Thursday, March 31, 2005

A view from the sidelines

I haven't posted in a while, as I've been watching the events of the past few weeks from the sidelines. I have my opinions about these events but I think this article sums them up nicely.
I'll post my own in the next day or two.

Terri Schiavo and Political Principle: Republican Errors and Their Consequences
By Ross G. Kaminsky 3/28/05 web: e-mail:

Yes, Virginia, there are principles in politics. It’s just that the politicians are ignoring them.

When considering a government action, Americans look at more than just its direct effect. We care about the principles involved such as federalism and constitutionality, as well as the potential impact of the precedent created. This is true of the average
citizen at least as much as of the political elites and usually of conservatives at least as much as of liberals.

In the sad case of Terri Schiavo, the Republicans in Congress have forgotten this to the detriment of our political system and, I expect, their own political fortunes. I say this as someone who has been a registered Republican for most of my adult life.
Republicans have traditionally been champions of federalism, often called States ights, the principle that unless a power is specifically granted to the Federal government by the Constitution it is reserved to the States or the People. Congress may not simply regulate anything it wants to. This concept is part of the political
bedrock of our Republic, recognizing our differences and serving to prevent a
"tyranny of the majority" as cautioned by James Madison in Federalist Papers

In this case, Republicans in Washington have mounted a hypocritical and
dangerous assault on federalism, involving Congress and the President in an area
where they have no Constitutional authority. Some acted believing that their
religious views trump the 10th Amendment and others hoping (including putting in
writing) that the issue can be used for political advantage. The Republicans are wrong on both counts. Our Constitution forbids Federal intervention where
not specifically permitted and our government is intentionally designed to
prevent the imposition of one group’s moral convictions upon society even if
that group is the majority. Any other structure is the short road to tyranny.
They are wrong on the political effect as well: Polls show that the vast
majority of Americans including Republicans oppose Federal involvement in the
issue and find Congress’ actions to be transparently political.

As far as "mobilizing the base" goes, even the religious right wonders where the line will be moved once drawn in D.C. What aspect of one’s personal or spiritual life will
Uncle Sam try to dictate next? It was foolish of Tom DeLay and friends to think
that Christian conservative citizens would abandon their political principles as
easily as their representatives did.

Another bedrock principle of our Republic is separation of powers, an often ignored aspect of which is that branches of government are progressively more shielded from the changing whims of the public. The degree to which a politician or judge’s view on an issue is likely to be swayed by public opinion is proportionate to how soon he or she must next stand for election. Thus, members of the House (elected every two
years) shift with the political winds, while judges -- especially Federal Appellate Judges and Supreme Court Justices who serve for life-- should be nearly immune to such pressures. Judges serve as a critical barrier between the short-term passions of the people and the long-term rule of law.

Conservatives have properly been champions of strict constructionism (i.e. a
reading of the Constitution which does not change substantially over time or
based on current public opinion) and opponents of judicial activism. In other
words, judges should interpret the law, not make it. Yet in the Schiavo case
Republicans in Congress decry the proper function of the judiciary because they
do not agree with this particular outcome. Did they not notice that the key
trial judge (George Greer) and a key appellate judge (William Pryor Jr.) were
Republicans? Indeed, Pryor was appointed while the Senate was in recess to avoid
Democratic filibuster. If any judges would have sided with a plausibly
permissible Federal intervention they would have but the rule of law did not
allow it.

Basing a decision on likely result without consulting principle had been primarily the province of the Democrats. It was quite a gift for them when the Republicans decided to maroon themselves on that same principle-free island. The Republicans forgot that bad policy is bad politics. This attack on an independent judiciary is both more hypocritical and more dangerous than the attack on federalism. It is wrong for the same reasons that the attack on federalism is wrong, but it is especially stupid politically going into a well-publicized Senate battle over Bush’s judicial nominees.

Republicans have left themselves vulnerable to an easily justified charge that they oppose judicial activism except where it yields a result they approve of. Republicans
have given up the moral high ground by arguing that the end justifies the means,
something inimical to the rule of law. This is not to say that the Democrats now
have the high ground on the issue; all parties are now in the swamp. The Democrats are wrong on the issue, but at least they’re not hypocrites. Congress passed a law addressing Terri Schiavo specifically. Some conservatives argue that the judiciary then failed in its duty by ignoring the clear intent of the legislature. But this argument simply highlights contempt for the Constitution. If Congress can write a law for any special case at any time and demand a judge support the law simply because Congress wishes it so, the independence of the judiciary is eliminated. It becomes a rubber stamp for the legislature and, as the Founders warned, one of the greatest dangers to the foundation of our civil society.

Clearly it’s not just the principle Congress was wrong about. It is astounding that a organization as shrewd as the Republican Party also made such a major political miscalculation. They became hypocrites only to find themselves staring at polls showing over 80% of the population (including over 70% of Republicans) opposing Federal involvement and similar numbers believing that involvement came from calculating political advantage rather than caring about Terri Schiavo. In important recent elections, including Bush vs. Gore, Bush vs. Kerry, and Thune vs. Daschle the Republicans have won in large measure because they are perceived to be the party of principle. Even those who do not agree with a party’s every position are likely to vote for a candidate who operates with principle-based predictability. Republican principles based on strict constructionism include strong support for federalism, an independent Constitution-respecting judiciary, and the consistent rule of law. Just not this month.

Congressional Republicans’ recent actions might end up as political non-events. More likely they will hurt the party in upcoming judicial nominee battles and other important debates, with possible but limited carryover into the mid-term elections. Although I will consider it a sad day when the Democrats again control the House or Senate, it would not break my heart for the Republicans to learn the importance of respecting the Constitution even if it means their losing a seat or two.

