Archive for August 2007

The “FairTax” Fraud

August 27, 2007

Bruce Bartlett tax a look at the latest scam to harness the power of antitax sentiment without actually cutting taxes, the so-called FairTax. Something in general that the not-very-rich, which is most of us, should keep in mind: any revenue-neutral tax reform is going to be a massive tax hike on people like you and me. If it’s revenue neutral, it must bring in as much revenue as the current system, which disproportionately taxes the wealthy. Basic math: if you keep that equals sign and you lower the amount the rich are paying, somebody has to make up the shortfall. Usually the revenue-neutralists say that they’ll do that by getting rid of loopholes and exemptions — such as the home mortgage tax exemption. You can see that that’ll be a political non-starter.

These kinds of things make me see blood red. The conservatives and libertarians who get behind them are the worst sorts of frauds. The problem with our current tax system is not that it’s “unfair” (boo hoo!) or imposes a lot of external costs (which it does), the problem is that the taxes are too high across the board and government at every level is as bloated and inefficient as you would expect of any socialist institution. “Reform” ought to be a dirty word; we want cuts. Slash, eviscerate, take a chainsaw to present levels of spending and taxation. Productive Americans should not be yielding up a third of their incomes (which is about what taxation at all levels amounts to, in my experience) to finance bombs, bums, and collapsing bridges.

By the way, a point that Bartlett doesn’t raise–perhaps the FairFraudsters address this themselves–is that you can’t slap a tax on a product and expect it to sell as well as it does when it’s untaxed. Sprockets at a FairTax price of $1.30 or $1.57 are not going to sell in the quantities of sprockets at $1.00. So to meet the sacred goal of “revenue neutrality” — God forbid the state should have to tighten its belt! — the tax might have to be higher still.

Addendum: Here’s a classic Lew Rockwell article on the “Tax Reform Racket.”

President Alden Pyle

August 26, 2007

Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher comments on George W. Bush’s rather surprising invocation of Graham Greene in his speech earlier this month to the VFW in Kansas City:

Greene’s novel, in any case, pits the cynical, apolitical newspaperman (who has a Vietnamese girlfriend and an opium habit) against the Pyle character, who seems to be a U.S. aid official linked to the CIA (and purportedly based on the legendary Edward Lansdale). Pyle is attempting to find a “third force, ” a democratic alternative to the French-backed puppet government and the Communist insurgents. With brilliant writing, biting humor and keen insight on local politics and customs (based on Greene’s research there), the novel perfectly anticipates the massive U.S. urge to intervene deeply and then escalate. 

… Pyle ultimately assists an urban bombing to be blamed on Viet Minh insurgents, and many civilians die. Greene observes that “a woman sat on the ground with what was left of her baby in her lap; with a kind of modesty she had covered it with her straw peasant hat.” Fowler asks Pyle how many such deaths he would accept in “building a national democratic front.” Pyle responds: “Anyway, they died in the right cause. … They died for democracy.” 

Bush would never say something like that but plenty of Greene’s comments about Pyle would apply to him. (Philip Noyce, director of the recent film based on the book, has said “Bush is the ultimate Alden Pyle.”) Greene’s description of the character even sounds like the young Bush, with a crew cut and a “wide campus gaze.” If only he was merely “reading the Sunday supplements at home and following the baseball” instead of mucking around in foreign lands. 

A Karl Rove Postmortem

August 14, 2007

I guess this makes Joshua Green’s article in the September Atlantic, a look at what went wrong with “The Rove Presidency,” even more timely. (The same issue also includes Matthew Scully’s much discussed debunking of the myths surrounding his fellow Bush speechwriter,Michael Gerson. It’s well worth picking up.) Green attributes much of the Karl Rove mystique to a media-manufactured Cult of the Consultant. If anything, Green doesn’t go far enough: far from being a “genius,” is Rove even competent? To say he’s better than Bob Shrum ain’t saying much.

Green outlines five projects that Rove wanted to use to force a political realignment: No Child Left Behind, Social Security semiprivatization, immigration reform (with an emphasis on amnesty for illegals), and the faith-based initiatives. These were all meant to slice up the electorate, building up Republicans’ demographics — investors, churches — and whittling away at the Democrats’ support among minorities and the education bureaucracy. Of the five, Green says that only NCLB has succeeded. I was thinking that the faith-based initiatives had also succeeded in their objective of funneling taxpayer dollars into Republican churches, but this Washington Post article reports that liberal churches have actually applied for and received more grants — so unless Rove was out to build up the Religious Left, this program too is a tactical failure.

