Stimulus and Partisanship

Partisans to the left of me, partisans to the right. It was a sea of party politics. The partisans of good ideas, the searching thinkers, those who criticize the errors of their friends with the same enthusiasm that they criticize the errors of their enemies, were hard to find.

This is my third article about yesterday’s “Pork Roast Rally” in protest of the so-called “stimulus” package. I’ve also published photos of the event and extensive commentary about it (along with an audio recording). As I mentioned, the event was overly partisan, in the party sense, to fulfill its potential as a pro-liberty rally. But the few left-wing activists in attendance were no less devoted to party politics.

The Swastika Sign

Take, for example, the sign with the swastika. Mark Wolf writes about this and displays a photograph. Michael Huttner and Jason Salzman, the two left-wingers who attended, noticed this sign, took multiple photographs of it, and made a big deal out of it.

The sign was a dumb idea. Okay, the technical economic definition of fascism is political control of nominally private property, so in that sense Obama is moving in the direction of fascism (as was Republican George W. Bush before him). But the Nazis were particular sorts of fascists with a genocidal racist bent. Does that in any way describe Obama? No. So why go there? Besides that, using Nazi imagery tends toward shrillness in the course of normal American politics, and it is imagery that is easily misinterpreted (either innocently or willfully). So, again, dumb idea.

But the left’s treatment of the sign is ridiculously hypocritical. Let’s think back… did anyone on the left ever, at any point, call Bush a fascist or equate him with Hitler? Obviously. Many, many times. So why is it okay for the left to do it but not the right? (I think both sides ought to calm down a bit and stick to the substantive issues.) Did Huttner and Salzman condemn their fellow leftists with equal vigor? Hardly.

Huttner’s organization has also made a big deal out of the fact that Michelle Malkin had her photograph taken with the guy and his sign. But the guy approached Malkin, as did many others. If a guy with a “Bush = Hitler” sign had his picture taken with a prominent left-wing pundit, what would Huttner and Salzman have to say about that? I imagine they would say something like, “Look, you can’t condemn a whole crowd, or a popular pundit, for one random rallier’s stupid choice in imagery.” And that would be the sensible view. Whatever happened to the goose-gander rule?

Bailout Madness: Bush Versus Obama

My view is consistent: the Obama “stimulus” package is bad, and so was Bush’s. This is a view rooted in the ideas of liberty, not party politics. I am perfectly happy to condemn Republicans and Democrats alike for violating economic liberty and individual rights.

My Democratic and Republican friends were less eager to do so. Huttner actively promoted the Obama “stimulus” while condemning Bush’s. Jon Caldara and State Senator Shawn Mitchell opposed Obama’s “stimulus” and expressed opposition to Bush’s stimulus — just before explaining why it was more justified than Obama’s. I found their respective attempts to defend their parties humorous.

To their credit, both Caldara and Mitchell came out strongly against the federal expansions of the Republican Bush. Meanwhile, I have yet to meet a Democrat who does not treat Obama as something approaching Messianic.

Here is an audio recording of Huttner’s comments. Huttner’s position of opposing the Bush “bailout” while endorsing Obama’s “bailout” makes no sense whatsoever.

Listeners will also notice that a couple of misguided ralliers started shouting down Huttner in the middle of my interview. Salzman is saying, “Let him speak!” in the background. I’m saying, “hey, hey,” trying to shut up the rallier as he was telling Huttner to “get the hell out of here.” Look, I understand that passions tend to run high during rallies, but Salzman and Huttner had every right to be there. The entire purpose of the rally was to capture some of Obama’s media on the “stimulus” signing. Salzman and Huttner, likewise, were trying to capture some of the ralliers’ media, and they succeeded. That’s the way the game works, so keep those tempers in check.

I’ve compiled the comments of Caldara and Mitchell on the respective “stimulus” packages (sorry about the wind, which was incredibly strong in Denver yesterday, prompting me to joke that the “winds of change” aren’t so pleasant).

