Topic: Government and Politics

Santorum v. the Pursuit of Happiness

I hate to keep picking on Sen. Rick Santorum, but he’s the most articulate and principled opponent of individualism and individual rights since Hillary Clinton first rose to prominence. I noted previously the NPR interview in which he rejected “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone”:

This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

Now Andrew Sullivan directs our attention to a television interview from the same time last year in which the senator from the home state of Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson denounces America’s Founding idea of “the pursuit of happiness.” If you watch the video, you can hear these classic hits: “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.”

Santorum has done some good things in the Senate, such as supporting Social Security reform. But conservatives should call him out when he denounces individualism, personal autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Libertarian Vote in the New York Times

A big tip of the hat to John Tierney for his column today. It’s hidden behind a TimesSelect wall, but here’s a selection:

These federal intrusions are especially scorned by independent voters in the Western states where Republicans have been losing ground, like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Montana. Western Democrats have been siphoning off libertarian voters by moderating their liberal views on issues like gun control, but Republicans have been driving libertarians away with their wars on vice and their jeremiads against gay marriage (and their attempt to regulate that from Washington, too).

Libertarian voters tend to get ignored by political strategists because they’re not easy to categorize or organize. They don’t congregate in churches or union halls; they don’t unite to push political agendas. Many don’t even call themselves libertarians, although they qualify because of their social liberalism and economic conservatism: they want the government out of their bedrooms as well as their wallets.

They distrust moral busybodies of both parties, and they may well be the most important bloc of swing voters this election, as David Boaz and David Kirby conclude in a new study for the Cato Institute. Analyzing a variety of voter surveys, they estimate that libertarians make up about 15 percent of voters — a bloc roughly comparable in size to liberals and to conservative Christians, and far bigger than blocs like Nascar dads or soccer moms.

Find the study here.

America’s National Truck?

As another election approaches, Americans have probably grown jaded toward politicians who use naked appeals to patriotism to win votes. Now patriotic appeals are being enlisted to sell pickup trucks.

Baseball fans watching the World Series game Friday night witnessed an ad by General Motors that had nothing to do with the finer qualities of its Silverado pick up truck. Set to the driving beat of a John Mellencamp song, “Our Country,” the ad flashed images designed to tug at the heart of every red-blooded American. (It certainly tugged at mine.) Here’s how a New York Times story today described the ad:

As the commercial begins, an industrial history rolls out, touching the usual icons of the Statue of Liberty, busy factory workers and Americans at their leisure. But then a more conflicted narrative emerges, quickly flashing on bus boycotts, Vietnam, Nixon resigning, Hurricane Katrina, fires, floods, then the attacks of Sept. 11, replete with firefighters.

All that’s missing is a plague of locusts, until the commercial intones ‘This is our country, this is our truck’ as a large Silverado emerges from amber waves of grain.

The not-so-subtle message is that if you are a real American, you buy a real American vehicle. Of course, this is not the first time patriotism has been exploited to sell a product, but the ad obscures an important fact about the American automobile industry: it is far more diverse today than the Big Three of Ford GM, and Chrysler.

In a Cato Free Trade Bulletin published over the summer, my colleague Dan Ikenson and I showed that, while Ford and GM in particular have struggled with declining sales and huge losses, the U.S. automobile market remains healthy. Last year, American workers produced about 12 million cars and light trucks domestically, including those made in factories owned by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and BMW. American families can chose from a wider range of affordable, quality vehicles than perhaps ever before.

The Big Three have been losing market share, not because Americans are any less patriotic than in the past, but because Americans are increasingly exercising their freedom to decide for themselves what  is “our truck.”

Even Spitzer Loves Education Tax Credits!

With Eliot Spitzer running almost 50 points ahead in New York’s gubernatorial “race,” it seems safe to crown him the winner.  Most of us know Spitzer for his anti-corporate crusading as the state’s swashbuckling attorney general.  A lot of ink has been spilled predicting how he will govern, but little attention has been paid to the consequences for education.  Although he may be bad for business, Spitzer is, surprisingly, pro-school choice.

