Topic: Government and Politics

Rush Limbaugh Is Half-Right: Liberals Offer Poorly Thought Out, Emotional Solutions. And So Do Conservatives

Friday afternoon Rush Limbaugh took a call from a conservative teenager who wanted to know how to help his generation “realize what’s happening in our nation.” Rush offered some thoughts, beginning with this:

Liberalism is so easy.  All you have to do is see some suffering and tell everybody that you see it, and that it really bothers you. Right there, you are given great credit for having great compassion, and people will say great things about you.  All you have to do is notice it.  You don’t have to offer a solution.  If you do offer a solution, say, “The government ought to do something,” then they’ll really, really love you. Liberalism’s easy. 

That’s why a lot of people end up going there, is no resistance to it. It doesn’t take any kind of thought because it’s all based in emotion, and thinking is harder than feeling.  Thinking’s an applied process. 

That’s a good point. It is indeed easy to see a problem and say “the government ought to do something.” People don’t make enough money? Raise the minimum wage. Don’t think about what the effects of that might be. Or just increase welfare. And again, don’t think through the long-term effects. IBM is too big? Break it up, even as new competition is about to leave IBM in the dust. Part of the problem here is taking a snapshot view of the world – which at any point will be full of inefficiencies and inequalities— rather than a dynamic view. The world is constantly changing. Economic growth is a process. Things that are first bought only by the rich become cheaper and more available to the middle class and then to everyone. And centralized, compulsory “solutions” to immediate problems may impede growth, improvement, and progress.

But Rush might have mentioned that sometimes “conservatism” is easy, too. All you have to do is see a problem and demand a government program. Some people get in trouble with drugs? Ban ’em. The Middle East is in chaos? Bomb some more countries. Russia is assertive? Stand up to ’em! “It doesn’t take any kind of thought because it’s all based in emotion, and thinking is harder than feeling.  Thinking’s an applied process.” And when you think about it, you might realize that prohibition introduces all sorts of new problems, that the United States can’t control the whole world any more than it can control the American economy, that threatening war with a nuclear-armed Russia might have disastrous consequences.

Yes, thinking is harder than feeling. It’s easy to say, “The government ought to do something.” And both liberals and conservatives default too easily to such easy answers.

Whatever Happened to the Left’s Love of Free Speech?

There was a time in America when the Left could be counted on to defend free speech. But as countless examples today demonstrate, those days are long gone. From campus speech codes to campaign finance to prosecutorial threats against climate change critics and more, the evidence is as fresh as this morning’s newspapers.

Campus assaults have been so well documented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that they need no elaboration here. But the latest campaign finance “reform”—“until the court reverses its decision in Citizens United”—can be found championed in an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post by such stalwarts of the Left as Yale Law School’s Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayers. On Tuesday last, it seems, Seattle voters approved a measure that would “give” each registered voter a $100 “democracy voucher” that could be spent “for only one purpose—to support their favorite candidates for municipal office.” The city can of course “give” that $100 voucher only if it first “takes” the $100 from its taxpayers, which it will do in all the unequal ways that modern tax systems exhibit. Thus is the political speech of private individuals reduced by forcing the funds they might otherwise direct to candidates of their choice to be redirected through this public funding scheme to candidates they may oppose.

But that inroad on free speech pales in comparison to recent attacks on what most Americans would have thought were the free speech rights of climate skeptics, the RICO-ing of whom my colleague Walter Olson has been covering—along with the machinations of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The latest from the latter is all over the papers today, the Post’s headline reading “Exxon investigated over climate change research.” The Left has already browbeaten Exxon Mobil into ending its funding for think tanks and advocacy organizations that express climate change skepticism. Now, however, it’s getting more serious, with Schneiderman issuing a subpoena that focuses, we’re told, “on whether Exxon Mobil intentionally clouded public debate about science and hid from investors the risks that climate change could pose to its business.” “Clouded?” What, a debate that is crystal clear? That of course is what the environmental establishment would like as to believe.

And circling back to the academy, so too, apparently, would one Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University and a critic of Exxon who laments that we haven’t yet implemented a carbon tax. There are many reasons we haven’t, she tells the Post, but a significant one “is the role of Exxon Mobil and others in fomenting disinformation, undermining public support for such initiatives, and lobbying against policies that would have begun to decrease our fossil fuel dependency.” And this from a professor of the history of science, the annals of which are littered with the corpses of “settled science.” Clearly, if we don’t stop this speaking and lobbying, we could have one more corpse.

Paid Patriotism, Sports and War

Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake made a splash yesterday with their report on “paid patriotism.” The report shows that the National Guard and military services, in the name of marketing themselves to potential recruits, paid millions over the last several years to professional sports teams and a couple universities for on-field tributes to military personnel, which appeared to fans as unpaid expressions of affection. According the report:

These paid tributes included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches͕ and puck drops. The National Guard paid teams for the “opportunity” to sponsor military appreciation nights and to recognize its birthday. It paid the Buffalo Bills to sponsor its Salute to the Service game. DOD even paid teams for the “opportunity” to perform surprise welcome home promotions for troops returning from deployments and to recognize wounded warriors.

In other cases, it seems that a military marketing or promotional contract paid for a lot of personnel to attend games without doing much of marketing value. They just wanted tickets.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Down with the “Joyful Campaign”

I have a piece running in the Federalist this week on the notion that presidential candidates should campaign “joyfully,” as Jeb Bush ever more desperately insists that he is. It’s not clear why we’re supposed to want joyful candidates, but that seems to be the prevailing norm. Hardly a week goes by without reporters needling the contestants: are you having fun yet? I wrote the column before former Senator Fred Thompson passed away on Sunday, but it occurred to me that his failed 2008 run is a perfect illustration of how perverse the cult of campaign-trail positivity has become. 

