Where’s the Beef?

Sen. Barack Obama has excited the national media, Andrew Sullivan, young voters, and 38 percent of Iowa Democrats with his message of “change” and “hope” and “becoming one people, the United States of America.” It makes for a great speech. But I’m reminded of what the Democratic establishment candidate, Walter Mondale, said to insurgent Gary Hart after Hart did well in the 1984 Iowa caucuses with a campaign of “new ideas”: Where’s the beef?

It’s not that Obama hasn’t addressed questions of public policy. His campaign website has as many policy ideas as a Bill Clinton State of the Union Address. It’s just that they’re pretty much the same ideas: more taxes, more spending, more government help to scratch every itch a voter might have. He’s got more subsidies for workers who lose their jobs because of international competition, more subsidies for research and jobs and energy technology and broadband access and rural schools, more federal support for labor unions, and much much more.

To help borrowers and employees, he proposes more regulations on lenders, credit card issuers, and employers. These would, of course, make lending and hiring more expensive, so fewer people would be hired, and their wages would be lower, and borrowing on credit cards and mortages would be more costly.

But my main point here is, these are the same policies that Sen. Hillary Clinton proposes. So what’s so new? In what way does Obama offer “change” or “hope” or something different from ”the same kind of partisan battling we had in the ’90s”? Where’s the beef?

Endless Earmarks

One sure way to create an uprising against big government would be to sign up every American voter to Senator Tom Coburn’s daily email reports on pork spending. I should take news about pork in stride, but I can’t help myself. I get disgusted every time I read the Coburn blasts.

Today’s item that turned my stomach was from the Waterbury Republican American (Connecticut):

One of the more enlightening disclosures from the legislature’s latest ethics eruption was the state spends about $10 million a year on the salaries and benefits of more than 50 agency administrators whose main function is to lobby lawmakers.

For taxpayers, this may be the costliest appropriation in the distended $16.3 billion state budget. It funds squads of unfettered lobbyists who wheedle and when necessary sleep with key legislators for ungodly sums of your tax dollars for dubious programs and projects. One reason state taxes are so high, state budget growth easily outstrips inflation every year and the state’s per-capita debt is among the highest in the nation is the government constantly lobbies itself to spend and borrow more.

The self-reinforcing or perpetual motion aspect of big government is one of the most disturbing aspects of federal subsidies, which I explore in this study.

Anyway, kudos to Coburn’s staff for its daily reminders of folly in government. You can get on the daily pork blast by emailing Roland_Foster [at] coburn [dot] senate [dot] gov.

Keynesians in the White House

President Bush is considering a “stimulus package” to boost the U.S. economy. But the idea that the government should be trying to manipulate short-term economic performance with fiscal policy is very misguided. 

The Washington Post today quotes a Bush advisor: “What everyone’s looking at is what is the fastest way to get money out there.” Huh? Where does the advisor think the money is going to come from? This stimulus concept is Keynesian mythology and should have been buried decades ago.

What Bush and Congress should consider are long-term, permanent changes to the tax code to make the economy more productive, such as a corporate tax rate cut or more favorable treatment for capital investment. If that helps in the short-term, that’s good, but spurring long-term growth in the economy is far more important than worrying about temporary ups and downs.  

Another Anti-Immigration Campaign Flops

With his disappointing second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses last night, Mitt Romney joins a growing list of politicians who have failed to ride the immigration issue to success when it counts.

To woo conservative voters, Romney has run a series of hard-hitting ads attacking his Republican rivals for being soft on illegal immigration. His ads and campaign speeches have thumped John McCain for supporting “amnesty” for unauthorized immigrants already here and Mike Huckabee for supporting in-state tuition for the minor children of illegal immigrants.

Although Romney had struck a more constructive tone toward the issue when he was governor of Massachusetts, polls and talk radio have convinced him that sounding harsher-than-thou on illegal immigration would be a key to winning the hearts of conservative Republicans. The strategy didn’t appear to help him in Iowa even though he outspent his rivals by millions of dollars.

Romney isn’t the first politician to push the immigration button and come away empty-handed. Just before the Iowa caucuses, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo announced he was dropping out of the Republican primary race even though he trumpeted the most hard-core anti-illegal-immigration stance of any candidate. California Congressman Duncan Hunter barely registered among Iowa caucus goers last night even though he too had staked out a hard-line position against any legalization. And let’s not forget that in 2000, the articulate and amiable Pat Buchanan spent $12 million in taxpayer dollars to spread his anti-immigration message as the Reform Party candidate for president, and attracted a paltry one half of one percent of the vote on Election Day.

Americans have always been ambivalent about immigration, and a solid majority today wants the government to seriously address the problem of illegal immigration. But as I have argued here and here, voters have not rewarded politicians who demagogue the issue. Let’s hope the rest of the Republican field takes notice.

