Topic: Government and Politics

First Woman

Sarah Palin may be the first woman to serve as vice president, and she would now have to be considered the most likely candidate to be America’s first woman president. But she won’t be the first woman to receive an electoral vote. That title goes to — anyone, anyone? That’s right — everyone knows that the first woman to receive an electoral vote was Geraldine Ferraro, running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984.

But no. Everyone is wrong. The actual first woman to receive an electoral vote was Tonie Nathan, the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 1976. Nathan was a radio/television producer in Eugene, Oregon, when she attended the first presidential nominating convention of the Libertarian Party in 1972. She was selected to run for vice president with presidential candidate John Hospers, chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California.  Although the ticket received only 3,671 official votes, Virginia elector Roger L. MacBride chose to vote for Hospers and Nathan rather than Nixon and Agnew.

Find out more about Tonie Nathan — and the man she ran with and the man who cast his electoral vote for her — in the comprehensive new Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, which will be unveiled at Cato.org next week.

My Hope Was for Change

I really dislike political speeches, and the “bigger” the speech, the worse. More faux earnestness. More lofty rhetoric about “pulling together to realize the American dream.” More heartstring-pullers about “a man I met in [insert heartland state here] who has played by the rules, but who is on the brink of losing his house because this year’s crop was destroyed by a plague of locusts and his job at the vacuum-tube factory was off-shored to Bangladesh.” You know what I mean.

Despite this, last night I was torn. I really didn’t want to listen to Barack Obama’s speech — Logical Neal had read lots of Obama’s issue positions and didn’t see anything that struck him as the least bit new — but Optimist Neal said surely there must be something to all this talk of “change.” So I tuned in.

Stupid Optimist Neal!

There wasn’t a thing in last night’s spectacle that didn’t come right out of the shopworn (but, of course, not open-shop!) Democratic tool bag and Big Book of Clichéd Political Speeches. Demonizing corporations and “the rich”; assuming that “caring” is synonymous with “more government”; pronouncing that all of this is what it really means to be American — it was all there!

Now, I know that no one reads what I have to say to get my take on pure politics. I’m an education guy! Fortunately, I can make my point by sticking with what I know. Obama’s rhetorical exploitation of education and “the children” was his tired speech in microcosm:

  • Demonize opponent because he hasn’t proposed new programs — you know, because Washington spends nothing on student aid — to send kids to college?

Check!

“I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know…How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college…”

  • Talk like kids aren’t getting a decent education because government hasn’t done enough?

Check!

“Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves, protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education…”

Check!

Oh, and promise to pay teachers—your most important foot soldiers and powerful lobby—more?

Check on that, too!

“I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American — if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

I won’t go on. I’m sure you get the point. There’s nothing new — there’s no “change” — with Obama. There’s just the same old promise that whatever your problem, government will solve it, and there’s just another reminder that I should never, ever, listen to Optimist Neal.

“Cult” Watch

CNBC just ran a feature entitled “Electing the CEO of America.” It’s a great illustration of the insane expectations Americans invest in what’s supposed to be a limited, constitutional office. As I write in that book,

Over the second half of the 20th century, Gallup polls showed that an average of 41 percent of Americans per year cited economic issues as the most important problems facing America. Here, as usual, the buck stopped with the president, Rossiter’s “Manager of Prosperity,” despite the fact that expecting any president to successfully “manage” a 13-trillion dollar economy made up of some 150 million workers, each with their own plans and goals, is unrealistic, to put it mildly.

The only presidential candidate in recent years to echo William Howard Taft’s 1912 admonition that “the national government cannot create good times,” was a fictional one, Republican contender Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda on NBC’s “West Wing.” In November 2005, the network aired a live “debate” between Vinick and his Democratic opponent, Jimmy Smits’ Matt Santos. Asked “how many jobs will you create?” Vinick said “None.” “Entrepreneurs create jobs,” he elaborated, “Business creates jobs. The president’s job is to get out of the way.” Real-life contenders don’t talk that way, nor do real-life presidents. (For what it’s worth, Vinick lost.)

Though I suppose “CEO of America” is an improvement over Hillary Clinton’s phrase: “We need a president who is ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy.” As Jerry Taylor put it at the time, “we eagerly await your orders, ma’am!”

Great Moments in Subsidized Train Travel

I once ran out of gas in college, so I suppose I shouldn’t throw too many stones at Amtrak’s glass house, but presumably somebody actually gets paid to make sure that trains don’t leave stations without enough fuel to make it to their next destination. According to the AP report, Amtrak will be investigating how this happened on a trip from LA to San Diego. Needless to say, don’t expect anyone to be held accountable:

A quick train trip down the coast turned into a long haul for more than 80 Amtrak passengers when their train from Los Angeles to San Diego ran out of fuel Sunday night. …The train, which had left Los Angeles at 8:30 p.m., didn’t get there until 1:15 a.m. Monday, two hours late. A train running out of fuel is “an unusual occurrence” and Amtrak officials will be looking into how it happened, Cole said.