By almost any measure, Thompson had a full life: a Watergate Committee counsel whose questioning revealed the existence of the White House tapes; U.S. senator from Tennessee; “Law and Order,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Die Hard 2.” But his short-lived presidential campaign isn’t part of the highlight reel. The Tenneseean put it gently in their obituary: “Mr. Thompson underwhelmed” in his 2008 bid. The press was harsher when Thompson dropped out of the race. “You must show an interest in running for the most powerful office in the world to gain that office,” John Dickerson scolded in Slatebut “The press copies of his daily schedule always looked like they’d been handed out with a couple of the pages missing. The candidate seemed like he might just show up for events in Fred08sweatpants.” “As his hopes cratered,” Politico chided, “the former Tennessee senator increasingly voiced his displeasure with a process he plainly loathed. Thompson’s stump speech became mostly a bitter expression of grievance against what was expected of him or any White House hopeful.” Ha: what a weird old grouch! I mean, the guy’s an actor, and he still couldn’t fake it! What’s wrong with him?

And yet, earlier generations of Americans would have viewed Thompson’s reticence as reassuring. As the political scientist Richard J. Ellis explained in an insightful 2003 article, “The Joy of Power: Changing Conceptions of the Presidential Office,” early American political culture took it as self-evident that anyone who seemed to relish the idea of wielding power over others couldn’t be trusted with it. “Presidential candidates largely stayed home in dignified silence,” he wrote, “ready to serve if called by the people….Distrusting demagoguery and tyranny, the dutiful presidency demanded dignity, reserve and self-denial from its presidents.”

Jeb Bush, Obesity, Limited Government, and Me

Before he launched his presidential campaign, Jeb Bush released his emails from his eight years as governor. Now he’s released a 700-page book of selected emails. According to Amazon’s search function, I’m not in the book. But I did have a brief exchange with Governor Bush in 2003. As a libertarian, I wasn’t convinced by his argument. But I was impressed that the governor personally answered an email that I didn’t even send to him but rather to a member of his press staff. Governor Bush announced the creation of the Governor’s Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic, with such goals as:

  1. Recommend ways to promote the recognition of overweight and obesity as a major public health problem in Florida that also has serious implications for Florida’s economic prosperity;
  2. Review data and other research to determine the number of Florida’s children who are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight;
  3. Identify the contributing factors to the increasing burden of overweight and obesity in Florida;
  4. Recommend ways to help Floridians balance healthy eating with regular physical activity to achieve and maintain a healthy or healthier body weight;
  5. Identify and research evidenced-based strategies to promote lifelong physical activity and lifelong healthful nutrition, and to assist those who are already overweight or obese to maintain healthy lifestyles;
  6. Identify effective and culturally appropriate interventions to prevent and treat overweight and obesity;

When the announcement of this task force reached my inbox, courtesy of the governor’s office press list, I had this exchange (read from the bottom):

From: Jeb Bush [mailto:jeb [at]]
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2003 8:05 PM
To: David Boaz
Cc: jill.bratina [at]
Subject: FW: Executive Order Number 03-196

David, the reason for this is that obesity creates huge costs to government. If you believe in limited government, you should support initiatives that reduce it. I know you believe that it is not the role of government to deal with these demands, which I respect, but until you win the day, we need to respond to the challenge.


—–Original Message—–
From: David Boaz [mailto:dboaz [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 10:30 AM
To: DiPietre, Jacob
Subject: RE: Executive Order Number 03-196

Why is what I eat any of the government’s business? This is the very definition of big government.

—–Original Message—–
From: DiPietre, Jacob [mailto:Jacob.DiPietre [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 10:21 AM
Subject: Executive Order Number 03-196

DATE: October 15, 2003
TO: Capital Press Corps
FROM: Jill Bratina, Governor’s Communications Director
RE: Executive Order Number 03-196
Please find attached an Executive Order creating the Governor’s Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic.

As I said, I wasn’t persuaded. I’ve written that obesity is not in fact a public health problem. It may be a widespread health problem, but you can’t catch obesity from doorknobs or molecules in the air. And the idea that our personal choices impose costs on government, through semi-socialized medicine and similar programs, has no good stopping point. If obesity is the government’s business, then so are smoking, salt intake, motorcycle riding, insufficient sleep, cooking all the nutrients out of vegetables, and an endless stream of potentially sub-optimal decisions. (I was going to include drinking whole milk, but … well, you know.)

I’m glad to note that last month Jeb Bush said that a federally developed anti-obesity video game, “Mommio,” was a waste of “scarce resources.” Maybe he’s coming around.

Cruz and Paul’s VAT Mistake

Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have proposed value-added taxes (VATs) as part of their tax reform plans.

I critique these taxes in National Review today, arguing that they could become engines of big government growth.

Cruz and Paul are champions of small government, and so their embrace of VATs is unfortunate, and also potentially dangerous.

Dangerous because VATs are probably the only way that liberals would be able to fund the huge projected growth in unreformed entitlement programs in coming years.

In a worse-case scenario under the current tax system, liberals would succeed in hiking income taxes, but they wouldn’t be able to seize much more money because the income tax base is so mobile in today’s global economy. The corporate income tax, for example, is a complex and damaging tax, but it is not capable of raising the government any more revenue than it already does.