As Sen. Rand Paul announces his presidential candidacy, I've been talking about it in the media. At the Daily Beast, I write about his chances:
The Republican base may be divided into establishment, tea party, Christian right, and libertarian wings. Paul starts out with a strong base in the libertarian wing, which gave his father, Rep. Ron Paul, 21 percent of the Iowa caucus vote and 23 percent of the New Hampshire primary in 2012. With his strong opposition to taxes and spending and his book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington,” he’s also well positioned for the tea party vote. His pro-life views will make him acceptable to religious conservatives as the field narrows.
The wild card may be who can attract voters who don’t usually vote in Republican primaries. Paul’s stands on military intervention, marijuana, criminal justice reform, and the surveillance state give him a good shot at getting independents and young people to come out for him....
After the 2012 election Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey wrote that the country is mildly “left on social issues and right on economics…. a center-libertarian nation.”
No other candidate is trying to appeal directly to that center-libertarian vote. That’s the big new idea that Rand Paul will test.
At Newsweek (no longer part of the same company as the Daily Beast!) I write about Paul's libertarianish views:
He told a Harvard audience that he’s “libertarian-ish” and wants “a libertarian influence in the Republican Party.” He told Sean Hannity on Fox that he’s happy to be called “either libertarian conservative or constitutional conservative.”...
His recent comments on gay marriage—“personally offended” and “moral crisis”—created a libertarian backlash. Unlike Paul, most libertarians support abortion rights. But voters for whom abortion and gay marriage are deal-breakers aren’t likely to be voting in Republican primaries.
Many libertarian activists have vociferously objected to Paul’s foreign policy moves. His endorsement of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS), his signing Senator Tom Cotton’s letter aimed at derailing negotiations with Iran and his endorsement of a $190 billion increase in Pentagon spending (with cuts in other spending to pay for it) reinforced his libertarian opposition.
But conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty says libertarians should understand that Paul is “inching” the GOP in his direction: “Paul often offers rhetorical hostility instead of sanctions, sanctions instead of conflict and limited constitutionally authorized conflict instead of open-ended war.” Sort of a Fabian approach to non-interventionism....
Paul doesn’t claim to be a libertarian, and he takes positions that many libertarians disagree with. But on a broad range of issues, from spending and regulation to government spying, drug wars and military intervention, he has a more libertarian policy agenda than any major candidate in memory.
I told Mara Liasson at NPR something similar:
"I think Rand Paul is the most libertarian major presidential candidate that I can remember seeing," said Boaz, whose new book is called The Libertarian Mind, "so it tells you that there is a constituency that wants this more libertarian approach."
Al-Jazeera did a nice summary of a point I made:
Boaz too said that Rand Paul’s candidacy represents an inflection point for the libertarian movement, with an increasing number of voters attracted to a political philosophy that is skeptical of Big Government in the wake of Wall Street bailouts, the Iraq War and the abuses of the NSA. Paul’s campaign will test how far libertarian ideas can go in the Republican Party.
I could be writing in this space about the merits of across-the-board, permanent elimination of U.S. tariffs as a catalyst for U.S. business investment, hiring, and economic growth. However, I am forced to devote time and energy to argue that temporary import duty suspensions are not earmarks.
The same goes for our beloved legislators. Because congressional Republicans are mired in a debate about whether temporary suspensions of import duties that benefit fewer than 10 entities are earmarks under House rules, there is no room for a substantive discussion about why we even have import duties in the first place.
Hey Capitol Hill: Duties, not duty suspensions, are the earmarks you should eradicate.
As David Boaz notes below, a few blocks away at 17th and M, the foreign policy and defense analysts at the American Enterprise Institute have discovered a threat that's even more disturbing than the possibility of a Chinese "Space Force" armed with particle-beam weapons [.pdf]. It seems there's a spectre haunting America--the spectre of "isolationism."
It's such a threat that AEI, one of our leading conservative think tanks, is calling on President Obama to man the bully pulpit and use his magic rhetorical skills to raise awareness. I did a double-take on Tuesday when I saw a post at AEI's blog titled, "With Growing Isolationism, We Need Obama to Lead Now More Than Ever." And yet, when I got up the next day, I heard AEI veep Danielle Pletka on NPR, lamenting "Republican isolationism" and the fact that Obama hadn't yet stepped up to "explain to the American people" the "tough, important decisions" he'd made in foreign policy.
