Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler by Randy Roberts

May 1, 2016

While I’m an avid reader of sports biographies, rarely do I enjoy biographies that try to incorporate political and social issues into the narrative. The efforts usually come off heavy-handed, espousing a predictable left-of-center point-of-view that disregards alternative lessons that are just as (if not more) truthful. Every now and then, however, I’ll come across an author who does a superb job weaving politics and social issues into a story.

Such is the case with an older book I just finished, Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler by Randy Roberts. Dempsey’s heavyweight title reign raised issues that are grappled with in today’s America: patriotism during wartime, race, income inequality, the so-called declination of America’s moral values, and the legal status of combat sports.

Take patriotism during wartime. During his title reign, Dempsey was dogged with accusations of unpatriotism, due to his draft deferment from WWI. For his part, as Roberts ably documents, Dempsey participated in numerous efforts to help “the war effort” as proceeds from a number of fights went directly to war-related charities. But Roberts also brings up an important point: had Dempsey fought in WWI, his presence “would have meant no more than the weak clerks and near-sighted boys he might have fought alongside.” Is there any morality in risking your life in a conflict America had no business to be involved in? Pat Tillman’s involvement in the military didn’t turn the tide of war-instead his death from friendly fire was deplorably used by the government as a PR stunt. Instead of questioning Dempsey’s moral standing, his critics would have accomplished more questioning the moral standing of drafting Americans into an unnecessary conflict.

Race was also a point of contention during Dempsey’s reign. During most of Jack’s time on top, the number one contender for the heavyweight title was a black fighter named Harry Wills. For his part, Dempsey had contradictory stances. After winning the belt, he claimed support for enforcing the heavyweight division’s color barrier. Later during his reign, he reversed positions. Whatever his true feelings (he had fought black fighters in the past, so it would appear he was willing), nothing ever came of it. Promoters and boxing commissioners prevented the fight from coming to fruition.

Roberts also does an excellent job documenting the moral crusaders’ war on boxing, as they used their pulpits to decry boxing’s commericialism and impact on our culture. The moralists were offended that athletes like Dempsey could make so much money pursuing gross violence. And, much like in today’s world, they fought a losing battle. At the end of the day, if the public is willing to pay vast sums of money for entertainment, there is nothing wrong with those entertainers being able to profit from plying their trade. As for the “national degeneracy” that boxing created during Dempsey’s reign, this was another battle the moralists lost. By the end of his life, instead of representing degeneracy, Dempsey was regarded as a national institution, earning praise from President Reagan as a champion “in the hearts of the American people.”

If the political/social context doesn’t interest the reader, the book does an exemplary job of giving blow-by-blow details of Dempsey’s title fights, business dealings during the ’20s, and colorful portraits of the people in Dempsey’s life. The only disappointment was the little attention given to Dempsey’s life after boxing.

Highly recommended.

Recarving Rushmore by Ivan Eland

July 11, 2015

As a pretty consistent non-voter who often goes against conventional wisdom, a book that declares over half of America’s presidents “poor” or “bad” is bound to get my attention.

The book in question is Ivan Eland’s Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty. Originally published in 2009, an update was published in 2014 to include President Obama. Using peace, prosperity, and liberty as measuring sticks for presidential greatness (instead of attributes like charisma) show whether Oval Office occupants truly left the country better or worse off.

I’m not going to write on every evaluation Eland gave the chief executives, but highlight some things that stuck out.

-Abraham Lincoln: Ranked 29. Eland is one of many libertarians critical of Lincoln’s presidency. Nevertheless, with recent debate on the Confederate flag and what it symbolizes, Eland makes great points about southern heritage: the South advocated federal power over states’ rights when it came to preserving slavery, violated the free speech rights of southern abolitionists, suspended habeas corpus, ignited the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter, and, oh by the way, practiced slavery. One need not think of Lincoln as a saint to be horrified by the practices in the south. This was an across-the-board horrible time in US history.

