Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting Back to First Principles (answering Mitch's challenge)

Mitch Berg at Shot In Dark has some questions for Republicans about getting back to “first principles.”
As far as I’m concerned (and Ed was more or less on board with this as well), the big principles on which the GOP needs to model itself are:
• Strong defense (not just in a military sense, either; securing the border is vital)
• Limiting government - both in bread and butter terms (taxes) and higher principles (like restraining judicial activism). Constitutional Constructionism generally goes along with this.
With that understood - that the party is a big tent, but the tent is built on those two key overarching ideals - I have some questions for Republicans:
1. Assuming you’re a Republican (Democrats can abstain from this one; I gave you your own post last week, with generally dismal results), do you agree? On what principles should the GOP base itself?

I don’t disagree with these principles but I would define the principles that guide my politics somewhat differently. In no particular order (and they can and do overlap):

Free Market Capitalism and the Opportunity Society – the best society is one in which people are free to make their own choices, bear the burdens of their mistakes, and reap the rewards of their wise choices. That means reducing the size, scope and cost of government on the private sector (taxation, regulation, and litigation). Reforming education, health care (including Medicare and Medicaid), and retirement programs (including Social Security) in a way that empowers individuals to make their own decisions and achieve self-sufficiency and prosperity.

American Exceptionalism – the principles that our American experiment were founded upon are unique in the history of humanity and we should endeavor to preserve them, improve them, and expand them through the world. That means having a strong national defense with a willingness to confront our enemies both at home and abroad. It means protecting our borders and having a rational immigration policy to assimilate legal immigrants who play by the rules and contribute to our society. It means also trying to create a more decent society in which we live by

Federalism and Self Government – the government which governs best is the government which governs least and closest to the people it governs and to whom it is accountable. That means having local issues decided at the local level, State issues decided at the State level, and national issues that fall within the enumerated powers decided at the national level. It means that public service should be a temporary serviced and not a career and that those who entrust with office must be accountable for their actions rather than passing along problems to future governments or other branches of government to fix. It means that when an issue involves deciding public policy, the deference should be to the politically accountable branches of government.

Individual Liberty and Personal Responsibility – competent adults should have to the right to do pretty much anything they please so long as they do not violate the rights others by initiating force or fraud and accept responsibility for their choices. The presumption should be that unless and until it can be shown that an action would violate the rights of another, an adult should be free to take that action and be held responsible for the consequences.

Who, given your principles, should the GOP support for President? VP? If you’re in Minnesota, for Senate in ‘06 and Governor in ’10?

I think it’s too early to tell who I would support for the next election. We don’t even have any declared candidates and a lot can and will happen between now and 2008 and 2010 that affects my decision. Right now I can say as far as the presidency is concerned, unless Governors Pawlenty, Owens, or Sanford enter the race – I would probably support either Senator McCain or Governor Romney (or a McCain-Romney or Romney-McCain ticket). As far the Senate is concerned, right now I’m hoping that Coleman gets knocked off by a competent primary challenger but I’m not going to hold my breath.

John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have both violated a number of these first principles (McCain sponsored Campaign Finance Reform, a gross inflation of government power, and chaired the Gang of 14; Giuliani is quite anti-Second-Amendment, likewise a big government power grab (and also political suicide for anyone, much less a Republican, these days). Both are “pro-choice”, which means either/both that they support abortion (a no-no among social conservatives) and they abrogate the state’s Tenth Amendment right to decide an issue that the constitution, but for the fairly ludicrously-written Roe decision, would seem to have been reserved for the states. So - if either of them made amends on these issues, given that both of them would be very strong on defense and generally useful on other conservative issues, then would you, as a conservative/Republican, support them?

I could easily see myself supporting Senator McCain for President in 2008 for several reasons but first let me address the points that Mitch raised. First, I completely agree that the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act is a bad law and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding it. However the fact is that President Bush signed it into law (even though he unlike McCain disagreed with it) and I nonetheless voted to reelect President Bush in 2004. It seems to me then that if conservatives were able to vote to reelect Bush in 2004, why should we hold it against McCain (or any other Senator who voted for it) should he (they) run for President in 2008? It’s water over the bridge as far as I’m concerned.

