Topic: Government and Politics

Hillary Hates Freedom

Maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s just say, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton operates with reckless disregard for individual freedom and the limited government that protects and sustains it.

In her latest salvo, she dismisses the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the founding principles of the United States, as rhetorical flourishes, mere garnishes on the real stuff of life. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” she asked.

In her senatorial activities and her presidential campaign, Clinton has tended to propose modest, moderate programs. Even her new health care proposal is being hailed as more modest than her 1993 plan (though it would in fact impose a new government mandate on every person in the United States). But at her core, Hillary Clinton rejects the fundamental values of liberalism, values like individual autonomy, individual rights, pluralism, choice, and yes, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She seems to see no area of life that should be free from the heavy hand of government. And to her the world of free people seems a vast nothingness. When a few Republicans proposed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which spends about $125 million of the $63 billion spent on arts in the United States, she declaimed that such a move “not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people.”

After her first attempt at nationalizing and bureaucratizing American health care, she told the New York Times that her next project would be “redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.” I’d say 300 million Americans can do that for themselves.

Her hostility to freedom is not just a left-wing attitude. In the Senate, she’s been adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism. Clinton has called for federal legislation to prohibit the sale of “inappropriate” video games to children and teens. She’s introduced a bill to study the impact of media on children, a likely prelude to restrictions on television content, and she touts the V-Chip regulation that President Bill Clinton signed. She supports federal legislation to outlaw flag desecration (though not a constitutional amendment).

In her book It Takes a Village, she insisted that 300 million free people could somehow come to “a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.” She told Newsweek, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a claim that ought to frighten any parent. She promised to inflict on free citizens government videos running constantly in every gathering place, telling people “how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable”—all the things that no one knew how to do until the federal government came along.

Hillary Clinton is no socialist. But when she makes her rejection of liberal values as explicit as she did on Monday – dismissing “freedom and opportunity [and] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as irrelevant to people’s real lives–she is far too reminiscent of some of the most authoritarian figures of the 20th century. Lenin, for instance, wrote, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality.”

And maybe it’s no surprise that Clinton cosponsored her videogame ban with Sen. Rick Santorum, who is also an articulate and determined opponent of individualism. In his book It Takes a Family and in various media appearances, he denounced “this whole idea of personal autonomy.” At least once he rejected “the pursuit of happiness” explicitly, saying, “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness … and it is harming America.” Not the mantra of the Hillary Clinton left, obviously.

We know that societies that reject bourgeois freedom – the freedom of individualism, civil society, the rule of law, and yes, you guessed it, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in favor of collectivism and economic goods end up with neither freedom nor prosperity. The United States has the most advanced medical care in the world – The rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. was cut in half between 1980 and 2000, for instance – because we have a mostly free and capitalist economy. Mandates and regulations make medical care more costly than it needs to be, and Hillary Clinton now proposes to pile on yet more mandates and regulations. But the really scary prospect of another Clinton presidency is not what she would do to our medical care but what she would do to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is the foundation of our free society.

Solutions Day!

Newt Gingrich has always been an irrepressible, gushing font of ideas and information: ”My name, Newt, actually comes from the Danish Knut, and there’s been a major crisis in Germany over a polar bear named Knut,” he told the crowd that had come to hear him debate global warming with Sen. John Kerry back in April. 

But now he’s seeking your input. In just two weeks, Gingrich’s group American Solutions will be hosting an online extravaganza called “Solutions Day.” You may not be interested in Solutions Day, but Solutions Day is interested in you:

On September 27, the anniversary of the Contract with America, we will have the first annual “Solutions Day.”

Solutions Day will be a day of citizen activism. It will be devoted entirely to positive solutions based on positive principles to enable us to transform government and public policy so America can win the future.

Solutions Day will feature an online workshop available to every American.

Since September 27 is a Thursday, we will repeat Solutions Day via the Internet on Saturday, September 29, so people who have to work can be involved.

