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Friday, May 30, 2008

Huckabee: The Liberal Republican Gets it Wrong

Today I would like to comment on former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and his comments to the Huffington Post. Click here to see the entire article. The relevant part is this:

Question: What can the (Republican) Party do to reverse course?
Huckabee: Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it's this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it's a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says "look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don't get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it." Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it's not an American message. It doesn't fly. People aren't going to buy that, because that's not the way we are as a people. That's not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it's just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for.

If you have a breakdown in the social structure of a community, it's going to result in a more costly government ... police on the streets, prison beds, court costs, alcohol abuse centers, domestic violence shelters, all are very expensive. What's the answer to that? Cut them out? Well, the libertarians say "yes, we shouldn't be funding that stuff." But what you've done then is exacerbate a serious problem in your community. You can take the cops off the streets and just quit funding prison beds. Are your neighborhoods safer? Is it a better place to live? The net result is you have now a bigger problem than you had before.

My experience in Arkansas was, a lot of the so-called conservatives said "Let's cut the budget." But they wanted to add prison sentences, they wanted to eliminate parole, they wanted to have harsher sentences for various crimes. And I said "OK, that's fine, but that's going to be expensive. So which do you want?" You can't have both, or you do what the federal government has done, and this is where I think Republicans have been especially irresponsible. Their approach has been [to] just kick the can down the road and let your grandkids pay for it.
So they run up huge deficits ... but they've pushed those costs down to the states, and the states have to eat it, because they have to balance their budgets, they don't get to print money or borrow. Or the federal government just runs up more deficits and let's the next couple of generations worry about paying for all this stuff.

Either way, it's irresponsible, and I think people in America are smarter than that and they know that's not the responsible way to approach governing.

My Response:
Huckabee’s answer is both offensive and wrong. However, Huckabee's statement is not surprising - he is a liberal-Republican, therefore he is not inclined to think "liberalism" is a threat to the party. Rather, he is more inclined to assault the Libertarian-style Republicans who strongly oppose the modern liberal ideology, and (as I will show in this essay) represent the traditional Republican view. I would not speculate as to whether he knows what he is talking about, but I will say that he either doesn’t know what he is talking about, or he does and is trying to reframe opinions he does not agree with. The latter is a very popular debating tactic in Washington D.C. In this blog, I will go through a little history of the Republican Party, and show with historical fact, why Huckabee is wrong. Then I state my opinion on some issue regarding the statement.

A Brief History of the Republican Party
Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President. At that time Republicans were a third party known mostly for the then moderate stance of “containing” slavery to states where it already existed. William Howard Taft, was the first of a string of Republicans to define the party. Later came Coolidge, Hoover, Robert Taft and other greats. This was during a time where communism was spreading throughout the world – most famously in Russia with the rise of the Bolsheviks. The U.S. felt pressure from these forces to centralize power as well and Republicans fought this vigorously, which defined them as the party of the traditional American way – liaise faire capitalism, personal freedom, non-intervention in the internal affairs of foreign countries and limited government. There was no confusing the stark contrast to socialism and communism favored by Democrats.

We could argue about the virtues of the traditional American approach before vs. after the New Deal, but suffice to say that both have their pros and cons.

Republicans have stood against socialist and interventionalist policies for years. Republicans Eisenhower and Nixon were elected to end the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Reagan was elected to end government excesses. George W. Bush campaigned on a humble foreign policy with no nation building. Even a remote understanding of the careers of Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan reveals that traditional Republicans have always stood for the precept that individuals should be empowered to make their own decisions, run their own lives, and that government should interfere as little as possible – and be vigorous in the areas that it must be responsible for such as national security, public infrastructure projects and law enforcement. In light of more recent type of Republicanism, some forget that the social conservative wing of the Republican Party arose largely in response to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1972 which was seen as a culmination of the government activism of Democrats.

During and after World War One, Woodrow Wilson began a policy of what has become called “policing the world.” Later, Franklin Roosevelt saw the need for government to do more, and began the policies of the New Deal which centralized power in the federal government to deal with professed ills of the world, despite the fact that he openly admitted his means were largely unlawful. Later these policies were no longer seen as unconstitutional, and were extended by President Truman, Johnson, and most recently George W. Bush. To some extent, the first Republican to take on the views of Wilson, FDR and Johnson was Richard Nixon – however, he was known to lack any real commitment to any ideas, and merely did whatever he had to politically.

