Topic: Government and Politics

Term Limits and the Happiness of the People

Hugo Chavez is the latest public official to join the effort to roll back term limits. He will soon be free of the limits on his terms as president of Venezuela as well as other constraints on his drive toward total power. If you ever wondered whether term limits contravened excessive ambition, perhaps President Chavez suggests an answer.

Chavez is seeking to end his term limit and other measures to increase his power “to guarantee to the people the largest amount of happiness possible.”

Is he so different from American politicians? He offers the voters happiness (not liberty) and demands power adequate to that end. Constraints on power like term limits are so, you know, neo-liberal, so pre-New Deal.

What Are You, Some Kind of Communist?

I never sprung for their six(!)-volume history of Whitewater, but I used to love the Wall Street Journal’s Clinton-bashing during the ’90s. Sure, writers for the WSJ could get a little, uh, exuberant with some of their charges, but even if they couldn’t prove that our 42nd president was a drug-running rapist, you could usually count on finding some good dirt on Bill and Hill on the editorial and op-ed pages. 

Well, boy, do I feel like a useful idiot now. It turns out that by savaging our president throughout the ’90s, the Journal was “taking a page from the old Soviet playbook.” Say it ain’t so, Paul Gigot!

Anyway, that’s what I got out of ”Propaganda Redux,” the op-ed by Ion Mihai Pacepa that ran in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, even though the author’s main focus, predictably, is on Bush-bashing. Pacepa is “the highest-ranking intelligence official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc,” so he knows something about anti-American commie tactics, like spreading doubts about the president. You see:

Sowing the seeds of anti-Americanism by discrediting the American president was one of the main tasks of the Soviet-bloc intelligence community during the years I worked at its top levels. This same strategy is at work today, but it is regarded as bad manners to point out the Soviet parallels. For communists, only the leader counted, no matter the country, friend or foe.

As Pacepa recounts, Soviet bloc spies would stop at nothing in their disinformation campaign, portraying “Nixon as a petty tyrant, Ford as a dimwitted football player and Jimmy Carter as a bumbling peanut farmer.” When you think how close Americans came to believing some of that stuff, it really gives you a chill. We might well have lost the Cold War. 

Yet even today, over a decade and a half after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ominous parallels remain. As Pacepa notes, “At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, for example, Bush critics continued our mud-slinging at America’s commander in chief.” This will not do, for, as Pacepa explains in the last paragraph:

[T]he communists got it right. It is America’s leader that counts.

And there you have it. Right in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The second Clinton presidency sure is going to be interesting.   

Conservative Big Spending Goes Global

By now it’s old hat that President Bush, who remains inexplicably popular with conservatives, is the biggest spender since LBJ. Now it turns out that the Conservative government elected two years ago in Canada is trying to match him.

John Williamson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes in the National Post that “the Conservatives’ two budgets boosted spending by $24.4 billion over two years.” OK, it’s not Bush’s trillion dollars. But Canada is a smaller country, and “as a result the size of the federal government has grown by 14%.”

It looks like Patrick Basham was all too prescient when he predicted, to much consternation in Canada, that Harper would become “Bush’s new best friend.” 

The Left Understands RomneyCare

In defending his health care plan, former Massachusetts governor turned presidential candidate Mitt Romney never fails to call it a “free market” plan or to denounce “HillaryCare,” the presumed alternative. In the most recent Iowa debate, he proclaimed: “This is a country that can get all of our people insured with not a government takeover, without HillaryCare, without socialized medicine…. We [in Massachusetts] didn’t expand government programs.”

In reality, as my collegue Michael Cannon has pointed out, RomneyCare is virtually indistinguishable from HillaryCare. But don’t take our word for it.

Joe Conason of the New York Observer is the latest liberal advocate of national health care to note the similarities. As Conason says, “Actually, his fabulous Bay State plan is based entirely on governmental action, from mandating insurance coverage and minimum coverage requirements to subsidizing insurance and imposing fines on those who fail to comply.”

