The Hillarys and the Huckabees

In a recent op-ed I dub the two kinds of enemies of freedom in America “the Hillarys and the Huckabees.” I think it has a nice ring.

Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee are classic examples of two strains of big-government thinking in a country that otherwise prefers small government. Hillary is the quintessential nanny-state liberal who is determined to have the government take care of adult Americans the way parents take care of children. Huckabee wants the government to stamp out sin and make us all do God’s will as he sees it….

But, despite that heritage of freedom, we’ve always got the Hillarys and the Huckabees and the other people who think they could run our lives better than we can. The Huckabees on the right continue to resist the cultural changes of the 1960s, and the Hillarys on the left continue to resist the economic changes of the 1980s.

The “Huckabees” want to censor cable television because they don’t think you can be trusted to decide what your family should watch. They support bans on drugs, pornography, gambling and violent video games because you just don’t know what’s good for you. They want prayer in the schools and sound science out. They want to subsidize heterosexual marriage and ban gay marriage. They want government to take the place of God and stamp out sin on earth. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a classic Huckabee, complains about “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.”

The “Hillarys,” meanwhile, want to raise taxes because they think they can spend your money more wisely than you can. They don’t believe in school choice because you don’t know how to choose a school for your children. They think they can handle your retirement savings and health care better than you can. They think, as Hillary Clinton has advocated, that the government should produce video lectures on how to burp a baby and how to brush your teeth and have them “running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait.”

The Huckabees want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. The Hillarys want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

Posted on March 26, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

Hillary’s Experience

I wrote two months ago that I thought that Hillary Clinton “can credibly claim to be the best-prepared presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940: she spent eight years in the White House, seeing the way politics and policies work from the eye of the storm. ” But in the past couple of weeks her attempts to press this argument have not worked out very well. The Washington Post awarded her a full “four Pinocchios” for telling a real whopper about coming under sniper fire when she went to Bosnia.  David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, scoffed at her claims to have been directly involved in peace negotiations there. And Gregory Craig, former Clinton White House counsel, also dismissed her claims to have played a leading role in any specific foreign policy issue.

Which is hardly surprising for a first lady. It was a mistake for Hillary to pick two minor foreign policy issues and claim to have been the key player, rather than to emphasize her experience in being at her husband’s side as he dealt with a whole range of issues. And that I do think is significant. It’s the kind of experience that makes Washington graybeards feel that people like Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who have been both elected officials and White House chief of staff, would be admirably prepared to be president.

First ladies typically pursue a “first lady’s agenda” and of course talk to their husbands at night in the family quarters. I do think that more than any other first lady, Hillary was in the room when decisions were being made–more like Bobby Kennedy than Jackie. She saw the pressures on a president, the ways a president balances politics and policy, the consequences of decisions made under pressure. That’s valuable experience, far more significant than visiting 79 countries to tour historical sites and deliver prepared speeches on women’s rights.

Another Washington Post article manages to undermine most of her specific claims but does include this defense from Mike McCurry, which I think finally gets it right:

Yet she lived through those episodes with a vantage point few get. “I would not say she was sitting there planning cruise missile attacks,” said former White House press secretary Michael McCurry, who supports her candidacy. “But you’re there and you see and you understand the requirements of leadership. . . . Having lived through it even as a spouse, you absorb a lot.”

None of this should be construed as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Experience — or charisma — devoted to the wrong aims is not exactly an appealing prospect. But I think it’s valuble to focus on just what kind of experience Senator Clinton can really claim.

Posted on March 24, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Stupid Government Tricks

When I go to New York, I often ride the subways up and down Manhattan. Each ride costs $2. Usually I pay $10 for a MetroCard and get a $2 bonus, so you get six rides for the price of five. But on my most recent trip, to give a speech at the Manhattan Institute, I arrived at Penn Station and went to buy my $10 MetroCard–only to discover that the bonus is now $1.50 instead of $2. But what good is that? Now I get five rides for the price of five, and I have a card with $1.50 on it that won’t get me another ride. When I mentioned this discovery to one of the numerate journalists on John Stossel’s team at ABC News, he instantly pointed out that you have to buy four cards before you get your full bonus. After you buy four cards, you can get three bonus rides (instead of the four bonus rides on four cards under the old system). But meanwhile, you have to hold on to each card and trade it in for a new card, unlike the old system where you used the card up and discarded it.

It’s not the price increase that bothered me. I realize that each subway ride is heavily subsidized (less so in New York than in other cities), so I can hardly object to a price increase. It’s just the poke in the eye of promising me a bonus if I spend $10 at once, and then making that bonus extremely difficult to actually realize. And to think that some people want to turn our medical care over to such a system.

Posted on March 24, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Domestic Issues

The Candidates and the Libertarian Vote

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason have a great cover story in Politics, the new and livelier update of Campaigns and Elections magazine.  Titled “Tuned Out,” the article says that “politics is a lagging indicator of American society,” so this year’s presidential candidates are “channeling shopworn agendas and tired identities to a body politic desperate for a new political era.”

They predict that today’s individualist, consumer-driven culture will eventually produce a politics to match. “Much of this new activity will be explicitly libertarian, since the decentralization of control and individual empowerment is so deeply embedded in Internet technology and culture…. The Long Tail future of politics just as surely belongs to the president and party that figures out the secret to success is giving away power by letting the voter decide more of what matters.”

We can only hope. The cover illustration for the article, showing a Fountainhead-reading, South Park-watching young voter impervious to the appeals of the two old parties, reminded me of this recent “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoon, which also contrasted two big-government parties with leave-me-alone independents (click for larger version):

For more on libertarian voters, go here and here.

Posted on March 18, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

Who Serves the Public Interest?

