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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mea Culpa!

I suppose my contempt for Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann shows through.  Here is why.  This is from today's Los Angeles Times.  The second piece is from this week's Economist.  Read them and decide for yourself

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, faulting much of what the federal government did in the 20th century, has called Social Security a "failure" and "an illegal Ponzi scheme" and also cast doubt on the constitutionality of federal laws on food safety, minimum wages, bans on child labor, environmental protection and Medicare.

"Ever since the dawn of the so-called Progressive movement over a century ago, liberals have used every tool at their disposal — including notably the Supreme Court — to wage a gradual war on the Constitution and the American way of life," Perry wrote last year in "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington."

"Social Security is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years," he said. "And there stands a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal … all at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government."

Perry's 191-page book drew little notice when it was published in November. But now that he is running for the Republican nomination for president, his views on Social Security and other federal programs will be carefully scrutinized.

The book's aim, he wrote, was to provoke a "new conversation about the proper role of government in our lives. Now, cynics will say that I decided to write this book because I seek higher office. They are wrong."

University of Texas law professor Daniel B. Rodriguez said Perry's "libertarian, small-government views" were popular in Texas and elsewhere, but he questioned the comments on Social Security. "He is quite right to say the New Deal era reflected an enormous change in the relationship between the national government and citizens. But to suggest Social Security is unconstitutional is a fringe view," Rodriguez said.

Campaign aides said Perry would not seek to slash or repeal Social Security if he won the White House.

"When it comes to Social Security today," Perry believes there should be "a robust debate about entitlements, a debate about extending the retirement age for younger people and for other changes that will make Social Security and Medicare more stable and financially sound going forward," said campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan. "We need to protect benefits for those who are at or near retirement, so they don't have anything to worry about."

Perry is a champion of states' rights and devotes part of his book to arguing that freedom for Americans depends on diverse states that are free to go their own way. "I would no more consider living in Massachusetts than I suspect a great number of folks from Massachusetts would like to live in Texas," he wrote.

In his view, the nation went off track early in the 20th century when Progressives argued the federal government needed to tax the wealthy and break up corporate monopolies. He says the American people made a mistake or "were snookered" when "during a fit of populist rage" they amended the Constitution to authorize the income tax and to call for the direct election of U.S. senators. Before, senators were picked by state legislatures.

Michael Greve, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Perry's views would have more appeal to "tea party" conservatives than to business conservatives.

"State taxes and state regulation have exploded in the last three decades. I see the surface appeal of saying less power to Washington means smaller government, but it's not necessarily true. The Chamber of Commerce would rather have to deal with one federal regulation than regulations from 50 states," he said.

Perry described the 1913 passage of the 16th and 17th Amendments as a "great milestone on the road to serfdom." The federal income tax gave Washington "a giant faucet of money" to exercise control over the states and the people, he said.

He also heaps scorn on the New Deal era of the 1930s. Then, "an arrogant President [Franklin] Roosevelt, an emboldened Congress" and a compliant Supreme Court agreed the federal government could enforce minimum wages, regulate manufacturers, protect unions, police Wall Street and guarantee pensions for older Americans. The result, he wrote, has been "a complete and total failure."

Perry, who referred to the justices as "nine oligarchs in robes," said he was not convinced that Social Security and Medicare were constitutional.

"I don't think our Founding Fathers, when they were putting the term 'general welfare' in there, were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of healthcare," he said in a book interview with Newsweek last fall. "Whether it's Social Security, whether it's Medicaid, whether it's Medicare … they're bankrupt. They're a Ponzi scheme. I challenge anybody to stand up and defend the Social Security program that we have today."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota have not published similar accounts of their constitutional views, but both agree with Perry that the 10th Amendment, which states that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states or the people, puts an important limit on federal power.

"I believe in the 10th Amendment of the Constitution," Romney said during a recent GOP presidential candidates' debate in Iowa. He called President Obama's national healthcare overhaul "bad constitutional law. … The right answer for every state is to determine what's right for those states."

Bachmann disagreed in part, saying she believed an individual mandate to purchase health insurance would be unconstitutional, whether imposed by Washington or the states. "This is clearly an unconstitutional action, whether it's done at the federal level or whether it's the state level," she said.