Romney has been trying to position himself as the “conservative” alternative to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. But being a conservative Republican should be about more than abortion policy and the War on Terror. At the very least, supporting a government take over of one-seventh of the U.S. economy should disqualify one from being anything but the biggest of big-government conservatives.

Recessed Enlightenment

With Congress adjourned for its August recess, Americans can enjoy a brief respite from the steady stream of bad legislation that typically emanates from the Capitol.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Congress stayed out of Washington for a bit longer?

Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) recalled a conversation with former Senator Jim Eastland (D-Miss.) about the way Congress used to deal with the summer heat:

“‘Before we had air conditioning,’ he said, ‘that sun would beat down on that dome, heat up that place,’ he said. ‘It would get too hot and we’d leave Washington, and we’d leave for the year,’” Biden quoted Eastland as saying.

“‘Then we got air conditioning, stayed year-round and ruined America.’”

Pandering to the Protectionists

Given the audience, one could have expected a goodly amount of protectionist rhetoric from the Democratic presidential candidates in their debate last night at an AFL-CIO forum. But at times it seemed as though they were battling to see who among them could pander the most.

Dennis Kucinich has never been a promoter of open trade and markets, so it is hardly surprising that he said withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO would be a “first week in office” priority. Thank goodness he’s not a serious candidate. What is worrisome is the cheers his pledge elicited. Do the members of the AFL-CIO truly believe that if two of our largest trade partners (Canada and Mexico) increased their tariffs on American goods, that would somehow benefit them? Is the WTO seen as such a negative force overall that withdrawing from its forums and its legal protections is perceived as wise?

The other candidates, to their credit, did not match Mr Kucinich’s pledge. But that is to damn them with faint praise, however, as most of them did undertake to “revise” trade agreements, including NAFTA, (presumably by putting in more stringent rules on labor and environmental provisions) and to put more emphasis on enforcement of trade agreements. None of them, not even Senator Clinton, whose husband showed a commendable commitment to trade during his time in office, stood up and defended the benefits of trade.

Senator Obama, given the chance to acknowledge the positive effect of trade on working families – i.e., cheap goods – demurred, making an emotive, if economically illiterate, point about how a cheap T-shirt is useless if one doesn’t have a job. As though the U.S. economy was not demonstrating that consumers can have access to cheaper goods as well as record employment.

Perhaps the next Democratic presidential candidates debate should be held at a consumer- or taxpayer-group forum.

Time for a (Most of) Government Shutdown

President Bush and congressional Democrats are fighting over many of the annual spending bills, leading some to predict a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts October 1. This prospect horrifies the political class, but Investor’s Business Daily explains why it would be a good idea to close many government departments:

Here’s a suggestion: Many government departments, agencies and offices should be closed for good. …In 1800, the government needed a mere 3,000 employees and $1 million a year to do its job. In those days, lawmakers knew well the meaning of “limited.” Today, federal civilian employees number nearly 2 million. Another 10 million or more are federal contractors or grant recipients. The yearly budget of this runaway train is soaring toward $3 trillion. …Start with the Education Department, created in 1979 by the Carter administration despite the fact there is no constitutional authorization for its existence. In addition to its meddling, the department is spending nearly $70 billion a year in taxpayers’ dollars. By all accounts, public education in this country is worse off than it was when the Education Department opened. It’s hard to make an argument that those 5,000 employees are contributing anything. Next on the block should be the Energy Department, another monster wrought by Jimmy Carter, this one in 1977. There’s no real job this department… Like food, shelter and clothing, energy is a commodity that can and should be traded on an open market. There is no need to make a federal case out of it, particularly one that employees 17,000 people. All Cabinet-level departments — even Defense, which could cut waste — should at least have their budgets drained of excess. On a smaller scale, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities should go. Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be zeroed out.