This Is John Campbell Speaking

Can a pork-busting Randian lead the GOP?


If Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said his book shelf was a time capsule, a memorial to the modern GOP, you'd believe him. Here is Ste­phen Slivinski's Buck Wild, a jeremiad against the Bush-era big-spending Republicans. Here is Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept, the terrifying tale of how "radical Islam is destroying the West from within." Here is one of Watergate felon Chuck Colson's bestsellers on how Christ can save your life.

Less predictable are the tomes bookending the collection: not one but two hardbound cop­ies of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, a favorite among many supporters of free markets and limited government. "Those aren't my only two copies," Campbell says, laughing. "Atlas Shrugged is the book I give to our interns after they spend a summer here, working for free. I consider it to be the authoritative work on the power of the individual."

It is late September in Washington, D.C. Another Rand disciple is in the news: Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, is on the talk shows promoting his autobiography. Like Greenspan, Campbell is upset that the Repub­lican Party has been growing the government, hiking spending with funds that don't exist. But Greenspan is out of public life. The 52-year-old Campbell, an Orange County, California, car salesman who arrived in D.C. just two years ago, is one of his party's fastest-rising stars.

"He's an absolutely fantastic member of the Republican conference," says a senior GOP aide. "I think he's become the heir apparent to lead the Republican Study Committee," the anti-tax, anti-spending caucus founded in 1973 by then-insurgent proto-Reaganite Republicans. Campbell currently heads the RSC's Budget and Spending Taskforce.

Outside of an actual leadership post or a committee chairmanship, carrying the RSC's banner is a House Republican's surest path to media prominence. But Campbell differs from RSC stars such as former chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Pence combined a fairly rote anti-spending message with heaping helpings of culture war conservatism. In September 2007, for example, Pence advanced a resolution con­demning MoveOn.org for a newspaper ad that criticized Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

That sort of politics doesn't animate Campbell. He is one of those Republicans who, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), blames the GOP's lax spending discipline for its election losses. He attained his office after a special election in December 2005 to replace Rep. Christopher Cox, a Republican who had just been appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Com­mission. Campbell thus spent a year in the majority as the GOP collapsed around him.

"I started to question what was going on," he says. "I didn't think what we were doing was" —he pauses—"the right thing to do. I can't say I was surprised that we lost."

Campbell has had a year in the minority since then, and there he has found his role: smiling, take-no-prisoners outrage at govern­ment spending. Campbell votes for partisan "sense of the House" resolutions, such as the time-wasting measure condemning MoveOn.org. But he's far more interested in exposing the spending habits of both parties. He maintains the Green Eyeshade blog at the conservative Web hub Townhall.com, where he systematically attacks his fellow members for what they're adding to bills or planning in the cloak rooms. In one September post, he matter-of-factly pointed out that Alaska's Ted Stevens, the senior senator from his own party, "led the earmarking pack" on this year's $459 billion defense appropriations bill.

A number of elected officials now blog. Most of their efforts read, in content and in style, like punched-up versions of talking points and fund-raising letters. Campbell's blog is different. He calls out colleagues for taking contributions from the companies for which they're writing earmarks. In a post about the defense bill, Campbell named and shamed Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) for directing most of their earmarks to contractors who had donated to their campaigns. "I will let you draw your own con­clusions," he wrote. The subtext: If Campbell has rebuffed contractors asking for favors, why can't they?

"Of the first 50 meetings I had after I was elected," he tells me, "47 were with businesses asking me for money. I was just stunned. Gee, I didn't know I was just an ATM machine for taxpayer's money."

During the floor debate over the defense appropriations bill, Campbell honed in on a $2 million earmark for Sherwin-Williams, a paint company that is developing a "paint shield" for military vehicles. In the process, he locked horns with the fearsome chair­man of the Defense Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). To everyone's surprise, Campbell cleaned the 33-year congressman's clock.

After Murtha rambled about how the military probably wanted the paint shield earmark even though it wasn't on its "priority list," Campbell pounced. "Mr. Chairman," he said, "you said you're 'sure' the military [wants it]. So you're not aware if, in fact, the military has asked for this kind of technology?"

Campbell kept his eyes trained on the Democrat. Murtha didn't have anything to say.

"I guess the answer to that is no," Campbell said.

Of course, the House isn't a debat­ing club. The earmark survived any­way.

Campbell encounters this sort of resistance all of the time. "My Demo­cratic friends," he says, "say rich peo­ple can afford it if we raise their taxes. And they can. But the rich didn't get that way by giving away pennies and dollars so that people like us could waste it. When you raise taxes on people they will sit down with a cal­culator and say 'How can I not pay this?' I can point to Atlas Shrugged: It's explained right in there."