Joe Biden’s So-So Record on Trade

During his long tenure in the Senate, Joe Biden of Delaware has compiled a mixed record on votes affecting our freedom to participate in the global economy. The record of the Democratic vice-presidential hopeful is more pro-trade than Barack Obama’s but much less so than John McCain’s.

According to our “Trade Vote Records” feature on the Cato trade center web site, Biden has voted in favor of lower trade barriers on 24 out of 48 votes in the past 15 years. On trade-distorting subsidies, such as farm price supports, he has voted for lower subsidies on only 3 of 11 votes. Since Obama joined the Senate in 2005, he has voted for lower barriers 36 percent of the time and for lower subsidies 0 percent. John McCain has voted for lower barriers on 88 percent of votes and for lower subsidies on 80 percent.

Here are the highlights and lowlights of Biden’s voting record on trade:

On the positive side from a free trade perspective, he voted consistently to maintain normal trade relations with China, including permanent NTR in 2000; for the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1993; for the Uruguay Round Agreements Act in 1994; for the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996; for fast-track trade promotion authority in 1998; to defund enforcement of the travel ban to Cuba; to cut sugar production subsidies; and in favor of the Morocco and Australian free trade agreements in 2004.

On the negative side for those who support the freedom to trade, Biden voted for steel import quotas in 1999; for the 2002 and 2008 protective and subsidy laden farm bills; against trade promotion authority in 2002; against the Chile, Singapore, Oman, and Dominican Republic-Central American FTAs; in favor of the Byrd amendment directing anti-dumping booty to complaining companies; in favor of imposing steep tariffs on imports from China to force changes in that country’s currency regime; and in favor of screening of 100 percent income shipping containers by 2012.

For a senator who prides himself on his foreign policy experience, Biden’s record shows great ambivalence about American participation in the global economy.

Joe Biden and Limited Government

Barack Obama and Joe Biden both get a perfect 100 from the big-government liberal Americans for Democratic Action, which probably tells you all you need to know. But I remember a dramatic moment back in 1991 when Biden made his commitment to unlimited government clear and dramatic. Clarence Thomas had been nominated for the Supreme Court, and Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was questioning him. Biden bore in on the possibility that Thomas might believe in “natural law,” the idea, as Tony Mauro of USA Today summarized it, that “everyone is born with God-given rights - referred to in the Declaration of Independence as ‘inalienable rights’ to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ - apart from what any law or the Constitution grants.” Biden singled out Cato adjunct scholar Richard Epstein and Cato author Stephen Macedo and demanded to know if Thomas agreed with them that the Constitution protects property rights. Waving Epstein’s book Takings in the air like Joe McCarthy with a list of communists, Biden demanded to know, as we very loosely paraphrased it in Cato’s 25-year Annual Report (pdf; page 14), “Are you now or have you ever been a libertarian?” As most judicial nominees do when pursued by a senator roused to defend his power like a mama bear, Thomas assured Senator Biden that he wouldn’t take the Constitution too seriously. Here’s Biden on the warpath:

Was Biden right to worry? Well, as we said in the Annual Report, four years later Thomas joined the Court in declaring, “We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of limited powers.” But ten years later the Court finally considered whether the Constitution protects property rights and said, “Ehh, not so much.” Thomas protested, “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.” Biden was right to worry that Thomas’s understanding of individual rights and the Constitution just might put some limits on the power of government.

The Democrats and Free Trade

If and when trade and globalization come up at the Democratic National Convention next week, I can almost guarantee that the take will be negative. It has become part of the party’s core message these days that free trade favors the rich at home and our unfair trading partners abroad. Just yesterday, in a tour of southern Virginia, Democratic hope Barak Obama took an indirect swipe at trade when he told a crowd in Martinsville, “You’re worried about the future. Here people have gone through very tough times. When you’ve got entire industries that have shipped overseas, when you’ve got thousands of jobs being lost… . That’s tough.”

Not all Democrats share the pessimistic view of trade. In the latest edition of the Cato Journal, hot off the presses, I review a new book by pro-trade Democrat Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute. In my review of Freedom from Want: American Liberalism and the Global Economy, I wrote:

Although it is easy to forget today as Democratic candidates rail against NAFTA and globalization, but for decades it was the Democratic Party that championed lower tariffs. Democrats opposed the high tariff wall maintained by Republicans from the Civil War to World War One, arguing that tariffs benefited big business at the expense of poor consumers. Under President Woodrow Wilson, Congress drastically lowered tariffs in 1913 and replaced the revenue with an income tax, only to see Republicans raise tariffs again in the 1920s, culminating in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 and the Great Depression that followed.

The Democrats should think long and hard before they give up that legacy altogether.

You can read the full review here.