Tag: ronald reagan

Libertarian Politics in the Media

Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian-leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts – including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op-ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:

In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.

I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self-reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.

Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.

And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:

Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.

You can see in both the Paul op-ed and the Johnson interview that major-party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation – or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee – believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian-leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.

Reagan-Appointed Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban

Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation denounces Judge Vaughn Walker for “extreme judicial activism” and “judicial tyranny” in striking down California’s Proposition 8, which barred gay people from marrying. And of course he doesn’t fail to note that Judge Walker sits in … San Francisco. Robert Knight of Coral Ridge Ministries ups the ante: Judge Walker has “contempt for the rule of law” and is part of “the criminalization of not only Christianity but of the foundational values of civilization itself.” National Review allows the head of the National Organization for Marriage to mutter about the judge’s “personal bias.” Blog commenters rail against the “left-wing liberal judge.”

In fact, Judge Walker was first appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, at the recommendation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III (now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation). Democratic opposition led by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA) prevented the nomination from coming to a vote during Reagan’s term. Walker was renominated by President George H. W. Bush in February 1989. Again the Democratic Senate refused to act on the nomination. Finally Bush renominated Walker in August, and the Senate confirmed him in December.

What was the hold-up? Two issues, basically. Like many accomplished men of the time, he was a member of an all-male club, the Olympic Club. Many so-called liberals said that should disqualify him for the federal bench. People for the American Way, for instance, said in a letter to Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden, “The time has come to send a clear signal that there is no place on the federal bench for an individual who has, for years maintained membership in a discriminatory club and taken no meaningful steps to change the club’s practices.”

The second issue was that as a lawyer in private practice he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a suit that prevented a Bay Area group from calling its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.

Because of those issues, coalitions including such groups as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force worked to block the nomination.

In other words, this “liberal San Francisco judge” was recommended by Ed Meese, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups. It’s a good thing for advocates of marriage equality that those forces were only able to block Walker twice.

Josh Green of the Atlantic notes a pattern: the federal judge in Boston who struck down a significant portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it denied gay and lesbian couples the federal benefits afforded to straight couples, was appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon. And the chief judge of the Iowa Supreme Court who wrote the unanimous decision striking down that state’s marriage ban was appointed by Republican governor Terry Branstad, who was just renominated for governor by Iowa Republican voters. Of course, Nixon and Branstad don’t have the conservative cred of Reagan and Meese.

Who Were the Best Presidents?

At Politico Arena, the question of the day is:

A new Siena College poll ranks Barack Obama as the 15th best U.S. president (landing him below Bill Clinton, ahead of Ronald Reagan). Franklin Delano Roosevelt earned top honors, while Andrew Johnson was last. Pollsters say Obama is high on imagination, communication and intelligence, but weak on background. On your list of best presidents, where would President Obama land? Who was the best president, and who was the worst?

I responded:

Of course Obama ought to be given an incomplete. But he got a Nobel Peace Prize purely on spec. He does now have 18 months of presidential action, and he has already done many things that establishment political scientists like. Presidential scholars love presidents who expand the size, scope and power of government. Thus they put the Roosevelts at the top of the list. And they rate Woodrow Wilson – the anti-Madisonian president who gave us the entirely unnecessary World War I, which led to communism, National Socialism, World War II, and the Cold War – 8th. Now there’s a record for President Obama to aspire to! Create a century of war and terrorism, and you can move up from 15th to 8th.

George Washington, who made real the Founders’ dreams of a free republic, should surely be rated first. That he is not speaks volumes about the interests and values underlying this survey.

In his book Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, Ivan Eland gives high grades to presidents who left the American people alone to enjoy peace and prosperity, such as Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, and Rutherford B. Hayes. The fact that you can’t remember what any of those presidents did is a plus. At the bottom he places Wilson, Truman, McKinley, Polk, and George W. Bush. Bush is also rated near the bottom by the Siena poll. But when current passions have faded, and the next generation’s establishment presidential scholars reflect on Bush’s expansion of federal power and executive power, Bush will start rising in the rankings.

I’m also amused by the presidential scholars’ ranking of Lyndon Johnson 1st in the category of relations with Congress. LBJ was known for his vulgar, arm-twisting, threatening, corrupt manipulation of a huge congressional majority. One would hope that congressional scholars might rate higher a president who recognized the constitutional limitations of the executive branch.

Forget Freedom. The UK Poll Is All About ‘Fairness’

Britain may have given the world freedom as we understand it (see The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns by Benjamin Constant), but you would not know it from the last prime ministerial debate that took place last Thursday. The candidates (Conservative David Cameron, Labour’s Gordon Brown and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg) used the word “freedom” only 2 times. They said the word “free” 5 times, but all in the context of the supposedly “free” goodies, which they promised to lavish on the electorate. Words “responsible” and “responsibility” fared somewhat better (4 times). But the winning words were “fair” and “fairness” that were mentioned 22 times – almost always in connection with taxing the rich. Here is a typical example:

Brown: “But I come back to the central question about fairness that has been raised by our questioner. How can David [Cameron] possibly justify an inheritance tax cut for millionaires at a time when he wants to cut Child Tax Credits? Let’s be honest. The inheritance tax threshold for couples is £650,000, if your house is worth less than that you pay no inheritance tax. What David [Cameron] is doing is giving 3,000 people, the richest people in the country, he’s going to give them £200,000 each a year. That is simply unfair.”

