Monday, May 22, 2006

Disgruntled Republicans

Two examples of the growing and increasingly vocal discontent among Republican fiscal conservatives with this administration and the Republican Congress.

Kate o'Beirne and Richard Lowry in their article "A Congress Gone to Pot" (May 22 issue of National Review) outlines a wide ranging litany of conservative discontent. While they allude to a lack of leadership on the part of GWB, the majority of their criticism is leveled at the Republican Congress, taking dead aim at the reactive vs proactive nature of this Congress, the silly gasoline price rebates, failed immigration policy, playing politics with national security, expanding and creating ineffective new bureaucracies, and - my favorite - complete abandonment of any pretense at limiting government or maintaining fiscal responsiblity.

"Another thing Congress is incapable of doing is making fiscal choices. Spending discipline is honored only in the breach, and with rhetorical flourishes thrown in to the party's base at opportune moments. When ambitious Republican politicians get together for pre-2008 events like the recent straw poll in Memphis, the talk is all of Ronald Reagan and limited government. The kind of governance in Washington that they deliver is exactly the opposite...
Incontinence has become a way of life. When President Bush threatened a veto if the supplemental spending bill for the Iraq War and and Katrina cleanup exceeded $92 billion, the Senate promptly voted to keep in funding for the Mississippi senators' absurd $700 million railway line in a bill that remains $14 billion over the limit set by Bush. Even when it knows that wasteful spending has fundamentally harmed its standing with the public and especially with its core supporters, the GOP Congress just can't help itself...
Overall federal spending is up 33 percent durng the majority's Deterioration phase, with defense and post 9/11 spending on domestic security representing less than half of this new spending."
One does not have to look far to find other conservative voices that feel betrayed by the single party control that grips Washington. One of the most remarkable of these is Dr William Frey's "Republicans for Humility". Like me, he voted for George W. Bush in 2000, and subsequently became disenchanted. His motto of "Country before Party" and powerful intial essay "Confessions of a Repentant Republican" is a must read.

"I supported George W. Bush in the presidential election in 2000, believing then that he best reflected my love for America and for our tradition of liberty. I supported the war in Afghanistan. In March of 2003, I believed that the invasion of Iraq was justified based upon pre-war revelations presented to Congress and to the American people. Accordingly, the indictments contained herein apply, first and foremost, to myself... For me, recognizing that I could no longer support the President for whom I voted, and the occupation of a land we had invaded, remains personally painful. I have learned that while it is difficult to admit being wrong, such recognition is a prerequisite for redemptive action, necessary both for individual growth and for the healing of our nation. It is in this spirit that I submit these reflections." - William Frey M.D.

Years before I started this blog, Dr. Frey found the same Niskanen article and came to the same conclusion regarding divided government.

"Conservatives have observed the paradox of Republican Congresses producing more conservative results under a Democratic president than under a Republican. ... political parties controlling both the presidency and Congress are under intense pressure to produce the appearance of progress, even if the long term consequences are detrimental to future generations of taxpayers. "

Under the second Bush administration, Republicans have combined the rhetoric of fiscal restraint with the reality of fiscal recklessness...

With this in mind, conservatives with consequential differences with President Bush on matters related to foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the conduct of the war on terrorism, issues of civil liberties, the rule of law, and fiscal responsibility, are considering the benefits of divided government."

Dr. Frey focuses on the President as the source of his concerns, while the NR article looks primarily at the Republican Congress. But like most disgruntled conservatives, both tend to see this specifically as a betrayal by the Republican Party. Consequently they see the solution in terms of fixing the Republican Party.

I see this differently. The problem is bigger than the Republicans and focusing exclusively on the GOP will not solve it. The problem is inherent in the nature of the political process in Washington. Simply put, the seduction of power and its inevitable consequence of an overriding imperative to be reelected ultimately swamps all other considerations for the fallible humans holding public office. The perception of incumbents is that: Reelection requires money that only special interests can provide; Reelection requires pandering to polls over principle; Reelection requires cultivating local loyalty by bringing home the pork. I am sure most politicians rationalize the dirty job of securing the money, populist pandering and pork-barrel rolling as a necessary pre-conditon ultimately getting around to doing what is right for the country. The obvious problem is that the continuous reelection inspired compromises do far more damage than whatever good comes later.

