Frontier Freedom

Former Sen. Malcolm Wallop on Republican promises, the limits of federal authority, and the way of the West

In the introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 1996 , Michael Barone asserts that the election of 1994 signaled that the nation seems to be returning to a "Tocquevillian America, to something resembling the country that French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831 and described in his Democracy in America. Tocqueville's America was egalitarian, individualistic, decentralized, religious, property-loving, lightly governed."

Ironically, the elected official whose public statements and voting record may have most clearly articulated this new Tocquevillian vision retired in 1994. Republican Malcolm Wallop
had been the senior senator from Wyoming and had advanced a principled, limited-government agenda over his three terms.

In the mid-1980s, he argued that the Food and Drug Administration should be stripped of many of its regulatory powers, envisioning an agency that would, like a medical version of Underwriters' Laboratories, endorse high-quality drugs and medical devices but that could not prevent consumers from buying unproven remedies. He was a consistent tax cutter, leading a Senate revolt against George Bush's 1990 budget deal, much to the irritation of then­Minority Leader Bob Dole. And he served as a sounding board for individuals and business owners beaten down by government envi ronmental, safety, and financial regulations.

Wallop may be best known for his views on national security issues, many of which were ridiculed until the Soviet Union imploded. Before Ronald Reagan used the term "evil empire" to describe the former Soviet Union, Wallop regularly denounced the Soviets, saying arms-control treaties dignified communist regimes on the world stage and that the United States should try to topple communist dictators instead. He was an early advocate of strategic defenses and continues to support them enthusiastically. His 1987 book The Arms Control Delusion offered what turned out to be an accurate view of the Soviets' aggressive intentions even though the Cold War would soon abruptly end.

Most recently, Wallop served on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, the group headed by Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebr.) and Jack Danforth (R-Mo.) that was charged with recommending changes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal pensions. When the commission issued a preliminary report in August 1994 spelling out the long-term fiscal shortfalls in Social Security, Wallop refused to endorse it, writing in a letter to Kerrey and Danforth, "I believe that no one is entitled to the earnings of others, and...the first step towards reform should be to dispel the notion that any social welfare spending is automatic and irrevocable." The 104th Congress is now contemplating changes that would terminate the open-ended entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid.

Wallop briefly contemplated a campaign for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, but the challenge of fund raising (and Wyoming's tiny base of three electoral votes) ended that quest. Had Wallop remained in the Senate, he undoubtedly would have aligned with such freshmen as Spencer Abraham (Mich.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), and Rod Grams (Minn.), aggressively anti-regula tion and skeptical of large-scale social-engineering schemes. But he's on the outside now, overseeing Frontiers of Freedom, an advocacy group he started to promote his issues while his presidential hopes remained alive.

Wallop spends about half his time working for Frontiers, the rest on his ranch in Wyoming.

REASON Washington Editor Rick Henderson and William "Chip" Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice, interviewed Wallop in the Arlington, Virginia, office of Frontiers in late June.

Reason: Over the past few years you have been identified as the champion of a number of issues that are suddenly starting to resonate: property rights, reform of the Endangered Species Act, entitlement reforms, national security issues. Where do these issues stand right now?

Malcolm Wallop: They're big issues from which political players are seeming to flinch. The property rights issue resonates all over America. It was in the Contract, and all of the sudden you see both the Senate and some House Republicans beginning to try to make cautious constraints on their erstwhile enthusiasm. I think it's a big mistake.

Reason: Are you suggesting that the "Republican Revolution" has stalled? Are you sounding a death knell for that revolution?

Wallop: No. I really don't think that. Stalled, or stuttered, perhaps. I don't find among the freshman class or others who were working on these issues before that there's any hesitation about where we want to go. If it is a death knell, I think it's the death knell for the leadership.

Reason: In the wake of an overwhelming mandate for dramatically reducing government intrusiveness, we see both the House and the Senate currently debating such proposals as a Constitu tional amendment to ban flag burning and national ID cardsissues that would seem to be at best a distraction from the election's mandate. Is this a failure of the leadership, something lacking in the Republican Party, or just a momentary distraction?

Wallop: These are distractions, and the worst part is that they are totally anti-Republican distractions. They are not the kinds of issues that Republicans ought to be wrapped around. Republi cans ought to be in the trenches opposing them.

We don't need a nation that has national identity cards. It's insanity for a party that believes in freedom to allow some Republicans to seize an agenda that is totally alien to the agenda that was established in the election. My class and above in the Senate is full of people who hear the old political music. Some of them have even said, "What revolution? I didn't see one."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.