Justin Amash

Politicians Will Disappoint You

If we want to limit the inherent corruption of politics, let's reduce the inherent power of government.


Every libertarian knows the script: "Never fall in love with politicians. They will always disappoint you."

This spring in Washington was rough on several political figures' libertarian fan clubs. Start with the second-time's-the-charm effort by House Republicans to, well, not repeal and replace Obamacare exactly, but to tinker around its edges—mostly in the form of reduced burdens on taxpayers and insurance companies.

"The [American Health Care Act] repeals fewer than 10 percent of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act," one prominent pro-market legislator explained. If passed, it "will continue to drive up the cost of health insurance—while bolstering the largest insurance companies—and the modifications contained in the AHCA cannot save it. Many of the AHCA's provisions are poorly conceived or improperly implemented."

Yet that same critic—Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), a libertarian favorite and key member of the influential House Freedom Caucus—voted for the flawed measure on May 3, even after expressing his "disgust" with the rushed, top-down process that produced it. What gives?

"When deciding whether to support a bill, I ask myself whether the bill improves upon existing law, not whether I would advocate for the policy or program if I were starting with a blank slate," a clearly rattled Amash wrote on his Facebook page. (One of the congressman's many charms is that he explains virtually all of his congressional votes on social media.) "In other words, the proper analysis is not whether it makes the law good but rather whether it makes the law better. In this case, I felt comfortable advancing the bill to the Senate as a marginal improvement to the [Affordable Care Act]."

That wasn't the only clenched-teeth reaction from a Freedom Caucus member voting "yes." "Ultimately," Mark Sanford (R–S.C.) said, "the vote came down to one simple question: Do we kill the bill and stop the debate from advancing to the Senate, or not?"

Such comments suggest that a voting bloc known for its philosophical rigor was also being influenced by some cruder power dynamics. As Caucus leader Mark Meadows (R–N.C.) said just before the 217–213 vote, "When you get a phone call from the president and that's followed up by a phone call from the president, followed up by a phone call from the vice president—it needs to get done." Or, in the typically colorful words of Amash pal and "no" voter Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), "The AHCA is like a kidney stone—the House doesn't care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it."

At press time, the AHCA was languishing in the Senate, and reeling from a post-facto score from the Congressional Budget Office predicting that 23 million fewer Americans would have health insurance if the bill became law. But the GOP-led Congress did manage to obtain President Donald Trump's signature on another piece of legislation this spring: a $1.16 trillion continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded—at slightly higher than pre-existing levels—through the end of the fiscal year.

So a Republican Party that cut its teeth holding the line on spending under President Barack Obama is now increasing spending levels under Trump, while dutifully ignoring the new president's proposals to slash various agency budgets. Tellingly, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former Freedom Caucus member, put his seal of approval on the agreement's inclusion of $93.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, a catchall military slush fund outside the already generous appropriations for defense. As a legislator, Mulvaney had long criticized such budgetary sleights of hand.

But wait, there's more! On May 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sailed through Senate confirmation on a party-line vote, announced the re-escalation of the drug war, instructing federal prosecutors to seek maximum sentencing on drug-related crimes. This prompted many criminal justice reformers to lament anew that some of their usual Senate allies, such as Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah), had rubber-stamped the A.G.'s nomination three months previous.

Paul insists that the move, which had been widely predicted, "was different from what I was led to believe" would happen by Sessions himself.

So what good are all these damn libertarian leaners anyway?

Plenty, actually. Rand Paul has kept Trump's ear on some foreign policy issues, helping to scuttle nominations of interventionist State Department officials such as Elliott Abrams. "If people want to apply a purity test to me, they're more than welcome," he said on the Fox Business Network show Kennedy in February, "but I would suggest that maybe they spend some of their time on the other 99 less libertarian senators."

Amash is the figure most responsible for building the Freedom Caucus into the most fiscally conservative and the most strategically pivotal bloc in Congress. Both Amash and Paul opposed the budget agreement; both haunt their respective chambers at all hours to make sure no terrible surveillance measure gets smuggled through; and both responded to the Sessions outrage by redoubling their efforts against the drug war.

The nearer you get to the actual responsibilities of power, the more you are likely to cut deals, hopefully positioning yourself to do better later. It's not that the process may get ugly; it's that it will, as sure as mushrooms follow rain.

If we want to limit the inherent corruption of politics, let's reduce the inherent power of government. Until then, be at least somewhat thankful that there are any politicians, compromises or no, who largely agree with that project.

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19 responses to “Politicians Will Disappoint You

  1. “When you get a phone call from the president and that’s followed up by a phone call from the president, followed up by a phone call from the vice president?it needs to get done.”