Which is a smart move, lest we end up with a bunch of solutions heavily skewed toward retirees, stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, and day traders. After all, real change requires input from a broader cross-section of Americans. Real change requires the involvement of informed citizens. Real change requires…, er, real change. That’s the slogan of Gingrich’s effort: “Real Change Requires Real Change.” And it has the virtue of being true both backwards and forwards.

Solutions Day will also feature a series of workshops, like “The End of Government… As We Know It” and “Space — The Race to the Endless Frontier.” And if you miss it both times around, don’t fret: ”All events will be made available on-demand on the Internet.”

Newt being Newt though, he’s full of Big Ideas even now, two weeks before Solutions Day. He unveiled some of those ideas Monday in a war-on-terror speech at AEI.  

This isn’t your typical right-wing stemwinder. It’s classic Gingrich, chock full of chunky idea-nuggets, like peanut brittle for the mind. Here’s Gingrich framing the debate fairly:

America is currently trapped between those who advocate “staying the course” and those who would legislate surrender and defeat for America.

Here he is making clear that the debate should proceed in sober, rational terms, without hysterical fearmongering:

 We need a calm, reasoned dialogue about the genuine possibility of a second Holocaust….   

and here he is taking a long view of the threats we face: 

The Iranian dictatorship had been at war with America for 22 years before 9/11.

That last point may confuse you. For instance, the first thing I thought was: that must be embarassing for them. At war with us for over two decades and we barely notice? Then I thought, wait: if Iran’s at war with us, then why did we just topple their major regional enemy and clear the way for a country dominated by Iran’s close allies? But that just shows I’m not a foreign policy expert, let alone a genius. These things are complicated. Real change requires real change. 

And this is a speech about real change. As in those alternate-history novels he’s famous for, Gingrich presents a bold vision of “An Alternative History of the War since 9/11.” The former Speaker’s biggest ideas for ending terrorism center around continuously warning Americans that we may all be killed; among other things, he’d have us run ”highly publicized simulations of two nuclear and one biological attack each year.” 

Another key idea for Gingrich is that the U.S. should think seriously about launching wars with up to three additional countries. Risky? Sure. But as Newt puts it, “we must adopt a spirit that it is better to make mistakes of commission and then fix them than it is to avoid achievement by avoiding failure.” Just imagine how different things could have been if the Bush administration had been animated by that spirit these last six years.     

Obama and Original Sin

After the 1992 election, the philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote:

Those who assert that the cultural questions somehow got put behind us in 1992 because economic matters were first and foremost the issues and themes of the presidential election are pushing an illusory hope. The cultural questions — abortion, family values, drugs, and race relations — were all joined in 1992, often in language that underscored just how much people of all political persuasions still look to government as the remedy for every ill, personal and political.

The problem with such reliance is this: democratic politics can reasonably offer hope, but it cannot promise deliverance. Yet deliverance, a dramatic and rapturous sea change to bring in the new and sweep out the old and corrupt, is what loud voices and dominant groups on both the left and the right seek.

The very gridlock that the two major parties and Ross Perot’s angry, antiparty protesters all decried is generated by their own actions in promising deliverance and in deepening cultural cleavages rather than alleviating them by removing some questions from government’s purview, or at least from government’s control as the final arbiter.

One might wonder why the government can offer hope if it cannot provide deliverance. But some things never change.

Among the presidential candidates on offer, Barack Obama most clearly offers deliverance as well as hope. His mixing of religion and politics was clearly on view in a recent debate when he called money “the original sin of politics.”

Should he be elected, Obama will not provide “a dramatic and rapturous sea change to bring in the new and sweep out the old and corrupt.” That is, he will not provide deliverance because doing so is beyond the power of the government or at least beyond the ambit of a constitutionally limited government. Should Obama succeed in ridding politics of “money” (that is, of private financing of campaigns), we will live in a world where the government and its officials control all financing of political struggle. Some would find therein deliverance. Most would not.

