The Hill's Congress blog has a regular series that provides policy experts a forum to discuss current topics of the day. This week, the editors posed this question:
President Obama has taken a very different approach to diplomacy than President Bush. Does the new approach serve or undermine long-term U.S. interests?
What “very different approach?” Sure, President Bush implicitly scorned diplomacy in favor of toughness, particularly in his first term. But he sought UN Security Council authorization for tougher measures against Iraq; a truly unilateral approach would have bombed first and asked questions later. By the same token, President Obama has staffed his administration with people, including chief diplomat Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who favored military action against Iraq and Serbia in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and were undeterred by the UNSC’s refusal to endorse either intervention.
There are other similarities. George Bush advocated multilateral diplomacy with North Korea, despite his stated antipathy for Kim Jong Il. President Obama supports continued negotiations with the same odious regime that starves its own people. Bush administration officials met with the Iranians to discuss post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq. In the second term, President Bush even agreed in principle to high-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama likewise believes that the United States and Iran have a number of common interests, and he favors diplomacy over confrontation.
This continuity shouldn’t surprise us. Both men operate within a political environment that equates diplomacy with appeasement, without most people really understanding what either word means. Defined properly, diplomacy is synonymous with relations between states. As successive generations have learned the high costs and dubious benefits of that other form of international relations -- war -- most responsible leaders are rightly eager to engage in diplomacy. Perhaps the greater concern is that they feel the need to call it something else.
I (and several colleagues) have blogged before about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the latest campaign finance case, which was argued this morning at the Supreme Court. The case is about much more than whether a corporation can release a movie about a political candidate during an election campaign. Indeed, it goes to the very heart of the First Amendment, which was specifically created to protect political speech—the kind most in danger of being censored by politicians looking to limit the appeal of threatening candidates and ideas.
After all, hard-hitting political speech is something the First Amendment's authors experienced firsthand. They knew very well what they were doing in choosing free and vigorous debate over government-filtered pablum. Moreover, persons of modest means often pool their resources to speak through ideological associations like Citizens United. That speech too should not be silenced because of nebulous concerns about "level playing fields" and speculation over the "appearance of corruption." The First Amendment simply does not permit the government to handicap speakers based on their wealth, or ration speech in a quixotic attempt to equalize public debate: Thankfully, we do not live in the world of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron!
A few surprises came out of today’s hearing, but not regarding the ultimate outcome of this case. It is now starkly clear that the Court will rule 5-4 to strike down the FEC’s attempt to regulate the Hillary Clinton movie (and advertisements for it). Indeed, Solicitor General Elena Kagan -- in her inaugural argument in any court -- all but conceded that independent movies are not electioneering communications subject to campaign finance laws. And she reversed the government’s earlier position that even books could be banned if they expressly supported or opposed a candidate! (She went on to also reverse the government's position on two other key points: whether nonprofit corporations (and perhaps small enterprises) could be treated differently than large for-profit business, and what the government's compelling interest was in prohibiting corporations from using general treasury funds on independent political speech.)
Ted Olson, arguing for Citizens United, quickly recognized that he had his five votes, and so pushed for a broader opinion. That is, the larger -- and more interesting -- question is whether the Court will throw out altogether its 16-year-old proscription on corporations and unions spending their general treasury funds on political speech. Given the vehement opposition to campaign finance laws often expressed by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, all eyes were on Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, in whose jurisprudence some have seen signs of judicial "minimalism." The Chief Justice’s hostility to the government’s argument -- "we don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats" -- and Justice Alito’s skepticism about the weight of the two precedents at issue leads me to believe that there’s a strong likelihood we’ll have a decision that sweeps aside yet another cornerstone of the speech-restricting campaign finance regime.
Bloomberg News points out that President Obama needs a health-care crisis in order to impose a health-care "solution":
President Barack Obama returns to Washington next week in search of one thing that can revive his health-care overhaul: a sense of crisis....
“At the moment, except for the people without insurance, we’re not in a health-care crisis,” said Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. “You do need a crisis to generate movement in Congress and to help build a consensus.”
This administration has used Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine as a manual. Klein said in an interview that
The Shock Doctrine is a political strategy that the Republican right has been perfecting over the past 35 years to use for various different kinds of shocks. They could be wars, natural disasters, economic crises, anything that sends a society into a state of shock to push through what economists call 'economic shock therapy' – rapid-fire, pro-corporate policies that they couldn't get through if people weren't in a state of fear and panic.