What's the evidence for this supposedly burgeoning "isolationism" in the Republican party and the country at large? AEI's Alex Della Rocchetta cites a recent poll showing that only 26 percent of likely voters support Obama's Libyan adventure and the Pew Center survey David links to below, that has a rising number of Americans agreeing with the statement that the US should "mind its own business internationally."
But is it "isolationism" to doubt the wisdom of bombing Libya, a country that the president's own secretary of defense admits isn't "a vital interest of the United States" or to think minding your own business abroad is better than minding other peoples' business? As my colleague Justin Logan has pointed out, "isolationism" has always been a smear word designed to shut off debate. Tim Carney's sardonic definition has it right: "Isolationist: n. Someone who, on occasion, opposes bombing foreigners."
But, rhetorical games aside, AEI's hawks have reason to worry that interventionism is increasingly unpopular. It had to hurt when even sometime AEI scholar Newt Gingrich--a guy so threat-addled that he once called for zapping a North Korean missile test with lasers--struck a note of restraint at the last GOP debate. As the New York Times noted, that debate showed that "the hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view."
Maybe GOP pols are beginning to catch on that, for quite some time now, ordinary Americans have overwhelmingly rejected the globocop role forced on them by liberal and conservative elites. Indeed, there's a huge disconnect between the foreign policies Americans favor and those the Beltway Consensus delivers. Nearly three-quarters of the American public wants to get out of Afghanistan yesterday; meanwhile, 57 percent of National Journal’s "National Security Insiders" think we need to waste more blood and treasure on armed "community organizing."
It's almost like there's a "culture war" going on, but not one of the usual God, Guns, and Gays variety. On one side, you've got the sound, mind-your-business instincts of the American people; on the other, there's a gaggle of intellectual elites, determined to extend the reach and power of the American state. A "Battle," if you will. You could write a book about it.
Today in Politico I have an op-ed titled “How Washington changed Obama.” In the piece, I argue that the recent appointments of Leon Panetta as secretary of defense and Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA, combined with revelations in the recent New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, suggest that President Obama has given up on changing U.S. foreign and defense policy:
Panetta is a dubious choice to fulfill Obama’s recent pledge to trim military spending. Any secretary charged with realizing that pledge would need extraordinary credibility with Capitol Hill Republicans, many of whom are determined to continue raining money on the Pentagon regardless of the nation's parlous fiscal position. Despite having once been a Republican, Panetta ran for Congress as Democrat and has served prominently in Democratic administrations. He is unlikely to craft the pragmatic consensus needed to give the Pentagon a haircut.
Petraeus’s nomination poses a different problem. He has spent the past decade focused— at the behest of his commanders in chief — on what we used to call the “global war on terrorism.” But is U.S. nation-building in the Muslim world the most important national security and intelligence problem we face today?
The U.S. desperately needs to change its focus. We account for roughly half the world’s military spending, yet we feel terribly insecure. We infantilize our allies so that they won’t pay to defend themselves and instead allow us to do it for them. We stumble into small- and medium-sized foreign quagmires the way many people eat breakfast — frequently and without much thought.
I present you Robert Laszewski's magnificent take on ObamaCare and Wisconsin, Democrats and Republicans.
The co-chairs of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released a draft report yesterday on how to reduce federal budget deficits.
Despite the liberal savaging the report is taking as some sort of conservative plot, its proposals are really center-left in orientation. That said, there is some good stuff in the report, which will be useful for incoming Republicans looking to tackle the budget mess.
Good Ideas and Positive Directions
The report provides a menu of possible spending cuts for incoming Republican members of Congress to consider, particularly Tea Party members, who proposed to cut the budget during their campaigns.
The report proposes to reduce spending from 25 percent of GDP currently to 21 percent over the long run. That’s a good start, but we need to pursue deeper cuts, as discussed on www.downsizinggovernment.org. After all, federal spending was just 18 percent of GDP in President Clinton’s last two years in office.
I like that the report suggests a broad array of budget cuts, including defense, nondefense, and entitlement programs. Everything needs to be cut, including programs traditionally defended by both liberals and conservatives.
The report proposes to cut $200 billion from discretionary spending by 2015 from Obama’s proposed spending that year of $1,309 billion. That’s a 15 percent cut. However, the word “cut” needs to be qualified because discretionary outlays were $1,041 billion in the pre-stimulus year of 2007, and they were just $615 billion in the pre-Bush year of 2000.