It was Gordon Brown, the current Prime Minister, who increased the top rate of income tax to 50%. Neither Clegg nor the supposedly business-friendly Cameron have proposed to cut that rate. Indeed, “fairness” in British politics seems to amount to little more than taxing the most productive members of society “until the pipes squeak.” Those words were uttered by Denis Healy who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1970s. It was under his leadership that the UK ran out of money and had to borrow billions from the IMF. It turns out that when you tax the rich too much, they will work less or leave for a more hospitable jurisdiction. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan understood it. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Brown do not.



Podhoretz on Palin

Today Politico Arena asks:

Comment please on Podhotetz on Palin

My response:

To complete Norman Podhoretz’s thought in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “I knew Ron Reagan. Ron Reagan was a friend of mine. Governor Palin, you’re no Ron Reagan – but I like you all the same.” And that distinguishes Podhoretz from those “conservative intellectuals” whose antipathy to Sarah Palin and “the loathsome Tea Party rabble” is ultimately explained, he believes, by “the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers.”

To be sure, that “class bias” explains a good measure of the hostility Mrs. Palin has faced, especially among that often diverse band called neoconservatives. For like their counterparts on the left, most neoconservatives find their roots in progressivism, not in limited government classical liberalism, and hence in the idea that society should be “run” by elites trained at the “best schools” – the difference being that in engineering society the neoconservatives march to different drummers than modern liberals. Both camps have greater faith in government than does ”the common man,” who is distrusted by both camps (not always without reason), although Podhoretz seems more trustful than most in his band.

Where he errs, I believe, is in his too breezy comparison of Palin to Reagan. There are similarities of course – especially in the reactions of elites to both, on which his essay dwells – the most important of which is that both show a certain common sense approach to the world and to public affairs. Their intuitions seem sound, that is. But it takes more than sound intuition to be a successful president. Ronald Reagan was always underestimated. Unlike so many of his elite critics, left and right, he came from humble beginnings, but he was an autodidact his whole life. He read and understood economists, political theorists, historians, and biographers. That knowledge, coupled with a wealth of experience, including two successful terms as governor of the nation’s largest state, distinguishes him from Mrs. Palin. Both have that common sense that enables them to speak to “the common man,” but the similarity ends there.

Perhaps Mrs. Palin will find the life she has carved out since leaving the governorship of Alaska will be attractive enough to encourage her to continue in it. My sense, however, is that the millions of Americans who today are deeply troubled by the direction the country is taking under the Obama administration are still looking for candidates who combine the understanding, the common sense, and the humility that Ronald Reagan so clearly embodied.

President Palin?

“Take Sarah Palin seriously,” David Broder writes in the Washington Post. ”In the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty – and potentially, to Obama as well.” Palin’s own Captain Ahab, Andrew Sullivan, wrings his hands that she’s the “leader of the opposition” and a real threat to be president. Time’s Joe Klein goes even further: “Is Sarah Palin the favorite to win the Republican nomination and therefore someone to be taken absolutely seriously? You betcha.”

Yes, well, I’m old enough to remember that Newsweek prepared six covers for the week of the 1968 election (I was very precocious), and one of them proclaimed “President-elect George Wallace.” Wasn’t gonna happen. Nor is this. As for those who compare Palin to Ronald Reagan, yes, there are some similarities. They both lived in the West, they’re both “conservative” in some sense, and they were both dismissed by effete East Coast intellectuals. But I see just a few differences:

  1. Reagan served eight years as governor of a very large state; he didn’t quit after half a term.
  2. Reagan had spent a long time developing a real political philosophy, one that had changed a great deal during his adult life. In his time as president of the actors’ union, 1947-52, he was known as a liberal, anti-communist Democrat. A long life of watching the world, paying taxes, and reading moved him to the libertarian right. Palin couldn’t name any newspapers she reads. Reagan told Rowland Evans in an interview, “I’ve always been a voracious reader – I have read the economic views of von Mises and Hayek, and … Bastiat…. I know about Cobden and Bright in England – and the elimination of the corn laws and so forth, the great burst of economy or prosperity for England that followed.” Reagan thought a lot about what he believed, and his deep understanding of a set of political principles was perhaps his most notable characteristic when he emerged on the political stage.
  3. Reagan was smart and could articulate his views on public policy. One of the standard defenses of Palin is “liberals said Reagan was dumb.” Yes, they did, even after he out-debated Bobby Kennedy in an internationally televised debate just months after he became governor. Democratic mandarin Clark Clifford, who didn’t realize that the bank he chaired was run by actual criminals, famously called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” But now that Reagan’s hand-written radio commentary scripts have been published, no one really makes this claim any more. Read Reagan in His Own Hand, read the commentaries he wrote on yellow pads while being driven from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and ask yourself: Could Sarah Palin do that?

Sarah Palin can be a dazzling performer. But she’s still capable of saying that Obama could improve his chances for reelection if he ”played the war card … decided to declare war on Iran.” Her articulation of political ideas remains remarkably thin. The Republican bench may be weak, but I don’t think it’s that weak.