With regards to the Gang of Fourteen, I admit that I was a bit upset initially when they made their little “deal” regarding the filibustering of judicial nominees. However I’ve had over a year to think and reflect on it and I’ve decided that the blame actually lies with Senate Republicans (particularly the leadership) because they could have simply changed the rules at the beginning of the session when each House adopts its rules by a simple majority vote. Instead they were either so naïve as to think that Senate Democrats would refrain from filibustering Bush’s judicial nominees or they tried to provoke a showdown in order to whip up the base. If Senate Republicans wanted to stop the filibustering of their judicial nominees they had no less than two opportunities to do after the 2002 and 2004 elections. That they failed to change the rules at the beginning of the term does not IMO give them an excuse when they tried to change the rules in the middle of the session. McCain probably did the right thing even though it was inconvenient for Senate Republicans.

With regards to abortion, I’ve never bought the “McCain is pro-choice” line. Yes I know that he’s said at least at one point that he doesn’t think the country is ready for Roe v Wade to be overturned (he’s wrong, it’s a bad decision and overturning it returns the issue back to the States where it belongs) but so has President Bush when ran for office in 2000. Which I always took as his wink-wink-nod-nod way of saying “I won’t make overturning Roe a litmus test for my judicial nominees” (which he shouldn’t) while looking for judicial appointees whose philosophy probably will probably lead to them overturning Roe for any the numerous reasons that it should be overturned.

The fact is that McCain has about a 100% prolife voting record (for those who follow such things) and more importantly he would probably appoint the same sort of judges that Bush has appointed. Basically if one likes Bush on the abortion issue, McCain would probably be about the same.

Which brings me to the more important issue – why would a conservative (more of a libertarian actually) like myself support Senator John McCain for president? For several reasons. First, the biggest credibility problem that the GOP has IMO is spending and McCain has been on the right of side of Medicare Part D, the Farm Bill, the Energy Bill, and the Transportation Bill, i.e. he opposed them as I do. Bush and Congressional Republicans have failed to control spending and have cost future Republican congresses and presidents a lot of credibility by their over-spending and actually allowed Democrats to pretend to be the “fiscally conservative” party. A spending cutter like McCain would IMO be one of our best shots at regaining credibility on this issue.

Second, entitlement reform particularly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. McCain was actually more assertive about this than Bush was in 2000, voted against Medicare Part D, and campaigned on Social Security reform when he was reelected in 2004. In 2010 the first of the baby boom generation will begin retiring which means that if we want to fix Medicare and Social Security before they begin retiring (at which point any meaningful reform will be opposed as a “cut”) we have about four years to do it (with the next two being wasted with an obstructionist Congress that is decidedly anti-reform).

Third, judicial nominees. Senator McCain has supported everyone of Bush’s judicial nominees and his members in the Gang of Fourteen would make it harder for Democrats and “moderate” Republicans to get away with filibustering his nominees. The next President will probably have the chance to appoint one or two associate justices to the Supreme Court.

Fourth, the War. Senator McCain has been more hawkish than most Republicans including President Bush (heck, he was talking about sending ground troops during Kosovo when President Clinton wanted to just rely on air power). The primary complaints that I’ve seen amongst serious critics of the Iraqi phase of the War has been that we haven’t been aggressive enough in sending in more troops, in cleaning out the Sunni Triangle, etc. Someone like McCain is not only unlikely to retreat from Iraq, he’s more likely to push to do what we need to do to win.

Finally, clean and honest government. Much as I disagreed with Senator McCain on campaign finance “reform,” there’s a reason why it has resonated with so many people. The fact is that many people voted against Republicans because of the perception (earmark abuse, Delay’s indictment, Foley’s resignation, Abramoff) that the Republican Congress was just as corrupt at the Democratic one which lost in 1994. In we want to restore people’s faith in their government then we need to take substantive (not merely symbolic) steps to increasing accountability, transparency in our lawmaking and reforming the appropriations process (banning earmarks would be a good step IMO). On the national stage there is no one who has been as zealous of an advocate of this than Senator McCain which would make him the ideal person to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to get it done.