Being Michele Bachmann

The terrifying truthfulness of the victor of the Ames straw poll

PRESUMABLY because both are attractive women, and she the lesser-known, the media used to disparage Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames straw poll on August 13th, as “Palin-lite”. That was always upside down. Whereas Sarah Palin was once flummoxed when invited to name the newspapers—any newspaper—she read, Mrs Bachmann, the third-term congresswoman from Minnesota, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that her favourite beachside reading included the work of Ludwig von Mises, a towering economist of the Austrian school. This column is even more impressed by her mastery of the 3.8m or so words of the ludicrous federal tax code. A lawyer who spent five years working for the Internal Revenue Service is not to be trifled with. When she says that the tax code is “a weapon of mass destruction”, she knows whereof she speaks.
If Mrs Bachmann’s cleverness was ever in question, the doubt should have been dispelled by her performance since confirming in June that she was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Before that she had attracted rather little national attention beyond the rapt circles of the tea-party movement. Her signature legislation, a light-bulb freedom of choice act, designed to protect the God-given right of every American to waste as much electricity as he pleases, had attracted more mirth than votes. In January she irritated the Republican leadership by insisting on delivering her own rebuttal, as creator and leader of the tea-party caucus in the House of Representatives, to Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union speech. It was an amateurish affair, in which she appeared to stare throughout at the wrong camera.
But how the lady has turned. Since joining the race for president she has exhibited a flair for organisation and a political cunning above the ordinary. If her victory in Ames was no great surprise—an evangelical Christian with hard-boiled pro-life, anti-gay-marriage credentials was always likely to prosper in the God-fearing cornfields of Iowa—her disciplined comportment as a campaigner has been. When, before Ames, Chris Wallace of Fox News asked her outright whether she was a “flake”, she refused to be baited, maintained an icy insouciance and, later, received a grovelling apology. A Newsweek cover picturing her with crazed eyes as “The Queen of Rage” probably did more damage to Tina Brown, the would-be saviour of that troubled publication, than to the would-be saviour of America, who affected to pay it no attention. Under attack in the debate at Ames, she coolly disposed of one of her main challengers, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota.
Still, there is a reason why that “flake” question was posed. Mrs Bachmann has a record of making factual mistakes, repeating untruths and adopting preposterous stances. Though some of the mistakes have been mere slips, they were slips of a sort that a candidate who claims a close familiarity with America’s founding ought never to have made. At one point she said that the “shot heard round the world” had been fired in Lexington, New Hampshire (it was Lexington, Massachusetts); at another that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more” (wrong by almost a century). She claimed in 2008 that Mr Obama held “anti-American” views, and last year that his visit to India would cost taxpayers $200m a day, a fantastic number apparently plucked, unchecked, from Indian newspapers. She continues to maintain, preposterously, that Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit because Congress raised the debt ceiling. The opposite is true: the agency wanted more deficit reduction but expressed alarm at the spectacle of politicians like Mrs Bachmann turning the debt ceiling into a political bargaining chip.
Judgmental, moi?
Now that she is running for president, Mrs Bachmann is choosing her words more cautiously, especially on social issues. But she has had to resort to credulity-stretching gymnastics to explain past utterances. Did she become a tax lawyer against her own will because, as she once argued, it was a wife’s duty (see the fifth chapter of Ephesians) to be “submissive” to her husband, who thought it was a good idea? No, she says now, in an assertion that would dumbfound a lexicographer: to “submit” means to “respect”. Why in 2004 did she equate homosexuality to “personal enslavement”? “I am running for the presidency of the United States. I am not running to be anyone’s judge.” Such evasions are less than convincing. As a Minnesota state senator a decade ago, Mrs Bachmann made her opposition to gay marriage into a crusade that helped to build her political career. The clinic she set up with her husband Marcus (which she cites as evidence of her understanding of job creation) offered to make gays straight via the agency of prayer. Judgmental, moi?
Her liberal critics make rich fun of all this. But exaggeration, inexactitude and mendacity are the currency of politics. The voter who grumbles about these things is like the farmer who grumbles about the weather. If Mrs Bachmann is guilty of such sins, she is hardly alone. Indeed, her most potent weapon might, paradoxically, be the fundamental honesty that undergirds her positions. That is to say, people can tell that, unlike most candidates, what you see is what you would get: a strongly religious person; a moraliser; a diminutive figure who really does appear to have, as she boasts, a “titanium spine”; a conviction politician in an age when many convictions are feigned. A Midwestern Margaret Thatcher with added divinity, she stands primed to reverse the monstrous growth of the entitlement state, convinced that whatever short-term suffering this causes will nonetheless restore the moral fibre of America. Many Americans would no doubt vote for her if she made it through the primaries. But far more are likely to be frightened, which is why she probably won’t.

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