In Obama’s defense, you can say that he no doubt truly believes he can bring deliverance to “the people.” And some voters no doubt are demanding deliverance through public financing and other, more coercive forms of the Lord’s work. But Obama is a thoughtful man, and I wonder why he does not realize that his promise of deliverance will frustrate his larger hope to restore faith in government.

As Elshtain suggests, Obama’s inevitable failure to provide deliverance will foster more distrust in the federal government. And rightly so. Such distrust is warranted at any time, not least because promises of deliverance through coercion inevitably violate individual rights. Still, it is puzzling why a thoughtful man like Obama does not conclude with Elshtain that “removing some questions from government’s purview” might be a better way to offer hope,  if not deliverance.

“Why Are You Trying to Give Away the President’s Power?”

Jack “I’m Not a Civil Libertarian” Goldsmith has more on the thirst for power inside the executive branch in excerpts from the book in Slate today.

[Counsel to Vice President Cheney David] Addington once expressed his general attitude toward accommodation when he said, “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop.” He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.

More here.

Still Conservatives?

For those of us who experienced the revival of Britain during the Thatcher years, the dismal plight of the British Conservative party under a series of post-Thatcher leaders has been startling and increasingly dismaying.

Short-lived Tory leaders have been intent on ditching the classical liberal principles that Thatcher and her inner coterie foisted on the party – principles that gave the Tories their finest years of the 20th century and ones that pulled Britain out of decades of economic failure. David Cameron, the current no-doubt short-lived leader, has been as determined as his recent predecessors to distance himself and the party from the Iron Lady and all that she stood for – from low, or at least lower, taxation, to expanding individual choice and on to a healthy skepticism of government.

Now at last one Tory grandee has had enough of the retreat from Thatcher principles. The former Thatcher cabinet member, Michael Ancram unveiled this week an alternative manifesto [pdf], entitled “Still a Conservative,” to the Cameron agenda, one that calls for a return to the core values that won four successive elections for the Conservatives. He warns that the British public perceives that the party lacks “an overall sense of vision and direction.” And he argues that the party should support lower taxes, leaving people with more of their own money to make their own decisions. By contrast, Cameron wants to match the Labour government’s public spending and has turned his back on lower taxes.

And there is much else in Ancram’s manifesto that would please libertarians and classical liberals, especially his call for the regulatory state to be turned back and his advocating of widening the areas of life left to individual choice rather than government diktat. There are things, though, in the manifesto that are unappealing – from his over-defined Euro-skepticism to his rejection of treating gay civil partnerships equally with marriage when it comes to benefits and taxes. He says there are other long-term relationships outside marriage which should be welcomed for their commitment, but “for Conservatives there can be no fudging the issue of marriage.”

It is a great pity that he overdoes the Euro-skepticism and is prepared to treat gays unequally – for at heart Ancram’s alternative manifesto places classical liberal principles front and center.

And how has Cameron and his supporters responded? Not much of a welcome: they have told him to hold his tongue. A party spokesman said: “This is just a blast from the past. Just as Britain has changed, the Conservative Party has to change along with it.” And a former cabinet colleague of Ancram’s, Michael Portillo, said: “I was a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher but to invoke Thatcherism now, a phenomenon which is 25 years old, just makes the Tory party look old-fashioned and, of course, divided.”

Well, apparently that isn’t the viewpoint of Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who like his predecessor, Tony Blair, realizes that Thatcher is still a name to conjure by. This week he spoke of his admiration for the Iron Lady. “I think Lady Thatcher saw the need for change,” he told a press conference. “Whatever disagreements you have with her about certain policies – there was a large amount of unemployment at the time which perhaps could have been dealt with – we have got to understand that she saw the need for change.”