What are Rove’s actual achievements in national politics? He failed to win over a majority of voters to the Bush cause in 2000, despite the country’s eagerness for something fresh after eight years of Clinton. (Clinton was popular, yes, but unless I very much misremember, even liberals thought it was time for a change — hence the Nader boomlet of that year.) Various civic-minded lefties have tried to argue that Rove is some kind of mastermind for campaigning not to win 60% of the vote, but just 50% plus one, but this is a tactic that even a novice campaign “expert” tends to use. (And as we saw in 2000, it nearly backfired, resulting in a statistical draw. It’s silly to aim for 60% of the vote in a contested presidential election, but it’s a good idea to win by a large enough margin to quash any temptation the other side might have to demand recounts, yes?) The Bush administration had some success with bipartisanship in getting NCLB through Congress, something for which “moderates” might give Rove and Bush credit but for which conservatives certainly should not. Other than that, before 9/11 the Bush administration was mired in mediocrity — Enron, a stem-cell “compromise” that betrayed pro-lifers without actually giving scientific researchers what they wanted, etc.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the 50% plus 1 strategy also backfired in the Senate, where the razor-thin Republican majority was undone by Jim Jeffords’ defection.

9/11 and war, war, war gave Rove several years’ worth of cover. Republicans seized the opportunity to burnish their image as the party of “patriotism,” and the Democrats capitulated all the way. Nobody was surprised by the GOP gains in the 2002 midterms — how could it have been otherwise? During the ’04 campaign, the Iraq War was barely a year old, and although things were already going south (in Afghanistan, too), the public was still high on the whirlwind victory of the previous year. Howard Dean was willing to resist the Republicans, but Kerry wasn’t, and he won the nomination. An incumbent “war president” vs. a me-too Democrat — again, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Bush won handily. Did it take an electoral genius to pull that off? Not hardly. Rove and his sycophants tried to pump up the import of the victory by pointing to all the counties Bush won — many of them populated by more cows than people — and to the fact that Bush received more votes than any other candidate in American history. Which was true, but only because of population growth. His percentage win over Kerry wasn’t impressive, and Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton had all won the electoral college by larger margins in their second-term races. In other words, Bush had the closest successful re-election of any incumbent since the reviled Harry Truman. Considering how overwhelmingly favorable the electoral climate at the time was for Republicans, this is not an indication of Rovean genius. Again, I ask, is he even comptent?

That anemic 2004 Bush performance perhaps adds a data point to another phenomenon: the possibility of a realignment, all right, but towards the Democrats, not the Republicans. The Republicans had briefly achieved parity with the Democrats in party identification, but that’s over now, and the Democrats once again have the upper hand. Rove — we can blame him directly for this, just look back at those five initiatives Green outlines — has not added to the Republican coalition, just the opposite: he has splintered the conservative movement and undermined the GOP. Thanks in large part to Rove and Bush, social voters and economic conservatives have grown more resentful of one another and immigration restrictionists have been alienated from the party (without the GOP picking up any reliable Latino votes). Rove has successfully hammered the wedges of open-borders and big government into his own party! If Rove is a genius, he must be working for the other side.

Huckabee Spent $58 Per Vote

August 12, 2007

according to USA Today, which also crunches the numbers for Romney and Brownback.  If Huckabee were able to raise some money, he could indeed turn himself into a top-tier candidate.  He’d have to concentrate on Iowa and spend millions there, with the aim of finishing second in the caucuses or even pulling off an upset victory over Romney, which I think is within the realm of possibility — again, assuming funding materializes.  (Brownback would have to drop out as well, to really give Huckabee a chance against Romney.)  Even if Huckabee were just to finish close to Romney in January, that would be a humiliation for the latter.  Of course, McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani will all be on the ballot as well in January, but that might actually hurt Romney more than Huckabee.

Will Dobson and the Religious Right get behind Huckabee?  If they did, Romney could find himself in real trouble, caught between the Christian conservatives to the “right” and Giuliani to the left.  Out of all of that, I suspect Giuliani would emerge triumphant.

While I find the horse race aspect of all this very interesting, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I would find any of the outcomes above healthy for the Republic, though I might get a bit of Schadenfreude from ‘em.  Huckabee is worse than Bush as a free-spending “compassionate [non-]conservative,” and he’s a tax-raiser, too.  My old TAC colleague W. James Antle took a look at Huckabee’s (and Brownback’s) economic credentials back in February. If anything, Jim is too soft on these guys: for one thing, while he says “social conservatives have been among the strongest supporters of smaller government within the GOP,” that probably isn’t true when you take into account the vastly greater military spending that the religious Right favors.  (Then again, GOP “moderates” like their warfare-welfare and military pork, too).  Between Huckabee and Romney, it’s hard to say who’s worse: Romney at least has shown some competence in business. But there’s no reason to dwell on lesser evils when there’s a positive good, Ron Paul, in the Republican race. And come November 2008, the greatest evil, Hillary Clinton, is probably going to inundate whoever the Republicans nominate — unless they nominate their only antiwar, anti-state candidate.

