Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The Promise of Divided Government

Former Catoite Radley Balko argues that the Republican Party deserves to lose because it “has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government.” He goes on to detail all the sordid ways in which the GOP has indeed betrayed its allegedly pro-free market, limited government beliefs and thus “forfeited its right to govern.”

I don’t disagree with any of Balko’s analysis, but I do take issue with his conclusion for one very simple (some would say banal) reason: The best way to limit the federal Leviathan is to have Congress and the presidency controlled by different parties. See, for example, the relevant parts of former Catoite Stephen Slivinski’s book, Buck Wild: How the Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Slivinski calculates that when one party controls the political branches, the growth of real per capita government spending is 3.4%. Under divided government, the rate is 1.5%. And it doesn’t much matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in sole charge: 3.3% government growth under Democrats vs. 3.6% under Republicans. The most libertarian combination seems to be a Democratic president with a Republican Congress, where the average rate of government growth is 0.4%.  (This is also the rarest alignment in modern times, so it may be less significant statistically.)

In short, yes the Bush administration, enabled by a corrupt (ideologically and otherwise) Republican Congress, has been the second coming of LBJ.  But rather than reward a party whose leaders in Congress have even lower approval ratings than President Bush with unified control of government, it might be better for limited government if the Dems gained in Congress (preferably without a filibuster-proof Senate because judges and international treaties are my pet issues) while losing the White House.  Which isn’t to say that this would necessarily be better than a President Obama with a Republican Congress, just that the chance of the GOP taking over even one house of Congress is only slightly greater than the chance that Bob Barr will be elected president.

Sarah in Charge?

Some in the media (or at least Keith Olbermann at MSNBC) are ridiculing Sarah Palin’s recent answer to a third-grader’s question of “What does the Vice President do?”  The part of her response that seems to have people in a tizzy is the following: “[A] Vice President has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the President agenda, they’re like a team member, the teammate to that President. But also, they’re in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes… ” (emphasis added).  Haha, Ms. Caribou Barbie Palin, the wags chortle, don’t you know that the Vice President is only mentioned four times in the Constitution (two of which mentions are in later amendments) and has no power but to break ties in the Senate?

Well, that’s right, except it’s not.  While true that the only formal power the Constitution (specifically Article I, Section 3) gives the VP is to cast the deciding vote when the Senate is deadlocked, the Constitution is understandably silent as to what else the VP can do with his or her time.  Yet nobody would deny that Dick Cheney has been an extremely powerful figure, and not because of any explicit powers but because he has aggressively pushed the Bush Administration’s agenda and lobbied senators (particularly Republicans).  So sure, the VP can have a big effect on policy.

Moreover, the VP is the “President of the Senate,” which is sort of like being in charge – if indeed anyone is in charge of that motley group of wannabe presidents.  This isn’t “in charge” the way a president or CEO is “in charge” – the VP can’t fire senators or force them to vote a given way or veto their bills – but I don’t think anyone can reasonably construe Palin’s comments to imply that.  The most reasonable construction is that she was trying to explain in her own words what being “President of the Senate” means, and could’ve done a lot worse than characterizing it as being “in charge.”

You can read more on this issue in this CBS News posting, which further quotes my thoughts on the matter.

Criticisms Leveled against U.S. Approach to Counterterrorism

The New York Times reports this morning on criticisms leveled by two high-ranking U.K. counterterrorism officials against the United States’ current approach to counterterrorism.

It’s worth having the insights of people who have prosecuted suspects in all the major terrorist attacks in the U.K. since 2005, achieving a 90 percent conviction rate, so you should read the whole thing.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - A Package Deal

News that France will suspend football (soccer) games at which “La Marseillaise” has been booed reveals how the famous credo of that country has fallen into disuse.

A liberal approach toward speech - giving Tunisians in France the liberté to boo their country of residence - would communicate powerfully that France is stronger than such slights - yet still welcoming of Tunisians as frères et soeurs.

The booing wouldn’t last long, as the Tunisians would recognize and appreciate the égalité légale accorded them by France.

Fin.

What They Should Talk About

The Chicago Tribune quotes me this morning on issues the candidates aren’t talking about and may not anticipate. It’s true that issues are likely to arise in the next four years that no one anticipates today. But there are also some issues that are pretty easy to identify that the candidates aren’t being pressed to talk about. Some of those include:

  • The proper role and scope of the federal government. Both candidates have a laundry list of things they want the federal government to do, and maybe they could each mention something they don’t want it to do. But what’s the framework behind their policy choices? What should government do? What should be left to state and local governments, and what should be left to the non-coercive sectors of society? What’s the proper and/or constitutional role and scope of the federal government?
  • The looming entitlements crisis. Entitlements are already about 40 percent of the federal budget. In 20 years they may double as a share of national income. Can we afford that? Do we want a tax burden that high? Do we want that many people dependent on a check from the federal government? Do we have the nerve to say that transfer payments should be cut? Tough choices that nobody wants to confront, partly because each politician hopes that the problem won’t explode until he leaves the scene.
  • We now have 2.5 million people in prison. Isn’t that something to talk about? Should they all they be there? Some 400,000 of them are nonviolent drug offenders. A million arrests don’t stop people from using drugs, and meanwhile the war on drugs costs us some $40 billion a year, increases crime rates, destroys poor neighborhoods, makes criminals out of lots of peaceful people, engenders civil liberties abuses, and funds the Taliban and other nefarious groups abroad.

Thugocracy?

Michael Barone on “The Coming Liberal Thugocracy:”

In September, St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce warned citizens that they would bring criminal libel prosecutions against anyone who made statements against Mr. Obama that were “false.” I had been under the impression that the Alien and Sedition Acts had gone out of existence in 1801-‘02. Not so, apparently, in metropolitan St. Louis. Similarly, the Obama campaign called for a criminal investigation of the American Issues Project when it ran ads highlighting Mr. Obama’s ties to Mr. Ayers.

These attempts to shut down political speech have become routine for liberals. Congressional Democrats sought to reimpose the “fairness doctrine” on broadcasters, which until it was repealed in the 1980s required equal time for different points of view. The motive was plain: to shut down the one conservative-leaning communications medium, talk radio. Liberal talk-show hosts have mostly failed to draw audiences, and many liberals can’t abide having citizens hear contrary views. …

Corporate liberals have done their share in shutting down anti-liberal speech, too. “Saturday Night Live” ran a spoof of the financial crisis that skewered Democrats like House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank and liberal contributors Herbert and Marion Sandler, who sold toxic-waste-filled Golden West to Wachovia Bank for $24 billion. Kind of surprising, but not for long. The tape of the broadcast disappeared from NBC’s Web site and was replaced with another that omitted the references to Mr. Frank and the Sandlers. Evidently NBC and its parent, General Electric, don’t want people to hear speech that attacks liberals.

Read the whole thing. Conservatives are not well-positioned to lodge complaints. Especially McCain.