30 May 2009

Bruce Bartlett Rips Bush, then Turns Turret Towards Ron Paul

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Peter Klein notifies us of this Bruce Bartlett column taking libertarians to task for their narrow focus on economic issues. (I note with irony that Bartlett’s two books listed in his bio are Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. I haven’t read either of them, but I’m guessing they don’t deal too much with police brutality or childhood literacy.)

Now fine, maybe there are a lot of libertarians who focus too much on low taxes, and don’t worry enough about civil liberties and especially interventionist foreign policy. In fact, I can think of many prominent libertarians who do just this. I won’t name names, but a lot of them work for “small government” think tanks.

Yet instead of going after these groups by name, Bartlett decides to target the Campaign for Liberty, the group spawned by the Ron Paul campaign. Now if you wanted to come up with the one libertarian who couldn’t be accused of selling out on foreign policy in order to “fit in” with hawkish supply-siders, I would think Ron Paul is probably the name that would come to most people’s minds.

For what it’s worth, Bartlett doesn’t have the audacity to actually say, “Ron Paul talks too much about tax cuts and not enough about civil liberties or bombing innocent people.” He focuses his fire on the Campaign for Liberty, linking to their “talking points” for people who call in to talk radio. Here’s Bartlett’s description of their document:

The reason for this is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don’t like paying taxes. They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn’t extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.

An example of this type of libertarian thinking can be found on the Web site of a group called the Campaign for Liberty. It pays lip service to the libertarian philosophy on foreign and social policy, but says little about them. The discussion of economic policy, however, is much greater. But its only major proposal is abolition of the income tax. No ideas on how government spending would be cut to make this possible are put forward except to eliminate the congressional pay raise. Perhaps this group really believes that will be enough to abolish the income tax, but I suspect not. Whoever wrote these talking points is simply pandering to the stupid, the ignorant and the unsophisticated.

Those are some seriously strong words he ends with, no? So when I clicked on the actual Talking Points [.pdf], I was getting ready for some cringeworthy list of bullets, designed to appeal to Sean Hannity listeners. I was thinking my job, in responding to Bartlett, would be to find all kinds of other great stuff on the C4L site, the Editor-of-Chief of which is Anthony Gregory, for crying out loud! (Seriously if you know of Anthony’s work, Bartlett’s charges are even more outrageous.)

But guess what? The list of bullet points that (allegedly) don’t list specific cuts, and instead just panders to the stupid and ignorant and unsophisticated–and above all, focuses on economics and avoids foreign policy–has the following excerpts, taken from a 3-page document:

* Campaign for Liberty’s mission is to promote and defend the great American principles of individual liberty, constitutional government, sound money, free markets, and a noninterventionist foreign policy, by means of educational and political activity….

* In the United States, many citizens seek to use the government to enrich themselves at their neighbors’ expense. This is immoral. We should stop using the government to do things that would be considered morally outrageous if done by a private individual. It is a shame that a Republican administration that was backed by conservatives presided over one of the biggest thefts in history: the bailout of the banks and automotive industry. We have to find our way back to fiscal sanity before we can dream of winning an election.

* Why would we expect a system based on legal theft, as ours is, to be a net benefit to the poor or middle class? Every one of the special benefits that have been enacted by both Republicans and Democrats makes companies less efficient and competitive, and the economy more sluggish. This is exactly what will happen with Bush’s bailouts and Obama’s social spending….

* We can’t expect to have a limited government at home while we have an interventionist foreign policy abroad. The two are intertwined, as the last 8 years have shown us. If we truly want limited government, then we need to stop policing the world.

* Our fighting men and women are stationed on over 700 bases in more than 100 countries. It is time to bring them home to protect our own country instead of focusing on guarding other nations.

* The war on terror has awakened more Americans than ever to the way government exploits fear, and even its own failures, to justify eroding civil liberties. You cannot have limited government at home while having a big-government foreign policy. The Bush Administration and willing conservatives presided over the largest increase in government because they forgot this reality.

* A strong national defense doesn’t mean policing the world, launching preemptive war, or having troops stationed on every continent. Those things weaken our national defense by spreading our resources too thin and bankrupting our government at home.

* Hopefully, conservatives will now recognize that government has limits in foreign policy as well as domestic.

* Obama promises to expand the war in Afghanistan. It has been a nation-building disaster for seven years, and I have little hope he will turn it around. He has already begun to show force against Pakistan. So much for the anti-war candidate.

Seriously, am I on crazy pills here?! You’re telling me that the above talking points (and go look at the actual document if you want to see the relative proportion given to the various issues) shows that the Campaign For Liberty doesn’t list any candidates for how to cut government spending, except congressional pay raises?

Bartlett apparently suffers from the same problem as Andrew Samwick, who demanded that the “Tea Party” protesters come up with specific budget cuts. What Bartlett and Samwick don’t realize, is that when someone says, “I’m against government bailouts,” that person means, “The government should stop doing that.” Or when someone says, “We should bring the troops home,” the person means, “We should bring the troops home.”

Bartlett (and maybe Samwick, I don’t know him that well) is such a policy wonk that I think he expected the C4L talking point to say, “Medicaid expenditure growth should have 0.4 percentage points shaved off for the next three years. This will reduce the expected growth in the national debt by blah blah blah…” Or, “After consultation with the commanders on the ground, the president should begin a gradual, 6-year phase-out of ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, freeing up $385 billion through Fiscal Year 2015.”

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