The GOP debaters in Miami Wednesday night might as well have been swathed in war paint. After two hours of endless blathering about Foreign Wars, Border Wars, Culture Wars, Drug Wars, China Wars etc. it was hard to form any other impression about the agenda of today’s GOP.
To be sure, Vivek Ramaswamy gets a hall pass on the matter because he did nail the worst warmonger in the group, Nikki Haley, with his “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels” zinger. Indeed, the entire quote is worth replicating because it’s obvious that as a Republican no one ever heard of, Vivek hadn’t gotten the neocon memo about Washington’s duty to police the planet:
I want to be careful to avoid making the mistakes from the neocon establishment of the past. Corrupt politicians in both parties spent trillions, killed millions, made billions for themselves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting wars that sent thousands of our sons and daughters, people my age to die in wars that did not advance anyone’s interests. Adding $7 trillion to our national debt. And Joe Biden sold off our foreign policy. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, got a $5 million bribe from Ukraine. That’s why we’re sending $200 billion back to that same country.
The fact of the matter is, the Republican Party is not that much better. You have the likes of Nikki Haley, who stepped down from her time at the UN, bankrupt or in debt, as was her family. Then she becomes a military contractor. She joins the board of Boeing and otherwise and is now a multi-millionaire. So I think that that’s wrong when Republicans do it or Democrats do it. That’s the choice we face. Do you want a leader from a different generation who’s going to put this country first, or do you want Dick Cheney in three-inch heels?
Still, there is actually something more deeply awry in Republican land than merely its zealous embrace of the neocon Forever Wars. The modus operandi that all the above-mentioned GOP wars have in common is the active deployment of government power to purportedly do good and thwart evil.
That is to say, the pitch amounts to “elect Republicans and we will power-up the state to make domestic society better and the world safer because we are more virtuous than the Dems”.
Yet what in the world does that have to do with the core anti-state mission of the Opposition Party in the contest of democratic politics?
After all, the do-gooder agenda has already been pre-empted by the Dems’ Government Party with its legions of liberal pols, well-fed interest groups and statist constituencies of every shape and form. There is no point now, and never has been, in me-tooism, RINO fakery and junior status in the Washington Uniparty.
So by definition, the Opposition Party needs to ground itself in conservative constitutionalism and advocacy for personal liberty and free markets at home and peaceful commerce abroad. Everywhere and always, therefore, the first priority of the Opposition Party must be shackling, minimizing, draining and constraining the power and resources of the state because by the very nature of the beast, government is self-aggrandizing and expansionary. And that’s most especially true on the Warfare State side of the equation.
Moreover, in the case of whatever societal problems the state might productively address, if any, the “Government Party” of the Dems will inherently grab first dibs. The Opposition Party will never out-bid them and shouldn’t try. As a matter of political competition, therefore, its strategy should be to throw endless shade on government and all its misbegotten works.
Accordingly, the Opposition Party’s brand should center on:
Celebrating the capacity of private society, free markets, civil institutions, families, citizens and other non-government actors to achieve the goods things of life, which humans in all their varieties and stations inherently strive for.
Debunking, exposing, attacking and ridiculing the inherent tendency of the state and its agencies and apparatchiks to abuse government power, waste the resources its has extracted from the public and to succumb to capture by nefarious actors, ranging from the military-industrial complex to Big Pharma, the farm lobby, the teachers’ unions and all the other feeders at the public trough.
Needless to say, the “war against….” rhetoric of today’s GOP embodies exactly the wrong tone and message. It essentially involves a misguided attempt by the putative “conservative” party to identify an alternative slate of societal problems which require government ministrations, albeit in a business-like Republican-style.
For instance, nearly to a man and woman, the five candidates took turns declaiming against the plague of fentanyl, promising to bring down the wrath of Washington on the alleged Chinese suppliers of the precursor components and the Mexican cartels which formulate it and bring it across the border. DeSantis even said he would “smoke” them on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande—the implied invasion of another country to the contrary notwithstanding.
