Republicans and conservatives are trying to grapple with the Obama administration’s $3,600,000,000,000 federal budget — let’s include the zeroes rather than use the trivializing abbreviation $3.6 trillion — and the larger-than-previously-projected $1,841,000,000,000 budget deficit.
Political arguments are usually won not by numbers but by moral principles. And conservatives, banished by voters from high office, are having a hard time agreeing on a moral case.
The always thoughtful David Brooks complains in his New York Times column that Republicans learned the wrong lessons from John Ford’s classic Western movies. They should not be “the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice,” but rather “once again the party of community and civic order.” They should not celebrate the lonely hero that saves the town, but the everyday people who build the voluntary associations that Alexis de Tocqueville identified as the chief strength of America back in the 1830s.
But Brooks errs when he suggests that in opposing administration policies Republicans are betraying community and civic order. For the policies of the Obama administration are not designed to shelter and nourish what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons.” They are designed to subject them to what Tocqueville called “soft despotism,” which he identified as the natural tendency and potentially fatal weakness of American democracy.
Our would-be soft despots are offering Americans money and the promise of security against economic distress. The vastly increased cost of government will nonetheless nearly leave half of households free from the burden of paying federal income tax and eligible for occasional rebates. As CNN reporter Susan Roesgen said to a tea party protester, “Don’t you realize that you’re eligible for a $400 tax cut?”
In other words, take the money and shut up. Which brings to mind Tocqueville’s warning: “Every measure which establishes legal charity on a permanent basis and gives to it an administrative form creates thereby a class unproductive and idle, living at the expense of the class which is industrious and given to work.”
The Obama administration is assiduous in the protection of this administrative class. It offers $6,800,000,000 to the state of California on one hand, and then threatens to take it back because the state cut the pay of public employee union members by $74,000,000. The government gives JPMorgan Chase $25,000,000,000, and then insists that it give up in the Chrysler deal what it would ordinarily receive in bankruptcy proceedings and turn it over to fund the health care benefits of United Auto Worker retirees.
The policy proposals of the Obama administration are portrayed by Brooks as addressing the concerns of middle-income people uneasy about the workings of capitalism. But they are not aimed at giving these people more control and choices over the course of their lives — rather the contrary.
The medical treatment they would receive under a government health insurance plan would be determined by centralized experts making decisions based on “comparative effectiveness research,” which tends to produce different results from month to month. Their pay and working conditions would be determined, under the unions’ card check bill, by federal arbitrators. The cost of their electricity and the size of their cars could well be determined by officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.
No doubt most of these centralized experts will have good intentions. But they will also have imperfect information and a lack of accountability. “As Tocqueville recognized long ago,” Hillsdale College’s Paul Rahe writes in “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift,” “human dignity is bound up with taking responsibility for conducting one’s own affairs.”
In the course of doing so, it becomes clear that voluntary associations, market capitalism and moral virtues are interlinked. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks argues in The Wall Street Journal that tea party protesters were expressing the “ethical populism” of “homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare, and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts.”
Brooks makes the moral case against bailout politics and crony capitalism, a case that should appeal to the Western movie folks David Brooks writes about. Republicans are not perfectly positioned politically to make this case — the bailouts did start last fall. But voters will not be swayed just by rows of zeroes. They may be moved if they see that people are not getting their just desserts.
This column will show you that:
• Barack Obama’s financial disaster will be much worse than you probably think. That’s because there is another even bigger financial disaster lurking ahead and that will start to come into play in a few short years.
• There are alternatives to the Obama-style socialist health-care reforms. The Obama reform that will compound our financial crisis and create a health-care crisis
• You can find better thinking and analysis on our major public policy questions in a free publication than you can in many of the expensive periodicals and newspapers you may be subscribing to.
If you would like to read this great article by Herb Denenberg, please go to The Bulletin, Philadelphia’s Family Newspaper at http://thebulletin.us/articles/2009/04/23/herb_denenberg/doc49f024d471152996180582.txt
Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School. He is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Sarah Palin on August 2, 2008, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in Juneau, Alaska, to Hillsdale College friends and supporters during the College’s “North to Alaska” cruise from Seward to Vancouver.
NEXT YEAR IN ALASKA we are celebrating 50 years of statehood. We are still a very young state, and we’re still experiencing some growing pains, perhaps, as we seek opportunities for Alaska to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on the federal government. And the key to our becoming self-sufficient-and doing our part for our fellow Americans-is to develop further our state’s vast natural resource wealth.
Fifty years ago, this was our deal with the federal government-that we pull our own weight. And we’ve already come a long way from being known as “Seward’s Folly,” back when Alaska was purchased from the Russians for two cents an acre. We’re earning our keep, largely by tapping our energy resources such as crude oil and liquefied natural gas. In fact, Alaska has our nation’s only liquefied natural gas export facility, located in the south-central Alaska town of Nikiski. But Alaska could and should be doing much more.
Being an Alaskan today is especially exciting and historic, as the energy and fuel crisis in our nation spawns creativity and makes us reevaluate what is important and necessary. As we consider where our energy will come from in the future, Alaska can and must be a big part of the answer. In fact, Alaska has already begun to take the lead on a sorely needed national energy policy. Groundbreaking history was made just up the hill at the capitol building yesterday, as Alaska’s lawmakers voted to award TransCanada Alaska a license to proceed with fieldwork, permitting, and development of the biggest construction project in the history of North America-the building of a natural gas pipeline, a project we have been fighting to begin for three decades. Once constructed, this pipeline will supply four to four-and-one-half billion cubic feet of natural gas per day-roughly six percent of America’s demand-to our fellow countrymen in what we call “the lower 48.”
