The "I'm Sorry" Caucus


Before the elections, I asked Rep. Jeff Flake why libertarians should vote Republican. I was actually shocked at his no-bullshit admission that they shouldn't.

I think Republicans have by and large gone native. I don't know how you can conclude otherwise. You look at any measure of spending—overall spending, mandatory, discretionary, non-defense discretionary, non-homeland security spending—whichever way you slice it, the record looks pretty bad. When you look at where we're heading, with Medicare Part D, it just means that these programs run out of money a lot sooner than they were going to already.

Republicans have adopted the belief or the principle that you spend money to get elected. When I was elected in 2000 it was ingrained in us, and since then it's been even more so: Here's how you get reelected, bring home the bacon. You have the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose job it is to reelect Republicans, saying in defense of his earmarks that it's the job of Congress to create jobs.

What didn't come across in print was how physically exhausted Flake was. When I pushed him to say something positive about the GOP, he'd throw his head back and sigh. But in today's Wall Street Journal, Flake extends those arguments; it sounds like victory has liberated him. For example:

During the 1990s, then-Sen. Phil Gramm accurately described U.S. farm policy as "enough to make a Russian Commissar puke." The Republicans assembled the "Freedom to Farm Act," which, starting in 1996, put U.S. farmers on a glide path toward an end to subsidies. Somewhere between the field and the silo, however, we became mired in the political mud. In 2002, we repealed the Freedom to Farm Act and in its place installed the "Farm Security Act"—those who value the adage about trading freedom for security can pause and shudder here—with even more lavish subsidies.

Now, with reauthorization of the Farm Bill on the horizon next year, we have to decide whether we will up the ante with Democrats in terms of red state/blue state politics in the heartland, or whether we believe our own rhetoric about free markets. This debate will have implications larger than the fiscal one. Most notably, it will determine if we are serious about the future of free trade.

Read it all; Flake is ready to work to rid the GOP of its current pathetic leadership.

NEXT: A Challenge to Democrats and the Lefty Blogosphere

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  1. Politically speaking, a GOP purge isn’t necessary. This isn’t that big of a setback, and the reasons for it are less philosophical and more tied to recent events.

    However, I’d love to see some heads roll. I noticed that National Review had an article today talking about how many people who would normally vote GOP were complaining that the GOP was the party of big government now. Whether the GOP politicians mean it, a large percentage of their base do believe in low taxes and limited government/reduced spending. I’ll believe a big shift up to libertarian land when I see it (almost certainly won’t happen on social issues), but a minor revolution would be nice.

  2. I went back and reread the Reason article David cited and was struck, as he was, by Flake’s honesty. He essentially called the election at that point, expressing the same exasperation with the GOP the voters would on Election Day.

    But what stood out, once again, was Grover Norquist’s smug equivalence of “tax cuts” with “less spending.” Flake at least doesn’t make that mistake. Slice it any way you want to, but high deficits and high debt always end in a debased currency that disproportionately afflicts the middle class. So it was in Brazil, in Argentina, in medieval France, in Weimar Germany, in every country in every era since the very first caveman “people’s representative” chiselled the very first IOU into the very first rock.

    There are simply zero exceptions to the rule. Here’s a hint: Leviathans are the last to starve. Everyone else gets eaten first. The Democrats may be robbers, but the Republicans are fraud artists, smiling to your face while they pick your pocket.

  3. “Farm Security Act”

    Mencken would laugh.

  4. But are any Republican Party leaders listening?

    The post mortems I’m seeing are concluding that the voters deserted the party because it wasn’t pro-life or anti-gay enough. Bleh.

  5. They have no idea what to do. Like a bully that hasn’t been challenged in a long time (12 years) they didn’t think they could lose. The voters hit them over the head with a brick and now they don’t know how to recover.

    If they go even farther to the right to appease the religious rere’s, they’re going to end up completely alienating the moderates and, if they go far enough right and DON’T start to cut taxes and get out of people’s lives, they’re going to alienate the mudflaps.

    I really think that people like Flake and Paul need to lead that party back to the Goldwater age. I think that Goldwater republicans would absolutely own the elections in the near future.

