The Search for a Limited-Government Candidate Continues

Newt Gingrich, who continues to vigorously — though unofficially, so he can do it with million-dollar donations — campaign for president, appeared in Washington yesterday at what was billed as a debate with John Kerry on global warming. Some conservatives, disillusioned by the prospect of choosing among Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, have looked to Gingrich as an actually Reaganite candidate. He should have dispelled those thoughts yesterday.

Instead of disagreeing with Kerry, Gingrich said that global warming is a problem and that “we should address it very actively.” He raved about Kerry’s book on the environment. He refused even to disagree with Kerry over the urgency of government action. Perhaps most un-Reaganesquely, he declared that while he preferred tax incentives to government mandates, “I am not automatically saying that coercion and bureaucracy is not an answer.”

There’s a Republican mantra for the new century.

Posted on April 11, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Environment & Climate,Government & Politics

Democrats and Civil Liberties

Back during a blogosphere brouhaha about “libertarian Democrats,” Jesse Walker of Reason offered this advice to Democratic candidates who wanted to attract libertarian votes:

The short answer — and this applies to Republican candidates too — is: (a) Don’t be as bad as the other guy, and (b) Be actively good on at least one important issue.

He went on to urge Democrats to “Be good on the issues where the left is supposed to be good.” Like, you know, peace and civil liberties. And the problem for libertarians who are tired of being yoked to an increasingly less libertarian Republican party is that the Democrats aren’t following this advice. Not only have they seized on their narrow 2006 victory to start pushing for national health insurance, more regulation, public housing, and a budget that implicitly requires a massive tax increase, they have dithered about the war in Iraq and completely ignored real civil liberties reforms. Democrats are far more concerned about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than about the authority the president claims to arrest American citizens and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge.

Now two leading lefty pundits have called the Democrats out on these issues. Arianna Huffington wants to know when the Democratic presidential candidates are going to say something about the war on drugs. She’s embarrassed to have to admit that a conservative Republican senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, thinks the penalties for crack cocaine use are excessive, while liberal Democrats look the other way.

And John Nichols of the Nation thinks Democratic candidates ought to be able to endorse a package of constitutional reforms being supported by the chairman of the American Conservative Union. The American Freedom Agenda, endorsed by several prominent conservatives, envisions such reforms as

  • Restore habeas corpus to prevent the illegal imprisonment of American citizens;
  • Prohibit torture and extraordinary rendition;
  • Prohibit unconstitutional wiretaps, email and mail openings via warrantless searches.

Nichols thinks Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards don’t endorse such goals because they’re cautious politicians. Maybe. Or maybe it’s because they want to be president, and they want to exercise just as much power as President Bush exercises.

So far it’s hard to find the issue(s) on which Democrats are “actively good.” Maybe their 2008 strategy for attracting moderates, centrists, and libertarian-leaning voters is to hope the Republicans keep on spending, centralizing, preaching, incarcerating, and struggling in Iraq.

Posted on April 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Constitutional Studies,Government & Politics

Howard Dean Overwhelmingly Wrong Again

In the Democratic party’s weekly radio response to President Bush, Democratic National Chair Howard Dean said, “It’s time for the President to show respect to the American people, who voted overwhelmingly to leave Iraq.”

One can support withdrawal from the floundering war with Iraq without getting carried away. The Democrats indeed took control of Congress in the last election, but the results were hardly overwhelming, nor is it clear that the vote was primarily about Iraq. In the House elections, Democrats carried the total popular vote by almost 5 million, or 52.0 to 45.6 percent. In the previous election, the Republicans had a margin of almost 3 million, but then about 37 million more people voted that year, so to some extent the shift in 2006 was a result of more Republicans than Democrats staying home.

As for Iraq, Democrats did best in 2006 among voters who said Iraq was “extremely important” or “not at all important” to them. A Democratic polling firm found that Iraq was the most important issue in the election, especially among people who voted for Democrats, though it was still only cited as most important by 37 percent. And in the exit polls corruption, terrorism, and the economy were all named as “extremely important” by slightly larger numbers of voters than Iraq.

