This Is a Republic (2)

At an appearance in Iowa this month, the Washington Post reports, Sen. John McCain went out of his way to declare his support for President Bush:

“There’s only one commander in chief of the United States, and that’s George W. Bush,” he told the crowd.

No, senator. This is a constitutional republic, and we don’t have a commander in chief. According to Article II of the Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

That’s an important distinction, and it’s disturbing that any candidate for the presidency would miss it. If McCain wants to be commander in chief of the whole country, of you and me, and to direct us the way the president directs the officers and soldiers of the armed forces, he needs to propose an amendment to the Constitution–an amendment that would effectively make the rest of the Constitution irrelevant, since it was designed as a Constitution for a limited government of a free people.

Next McCain will want us to bow and curtsy.

Posted on April 29, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Constitutional Studies,General,Government & Politics

Media Bias 2?

The Politico has a story about Congress and gun control. The online headline is “Congress slow to respond to shootings with legislation.” The print headline is even stronger: “All Talk, No Progress on Gun Control in Wake of V-Tech.”

This is a standard trope of perhaps unconscious bias. “Progress” is a good thing; if Congress has made “No Progress on Gun Control,” then that’s a bad thing. It’s like the frequent media lead “Congress failed today to pass national health insurance (or an increase in the minimum wage, or global warming restrictions, or campaign finance restrictions).”

Does one ever hear “Congress failed today to reduce taxes” “No Progress on Deregulation” I don’t think so. Journalists unconsciously assume that Congress should Do the Right Thing. When it doesn’t, that’s “failure” or “no progress.” Journalists and headline writers should try to find neutral language to describe Congress’s actions.

Posted on April 27, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

Media Bias?

According to the chart in this Washington Post article, the top 10 PACs in 2006, in order, were the left-feminist Emily’s List, the left-wing, the left-wing union SEIU, the left-Democratic ActBlue, three more unions, the NRA, and two Democratic PACs. So how did the accompanying story read (Note that the PAC graphic goes with the third item in this column; that’s clear in the print paper but not so clear online.)

The item was headlined: Why Gun Control is a Long Shot

And the text began:

If you want to know why major new federal restrictions on firearms will be a hard sell despite the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech last week, here’s a leading reason: The National Rifle Association is one of the nation’s richest and most influential pressure groups.

Well, one of them, yes. But the other 9 of the top 10 are all liberal-to-left Democratic funders. The top two lefty PACs together raised almost six times as much in 2006 as the NRA. So did the top four unions. And two Democratic PACs that you probably haven’t heard of — America Coming Together and Forward Together — each raised just as much as the NRA.

Posted on April 25, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Yeltsin the Hero

More than any other man, Boris Yeltsin moved the Russian people from tyranny to a rough approximation of freedom. For that he is one of the authentic heroes of the 20th century.

In a way he personalizes Mikhail Gorbachev’s accidental liberation of the Russian and Soviet people. Gorbachev intended to reform and reinvigorate communism. He brought Yeltsin from the rural region of Sverdlovsk in 1985 to shake up the stagnant party as the Moscow party boss. But Gorbachev set in motion forces that he couldn’t contain. Once people were allowed to criticize the communist system and glimpse an alternative, things moved rapidly–partly because of Yeltsin’s unexpectedly radical leadership.

Two years later Gorbachev and the party hierarchy pushed him out of the Politburo. But he turned around and ran for the Congress of People’s Deputies, won, and then was elected to the Supreme Soviet. He created Russia’s first parliamentary opposition (in the Supreme Soviet) and then won election to the new Russian parliament. Against the continuing opposition of Gorbachev, he was elected to the chairmanship of that body, thus becoming president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He stunned politicos by resigning from the Communist Party.

