Right now, the liberals are near declaring victory. The President's approval numbers are hovering around 40%. 58% (including 66% of "independents") disapprove of his job performance. The fall legislative agenda of more tax cuts has seemingly been shelved.
We all know this is a President who does not govern by poll numbers. Many of us on the right also know he has been disappointingly weak on some issues. Knowing politics and the ways of Washington as I do, some of this is his fault and a lot of it is not. I am going to digress from my usual practice here and propose a short reading list of a couple of books I believe will give you greater insight into some of the more thorny issues, namely Iraq and certain domestic policies.
Let's begin with the President's approval ratings: 40% approve, 58% disapprove. At least 45% of respondents would disapprove of him if we had democratized the entire Middle East, Osama bin Laden surrendered and delivered himself to U.S. custody, gas prices fell to less than $1 per gallon, economic growth doubled, the federal budget began running surpluses again. Unlike the perception the liberal media would want you to infer, the current approval ratings do not reflect a desire for a leftward lurch.
Do you think we should raise taxes, impose price controls and cause a gas shortage, do a Jimmy Carter and don the sweater and ask Americans to turn their thermostats down this winter and let up on the gas pedal, and to finally resolve the Iraq situation, abandon hopes of democratization and install another dictator and prop him up until he becomes unbearable to us? I would go anywhere to work in a campaign to defeat in a primary election any Republican member of Congress who buckled on taxes. And until then, as I set my thermostat at 72 in the winter and the cruise control of my SUV at about 85 when I'm on a rural interstate, may woe befall he who would repeat the abominations of the 1970s.
Every armchair Monday morning quarterback now squawks with no end about the apparent absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Easy now, but the unanimous agreement of every intelligence service and government around the world before we went to Iraq in 2003 was that those weapons were there. Everyone--France, Germany, Russia, and the UN--all said they thought Saddam Hussein had them. Some disagreed as to whether war was the answer.
I was one who thought we should have removed the Butcher of Baghdad long ago and for reasons well beyond WMDs. The only problem with the case for doing what we have done was that there were so many good reasons for doing so, selecting one primary reason to claim was quite difficult. Since the United States had worked in good faith to recruit additional allies in our efforts, we decided to settle on the one reason that would generate the most support: the WMDs that everyone--and I mean everyone--thought Saddam had.
Returning to our failure to find the WMDs, we must ask ourselves why. No sane person really believes this assertion was knowingly and intentionally concocted by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. We know Saddam Hussein had WMDs at some point because he used them against his own people back in the 1980s. As part of the 1991 cease-fire agreement with the UN, Saddam Hussein to not just not have WMDs, but to abandon all capabilities to produce them and to assume the burden of proof of proving he had done so and was continuing to obey this requirement.
This leads us to the only two possibilities to explain why we have not found the WMDs:
Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs. He had abandoned his WMD programs. His repeated denials of access to certain areas to inspectors and expulsion of inspectors once they started to force his hand were all a theatrical trick to maintain the perception he was a threat. If we had proven he was a paper tiger, a civil war would have likely erupted in Iraq if not invaded by Iran. Iraq and the Middle East would have suffered a far worse fate and the cause of the War on Terrorism would have only suffered. Since we in the U.S. had no love or trust for this evil megalomaniacal maniac, we would not have participated in this charade and left the poor people of Iraq to continue to starve under the failed sanctions we had imposed between 1991 and 2003.
This scenario I believe is the more likely. Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Maybe not mountains of them, but he had them. Very small quantities will do the job. The U.S. made its invasion threat plain for months before we actually invaded. He had plenty of time to sneak his WMDs out of the country, from which I think they were moved to Syria.
Iraq is part of the War on Terror. They had no known role in 9-11. However, the War on Terror is not a mere retaliatory strike for what happened on that horrible day 4 years and 9 days ago. We have chosen to fight this war not because it is easy, but because the alternative is a perpetual state of fear domestically and certainty of future attacks that would dwarf what we saw on September 11, 2001. Today we face the difficult but unavoidable task of draining the swamps from which the terrorists draw upon a seemingly inexhaustible supply of martyrs for their cause. It's quite easy to recruit young men to sacrifice themselves now for the promise of 72 virgins in Paradise when they live under repression and poverty that is unimaginable here and have nothing for which to live peaceably.
