Energy Markets for Thee, but Not for Me

OPEC’s announcement last Thursday to cut crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels prompted this gem from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman: ”We continue to believe that it is best for oil producers and consumers alike to allow free markets to determine issues of supply, demand and price.”  Hearing frank talk about the virtues of free markets in the energy sector is indeed refreshing.  Too bad Bodman doesn’t take his own rhetoric seriously.  Why should oil supply, demand, and price be left to market actors but not ethanol supply, demand, and price?  Or wind energy supply, demand, and price?  Or ad infinitum?

Simply put, this administration believes that politicians should dictate energy choices, not markets.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have “Freedom Car” initiatives, clean-coal technology programs, massive new subsidies for nuclear power plant construction, or any of the political madness surrounding ethanol.

OPEC should tell Bodman they’ll embrace markets as soon as Bush does likewise. 

Althouse on Judicial Activism

Ann Althouse has an insightful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which argues that judicial activism is inevitable in a system, like ours, in which the Constitution forces courts to define and protect individual rights.  The tough question for Courts isn’t whether to be active or inactive, but how best to define and protect the constitutional rights that courts are institutionally obligated to defend:

There was a time – not all that long ago – when we openly praised the activist judge and scoffed at the stingy jurist who invoked notions of judicial restraint. That restraint was a smokescreen for some nasty hostility toward individual rights, we’d say. Now we all seem to love to wrap ourselves in the mantle of the new fashion [of judicial restraint]. But that fashion comes at the price of candor.

 Hat tip:  Jonathan Adler.

A Democratic Congress, Scary? Compared to What?

The office of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) has produced a document titled “Pelosi’s House.”  It is a list of 

out-of-the-mainstream bills introduced by Democratic Members [that] deserve particular attention because the principle [sic] advocates are the very individuals who would be in a position to schedule committee markups and move the legislation through the Congress should the Democrats take control. 

The list includes bills that would nationalize health care, create an adult diaper benefit under Medicare, reduce mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine, etc.

The list is less scary than its authors seem to think.  Reducing jail time for selling crack cocaine is actually a good idea.  And most of the bills have little support even among Democrats.  A bill that would nationalize health care has only 19 cosponsors, which is less than 10 percent of Democratic House members and less than 5 percent of the full House.

I mean really.  If the Democrats were to take control of the House, probably the worst they could do is add an expensive new prescription drug entitlement to Medicare. 

Oh, wait.  The Republicans already did that.  So the Democrats would have to shoot for something else, like a new adult diaper entitlement.  At least the GOP would go back to opposing such things.  Right?

Libertarian Voters Hit the Headlines

Suddenly, a week after David Kirby and I published our study “The Libertarian Vote,” journalists and politicos are taking note of libertarian voters, along with disgruntled economic conservatives and social conservatives. In a story on our study, The Economist writes:

AMERICA may be the land of the free, but Americans who favour both economic and social freedom have no political home. The Republican Party espouses economic freedom — ie, low taxes and minimal regulation — but is less keen on sexual liberation. The Democratic Party champions the right of homosexuals to do their thing without government interference, but not businesspeople. Libertarian voters have an unhappy choice. Assuming they opt for one of the two main parties, they can vote to kick the state out of the bedroom, or the boardroom, but not both.

And that, of course, is why our study found that the 15 percent of American voters who are libertarian swung sharply toward the Democrats in 2004. Although they usually vote Republican, they’re not committed to the GOP. And they realized that the Bush Republicans have not been delivering fiscal responsibility, federalism, or any of the other policies that libertarians and other voters expect from Republicans.

If you think I have a starry-eyed view of some halcyon past when the Republican Party actually believed in small government, check out this Washington Post article that says that gays ”hold a tenuous, complicated spot within the ranks of the GOP, whose earlier libertarian, live-and-let-live values have been ground down by the wedge issue of opposition to gay rights.”

Meanwhile, faced with impending doom, Republicans and conservatives are taking pot shots at each other in the media. A front-page article in today’s New York Times, triggered by my former colleague Ryan Sager and his book The Elephant in the Room, features former House majority leader Dick Armey complaining about the religious right: “The Republicans are talking about things like gay marriage and so forth, and the Democrats are talking about the things people care about, like how do I pay my bills?” In a newsletter from James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) called Armey’s comments “disgusting” and insulting to “the many Christians around the United States who devoutly hold conservative moral beliefs.”