-Woodrow Wilson: Eland’s pick for worst president ever. Why this racist war-monger receives such high praise, I can’t fathom. Eland does a superb job bursting Wilson’s bubble.

-Warren G. Harding: Eland gives this much-maligned presidency some well-deserved kudos, crediting Harding’s policies for reviving the economy, promoting peace, and backing civil rights. He puts the administration’s scandals in proper perspective, stating the “money pocketed by dishonest individuals during his administration was minuscule compared to the money the government wasted on legal pork-barrel spending.” He does contend the 1920s were a period of loose monetary policy, something Richard Timberlake thoroughly debunks.

-Harry Truman: Ranked 40. Truman’s imperial presidency included an undeclared war, fueling the Cold War and entrenching the military-industrial complex.

-JFK: Ranked 36. The claim Kennedy called himself a “jelly doughnut” is likely false.

-Ronald Reagan: Ranked 36. Even though I’ve stated Reaganomics did more good than harm, I also contend Reagan is the most overrated Republican president in history. Eland supplies good ammo for that point-of-view, convincingly arguing that the conservative “demigod” Reagan did NOT win the Cold War and providing a good analysis of why Iran-Contra (“selling weapons to a state-sponsor of terrorism”) was a bigger scandal than Watergate. Eland is more critical of Reaganomics than I am, but surprisingly overlooks the collateral damage of Reagan’s revamped war on drugs, damage that still ricochets today.

-George W. Bush: For me, the highlight of the book, as he encapsulates perfectly why this was such a dreadful presidency. For my money, the worst in my lifetime. Even with this takedown, Eland barely touches upon the torture policies and doesn’t even acknowledge Bush’s regulatory record.

-Barack Obama: Eland argues convincingly Obama is in many ways just a continuation of the Bush presidency. He ranks higher than Bush since he’s not launching full-scale occupations of other countries like his predecessor. The newest edition does not cover recent activity such as moves to normalize relations with Cuba and his improved 2nd-term clemency record. Eland rightfully takes Obama to task for resurrecting failed Keynesian economics.

Despite the points of contention listed above, the book does an excellent job of showcasing how presidents consistently fail to live up to the libertarian ideals of peace, prosperity, and liberty. Highly recommended.

Why “The Road To Serfdom” Still Resonates

November 17, 2014

I first read Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom in 2007. For whatever reason, TRTS didn’t “wow” me upon first reading, but after recently revisiting the book, I’m now “wowed.” For this post, I’m going to comment on specific passages that resonated strongest upon my second reading.

1. “By giving the government unlimited powers, the most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.”

Civil asset forfeiture gives credence to Hayek’s warning. We’re reaching the point where government officials feel no guilt using deception to take the property of innocent middle class people:

• One city attorney called his legal documents a “masterpiece of deception” and has won 96 percent of his forfeiture cases.
• An assistant district attorney takes property, even from owners who have been acquitted, because “people are not found innocent, they are found not guilty.”
• One government official doesn’t want to disclose information about civil forfeiture, because it might become a “bullet-point for people that are trying to fight the program.”
• A prosecutor teaches other attorneys how to take property from innocent people. He even offers this piece of advice, “IF IN DOUBT…TAKE IT!”

The fact that we have a democracy isn’t enough to protect innocent people if the rule of law is disregarded.

2. “From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s…”

Nowhere in this reading does Hayek try to condemn a person’s personal preferences. Compare this to Ayn Rand, who puts boundaries on what can bring you individual happiness. Per Ms. Rand, pursuing “any mindless fraud” will result in the “torture of frustration.”

3. “It is rarely remembered now that socialism in its beginnings was frankly authoritarian. The French writers who laid the foundations of modern socialism had no doubt that their ideas could be put into practice only by strong dictatorial government.”

Political freedom and socialism are not compatible. History has borne this out. Modern trends validate history.

4. “There has never been a worse and more cruel exploitation of one class by another than that of the weaker or less fortunate of a group of producers by the well-established which has been made possible by the “regulation” of competition.”