Republican over-spending, corruption, the religious right, health care, perceptions of a weak economy, immigration, Iraq – lots of issues pushed voters toward the Democrats in 2006. We should be careful not to over-interpret the results of any election, as elections inevitably involve many factors. In any case, a swing of 3 or 4 percent toward the Democrats in a low-turnout election is hardly evidence of any “overwhelming” vote, much less an overwhelming referendum on any issue.

Posted on April 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Getting Fit without the Government

At last — a big story about people deciding to work together to solve a widespread individual problem without asking for taxes, regulations, subsidies, or general pestering from the government.

Spearheaded by Ian Smith, a doctor and fitness guru, the 50 Million Pound Challenge is a national campaign underwritten by State Farm Insurance Co. to improve the health of African Americans.

Heart disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death for African Americans. If that is to change, public health experts say, people must exercise more and eat better, which is easier said than done, given the dearth of high-quality supermarkets and restaurants in poorer black communities.

With the 50 Million Pound Challenge, organizers hope to rally African Americans to trim waistlines by keeping tabs on their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index and by trimming some of the fat out of their diets.

Leave aside the reporter’s irresistible temptation to suggest that the lack of high-quality restaurants in poor neighborhoods is why many poor African Americans are overweight. I was in a high-quality restaurant last night, and it wasn’t easy to watch my diet there. (Besides, poor people presumably can’t afford expensive restaurants, even if they are in the neighborhood.)

The point is, most stories about obesity these days throw around misnomers like “public health” and call for government programs and restrictions on our freedom. In this case a doctor, an insurance company, and some popular entertainers got together to encourage individual people to improve their own health. Let’s hear it for the 50 Million Pound Challenge!

Posted on April 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Health Care

Politicians — You Gotta Love ‘Em

Of what other group can it be said that you really can’t trust anything they say Sure, Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ” But she didn’t say that about writers as a group.

Mitt Romney’s newfound deep commitment to social conservatism has drawn lots of skepticism. But now he’s rewriting his life story in the fashion of lifelong Yankees fan Hillary Clinton and coal miners’ boy Joe Biden:

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) is taking some heat for not packing it.

Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination told an audience that he is a “lifelong hunter,” according to the Associated Press. “I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life,” the news service reported.

But the campaign now acknowledges that the former governor has been hunting twice in his life — once when he was young and lived on a ranch in Idaho, and more recently on a quail-hunting trip in Georgia with GOP donors.

Politicians — you gotta love ‘em.

Posted on April 6, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

High-Tech Welfare for High-Tech Billionaires

Voters in a New Mexico county appear to have approved a tax increase to build the nation’s first commercial spaceport. Two other counties will also hold tax referendums before the project can proceed. British billionaire Richard Branson and his company Virgin Galactic have signed a long-term lease to use the spaceport.

But why should the taxpayers of rural New Mexico be paying for facilities for billionaire space entrepreneurs If the spaceport is going to be profitable, then businesses could pay for it. And even if it weren’t profitable, the space business has attracted the attention of a lot of people with a sense of adventure and billions of dollars, from Branson to Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, the seventh richest man in America.

The argument to spend tax dollars on the spaceport is very similar to the argument for tax-funded stadiums and convention centers. Proponents say it will bring jobs and tax revenues to the three rural counties. But apparently it isn’t a sure enough thing for businesses to invest their own money.

Cato scholars have argued for years against corporate welfare. The spaceport is a classic example of corporate welfare, though in this case it might better be called billionaire welfare. It will transfer money from middle-class and working people to subsidize businesses and billionaires who won’t have to invest their own money — just like the typical stadium deal, paid for by average taxpayers to benefit millionaire players and billionaire owners.

At least in this case the voters get to decide, which rarely happens with stadium subsidies. The vote pitted “political, business and education leaders” against retirees and groups representing the poor.