When Campbell talks like this he again echoes McCain, who lances legislators for buying their re-elec­tion with pork spending and a muti­lated tax code. There is another way he sounds like McCain, and it's less likely to warm libertarian hearts: He backs his party and his president completely on the war in Iraq and the right to spy as long as the war on ter­ror demands it.

"I'm very much a privacy guy," Campbell avers, speaking specifically about telephone surveillance. "It's something I feel strongly about. But there's something I feel even more strongly about: I don't want to be blown up. I am willing to give them some limited access to my phone records because of this war on terror."

When Campbell talks like this it's even easier to imagine him rising in the leadership. This is, after all, what every modern Republican in power says about privacy. When he's pressed on how long the government should have these powers, Camp­bell can't definitively say. "We don't know how long this war will last," he says. "These laws should sunset. But I think everything should sunset, except for tax cuts."

Tepid as his opposition to surveil­lance power may sound, statements like that are a window into the debate the GOP is having about its future. A party that spent the 1990s resist­ing calls to give more power to the executive branch and its intelligence agencies is now engaged in a differ­ent debate, and the parameters of that discussion are rather narrow. Should we embrace the Bush doctrine and expand executive power permanently in a post-9/11 world? Or should we only do it temporarily, until we can declare some sort of victory in the war on terror?

Campbell won't stray from that debate's cramped boundaries. He criticizes his party freely on domestic policy, and not at all on foreign affairs. But on the issues he cares about, he is encouraging a dramatic change of focus for a party with a fainter and fainter connection to the views that allegedly motivate it. This is hearten­ing stuff from a Republican expected to join his party's leadership.

Still, two years in Congress—one in the minority, one in the major­ity—haven't given Republicans like Campbell many opportunities to lead. It might take a Democratic president and a smaller Republican conference to force a real debate on what Repub­licans stand for. When that happens, we'll know how much the party really wants to listen to John Campbell.

David Weigel is an associate editor of Reason.

NEXT: Getting Trimmed

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  1. "I'm very much a privacy guy," Campbell avers, speaking specifically about telephone surveillance. "It's something I feel strongly about. But there's something I feel even more strongly about: I don't want to be blown up.

    Does it count as a drinking game cue if a politician says something like this, or does it only trigger when another poster says it?

  2. Great article. Like with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Reason does indeed acknowledge from time to time, that libertarians can get elected to major offices running as Republicans.

    Too bad David had to spoil an otherwise excellent article with a very condescending quip about Bruce Bawer's book, "While Europe Slept."

    Bawer, for those who do not know, is a Liberal turned Libertarian, Gay guy, reporter for the NY Times. Bawer relocated to Europe 10 years ago to take over as the Times Western European correspondent. He was horrified by what he saw of his beloved Europe turning from former tolerance to increasing acceptance of Radical Muslim intolerance.

    Simply one of the best books written by a libertarian in the last few years.

  3. AC -

    After politicians started talking like this, I never stopped drinking.


    On the Lib issues that matter most to me (privacy, civil liberties), color me unimpressed with this guy. I do give him a few stray brownie points for taking on wasteful government spending, but that's all...a few stray points.

  4. So this is like, 3 guys in the GOP who actually want to cut spending? Unless Campbell can clone himself, the GOP will remain the Democrats with bibles.

  5. Sounds like this Randian is willing to give up the cigarette money in order to fund the mansion. All to protect against the nearly nonexistent chance of being blown up.

    What a bunch of crap.

  6. What? HughHewitt's favorite candidate is one of yours? Does Hugh know? I note also that JohnCampbell almost lost his last election to JimGilchrist, who got nearly as many or more votes on election day. The only reason JohnCampbell one is because of AbsenteeBallots.

  7. No Episarch,

    More like hundreds. There's a list or elected libertarian Republicans at my website http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

    Here are a couple other names if your interested. Though, I'm doubtful. You sound like you'd rather play the cynical "everything sucks, and Republicans all suck too" role. But I'll give it a try:

    Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
    Idaho Gov. Butch Otter
    Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
    SC Gov. Mark Sanford
    Oklahoma US Senator Tom Coburn
    Arizona Cong. Jeff Flake
    Florida Cong. Tom Feeney
    California Assmb. Tom McClintock
    Mass. State Senator Bob Hedlund
    Montana State Senator Jerry O'Neil
    NH State Rep. Jason Bedrick

    Just for starters...