This is the type of cronyism the Institute for Justice fights every day, as they stand up for teeth-whiteners, food vendors, and taxi drivers (to name just a few examples) against politically-connected business interests. Leave it to the capitalists to smear capitalism.

5. “Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite…”

This tendency of governments was given a title a few years later by Orwell: doublespeak. Examples of doublespeak abound in politics. Both Democrats and Republicans have employed it for rather nefarious ends.

6. “Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people.”

As Jonathan Gruber explained, this is exactly what was done to pass Obamacare.

7. “It is, in fact, in this field that the fascination of vague but popular phrases like “full employment” may well lead to extremely shortsighted measures, and where the categorical and irresponsible “it must be done at all cost” of the single-minded idealist is likely to do the greatest harm.”

This mindset is what led the Democrats to rush through the so-called “stimulus” bill in 2009. “Full employment” was not attained. Again, history shows the poor track record of government spending ‘at all cost’ to create jobs.

8. “The part of the lesson of the recent past which is slowly and gradually being appreciated is that many kinds of economic planning, conducted independently on a national scale, are bound in their aggregate effect to be harmful even from a purely economic point of view…”

Again, modern trends verify this. Historically, there is no better case study than the Soviet Union on how the vile methods of central planning produced fatally dismal results.

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Why does The Road To Serfdom still resonate? Because ideas that have been tried before are being sold to the public again and again using the same arguments and buzzwords Hayek thoroughly debunked in this classic book.

Conservatives would also be wise to heed Hayek’s words, as the government intrusions they promote often produce the type of arbitrary government he staunchly opposed. This could be why Hayek distanced himself from the conservative label.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller

August 21, 2014

If you read reviews of Frank Miller’s work on websites like Amazon or Goodreads, the consensus seems to be that Miller has lost his touch. Many comic book fans who love The Dark Knight Returns seem to think Miller’s “jump the shark” moment came with TDKR’s sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again (or DK2). For that reason, I’ve avoided DK2 for years. Since I’ve been on a bit of a Miller reading binge this year, I bit the bullet and read DK2. Apparently I’m in the minority, because I enjoyed it.

The world of DK2 has fallen into martial law, corporatism, and militarism. Because “people are so intoxicated by luxury,” they have allowed themselves to become “house pets.” Superheroes are a near-extinct species, save for Superman, who is once again under the thumb of corrupt powers-that-be. Batman, living in hiding since TDKR, is ready to rise up with his followers and “give them hell.” Hell is certainly delivered.

DK2 revisits some themes from TDKR: Superman as a pawn of the US government, media sensationalism, the rivalry between Batman and Superman, and how Batman’s vigilantism undermines the federal government. That final theme is even more explicit here than in TDKR. Combine this with a 2011 blog post on the Occupy movement and Miller’s propagandizing graphic novel Holy Terror and you have your explanation for the anti-DK2 sentiment. I can see why people are turned off by Holy Terror. But Miller’s politics in DK2 don’t fit into a convenient left-right narrative. Fighting against the corrupt powers-that-be include an avowed communist and an Objectivist-themed hero named The Question. Since The Question is espousing Randian philosophy and Miller doesn’t treat the character derisively, critics attempt to paint the whole work as advocating fascism, despite the fact that the heroes are fighting AGAINST fascism.

The storytelling may be a bit scatter shot, but I don’t detect any major differences in his writing here as compared to TDKR or any of his work in the highly acclaimed Sin City books. Even if DK2 doesn’t reach the epic levels of TDKR, the work is still a solid graphic novel. Recommended if you can handle a story that presents a different worldview than the standard leftist fare.

The End Of Prosperity by Laffer, Moore, and Tanous

May 14, 2014

Has prosperity ended since Barack Obama started his presidency in 2009? That possibility seemed to be the selling point of the 2008 book The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy-If We Let It Happen. While it’s a stretch to say prosperity in America has ENDED, I think it’s safe to say the “recovery” has been sluggish (in large part because of Obamanomics). The book’s authors, Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore, and Peter Tanous, offer their prescription for the economy: a return to supply-side economics. How well do they make the case?