  6. This photo totally makes him look like Matthew McConaughey.

    Why couldn’t Repubs be this honest *before* the elections? Would a little chiding have caused any worse hurt than has been suffered now?

  7. When I was elected in 2000 it was ingrained in us, and since then it’s been even more so: Here’s how you get reelected, bring home the bacon.

    OK, let’s parse this. In order to get reelected (get the most votes from actual United States citizens) one must “bring home the bacon” (promise and deliver goodies that those actual United States citizens happily accept, nay — demand).

    So we libertarians continue to blame the politicians who do the bidding of the majority of voters. We focus our wrath and sarcasm at the puppets instead of the puppeteers. This approach will never solve anything. It’s going to take a cultural and philosophical revolution in this country to alter this method of doing business in D.C.

    Politicians who by their very nature crave power and influence are not about to stop handing out treats to the biggest gang of voters. The voters must have the moral fortitude to say, “Thanks, but please use the cash to retire the national debt, or begin to phase out the Social Security and Medicare time bomb.”

    I won’t be holding my breath.

  8. *whispering*

    Not interested in economic liberty, give us economic protection.

  9. Larry A:

    The post mortems I’m seeing are concluding that the voters deserted the party because it wasn’t pro-life or anti-gay enough. Bleh.

    You can say that again, with knobs on.

  10. The post mortems I’m seeing are concluding that the voters deserted the party because it wasn’t pro-life or anti-gay enough. Bleh.

    If that’s the line they take, then they deserve the dust-heap of history.

  11. James: You hit the nail right on the head. Grover Norquist is probably most responsible for the wrong turn the Republican Party has taken. Since the Democrats will not be happy until Grover’s head is on a spike, and there are many conservatives who dislike him, this problem will probably be self-correcting to some extent. It depends on who fills the power vacuum afterwards.

    Ed: You are correct. That is why divided government is the only viable, albeit imperfect, answer (preferably with one party controlling each House of Congress). Human nature isn’t going to change.

  12. The House is always going to have huge pressure to help their local constituants, and they should do their best to stand up for them. The quixotian fight Flake has taken on, which is one that need to be won, but I hold out little hope for, is the how they now take the easy way out with earmarks, which get no debate and causes spending to go crazy.

    Combine that with cutting the wrong folks taxes, crazy social issues, ignoring SS and Medicare (both of which you cant just get rid of, it will never happen.) and spending rediculous money on the wrong weapons and here you are.

  13. Combine that with cutting the wrong folks taxes, crazy social issues, ignoring SS and Medicare (both of which you cant just get rid of, it will never happen.)

    Partially agree. You can’t just get rid of them, but they can be replaced with more viable systems… but it will take herculean political will to make that happen.

  14. I’m afraid I agree with Ed. Congress will stop robbing Peter to pay Paul when the Paul says to stop. The voters seem to think they are entitled to lots of goodies (free of charge) and damned be the politician who says otherwise.

  15. Say, why don’t we just pillage Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and spend that money? No more taxes, no more deficits, everyone is happy! Well, at least in the United States.

    It’s what the Romans would do.

  16. “it sounds like victory has liberated him.”

    I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately from Republicans; they’re acting like the flying monkeys when Dorothy melted the witch.

  17. PL

    You forgot the triumph. I’d love to see GB trying to handle a four-horse chariot.

  18. In close elections, I simply vote against whichever candidate will restrict more of my freedoms. Usually, that means I vote Republican, both because Democrats not only attempt to restrict my freedom more but also are more successful at it. Here is the way I think about it.

    Freedoms Republicans try to restrict:

    1: Freedom for my significant other to kill my unborn child. (This is not a freedom I want her or anyone to have, and is highly unlikely to be a problem for us anyway).

    2: My freedom to burn a flag (an unjustified restriction, but one that doesn’t affect me or just about anyone I would care about). Honestly, maybe we should just say burning a flag is OK, but if you do it in sight of anyone who disagrees, well, them is fighting words and you may just get an ass-whooping.