“I’m not opposed to the spaceport, but I think it’s a terrible idea to tax poor people to pay for something that will be used by the rich,” said Oscar Vasquez Butler, a county commissioner who represents many of the unincorporated rural colonias where the poorest New Mexicans live, often without proper roads and water and sewage systems. “They tell us the spaceport will bring jobs to our people, but it all sounds very risky. The only thing we know for sure is that people will pay more taxes.”

Posted on April 6, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,Economics & Economic Philosophy,Government & Politics,Science & Space,Tech, Telecom & Internet,Welfare & Workforce

John Edwards and Family Decisions

More than a week after Senator John Edwards’s decision to remain in the presidential race despite the recurrence of his wife Elizabeth’s cancer, pundits are starting to sharply criticize the decision. They say that he is consumed by ambition and that his priorities are out of whack. They say that he should be spending time with his wife and especially with his two small children.

I had a similar reaction: these two children need their parents with them now more than ever. They may lose their mother soon. And if their father spends two years campaigning, they won’t see much of him. If his campaign is successful, they won’t spend time much time with him for the rest of their childhood.

But who am I to judge the intimate family decisions of John and Elizabeth Edwards I can’t possibly know as much about their values and goals as they do.

If John and Elizabeth Edwards have spent the past ten—or fifteen—or twenty years working toward the White House, it may well be their very considered decision that that effort should continue. In particular, it may be that the one thing Elizabeth Edwards wants most in her life is to see her husband in the White House. Assuming that Elizabeth Edwards genuinely believes that John would be a good president (I don’t, but I’m not making the decision), then she may very well have decided that what he can do for the country is more important than what he can do for his children. As Rick said to Ilsa in Casablanca, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

So pundits would do well to assume that no one knows the trade-offs involved in the Edwardses’ decision better than the Edwardses. In this case, as in so many others, it makes sense to let the people most closely involved in the decision make that decision.

But here’s the irony. John Edwards doesn’t believe that families should be allowed to make the important decisions about their lives. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide where their children will go to school. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide how or whether to save for retirement. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide what drugs to use, either pharmaceutically or recreationally. He supports a national health care system that would deny families the right to choose their own doctor.

In this presidential year, it would be good for Americans to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that families—not pundits and not government—should make the important decisions about their lives.

Posted on April 3, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

Is libertarianism history?

American liberals have some shameful things in their past. But what about the conservatives?

On Sunday the New York Times ran a remarkably ill-informed reviewof Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement by Brian Doherty.

Over at Cato@Liberty, I responded in great detail. Noting reviewer David Leonhardt's litany of embarrassing moments in libertarian history, I argued:

If that's the sum total of embarrassing libertarian moments, it's a pretty darn good record over 70 years or so. Modern liberals have to deal with the fact - not an embarrassing fact but a shameful one - that many of their forebears supported Stalin and the Communist party, or were at least fellow-travellers.

As for conservatives, I could mention their long resistance to liberty and legal equality for blacks, women, and gays, but instead I'll just say: George W Bush and the Iraq war. In 70 years, libertarians have done nothing to compare to expressing support for limited constitutional government while also supporting Bush, his disastrous war, and his accumulation of unprecedented presidential power.

And I concluded: "No book is perfect, nor is any movement. But contra Leonhardt, Radicals for Capitalism is going to be the standard history of the libertarian movement for years to come. And it tells a story libertarians can be proud of."

The book is about the American libertarian movement, which will obviously reduce its appeal on the other side of the Atlantic. But it's a fine work of political history. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted on April 3, 2007  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,,Newspapers & magazines,The Guardian,World news

Is libertarianism history?

American liberals have some shameful things in their past. But what about the conservatives?

Posted on April 3, 2007  Posted to The Guardian

Is libertarianism history?

American liberals have some shameful things in their past. But what about the conservatives

Posted on April 3, 2007  Posted to The Guardian

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