Neoconservative Bill Kristol scoffs at the suggestion that massive overspending is turning off economically conservative voters. American Conservative Union chairman David Keene responds, “The principal sin of the neoconservatives is overbearing arrogance. It is not so much that they have been wrong. It is that nobody has ever convinced them that they have been wrong.”

Over at the Washington Times, Ralph Hallow quotes Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh denouncing conservative “whining” about the failures of Bush and the Republican Congress. He also quotes a response from me: “The war looks like a mistake, and Republicans have been spending worse than Democrats. Both libertarians and social conservatives are disgusted with the Cunningham, Abramoff and Foley scandals. They’re thinking that maybe the Republicans have been in power too long and don’t deserve another term.”

And a CNSNews story about the “libertarian vote” study quotes a rebuttal from Josh Holmes of the Republican National Committee: “If you believe in limited government, if you believe in free and fair markets, and you believe the American people are capable of accomplishing great things without the government doing it for us, the Republican Party is the only choice. When Democrat leaders talk about rolling back tax cuts, nationalizing the health care system, and drastically increasing domestic spending, they are not a viable option for most libertarian voters.”

He’s got a point. Democrats aren’t trying very hard to pick up the disgruntled libertarians. But Holmes is trying to persuade us that we still live in that Republican dream world when the party was characterized by “libertarian, live-and-let-live values,” instead of the actual world of unnecessary wars, gay marriage bans, 50 percent spending increases, and the biggest expansion of entitlements in 50 years.

Both parties will try to turn out their base voters this year by demonizing the other side, and both have a lot of material to work with. For many voters, it will work. They will decide that “we can’t let the other side win because then we’ll have higher taxes/fiscal irresponsibility/appeasement of terrorists/failing wars/extreme social conservatism/out-of-control leftwing judges.”

But others are going to see through that, and the real problem for Republicans this year is how many potential Republican voters really don’t feel excited about voting Republican. It’s always easiest not to vote, so you have to be pretty committed to actually get to the polling place and stand in line. In this year’s election, Democrats are outraged and optimistic, so they’re more likely to vote. Republicans are embarrassed, ashamed, and disgusted, so a lot of them will just not find the energy to get to the polls. And if libertarian voters keep swinging away from the Republicans, then Republicans are going to lose seats even in places like the Mountain West that they should be able to count on.

O’Reilly Interviews Bush

Bill O’Reilly got an exclusive interview with President Bush recently. The second and third segments were the most interesting to me.

In the second segment, O’Reilly asks some pretty good questions about torture, such as: How can anyone make a judgment about your policy when it’s all kept secret? Bush repeats his point that the terrorists can’t be told. O’Reilly could have followed up with: “But it’s out there already, isn’t it?”

During the same segment, Bush says when his agents pick up people from the battlefield, he wants to know what they know. O’Reilly should have followed up with: “But to be clear, sir, when you say “battlefield,” you mean any person picked up anywhere, right? So if an American citizen is arrested in Chicago, you are saying that you can employ “tough tactics” against him just on your own say-so, right?

The third segment of the interview is about Iraq. Here Bush restates his case, as you would expect. Still interesting. He seems to believe that having a clearly stated goal is the key to victory. He has established the objective and he believes the finest military in the world can find a way to achieve it. But later Bush says something like ”ultimately, it is up the Iraqi people.” O’Reilly could have followed that up by saying something like: ”Yeah, but that means the Iraqi people might opt for an endless civil war instead of a peaceful political process, right? If they go that route, we get out, right?”

The Search for a Libertarian Democrat

In his writings about “libertarian Democrats,” Markos “Kos” Moulitsas always cites Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer as Exhibit A. In the current Cato Unbound symposium, he writes:

Mountain West Democrats are leading the charge. At the vanguard is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who won his governorship the same day George Bush was winning Montana 58 to 38 percent. While the theme of Republican corruption played a big role in Schweitzer’s victory, he also ran on a decidedly libertarian Democrat message.

Hope springs eternal. But alas, in Cato’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors,” released Thursday, Schweitzer gets an F for his taxing and spending policies. Author Stephen Slivinski writes, “Spending in his first proposed budget exploded.” Plus he reinstated an expiring tax.

We’re still waiting for a libertarian Democrat. Really. We’d love to find one.