    No. That’s when you have their ears and should teach them why they are misguided. That’s when you have leverage. Pussies!

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    2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

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  2. This has always baffled me about statists. They bitch more than you’d think possible when they lose elections and their opponents take advantage of all the state power which they themselves used prior to the election. Can they not comprehend how abuse will follow when they create new state powers? No of course not; they think the last election established permanent “my party” rule, even when they barely squeaked by.

    With guns, they whine about the tool. With state power, they whine about the tool users. The reason, of course, is that they want to get their own grubby hands on the state power tools, but it will be their minions wielding the guns, so they can pretend they are icky tools.

    In reality, it’s the statists who are the tools.

    1. “Can they not comprehend how abuse will follow when they create new state powers?”

      You’ve laid out the answer yourself. Once you recognize that anything they do is done simply to obtain/maintain power all else will make perfect sense. And once out of power there is no form of criticism better than accusing your opponent of ‘misusing’ the power you covet.

  3. I think Amash, Paul, and company have to use an incremental approach to reducing government because they don’t have the numbers in either house to do wholesale reductions to the budget, agencies, and the feds powers overall. It’s not easy to get people to abandon their own power, influence, and monetary reward for ideals and principle.

    1. But-but-but-Butt-Hurt!!!!

      Amash and Paul are ***NOT*** Libertarianishly totally 1,000% pure, so I can NOT hear ya!!! Incremental, Intra-Cranially- Schmentallly-Mentallly-Defective!!!!

      Na-Nanny-Nanny-Boogie-BooBah, can NOT hear ya!!!!

    2. I don’t think they have the numbers to do incremental anything. They can stop legislation, but so can the Democrats and Republicrats in the senate. Meanwhile, the executive branch does its own thing, funding bills sail through, and entitlements continue to each up the so-called federal budget.

  4. “Politicians Will Disappoint You”***

    ***unless they are on your team. In that case you will contort your principles (up to and including completely violating said principles) to justify anything that they do. However, the endorphine rush and smug sense of self-satisfaction you’ll get from being on the “winning team” will outweigh that nagging sense that you really have no principles.

    1. Preach.

  5. The riddle is how do you reduce the power of government without becoming a politician yourself?

    Even anarchist have figured out the problem isn’t specifically a powerful government, but an unresponsive government. How long until libertarians discover the same and realize even they will have to compromise with those they disagree with?

    Pick your battles wisely.

    1. Unresponsive government and too powerful government are synonymous.

      1. Yeah, I had never really given credence to the absolute force the DMV and the post office wields. Similarly every argument libertarians make about the responsiveness of markets to keep monopolies in check somehow abandon them when discussing government. You ever hear free marketeers complain about limiting the power of markets?

        Any government that can wield nuclear arms is venturing pretty close to too powerful. And the only thing keeping that in check is the most responsive branch of government with the exclusive authority to declare war.

  6. “Never fall in love with politicians. They will always disappoint you.”

    How true!

    And don’t expect that when Libertarians start getting elected, they will defy this natural tendency. When Libertarian candidates say that they don’t agree with all of the Libertarian Platform – even before they get elected – a gaping hole has been exposed. How much of the Platform will they “not agree with” once they get elected?.

    As Libertarians, we can set an example by binding prospective officeholders to the Platform – BEFORE they can be candidates:

  7. Blogs like this quickly try to assign efforts as Libertarian, Conservative, Right, or Liberal. When you look at the dictionaries definition of each word or how a party may have defined it, it seems many failed to maintain accountability. All these labels just alienate and aggravate what could be more simply stated and less divisive. I have friends in all parties except the right, but they may feel conservative on one issue, liberal on another. This is another form of racism and sexism versus a path to regain our unity around prevailing truths and a system of government that holds all actions honest to American Priorities. We the people must welcome healthy debate, (disagreements with respect for the process), and agree on primary needs and values so debates can be about the best ways to solve each. Americans need to be involved beyond just elections and show up for them – no excuses.
    Our entire political system gets a failing grade as we witness the erosion of access, checks and balances, free press, due process and any semblance of accountability, nation before self, truth and progress as based on forward thinking principles, not a return to coal mining while overlooking the major job opportunities in climate health.
    Most should welcome a return or renewed commitment to doing America right. America is more important than bloody, immature, self indulgent politics. Can we afford to wait and watch what more damages he can incur?

  8. OMG, I’ve fallen through a worm-hole.
    Clicked-on Reason.com, and ended up reading a campaign speech by Barry Goldwater given in 1964.

  9. Only trouble is that checks and balances only help now to preserve a system of patronage and abuses that is going to eventually kill the country.

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