Cal Thomas Fulminates against Freedom by David Boaz

Cal Thomas, who bills himself as "America's #1 nationally syndicated columnist," rose to fame as the vice president of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in its heyday, though you won't find that fact in any of his official biographies. But you could figure it out by reading his columns. In his latest, on the California gay marriage decision, he ranges from factual inaccuracy to a revelation of just how reactionary and authoritarian he really is, to a really striking biblical citation. He starts by denouncing the "decision by a single, openly gay federal judge." Not true. Judge Vaughn Walker may be gay, but he has never said so. And Salon magazine demonstrates that any such "evidence" is extraordinarily thin. So this is an extraordinary statement by a man who calls himself a journalist of 40 years' standing. Not to mention an offensive suggestion that gay people shouldn't serve as judges. Thomas went so far as to call former attorney general Ed Meese, who recommended Walker to President Ronald Reagan, to ask how such a thing could have happened, and Meese assures him,  “There was absolutely no knowledge, rumor or suspicion” of Vaughn Walker being a homosexual at the time of his nomination by Ronald Reagan. Well, thank God. You'd hate to think that Ronald Reagan would have put an accomplished Republican lawyer on the federal bench if he'd been a homosexual. Thomas goes on to complain that this (not) "openly gay federal judge" has struck down "the will of 7 million Californians." Well, yes.  Of course, 6.4 million Californians voted the other way, so I guess on net he struck down the will of 600,000 Californians. And that's what judges do when they strike down unconstitutional laws. The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board and Loving v. Virginia "struck down the will of tens of millions of Americans." Libertarians and conservatives asked the Court in the Kelo case to strike down the duly enacted eminent-domain laws of Connecticut. Read more...

Posted on August 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Explaining Mr. Market by David Boaz

A banner Washington Post headline (page 11, print edition; slightly different online) reads:
Stocks plunge as trade deficit widens
Of course, they could have gone with
Stocks plunge as Linda McMahon wins Senate nomination
Or my favorite:
Stocks plunge as Cardinals sweep Reds
Since national trade deficits are not much more meaningful than baseball scores, it's unlikely that this month's report drove stocks down.

Posted on August 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarian Politics in the Media by David Boaz

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.

Posted on August 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Live from the Fancy Farm Picnic by David Boaz

I went back home to Kentucky to attend the Fancy Farm Picnic last Saturday. It may be the biggest political event in the state; it takes place every August, 10 miles from where I grew up, and somehow I'd never attended before. It was time. I got there just in time to hear Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul give their 7-minute speeches. (There are lots of speakers, and timekeepers are strict.) There were plenty of advocates for both candidates among the 2000 or so people watching. It's an old Democratic area, but they're conservative Democrats who now mostly vote Republican in federal races.

It was well over 90 degrees and humid, so both candidates handed out fans:

As I listened to the candidates, my main impression was this: Conway accused Rand Paul of being an extremist, and Paul accused Conway of being a Democrat. The question for November is which charge will stick. Gov. Steve Beshear, introducing Conway, warmed up the attack: “[Paul] is going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our school children. He’s going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our coal miners. On the backs of our farmers. On the backs of our law enforcement officials,” he shouted. “The entire commonwealth of Kentucky — Republicans, Democrats and independents — ought to be scared to death about Rand Paul!” Referring to last year's controversy over Conway's calling himself a "tough son of a bitch" -- it's a church picnic, after all -- and the "seven words you can't say on television," Paul said, "There are six more words you won't hear Jack Conway say [on the campaign trail]: President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid." So which do Kentucky voters dislike more: the national Democratic party's big-government agenda or the prospect that Rand Paul might actually try to cut the size of government? In a world where everyone gets something from government, it's not obvious. But so far Paul is holding on to a lead in the polls. In Fancy Farm, I noticed that all the Conway supporters had the campaign's official signs and buttons, plus hand-lettered signs that had clearly been produced in campaign offices, such as this "NeanderPaul" sign that I picked up after the shouting was over:

Paul's supporters, on the other hand, brought a lot of their own homemade signs. Conway's supporters were more disciplined. You didn't see any Conway supporters showing up dressed as Abraham Lincoln or a colonial soldier (though news reports say there was a guy dressed as a "neanderthal" holding the above sign), or wearing T-shirts reading "Who is John Galt?" The greater grass-roots enthusiasm for Paul has both pluses and minuses. Clearly he's appealing to stronger currents than mere partisan politics and generating more enthusiasm. But that means he's more at risk of supporters doing things that might embarrass the campaign. Both candidates accused the other of "flip-flopping." Conway's team erected a "Rand Paul's Waffle House" in the familiar yellow-and-black design and claimed he was waffling and flip-flopping on a number of issues. (Are waffling and flip-flopping the same thing? Not really.) Paul's campaign handed out flip-flops labeled "cap" and "trade" to draw attention to Conway's alleged backing away from his previous support for the "cap and trade" energy legislation. One thing you can say about the Fancy Farm Picnic, it's the best $10 meal you'll ever eat -- Kentucky pork and mutton, fresh-picked tomatoes and corn, and homemade pies and cakes. And one final thought: They estimate that 15,000 people attend the picnic but that only 2,000 listen to the political speeches, which is a good reminder of reality for us political junkies. And that estimate would seem to be confirmed by my reflection after the weekend that, except for the drive from Mayfield to Fancy Farm, I drove about 500 miles in Kentucky this weekend and I'm not sure I ever saw a campaign sign or bumper sticker. The election is still almost three months away, and politics just isn't life for most people.