Per the book, there are four actions policymakers take that kill prosperity: trade protectionism, tax increases/profligate spending, increased regulations/government intervention, and loose monetary policy. The authors give good summaries of the economic policies that prove this point: Hoover protectionism knocked down US GDP, New Deal policies kept unemployment averaging 12% until WWII, and the “four stooges” in between Presidents Kennedy and Reagan brought us stagflation.

On the opposite end, when policymakers pursue pro-growth tax cuts, it is “less expensive for the job-creating class to expand their businesses, to raise the capital for new plants and equipment, and to hire new workers.” Examples cited to prove these points include the Harding-Coolidge tax cuts (which raised per capita income), the tax cuts of 1964 (which gave America a 6.4% economic growth rate), and the Irish cutting their corporate tax rate from 48% to 12.5% (which spiked Ireland’s growth rate while slashing unemployment). A smart tax policy is undoubtedly an important factor in just how productive a country’s economy will be.

But this leads to the book’s weakest point: tunnel vision. The authors claim that supply-side economics is more than just preaching tax cuts (such as their reference to the four “prosperity killers”). Yet the authors don’t acknowledge how the economy grew exponentially right after WWII thanks to severe spending cuts. President George W. Bush get only a token slap on the wrist for the profligate spending and regulatory record that helped trigger the recession (with no reference to monetary policy during this time).

Tunnel vision is also apparent when the authors discuss their “hero,” Ronald Reagan. Yes, President Reagan improved the tax system. Yes, President Reagan lent his support to actions that broke inflation. The results of these policies were more positive than negative. But their claim that Reagan was a “free-trader par excellence” is laughable. And while Reagan may have a good spending record compared to some of his predecessors and successors, his handling of entitlement spending only reinforced the unsustainable path these programs are leading us.

The End of Prosperity contains useful statistics, so it gets my recommendation. But the book is not gospel. Supply-siders do not offer a principled stand against runaway government growth, choosing instead to celebrate the Laffer curve impact tax cuts have on federal revenue. For libertarians, this is a source of continuous disappointment.

Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson

March 26, 2014

If ever an athlete was a bona fide force of nature, it was Mike Tyson. Very few boxers ever had the aura of malevolence as Iron Mike, which made him one of the most fascinating athletes in history. Tyson’s autobiography Undisputed Truth, while not providing an undisputed chronicle of his life and career, certainly captures the malevolence and mayhem that seemed to follow Tyson wherever he went.

The mayhem starts the moment he was born. His mother slept with men while Mike shared the same bed. His father was absent. He was raised by the streets, as Tyson tells stories of robberies, fights, and trouble with the justice system. During a stint in reform school, Tyson came into contact with counselor Bobby Stewart, a former fighter. Stewart put Tyson into contact with Cus D’Amato. The course of Tyson’s life changed forever.

Tyson’s boxing career reads as a Greek tragedy. He was a wrecking machine in the amateurs, fighting a pro style early on. Tyson documents the psychological tactics D’Amato taught him, which were used to create a menacing aura that struck terror into the hearts of men. As someone who enjoys reading about boxing, I would have enjoyed more blow-by-blow details of his professional fights (although in fairness, many of them ended rather abruptly). One fight Tyson does detail is his out-of-the-ring scuffle with Mitch “Blood” Green. For comedic value, this is the highlight of the book, as well as the highlight of his stage show. At his peak, Tyson was the most feared athlete in the world and the highest paid. At the end, he suffered losses against mediocre opposition while deep in debt. Part of that bankruptcy is in part due to his business dealings with Don King. According to Tyson, King bilked him for millions. One egregious example includes Tyson paying $52,000 a year to King’s daughter to be president of the Mike Tyson Fan Club. He also claims his business managers from the 1990s were in King’s back pocket. Despite King’s shenanigans, Tyson’s own appetites are largely responsible for his fall from grace.