Long term these problems may be fixable by electoral reform, campaign reform, and electing better representatives. Operative words being "may be".

There is a solution that disgruntled Republicans and conservatives can seize right now, in 2006, and have an immediate positive impact.

Just vote divided.

Although voting divided requires voting for democrats in 2006, it is not the same as voting for the Democratic party or Democratic party values. It is a way to vote tactically for the values of better governance, limited government and fiscal responsiblity through the well documented mechanism of divided government. It works.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hand-wringing Libertarians.

"Woe, woe is me! What words, or cries, or lamentations can I utter?"
The Chorus in Hecuba by Euripides

Update appended May 18, 2006
I had a dalliance with the Libertarian party in my youth. She seemed dangerous, but so radiant, so pure, so exciting, so ... so right. As I matured, became more practical and yes, more cynical, we drifted apart. Since then, I have settled into a comfortable long term relationship with the Cato Institute - a Libertarian think-tank. I have tremendous respect for the organization and their product. They generate tons of great research, clear hard-number analysis, and are relentless advocates for libertarian principles. They have done more to "change the debate", to introduce and defend libertarian ideas into mainstream politics any other libertarian organization, including the party. They have earned the highest compliment I can give them - They have made a difference.

Coincident with the start of this blog, Cato Unbound (a monthly single topic interactive blog) launched a dialog on the topic "The Gop and Limited Government - Do they have a future together?".
"The era of big government is alive and well. You might think that after dominating all branches of the federal government for more than a half decade, Republicans, who like to talk big about lean and limited government, might have taken Leviathan down a few notches... Republicans under Bush have tallied up a budget deficit of historic proportions, added an enormous entitlement to an already unsustainable system, created a vast new security bureaucracy, and strengthened Washington's grip on local schools. Are Republicans selling out ..."
The hand-wringing, cries, lamentations and rending of garments in this series are quite remarkable. Some samples from both the initiating essays and responding Libertarian leaning blogs are excerpted and linked below. They are similar in form, with each complaining bitterly about how the Republicans have made things worse, and then offering up a few "straws to grasp at" for the aggrieved and betrayed supporters of limited government.

Great articles all, and well worth the read. Still, the series reminds me of a humorous commercial currently running on television: In the ad, a group of bankers are hiking through the jungle, and one falls into quicksand. The group forms an "emergency" discussion committee to develop alternative responses to the crisis, while the guy sinks out sight.

My contribution and advice to worried libertarians:

Your "limited government" patient is lying unconscious on the ground bleeding to death. Yes, the patient's leg was blown off by a Republican roadside bomb, and we are all angry at the Republicans and feel really bad about what happened. But this might not be the time to discuss where to build a hospital and how to equip a surgical suite to treat the patient. Right now, we really need to apply a tourniquet and stop the bleeding.

Fortunately, there is a tourniquet in easy reach, from William Niskanen, one of Cato's own. The tourniquet is the election of a divided government in the 2006 election. Apply it first, and once the bleeding is managed, we have an opportunity to help the patient with more advanced treatments.