Posted on August 11, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You Heard It Here First: Grasping Government by David Boaz

This week's cover of the Economist warns of the state's growing involvement in industries, in countries from the United States to Europe to China. You could have heard many of the same concerns -- admittedly for a good bit more money -- two weeks ago at this year's Cato University summer seminar, "Confronting Grasping Government."

Posted on August 10, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Reagan-Appointed Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban by David Boaz

Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation denounces Judge Vaughn Walker for "extreme judicial activism" and "judicial tyranny" in striking down California's Proposition 8, which barred gay people from marrying. And of course he doesn't fail to note that Judge Walker sits in . . . San Francisco. Robert Knight of Coral Ridge Ministries ups the ante: Judge Walker has "contempt for the rule of law" and is part of "the criminalization of not only Christianity but of the foundational values of civilization itself." National Review allows the head of the National Organization for Marriage to mutter about the judge's "personal bias." Blog commenters rail against the "left-wing liberal judge." In fact, Judge Walker was first appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, at the recommendation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III (now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation). Democratic opposition led by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA) prevented the nomination from coming to a vote during Reagan's term. Walker was renominated by President George H. W. Bush in February 1989. Again the Democratic Senate refused to act on the nomination. Finally Bush renominated Walker in August, and the Senate confirmed him in December. What was the hold-up? Two issues, basically. Like many accomplished men of the time, he was a member of an all-male club, the Olympic Club. Many so-called liberals said that should disqualify him for the federal bench. People for the American Way, for instance, said in a letter to Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden, "The time has come to send a clear signal that there is no place on the federal bench for an individual who has, for years maintained membership in a discriminatory club and taken no meaningful steps to change the club's practices." The second issue was that as a lawyer in private practice he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a suit that prevented a Bay Area group from calling its athletic competition the Gay Olympics. Because of those issues, coalitions including such groups as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force worked to block the nomination. In other words, this "liberal San Francisco judge" was recommended by Ed Meese, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups. It's a good thing for advocates of marriage equality that those forces were only able to block Walker twice. Josh Green of the Atlantic notes a pattern: the federal judge in Boston who struck down a significant portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it denied gay and lesbian couples the federal benefits afforded to straight couples, was appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon. And the chief judge of the Iowa Supreme Court who wrote the unanimous decision striking down that state's marriage ban was appointed by Republican governor Terry Branstad, who was just renominated for governor by Iowa Republican voters. Of course, Nixon and Branstad don't have the conservative cred of Reagan and Meese.

Posted on August 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Missourians Don’t Like Mandate by David Boaz

As Roger Pilon mentioned, yesterday's Politico question was "Is Health Care Repeal Gaining Steam?" A timely question in light of Monday's court decision allowing a lawsuit against the health care mandate to proceed. And perhaps an even more timely question today, now that 71 percent of Missouri voters have voted for a proposition to exempt the state from the mandate. Polls show continuing opposition to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care overhaul. It's constitutionally dubious. And now, in the only popular vote on the bill, it received a full 29 percent of the vote. Just maybe this wasn't a good idea.

Posted on August 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is the Senate Broken? by David Boaz

Drawing on a New Yorker article by George Packer, Politico Arena today asks:
Is the Senate broken? Should the upper chamber operate more like the House, where majority rules?
My response: Some people believe that the Senate is "broken" when it doesn't pass new government programs promptly and without extended debate. But we have two houses of Congress for a reason. The Founders expected the House to be subject to momentary passions, and they intended the Senate to be more cautious, prudent, and resistant to "rushing to judgment." As George Washington supposedly said, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it." When the Senate deliberates at length, when it resists the pressure of the White House, the House, and even public opinion, it isn't "broken"; it is fulfilling its intended function. Of course, it should be noted that when senators in the past two years have had doubts about the health care overhaul and energy taxes, they weren't resisting public opinion; they were actually reflecting public opinion, while the House acted as a partisan body in defiance of polls. Of course there are double standards in talking about filibusters and the like, as I pointed out back in 2005:
Both Democrats and Republicans have flip-flopped on the use of the filibuster because the once solidly Democratic Senate now looks to be firmly Republican. Republicans who once extolled the virtues of divided power and the Senate's role in slowing down the rush to judgment now demand an end to delays in approving President Bush's judicial nominees. President Bush says the Democrats' "obstructionist tactics are unprecedented, unfair, and unfaithful to the Senate's constitutional responsibility to vote on judicial nominees." Democrats who now wax eloquent about a "rubber stamp of dictatorship" replacing "the rights to dissent, to unlimited debate and to freedom of speech" in the Senate not too long ago sought to eliminate the filibuster altogether.
Now Democrats are back in the majority, and both parties have tended to shift their view of the filibuster yet again. In the long run, though, establishmentarians like the New Yorker's George Packer think that the purpose of government is to pass new laws, regulations, and programs; and they complain when the Senate or any other institution stands in the way of such putative progress. Those of us who prefer liberty, limited government, and federalism appreciate the constitutional and traditional mechanisms that slow down the rush to legislation.

Posted on August 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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