Does Tyson own up to his shortcomings? Tyson certainly doesn’t sugarcoat his years of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity, providing story after story of his debauchery. An epilogue to the book serves as a confessional, as he fell off the wagon in 2013. Tyson expresses regret for these things, and it comes off as sincere. But he’s not always convincing. Like many boxers, Tyson is quick to spin his defeats in the ring. According to Mike, Buster Douglas should have been counted out in the 8th round, and Holyfield’s constant head-butting triggered his first defeat and his meltdown in their infamous rematch. Probably the biggest source of debate in this memoir, though, will be his take on the events of 1991 that led to his rape conviction. Tyson provides a very graphic description of his encounter with Desiree Washington, something he states is necessary to prove his innocence. I’ll concede he does a better job than his incompetent legal team of creating reasonable doubt, but the behavior described in the book also reinforces the image prosecutors (and his defense) painted as a guy out of control. Ultimately, only two people know for sure what happened.

The book is not perfect. The claim that Frank Bruno knocked out Lennox Lewis is wrong, as Lewis KO’d Bruno in 1993. Thomas Hauser points to other errors in the April 2014 edition of The Ring magazine. Along with this, the stories about drugs and sex got monotonous and could have been trimmed down. Nevertheless, Undisputed Truth should be mandatory reading for any boxing fan. Not too many autobiographies get as raw as this.

McCain: The Myth of a Maverick by Matt Welch

February 22, 2014

Why would a book about John McCain’s political views still be relevant?

The fight for the GOP’s future is being waged amongst tea party conservatives, establishment Republicans, and a growing libertarian wing (with certain figures overlapping these loosely defined factions). One faction doesn’t receive as much publicity at the moment, but is still prominent and could once again take the GOP helm: national-greatness conservatism. This is John McCain’s brand of Republican politics. Knowing what distinguishes this brand from the others will be important if a liberty-minded movement has any chance to move the needle in the Republican Party. Matt Welch’s 2007 book, McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, provides a solid roadmap to understanding McCain and the broader national-greatness ideology.

Drawing upon his personal experiences in Vietnam, the narratives of both his real-life and fictional heroes, the insights of neo-conservative magazine The Weekly Standard (which popularized the term “national-greatness conservatism”), and arguably the foundations of 12-step recovery programs, Senator McCain’s political aspirations were molded into a recurring theme: “a cause greater than our own self-interest.” And that greater cause? American nationalism.

McCain’s “greater cause” envisions pride in our public institutions and “patriotism” before “profit.” In terms of domestic policy, the “greater cause” translated to McCain’s past support for tobacco taxes, mandatory drug testing of professional athletes, a “Patients Bill of Rights,” closing the so-called “gun-show loophole,” and, perhaps most famously, campaign finance reform. It also explained his opposition to the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.

The greatest implications of McCain-style national-greatness conservatism are in the realm of national security. The “greater cause” embraces rogue-state rollback, an affirmation of America as the world’s policeman, and expanded powers for the executive branch. The Bush-Obama years have essentially carried out the McCain doctrine: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the unauthorized war in Libya, indiscriminate drone strikes, and an unaccountable surveillance apparatus. Yes, Hussein and Gaddafi are dead. But so are thousands of Americans and Middle Eastern civilians. Unchecked surveillance made criminals of innocent Americans. Is our country in better shape because of this?

The book isn’t an entire repudiation of Senator McCain. Welch praises McCain for tackling pork-barrel spending, immigration reform, and his service in Vietnam. But Welch calls the senator to task for politically-expedient flip-flopping on issues such as ethanol subsidies and the Bush tax cuts. Welch also provides analysis of McCain’s relationship with the media and his predecessor, iconic conservative Barry Goldwater.

Taken as a whole, the book shows Senator McCain’s proclivity towards an authoritarianism that is contrary to “the nation that made ‘the pursuit of happiness’ a foundational aspiration.” It’s a tendency that is still alive and well in the Republican Party. Whether the liberty movement can truly change the direction of the GOP remains to be seen.