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Republicans and the Flight of Opportunity by David Frum
"The goddess was Opportunity and conservatives and Republicans today can appreciate the poignancy of the poet’s description of her departure... deficits in the $400 billion range not only preclude future tax cuts but also raise real doubts about the sustainability of the Bush tax cuts... Meanwhile, the pressures for even further expansion of government are gathering... The state is growing again and it is pre-programmed to carry on growing. Health spending will rise, pension spending will rise, and taxes will rise...The second possibility is that conservatism will live on as a tendency within both parties rather than as a compact and self-conscious movement in control of one of them.... Might not the same be true of the small-government conservative beliefs championed by Goldwater, Reagan, and Gingrich? It may not be the future we expected for ourselves but what future is?"
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The Forecast is Grim - So What Are We Going to Do About It? by Bruce Bartlett
"I am very pessimistic about the prospects for conservative/libertarian reform... my friends must think I have totally thrown in the towel on bigger government. This is not so. What I have discussed thus far is simply a forecast of what I see coming... I would welcome a serious debate among libertarians and small government-types on a realistic political strategy for achieving their goals. Simply damning the existing system and withdrawing from it is just a prescription for accelerating the trend toward bigger government.
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Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish by David Boaz
"Republicans used to accuse Democrats of setting up a nanny state, one that would regulate every nook and cranny of our lives. They took control of Congress in 1994 by declaring that Democrats had given us government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money. After 10 years in power, however, the Republicans have seen the Democrats’ intrusiveness and raised them.... Where there is no vision, the people perish. Or at least the party and its principles... The first task for advocates of limited government is to develop and advance that vision. The Founders, the abolitionists, the free-traders, the Progressives, the Reaganites all honed and advocated their ideas long before they saw political victory. And we must translate that vision into policy proposals, organizations, and political movements... We don’t have to resign ourselves to a counsel of despair. "
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The Volokh Conspiracy - George W, Richard Nixon, and Big Government Conservatism - Ilya Somin
"By now, it is no secret that Bush has presided over a massive expansion of government, even if one sets aside the increase in defense spending since 9/11... In the posts cited above, Bartlett and Frum produce some strong arguments showing that Bush's big government policies might prove to be more lasting than Nixon's did (Goldberg is less pessimistic)... Make no mistake - the growth of government is a very powerful trend, and Bush has done a great deal to exacerbate it. But we should not be too quick to assume that the trend is irreversible."

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Update: 17-May-06

In "The Democrats and Small Government", Ross Douthat adds to the Cato Unbound conversation by explicitly acknowledging the immediate benefit to be derived from Divided Government:
"Divided government, maybe, is a way to rein in spending."..
But then with a bit intellectual sleight of hand, quickly dismisses the notion by saying you can't support Democrats, well, because they are Democrats.
"... as long as the Democrats are the party of unions, minorities, big-government working-class voters, and converted Rockefeller Republicans... they will never offer a plausible home to anyone who cares about reducing the size of the federal budget...."

"...The Cato Institute and the Christian Coalition are never going to see eye to eye on everything, but they still have a lot of common ground —and a common enemy."
By this conclusion I assume that Douthat is advocating libertarian fealty to the Republican party, supported by the "enemy of my enemy" argument. This is nonsense. To support the acknowledged benefit of divided government by voting Democratic in the 2006 election, is not the same as "finding a home" in the Democratic party. It is simply tactical support to obtain an immediate and desireable result: Fiscal restraint and better federal governance through the mechanism of divided government. To continue to support Republican single party control of the Federal Government in the face of what has actually transpired over the last five years can only be read as a naked appeal to "pay attention to what Republicans say, but ignore what they do."

In fact, by achieving the result of divided government through the support of Democratic candidates in 2006, the supporters of limited government will have a stronger foundation for supporting the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, with the enhanced hope that the next Republican President will actually "walk the walk".

For limited government advocates in 2006:

Republican vs. Democrat is a false choice.

The real choice is Divided Government vs. Single Party control.


===============
Update: 18-May-06

Ryan Sager author of The Elephant in the Room almost gets it right in a couple of interesting posts over at RCP. These quotes from "Hot-Tub Libertarians" and "Out of the Hot Tub, Into the Frying Pan":
"As the Republican Party abandons its commitment to small government, how politically impotent are libertarians? ...no one ever said that libertarians were organized -- or that, when it comes to politics, they have much in the way of brains... But what if they did? How powerful a voting bloc could they be? It's a tough question, and one libertarians have spent far too little time effort researching, but there's a quick and dirty answer: somewhere between 9 percent and 20 percent of the electorate.

"Libertarians need to get serious. And getting serious means organizing. And organizing means within one of the two major parties. I believe that can only be done within the GOP, that there is still a natural logic to fusionism. But I'm happy to hear arguments otherwise."

Okay, Ryan - here is an argument otherwise. Let us deconstruct:
"Libertarians need to get serious." Right.

"Serious means organizing."
Right again.

"Organizing means within the one of the two major parties"
- hmmm - almost right. I'd put it this way: Organizing means within the existing two party structure.

"Only be done within the GOP"?
Wrong.

As pointed out in Ryan's article, libertarian organization is going to have to look different than traditional politics, after all, it is something we will have to be able to accomplish while sitting in the hot-tub.

