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Archive for December 9th, 2012

Having dealt with queries about whether I hate Republicans and whether my views have changed on anything, the newest edition of “Question of the Week” asks for my opinion about Senator DeMint moving over to become President of the Heritage Foundation.

Variants of this question came from several people, perhaps because folks know that I spent more than 15 years working for Heritage.

The short answer is that I think DeMint’s move generally is a good thing.

But first, the bad news. It is unfortunate that Senator DeMint no longer will be in the Senate. We need as many “Tea Party” lawmakers as possible since they are willing to fight for small government even when it means causing friction with establishment-oriented, go-along-to-get-along Republicans.

But DeMint’s departure won’t be too painful if Governor Haley of South Carolina appoints an equally strong advocate of small government to replace him.

Moreover, Senator DeMint no longer is a  lone voice for liberty. There are now some very strong defenders of small government in the Senate, including Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and (beginning in January) Ted Cruz. You can get a pretty good idea of which Senators fight for freedom, coincidentally, by looking at the Heritage Action for America vote rating.

So hopefully Senator DeMint won’t be missed too much.

But what about the implications for Heritage?

Josh Barro thinks DeMint’s selection is a mistake because it means Heritage will be less of a think tank and more of “a political pressure organization with a policy research arm.”

But I disagree with Josh’s concern. Think tanks fill various niches in the battle of ideas. Heritage (even when I disagree with the organization) has an unparalleled outreach program to folks on Capitol Hill and it also has a very impressive capacity to bring information to the grassroots.

Those are good features. In other words, think tanks shouldn’t all fit the same mold, featuring wonky guys with thick glasses publishing 50-page papers. Nothing wrong with that, of course, particularly since I’m a bit of a wonk myself. But just as diversity among governments is a good thing, so is diversity among think tanks.

What matters to me is whether DeMint will guide Heritage in the right direction. At times in recent history, it seems Heritage lost sight of its Reaganite roots. The organization, for instance, got some unfavorable publicity for supporting healthcare mandates (for friends of Heritage, this leftist video is very painful to watch). The Heritage Foundation also was far too timid last decade about criticizing Bush’s reckless record of excessive federal spending.

Given DeMint’s principled opposition to statism on Capitol Hill, I suspect he will lead the way in restoring Heritage’s bona fides as a proponent of small government. That’s very good news, especially at a time when congressional Republicans seem to be losing their nerve.

It’s also worth noting that DeMint has some libertarian sympathies, as Nick Gillespie explains for Reason.

All things considered, Senator Jim DeMint seems like a very solid pick for the top job at the Heritage Foundation. Particularly since he presumably will be an effective fundraiser, which is one of the main jobs for the leader of a non-profit organization.

And since this post is about think tanks, let me take this opportunity to say some nice things about my employer. More specifically, I want to congratulate Michael Cannon, one of my colleagues at the Cato Institute.

He was just featured in the New Republic, a left-wing magazine, as the leading opponents of Obamacare. Here’s a bit of what they wrote about him.

Obamacare’s leading critic

Can one very determined libertarian and one very distorted version of history keep millions of people from getting health insurance? We’re about to find out. The determined libertarian is Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute. He was among the most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act, going back to the time when it was still a glint in the eyes of Ted Kennedy. The idea of universal coverage is so antithetical to Cannon’s principles that he actually started an “Anti-Universal Coverage Club.” Once the law passed and took on the moniker “Obamacare,” Cannon became a leading advocate for its repeal. And since he understood the law might survive both the courts and the 2012 elections, as it eventually did, he also made the case that states should avoid complicity in its implementation—and, if possible, actively thwart it. He made that case in his writing and speeches, sometimes directly to the officials with responsibility for implementing the law. …And no single individual has done more to make the case for state resistance to Obamacare than Cannon.

Kudos to Michael. You know you’re doing a good job when your enemies are attacking you. Michael’s also done great work on entitlement reform, and you’ll recognize his mug if you watch my videos on Medicare and Medicaid reform.

