Topic: Political Philosophy

Please—Enough with the ‘Gridlock’ Lament

National politicians and commentators are once again worrying that “political gridlock” is preventing government from “fixing the nation’s problems.”

President Obama began this lament’s latest chorus last week during his economy snoozer speech at Knox College in Illinois. “[O]ver the last six months, this gridlock has gotten worse,” he said, vowing, “I will not allow gridlock, or inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way.” Earlier this week the New York Times asked Obama, “Do you worry that [a stalled agenda] could end up being your legacy because of the obstruction … and the gridlock that doesn’t seem to end?” That prompted National Journal writer Ron Fournier to claim that the current gridlock is the result of a lack of will by political leaders: “At the White House and in Congress, most Democrats and Republicans have abandoned hope of fixing the nation’s problems.”

Many Republicans may be asking, “What gridlock?” After all, President Obama has had little trouble advancing his agenda, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the subsequent series of fiscal stimulus and “jobs” bills, to the Dodd-Frank Act and creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), to tax increases. The GOPers would argue that the president’s setbacks have been few, temporary, and/or small. As evidence that he doesn’t feel too fettered by gridlock, they might point to his “compromise offer” to raise corporate taxes in exchange for increasing government spending.

But the Republicans are wrong. Washington is severely constrained by gridlock, and that is harming Americans’ standard of living, health, and financial security, and exacerbating unemployment, income equality, and our children’s education and future well-being. Right now, political obstructionism is blocking numerous policy ideas and legislative proposals that would greatly benefit Americans. Among them:

Cato’s Ivy League Internship

The Wall Street Journal reports:

While some colleges struggle to fill seats, the country’s most selective ones are becoming harder to get into. Seven of the eight Ivy League schools reported they lowered their acceptance rate for this fall, with Harvard leading the pack by accepting less than 6% of its more than 30,000 undergraduate applicants.

As we’ve noted before, perhaps the only student program more difficult to get into than Harvard is the Cato internship program. This summer we were able to accept 4.9 percent of the more than 800 applicants for internships.

The program’s rigor is similar to the Ivy League, too. But, unlike the Ivy League, Cato interns receive a broad and deep education in the fundamentals of liberty. Each intern is assigned to policy directors at Cato, allowing the intern to delve deeply into a particular area of study. Not only do the interns help Cato scholars with research and work with the conference department to organize policy conferences, debates, and forums, but they attend regular seminars on politics, economics, law, and philosophy, as well as a series of lectures and films on libertarian themes. The interns develop their public speaking skills by presenting policy recommendations and develop their writing skills by drafting letters to the editor and op-eds. After such intense study, they emerge at the end of the summer well equipped to promote and live the ideas of liberty.

Find out more about Cato internships here. Note that the internship program is year-round, and the process is a little less competitive for Fall and Spring internships. We encourage students to consider applying in any season. The deadline for Fall internship applications has passed, and the deadline for Spring is November 1.

Michael Gerson, Mainstream Republican?

Michael Gerson, an important intellectual force within the administration of Bush the Younger, from whose wreckage the GOP is still trying to emerge, now is inveighing that Rand Paul “can never be a mainstream Republican.”

The claim is peculiar because Gerson himself, the purveyor of an unapologetically big-government, “heroic” conservatism, was hardly a mainstream Republican until George W. Bush altered what “mainstream Republican” meant. Certainly, anyone who called skeptics of federal power “morally empty” would not have been identified as a mainstream Republican until Bush (and Gerson) transformed the party.

But in case you need a few other reasons to question Gerson’s conservative bona fides:

One wonders whether Edmund Burke, John Lukacs, or William F. Buckley would have judged these as the marks of a conservative.

Gerson’s takes as a jumping-off point for his latest dig against libertarianism some of the genuinely offensive and wrong things that Paul adviser Jack Hunter had written about the Civil War, race, and the Confederacy. But one gets the sense that though Gerson’s appreciation for Lincoln and a powerful federal government are heartfelt, he didn’t need to see Hunter’s C.V. to dislike Paul—and to use Hunter as a way to slam libertarianism.

In the end, though, Gerson’s argument that Paul “can never” be a mainstream Republican is belied by the fact, highlighted by Gerson’s very article, that the mainstream of the GOP is moving, slowly, in Paul’s direction. As Gerson’s first sentence observes, Paul is 2013’s “Republican flavor of the year.”

Paul and the GOP have at least three choices: a recapitulated Southern strategy, Gerson’s militarist Christian Democracy, or a libertarian-conservatism that can appeal to 21st century America. As Gerson should know by now, much like the course of a war, the future of a political party is hard to predict in advance.

Can You Spell L-A-F-F-E-R C-U-R-V-E?

