Leading the Opposition

Reihan Salam, co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, has an interesting article today on Governor Mark Sanford, the studious and professorial governor of South Carolina. Sanford made waves last week by becoming the first of the nation’s governors to reject a portion of the “stimulus” funds. More accurately, he asked the Obama administration for a waiver to spend the state’s portion of the stimulus money shoring up South Carolina’s fiscal health, a move consistent with his 15-year political career, and a request that was predictably denied today.

Salam notes some of the appeal of Gov. Sanford: his dogged determination to keep the government from involving itself where the private sector is best suited; his consistent approach to reducing government spending; and his popularity among fiscal conservatives across the country. As Salam states, Sanford is among the few Republicans who actually governs according to his professed principles.

While calling Sanford “impressive,” Salam’s assessment of the political efficacy of his brand of conservatism isn’t so rosy. He views Sanford as a Goldwater-type figure, starting a conversation that may produce political results in the future, but not politically successful on the national level himself. Other authors, however, have a different view.

If anything, as Salam notes, Sanford’s focus on limiting spending to sustainable levels, which prevents the boom-bust budget cycles through which we constantly suffer, might actually be more effective at producing limited government than the starve-the-beast tax cut approach (because re-election-seeking Congressmen tend to replace cuts with debt-financing, not corresponding budget cuts). Whatever Governor Sanford’s future political plans, he has clearly taken the role of opposition leader to President Obama’s fiscal mayhem, and any accusations of political grandstanding are made by the ignorant: throughout his political career, Sanford has taken –and will continue to take–principled positions that anger the echo chamber, while remaining wildly popular among the voters.

UPDATE

Governor Sanford today sent a response to the Obama Administration’s rejection of his request for a waiver. The entire letter is available on the Corner.

UPDATE II

Several legal scholars have suggested that the bypass provision of the Obama “stimulus” bill could be unconstitutional. Basically, the argument posits that Congress may allocate funds subject to conditions, but may not bypass the recipient states’ constitutional structure.

Obamaphonics Worked for Me

The president simply forgot to read the bill.

In an act surely to prolong an already protracted debate on embryonic stem-cell research, the president just signed an appropriations bill that outlaws the use of federal funds for such research–funding that he ceremoniously approved a matter of days ago.

While the funding ban is technically only in place through the end of the fiscal year (September 30), the federal funding can only return before then by Congress passing a bill and the president signing it into law. Perhaps this will give the president some time to read up on the issue, find out what his pay grade is, and make the right decision the next time.

Out With the Old?


So I was flying back from NYC this Saturday and I pretty much read the March 16th Newsweek cover-to-cover. The cover tells the cover story – conservatism has had enough of Rush Limbaugh. The author, David Frum, is a resident fellow at AEI and runs a blog, newmajority.com, subtitled “building a conservatism that can win again.” His conservative credentials are unquestionable. And he thinks Rush should stick a fork in it.

Frum has two main jabs at Rush, as far as I can tell. One is that Rush cares more about promoting himself than the common good of society. Two is that Rush thinks, as he stated at CPAC, that conservatism “is what it is forever. It’s not something you can bend and shape.” And for all you Dostoevsky-reading amateur psychoanalysts out there (like myself), these two are obviously related – of course a man who has made his self-image on the Reagan-era brand conservatism is going to argue for its immutability. 

Frum believes that conservatives should reject Rush’s flamboyance because it makes a bad face for the movement among the voters that we need to reach – especially independents and women. And they should reject his view of the immutability of conservatism because 1) the old form isn’t successfully governing anymore, and thus 2) it isn’t getting us votes (which is the founding purpose of Ex Deserto). 

I think Frum is right for one simple fact: Without votes, conservatism means nothing.

Holding the line in an absolute sense to a certain political ideology is treating politics like religion. It is putting an absolute hope in the political order, as if politics were able to save man, to give him all he needs. That is Marxism. I don’t know about you, but my Savior is a person. Politics is not religion.  Politics is about governing, about ordering society well. In politics, you have to go with what works; you have to do as much good as possible and avoid as much evil as possible; and you are never going to know the exact outcome of your actions. Prudence is the name of the game.

