Topic: Government and Politics

Five Years Is a Long Time, Part 1

Today is the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Five years ago, surveys found that 79 percent of the public approved of the job being done by the man who signed McCain-Feingold, George W. Bush. Now 34 percent approve of his work. Until recently, the major sponsor of the law, Sen. John McCain, seemed the most likely candidate to win the Republican presidential nomination for 2008. Now McCain persistently trails Rudolph Guiliani in the polls, and his presidential campaign seems to be in trouble.

If September 11th explained President Bush’s high rating five years ago, the war in Iraq has caused his free fall. Signing McCain-Feingold did show a certain lack of concern about political principles in the current president, but it probably cost him no more than a point or two in his approval ratings.  (In fact, his approval rating fell on average 3 points during the two months after he signed McCain-Feingold).

The case of McCain seems different. GOP primary voters saw and continue to see his campaign finance “reform” jihad as an attack on conservatism, the Republican party, and the U.S. Constitution. He is not liked. That didn’t matter much to McCain, because he believed Republican voters would prefer him, warts and all, to Hillary Clinton.

But that is not the choice Republicans have right now, and the choice they do have in surveys suggests Sen. McCain may not make it to the “me or Hillary” stage of his plan to become president. Perhaps principles do matter after all.

Congress Looks at Stadium Subsidies

This Thursday the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, “‘Build It and They Will Come’: Do Taxpayer-financed Sports Stadiums, Convention Centers and Hotels Deliver as Promised for America’s Cities?”

Several Cato studies over the years have looked at the absurd economic claims of stadium advocates. In “Sports Pork: The Costly Relationship between Major League Sports and Government,” Raymond Keating finds:

The lone beneficiaries of sports subsidies are team owners and players. The existence of what economists call the “substitution effect” (in terms of the stadium game, leisure dollars will be spent one way or another whether a stadium exists or not), the dubiousness of the Keynesian multiplier, the offsetting impact of a negative multiplier, the inefficiency of government, and the negatives of higher taxes all argue against government sports subsidies. Indeed, the results of studies on changes in the economy resulting from the presence of stadiums, arenas, and sports teams show no positive economic impact from professional sports – or a possible negative effect.

In Regulation magazine, (.pdf) Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys found that the economic literature on stadium subsidies comes to consistent conclusions:

The evidence suggests that attracting a professional sports franchise to a city and building that franchise a new stadium or arena will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city.

And in “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Coates and Humphreys looked specifically at the economics of the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., and found similar results:

Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. The net economic impact of professional sports in Washington, D.C., and the 36 other cities that hosted professional sports teams over nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area.

Humphreys will testify at Thursday’s hearing.

He Must Be Scots-Irish

A longtime friend and executive assistant to Sen. James Webb (D-VA) was charged yesterday with trying to carry a loaded pistol and two fully loaded magazines of ammunition into a Senate office building, the Washington Post reports.

Webb’s most recent book is Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. The Scots-Irish “are a culture founded on guns, which considers the Second Amendment sacrosanct, while literary and academic America considers such views not only archaic but also threatening,” Webb wrote. “Nobody is going to get their guns.”

Watch out, Capitol Police.

Hillary and the Real 1984

I have an op-ed today taking off from the Hillary 1984 “mash-up” ad to discuss just how close to reality it might be.

The image of Hillary Clinton on a giant screen reminded me of one of the proposals in her book, It Takes a Village….

And what about that giant screen? Even when the government doesn’t step in to take children from their parents, Clinton sees it constantly advising, nagging, hectoring parents: “Videos with scenes of commonsense baby care – how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable – could be running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait,” she writes. The childcare videos could alternate with videos on the Food Pyramid, the evils of smoking and drugs, the need for recycling, the techniques of safe sex, the joys of physical fitness, and all the other things the responsible adult citizens of a complex modern society need to know. Sort of like the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984 – or the YouTube video….

Many conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do, and many liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

And that’s why the image of a nagging, hectoring Hillary Clinton on a giant telescreen seems altogether too real.

Tax Reform is the Best Way to Reduce Tax Evasion

A column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviews new academic research indicating that high tax rates encourage tax evasion. Most politicians think the solution is more power for the IRS, but the columnist points to ideas that are much more likely to work and much more consistent with the protection of a free society. First, shrink the size of government so that taxpayes are less likely to be angry about grotesque examples of waste, fraud, and abuse. Second, adopt a simple and fair system such as the flat tax:

The pressure to cheat, Dr. Antenucci said, comes from the big payoff. “The top tax rate is 35 percent. In this investment investment environment, people scratch to make a 5 percent to 8 percent return, and there is 35 percent sitting right there.” …”When people read about a $500 coffee pot being sold to the government, people don’t want to pay their taxes,” he said. …The professors advocate attacking the problem on several fronts. First, create a tax system where cheating is extremely difficult. One way would be to switch to a flat tax or national sales tax.

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.