I’m thinking of inventing a game, sort of a fiscal version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Only the way my game will work is that there will be a map of the world and the winner will be the blindfolded person who puts his pin closest to a nation such as Australia or Switzerland that has a relatively low risk of long-run fiscal collapse.

That won’t be an easy game to win since we have data from the BIS, OECD, and IMF showing that government is growing far too fast in the vast majority of nations.

We also know that many states and cities suffer from the same problems.

A handful of local governments already have hit the fiscal brick wall, with many of them (gee, what a surprise) from California.

The most spectacular mess, though, is about to happen in Michigan.

The Washington Post reports that Detroit is on the verge of fiscal collapse.

After decades of sad and spectacular decline, it has come to this for Detroit: The city is $19 billion in debt and on the edge of becoming the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy. An emergency manager says the city can make good on only a sliver of what it owes—in many cases just pennies on the dollar.

This is a dog-bites-man story. Detroit’s problems are the completely predictable result of excessive government. Just as statism explains the problems of Greece. And the problems of California. And the problems of Cyprus. And the problems of Illinois.

Can Egyptian Democracy Arrive on the Back of Tanks?

U.S. foreign policy has resulted in many grand failures. Egypt has joined the pantheon.

That nation long has been a national wreck. Washington emphasized “stability” since Cairo backed U.S. policy and preserved peace with Israel. 

Two years ago the people of Egypt finally had enough. Unfortunately, Hosni Mubarak’s fall loosed Islamist forces. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president and won approval of an Islamist-oriented constitution. 

But President Morsi failed politically and economically. After just one year, millions of demonstrators demanded his ouster. Neither side was much interested in compromise, so the generals staged a coup.

The Obama administration stands helplessly in the middle, denounced by the Brotherhood and anti-Morsi protestors. Yet the administration still refuses to follow the law, which mandates an end to foreign aid in the event of a coup.

Although Morsi was responsible for his failures, he was obstructed at many turns. The opposition behaved little better, failing to organize effective political parties and develop political leaders. 

As I write in my latest American Spectator article:

The military’s coup cannot be disguised as something else.  Imagine U.S. army units invading the Oval Office, arresting President Barack Obama and his senior aides, detaining hundreds of top Democratic Party officials, closing down MSNBC and other Democratic-leaning media, appointing Chief Justice John Roberts as caretaker president, and shooting pro-Obama protestors.  Americans would call it a coup.  Even conservatives would call it a coup. 

Unfortunately, coups rarely yield democratic results, especially when staged against freely elected officials.  A coup is by definition force and necessarily relies on repression.  The result is more often extended dictatorship—Spain 1936, Iran 1953, Chile 1973, and Greece 1967, for instance—than renewed democracy.

Electoral defeat would have discredited the Brotherhood, but political martyrdom may revive the organization. And if the Brotherhood does not receive credible assurances that it will be allowed to fairly compete in the future, political Islam in Egypt and elsewhere may turn sharply against democracy. The nightmare scenario is Algeria, where a decade of civil war followed the suppression of Islamists who were poised to win a parliamentary election.

In any case, the military is no friend of secular liberals and the freedoms they hold dear.  Nor are the generals likely to slink into the background after having been handed the keys to the kingdom. Indeed, the coup precedent will remain, ready for use against the next president who expands his powers, fails to fix the economy, and offends well-organized groups.

There is no good answer. Egypt likely faces more short-term violence and certainly faces long-term instability. Washington can do little. The administration should follow the law and cut off aid. Then, having long underwritten autocracy, the U.S. government should get out of the way.

Guide to Libertarian Movies

I’m delighted to report that Miss Liberty’s Guide to Film is available again—on Kindle. My friend Jon Osborne worked for years on this project, but the 2001 book has been out of print for years. It’s the best available guide to movies with libertarian themes, with more than 250 short reviews.

What are the best libertarian films? Well, the book doesn’t rank them, but some that make his list of Top Libertarian Films are Amistad, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Shenandoah, and We the Living. Libertarians may be familiar with all of those, but he also recommends the lesser-known Cash McCall, East-West, Improper Conduct, and many more.

No such list is exhaustive, of course, or uncontroversial. When I listed some of my own favorite libertarian-themed films, I included some that Osborne doesn’t: So Big (1953) and My Beautiful Laundrette. Not to mention the republican Gladiator and the anti-Nazi, anti-communist Sunshine, both released in 2000.

Few if any of these movies are like libertarian essays on film. Osborne includes movies that have such themes as anti-socialism (under which he includes anti-National Socialism), anti-war, bureaucratic abuse of power, creator as hero, freedom of speech, individualism, social tolerance, and voluntaryism. Each film is rated for both its libertarian content and its entertainment value, and also briefly reviewed.

Osborne mostly stopped reviewing—and maybe even seeing—movies when his daughter was born, so there aren’t many movies here from the past decade. But from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) to Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), there are enough movies here to keep you busy for the rest of the year.