  8. These are what you call libertarians?

    Some I would say only could be labeled fiscally libertarian. And Most seem to want to make government 'leaner', 'efficient' or 'more accountable' rather than working to abolish it. Very little here for those who view the existance of the State as the problem, and not the solution.

  9. Tom "the gay agenda is the greatest threat we face to our freedom today" Coburn is a libertarian? Now I've heard everything.

  10. These are what you call libertarians?

    That's Dondero's strategy: destroying libertarianism by making the word meaningless.

  11. TLB I note also that John Campbell was re-elected to his first full term in 2006 with 60% of the vote. Funny how you left that out.

  12. Franklin Harris shoots! HE SCORES!!!! good call!

    Weigel - good work, as usual, Sir! *tips hat appreciatively*

  13. "There is another way he sounds like McCain, and it's less likely to warm libertarian hearts: He backs his party and his president completely on the war in Iraq and the right to spy as long as the war on ter?ror demands it."

    Hey, speak for yourself. Some libertarians are more worried about our right to keep body and soul from violent separation, and would like to see Iraqis and Afghanis have some chance at some semblance of freedom.

    Overall, great piece though.

    I am curious though, where Campbell stands on the War on People Who Ingest Things The Government Says They Shouldn't Have.

  14. and would like to see Iraqis and Afghanis have some chance at some semblance of freedom.

    I don't know if you've been following the news lately, but the Iraqi and Afghanis have been given an excellent chance of self government and freedom. It's up to them. Bring the troops home, NOW!

  15. Pdog, question for ya?

    What's your definition of Anarchist? Who would you label as an Anarchist in American politics? Or even a "Radical Libertarian?"

    If every Libertarian is required to be a Radical or an Anarchist, than what of those who just score, say 75/75 or 80/80 on the WSPQ?

    What of those who are okay with legalized marijuana, but not crack cocaine?

    What of those who want deep spending cuts and tax cuts, but don't want to see taxes abolished altogether?

    Your strategy is clearly to wash away the term Anarchist from the political lexicon, and replace it with Libertarian.

    Sorry bud, ain't gonna happen. Over my dead body.

  16. Franklin Harris's comments here should be disregarded. He's a self-described "Anarchist." He admitted as such a week ago here at H&R. So, by his own admission he is clearly NOT a libertarian.

    Go away Franklin.

    Go play Black Flag Football with all your little Anarchist friends. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll let you play tackle.

  17. "Not libertarians" 'eh?

    Jerry O'Neil - Libertarian Party Executive Committee Member for the State of Montana

    Bob Hedlund - RLC member since 1992, and attendee at two RLC National Conventions. Also, close friend of Ron Paul.

    Sarah Palin - Endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Alaska for Governor in 2006. Attended two meetings of the ALP.

    Butch Otter - 6-page feature article in Reason Magazine calling him a "libertarian" last year.

    Jason Bedrick - Member of the NH RLC and close friend and ally of the Libertarian Party of NH.

    Tom McClintock - Close friend of Libertarian Party of California State Chairman Aaron Starr. Endorsed in numerous races by Radical Libertarians in California like Gene Berkman. Most hardcore libertarian voting record in the California Legislature.

  18. but the Iraqi and Afghanis have been given an excellent chance of self government and freedom. It's up to them. Bring the troops home, NOW!

    You mean the troops in S Korea, Japan, and Germany?

  19. So this is like, 3 guys in the GOP who actually want to cut spending?

    episiarch -- more like 35-40. Every time some wasteful but popular pork oozes to a vote, it'll get passed by a margin of about 380-40 or so (with the usual number of no-shows).

  20. I thought big-government republicans were done with lying about being fiscally conservative. Thank you, Mr.Weigel, for pointing out that this is not the case.

  21. Last I checked, those who advocated anarcho-capitalism were still considered in the libertarian tent. I don't even like the term anarchist because its confused with those dumbass socialists who think more government is the way to anarchy.

    If its any indication, the last time I voted was in 2000 for Harry Browne.

  22. Dondero stated in another thread that the definition of "libertarianism" is political and not ideological. It's about who you stand with, not what you believe. Thus Eric's obsession with identification.

    But ideas do matter. I could care less what who you stand with or what team you root for, I care about what your ideas are. Leaving aside the contentious issue of foreign policy, a "libertarian" must be in favor of BOTH economic and personal liberty. In other words, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It is NOT enough to be just fiscally conservative. Many in Eric's list are socially conservative as well, and have promoted legal constraints on personal behavior.

    This is the big dividing line between libertarians and conservatives: libertarians will champion the personal rights of individuals, even for those in groups other than their own.

