October 20, 2006 3:59PM

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."

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October 20, 2006 10:18AM

O’Reilly Interviews Bush

Bill O’Reilly got an exclusive interview with President Bush recently. The second and third segments were the most interesting to me.

In the second segment, O’Reilly asks some pretty good questions about torture, such as: How can anyone make a judgment about your policy when it’s all kept secret? Bush repeats his point that the terrorists can’t be told. O’Reilly could have followed up with: “But it’s out there already, isn’t it?”

During the same segment, Bush says when his agents pick up people from the battlefield, he wants to know what they know. O’Reilly should have followed up with: “But to be clear, sir, when you say “battlefield,” you mean any person picked up anywhere, right? So if an American citizen is arrested in Chicago, you are saying that you can employ “tough tactics” against him just on your own say‐​so, right?

The third segment of the interview is about Iraq. Here Bush restates his case, as you would expect. Still interesting. He seems to believe that having a clearly stated goal is the key to victory. He has established the objective and he believes the finest military in the world can find a way to achieve it. But later Bush says something like “ultimately, it is up the Iraqi people.” O’Reilly could have followed that up by saying something like: “Yeah, but that means the Iraqi people might opt for an endless civil war instead of a peaceful political process, right? If they go that route, we get out, right?”

October 20, 2006 10:15AM

The Search for a Libertarian Democrat

In his writings about “libertarian Democrats,” Markos “Kos” Moulitsas always cites Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer as Exhibit A. In the current Cato Unbound symposium, he writes:

Mountain West Democrats are leading the charge. At the vanguard is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who won his governorship the same day George Bush was winning Montana 58 to 38 percent. While the theme of Republican corruption played a big role in Schweitzer’s victory, he also ran on a decidedly libertarian Democrat message.

Hope springs eternal. But alas, in Cato’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors,” released Thursday, Schweitzer gets an F for his taxing and spending policies. Author Stephen Slivinski writes, “Spending in his first proposed budget exploded.” Plus he reinstated an expiring tax.

We’re still waiting for a libertarian Democrat. Really. We’d love to find one.

October 19, 2006 5:58PM

Grading the Governors

Today, the Cato Institute released the eighth biennial report card on the nation’s governors. It provides an index of fiscal restraint for each governor based on multiple objective measures of fiscal performance. This year there are 23 variables on which the governors are graded – more than the 15 variables of the 2004 report card. The methodology has been improved this time, too. You can find a copy of the report here.

The formula for success in the report card is simple: If a governor cuts taxes and spending the most, he will get a high grade. Raise taxes and spending the most, he’ll get a low grade.

Cutting taxes is important, at least, because doing so makes a state more economically competitive. As I report in the study, between 1990 and 2005 the rates of growth in employment and personal income in the top 10 tax‐​raising states were lower than the national average. The tax‐​cutting states, on the other hand, saw economic growth faster than the national average.

Cutting taxes is also important because it reduces the amount of private‐​sector resources that the government can stake a claim to. Yet that’s only part of the story. While this sounds elementary, it’s a key point. The report card tries to capture how fond a governor is of big government. There are many governors who cut merely cut taxes and think it’s enough to get them a good grade. But if they increase spending, they really haven’t cut the size of government. Thus, the top grades will always go to the governors who keep taxes and spending under control simultaneously. It’s something you rarely find among most governors, Republican or Democrat. That’s why there are always so few “A” and “B” grades in the report card.

October 19, 2006 5:22PM

GOP Crime Record

This is the glistening new headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms:

Media Name: atf2.jpg

IMHO, this is a fitting symbol of the GOP’s administration of the federal government. When the Republicans took control of the Congress in 1995, there was talk of abolishing the ATF for its appalling role in the Waco incident. (For background, read this and/​or watch this). But the GOP “grew in office” as they say, and steadily expanded the budget of the ATF and then approved the construction of a fancy new headquarters. There is still oversight, mind you. The ATF director wanted a $65,000 conference table and the Bush administration put a stop to that. Bush’s people cracked down and said “You guys have to make do with a $33,000 table!”

For an article about how ATF continues to run amok, go here.

For an article about the GOP’s criminal justice record over the past 10 years, go here.

October 19, 2006 3:49PM

Taxing Times

Washington Post headlines Thursday read “Poll Shows Support for Tax Increase” (front page) and “In N.Va., Open to More Taxes” (jump page). And on the website “Poll Shows Support for Tax Increase.” Well … sort of.

It’s true that voters in Northern Virginia (the Washington suburbs), though not the rest of Virginia, want to spend more money on roads. And they support allowing voters to approve local tax increases for roads. But if you read down to the 19th paragraph, on the second jump page, you’ll find that they don’t actually like the idea of raising taxes. Even in Northern Virginia, only 21 percent of respondents said that raising taxes was a good way to pay for increased transportation spending. Twenty‐​nine percent preferred tolls, and 22 percent said other spending should be reduced. In the rest of Virginia, tolls were more popular and tax increases even less popular.

Sometimes it just seems that journalists like taxes. Which is their right as Americans. But they should be careful about how they present voters’ opinions. In this case, even though voters would like to spend more on transportation, they believe either that users should pay through tolls or that less‐​essential spending could be found somewhere in the state’s $37 billion annual budget. Seventeen percent statewide seems like fairly minimal “Support for Tax Increase.”