And then in 1991, less than four years after being pushed out of politics by Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin became the first elected leader in a thousand years of Russian history, winning a popular election for president. Six weeks later he hit his high point. When hard-line communists tried to stage a coup, Yeltsin courageously raced to parliament to rally opposition. He jumped on a tank to address the crowd, creating one of the iconic images of the collapse of communism. (more…)

Posted on April 24, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Foreign Policy,General,Government & Politics

Ron Paul and the Establishment

You get a sense of Ron Paul’s challenge in the Republican presidential race when you look at this Washington Post graphic about early fundraising. Not only is Paul running way behind the frontrunners in the money race, but the Post tells us who some of the notable donors to each candidate are. Mitt Romney is supported, for instance, by Mormon motel mogul J. Willard Marriott. Giuliani has Yankees boss George Steinbrenner. McCain draws support from Henry Kissinger and a managing director of the Carlyle Group. (Can you guess which one is the candidate of the Republican Establishment ) And apparently, the most notable contributor to Ron Paul is . . . Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project. It’s going to be a long campaign.

For the Democrats, interestingly, the Post eschews listing corporate moguls; instead, it tells us that supporters of the various candidates include Laurence Tribe, Steven Spielberg, Zach Braff, and Paul Newman. Democrats are just so much cooler. And I guess Clinton, Obama, and Edwards just didn’t get any money from The Rich. Funny thing, though, Hillary’s top five zip codes are all in Manhattan, and Obama’s are all in Manhattan or Chicago. Who knew all the hip young TV stars lived in such places Edwards, however, did pull in a bundle from Beverly Hills 90210.

Posted on April 17, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Volunteer Today!

This is National Volunteer Week — which is really appropriate, since it’s also the week our federal income taxes are due, and the income tax system is based on “voluntary compliance.” No, really, it says so right on the 1040 packet and throughout the IRS website. Indeed, the friendly folks at the IRS acknowledge (.pdf) that some people get the wrong idea because the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary.” But if you take their little online test of “Your Role as a Taxpayer,” they explain to you that it is True that “IRS publications state that the tax system is voluntary,” but it is also True that “The government has the right to force me to pay my taxes and charge me penalties for not paying taxes.” Go figure.

Anyway, if you have any time or money left after paying your taxes, consider doing some volunteer work.

Posted on April 17, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Romney Embarrassed about His Health Plan?

Michael Cannon writes below that the health insurance time bomb that presidential candidate Mitt Romney left for Massachusetts is “becoming less universal and less affordable all the time.” It’s also becoming less visible, at least in Romney’s campaign speeches, according to two new reports. Romney often fails to mention the plan, the only real accomplishment of his four years as governor, as he campaigns for the Republican nomination.

Both stories quote the plan’s leading critic, Michael Tanner. The Washington Post notes:

“This mandate is unprecedented,” said Michael Tanner, a health expert at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “It’s the first time a state has said simply because you live there you must buy a specific product. If he wants to be the Republican who embraces Hillary-care, I don’t think that’s going to go hand in hand with him trying to portray himself as Ronald Reagan’s heir.”

The Associated Press correctly identifies Cato as libertarian. AP also notes that the major supporter of the plan, the Heritage Foundation, is standing by it in a new report, which says it is “already showing progress.”

By this time next month, Heritage may be alone. Romney may well have become a leading opponent of Romneycare. After all, a man capable of reversing his views on abortion, gay rights, and gun control is surely capable of doing a 180 on a complex health care plan that rests on “abolish[ing] the laws of arithmetic.”

Posted on April 13, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics,Health Care

Congress Gets Serious about Ethics

Sure, an hour a year ought to be plenty.

One of the changes that House Democrats pushed through at the start of the new Congress is a requirement that all members and staffers get annual ethics training. And for those of you who are lucky enough to be working this week, you can start your training Wednesday, according to a recent memo from the House ethics committee.

Under House rules, all lawmakers and staff must receive one hour of ethics training a year. And House officers and senior aides, as well as those lucky staffers designated “principal assistants,” will have to get an additional hour of training.

Each office and committee must name an “ethics certification officer” by the end of this month, and that person will make sure the rest of you receive the training.

When you can’t trust people to be responsible, and you’re unwilling or unable to monitor irresponsibility and unethical behavior within your normal systems, you end up creating layers of regulation, red tape, and bureaucracy — like annual training and official “ethics certification officers.” And then you call them “ethics certification officers” instead of actual ethics officers, because the goal is to certify that you’ve completed ethics training, not to actually ensure ethical behavior.

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

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

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