In 1962, Barry Goldwater wrote the definitive book on conservatism called, “The Conscience of a Conservative.” This book catapulted him to the Presidential nomination in 1963. He stressed the importance of the individual. He stated eloquently the vices of government activism at home and abroad. He was unapologetic. He was bold. He was defeated badly. However, his integrity and commitment to what we now call “libertarianism” started a movement that culminated in the election of his protégé, Ronald Reagan, in 1980.

Neither Goldwater nor his Republican comrades differentiated between social and economic freedom. This distinction did not become ingrained until after Roe v. Wade. When reading “Conscience of a Conservative,” one could hardly mistake Goldwater’s insistence on personal liberty in all matters of private life, social and economic. Furthermore, we should not forget that this all began as a matter of preserving the lawful constitutional order that came under the illegal assault of The New Deal, not some sort of culture war.

In the late 1960’s a new brand of Republicans emerged who fully embraced the anti-constitutional ideas of FDR, Truman, Johnson and Nixon – they simply thought these presidents had simply done a poor job of it. They called themselves “neo-conservatives.” [1] Their power culminated in the election of George W. Bush. They are not “conservative” in any sense of the word and they only use the word to campaign. They actually despise conservatism, as expressed by Mike Huckabee in the statement being discussed here. At least George W. Bush did not claim to be conservative - he created a new label: "compassionate conservative."

My Take
So that brings me to Mike Huckabee. First of all, what is he doing giving interviews to The Huffington Post? This is a known left wing propagandist publication. Second, the merger of what we now call social liberalism and economic conservatism is nothing new as discussed above. Libertarianism dates back to the enlightenment era of philosophy, and almost every founding father of the United States is considered to have been what we today call Libertarian. Not to mention the fact that every prominent Republican from Taft to Reagan was what we would now call a Libertarian. In 1984, Ronald Reagan called libertarianism, “the heart of the Republican Party.” Today Libertarianism is growing rapidly in popularity once again.

So it is no wonder why I take such offense at his statements. Huckabee is clearly saying that the type of government embraced by both Democrats and Republicans in recent years is exactly what we should have. He refers specifically to Medicare. He says that certain types of Republicans are “heartless, callous, soulless” because “we want to cut taxes and eliminate government” at the expense of little old ladies getting their drugs.

He seems to rest this on the premise that medicare is getting these little old ladies there medicine in the first place. However, Medicare’s failures in this regard are well documented. Medicare is an enormous, wasteful government bureaucracy which runs on laws literally written by the political interest groups it benefits. By subsidizing drugs and medical care, there is no incentive for hospitals and doctors to lower their prices. There is no incentive for non-governmental agencies and charities to help people get their drugs. Rather, the only non-governmental agencies which do help people are the ones which help “little old ladies” navigate the medicare red-tape maze, which George W. Bush famously made many times worse with the creation of Medicare D. Known socialist Congressman Dennis Kucinich put it best when he said, “we’re already paying for universal health care, we’re just not getting it.” I suppose Mr. Huckabee supports this system, because he certainly has no problem attacking a group of people who are simply reminding us there are constitutional alternatives.

Huckabee also mentions education. The fact is that private institutions function better than government ones in practically every way. This can be undermined when these private institutions are political tools, rather than competing businesses and charities. If that was not true, then I would suggest that Mr. Huckabee accept this challenge – send your own kids to either a private or public school in inner city Detroit. Lets see how much faith he has in government bureaucracy then.

Finally, Mr. Huckabee does seem to make a good point in the end. There are many “so-called” conservatives who want to increase spending and cut the budget at the same time, casting the costs onto future generations. Their epitome is George W. Bush.

The problem is that Huckabee’s message is muddled here. He supports neo-conservatives in the beginning of his statement – preferring their manner of government activism. However, in the end he criticizes them, saying they want to spend more and cut the budget at the same time. Basically, Huckabee says the problem with Libertarian-Republicans is that they don’t want to spend money to engineer the great society – then he says they do want to spend money on those things and get budget cuts at the same time. Here, Huckabee's statement simply makes no sense – they cant want to spend money and not spend money at the same time.