And this is where Frum goes (minus the political theology). His critique of Rush is a springboard into his argument for how conservatism needs to change. Conservatism (in order to actually be a force again, i.e. to reach voters)

1)    needs to become less extreme

2)    needs to modulate its social conservatism

3)    needs an environmental message

4)    (above all) needs to take governing seriously again

I have to write an appellate brief now. But I’m going to cover each of these topics later. You should read the article.

Defending the Bush Legacy

Conservatives aren’t particularly pleased with much of President Bush’s legacy: the bank bailout, No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug bill, increased deficits, etc. However, it’s inarguable that President Bush performed valiantly in the area of national security, considering that there have been no more terrorist attacks on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Here, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher defends the Bush legacy. He does an outstanding job, if you can handle the Chris Matthews bloviating long enough to hear Fleisher’s points.

Extremism and Pragmatism in the Destruction of Human Life

Despite President Obama’s sweet-sounding campaign grandiloquence about post-partisanship and bipartisanship, he his actions have belied his promises—in a little over a month, we have witnessed nothing more than hoary oratory proving that he is exactly the left-wing liberal that his career record blatantly indicated he would be.

Over the last several weeks, Obama has essentially declared war on social conservatives by firmly standing with the hard left ideologues against life and religious liberty. He has (outlined and discussed further here):

1) Proposed to eliminate safeguards protecting the conscience-based refusal of doctors and other health care personnel to perform abortions;

2) Forced taxpayers, including those who are uncompromisingly morally opposed to abortion, to fund abortions-as-family-planning in foreign countries by rescinding the Mexico City Policy; and

3) Proposed moving a liberal governor from the back pocket of her state’s abortion providers to the secretariat of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The most recent example: the executive order allowing federal taxpayer dollars to be used to fund destructive embryonic stem-cell research. The NY Times and friends have tried to present Obama’s decision as an apolitical, science-informed choice, but it was President Bush’s stance on the issue that was a reasonable compromise: allowing federal funding for existing embryonic stem-cell lines, but not for newly created ones. In fact, the embryonic stem-cells funded under the Bush order had already been destroyed because the formation of a stem-cell line requires the destruction of the embryo.

Contrary to the fear mongers (many of whom are now in the upper echelons of the Obama Administration), President Bush’s principled stance didn’t lead to a void of research on curing diseases, but to results-producing research on adult stem cells. Most importantly, however, as Yuval Levin explains, President Bush clearly understood the ethical dilemmas—despite the soaring rhetoric about the potential—involved in destroying human life for scientific purposes. His choice to limit federal funding was based on two principles: 1) that life should not be snuffed out for pragmatic justifications and 2) the federal government should not incentivize the destruction of human life.

Certainly, many argue (including the authors of this website) that embryonic stem-cell research presents ethical and moral problems that justify an outright prohibition. As Larry Kudlow asks, “how can you destroy a life in order to save one?” But the Obamaists aren’t removing such a prohibition; indeed, none existed and ESC research was and will continue to be funded by private and state-taxpayer dollars. Stated succinctly by Robert P. George and Eric Cohen, the decision “forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicity in this practice.”

President Obama is forcing everyone who opposes embryonic stem-cell research for moral reasons, for religious reasons, for ethical reasons, to pay for it. And that is profoundly unjust.

Religious Liberty in Jeopardy

Two threats to religious freedom have appeared in a legislature on the East Coast and a court on the West Coast. These attacks are, I think, a microcosm of the systemic attack on religious freedom and conscience in the nation as a whole.

As noted on this blog, President Obama’s administration is seeking to remove conscience rights from healthcare professionals. In Connecticut, state legislators are seeking to define the administrative structure of the Catholic Church (HT: catholicmanhood). In California, the UC Hastings law school is attempting to bar the Christian Legal Society from accepting members who are Christian and profess certain beliefs consistent with Christianity (oral argument here).

Freedom of religion is essential to the flourishing of a democratic society. Indeed, the Founders came to America seeking a land free from religious tyranny where one could worship God according to the “dictates of his own conscience.” These attempts by governmental entities to take from us our religious liberty is repugnant to both the Constitution and the founding principles of our nation.