Oprah Winfrey, Political Power Broker

Billionaire Oprah Winfrey is making a million-dollar contribution to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. And despite all the campaign finance restrictions of the past 30 years, it’s perfectly legal. That’s because Oprah is making her contribution in the form of time on her television show, appearances with him on the campaign trail, and other uses of her celebrity. But if a rival media mogul, someone like Sumner Redstone or John Malone, wanted to make a contribution of more than $2,300 to a presidential candidate, that would be illegal. Because, you know, it’s corrupt to make a large contribution. Wouldn’t want the next president to be indebted to a businessman who gave him a $10,000 contribution.

This Saturday, “Winfrey will host her first-ever presidential fundraising affair on the grounds of the Promised Land, her 42-acre ocean- and mountain-view estate in Montecito, Calif. – an event that is expected to raise more than $3 million for Obama’s campaign.”

Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post outlines some of the other ways Winfrey might help her preferred candidate.

Among the weapons in Winfrey’s arsenal: the television program that reaches 8.4 million viewers each weekday afternoon, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers. Her Web site reaches 2.3 unique viewers each month, “O, the Oprah Magazine,” has a circulation of 2 million, she circulates a weekly newsletter to 420,000 fans and 360,000 people have subscribed to her Web site for daily “Oprah Alerts” by e-mail.

More than that, though, the Nielsen tracking data show that her most loyal viewers are women between 25 and 55 – a group that also votes in large numbers in Democratic primaries.

Oprah’s well aware of her power:

The fundraiser may be only the start. The Winfrey and Obama machines have maintained silence on the exact nature of their talks over what her role will be, but the idea of her appearing in television ads and other appeals is very much in play. She offered during a recent interview with CNN’s Larry King: “My money isn’t going to make any difference. My value to him – my support of him – is probably worth more than any other check that I could write.”…

Winfrey said in an audio Web chat last week that, this year, the Obamas will be her only political guests.

Campaign finance reform was promised as a way to make everyone equal in the political process, to squeeze out the power of big money. But one of its effects is to make some rich people more equal than others. If Oprah–or Rupert Murdoch, or Donald Graham–decides to use his or her resources to help a particular candidate, that’s legal and very powerful. But the rich man who runs a software company is forbidden to use any significant part of his financial resources to help a candidate.

All power to journalists and celebrities in the reformed political process.

The Republicans’ Post-Election Personal Pork Party

At The Hill, I have an article about a little-known dip into the pork barrel: big bonuses for congressional staff if there’s money left over at the end of the year, especially if the money will fall into the hands of the other party at the end of the year.

How can there be money left over when the government is running multi-hundred-billion dollar deficits? Well, you might ask. But each department has its own appropriation, and those accounts often have “money left in the budget” as the end of the year approaches, necessitating the famous end-of-the-year spending spree.

In the congressional case, I found examples like this on committee staff budgets:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee showed similar patterns. In 2005, when the Republican leadership was spending its “own money” on year-end bonuses, several staffers received less than 10 percent of their annual salaries, while a few lucky staffers received extra payments of as much as 17 percent.

But when GOP Energy and Commerce bosses faced losing their chairmanship after the 2006 election, they decided to leave no dollar behind for the Democrats. Lucky staffers then got windfalls of 31 percent on a $35,000 salary, 30 percent on a $50,000 salary, 18 percent on a $100,000 salary, and so on. At least 15 committee staffers got bonuses of between $11,000 and $17,600.

And I concluded, cheekily:

Members of Congress are free to pay their staffers whatever they choose, up to an annual ceiling, so there’s nothing illegal about year-end bonuses, even year-end, post-election, before-the-other-party-gets-in bonuses.

But this pattern illustrates a big difference between the private and public sectors. In the private sector, if your customers become dissatisfied with your product, you tend to make less money. In the public sector, you get a couple of months to double-dip before you lose control of the money. For participating in a Congress that voters booted out of office, these bonuses are a handsome parting gift.

A big tip of the hat to Cato interns Schuyler Daum and Jonathan Slemrod for poring over payroll records, and to LegiStorm for making such information about Congress public and accessible.