conclusively that that’s who the Tea Party is that.” As the chart below shows, libertarian and conservative Tea Partiers agree on economic issues, but libertarians are less concerned about social issues.

Both groups are extremely concerned about the recently passed health care reform, cutting federal government spending, and reducing the size of government. However, Tea Party libertarians are less concerned than conservatives about the moral direction of the country, gay marriage, immigration, job outsourcing, “the Mosque in NYC,” and abortion. While these differences may seem subtle, given the question wording we used, small changes are statistically significant.

It is important to recognize that these groups are not necessarily consistently ideological on all fronts. For example, we shouldn’t expect Tea Party conservatives to reflect all the views of William F. Buckley, Jr., nor Tea Party libertarians to reflect all the views of John Stossel or scholars at Cato. Nevertheless, the two groups were unified on economic issues but were different on social and cultural issues at a statistically significant level.

One finding surprised me. While we know the word “libertarian” remains unfamiliar to many who hold libertarian beliefs, the word may be gaining traction. On surveys, most libertarians identify themselves as independent, moderate or, reluctantly, conservative. However, in our survey we included an option for respondents to self-identify as “libertarian.”

Surprisingly, 35 percent of respondents who hold libertarian views self-identified as such. In previous surveys, we’ve found only 2 to 3 percent self-identify as “libertarian” nationally. To the extent that Tea Partiers talk to their neighbors and friends, perhaps we will begin to see the word “libertarian” catch on. This would certainly be good news for the “libertarian brand,” and a possible trend worth exploring in future research.

Emily and I will be writing up our findings as part of a longer study. And Emily’s more extensive research on the Tea Party, including her widely circulated analysis on Tea Party signs, will be part of her doctoral dissertation for UCLA. In the meantime, here is our survey questionnaire, and some charts showing further break down between libertarians and conservatives. Please eekins [at] cato [dot] org (let us know) if you have additional data questions.

How Long Can the Politics of Compromise Continue?

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Are Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s recent statements about not compromising a refreshing bit of candor from top political leaders, rather than the usual platitudes about bipartisanship and working across the aisle?

My response:

Mitch McConnell’s comment about making Obama “a one-term president” and John Boehner’s vow that Republicans will not “compromise on their principles” if they win the majority do indeed challenge “the usual platitudes about bipartisanship and working across the aisle.” But they also reflect a deeper problem that the midterm campaigns have begun to unmask, namely, that decades of compromises have brought us to a state where further compromise is no longer tenable. Look at France. Look at Greece. Look even at England.

I allude, of course, to the “entitlement” schemes that are sinking all western democracies – others more than ours. These are giant Ponzi schemes that would be criminal if undertaken by private parties, because like all such schemes, they’re unsustainable, with late entrants left holding the bag. But unlike their private counterparts, the public versions force us all to play. Yet as the day of reckoning approaches, government has only limited choices: either reduce the promised benefits, or pay for them by taxing or borrowing more or by selling government assets (e.g., western lands), each of which has inherent limits, or by printing money, which is another way of breaking promises – and it ends ultimately in a death spiral. That’s the hard reality. Government isn’t Santa Claus.

So when Obama governs as though he has no grasp of that reality, talk of a one-term presidency is simply coming to grips with reality. And if this election is any indication, Americans appear increasingly to appreciate that. To be sure, there are issues on which to compromise. But for far too long we’ve acted as if every issue were “political,” from retirement security to healthcare to so many other “problems” that in truth are simply the problems of life. Earlier generations solved those problems privately, either by themselves or in voluntary association with others. Indeed, the freedom to do so was what the Constitution was written to secure.

But Progressives disdained that kind of freedom as illusory. They wanted us to solve our problems collectively. The New Deal institutionalized that vision, of course, turning the Constitution on its head. Thus today’s progressives think that nearly every “problem” is a political problem, to be solved collectively – utterly ignoring the evidence of the ages about such collective undertakings. Sarkozy has prevailed for the moment in France, but strikes continue to cripple the economy, and the opposition has promised to make him pay in the next election. One can hope only that American voters will take a different course and that those they elect next Tuesday will have the wisdom to know when and when not to compromise, because this cannot go on forever.