Topic: Government and Politics

Billionaires and Mill Workers

Presidential candidate John Edwards tells every audience that his “father worked in a mill.” It’s right there on his MySpace page: “My dad was a millworker.” Google “john edwards mill worker” and you’ll find lots of journalists and reference sites reporting that as fact. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson upped the ante, declaring that “Edwards grew up poor.”

But is Edwards’s story true? Not quite, according to Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy, who actually visited his home town back in 2003. Healy found:

On the campaign trail today, the senator regularly describes himself as the son of a mill worker but rarely if ever notes that his father was part of management. “They weren’t quite as humble as Edwards makes it sound,” says Pat Smith of Robbins. “Wallace was a very important man at the mill. … They weren’t rich, but they weren’t struggling poor.”

“John was more middle class than most of us,” says Bill Garner, a high school friend and college roommate.

In the LA Weekly Doug Ireland is more tendentious:

“The Edwardses were solidly middle class” when Johnny was growing up, according to a four-part profile of the North Carolina senator in his home state’s most prestigious daily, the Raleigh News and Observer. It’s true that for a few years as a young man Edwards’ father worked on the floor of a Roger Milliken textile mill. But Edwards père (a lifelong Republican, like his reactionary boss) quickly climbed upward, becoming a monitor of worker productivity as a “time-study” man — which any labor organizer in the South will tell you is a polite term for a stoolie who spies on the proletarian mill hands to get them to speed up production for the same low wages. Daddy Edwards’ grassing got him promoted to supervisor, then to plant manager — and he finally resigned to start his own business as a consultant to the textile industry.

Edwards was no millionaire scion, like the Roosevelts and the Kennedys and the Bushes. And even today he’s no billionaire like possible candidate Michael Bloomberg and avid, though struggling, candidate Mitt Romney. Nor did he completely make up a family history stolen from another candidate in another country, like Joe Biden.

But his background is more middle-class than he tells voters, and he wouldn’t connect so well with union audiences if he noted that his father was a mill manager. Indeed, his upbringing seems to have been more secure and comfortable than that of, say, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton.

Bushies and Ideologues

Columnist David Ignatius writes this morning that “ideologues” are running rampant in the Bush administration, firing U.S. attorneys right and left. Writing about the emails that the administration released, he says

What interests me about the Justice e-mails is that they are a piece of sociology, documenting the mind-set of the young hotshots and ideologues who populate the Bush administration.

But there are few if any ideologues in this administration. What would their ideology be? Certainly not any previously known variant of conservatism. “Compassionate conversatism”?! Right. Country-club Republicanism? Maybe, but I think that’s a mindset at best, not an ideology.

The famous email about which U.S. attorneys should be fired said they would keep the “loyal Bushies,” not “the conservatives.” I don’t think “loyal Bushies” are loyal to compassionate conservatism or country-club Republicanism; they’re personally loyal to George W. Bush, for some reason that passeth my understanding.

Consider a similar term: “Reaganite.” I’m sure people in the Reagan administration asked one another if a job candidate was a Reaganite. And many people in the administration were personally loyal to Ronald Reagan. But they loved him most for the values he enunciated: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” The Republican Party should “raise a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors.” America has a “rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and — above all — responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill.”

When someone says he’s a Reaganite, he means that he adheres to the principles of lower taxes, less regulation, traditional values, and a strong national defense. When a Justice Department staffer asks if someone is a “loyal Bushie,” he means something entirely different.

I think Ignatius actually knows this. Later in the column he writes:

The Bush political operatives have become the people the Republicans once warned the country against — a club of insiders who seem to think that they’re better than other folks. They are so contemptuous of government and the public servants who populate it that they have been unable to govern effectively. They are a smug, inward-looking elite that thinks it knows who the good guys are by the political labels they wear.

But that’s not an ideology. That’s just partisanship. Us vs. them. Red vs. blue. “We need those people out, We need our people in,” as the previous First Lady put it. It’s pull and power and personal loyalty.

Ideology gets a bad name sometimes. But a commitment to a set of political principles is more deserving of respect than a regime of pure politics.

Update on Hillary 1984

The mysterious creator of the Orwellian YouTube ad about Hillary Clinton has been unmasked. He is Philip de Vellis, a strategist with Blue State Digital, a digital consulting firm with ties to rival Sen. Barack Obama. The ad ended with a plug for Obama, but the Obama campaign had denied any knowledge of it. Blue State designed Obama’s website; the company fired de Vellis yesterday. And Democratic operative de Vellis was properly chastened: “I want to make it clear that I don’t think that Hillary Clinton is Big Brother or a bad person or anything.”

But

“I’m for free enterprise, but –” You can hear it coming. “I’m against all these government giveaway programs, but –” It’s a common and frustrating experience for a libertarian, hearing a ringing declaration of principle followed by a qualification that the speaker doesn’t have any intention of giving up his own subsidy, regulation, tariff, or pet project.

Years ago, when I was raising money for a free-market business group, I remember one of those letters: “I agree with everything you say. Government is too big. Subsidies and regulation are impeding the operation of our free enterprise system. But the Hawaiian sugar industry is unique.” A friend told me once that he’d persuaded his father, a dentist, to become a consistent libertarian–except on licensing for dentists. What about licensing for brain surgeons? I asked. No, my friend said, I think he’s OK with letting the free market work there.