Religious believers in the United States could be a strong force in the future of conservativism, if only we stand and are willing to suffer the persecution that others are currently suffering. By so doing, we may recover the intent of the founders and return the U.S. to its religious roots.

Bailout Bills and Deficit Spending: Rolling the Dice on America’s Economy


The house always wins. Sure, you might get lucky and walk away unscathed a few times. Sure, beating the house may garner some bragging rights and with your winnings you might buy your friends a round of beer. Sooner or later, you’ll lose. A few winning streaks might entice you to place a big bet – you might bet your pension, your house, your car. After all, the bigger the bet, the greater the pay off. My advice: don’t place that big bet. Walk away. What agitates me is that Obama just placed the largest bet in American history – a $787 billion dollar bailout plan.

While clearly not an economist by any stretch of the imagination, Obama does manage to place a great spin on the downward economic spiral. He explains, “what you’re now seeing is profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal, if you’ve got a long-term perspective on it.” Translation: The economy can only get so bad, at some point it has to bounce back.

I agree. However, when the solution requires betting that deficit spending will bail out failing industries, I question Obama’s faith in the free market. Already the market has responded to the $787 billion dollar bailout bill; as of last week, it dropped below 7000 – the lowest since 1997. It may go even lower.

Massive deficit spending is not only risky, it’s bad fiscal policy especially with this amount. The hope behind such spending is that it will increase government purchases and thus create a market for business output which will then encourage consumer spending. According to Keynesian economists, this will stave off, or at least slow, a recession. On the other hand, common sense tells us that the government borrows money to invest in failing institutions, the immediate result may stimulate some growth, but ultimately this is unsustainable and will lead to collapse.

Here is my school grade explanation: If I have a lemonade stand that costs more to operate than my profits, I will go bankrupt and become unemployed. The government, not wanting this to happen offers me $100 to “stimulate” me. Now, if I don’t change my business practices, this $100 will disappear I’ll be on the fast track to Chapter 7. Alternatively, I may be able to tweak my business practices and ultimately remain successful. But if my lemonade stand is truly a lemon, and other stands know how to profit from life’s lemons, government bailouts may keep me in business, but the taxpayers will be footing the bill and at the end of the day I’ll still be approaching bankruptcy.

This is Obama’s solution, but on a massive scale. Imagine pouring millions and billions of dollars into businesses that have been losing money for years. This is exactly what is happening. Businesses lose their competitive edges and the government, not wanting them to fail, offers to bail them out. The mortgage industry, the auto industry and states all get a handout.

At best this will slow the recession. It’ll take longer to recover, but we’ll eventually pull out of it. At worst, the bailed out companies will fail, unemployment will rise and we’ll be in the midst of a depression. Then we’ll be back at square one: letting the market its course.

My mom often chastised me when I had a bruise, “Don’t touch it, you’ll only make it worse.” There needs to be some of that motherly advice to the markets – don’t exert too much control correcting the markets, doing so might feel good, but it’ll take either longer to recover, or the situation will worsen.

Either way, Obama is taking an enormous gamble with America’s future. While I am skeptical, I cross my fingers and pray that this bet will pay off.

Un-Charitable Takings

Barack Obama declared in his mini-SOTU last week that he doesn’t believe in bigger government. As any objective observer can see, his actions betray his eloquent tongue. There will be plenty to talk about regarding the budget proposal, another bank bailout, and other destructive policies. For now though, here is an example of President Obama’s pervasive belief that government is better than the private sector: he has declared war on charities (see this article by Pete Wehner and Phillip Merrick).

Americans have a long and honorable tradition of supporting the less fortunate through charitable giving (for an excellent review of that history, see The Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky). Last year, Americans gave over $300 billion to charities, the vast majority of which came from individuals—not from foundations, not from corporations, not from the über-wealthy. American charities provide a gamut of services to fellow Americans: homeless shelters, drug and prison rehabilitation programs, children’s homes, after school programs, abused women’s shelters, job training programs, food banks, adoption agencies, hospitals, and schools.

In fact, as a result of President Bush’s emphasis on supporting charities through his Faith Based and Community Initiatives, we are better able to channel grants that would otherwise be wasted in government bureaucracy, to local non-profit organizations that are best suited to—and most successful in—providing effective, consequential assistance.