At the risk of bragging, Cato is filled with people who make a difference. I’ve noted how Cato organized the first attack against Obama’s faux stimulus when others were sitting on their hands. And it was Cato scholars who helped rejuvenate the constitutional case for limited government.

So I’m glad that Heritage is moving in the right direction, and it was great working there for many years, but there shouldn’t be any confusion about the best think tank in Washington.

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It’s never a good idea to display weakness during negotiations. Your opponent will sense your fear and up his demands.

That’s certainly what we’re seeing in Washington. The cartoon at this link captures the GOP’s wobbly attitude on taxes, and this interview is about the ever-increasing demands of the Obama Administration.

It’s rather galling, by the way, to be lectured on taxes by a tax cheat like Tim Geithner.

But my key point is that the GOP’s preemptive surrender emboldened the White House, and helped move the debate even further to the left.

Let me elaborate on two points from the interview.

  1. We don’t need a tax increase. We can balance the budget simply by limiting spending so that it grows by “only” 2.5 percent annually. As I say to Cavuto, the White House is pushing higher taxes in order to enable a bigger burden of government spending.
  2. It’s important to define austerity correctly. To provide an analogy, we have to drink liquid to survive, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good idea to guzzle paint thinner. Likewise, we need austerity, but that shouldn’t mean higher taxes. We need to be like Estonia and tighten the belts of the public sector, not the private sector.

It’s not my job to give Republicans political advice, but I also want to expand upon the arguments I made a couple of days ago, when I wrote a post giving five policy reasons and five political reasons why the GOP shouldn’t surrender on tax increases.

A couple of readers correctly pointed out that I forgot to mention that tax increases are political poison because middle-class voters turn against the GOP once “revenue” is on the table. They are completely right, and my oversight is inexplicable since I’ve actually made that point in the past. Here’s some of what I wrote last year.

If Republicans put tax increases on the table, however, the politics get turned upside down. Instead of being united against all tax increases, voters realize somebody is going to get mugged and they have an incentive to make sure they’re not the ones who get victimized. That’s when soak-the-rich taxes become very appealing. Democrats, for all intents and purposes, can appeal to average voters by targeting the so-called rich. And even though voters will be skeptical about what Democrats really want, they don’t want to be the primary target of the political predators in Washington. Think of it this way. You’re a wildebeest running away from a pack of hyenas, but you know one member of your herd will get caught and killed. You despise hyenas, but at that critical moment, you’re main goal is wanting another member of the herd to bite the dust. This is why surrendering to tax increases put Republicans in a no-win situation. They oppose class-warfare taxes because they understand the disproportionately damaging impact of higher top income tax rates and increased double taxation of dividends and capital gains. So when GOPers get bullied into agreeing to raise taxes, they want to target less destructive sources of revenue. But that usually means…taxes that are more likely to hit the middle class. Needless to say, Democrats almost always win if there is a fight on whether to tax the middle class or to tax the rich.

I have to pat myself on the back for that passage, particularly the analogy that equates politicians with hyenas (though in the past I’ve apologized to hyenas for that unfair comparison).

Let’s close with a very good cartoon, which points out the foolishness of the media for wanting to send more money to Washington when even they understand that the town is filled with clowns and buffoons. That’s actually a very serious point, as I note about halfway through the interview included in my five-political-reasons-five-policy-reasons post.

Cartoon Beat the Press Tax Hikes

But it’s hard to laugh when you contemplate what’s happening. Obama is bullying the GOP, and the Republicans are in the process of surrendering to his class-warfare demands.

That will lead to bad policy, but it will also result in an emasculated, compliant, and house-broken GOP for at least the next two years, and perhaps even Obama’s entire second term. So even though the fiscal cliff tax hike is bigger than what Obama’s currently demanding, the long-run policy damage of surrender almost surely will be far greater.

Republicans don’t have many options in this fight. But they can show some cojones and tell Obama that the only way he’ll get a tax hike is if he wants to take the nation over the cliff.

P.S. If you like the Henry Payne cartoon in this post, you can enjoy some of his other work here, here, here, herehereherehere, and here.

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