And now NPR has brought us the latest example. On the way home, my mind wandered as “All Things Considered” reported on a biodiesel refinery in Washington state. And then I heard a familiar opening line from the tech millionaire who is now the CEO of Imperium Renewables, which built the refinery.

I’m a pretty conservative guy, generally. I’ve voted Republican my whole entire life. And I’m very skeptical of the government’s role in any kind of market.

Wait for it, wait for it – you just know there’s a “but” coming.

But, in this case, there’s no other way to do it but with government support and mandates.

Turns out biodiesel is profitable with a federal tax subsidy of up to a dollar a gallon, and with the anticipation of restrictions on greenhouse gases. So a guy who’s normally “very skeptical of the government’s role” supports subsidies in this case because there’s “no other way to do it.” But that’s the whole point of markets and prices–to tell us what economic endeavors make sense. If Hawaiian sugar, or South Carolina textiles, or biodiesel fuel isn’t economically viable without subsidies, then that means it’s not the best use of our limited resources.

One of the values of a political philosophy–sometimes dismissed as “ideology” or “dogma”–is that it gives us a rule, a set of principles, for deciding such questions. We don’t have the time to look at all the data and decide what we think about every issue, and we’re certainly all subject to personal biases on the issues that touch us. There are lots of speakers I’d personally like to shut up, but if I remember that I do believe in the First Amendment, I realize I have to allow even offensive speech. I may want Amtrak to run fast trains between Washington and New York, or I may want to keep my own factory in business. But if I remember that the free-market economy produces the best results for all of us, then I will accept the outcomes of the market process.

People should think about the benefits of the whole libertarian system–free markets, free speech, freedom of religion, constitutional limits on government–whenever they’re tempted to say “I’m for freedom, but–”.

Is Hillary 2008 like IBM 1984?

The Washington Post has a big story on a “viral attack ad” about Hillary Clinton that’s been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. Jose Antonio Vargas and Howard Kurtz report:

It’s a “mash-up” of Ridley Scott’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial that portrayed IBM as an Orwellian Big Brother and introduced Apple’s Macintosh as the bright new vanguard of computing. But now it’s Big Sister, Clinton, vs. the upstart, Sen. Barack Obama.

The ad shows the oppressed masses staring in unison at a huge screen featuring Hillary Clinton as phrases from her deadly “conversations” lull the viewer into a stupor. As she drones on, a young blond woman in athletic gear twirls with a sledgehammer, then hurls it into Clinton’s giant image.

The ad concludes with the tagline “On January 14, the Democratic primary will begin. And you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like 1984.”

The most interesting point in the Post story is that Vargas and Kurtz were unable to find out who created and posted the ad. It ends with a plug for Barack Obama, but the Obama campaign denies any knowledge of it. On YouTube, the creator claims to be 59 years old and gives the user name ParkRidge47. He or she didn’t answer emails from the Post. But Vargas and Kurtz note that Hillary Rodham was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, in 1947, which makes her 59 years old.

Did she post the video herself? It hardly seems likely. But then – just last night, on FX’s “Dirt,” an actress gained great notoriety, then sympathy, then career advancement after a graphic sex tape featuring her was posted on the internet. And after much investigation, it was discovered that she posted it herself.

Still, it surely wasn’t Clinton or her supporters. It was created by someone who prefers Obama. And it’s a great example of anonymous pamphleteering for the internet age. As Jonathan Wallace pointed out in a Cato study, that’s a tradition that goes back to Cato’s Letters and the Federalist Papers. But our modern election laws have tried to stamp out anonymity. All expressions of political support are supposed to be disclosed, reported, and regulated. But why do we need to know who created this great ad? If you take offense at it, create a better one in response.

Democratic Budget Threatens Repeal of Bush Tax Cuts and Adoption of Dorgan and Levin Anti-Tax Competition Bills

In a discouraging development, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee has crafted a budget that does not make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He implies that the tax cuts can be extended if other taxes are raised, and he specifically suggests that legislation attacking so-called tax havens could provide offsetting revenue. But these punitive and discriminatory bills would raise very little money (especially since they would force many American companies and entrepreneurs to reduce their efforts to compete in global markets). As the Wall Street Journal explains, Senator Conrad’s real goal is repealing the Bush tax cuts and imposing a huge tax hike on the productive sector of America’s economy:

Mr. Conrad has no intention of extending the Bush tax cuts… But Senate Democrats don’t want anyone to know this, at least not before the 2008 election. So Mr. Conrad says his budget revenue estimates “assume that Congress will take steps to counter the effects of the expiration of tax cuts in 2010 in a manner that does not add to the nation’s debt burden.” How so? Well, “this additional revenue can be achieved without raising taxes by closing the tax gap, shutting down illegal tax shelters, addressing tax havens, and simplifying the tax code,” he avers. …The 10-year revenue increase from repealing the Bush tax cuts is something like $2 trillion, according to Congress’s static-revenue models. Mr. Conrad is claiming that Congress will make up for all of that lost revenue by chasing down such illusions as the “tax gap,” which the IRS claims is the difference between the taxes people owe and what they pay. …All of this is really sleight-of-hand to disguise that Democrats are intent on repealing the Bush tax cuts. This would raise the tax on capital gains to 20% from 15%, more than double the tax rate on dividends to 39.6% from 15%, and sharply increase marginal tax rates at all levels of income. …The market fell 200 points on the day Mr. Conrad unveiled his magic act last week.