Today, Dave Peyton, normally the lovable leftist but not today and to whose blog I link, was on Hoppy's show ranting about how we need to abandon Iraq ASAP and let what may happen be. He was just on a roll and at least seemed principled until toward the end of his comments, at which time he said Saddam Hussein should have been removed a long time ago. Should we have just installed and propped up another strongman to hold power until we decide he needs to be replaced?
Here's where the first book of my reading list for you falls. If you did not buy and read it when first published, I want you to buy Natan Sharansky's The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. Even as studied in political theory and history as am I, I was nevertheless quite enlightened by Mr. Sharansky's simple dissertation on the power of democracy to root out the tendency toward violence. Sharansky has gone from prisoner in the Soviet gulag to the Cabinet of Israel.
Those who say democracy is not for the Middle East need to read more. After World War II, Germany had very little experience with representative government and Japan had none. It took us 8 years to inaugurate the first elected, independent government in West Germany. Japan, where the Emperor was God Almighty, elected its first parliament in 1955 and thrives today as a capitalist, democratic republic at peace domestically and internationally.
Thousands of years ago, although limited, democracy was a new experiment to the Athenians and then the Romans. 500 to 1,000 years ago, a millennium after the fall of Rome and even longer after the cessation of the Roman Republic, what political thought there was in the West viewed the Bible as prescribing the divine right of kings. Democracy and representative governments were long gone and had to be recreated anew. Yet the English aristocracy extracted from King John the Magna Carta and, over the ensuing centuries, power shifted to the Parliament, which over time eventually became a truly democratic body elected by all citizens and not just the landed gentry. John Locke would propose that all people were endowed by their Creator with certain rights that can never be taken by any just government, among which are "life, liberty, and property." In 1776, Thomas Jefferson would mold this theory, to wit:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Neither Jefferson nor Locke spoke of these inalienable rights applying only to white Europeans or Christian lands. While it took the United States another four score and nine years to finally unshackle the chains of bondage from the slaves and almost another century after that to implement the 14th Amendment (1868) via the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 15th Amendment (1870) via the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we nevertheless believed in this vision for ourselves and did not surrender this conviction because we had not perfected its operation.
Now, the realization of these inalienable rights is still a dream for billions around the world. Certainly it is for all Arab countries except Iraq, where we only recently delivered hope of realizing this promise. All we get from the left whenever this vision is discussed is criticism that we would not do the same for the Saudis, the Iranians, the Chinese, or anyone else--never mind the fact they would also oppose doing so even if we wanted to do so. With regard to Iraq, the hope of our mission there is that it might inspire other peoples to take it upon themselves to fight their despots and secure these rights for themselves. For more, you need to read The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.
Even though major combat ended long ago and the Iraqis are almost finished creating their constitution and electing an independent, sovereign government, too many people still think we're losing. In all honesty, too many Americans want instant gratification in all things, including war. To expect this is to expect what never was and never will be.
Here is where I think a lot of the President's popularity has been lost. As I said above, his approval rating is suffering by about 15% due to disgruntled conservatives. On some issues, like immigration and the budget, there is some substance to our grumbling. On others, it's a function of the President's disregard of the polls and a preference for actions over bombast that we vindicated in 2002 and 2004.
Many conservatives, myself included, are fit to be tied over the President's pandering to Hispanics--who, contrary to conventional wisdom, aren't a major constituency in favor of illegal immigration and the Administration's open border policy--and service industries who like plentiful cheap labor. Without changing any laws, he could enforce the employer sanctions of $10,000 per illegal alien employed. Without even asking Congress for more money for border fencing, border surveillance technology, and Border Patrol agents, enforcement of employer sanctions alone would dry up the demand for illegal alien labor and cause many illegal aliens to return home without the need for a logistically-impossible roundup of the more than 10 million people who have entered the U.S. illegally. If you think this is unfair, go down to Mexico and see how they treat their southern border. More importantly, by reducing illegal immigration, terrorists who will surely try to sneak through the Mexican border will not have the cover of all those who do not wish ill upon the U.S. to avoid capture by the Border patrol.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. With the possible exception of the Native Americans, every last one of us can trace our ancestors to other nations. My lineage on this continent can be traced to John Smith's arrival in Jamestown in 1607. People from ever nation in the world have come to the United States and become Americans. As long as you come here legally and do not wish ill upon this country, we say "Welcome," "Bienvenidos," "Bienvenue," "Willkommen," "Benvenuto," etc.