The Washington Post refers to Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen as “a public-interest group” in an article on costly federal regulations that the group is defending. So I wondered: Does the Post think federal regulation is always in the public interest? Or that groups that defend regulation are really acting “in the public interest”? What about groups that work to reduce the burden of government on consumers or taxpayers? Are they “public interest groups”? Certainly, as a member of the public, I don’t really see bigger, costlier government and more expensive products as being in my interest.

So I went to Nexis to investigate. Sure enough, in the past year the Post has used the phrase “public interest group[s]” 41 times. In every case (except one Associated Press story), the groups were on the political left. They demanded more spending or regulation by the federal government, actions that some but not all people would say are in the public interest.

I don’t always disagree with these “public interest groups.” For instance, one story quoted the Media Access Project. They almost always support more regulation of media companies, except when the question is regulation of obscenity or profanity. In this story MAP, “a public interest group,” applauded a court ruling striking down an FCC ruling that the use of profanity on a Fox News broadcast was indecent. Hear, hear. Now if only MAP would defend the rights of media companies to make their own decisions on non-obscene broadcasting.

But how about the National Taxpayers Union, which works to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce the burden of government? Was it a public interest group? Not in the Post. How about the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which works for competition and more choice for consumers? Not a public interest group.

The Post seems to have a very consistent but arguably wrong-headed view about just what is in the public’s interest.

Posted on March 17, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Regulatory Studies

The Freedom Movement Surges on Broadway

Move over, George Clooney. Libertarianism is the hottest new thing among serious artists. One of our greatest living playwrights, David Mamet, has just announced that he has given up “brain-dead liberalism” for a new appreciation of capitalism and constitutionalism.

As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart….

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long….

And I began to question my hatred for “the Corporations”—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live…

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow….

I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

David Mamet. In the Village Voice. Ouch. Limousine liberals must be crying in their Pellegrino.

But he’s not the only one. Tom Stoppard, another candidate for the title of greatest living playwright, recently admitted to being a “timid libertarian” in an interview with Time:

Stoppard has always stood apart from many other British playwrights of his generation, like David Hare, for avoiding an overtly political (usually left-wing) point of view. He describes his politics as “timid libertarian.” Yet he can rev up a pretty bold rant on Britain’s “highly regulated society,” which he thinks is “betraying the principle of parliamentary democracy.” There was the garden party he threw recently, for example, where because there was a pond on the property, he was required to hire two lifeguards. “The whole notion that we’re all responsible for ourselves and we don’t actually have to have nannies busybodying all around us, that’s all going now. And I don’t even know in whose interest it’s supposed to be or who wishes it to be so. It seems to be like a lava flow, which nobody ordered up. Of course, one does know in whose interest it is. It’s in the interests of battalions of civil servants in jobs that never existed 10 years ago.”

This was no surprise to fans–such as the British political theorist Norman Barry–who had seen themes of freedom, responsibility, morality, and anti-communism (he was born in Czechoslovakia, though his family left before the communists replaced the Nazis in power) in his plays.

Poor Hollywood. Still mired in old, outmoded left-liberalism as high culture moves toward an embrace of freedom.

Posted on March 12, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Libertarian Philosophy

Obama Appeals for Libertarian Voters

Sen. Barack Obama resumed his winning streak by beating Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Wyoming caucuses after a brief full-court press by both sides. The Wall Street Journal noted one of Obama’s themes in the rugged-individualist Cowboy State:

Tailoring his message to the state’s antigovernment streak, Sen. Obama put new emphasis on his criticisms of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps and other heightened law-enforcement activities implemented as antiterror measures. “You can be liberal and a libertarian, or a conservative libertarian,” Sen. Obama told a crowd of about 1,200 at a recreation center here. But “there’s nothing conservative” about President Bush’s antiterror policies. “There’s nothing Republican about that. Everybody should be outraged by that,” he added. 

He may have been reading some of the articles David Kirby and I wrote about the libertarian vote and the Mountain West:

In the Goldwateresque, “leave us alone” Mountain West, Republicans not only lost the Montana Senate seat; they also lost the governorship of Colorado, two House seats in Arizona, and one in Colorado. They had close calls in the Arizona Senate race and House races in Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Dick Cheney’s Wyoming. In libertarian Nevada, the Republican candidate for governor won less than a majority against a Democrat who promised to keep the government out of guns, abortion, and gay marriage. Arizona also became the first state to vote down a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman….

If Republicans can’t win New Hampshire and the Mountain West, they can’t win a national majority. And they can’t win those states without libertarian votes.

Jeffrey Rosen has praised Obama’s civil libertarian record. Lest we get too excited about Obama’s new libertarian appeal, though, we should note that in his speech he also said he would undermine trade agreements and promised enough goodies from the Treasury to make Ted Kennedy happy.

Posted on March 8, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Civil Liberties,General,Government & Politics

Midnight in the White House

That Hillary Clinton ad about the need for an experienced president — “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing…. Who do you want answering the phone?” — reminds some commentators of a very similar ad that helped former vice president Walter Mondale hold on to his lead over the dashing young senator Gary Hart in 1984. It reminded me of John McCain’s jibe at George W. Bush’s inexperience in 2000, recorded by Dana Milbank in his book Smashmouth (page 313):

But when the scouting reports come in, there is only one lonely man in a dark office.

Posted on March 1, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Are They the Ones We Have Been Waiting For?

Barack Obama’s soaring campaign continues to roll, this time with the release of a bilingual music video by musician In it, celebrities such as Jessica Alba, George Lopez, Ryan Phillippe, Malcolm Jamal Warner, and Macy Gray sing the praises of Obama and repeate his line “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Certainly I know that I have been waiting for Jessica Alba and Ryan Phillippe to lead our nation at last.

Posted on March 1, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

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