Whether or not that's true about the "right-wing" policies that she purported to analyze, the Obama admininstration has taken it to heart. Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before" such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the president himself all echoed Emanuel's exultation about the opportunities presented by crisis.
The financial crisis turned out to be shocking enough to let the federal government extend the power of the Federal Reserve, nationalize two automobile companies, spend $700 billion on corporate bailouts and another $787 billion on pork and "stimulus," and inject a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the economy. But now people are balking at further expansions of government, and the administration is longing for just a little more crisis to serve as a further opportunity.
In a hagiographic profile of Obama budget director Peter Orszag, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker writes of the "pressure" he might get from congressional deficit hawks:
The respective heads of the House and Senate Budget Committees, John Spratt, Jr., of South Carolina, and Kent Conrad, of North Dakota, have spent years trying to control the deficit...
Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has made eradicating the federal budget deficit his life’s work.
Now, you'd think that if the ranking Democrats on the congressional budget committees had made deficit reduction their life's work, the budget wouldn't have, you know, skyrocketed over the past decade and more. So let's go to the tape.
The National Taxpayers Union has given Spratt an F for his votes on federal spending every year for more than a decade. (He had a couple of D's earlier in his career.) In the past two years, he voted with the taxpayers 5 and 6 percent of the time. He voted for spending bills more often than the average member of the House, and more often than the average Democrat. Some deficit hawk!
Conrad has an almost identical record — almost all F's, with ratings of 5 and 6 in the past two years.
By another measurement, in the 109th Congress (the most recent for which these calculations are available), Spratt voted for $184 billion in additional spending and voted to cut — drum roll, please — $4.8 billion in spending. Conrad voted to cut $8 billion, but he also voted to hike spending by $362 billion. In what world are these guys "trying to control the deficit"?
NTU does have one analysis that makes Conrad and Spratt look a little better: the bills they have sponsored or cosponsored. Spratt introduced 32 bills that would increase spending and 2 that would cut spending. While that may not sound very thrifty, it compares favorably to, say, Hilda Solis's 110 bills to increase spending or Barney Frank's 112. And the total new spending in Spratt's bills — $7 billion — is positively Randian. Conrad's record is similar — 36 bills to increase spending by $8 billion, which compares very favorably to, for instance, Hillary Clinton and Thad Cochran.
Apparently Conrad and Spratt don't introduce too many spending bills, but they vote for all the ones that get to the floor. Not exactly a strategy that holds the budget down. The search for a fiscally conservative Democrat continues.
The so-called Citizens United case offers the Supreme Court a chance to severely curtail the free speech abuses of the Federal Election Commission. John Samples, Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Steve Simpson and George Mason University law professor Allison Hayward weigh in. You can subscribe to Cato's YouTube videos here and our Weekly Video podcast here.
Commentary writer Kevin Pho misrepresented my views on comparative-effectiveness research (CER), which is the analysis of which medical treatments work best ("Unbiased research for doctors is good medicine," The Forum, March 26).
Pho wrote that "drug companies, medical device makers and think tanks such as the libertarian Cato Institute have expressed concerns that health care rationing and denial of certain treatments or drugs would follow" taxpayer-funded CER.
In the Cato Institute study linked to in the piece, I write that rationing is the intent behind such research, but I do not express concern that it will lead to rationing. Indeed, I express the opposite concern: that taxpayer-funded CER will not eliminate low-value services, just as it has failed to do so in the past.
Pho uses AARP executive Bill Novelli's words to suggest that Cato, as well as drug and device makers, use "scare tactics" to oppose taxpayer-funded CER. Far from engaging in scare tactics, my paper makes precisely the same observations that Novelli does.
By contrasting Cato to CER "champion" Hillary Clinton, Pho also gives the false impression that libertarians support CER less than those who support taxpayer funding.
Yet two themes of my paper are that CER is crucial and that removing government obstacles to private production would provide a much more stable stream of research — and broader use of that research — than taxpayer funding would. I think that makes me the champion of CER, not Clinton.
At a minimum, it is misleading to suggest that libertarians oppose CER.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diagnosis of the war on drugs:
"Neither interdiction [of drugs] nor reducing demand have been successful."
"We have been pursuing these strategies for 30 years."
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's prescription for the war on drugs:
"We've got to take a hard look at what we can do to stop the bad guys".
"I think [trying harder to stop the bad guys] is going to fail."