Unfortunately, the president has determined that he would rather the government attempt to meet the needs of America’s needy.

The administration’s budget shockingly limits tax deductions on gifts to certain charities made by upper middle class taxpayers (not the jet set crowd, mind you, but millions of small business owners and professionals across America). Best stated in the Wehner/Merrick article, “It’s an extraordinary grab for money—money given to private charities by private citizens as private donations.” They go on to state, “With this proposal, President Obama is saying as directly as it can be said that the federal government is better able than private citizens and the charities they support to decide how these donation dollars are best distributed.”

According to Jacob Sullum at the Reason Foundation, the administration plans to make up for the shortfall by creating a $100 million slush fund for government-approved nonprofits and charities. “In essence then,” notes Sullum, “Obama plans to take money people otherwise would have given to the charities of their choice and give it to the charities of his choice.”

This unconscionable plan is bad news for small, local charities, the ones that actually make a difference in people’s lives. State and local charities expend considerable amounts of energy and resources on fundraising to keep their operations going (and many barely stay afloat month-to-month, as they try to maximize dollars going to their services, not overhead), but the only ones large enough to lobby the administration for a cut of the new Obama fund are on more solid financial footing. Of course, the more-localized the giving, the less control the Obamaists have on where it goes; and they just can’t have that.

Obamanomics

In Monday’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne argues that Obama’s new budget and economic outlook have “transformed the terms of the nation’s debate.” He goes on: “The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth.” Every other issue, Dionne says, is “subsidiary.”

The problem I have with the argument is that commentators often fail to mention the many years of sacrifice–not to mention near poverty and bankruptcy in some cases–that entrepreneurs and business owners endured to get to where they are today. Any “inequality” comes from a government that is all too willing to hand money to those who take no affirmative steps to become more productive. We punish those who are willing to take risk, start a business, and now provide jobs for others, and we train people to live off the largesse of the government.
Equality of income is not a realistic or desirable goal (but some have discussed ways to achieve it). Those who make more money will continue to do so because they have the drive and determination not to be left behind. They will, as a result, pay more in taxes thanks to the new administration, but I doubt that they will curtail their efforts to start new businesses or pursue new goals. Although some have calculated that it does not pay to work more or harder, we should be encouraging people to do just that. In that way, individuals would take responsibility for their own financial future instead of waiting for the next unsuccessful stimulus.

Waging Battle on the Editorial Page

The Wall Street Journal has trumpeted the value of the free market for over a century. Indeed, the WSJ editorial board has often made the connection between free markets and individual freedom—contrasted against the correlation between domineering governmental involvement in the free market and political oppression. Take the Board’s own statement of philosophy:

“[Our editorials] are united by the mantra “free markets and free people”, the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities. If these principles sound unexceptionable in theory, applying them to current issues is often unfashionable and controversial.”

Since it became apparent that then-Senator Obama had a better-than-average chance at becoming our president late last summer, the editorial board waged a battle against the prospective policies of the Obamaists—and is continuing that battle against the realities of the new administration. The WSJ’s importance in the fight against the Obama-Pelosi-Reid takeover cannot be overstated. As America’s most circulated business newspaper, its reach and influence is critical on behalf of freedom-loving Americans.

In one of today’s editorials, “The Obama Economy,” the board once again unabashedly takes on the collectivist urges of the Democratic power axis in Washington. For example, referring to the succession of market-killing government initiatives, the paper states,

“After five weeks in office, it’s become clear that Mr. Obama’s policies are slowing, if not stopping, what would otherwise be the normal process of economic recovery. From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence — and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth…What goes down will come up — unless destructive policies interfere with the sources of potential recovery.”

The editorial continues, “The market has notably plunged since Mr. Obama introduced his budget last week, and that should be no surprise. The document was a declaration of hostility toward capitalists across the economy.”

What a great line, that last one, and it perfectly summarizes the actions of the Obama Administration since January. What the Journal understands, and the Obamaists don’t, is that hostility towards capitalism is hostility towards America as we know it. Hostility towards capitalism is hostility towards force that brought the United States from a sleepy colonial backwater to the world’s lone economic and military superpower. Hostility towards economic freedom eventually becomes, necessarily, hostility towards individual political freedom.