Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian‐leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts — including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.
Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op‐ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:
In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.
I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self‐reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.
Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.
And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:
Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”
Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.
You can see in both the Paul op‐ed and the Johnson interview that major‐party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation — or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee — believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian‐leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.
Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson tries to answer that very good question in an op‐ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s a question my conservative Republican friends should ask themselves as the party tries, once again, to turn public opposition to illegal immigration into political success at the polls.
Robinson correctly observes that Reagan would have had nothing to do with the anger and inflamed rhetoric that so often marks the immigration debate today. “Ronald Reagan was no kind of nativist,” he concludes, noting that Reagan was always reaching out to voters beyond the traditional Republican base, including the fast‐growing Hispanic population.
It’s worth remembering that Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which opened the door to citizenship for nearly 3 million people who had been living in the country illegally. Robinson is confident Reagan would have supported the kind of comprehensive immigration reform championed by President George W. Bush and approved by the Senate in 2006.
For the record, I made similar observations and included a few of the same Reagan quotes in an op‐ed I wrote soon after Reagan’s passing in June 2004
My only quibble with Robinson is his assertion that Reagan would have insisted that we successfully enforce the current immigration law first before contemplating any changes. It’s true that the 1986 IRCA contained new enforcement measures and launched an exponential rise in spending on border enforcement. But by all accounts the 1986 law failed to stem the inflow of illegal immigration.
My hunch is that President Reagan would not have simply favored spending more money on an approach that has so clearly failed to deliver. Although he embraced the conservative label, Reagan was always ready to challenge the status quo and change the law to further his vision of a free society and limited government.
I wish more of the Gipper’s admirers today shared his benevolent attitude toward immigration.
“We have come to take our government back from the special interests who think that the federal government is their own personal ATM … from the politicians who bring us over‐sized fake checks emblazoned with their signature as if it was their money to give.”
The comment immediately brought to mind a C@L blog I wrote in 2008 that criticized the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, Republican Mitch McConnell, for being a hypocrite when it comes to big government spending. I titled the post “The Bluegrass Porker” and included this picture:
That fellow on the right holding the fake, over‐sized Treasury check is Mitch McConnell. Last night, Paul defeated McConnell’s hand‐picked choice for the Republican nomination, Trey Grayson. Perfect.
I’d prefer to believe Paul’s victory last night was a repudiation of the GOP establishment as much as it was a repudiation of Washington in general. Popular discontent with the statist Democrat establishment in Washington is well recognized. But if Kentucky Republicans just signaled their displeasure with the statist Republican establishment, better days for liberty could be ahead.
Paul Krugman says libertarianism is not a serious political philosophy because politicians are corruptible, do stupid things, et cetera. My colleagues Aaron Powell and David Boaz demonstrate why that’s a bigger problem for Krugman than for libertarians: Krugman’s statism wouldn’t make politicians any less ignorant or corruptible, it would just give those ignorant and corruptible politicians more power.
I made the same point to Krugman during a health care debate. He complained that Republicans complain that government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove themselves correct. (It’s a good line, but I think he stole it from P.J. O’Rourke.) I responded, “Unless you have a plan to abolish Republicans, they’re part of your plan. Maybe we can put them in camps?” Krugman seems impervious to the point.
The Tea Party movement may endure, but its endurance will be a testament to its ability to understand that cutting government means having a long‐term focus, says John Samples, author of the Cato book The Struggle to Limit Government. In a new video, Samples outlines an assessment of what Tea Partiers should do if they want to sustain an effort to cut government.
He offers five pieces of advice for members of the Tea Party movement:
1. Republicans aren’t always your friends.
2. Some tea partiers like big government.
3. Democrats aren’t always your enemies.
4. Smaller government demands restraint abroad.
5. Leave social issues to the states.
In a Thursday panel at Cato on conservatism and war, U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R‑Calif.) Tom McClintock (R‑Calif.) and John Duncan (R‑Tenn.) revealed that the vast majority of GOP members of Congress now think it was wrong for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003.
The discussion was moderated by Grover Norquist, who asked the congressmen how many of their colleagues now think the war was a mistake.
“I will say that the decision to go in, in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake. …Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood… all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”
“I think everyone [in Congress] would agree that Iraq was a mistake.”
Watch the clip:
Last year, when the issue of defunding ACORN was a hot‐button issue, I told countless radio talk show audiences that the focus should be on eliminating the underlying fuel that created the organization — the flow of federal subsidies.
Chris Edwards pointed this out in September. If Congress simply stops subsidizing ACORN, its activists will reincorporate under new names and again become eligible for funds. Alas, that’s precisely what ACORN is currently doing.
One of the latest groups to adopt a new name is ACORN Housing, long one of the best‐funded affiliates. Now, the group is calling itself the Affordable Housing Centers of America.
Others changing their names include what were among the largest affiliates: California ACORN is now Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and New York ACORN has become New York Communities for Change. More are expected to follow suit.
A comment from Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Republicans on the U.S. House oversight and government reform committee, doesn’t indicate that the GOP has quite received the message:
To credibly claim a clean break, argued Hill, the new groups should at least have hired directors from outside ACORN.
It appears that for many Republicans, attacking ACORN represented political opportunism, not a statement about the proper role of the federal government.
Further rendering the GOP’s ACORN agenda moot was last week’s ruling by a U.S. District judge that singling out ACORN for defunding is unconstitutional. It truly boggles the mind what passes for constitutional and unconstitutional in this country.
Tuesday was the birthday of James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.” Reflecting upon Madison’s wise words, it’s hard to understand how the federal “community development” programs that have funded ACORN could pass constitutional muster:
“The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
“[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.”
“With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.”
See this essay for reasons why these HUD community development programs should be abolished.