  23. People crashing airplanes into buildings, murdering people for their beliefs, and other such stuff is bad for business. Which is why it needs to be dealt with more sternly than auto accidents.

    Evil result is not the only consideration. Intent counts. Mens rea.

    In geopolitics one must be wary of those with who have publicly stated their bad (from our point of view) intentions. True - most of it is hot air. Occasionally it is not. An error on the side of caution has a small price. Reckless disregard can be somewhat more expensive.

  24. Right you are Brandybuck. And I fully stand by those words.

    I don't give a flying fuck how many von Mises books you've read in your life, or how many verses of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead you can cite by heart.

    He who worketh hardest for thy libertarian movement is thee most libertarian.

    Talk to me about how you stood on a street corner in 10 degree weather in Anchorage, Alaska waving a sign for a Libertarian Party candidate for State House.

    Talk to me about how you petitioned in Western Nebraska for Libertarian Party ballot access in the middle of December.

    Talk to me about how you petitioned in front of a Wal-Mart in the middle of August in 116 degree weather for Property Rights and Against Eminent Domain.

    And most of all, talk to me about how you are willing to spend 6 months in jail, like my good friend Paul Jacob, for refusing to register for the Draft.

    Paul is simply the greatest of great living libertarians. He is THE MOST LIBERTARIAN PERSON IN THE COUNTRY.

    Not a bunch of computer nerds like Franklin, who wouldn't know a clipboard if it smacked 'em upside the head.

  25. Pdog, Anarchists are barely within the libertarian tent. And if I had anything to do with it, I'd push 'em out myself. They've got like one foot in the tent and one foot out.

    Problem is they're ashamed to call themselves Anarchists. So, they hide behind the libertarian label.

    Problem for them is Eric Dondero Rittberg. So long as I am alive and breathing, I'll expose their asses all over the internet and all over the country as usurpers and as phonies posing as libertarians.

    You fuckhead Anarchists have been warned.

  26. The only justification for war, taxation, and loss of privacy is the prevention of even greater war, taxation, and loss of privacy.

    Unfortunately, events don't often present themselves in the form of a simple calculation of cost and benefit. To a large extent, we make many of our most important decisions on the basis of hope more than on the basis of sure knowledge.

    Only time will tell whether the war in Iraq was a mistake or a success. It certainly will be one or the other. The final measure will not be the process. It will be the result.

  27. I thought Eric's comments were excellent.

    As someone who thinks it's time for John Murtha to end his time haunting the halls of Congress, you should visit the web site of Murtha's opponent, Lt. Col. William T. Russell at: http://williamrussellforcongress.com. He needs your support in this effort to defeat Murtha.

    I hope you'll also consider joining "Bloggers 4 Russell," a group that now totals 40-plus and which we hope will reach 500 by Election Day. To join, please either leave me a comment at: http://stevemaloneygop.blogspot.com or send me an e-mail at: TalkTop65@aol.com. Joining will give you the opportunity to communicate with others who are backing Lt. Col. Russell.

    I'm writing all this month about why Murtha shouldn't be in Congress -- and Russell should. I discuss how Murtha has misrepesented himself consistently to the voters of the 12th District of PA. Please visit. Commnets are always welcome. Thanks for your assistance.

    Steve Maloney

  28. I'm not hiding behind anything. I've always believed that libertarians were either anarchists or minarchists. Personally I rarely use the term libertarian to describe myself.

    You and those other 'mainstream libertarians' are conservatives. Why hide that fact? I'd actually call you guys true conservatives and its kind of nice to see you trying to take back your Republican party. Hell, I'd vote for one of you over any neo-con or liberal any day. But you, libertarian? I think not.

  29. "Sounds like this Randian is willing to give up the cigarette money in order to fund the mansion. All to protect against the nearly nonexistent chance of being blown up.

    What a bunch of crap."

    Because after all, there is no such thing as Radical Islam, September 11th never happened, stay asleep. You Paulbots need to realize that there is actually a world outside America. Why is it so many of my fellow libertarians are without teeth and without sense.

  30. I hate to double post but I've noticed that there are a lot of authoritarian personalities in the libertarian movement. Half the time I watch or read libertarians debating eachother, or if I am debating with another libertarian, they're always talking about how their opponent is not a libertarian for his position on regulations preventing saltine crackers from containing lead. Every other sentence out of a libertarian's mouth tends to be "That is not the real libertarian position." I imagine a LP convention must consist of a bunch of Colonel Klink clones in anarchist-themed t-shirts strangling eachother. How is it that such toothless people are able to eat eachother so voraciously.

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