Recommended read. A truncated version of the book can be found here.

Bonus link: the Straight Talk Express gets derailed by David Letterman.

The Turning Point by Shmelev & Popov

November 30, 2013

Incentives matter.

It is one the basic tenets of economics. It is also the painful lesson of the Soviet economy: if people can’t keep the fruits of their labor, they are not going to work as hard, they are not going to innovate, and their standard of living will stagnate.

The severity of this lesson is detailed in The Turning Point: Revitalizing The Soviet Economy, a book published as the Berlin Wall was coming down. The economic structuring of the Soviet Union represented socialism to its most extreme: agricultural collectivization, industrial planning from various government ministries, the inability of industry and farms to disburse with assets without approval from above, and the “leveled” distribution of wages.

Bureaucracy suppressed innovation. “Leveled” wages prevented good workers from making more money (“we pretend to work, you pretend to pay us”). Food and money was confiscated. Some of the results of these policies?

-It was estimated 3-4 million people starved to death in 1933 during the Soviet Union’s “industrialization” phase.

-Per capita USSR national income was about 50% of the American level while average per capital consumption of goods and services was estimated at 30-40% of the American level.

-The World Health Organization concluded the average national child mortality level was about twice as high as the United States.

-102 cities with a combined population of 50 million people contained air pollution 10 times beyond the permissible norm.

The book, by Nikolai Shmelev and Vladimir Popov, serves as a solid history of the USSR’s dismal command economy. Strongly recommended for serious economic policy wonks, although I wouldn’t recommend a layman read this, as the book is steeped with a lot of economic jargon.

Hopefully American policymakers can take heed of these lessons as our economy slips further down the freedom scale.

The Way Things Ought To Be by Rush Limbaugh

November 9, 2013

In a previous post, I mentioned how the debate over Reaganomics is what triggered my interest in public policy. That interest in Reaganomics came from Rush Limbaugh’s first book, The Way Things Ought To Be. So thank him for this blog you’re reading.

It has been 20 years since I read Limbaugh’s first book. My views have evolved since then from Republican conservatism to a (primarily) non-voting libertarianism. With that in mind, and with the discussion on the future of the Republican Party and talk radio’s strong influence in that future, I thought it’d be interesting to go back and look to see how relevant his book still is.

Re-reading the points about Reagan re-confirm why I’m still a free market guy (if not exactly a Reagan conservative). Limbaugh accurately explains that the economy is not a zero-sum game. Excessively taxing capital will result in less investment from entrepreneurs, which means fewer job opportunities for the middle class. While not a major emphasis in the book, Limbaugh also mentions how government spending is often wealth transfers to the wealthy and well-connected. Someone noticeably absent from Limbaugh’s praise of the 1980s, however, is former Fed chairman Paul Volker, who deserves credit along with Reagan for reviving the economy via fighting inflation. But the general idea of capitalism over socialism is absolutely correct.

However, there is a LOT in this book that just has not aged well.

Reading Limbaugh talk about women is cringeworthy. One chapter in the book talks is dedicated to reports on the “sexual harassment front.” He writes about a study on men being more comfortable in the workplace when they work around fewer women, and defends the right of some guy to swim to the bottom of a pool and ogle at women swimming above him. Is this really relevant to modern-day conservatism? He also writes about supporting a “combat-ready battalion of Amazons with PMS” to topple dictators. Per Limbaugh, this would be another example of him “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd” that the media always takes at face-value. It’s an excuse Limbaugh uses almost every time he gets himself in trouble.

Another chapter is devoted to the Clarence Thomas hearings and Anita Hill. Although I do have admiration for some of Justice Thomas’ jurisprudence, I don’t know where the truth lies regarding his involvement with Hill. I’m pretty sure both sides politicized the issue to their advantage, which is why Limbaugh’s book serves as a poor history on the topic. He refers to refers to the “yeoman research effort” by former American Spectator reporter David Brock when countering Hill’s claims. Problem: Brock has renounced his work on Anita Hill.