However, every nation must regulate immigration, not only to prevent the entry of subversives, but to provide for the orderly assimilation of immigrants and prevent the growing pains domestically that might accompany uncontrolled immigration. Most people around the world would like to come to the United States, but we just cannot accommodate everyone. Eighty percent of Mexicans would like to come here and half say they would do so illegally. This also goes back to the vision of exporting capitalism and democracy; we need to bring these opportunities, peaceably whenever possible, to people in other lands.
The President of the United States does not have--and should not have--any control whatsoever over the price of oil. Oil is a global commodity. To the extent government can influence oil and gas prices and scarcity, the federal government has done tremendous harm. And no, there is no collusion between the President and either his old buddies in the oil industry nor his daddy's buddies over in Riyadh. High gas prices are hurting both average folks and the entire business community outside energy producers.
Federal laws have blocked oil and gas production in numerous areas and stifled the development of enough refinery capacity to render a natural disaster in one local area irrelevant. The President just won this year passage of a watered-down energy bill that will still needs years to produce measurable effects. And even with this bill, no new domestic production has been opened. We need to allow drilling in ANWR, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, in the Great Lakes, offshore on both coats, etc.
Price controls have failed every time they have tried. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter both tried, and all we got were gas lines. As cruel as it seems, when gas is scarce, we should let prices and markets do their thing. I would rather that than spending considerable time waiting for gas and not being able to take long trips for fear of running out of gas along the way.
As Ronald Reagan would say, to say the federal government spends like a drunken sailor would be an insult to drunken sailors everywhere. At least when the drunken sailor spends profligately, it's his money. For some of this, fault lies not only with the President but exclusively at his feet; for other profligacy, like the highway bill, Congress.
For some of the recent bloat in the federal budget, President Bush is to blame. Two examples:
A decade ago, Congress wanted to shutter the Department of Education and either send the money directly to the states or eliminate education from the federal government, as one cannot find where in the constitution the enumerated powers of the federal government include educating the people. Article I, Section 8 specifically enumerates the powers of Congress, which have received only a handful of additions through subsequent amendments. The 10th Amendment provides, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Instead of passing the No Child Left Behind Act, we would have been better to revive the efforts of 1995. However, in mitigation, the President's heart is in the right place: he believes that imposing accountability through federal fund conditions will help children far more that fully restoring state and local control. I happen to disagree with this policy and believe the ends don't justify passing over an opportunity to restore a correct limit on the scope of the federal government.
Medicare prescription drugs. Here is where book #2 appears. I want you to buy and read Major Garrett's The Enduring Revolution : How the Contract with America Continues to Shape the Nation
. I was surprised myself to read one of the more intriguing details of the controversial 3-hour vote in the House of Representatives in 2003 on the prescription drug bill. That vote was on the conference committee version of the bill. The House bill was largely represented in that version. The Senate version was written by Ted Kennedy and would have been a true disaster. In the book, Garrett reports that while whipping the vote, Nancy Pelosi had announced an agreement whereby if the conference report was rejected, the House would then proceed to vote on the Senate version of the bill. The votes were there in the House for Teddy Kennedy's version of the bill if the conference report had failed. As he's done on other issues before, the President had told Congressional leaders to get the best bill they could because it would be signed no matter what. In part, this led to a misguided policy by not trying to further reform Medicare. However, with one party in control of both houses of Congress--albeit very narrowly--and the White House, Washington Republicans have a burden of delivering results.
One recent spending bill that would have not been affected by the president was the highway bill. If it had been vetoed, as President Reagan did in 1987 with a bill that had only about 160 earmarks rather than the thousand sin this year's bill, the votes would have been there for an override. A veto override by this Congress would not have been good for the President nor our party politically.