Huckabee vs. Brownback

August 12, 2007

From Time:

Brownback, who finished about 400 votes and 3% behind Huckabee, maintained a happy outlook. “The results today are this is a ticket to the caucuses,” he said. “Iowa’s a field of dreams … and I’ve still got the dream.”

Fighting for largely the same voters, Huckabee and Brownback’s campaigns sparred frequently during the weeks leading up to the straw poll. But, with their results combining for a larger percentage of the vote than Romney’s, Brownback said he — and by extension, Huckabee — had room to grow, while Romney may not.

Huckabee only beat Brownback by 400 votes, while Brownback has so far raised $2 million more than Huckabee (who has only raised about $1.3 million). It’s true that Huckabee will get a fundraising boost from his second place finish in Ames, but I suspect Brownback thinks his fundraising edge against Huckabee is more than enough to justify remaining in the race.  So I predict both of them will continue to duke it out into the new year, unless Brownback’s fundraising dries up completely.  I suspect both of them will have a hard time raising money in any event.

The point that together they received more votes at Ames than Romney did is worth noting: Romney almost certainly spent more money than both of them together.  This is yet more evidence that support for Mitt is anemic.  What happens if he wins the nomination?  He can’t attack Hillary (or Obama) from the Right without them throwing his previously left-wing stances in his face.  Will Huckabee and Brownback social voters — it’s a misnomer to call them “conservatives” of any kind — really go for Mitt, or will they, like so many of Iowa’s Republicans did for the Ames straw poll, just stay home?

The GOP is a party utterly without direction or leadership.  Romney’s an empty suit.  The Religious Right has two dogs in this fight, neither of whom is even remotely fiscally conservative or sane on foreign policy.  Giuliani is an authoritarian leftist.  And Fred Thompson is a mixture of most of the worst elements of Romney (flip-flopping), Giuliani (authoritarianism), and McCain (campaign-finance reform).  It’s not merely that none of these guys has the stature of a Goldwater or a Reagan, none of them even stand for anything remotely like those men. Their antecedents are the likes of FDR, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and even Jimmy Carter.  What a crush of mediocrity!

Taking Ames

August 12, 2007

Ron Paul has finished fifth in the Ames straw poll, behind Romney, Huckabee, Brownback, and Tancredo, but ahead of Tommy Thompson, Fred Thompson, Giuliani, Hunter, McCain, and that Cox guy.  Results here.

McCain’s abysmal showing suggests just how far his campaign has collapsed. Even though he said he wouldn’t compete, he’s still a big enough name and has had enough of a presence in the state that he should have finished better.  He’ll hang on for a while, but I predict he’ll drop out sooner rather than later.  Tommy Thompson has been euthanized.  Duncan Hunter, well, as someone said elsewhere, you have to be in before you can really get knocked out — he’s an asterisk either way.

There’s no groundswell of support for Fred Thompson, who has underperformed at every stage of his non-campaign, from his frequently delayed launch to his playing musical chairs with non-campaign campaign managers (three so far) to his lackluster fundraising.  The bloom is off that particular turdblossom.

As I mentioned on the LRC blog, my guess is that Brownback is too megalomaniacal to drop out, even though he and Huckabee clearly draw from the same big-government Christian Right demographic and Huckabee is the more appealing of the two.  If Brownie were to pack it in, the Huckster might have a shot at nipping the heels of Rudy and Romney.  Huckabee is the big winner here, since a lot of people, including me, expected Brownback to beat him.  Romney’s win, of course, is no surprise, and it cost him dearly.  Romney, here and at CPAC, has yet to win a fight he hasn’t paid for. Of course, he has plenty of cash to burn, so it may be a nomination-winning strategy for him.  Then Hillary would rip his heart out and eat it in November ’08.

It’s a little sad to see the bat-poop crazy Tancredo getting more votes than Paul, but Tancredo had more riding on this straw poll and more resources poured into it.  I know Tanc is in this race to represent the cause of immigration restriction — though the fact that he finishes behind the open-borders Brownback doesn’t exactly attest to the power of the restrictionist vote — but doesn’t he realize that his bloodthirsty nuttiness only discredits his own cause?