Caldara argued that, while he opposed the Bush bailout, at least the money is supposed to be paid back. That struck me as a weak defense; clearly taxpayers won’t get back a good chunk of that money. Plus, Caldara included tax breaks as part of Obama’s “stimulus” package; shouldn’t those be treated differently than straight spending, if we’re going to treat “loans” differently?

Mitchell made a more sophisticated argument about liquidity (while again opposing the Bush bailout). But the argument is bogus. What the Bush bailout accomplished was to reward failing banks and prevent the financial restructuring that would have put the economy on sounder footing. Bush also oversaw a massive assertion of more federal control over the banking industry, re-writing private contracts as he went. The long-term result of this will be to further socialize banks, leading to less economic stability and more political manipulation. As for the general liquidity argument, clearly the Federal Reserve — itself a political intrusion in the market — ought not artificially reduce the money supply, as it did during parts of the Great Depression. But that’s far different than just handing out “free” money to banks, which in some cases were essentially blackmailed into taking the funds whether they wanted them or not.

In general, a recession is not a primary economic problem: it is a symptom of previous malinvestment promoted by the federal government. As George Reisman exlpains, a recession is the period of readjustment, in which businesses tend to slash (nominal) prices and wages in the process of getting the economy going again. Not only is federal “stimulus” unnecessary for recovery, it damages real economic recovery.

I realize both Caldara and Mitchell were playing devil’s advocate while opposing the Bush bailout. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that their first reaction was not to blast Bush’s bailout and explain why it was a bad idea, but to defend it relative to Obama’s bailout. That is a party instinct that I do not share.

Notes on Partisanship

Salzman and Huttner carried around a ridiculous sign blaming the recession solely on George W. Bush and Colorado State Senator Josh Penry, neglecting the obvious fact that the federal congress as well as the entire state government have been in the hands of Democrats for some time. Their logic — that rising unemployment in the last year of Bush’s presidency proves that Bush and his fellow Republicans alone caused the recession — is laughably simplistic. In fact both Democrats and Republicans had a hand in forming the federal policies over many years that ultimately culminated in the recession. To blame Bush alone is silly enough; to add Penry to the mix is just partisan stupidity. (As Salzman acknowledged, they expect Penry to run for higher office next year.)

I’ve also spliced together comments of Huttner, Caldara, and Mitchell on partisanship.

Huttner’s idea of moving beyond partisanship is for everybody to follow Obama. Well, no thanks. Certainly I advocate partisanship for good ideas, if not for parties.

Caldara defended his speaking list without adding much new.

Mitchell came out strongly against Bush, saying, “George Bush was a terrible domestic president in many ways. Actually I think he was pretty good on supporting growth-oriented tax policies, and on at least raising the issue of Social Security. Beyond that, he was a big-spending, over-regulating mistake.”

Now that was a good answer that went beyond party politics.

The GOP’s Faith-Based Problem

Unfortunately, when I asked Mitchell about the GOP’s problems with social issues, his answer was less convincing. I have argued that the GOP’s faith-based politics, in addition to being wrong, is a huge political obstacle.

Mitchell tried to downplay the social issues:

It’s a real conflict, but the juxtaposition is grossly exaggerated. When you talk about social policy, we’re talking basically about abortion and marriage policies. … Even if you hold socially conservative views on those two issues, it doesn’t thrust the state nearly as heavily into everyone’s doings as liberal economic control does.

Anyone who has read the paper I coauthored against Amendment 48 knows why I disagree with Mitchell on that point. The tendency toward theocracy is at least as dangerous as the tendency toward left-wing socialism.

To me, Mitchell is the prime example of the Republican tragedy. He’s very smart, and he truly gets the economic case for liberty. At the same time, he promotes rights-violating government in personal areas. Republicans who could combine Mitchell’s economic sense, public grace, and brains with the corresponding social views of liberty would be unstoppable in Colorado. Such candidates could make clean, thoughtful, partisan politics something to again savor.

Unless that happens, I say a pox on both parties’ houses.

One thought on “Stimulus and Partisanship”

  1. Ari, the idea that Jon Caldara of all people is somehow a Republican apologist, or some kind of Republican at all is laughable. He is “married” to principle as much as you are.

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