The New York Daily News reports that Spitzer, “speaking to Orthodox Jews at a Brooklyn yeshiva, said it is unjust that private schools educate 15% of the state’s students but get only 1% of the education budget.”  He supports encouraging private means of educating the public, and appears increasingly unabashed in discussing the topic.

Earlier in the year, he flipped from hazy opposition to support of what was then an education tax credit proposal.  “I support the idea of education tax credits,” claimed Spitzer, the same month he declared that “vouchers would destroy the public school system.”

The education tax credit at issue was re-formed as a blanket child tax credit, but Spitzer still supports the concept of education-specific tax credits.  His spokesman said that “if elected, Eliot will explore the feasibility of expanding such programs.”

Spitzer’s still no fan of vouchers, but education tax credits are emerging as both the “third way” choice policy for Democrats and the preferable policy for social and libertarian conservatives (Spitzer stole the issue from his current opponent, Faso, who sponsored the ETC bill as minority leader of the state Assembly in 2001).

Hopefully the school choice coalition at TEACH NYS are gearing up to ask for the moon next year, when they have a popular Democratic ally in office.  School choice supporters should think big in this political environment and put the opposition on the defensive – start with a broad-based bill that covers all parents and make them whittle it down in negotiations.

Federal Robbers

The Washington Post ran a short piece on October 26 that reported on $2.6 million flushed down the drain by the Department of Agriculture. Federal auditors looked at housing subsidies handed out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and found: “Based on discussions with disaster victims, we concluded that much of the $2.6 million in emergency rental assistance that [the department] provided to disaster victims was unnecessary.” Apparently, officials overlooked basic accounting controls and most of the covered costs were already paid for by another federal agency. 

After reading such stories, I wonder: Will any official get fired? Shouldn’t officials at least apologize to us for wasting our hard-earned dollars? How is this sort of wasteful tax-and-transfer activity any different than bank robbery? 

Is It Possible to Embarrass Republicans?

Is it possible to embarrass Republicans? Apparently not. As they get more desperate about their prospects in the midterm election, Republicans have become ever more hysterical in their denunciations of the Democrats. The Republican National Committee’s ad depicting a scantily clad blond flirting with Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) at a Playboy party has gotten the most attention. But it’s not the worst.

Take the latest charge that Sen. George Allen (R-VA) has leveled at his opponent, Vietnam veteran and novelist James Webb: Allen is shocked, shocked to find sex scenes in Webb’s novels. Or at least, since Allen doesn’t claim even to have read a novel about the Vietnam War, he’s shocked to have been told that there are sex scenes in realistic novels about men at war. His campaign “leaked” the text of Webb’s bestselling novels to the Drudge Report Thursday night, having failed to persuade any journalist that it was a real story. By noon Friday, Rush Limbaugh was in full-throated outrage: “Get the kids away from the radio,” he warned listeners. He was determined to read the sexually explicit bits of Webb’s writing. “I don’t think you understand the importance of this,” he declared. Having listened to him, and read Saturday’s Washington Post article on the topic, indeed I don’t.

And then there are the various ads Republicans are running around the country. Honestly, if you didn’t know better, you’d think that Republican politicians are obsessed with sex. In Wisconsin, an ad for challenger Paul Nelson declares, “Rep. Ron Kind pays for sex!” with XXX stamped across Kind’s face. As the Washington Post reports, ” It turns out that Kind – along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House – opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies.” Meanwhile, in New York, the National Republican Congressional Committee “ran an ad accusing Democratic House candidate Michael A. Arcuri, a district attorney, of using taxpayer dollars for phone sex. ‘Hi, sexy,’ a dancing woman purrs. ‘You’ve reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line.’ It turns out that one of Arcuri’s aides had tried to call the state Division of Criminal Justice, which had a number that was almost identical to that of a porn line. The misdial cost taxpayers $1.25.” In North Carolina, challenger Vernon Robinson’s TV ads blare, “If Brad Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.”

And let’s not forget Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is holding up President Bush’s appointment of a federal judge on the grounds that she attended a commitment ceremony for two lesbian friends. What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed? And what’s the matter with the Republican Party?