What is needed, is an organizing principle. Ideally, a principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote.

That organizing principle exists. It is Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen et.al. to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain the growth of the state. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately. More importantly, it can collectively be implemented individually as we sit in our hot tubs and ponder the sorry state of the world.

Whatever the percentage of the electorate that libertarians represent, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for Divided Government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.

It means, libertarians must ignore what the politicians say and look at what they actually do (Niskanen again). It means ignoring spurious invitations to fuse with a big tent party that no longer stands for anything meaningful. It means voting straight Democratic in 2006, and (if successful in establishing Divided Government) voting Republican for President in 2008. It means the difference between libertarians being a completely impotent political force, and libertarians having the biggest swinging political "hammer" in town.

And it can be done from the hot tub.

And it can be done this year.

Just Vote Divided.



Friday, May 05, 2006

I was wrong. GWB vs. LBJ

Update Appended May 07,2006
It is tough to admit when you've made a mistake. Particularly a factual error. Particularly when I've only been posting about a week on this blog, and already, only four posts in, I find I have to eat my words. But I am committed to the truth and to maintaining intellectual integrity on this site, so - time to face the music.

Here is the problem. In my very first post, in my haste to get this blog started, I cut some corners on my fact checking and made a factual error. In that post, I outline the case that Divided Government is always more fiscally responsible than single party control of the executive and legislative branches in Washington. In that post I made this statement:
"Certainly nothing has transpired in the single party, undivided, non-gridlock, no veto, no filibuster government of the last six years that would counter the conclusions in these articles. In that time we have seen nothing but increasing federal spending, creation of new bureaucracies, breathtaking record deficits, and government growth that rivals LBJ's "Great Society".
The problem in that statement is the word "rivals". I made the assumption that the years of single party control during LBJ's Great Society / Vietnam War spending binge was the penultimate, the "Everest", the "Gold Standard", the "Platonic Ideal" of Bloated Big Government spending. A high water mark that could only be "approached" or "rivaled" but never be exceeded. Then I found this paper from those hard number, rigorous analysis guys at the CATO Institute (excerpted and linked below). Based on this work the word "rivals" in the above sentence should be replaced with the more accurate "blows away". My apologies to the readers of this blog.

We now have a new gold standard for Bloated Big Government Spending.

"Bush Beats LBJ on Spending"
"In Cato Tax and Budget Bulletin no. 26, Stephen Slivinski uses revised data released during the summer by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to make side-by-side comparisons of the spending habits of each president during the last 40 years. While the data show that all presidents presided over net increases in spending, George W. Bush is shown to be one of the biggest spenders of them all, even outpacing Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending [...]"
Excerpts from the report:
"The increase in discretionary spending - that is, all nonentitlement programs - in Bush's first term was 48.5 percent in nominal terms. That's more than twice as large as the increase in discretionary spending during Clinton's entire two terms (21.6 percent), and just higher than Lyndon Johnson's entire discretionary spending spree (48.3 percent)."

"Bush has expanded federal nonentitlement programs in his first term almost twice as fast each year as Lyndon Johnson did during his entire presidency."

"George W. Bush'’s tenure has so far been a return to the Johnson and Carter philosophy of budgeting that gives increases to all categories of spending."

"Members of President Bush'’s staff argue that much of the growth in discretionary spending is essential to defending the United States against the threat of terrorism here and abroad. However, increased spending on fighting terrorism and for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan does not explain the increases in the overall defense budget."

"George W. Bush is the biggest spending president of the past 40 years in both the defense and domestic discretionary spending categories by a long shot. "

