Topic: Government and Politics

‘Consoler-in-Chief’

I don’t blame President Bush for visiting Virginia Tech the day after the shootings. It probably made some people feel better, and it didn’t do any harm.   

However, it is not healthy for mainstream elites to talk about the presidency as they do in this article from Wednesday’s Washington Post:

“At times like this, [says David Gergen, the president] takes off his cap as commander in chief and puts on the robes of consoler in chief.”

“It’s important for the country to see the one person they decided on as a leader out front and speaking for them in moments like this,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

Leon Panetta, Clinton’s chief of staff, agreed: “In many ways, he is our national chaplain.”

In this case, nothing that comes out of the president’s visit is likely to affect any American’s liberty interests.  But in a larger sense, the expectation that there ought to be a presidential response to any highly visible public event has had a dramatic impact on American liberty over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st.

Here’s an interesting piece from Slate on the Great Coolidge’s resistance to responding to the Mississippi Flood of 1927:

Governors, senators, and mayors asked him to visit the flood zone. “Your coming would center eyes of nation and the consequent publicity would result in securing millions of dollars additional aid for sufferers,” the governor of Mississippi wired. But Coolidge demurred. He declined requests from NBC to broadcast a nationwide radio appeal, and from humorist Will Rogers to send a telegram to be read at a benefit. Taking center stage, Coolidge feared, would feed demands for a greater federal role in dealing with the calamity.

Keeping cool like Coolidge was no longer possible by midcentury. In 1956, political scientist Clinton Rossiter wrote approvingly that faced with “floods in New England or a tornado in Missouri or a railroad strike in Chicago or a panic in Wall Street … the people turn almost instinctively to the White House and its occupant for aid and comfort.”

It’s that reflex that makes the solutions to highly visible news events increasingly federal, increasingly presidential, and, in some cases, increasingly military. There’s something to be said for Silent Cal’s Waspy reticence.

Bon Voyage, Politicians

Senator McCain and Speaker Pelosi have been criticized for their visits to the Middle East, but at least they can claim that their trips were relevant to issues of national importance. Most members of Congress, by contrast, create excuses for junkets to Europe and the Caribbean. Taxpayers pick up the tab for these quasi-vacations - and the price tag is staggering since politicians travel on private jets operated by the military and generally stay in plush hotels. The Examiner explains:

Congress is keeping Andrews Air Force base plenty busy this year ferrying lawmakers all over the globe at taxpayers’ expense. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi took his wife, nine Democrats and two Republicans - Reps. Dan Lungren of California and Mike Rogers of Alabama - on a whirlwind tour of the Caribbean last week. After stops in Honduras and Mexico, they stopped in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the delegation stayed at the five-star Caneel Bay resort. In a separate trip to the Caribbean last week, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York squired his wife and four Democratic members to Grenada and Trinidad. All told, the military flew at least 13 congressional delegations to various destinations during the Easter recess – at an estimated rate of $10,000 or more per flying hour. …At the Caneel Bay resort, where room rates reach $1,100 per night, the spokeswoman said Thompson and his wife paid the “government rate.” But, according to the reservations department, Caneel Bay doesn’t “offer any government rates.” …Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., also led a trip to Belgium over the two-week Easter recess. In February, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, took a delegation there. “We’re at war with Iraq and Afghanistan, but apparently our members see Belgium as our most urgent international destination,” scoffed one Republican member of Congress.

Too Many Americans Have Their Snouts in the Federal Trough

A disturbing new reports estimates that more than one-half of Americans are somehow dependent on government for their livelihood. This is part of a troubling trend, and has worsened in recent years thanks to the profligacy of the Bush Republicans. Investor’s Business Daily certainly understands the danger of having a nation where the people riding in the wagon out-number (and maybe out-vote) the people pulling the wagon:

Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J., figures that 52.6% of Americans, which includes dependents of direct recipients, “now receive significant income from government programs” … the data from 1950, when a mere 28.3% of Americans relied on Washington, that really shows how needy we’ve become. … if the current pace is not abated in 10 years, the percentage could exceed the 55% mark of 1980, the year Reagan was elected on a platform of scaling back the federal behemoth. By 2040, it could be 60%, Shilling reckons. This bodes ill for any prospects of cutting government back to any reasonable size and reforming our messy and intrusive tax system. … when more than half of the country has a financial interest in seeing the government grow, that’s the part of America to which they will cater. That’s certainly not healthy and it is likely unsustainable. … How long before the richest and most productive Americans decide that they will no longer prop up the poorest and least productive? With their political influence waning as that of the untaxed and low-taxed Americans and those who live off the government grows, they can either seek a tax-haven nation where government isn’t a growth industry, or they can choose to be less productive. Neither choice is good for America’s future.

Ron Paul and the Establishment

You get a sense of Ron Paul’s challenge in the Republican presidential race when you look at this Washington Post graphic about early fundraising. Not only is Paul running way behind the frontrunners in the money race, but the Post tells us who some of the notable donors to each candidate are. Mitt Romney is supported, for instance, by Mormon motel mogul J. Willard Marriott. Giuliani has Yankees boss George Steinbrenner. McCain draws support from Henry Kissinger and a managing director of the Carlyle Group. (Can you guess which one is the candidate of the Republican Establishment?) And apparently, the most notable contributor to Ron Paul is … Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project. It’s going to be a long campaign.

For the Democrats, interestingly, the Post eschews listing corporate moguls; instead, it tells us that supporters of the various candidates include Laurence Tribe, Steven Spielberg, Zach Braff, and Paul Newman. Democrats are just so much cooler. And I guess Clinton, Obama, and Edwards just didn’t get any money from The Rich. Funny thing, though, Hillary’s top five zip codes are all in Manhattan, and Obama’s are all in Manhattan or Chicago. Who knew all the hip young TV stars lived in such places? Edwards, however, did pull in a bundle from Beverly Hills 90210.

Sounds Appealing

Jonathan Rauch’s piece on Dwight Eisenhower and the foreign policy vision he handed down to a generation of foreign policy practitioners, includes this little gem:

Eisenhower’s staff secretary and closest aide, Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, once said of his boss, “He was an expert in finding reasons for not doing things.”

Sounds like a good attribute in a president to me.

Volunteer Today!

This is National Volunteer Week – which is really appropriate, since it’s also the week our federal income taxes are due, and the income tax system is based on “voluntary compliance.” No, really, it says so right on the 1040 packet and throughout the IRS website. Indeed, the friendly folks at the IRS acknowledge (.pdf) that some people get the wrong idea because the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary.” But if you take their little online test of “Your Role as a Taxpayer,” they explain to you that it is True that “IRS publications state that the tax system is voluntary,” but it is also True that “The government has the right to force me to pay my taxes and charge me penalties for not paying taxes.” Go figure.

Anyway, if you have any time or money left after paying your taxes, consider doing some volunteer work.

Another Costly Government Failure

Even though they claim to be pro-family, some politicians want the government to act like Mommy and Daddy. President Bush’s abstinence program is a good example of this unfortunate willingness to adopt nanny-state policies. But like almost everything the government does, abstinence programs are an expensive failure. The UK-based Guardian reports on the latest research:

It’s been a central plank of George Bush’s social policy: to stop teenagers having sex. More than $1bn of federal money has been spent on promoting abstinence since 1998 - posters printed, television adverts broadcast and entire education programmes devised for hundreds of thousands of girls and boys. The trouble is, new research suggests that it hasn’t worked. At all. A survey of more than 2,000 teenagers carried out by a research company on behalf of Congress found that the half of the sample given abstinence-only education displayed exactly the same predilection for sex as those who had received conventional sex education in which contraception was discussed.