Just to provide some perspective, Alaska has tens of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under the surface, especially on the North Slope. Alaskans have longed for the right to access our gas and more of our oil to assist in supplying the U.S. market, and now we are finally on the road to doing so. This $30-40 billion infrastructure project-which will be built by the private sector-is one of the most exciting and progressive events in Alaska’s history.
This is a good start, to be sure. But Alaska has much more to offer in the way of resources. And let me tell you clearly that we can do so in a way consistent with good environmental stewardship. Each and every Alaskan recognizes that our most precious resource is the pristine environment in which we are privileged to live and where our “First People” still subsist to this day. No one can love or care for Alaska more than Alaskans. And we who live here recognize that sound science and constantly improving technology make it possible to extract oil and gas safely and responsibly. Furthermore, with gas and fuel prices reaching record highs, oil and gas must be extracted-even as we move in the direction of renewable and alternative sources of energy.
Because of the lagging economy, Americans do not have time for “all talk and no action.” Here at home, Alaskans struggle with the highest gas prices in the nation-the cost of gas in parts of Alaska is four to five dollars more per gallon than gas in the lower 48-and many face the choice between heating their homes and putting food on the table. Now other Americans are experiencing the same challenges. And we are in this position only because Alaska’s vast resources are being warehoused underground by Congress-placing us in a ridiculous and difficult position.
The price of oil, and now gasoline, has always been sensitive and subject to events occurring outside the U.S. We have placed ourselves in the position of having to plead with Middle Eastern suppliers to increase production, when instead we could lift the development bans that are keeping us from our own resource independence-namely, the bans relating to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and offshore drilling.
Alaskans find it incredibly frustrating that others-many of whom have never even set foot in our state, much less lived here-dictate how and when we can best use our own resources. Whether over the barren tundra or in our majestic mountains, we have a strong history of responsible development. To date, Alaska has sent more than 15 billion barrels of oil, safely and efficiently, to the lower 48. One look at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System illustrates that development and wildlife can and do coexist.
I’ve heard it said by some politicians that Alaska doesn’t have enough oil to make a difference. I can tell you honestly that we do have enough. And while consultants and experts debate the current energy crisis, Alaska is already preparing for its next role-providing American consumers with a safe and secure domestic source of crude oil and natural gas. In fact, if energy imports were curtailed completely, Alaska could provide our nation with seven years of crude oil independence and an eight-year supply of natural gas. These are numbers that reflect known and recoverable oil and gas deposits.
To repeat, Prudhoe Bay has produced 15 billion barrels of crude oil, and there’s more where that came from in ANWR, which is home to more than ten billion barrels of oil and nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas. I know this is a controversial issue. But most Americans do not realize that of the 20 million acres that make up ANWR, we are asking for the right to access just 2,000 of them-a mere 1/10,000th of the total area. Opening up just that sliver of ANWR-which would create a footprint smaller than the total area of Los Angeles International Airport-could produce enough oil (an estimated one million barrels per day) to ease America’s fuel crisis and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
It is also estimated that there are 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil and another 104 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore. In other words, offshore areas that are geologically promising, such as the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, hold roughly three-and-one-half years of U.S. oil consumption and four-and-one-half years of natural gas.
Congress can make it possible to take advantage of these resources right now, by streamlining access to offshore areas. As usual, outside interests are throwing up roadblocks and manipulating the legal system to achieve their agenda. But we need to bring some sanity back to the legal and permitting processes in the area of energy production.
In calling for bans to be lifted in order to get our nation out of the chokehold of high oil prices and dependence on the Middle East, I am certainly not rejecting the idea of alternative and renewable resources. I believe that we need to move in that direction, ultimately weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. But we can’t do it overnight-or even over a decade. In Alaska, we have almost limitless opportunities for thermal, wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy. In fact, our capital city of Juneau receives 80 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric energy. Recently we have created a renewable/alternative energy fund with an initial $50 million that will build to $250 million over a five-year period. Yet until the science is fully developed, until all our vehicles are green, we must wisely and responsibly utilize known and given oil and natural gas resources so that we can provide for ourselves.
Alaskans are a very unique kind of people. We hear this on a regular basis from our visitors from the lower 48. One thing that makes us so unique is that we are at once fiercely independent and incredibly community-minded. It may seem as though these two qualities would be in conflict, but I believe they are the complementary qualities which, in tandem, drove the American Revolution. Our forefathers fought and died for liberty and independence, but they did so together. Today, as we seek freedom from dependence on foreign oil-and freedom from having to send our presidents to plead with the Saudis for more oil production-we must join together again, in the spirit of freedom and independence, to gain access to our own energy resources.
I say this to you not just as Alaska’s governor, but as the mother of a soldier-my son, Track, will soon be deploying overseas in service to his country and to a war that is certainly complicated by our dependence on foreign resources.
We must open ANWR and lift the ban on offshore drilling. The science and technology to harvest our resources responsibly and safely are in hand. The time for congressional action and leadership is now.