"The expenses related to cleanup and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region as a result of Hurricane Katrina'’s destruction have not been fully tallied... If these budget increases are not offset by cuts in other areas of the budget, Bush's spending record will look even worse next year."
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UPDATE: SUNDAY (07-May-06): On Friday (05-May-06), Larry Kudlow broadcast an interview with the President on his daily CNBC show, interspersed with commentary by Robert Reich (former Labor Secretary under Clinton) and Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal. I am going to have to paraphrase this from memory, because I cannot find a transcript (If I find one I'll update this update). Kudlow asked the President about increasing conservative concerns regarding the out-of-control spending in this administration - saying it was the worst record since LBJ (of course we now know it is even worse than LBJ). Bush responded to Larry with condescending broad generalizations and quoting statistics on discretionary spending that simply did not match the facts. Kudlow looked like a deer in the headlights and could not get to his next question fast enough. A few minutes later Kudlow, Reich, and Moore did an "analysis" of the segment. Reich had his usual "I can't believe I even have to explain this to you" demeanor and was predictable in his anti-Bush response. It was Moore that surprised me and sent me scrambling for the transcript as I could not believe what I was hearing. Understand, Steve Moore's official title at the Wall Street Journal is "Editorial Apologist in Chief for the Bush Administration". His most recent book is "Bullish on Bush: How the Ownership Society Is Making America Richer." Paraphrasing Moore, he said: Larry I have looked that numbers up down and sideways. I don't know where the President is getting those numbers. The President is wrong. The spending in this administration has shown no restraint.

So this leaves us with a distasteful choice. In that interview President Bush was either knowingly misrepresenting the facts regarding spending in this administration, or he was completely ignorant of the facts regarding spending in this administration.

I cannot tell you which alternative is worse.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

There is work to do.

Scott Elliott, the "Blogging Caesar" at Election Projection is predicting that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate and the House in his 2006 Edicts #1 and #2 (linked and excerpted blow) .

Now Scott and I both lay claim to the word "conservative", but we clearly mean different things. In his bio, Scott is a self-described "conservative, especially socially". While he limply expresses a flaccid preference that he "would like President Bush to be more fiscally conservative", he nevertheless asserts "I believe he is as good as it gets for America's top job". By this I can only assume that Scott means he does not really care all that much about how single party control under the leadership of this administration has dramatically increased the size and spend of the federal government, has expanded the breadth and depth of the bureaucracy, and has massively increased the debt load being piled on the backs of his children. Nor does it bother him too much how the government has assumed extraordinary new control and power over our lives. Being a social conservative, I guess Scott feels that as long as the administration effectively stops the threat posed by two fifty year old lesbians getting married in San Francisco, they've got his vote.

So this puts Scott Elliott (the Voter), is in the category of PDW (Partisan Dead Weight - as defined in my previous post).

That said, Scott Elliott (the Election Analyst) is very good at what he does at Election Projection. I followed his site during the 2004 Presidential election and found it to be a great resource and remarkably accurate. For the most part, he is able to divorce his personal politics from his analysis. This year he is tracking the 2006 Senate and House races at an impressive level of detail and granularity. I expect to be using Election Projection as a resource throughout this election season.

Since I do respect his work and analysis, I am troubled by his early prediction, but not too troubled. We really only have the one data point of his 2004 election prognostication to attest to his skills as a prophet, his early predictions from the spring of 2004 were not all that accurate, and (as far I know) he is untested in a mid-term election cycle, which is a completely different animal than a presidential election.

But for anyone who longs for the relative fiscal responsibility and limits on government growth that can only come with divided government, his prediction reinforces that we should not be lulled into complacency by the president's low approval ratings, and recognize that there is work to do.

Scott's edicts of last week are as good a baseline as any to start tracking the race, so without further ado - the Caesar Speaks:

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Edict #1: "... I haven't posted such a prediction in a long time, but now that the elections are beginning to heat up, I thought it time to reinitiate The Blogging Caesar's power of the edict. By edict of The Blogging Caesar, it is hereby decreed that the GOP majority in the United States House of Representatives will remain for the next legislative session beginning in 2007. While the Democrats do stand to gain ground, they will not succeed in claiming the necessary number of seats to wrest control away from the Republicans. I do hereby seal and deliver this edict this Monday, the 24th of April, in the year of our Lord, 2006." - Scott Elliott at 6:25pm 04/24/06

Edict #2: "The GOP will maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate" "By edict of The Blogging Caesar, it is hereby decreed that the GOP majority in the United States Senate will remain for the next legislative session beginning in 2007. Moreover, the majority will be at least 51 seats, avoiding the need for vice-presidential intervention on straight party-line votes. I do hereby seal and deliver this edict this Friday, the 28th of April, in the year of our Lord, 2006." - Scott Elliott at 10:55am 04/28/06.