Smaller Government Is More Popular Than Obama by David Boaz

Pollsters occasionally ask respondents questions along the lines of “Would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with many services?” As might be expected, the economic crisis and the repeated claim that the Bush administration has been tight-fisted and deregulatory have moved voters to the left on that question. But not as far as you might think. Ramesh Ponnuru recently summarized some of the latest evidence:
CBS pollsters have often asked, “Would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with many services?” On this question there seems to be a pro-government trend over the last dozen years — but we certainly don’t seem to be more pro-government than we were during the Reagan ’80s. In April 1976 the larger-government side had a four-point lead and in May 1988 a one-point lead. Polls from 1996 through Jan. 2001 showed an average lead of 20 points for the smaller-government side. By November 2003, however, the smaller-government side led by only 3 points, and in the latest poll (March-April) the sides are tied. The same pattern shows up in the results of a similar Washington Post/ABC poll question. People swung to a smaller-government view in the 1990s and then swung back, but the results from June 2008 (50-45 percent for smaller government) are roughly the same as those from July 1988 (49-45). But other indicators do not even find a clear pro-government trend for the last decade. Gallup, as well as ABC and the Washington Post, has asked for many years whether Americans think that government “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” or “should do more to solve our country’s problems.” Almost always most people fall on the conservative side of that question: in September 1992 by an eight-point margin; in October 1998 by 12 points; in September 2002 by 7 points; and in September 2008 by 12 points.
As I've noted before,
I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government–”more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. A few years ago a Rasmussen poll did ask the question that way. The results were that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes.
The Rasmussen Poll continues to ask that question, and indeed it has shown a shift to the big-government side in the wake of the economic crisis. In late September respondents supported smaller government by only 57 to 31 percent -- or about 20 points more than Obama's margin over McCain. The victorious Democrats should take note.

Posted on November 4, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Worst News: The Loss of John Sununu by David Boaz

Plenty of big-government Republicans, starting with John McCain, lost their elections tonight, and libertarians won't shed too many tears for them. But the voters of New Hampshire, which just might be the most libertarian state, dealt limited government a real blow by defeating John Sununu's bid for reelection. Sununu is the youngest, probably the smartest, and surely the most libertarian member of the Senate. In 2002 he campaigned on Social Security private accounts. In office he has stood firmly for free markets and fiscal responsibility. He also voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment and helped to reform the Patriot Act. P. J. O'Rourke, Cato's Mencken Research Fellow who lives in New Hampshire, wrote in the Weekly Standard in June:
Senator Sununu could write his political philosophy on a small piece of paper: "I have a deep-seated belief that America is unique, strong, great because of a commitment to personal freedom--in our economic system and our politics. We are a free people who consented to be governed. Not vice-versa." (Italics added for the sake of the multitudes in our government's executive, legislative, and judicial branches who need to fill out that index card and keep it with them at all times. And if the multitudes are confused by "Not vice-versa" they may substitute, We aren't a government that consents to people being free.) "It's important for politicians to understand," Senator Sununu said, "that the Founders' writings reflect that point of view. From Jefferson to Hamilton, freedom was the special ingredient in human prospects, moral prospects, political prospects. The argument was over what government mechanism would ensure common good and guarantee freedom. There was no argument about whether we were free people. In most parts of the world there never has been an appreciation for that perspective. Governments have evolved to provide greater freedom, to reduce the power of monarchies, to reduce absolute power."
New Hampshire may be the most libertarian state in the country; its license plates read “Live Free or Die,” and it demands that its politicians "take the pledge" not to raise taxes. But in 2006, after six years of overspending, war, the marriage amendment and other affronts to limited government, both the state’s Republican congressmen lost, and both houses of the state legislature went Democratic for the first time since 1874. John Sununu was a good senator in sync with the sentiments of New Hampshire, but he couldn't swim against the riptide of George W. Bush and the Washington Republicans. He will be missed.

Posted on November 4, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Not Just the First African-American President by David Boaz

For two years now, everyone has talked about Barack Obama becoming the first black president, barely 40 years after the civil rights revolution. Obama himself has often said, "I  don't look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates." But his achievement is even more striking than "first African-American president." There are tens of millions of white Americans who are part of ethnic groups that have never produced a president. The fact is, all 42 of our presidents have been of British, Irish, or Germanic descent. We've never had a president of southern or eastern European ancestry. Despite the millions of Americans who came to the New World from France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Scandinavia, Russia, and other parts of Europe--not to mention Asia and the Arab world and Latin America--we've never had a president who traced his ancestry to those parts of the world. Indeed, it's often been said that "we've never had a president whose name ended in a vowel" (except for a silent "e" such as Coolidge, and with the exception of Kennedy), which is another way of saying "not of southern or eastern European heritage"). As Philip Q. Yang put it in his book Ethnic Studies: Issues and Approaches, "There have been no presidents of southern and eastern European descent; and none of Jewish, African, Latino, Asian, or Indian descent." We've had 37 presidents of British (English, Scottish, or Welsh) or Irish descent; three of Dutch descent (Van Buren and the two Roosevelts); and two of Swiss/German descent (Hoover and Eisenhower). Of course, these categories usually refer to the president's paternal line; Reagan, for instance, was Irish on his father's side but not on his mother's. But that doesn't change the overall picture. In this light, Obama's achievement is even more remarkable. He has achieved something that no American politician even of southern or eastern European heritage has managed. But I think we can assume that from now on there won't be any perceived disadvantage to candidates of Italian, French, Asian, or other previous genealogies not previously seen in the White House. For that, congratulations to Barack Obama.

Posted on November 4, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Too Corrupt . . . Even for Congress by David Boaz

I don't know much about Keith Fimian, the Republican candidate for Congress in Fairfax County, Virginia, but I kind of like the tag line he ends his TV ad with:
As it turns out, though, he's probably not.

Posted on November 3, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Keep Virginia Red? by David Boaz

At John McCain's rally Saturday in Springfield, Virginia, the audience chanted "Keep Virginia Red!" as McCain denounced Barack Obama for being a socialist. Say what? It was very clever of the TV networks back in 2000 to insist on red for Republicans and blue for Democrats; it had often been the reverse in earlier elections. David Brinkley spoke of Ronald Reagan's "sea of blue" in 1980, and Time wrote in 1984, "On NBC's national map, a spreading sea of blue represented Reagan's triumph, and little islands of red symbolized Mondale's meager winnings; on ABC and CBS maps, the color symbolism was reversed." NBC that year -- like other networks in previous years -- was in keeping with the worldwide use of political colors, where typically red represents communism, socialism, and social democracy and blue is associated with conservative parties. But when the dominant U.S. media all decided to paint the Democrats blue and Republicans red, they got rid of that pesky, lingering association of red with socialism. And it's worked so well that Virginia Republicans chant "Keep Virginia Red!"

Posted on November 3, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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