Topic: Government and Politics

Nurse Ratched at the Polls

Former Catoite Amy Phillips has a neat rundown of “Nanny-State” ballot initiatives in the several states.  The war on smoking remains popular, with smoking bans passing in Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio–but, happily, there’s some support for “cut and run” in the war on marijuana, with liberalization measures apparently passing in Arkansas, several California cities, Massachusetts, and one Montana county–though failing in Colorado, Nevada, and South Dakota.

In Massachusetts, “56 percent of voters rejected a measure to allow grocery stores to sell wine,” due to the efforts of a “Bootlegger/Baptist” coalition in which liquor store owners funded a campaign designed to stoke fears of increased teen drinking.  But in Oklahoma, 53 percent of voters, recognizing that there’s no better day of the year for heavy drinking, voted ”to repeal a ban on the sale of alcohol on Election Day.”    

This Incumbent Was Protected from the Wave

Last week I wrote about the ways the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 made Christopher Shays’ re-election bid more likely.

Yesterday, Chris Shays bucked the national trend and won re-election despite having trailed in the polls for some time. He won by 3 percentage points of the vote. In 2004, a better year for Republicans, Shays won by 4 points.

Perhaps he should send a thank you note to the sponsors of the law, Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold as well as Rep. Martin Meehan and … Rep. Christopher Shays.

Bipartisan Baloney

Pundits and politicians are calling for bipartisan hugs and kisses between the red and blue teams with the new closely divided Congress. The parties will need to work together and stop the bomb-throwing we are told. The Washington Post today says that the Democrats should resist the temptation to act “highhandedly and unilaterally.”

That’s nonsense. In a closely divided legislature, partisanship and attacks on the other team are the logical course for both parties. Because both parties know that either House or Senate could easily switch back over in 2008, they will do their best to deny the other side any legislative victories. The GOP’s strategy now will be to show that the Dems can’t get anything done, so they block, filibuster, and veto. They are the opposition in the House, so their job is to oppose.

The Dems will use their chairmanships and control of the House floor to schedule partisan hearings and votes to try and make the Republicans look bad any way that they can. The most important thing for Nancy Pelosi will be to hold onto the majority and line up some divisive issues to hammer on to help the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. Note that she won’t be scheduling votes on tax hikes anytime soon, because that would immediately revive the GOP and jeopardize 2008.

You can get “bipartisanship” if the legislature is lopsided and the minority thinks that they will be the underdog for a long time to come. In that case, the minority knows that they will have to be nice to the majority to get any of their own priorities accomplished.

Whether any of this is good or bad for the country is another issue. I like a divided and gridlocked legislature, and I like ideologically polarized parties because it gives voters cleaner choices and helps strengthen party brand names.

Where There Is Too Much Vision, The People Perish

As the country heads to the polls, that old debate about whether it’s rational to vote is getting rehashed at Reason and the Volokh site.  I intend to regularly exercise my right to complain, but as a disenfranchised DC’er, I’m rather less tempted to pull the lever (touch the touchscreen?) than I’d ordinarily be.  I always find it disturbing when you exit the booth and they give you a little “I Voted!” sticker, like they do when you’re seven years old and they want you to show the world that you didn’t have any cavities.  If this is a civic duty, let’s at least try to make it dignified for the grown-ups.  Either that, or bring back Tammany and the kegs of rum. 

On the Cato homepage, we have a number of useful links on the merits of divided government.  Meanwhile, on today’s Washington Post op-ed page there are dueling columns over which party should be condemned as the party of “no ideas.”  E.J. Dionne says it’s the GOP.  Michael Kinsley wades through the pablum of “A New Direction for America,” the Democrats’ campaign manifesto, and suggests it’s the Ds. 

Ideas can be overrated, though.  I’d certainly like to see either or both parties run on libertarian ideas, but failing that, a nice mix of gridlock, investigations, and scandals is preferable to a robust “vision thing” based on either perpetual war or muscular redistribution, which is what the “idea-heavy” wing of each party offers.  Mencken marked the end of the Coolidge administration by saying, “There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”  For Mencken, this was praise.  He was on to something. 

Are the Bush Tax Cuts Really in Jeopardy?

Deroy Murdock has a piece on National Review Online about the threat of tax and spending hikes under a Democratic Congress.     

The threat seems to me exaggerated.  Yes, Democrats would love to raise taxes.  But just because Charlie Rangel would be House Ways and Means chairman doesn’t mean tax hikes are a foregone conclusion.  I actually think President Bush would remember where he stashed his veto pen if his tax cuts were really in jeopardy and it’s unlikely the Democrats will have a veto-proof majority in Congress. (Mark the day: I’ve finally said something complimentary about the president!)  That’s assuming a bill raising taxes even passes out of the House in the first place, of course.  After all, 15 Democrats did vote to extend the capital gains and dividend tax cuts earlier this year.    

On government spending, the same logic applies.  The Democrats are just not likely to have enough votes to get everything they want.  The 30-plus fiscally-moderate Democratic members in the Blue Dog caucus will also have more clout in a closely divided Congress.  The back-bencher GOP members who have always fought against profligate spending – Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, et al – will still be around and have more pull in this scenario, too, especially in the wake of the inevitable post-defeat purge of the current leadership ranks.  Indeed, many Republicans who were quite fond of Big Government when they were pulling the levers might suddenly become budget hawks now that the “other guys” are in charge. 

So, such a scenario would probably not result in a reversal of current tax policy.  The ensuing gridlock would probably result in a slower rate of budget growth as it has in the past (which is something I’ve pointed out before).  The world wouldn’t end.  Indeed, it might actually look a little brighter – at least in the short term – for those hoping to see restraint in the growth of government.                

Voters Yawn over Global Warming

I’ve long argued that enviros don’t have anywhere near the electoral clout most people think and that no one is going to gain much political capital donning the garb of “Mr. Green Jeans.”  Today, the trade publication Greenwire (subscription required) agrees.  And believe me, these are the last people who want to make this argument.

CAMPAIGN 2006: Voters cool to climate issue in torrid midterm races

Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter

Five Northeastern Republicans facing fierce re-election battles turned just before the latest congressional recess to global warming in hopes the issue would boost their chances in their suburban House districts.

But the lawmakers apparently got little traction from climate change in a campaign dominated by voter concerns about the Iraq war, President Bush’s unpopularity and overall dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.

“It’s been very difficult for any of these incumbents whose problems are bigger than themselves, or whose problems have been themselves,” said Bernadette Budde, a senior vice president for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. “They have had a hard time changing the subject.”

The five – Reps. Curt Weldon (Pa.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.) – cosponsored in September what some consider the most aggressive bill to date aimed at limiting heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the presumed new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee if his party wins a majority of House seats.

“Doing it before Congress goes off to campaign is telling,” said Howard Reiter, chairman of the political science department at the University of Connecticut. He added that global warming is a nuanced subject that comes with an important caveat: It may require constituents to make sacrifices in their day-to-day lives.

“The problem with global warming is its incremental,” Reiter said. “It’s not as if there’s an immediate crisis people can see.”

Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending, said the recent media frenzy over climate change – from Hollywood-style documentaries to mainstream press coverage – did little to stir voters this year. “For all of the attention Al Gore’s movie got, it hasn’t stayed a major election issue,” he said.

The lack of voter interest in climate change is not due to a lack of effort from environmental groups ….

Reporter Michael Burnham contributed to this report.