Yes, fentanyl is a terrible thing, but it is absolutely not something the Federal government can or should do anything about. To the contrary, it is just one of a legion of social maladies and personal afflictions that needs be addressed by the families and communities impacted and by the civil intuitions, including medical and psychiatric care professionals, that exist in abundance to address and hopefully remediate such ills.
Just citing the toll of lives lost or afflicted by this scourge does not a case for a federal War on Fentanyl make. Yes, in the year ending in April 2021 there were 40,010 deaths from fentanyl overdoses among the US population aged 18-45 years.
But also, among that age cohort, to name only a sample, there were—
21,335 deaths from traffic accidents,
17,114 deaths from cancer,
21,678 deaths from suicide,
13,240 deaths from homicides,
15,000 deaths from drownings, strangulation, choking, poisonings and other non-auto accidents.
All deaths of people in this prime-of-life category are tragic, of course, and are to be minimized whenever possible. But in a free society there is an inherent statistical risk that some people will drive recklessly, eat unhealthily, be victimized by criminals, succumb to their own demons, foolishly swim in dangerous currents or just plain inherit bad genes or experience a fatal moment of bad luck.
Consequently, the state can’t possibly be in the business of eliminating the hazards of daily life in all its manifold manifestations—at least not without severe curtailment of individual liberty and responsibility. For example, a 5 MPH speed limit would eliminate most of the deaths from traffic accidents, but it would also eliminate the very point of auto travel.
In the particular case of fentanyl, the GOP’s misguided “war” agenda is especially evident. At the present time both China and the Mexican cartels have been officially demonized by the pro-government forces in Washington. So it was easy for the GOP debaters to attack the precursor chemicals from China and the finished product formulators in Mexico.
Then again, in both cases the alleged villains are simply people attempting to make a living responding to market demands. And in this case, we are talking about perverse market demands for poisons generated by Washington’s idiotic War on Drugs.
In a word, young people are dying from fentanyl either because it is spiked into other recreational drugs, and they ingest it unknowingly; or they knowingly consume this poison because other drugs are too expensive owing to government-enforced prohibition.
Either way, the obvious “safe” alternative is to legalize all recreational drugs, thereby bringing them out of the criminal underground into legal commerce at far lower prices. You can’t enforce liability laws against Mexican cartels, of course, but against the pharmaceutical manufacturers and drug retailers, which would take over a legalized recreational drug trade, you certainly can bring suit for harms caused by impurities and false labeling.
That is to say, many of these drugs are harmful enough in their own right. But when you force their production and distribution into underground channels operated by vicious criminals, you compound the dangers with rampant product adulterations and mis-labeling that would be minimized, if not eliminated entirely, but liability-law protected legal trade.
Beyond that, it’s up to drug users and their families and community institutions to treat with abuse and addiction. The fact is, abuse of recreational drugs is a job for medical professionals to ameliorate or prevent, not the jackboots of the DEA on the Mexican border or sanctions-happy bureaucrats in the US Treasury Department huffing and puffing against chemical manufacturers in China.
In short, when you get the first principles of liberty and a free society correct, you don’t come up with an excuse for another government sponsored war on the evil of the month. The latter comprise the very building blocks from which Leviathan and its Nanny State auxiliaries grow.
In this regard, another core principle of capitalist prosperity is free labor markets. That’s the very pillar, in fact, upon which America’s 19th and early 20th century economic miracle was built. And that all happened, when the world was barely in the age of the telegraph and telephone.
By contrast, in today’s digitally interconnected world with something like 3 billion Facebook users, there should never be a shortage of labor in America—from the bottom of the pay and skill ladder to the very top. Employers and capitalist should be free to digitally recruit from abroad to supplement America’s punk native demographics, and to issue Guest Worker permits to immigrants who meet their employment criteria and minimal public standards.
Alas, that doesn’t happen because it is illegal to come here for work—the very magnetic force upon which America’s Melting Pot was built. Instead, there is a massive pile-up of humanity at the border because beyond a limited number of family reunification visas and skilled worker slots, the only way to get here is to illegally cross the border and apply for asylum.