The report recommends an array of Medicare and Social Security cuts. That’s great, but the report doesn’t include the fundamental structural reforms—such as Social Security individual accounts and Medicare vouchers—that are needed to reduce costs and provide benefits to the broader economy, such as boosting savings and improving health care quality.
The direction of the proposed tax reforms is positive. The co-chairs propose to reduce or repeal narrow deductions and other special tax benefits, while reducing marginal tax rates. The idea to treat capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, however, reveals a faulty understanding of the proper tax treatment of capital.
The report proposes to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 26 percent, while moving to territorial treatment for foreign investment. It suggests making “America the best place to start and run a business and create jobs.” That’s a laudable goal, but to fulfill it we need to bring the rate down to, say, 15 percent.
The report’s goal of reducing the damaging buildup of federal debt is laudable. Government overspending is the nation’s primary fiscal problem, but spending financed by debt creates an array of problems that are additionally troubling.
Bad Ideas and Shortcomings
The report proposes to raise taxes by $1 trillion over the next decade. But the federal budget crisis is caused by overspending not undertaxing. The election results showed that most Americans understand that, but the message hasn’t penetrated the beltway yet.
The report’s discretionary spending cuts are timid. For example, farm subsidies are cut by just $3 billion, just a fraction of their annual cost of about $20 billion. Farm prices and farm incomes are at high levels these days, so now would be a good time to repeal farm subsidies completely.
The report characterizes tax deductions and exemptions as “spending in the tax code.” That is becoming common parlance in Washington, but it is incorrect. Yes, the mortgage interest deduction and other narrow benefits distort the economy and ought to be abolished, but they also reduce the flow of revenues to Washington, which is a good thing.
The report makes faulty and naïve arguments often heard from centrists about government “investments.” While we need to cut spending, we also need to “invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value R&D” the report says. But why does the federal government need to be involved in education? Why can’t we privatize infrastructure investment? If certain R&D is so “high-value,” wouldn’t the private sector do it?
Along the same lines, the report calls for the creation of a “Cut-and-Invest Committee” to move spending from “outdated” programs to “high-priority long-term investments.” That’s just naïve. The government will never be an efficient allocator of resources, and that’s why we need to shrink it, not just make it run better.
Finally, the commission should have placed more emphasis on fundamental restructuring of government, and not just spending trims. This is true with the entitlement proposals. But also with areas such as infrastructure spending—we don’t need higher gas taxes and government spending for infrastructure, we need privatization.
Political gamesmanship has never seen a clearer illustration than in this CQ Politics article, "Locals Split on DeMint's Earmark War."
South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint opposes earmarks. Fellow South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham supports earmarks and regularly requests them. (See a list of all 136 of his earmark requests for FY 2010 here.)
Senator Graham's request for a $400,000 earmark for the Port of Charleston hasn't been awarded---perhaps because of DeMint's opposition to earmarks.
Refusing to go along has a price. And in the article it's a Republican operative who sinks the first shiv, suggesting that DeMint's failure to earmark hurts South Carolina.
"What you're hearing [in the state] is: the ideology of the tea party and catering to that movement will come at the expense of jobs in South Carolina," said Chris Drummond, a South Carolina GOP strategist who formerly worked for Gov. Mark Sanford.
(Think a Republican wouldn't criticize another Republican? Think again.)
The tax money used for earmarking is paid into the federal kitty by South Carolinians, of course. Getting some of the taxes they pay returned to the state is not the benefit it appears. If their money were left with them in the first place, they would spend it as they see fit, benefitting South Carolinians and their state much more than politically directed spending.
Next, Senate appropriation subcommittee chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) exploits the tension among members of his opposite party, clinical analysis masking his glee: "'In cases where you have a state where one asks for an earmark, the other opposes all earmarks, that makes it a more difficult project to fund,' he said."
Then comes payback time. Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) was ousted during the primary by a Tea Party/DeMint-favored candidate, so:
The office of subcommittee ranking member Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) also told the Greenville News that the port was denied funding in part because "there was no request at all from Sen. DeMint."
The article recites a number of other viewpoints on earmarking and earmarks in South Carolina, but the highlight is the parade of assailants on DeMint. Politics ain't patty-cake, and earmark politics are no exception.