Big-Government Republicans for Lieberman

In the Wall Street Journal, Dan Henninger writes admiringly of Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Republicans who are flocking to Connecticut to campaign for him, notably Jack Kemp. The Boston Globe adds that many Republican donors close to the White House are donating to Lieberman: former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, former ambassador Mel Sembler, former Sen. Don Nickles, “and the heads of several Texas-based corporations.” Republican strategists tell the Globe that Karl Rove’s publicized phone call to Lieberman was a signal to Republican donors and politicians.

What are these Republicans doing? They’re subordinating every tenet of the Republican philosophy to the war in Iraq. That’s the only issue on which Lieberman is in line with Republican or conservative principles. Lieberman has a lifetime rating of 17 from the American Conservative Union. But maybe he’s getting better? No, his rating was 8 in 2005. On government spending, the National Taxpayers Union rates him 9, slightly worse than Dodd, Feinstein, or Boxer.

Lieberman votes against tax cuts and spending cuts. He’s coauthor of a bill to implement the Kyoto Protocol. He votes for gun control and mandatory seat-belt laws, and against tort reform. He votes to restrict political speech (the McCain-Feingold act) and to punish people for “hate crimes.”

It’s understandable that Republicans don’t want Ned Lamont in the Senate. But to campaign for a lifelong big-government liberal simply because he supports President Bush’s increasingly unsupportable war in Iraq is to declare limited government across a wide range of issues less important than this failing war.

Criminal Negligence in Iraq

OK, keeping up with energy and enviro related insanity is so difficult that sometimes, it’s easy to fall behind on the newspapers.  So over the weekend, I tried mightily to catch up on unread issues from the past week of The New York Times.  That explains why I’m so late to catch this amazing review of PBS’s Frontline “The Lost Years in Iraq,” which was published last Tuesday.

Unfortunately, I missed the show, which likewise aired on Tuesday.  But here’s a quote from the New York Times review:

Certainly some of the [Iraq Reconstruction Group] staff members seemed a bit underqualified.  Colonel Hammes recalls that the person given the job of planning for [Iraqi] prisons and police was 25 and that this was his first job after college.  He didn’t worry about having a staff of only four, the young appointee said, because they were all his fraternity brothers.

This is jaw dropping stuff.  If I were a Congressman and this information had crossed my desk back in 2003, I would have submitted articles of impeachment of President Bush right then and there.  This is criminal negligence and incompetence so amazing that words can’t do the matter justice.

Gotta go back and catch that show. 

I Hear Voices

I don’t want to tempt fate by declaring that the tide is turning against the costly and interventionist federal agriculture programs, but there have been several critical (in both senses of the word) editorials and investigative series this year on farm subsidies. The voices protesting about farm programs seem to be getting louder.

For a recent example, bravo to the Washington Post, for its editorial on Saturday denouncing the crop insurance boondoggle – yet another agricultural policy fleecing consumers and taxpayers in order to make farming a risk-free enterprise. The editorial follows a series earlier this year from the Post, entitled ’Harvesting Cash’ (you can view that series here).

The insurance program works thus: the government pays 60 percent of the premiums for crop insurance ($2.3 billion last year), and also pays a fee to insurance companies for administering the program (over $800 million). All this for crop failure losses of $752 million (yes, that’s right, the losses cost less than the administrative fees). The insurance does not, however, remove the “need” for disaster payments – over $6 billion worth since 2000, according to the Roanoke Times.

Taxpayers can sleep well at night, however, knowing they are funding “something good, the rural life”, in the words of a farmer quoted by the Post. (I wonder how much money would flow to farmers if the charity was voluntary?)

Kudos also to the Boston Herald, for their Sunday editorial on the subject (view here) and the Roanoke Times (here) for their own version. The latter editorial could be especially influential since Bob Goodlatte is the representative for Roanoke County and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

It is encouraging to note the number and breadth of newspapers covering this subject. The LA Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Denver Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel have all run editorials on farm programs this year. Let’s hope that the voices are heard, and that voters and their representatives start to demand change.

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.