Smaller Government Is More Popular Than Obama

Pollsters occasionally ask respondents questions along the lines of “Would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with many services?” As might be expected, the economic crisis and the repeated claim that the Bush administration has been tight-fisted and deregulatory have moved voters to the left on that question. But not as far as you might think. Ramesh Ponnuru recently summarized some of the latest evidence:

CBS pollsters have often asked, “Would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with many services?” On this question there seems to be a pro-government trend over the last dozen years — but we certainly don’t seem to be more pro-government than we were during the Reagan ’80s. In April 1976 the larger-government side had a four-point lead and in May 1988 a one-point lead. Polls from 1996 through Jan. 2001 showed an average lead of 20 points for the smaller-government side. By November 2003, however, the smaller-government side led by only 3 points, and in the latest poll (March-April) the sides are tied.

The same pattern shows up in the results of a similar Washington Post/ABC poll question. People swung to a smaller-government view in the 1990s and then swung back, but the results from June 2008 (50-45 percent for smaller government) are roughly the same as those from July 1988 (49-45).

But other indicators do not even find a clear pro-government trend for the last decade. Gallup, as well as ABC and the Washington Post, has asked for many years whether Americans think that government “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” or “should do more to solve our country’s problems.” Almost always most people fall on the conservative side of that question: in September 1992 by an eight-point margin; in October 1998 by 12 points; in September 2002 by 7 points; and in September 2008 by 12 points.

As I’ve noted before,

I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government–”more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. A few years ago a Rasmussen poll did ask the question that way. The results were that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes.

The Rasmussen Poll continues to ask that question, and indeed it has shown a shift to the big-government side in the wake of the economic crisis. In late September respondents supported smaller government by only 57 to 31 percent – or about 20 points more than Obama’s margin over McCain. The victorious Democrats should take note.

Worst News: The Loss of John Sununu

Plenty of big-government Republicans, starting with John McCain, lost their elections tonight, and libertarians won’t shed too many tears for them. But the voters of New Hampshire, which just might be the most libertarian state, dealt limited government a real blow by defeating John Sununu’s bid for reelection. Sununu is the youngest, probably the smartest, and surely the most libertarian member of the Senate. In 2002 he campaigned on Social Security private accounts. In office he has stood firmly for free markets and fiscal responsibility. He also voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment and helped to reform the Patriot Act.

P. J. O’Rourke, Cato’s Mencken Research Fellow who lives in New Hampshire, wrote in the Weekly Standard in June:

Senator Sununu could write his political philosophy on a small piece of paper: “I have a deep-seated belief that America is unique, strong, great because of a commitment to personal freedom–in our economic system and our politics. We are a free people who consented to be governed. Not vice-versa.” (Italics added for the sake of the multitudes in our government’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches who need to fill out that index card and keep it with them at all times. And if the multitudes are confused by “Not vice-versa” they may substitute, We aren’t a government that consents to people being free.)

“It’s important for politicians to understand,” Senator Sununu said, “that the Founders’ writings reflect that point of view. From Jefferson to Hamilton, freedom was the special ingredient in human prospects, moral prospects, political prospects. The argument was over what government mechanism would ensure common good and guarantee freedom. There was no argument about whether we were free people. In most parts of the world there never has been an appreciation for that perspective. Governments have evolved to provide greater freedom, to reduce the power of monarchies, to reduce absolute power.”

New Hampshire may be the most libertarian state in the country; its license plates read “Live Free or Die,” and it demands that its politicians “take the pledge” not to raise taxes. But in 2006, after six years of overspending, war, the marriage amendment and other affronts to limited government, both the state’s Republican congressmen lost, and both houses of the state legislature went Democratic for the first time since 1874. John Sununu was a good senator in sync with the sentiments of New Hampshire, but he couldn’t swim against the riptide of George W. Bush and the Washington Republicans. He will be missed.

Not Just the First African-American President

For two years now, everyone has talked about Barack Obama becoming the first black president, barely 40 years after the civil rights revolution. Obama himself has often said, “I  don’t look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates.”

But his achievement is even more striking than “first African-American president.” There are tens of millions of white Americans who are part of ethnic groups that have never produced a president. The fact is, all 42 of our presidents have been of British, Irish, or Germanic descent. We’ve never had a president of southern or eastern European ancestry. Despite the millions of Americans who came to the New World from France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Scandinavia, Russia, and other parts of Europe–not to mention Asia and the Arab world and Latin America–we’ve never had a president who traced his ancestry to those parts of the world. Indeed, it’s often been said that “we’ve never had a president whose name ended in a vowel” (except for a silent ”e” such as Coolidge, and with the exception of Kennedy), which is another way of saying “not of southern or eastern European heritage”).