What Huckabee is actually doing is criticizing two different wings of the party as if they were one. The Libertarian Conservatives who he attacks in the beginning, want to encourage individual responsibility, private business, and charitable activity. That doesn’t mean we see no place for government in health care. It simply means that we must remember that when the government interjects itself into any field, it discourages the kind of activity which most efficiently addresses the problem. Government action can be taken in health care to do many things, but priority number one for the government should be protection of basic human rights to start a business or charity which may offer a better product than the government for all those “little old ladies.” The problem comes in addressing those who “fall through the cracks.” Libertarian-conservatives address this problem in various ways, most of which involve creating incentives for individuals to help one-another, rather than taxing people more to fund another political institution that demonstratively wastes enormous money, and still has failed to prove it can ever prevent people from falling through those very cracks.

Who he is really attacking in the end of his statement are so-called “law and order” conservatives. They are part of the problem that he himself is part of. He represents in his own statement that the only difference himself and them is that instead of spending money on bigger prisons, he would spend more money on failed institutions like Medicare, Medicade, and public education. Both views run contrary to the view of Libertarian Republicans, who remind us that there is no demonstrable connection between more money and better result with these institutions, but there is a demonstrable connection between the efficiency of the market and improved results. Libertarian-style Republicans would take power out of the hands of the government and return it to individuals, using the government as a tool to ensure the people themselves have the tools they need.

Huckabee also presents some sort of premise that government is more costly when there is a breakdown in the social structure. I suppose that “police on the street, prison beds, court costs, alcohol abuse centers and domestic violence shelters” are all part of the “social structure.” Rather than address these individually, I will say that these things are often essential, and Libertarian Republicans usually agree with that. However, thinking the way Mr. Huckabee does, you would think that there should never be any question whether the government should tax people to pay for these kinds of things. Of course someone should question it! Of course someone should look at this spending and ask, “Do we really need more of this or at all? Could this be done more efficiently? Would this money be better spent somewhere else? Is this just being promoted so that some political interest can profit?” These are the really tough questions that take courage to ask and often lead to better results for citizens.

The worst misrepresentation he makes is that he represents some kind of “historic Republicanism.” Unless the last eight years counts as “historic,” then I have no clue what he is talking about and I know this party pretty well. At best, only a few prominent Republicans have been even tolerant of the New Deal and Great Society programs, while most have been downright hostile to them. They don’t work, they waste money, and they are programs designed to divest individual’s money and power into politically favored groups. Huckabee would have us never question this kind of activity if it even appears virtuous on it’s face. That way he and his socialist-Republican crowd could get away with anything they want as long as they color in virtuous, charitable terms.

Libertarian Republicans do not oppose virtue or charity – unlike the gutless political crowd, we just want to make sure we’re getting it when we pay for it and we know from history and simple common sense that human government does not do this very well.

"Republicans Need to be Republicans"
No truer words have been spoken. In an era where 1) the Federal Treasury is filled with our hard-earned money and our children’s credit, and is seen as a bottomless piggy bank for special interests at home and abroad, and 2) respect for individual privacy is attacked while government power expands in ways that are scary even by the standards of neo-conservatives; we could use a few Libertarians in this country. Huckabee should be reminded that we are the "historic Republicans," not him and his liberal buddies.

However, being a Republican does not mean you don’t believe in charity. We should not be misstating the history of the party, or confusing different wings of the party and misstating their positions to left-wing propagandist publications. It means believing in individuals before the government. We know government intervention is often necessary, but we are not supposed to blindly trust government activism. That’s why you give people their tax money back. That’s why the government is supposed to be small. That’s why you question the virtues of social engineering and force government charity.

There are many Republicans who are not at all committed to the principles of a free society - one which maximizes personal liberty and minimizes government activism. It is the Libertarian Republicans who are the conscience of this party, and are that constant voice from the back of the room for reducing spending AND taxing. Mr. Huckabee's assertion which muddles Libertarian Republicans with those who would hijack our integrity (i.e. neo-cons like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney) is both mistaken and disingenuous.

Americans believe in freedom from government. That’s traditional. That’s American. That’s what distinguishes “Historic Republicanism.”

[1] It is my view that Ronald Reagan is often mistakenly thought of to be a neo-conservative, but he demonstrated virtually no characteristics of such, except that he believed in a strong military, which is perfectly in line with what Libertarian Republicans believe.

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