McCain Wants US Troops in Iraq for “100 Years”

I couldn’t believe it when I saw it either, but the dang thing is up on Youtube. Flanked by Joe Lieberman, John McCain on the stump responds to a question about George Bush talking about staying in Iraq for 50 years by quipping “Make it 100!” He then hedges, if you can call it that, by saying “as long as Americans aren’t being killed.”

And we wonder where these conspiracy theories in the Islamic world about the US trying to dominate the region come from…

Iowa Winners and Losers

The voters of Iowa have had their say and the 2008 presidential election campaign is now officially underway. While the Iowa dust (or snow) is just beginning to settle, it’s already possible to pick out winners and losers.

WINNERS

Barack Obama: He not only won, he won big. If he had lost in Iowa, the Clinton inevitability train might have been unstoppable. But now he has vaulted into possible frontrunner status. The race is far from over, but Obama has shown that his upbeat message of change and opportunity resonates with voters. Two big questions remain: What will happen when scrutiny moves beyond his positive generalities to his very liberal record? And can he survive the coming attacks from the Clinton machine?

John McCain: He finished in a rough tie for third despite putting in little effort in Iowa (and opposing ethanol subsidies). More important, Mitt Romney took a big hit. McCain was already surging in New Hampshire. With Romney wounded and Huckabee having little New Hampshire traction, a win is now a very realistic possibility. The media would love a McCain comeback story. But where doers he go next?

Mike Huckabee: A win is a win is a win. But Huckabee built his win almost entirely on a turnout by evangelical Christians who ignored his big-government positions. It’s hard to see how he can compete in anti-tax New Hampshire or socially moderate states like California that vote on Super Tuesday. Remember Pat Robertson surprised everyone by finishing second in the Iowa Caucuses in 1988.

LOSERS

Mitt Romney: He built his entire strategy on winning early in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Now, despite spending $7 million in Iowa, that strategy is in tatters. He lost in Iowa and is trailing in New Hampshire polls. If he loses next Tuesday, it becomes very hard to see how he comes back. Perhaps money and perfect hair doesn’t overcome a lack of core political beliefs after all.

John Edwards: He had to win in Iowa to be viable. He had campaigned there virtually nonstop for four years. After all that time and effort, second place just isn’t good enough. Obama is now the anti-Hillary candidate. Edwards appears ready to limp on, at least until South Carolina, but if he does it will be more as spoiler than as potential nominee.

Hillary Clinton: Third place? For the inevitable, unstoppable candidate? For a campaign whose entire rationale was built on the idea that she was going to win, she now looks suspiciously like…well…a loser. Still, she has the money, organization, and determination to fight back. There is no more ruthless politician in America. Obama had better be ready.

Fred Thompson: The whole idea of his campaign was that he would unite the party and give all stripes of conservatives someone to rally around. A distant third place tie doesn’t suggest much of a rally. And, he is running even worse in New Hampshire polls. It’s hard to see why he will stay in a race he never really seemed to want to be in.

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE

Ron Paul: His supporters were hoping that Paul’s fundraising prowess, internet popularity, and the zealousness of his followers would translate into a third place finish. Instead, he finished a disappointing fifth. Still, 10 percent of the vote is not bad for a previously unknown congressman from Texas with minimal media exposure. His limited government message clearly touched a chord and has inspired a new generation of libertarian activists. It’s hard to see where he goes after New Hampshire, but he can take satisfaction in what he had already accomplished.

Bill Richardson: He kept his vice presidential hopes alive with a respectable showing. Reports suggest that he actually received some 10 percent of the first round vote, although Iowa’s complicated system ended up giving him only about 2 percent of the regional delegates.

Rudy Giuliani: His Iowa showing was dismal, he trails in New Hampshire, and he has lost his lead in national polls. But the Republican race is now wide open. With no one likely to win all the early primaries, it may be that Giuliani’s strategy of playing rope-a-dope until Florida and the Super Tuesday primaries may be viable after all.

Mike Huckabee on Education

Iowa Republican caucus winner Mike Huckabee has a lot to say about education policy, much of it contradictory. Asked to point to the spot in the Constitution authorizing a federal role in education [hint: there is none] Huckabee responded “I don’t think there is really a federal role or responsibility, constitutionally, in education.” We have a winner!

But wait, there’s more. Huckabee continued: “I think if there’s a role [uh, you just said there isn’t one…], it is to encourage, it’s to recognize the value and importance.” What might this mean, you ask? Apparently, it means that the federal government should perpetuate the No Child Left Behind act (with some unspecified revisions), continue to operate a cabinet level education department, promote arts instruction, and use extortion to pressure state governments to act in accordance with its dictates (that is, collect taxes from every state for education but only return those dollars in the form of federal grants to states that “voluntarily” decide to follow federal rules.)

I wonder what gov. Huckabee would have the feds do if he thought the Constitution did delegate them any authority in education?