Most of the country sees the hypocrisy in the Congress’ actions regarding Terri Schiavo. We recognize the serious threat those actions imply to our system of government. Why is it that the Republicans in Washington are the last to understand?

Ross Kaminsky is a Fellow of The Heartland Institute and has a degree in Political Science from Columbia University.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I agree 100%

Here's something I got from today's Chuck Muth's News & Views and I agree 100% with the author's statement:


"Put me clearly on the record: I don't want to 'reform' Social
Security or 'rescue' it or 'adjust it to the new realities of the 21st century.'
No, I want to hit it in the head with a shovel and bury it in a New Jersey
landfill. It is time to kill the rotten, lousy, 'rip off your kids to keep
granny in bingo cards' Ponzi scheme that we call Social Security, but would be
more accurately described as 'the government taking money from poor,
hard-working young families and giving just enough of it to retirees to keep
them broke, too.' I, along with nearly every American younger than 40,
understand what no politician will admit: From an economic standpoint, Social
Security sucks."

- Columnist Michael Graham

Now all we need to do is convince Congress that this is the right thing to do now before it becomes a problem. Now, how can we shut down the AARP without much of a fight?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Where do you stand?

I just got this from my daily newletter from Chuck Muth and I thought I'd pass it along. I like his message. Read the "exceptions" and see where you stand on them, it might be interesting.


So I'm listening to talk radio recently during the hellish commute to our nation's capital, and I hear caller after caller start out by saying, "I'm a conservative, except..." The issue was over a proposed new government-mandated smoking ban in bars and restaurants. And the callers - so-called "conservatives" - were all for it.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying smoking is good. And I'm not saying smoking isn't offensive to a lot of people, especially while dining. What I AM saying is that the proper, consistent conservative position is that the decision whether or not to allow smoking in a privately-owned bar or restaurant should be up to the OWNER of the bar or restaurant - not the government.

If the bar or restaurant allows smoking - and you don't like smoking - don't go there! There is no "right" for you to eat in someone else's kitchen. I'm not saying conservatives need to defend smoking. I'm saying true conservatives need to defend individual liberty; to defend the private property owner's rights over government power and coercion. If government can tell a business owner how to run his business, how long before that same government begins mandating healthy meals in your own home - for the good of the children, of course?

I've found over recent years that more and more so-called conservatives find "exceptions" to their limited-government principles on a host of issues. I've started calling them "ex-cons" - exception conservatives - and they are far more dangerous to the limited-government movement than the so-called "neo-cons." See if you haven't run across an "ex-con" in your political travels recently...

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to tobacco. Government shouldn't raise taxes, except on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. That's OK."

* "I'm a conservative...except for delivering the mail. The government should continue to ban private companies from competing with the post office."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to advertising by drug companies. The government should force them to cut back on their advertising so that their products would be cheaper."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to McDonalds and Burger King. The government should stop them from advertising during kids' shows."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to snack machines in high schools. Those machines should be banned to protect the children."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to Howard Stern. The government should ban him from the airwaves...even on satellite radio."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to Budweiser and Coors commercials during college football and basketball games. The government should ban those ads."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to Microsoft. The government was right to prosecute them for being so much better at selling their products than their competitors. Bill Gates was being fair."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to terminally ill patients using marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering. The government should prohibit pot smoking in the privacy of your own home no matter what the circumstances."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to home-schoolers. Those people should have to report to the government."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to driving safety. The government is absolutely right to require people to wear motorcycle helmets and seat belts."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to wages. The government should determine the minimum wage a private employer has to pay to his or her employees."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to air travel. The government has every right to randomly search people and their luggage without probably cause. It's for our own good."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to health care. Health care is a "right" and the government should make sure everyone gets it. For free."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to retirement. The government should provide everyone with a comfortable retirement."

* "I'm a conservative...except when it comes to gun rights. It's OK for the government to require that people get gun licenses and ban the sale of guns at gun shows. Otherwise, a 'bad' guy might get one."

And on and on and on. One "except" after another. THIS is the biggest problem with the conservative movement today. If so-called conservative voters are willing to constantly make exceptions to their own philosophical beliefs, is it any wonder that pandering politicians are so schizophrenic in their voting? If we, as true conservative voters and activists can't or won't be consistent in our positions, how can we expect our elected representatives to be any better?

We have met the enemy, and it's us. Conservatives, heal thyselves.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Byrd needs to fly away

It looks like Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has developed a serious appetite for shoe leather again due to his latest round of pontification on the Senate floor: GOP Jewish Group Critizes Byrd's Remarks. Once again, he's spoken completely out of turn and misused historical facts to make baseless and offensive comparisons for the sole purpose of attacking the GOP. And now that he's being called to task over his latest kerfuffle, his handlers are trying to downplay his remarks, saying they were taken completely out of context and misinterpreted by the press and the GOP.

Misinterpreted? The only thing I think was misinterpreted was the unmitigated hatred that this man seems to harbor in his heart toward President Bush and the current GOP control of Congress. This was a comparison made by a former member of the KKK, definitly not the epitome of tolerance and compromise that's needed on the Senate floor. Lesser statements led to the fall of Sen. Trent Lott from grace two years ago, but yet Sen. Byrd has yet to be censured for this, let alone stripped of his committees and sent packing. Why do we continue to tolerate this kind of behavior in the Senate, and why do the people of West Virginia continue to elect him? It must be the money because it sure isn't for the intelligence factor.

Sen. Byrd is up for relection next year for what will be his NINTH term; if he were to serve it out, he'll have been in the Senate for 54 years. He's already been there 40, and that's way too long. There needs to be a serious campaign in West Virginia next year to replace Sen. Byrd with someone who's more in touch with today's electorate and less obstructionist in his actions. We already did it to Daschle in South Dakota last year, so we can do it again next year.