    3: My freedom to gamble online (similar to flag burning, a freedom I have no desire for but feel others should have)

    4: My freedom to call a phone number associated with a terrorist in Pakistan and chat in Farsi about nuclear weapons without the possibility of an NSA supercomputer flagging the conversation for review by a real human. (Uhhh, this one really doesn’t bother me at all).

    For the Democrats:

    1: Trying to control what I eat. (This one makes me black-helicopter mad!)

    2: Controlling my retirement (still mad)

    3: Controlling my family’s education (madder still)

    4: Controlling my health care (where do I sign up for the militia?)

    Frankly, as much as Republicans annoy me sometimes, Democrats are still FAR worse about attempting to control important choices in my life, and far more successful at doing so.

  19. Congress will stop robbing Peter to pay Paul when the Paul says to stop.


  20. Nice simplification of the issues, Chad. How about “suspending habeus corpus” “advocating torture” “pissing on contract rights in name of the righteous virtue of fag-bashing” “locking people up for what they choose to put in their bodies” “killing people for what they choose to put in their bodies” “killing people who did absolutely nothing illegal (let alone wrong) and just happened to live in a house that the cops mistakenly thought was the house of one of those evil drug-users” “increasing domestic spending (let alone military spending) more than FDR dreamed in his hottest wet-dreams”

    I could go on and on and on. Sure the Democrats may not be much better on any of the above issues, but they both still want to bend you over and go to town sans lubrication.

  21. Andy, precisely zero of those things you mentioned will affect me, or anyone I know or care about, to any significant extent. Yes, the war on drugs is inane. So is using them in the first place. Gays can go screw whomever however they want without government interference. The government shouldn’t be “sanctioning” marriage contracts of any kind in the first place. I am sure you are exaggerating the spending, probably by not accounting for inflation. In any case, find me something significant that the Democrats wanted to spend less on and I would be surprised.

  22. As far as being mad at Republicans for being for torture, the only people to pose any real opposition to it have been Lidnsey Grahm and John McCain. The Democrats don’t have the balls to stand for anything but race baiting and economic populism.

  23. Grand, I do not think anyone of importance is “for torture”. I think there is a big disagreement about what torture is – and the Democrats refuse to have this debate.

    The line obviously lies somewhere between pulling fingernails and putting terrorists up in the Ritz. If you don’t want to participate in the debate about where it lies, don’t complain about where someone else draws it.

  24. Aresen,

    Remember, thou are mortal!

  25. Andy, precisely zero of those things you mentioned will affect me, or anyone I know or care about, to any significant extent.

    That’s a hell of a test of relevance.

    I’ve never had an abortion, neither has my wife, nor anyone in my family, nor as far as I know anyone else I care about. As a matter of fact the vast majority of abortions occur in segments of the population that I generally drive by. Why put any restrictions on it?

    I’ve never been refused a permit to carry a concealed weapon, I have no intention of seeking one, nor does anyone I particularly care about. Why should I care about the constitutional considerations of such a restriction?

    I don’t pray in school, my kids go to Catholic Schools, and they’re going to stay there. Why should I care if there’s a restriction against religious groups in public schools?

    I wear a seat belt. I’ve done so since the day I started driving, and I’m uncomfortable if I’m not wearing one. I can’t think of anyone I care about who doesn’t wear one. Why should I care if they hand out fines to people who can’t be bothered?

    I don’t smoke. I don’t particularly like being around smokers, and nobody I care about smokes. Why should I care if there’s an enourmous tax on tobacco, and restrictions place on where people may light up?

    None of these things effect my personal liberty one bit, therefore the government should feel free to legislate at will.

  26. I think the point is that some things affect large numbers of persons, and other things affect only small numbers of persons, at least visibly or noticeably (that is, not counting indirect effects).

  27. I’ve been impressed with Flake for a while because of his principled positions. He has been almost a lone voice among Republicans fighting against earmarks — and against farm subsidies.

    In fact, his sticking to his principles has earned him respect even from colleagues who find it easier to feed at the public trough. I predict he’ll gain in influence in the Democratic Congress.

    And, no, I don’t work for him.

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