Stated differently, the endless columns of humanity trudging toward and across the Rio Grande featured nightly on FDN (Fox Disinformation Network) are actually overwhelmingly willing workers and their families. But owing to Washington completely broken, outmoded, wrong-headed and anti-market immigration system, they are being forced to pose as asylum-seekers, and to then endure months and years of processing through a completely broken and unnecessary bureaucratic vetting and approval process, if they are not deported beforehand.
Yet did any of the putative GOP candidates on the stage in Miami stand-up for a digital age Welcome Wagon program for bringing Guest Workers and future citizens across the border in a technologically-enabled, work-based and business-like manner?
Obviously, they did not. The GOP has gotten so inebriated by its misbegotten Border Wars that the debate became a contest to see who could propose sending the most national guard troops to and across the border of the presumably sovereign country to our south. Yes, the GOP has become so red-in-tooth-and-claw that its leading candidates essentially propose to wage war on Mexico (again!).
Then there is the crucial constitutionalist principle of Federalism. The Founders properly understood the danger of too much centralized government power, and therefore provided for a Federation of States, reserving all the unenumerated and unprohibited powers of government to the several states.
This Federalism principle is the only practical way to govern a nation of 335 million people embedded in a $26 trillion economy of infinite complexities, interactions, feedbacks and subtilties of function. The current path of centralization, in fact, is a recipe for decision overload and political strife, paralysis and dysfunction.
Needless to say, the Federalism principle was badly wounded by the New Deal and its progeny, and by the related Supreme Court ukases which validated the shift of power from the states to Washington, but there is at last some semblance of Federalism still displaying a beating heart. After all, we do have 86,000 units of state, city, town, village, county, township and special district governments that are doing a wide range of good, bad and indifferent governmental chores, and spending upwards of $4.3 trillion per year doing so.
Moreover, today’s most conservative Supreme Court in several generations gives hope for at least a modest revival of the Federalism principle—a hope that was powerfully boosted by last year’s historic Dobbs decision on abortion.
In essence, the Robert’s Court ruled, appropriately, that no “right” to abortion is to be found anywhere in the Constitution, and that its limits and regulation, if any, is a proper matter for exercise of the police powers of state governments and their sub-jurisdictions. So doing, Dobbs moved an intractable and fractious political matter out of the domain of central government politics, delegating it to the varieties of Red and Blue State approaches to state regulation.
In essence, Dobbs was a godsend to the Washington GOP, removing it from the domain of national legislation, debate and fracture. But Wednesday night these clowns insisted on looking a gift horse in the mouth, competing for who could formulate the most compelling approach to a federal limit on abortion.
How about none at all? How about allowing the Laboratories of Democracy, as Brandeis called the states, to work out how the police powers of the state and individual medical choice freedom are to be balanced out? And to do so in whatever manner different constituencies may choose across the length and breadth of the land.
But no cigar there, either. The GOP has gotten so infiltrated by Right-to-Life Crusaders and their kissing cousins, the Culture Warriors, that it insists on making like a political moth on abortion, always heading for the fatal light bulb of electoral rebuke.
Meanwhile, it just so happened that Wednesday was also the day on which the run rate of interest on the public debt crossed the $1 trillion per year mark. That implies a fiscal catastrophe of staggering dimensions is fast barreling down the pike.
Yet in their closing statements did even one of the five candidates address this issue? Did these wanna be standard bearers for the Republican Party even know that the safeguarding of fiscal sobriety in the tussle of American democracy is the very reason for the GOP’s existence?
Alas, embroiled in the Foreign Wars, Border Wars, Culture Wars, Drug Wars, China Wars etc. these spokesmen for the defacto Second Government Party did not say boo about the central matter that should animate a true Opposition Party in the face of America’s festering fiscal calamity.
Reprinted with permission from David Stockman’s Contra Corner.
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