As Philip Q. Yang put it in his book Ethnic Studies: Issues and Approaches, “There have been no presidents of southern and eastern European descent; and none of Jewish, African, Latino, Asian, or Indian descent.” We’ve had 37 presidents of British (English, Scottish, or Welsh) or Irish descent; three of Dutch descent (Van Buren and the two Roosevelts); and two of Swiss/German descent (Hoover and Eisenhower). Of course, these categories usually refer to the president’s paternal line; Reagan, for instance, was Irish on his father’s side but not on his mother’s. But that doesn’t change the overall picture.

In this light, Obama’s achievement is even more remarkable. He has achieved something that no American politician even of southern or eastern European heritage has managed. But I think we can assume that from now on there won’t be any perceived disadvantage to candidates of Italian, French, Asian, or other previous genealogies not previously seen in the White House. For that, congratulations to Barack Obama.

Cato Today

Presidential Power

Op-Ed: “New President Won’t Tame Presidential Power,” by Gene Healy in the Orange County Register.

After seven years of an administration that has recognized few, if any, limits on executive power, it’s only natural that many people look to the Obama-Biden ticket to put the presidency back in its proper constitutional place.

Article: “Obama’s the Candid Candidate on Energy,” by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren in Forbes.

Sen. Obama’s frank confession about what his climate change policies will mean to electricity consumers is one very good reason why so many conservative and libertarian intellectuals are gravitating toward his candidacy. It’s not that right-wing thinkers necessarily endorse his climate change policies. It’s that right-wing thinkers are increasingly tired of Republican hypocrisy and make-believe policy fights.

Article: “Obama’s Tax Deceptions,” by Alan Reynolds in National Review Online.

Barack Obama famously claims, “I’ll give a tax break to 95% of workers and their families.” The Obama team never explained that figure, because they made it up….Obama said, “If you work, pay taxes, and make less than $200,000, you’ll get a tax cut.” That too is flatly false. Single workers who make more than $80,000 (or joint returns above $155,000) would not get a tax cut under Obama’s plan.

Podcast: “The Obama Agenda: Free Political Speech,” featuring John Samples

More Unwelcome Big-Think from Donald Kerr

Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, created a stir last year when he opined about “privacy” in a way that redefined the concept as congenially to the intelligence community as possible.

I put it this way in a critique at the time:

“If you’ve identified yourself to your ISP,” he appears to think, “you’ve identified yourself to me.” The folks in his world may think that way, but that’s not the way the rest of us look at it, and it’s not consistent with a sound interpretation of the Fourth Amendment or life in a free society.

Now he’s back at it with “cybersecurity.”

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports on two recent Kerr speeches that have “called for a radical new relationship between government and the private sector” in this area:

One approach would have the government take equity stakes in companies developing technical products, in effect expanding the practice of In-Q-Tel, the CIA entity that invests in companies.

Another proposal is to provide the same protective capabilities applied to government Web sites, ending in .gov and .mil, to the private industry’s sites, ending in .com, which Kerr said have close to 98 percent of the nation’s most important information.
* * *
“We have a responsibility … to help those companies that we take an equity stake in or those that are just out there in the U.S. economy, to protect the most valuable assets they have, their ideas and the people who create them,” he said.

The government-ownership-of-private-assets train is rolling out of the station and Kerr wants his agency to be on board. But he’s wrong. It’s the responsibility of private owners to secure their assets.

This is big-think we do not need. Just like with his contortion of “privacy,” Kerr would upend the roles and responsibilities of government and the private sector by giving government an ownership stake, for “cybersecurity” reasons or any other.

Lula’s Heart vs Brazil’s Interests

Brazil’s president, Luiz Lula da Silva, has informed everyone whom he favors in today’s election: “This (financial) crisis, among other benefits it will cause, will get Obama elected as president of the United States. It will get a black man elected, which is no small matter.”

This is quite ironic. During Lula’s tenure as president of Brazil he has heavily focused his relationship with the United States on commercial issues, particularly two: the elimination of a U.S. tariff on Brazilian ethanol and the reduction of U.S. farm subsidies for which Brazil has refused to negotiate a Free Trade Area of the Americas. On both issues, John McCain favors Brazil’s interests while Obama opposes them.

McCain has said he would eliminate the tariff on Brazilian ethanol (which is probably costing him Iowa). Obama would keep it. McCain also voted against the farm bill which extended the agricultural subsidies that Lula complains so much about in international fora. Obama voted in favor of it.

It seems that Lula’s left-leaning heart has lead him to favor a candidate that goes against his country’s own interests.