Facts of Life
Like I said above, Washington Republicans live under a burden of being the governing party, especially when dealing with a recalcitrant Democratic opposition that votes in lockstep opposition to everything substantive solely because they seek the political defeat of Republicans. It's especially sickening to know they do this not because they're for less spending and more limited government, but rather for even more spending and a greater domestic role for the federal government. To pass legislation, Washington Republicans have got to get 218 of 232 House Republicans (over 20 of whom come from districts that voted for Gore and Kerry) and 50 of then 51 (now 55) Senate Republicans--including Snowe, Collins, Chafee and, on his bad days, Specter. The simple fact is we could not deal with a veto fight between the President and a Republican-controlled Congress if the leaders lost control and the liberal Democrats swung enough Republican votes to pass even worse legislation.
A basic fact of life in Washington is that the House of Representatives has a narrow Republican majority but not a conservative majority and the Senate has a narrow Republican majority but not a conservative majority--not to mention the filibuster rule. If we want more conservative governance in Washington, we will need to elect more conservative Republicans in safe Republican districts and elect more Republicans to replace Democrats. Unfortunately, those red district/red state Democrats who have survived have largely immunized themselves to Republican challenges despite our efforts. There are more red state Democratic senators than red district Democratic congressmen who are vulnerable, and even this depends on GOP candidate recruitment and development.
Absent enactment of the Balanced Budget Amendment and the Line Item Veto Amendment, presidents will be woefully ill-equipped to aggressively restrain excessive federal spending without a committed majority in both houses of Congress to exercise restraint in the appropriations process.
To Republicans from blue districts or blue states--like Rick Santorum--who are conservative nevertheless, God bless you. For those who have to do what they have to do to stay in office, I understand. Stop placing the bullseye on blue state Republicans like Arlen Specter & Lincoln Chafee and instead go after some real RINOs that need primaried like Mike DeWine and that loose cannon senior senator from Arizona, John McCain, and his 2 Mini Me's: Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham. There are House members as well. The 20 or so from blue districts should be left alone, but others--especially those not preparing a run for the Senate or other higher office whereby moderation would be politically beneficial--such as Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest, should likewise move right or move out.
Democratic Deficit Demagoguery Dishonest
Congressional Democrats know many people desire lower federal spending and, despite their support for more spending, are now engaging in a very dishonest exploitation of the difficult situation in which Washington Republicans find themselves by exploiting budget deficits as a political issue. If most of them actually supported reducing spending outside the military and had not opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment, which came one vote short in the Senate of going to the states for ratification, I might give their pontification some serious merit.
In 1995 , Congressional Democrats serious about balancing budgets had their opportunity. HJR 1 had enough support to pass the House, but lost in the Senate by ONE VOTE. Click here for the Senate vote. Not that Senator Dole's Nay vote was to permit him, at a later point, to make the option to reconsider that vote, if an additional vote had switched.
With the possible exception of those who did vote for the Balanced Budget Amendment, those Democrats who cackle about deficits really just want to spend more money and raise our taxes to pay for it. To those who view fiscal responsibility based on whether revenues are raised to equalize expenditures, tax levels don't matter. In fact, for the 40 years the Democrats ran the House of Representatives, deficits didn't even matter one way or the other. When we complained about deficits, we wanted to reduce spending and promote pro-growth economic policies to expand the economic pie and raise revenues that way. In fact at the state level, Democrats here in West Virginia keep taxes high to fuel their spending desires and "maintain fiscal responsibility," even though our economy has long been in the crapper and people flee this state at the rate of 44 a day.
Sometimes, I almost wish Congressional Republicans would call the liberals on their bluff and hold another vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment, which today is HJR 58. We could also use a Line Item Veto Amendment, HJR 63. Unfortunately, not enough Democratic votes are there to pass either, since doing so would require 290 votes in the House (at least 72 Dems even if all 218 Republicans vote affirmatively) and 67 (at least 12 Dems even if all 55 Republicans vote affirmatively) in the Senate.
So folks, let's be a bit easier on the President. After all, he's just a man, not God. And thanks for putting up with my quite voluminous steam release!