A higher finish in the straw poll would have been a big boost to Paul, showing that his internet support can translate to boots on the ground. A lower finish would have jeopardized his campaign — as it is, he beat Tommy Thompson, who was trying all-out to place in the top two, and he gathered a respectable amount of support without spending the kind of time and money that Romney, Huckleberry Brokeback, and presumably Tancredo had to invest.  The #5 placing won’t dampen any of the enthusiasm Paul has generated with traditional conservatives, libertarians, independents, and Taft Republicans, and he didn’t need a higher finish to keep raising money, either.  Huckabee and Brownback are going to have trouble raising contributions against the Mitt Giuliani juggernaut, but Paul, as a real republican alternative to their imperial ambitions, will continue to be able to live off the land, so to speak. His is an insurgent campaign, and it doesn’t need to win traditional, set-piece battles to fight a war of attrition.

Who’s Arming Iraq’s Insurgents?

August 6, 2007

Syria? Iran? Or Uncle Sam, who has lost “about 190,000″ pistols and AK-47s? From WaPo:

“They really have no idea where they are,” said Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information who has studied small-arms trade and received Pentagon briefings on the issue. “It likely means that the United States is unintentionally providing weapons to bad actors.”

One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably are being used against U.S. forces. He cited the Iraqi brigade created at Fallujah that quickly dissolved in September 2004 and turned its weapons against the Americans.

Stohl said insurgents frequently use small-arms fire to force military convoys to move in a particular direction — often toward roadside bombs. She noted that the Bush administration frequently complains that Iran and Syria are supplying insurgents but has paid little attention to whether U.S. military errors inadvertently play a role. “We know there is seepage and very little is being done to address the problem,” she said.

The Taft Club in August

August 3, 2007

If you’re anywhere near the vicinity of Washington, D.C., consider coming to the meeting of the Robert Taft Club at 8 pm on August 21 at the Boulevard Woodgrill in Arlington, Virginia.  The meeting’s topic will be “The GOP and the Right: Can This Marriage Be Saved?” featuring panelists Terence Jeffrey, W. James Antle III, and Paul Gottfried.

Here’s the publicity write-up:

After the Clinton years, many conservatives were cautiously optimistic about the coming George W. Bush presidency—after all, Bush had promised to be fiscally responsible, pursue a “humble foreign policy,” and restore dignity to the oval office.

Instead, the past six and a half years have been marked by a missionary zeal to “spread democracy,” a “compassionate conservative” philosophy in which non-military spending has grown at its highest rate since the Johnson administration, and a de facto open-borders immigration policy. Is this what the Goldwater and Reagan revolutions were fought for?

Social conservatives have received lip service as, in panelist Jim Antle’s words, “Republican stepchildren,” just as economic conservatives and libertarians have begun to wonder whether they might be better off with Democrats in power. The GOP may no longer be the natural party of conservatives—if indeed it ever was.

Join us as we consider whether the Right can—or even should—retake the Republican Party. Has the time come for a third party, or even to consider dropping out of politics altogether? Can Republican institutions still be reformed from within? Our panelists—veteran conservative journalist Terence Jeffrey, American Spectator associate editor W. James Antle, and historian of the conservative movement Paul Gottfried—will take a hard look at these questions and more.

Speakers:

Terence P. Jeffrey is Editor at Large at Human Events and a columnist at Townhall.com. Mr. Jeffrey served as research director for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign, and afterwards became executive director of the American Cause. In 1996, Jeffrey rejoined Buchanan’s team, working as his campaign manager for his second presidential bid.

Mr. Jeffrey was born in San Francisco and graduated from Princeton University in 1981. Between 1987-91, he was as an editorial writer at the Washington Times, where he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC and CNN.

W. James Antle III is Associate Editor of the American Spectator and program manager of its Young Writers’ Program. He is also a contributing editor to The American Conservative and sits on the editorial board of the webzine Enter Stage Right. Mr. Antle was previously senior writer for The American Conservative, where he covered national politics. His work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, The Politico, Reason, National Review Online, The American Prospect, Human Events, and VDARE.com.

Paul Edward Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of many books, including Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and the forthcoming Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.

Quick Links: Heinlein and Kirk

August 1, 2007

Thought I would call attention to Brian Doherty’s Reason essay on Heinlein, which is now on-line, and to R. J. Stove’s review of The Essential Russell Kirk, which comes to Kirk with fresh eyes..

Conservatism Means War

August 1, 2007

Well, it shouldn’t, but it does — at least for National Review.  Take a look at the mag’s symposium on the Pollack/O’Hanlon New York Times op-ed. You might think that with the doubts about the war that have been expressed by NR founder William F. Buckley Jr., ex-NR board members Neal Freeman and Austin Bramwell, and NR contributors Rod Dreher and John Derbyshire over the last few years, there might be some concession to reality in NR‘s editorializing.

Not so! All nine of the magazine’s symposiasts say that the war is going just swell.  The quote of the month comes from James S. Robbins: “There is no question that on the ground the war is being won. Baghdad is becoming more secure.” No question, no doubt, no concessions to reality.


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