His chapter on the criminal justice system has also not held up well over time. I do agree with his point on the Great Society’s role in fostering inner-city problems. But his claims that we are “tolerant of crime” and don’t “punish criminals appropriately and effectively” try to paint a picture of our justice system that gives too much respect to civil liberties. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s nice that Limbaugh doesn’t believe any “decent person is in favor of police brutality.” But thanks to the war on drugs, we have people getting shot, killed, assaulted, raped, and burned. By the police. Limbaugh’s solution: stop putting cops on the DEFENSIVE. He also talks about our inefficient court system letting criminals back on the streets. As I’ve cited previously, misconduct is rampant in our justice system, but not of the variety Limbaugh believes. We don’t have a problem punishing crime. The problem is that civil liberties are too often DISREGARDED. The justice system Limbaugh prefers is already in place. We need to do better.

Limbaugh may still resonate with conservatives, but I can see why I dropped my dittohead credentials a long time ago. Not recommended.

Retro-Book Review: The Republican Revolution 10 Years Later

October 8, 2013

(Since the current government shutdown is drawing comparisons to the Clinton-Gingrich showdown in 1995-96, I thought I’d post this book review from my old blog, dated 10/18/08, on the accomplishments and failures of the Gingrich-led Republican takeover of Congress.)

Did the Republican takeover of Congress start a revolution to scale back government? That was their promise in the Contract With America, to end “government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public’s money.”

Oops.

To see just how badly the GOP failed in its mission, I recommend the Cato Institute’s book The Republican Revolution 10 Years Later: Smaller Government or Business as Usual? While the book doesn’t touch upon the events of President Bush’s second term, there’s plenty enough in this book to show how the Republicans became a big-government party. It should be noted that the focus of the book is the GOP Congress, and not President Bush, but the book demonstrates clearly that government growth exploded once the Republicans took over the legislative and executive branch. Also of note, while there is a chapter on foreign policy and a chapter on crime, this book isn’t recommended if you’re looking for critiques of Republican policy on the Iraq war or civil liberties. The primary focus is on various fiscal policies.

The book has 16 chapters, discussed below:

*Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reflects on what led up to the victory in the 1994 mid-term elections, and declares that the Republicans DID change Washington because welfare was reformed, a tax cut was passed in 1997, and spending was cut one whole year. Ooookay then.

*Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives his thoughts on the “revolution.” Armey says Congress made some “remarkable strides” early on but acknowledges, unlike Gingrich, the GOP lost its way. Armey blames this on politics, institutional biases, and the erosion of Republicans going along with the party’s leadership. While I agree that politics and institutional biases definitely favor government growth, to claim that the GOP’s leadership is fighting for limited government is as far off base as anything I’ve read in this book. How are we supposed to believe that when a top member of the House leadership once declared “victory” over wasteful budgets when the budget was running, at that time, $331 billion deficit?? How are we supposed to believe the GOP’s leadership in the House is fighting for smaller government when that same leadership supports the biggest government intervention in the economy we’ve seen in a generation?? Not to mention, what does it say about conservatism when the leading think tank for the movement endorses the same reckless intervention?

*Cato Institute president Ed Crane discusses why he feels the “revolution” was short-term, and points to Jack Kemp, a conservative supply-sider instrumental in passage of the Reagan tax cuts, to demonstrate just how little the GOP really cares about scaling back government, quoting Kemp himself: “I’m not interested in cutting spending. I’m interested in growth.”

*John Samples looks at the congressional reforms the GOP promised in the Contract, namely smaller government and term limits. He points that spending as a percent of GDP did go down considerably at first, only to start going right back up once Bush came into power. As for term limits, the momentum for that disappeared once the GOP became entrenched in their positions.

*Chris Edwards looks at Republican tax policy. The GOP has made strides in cutting taxes, but the tax code is still in need of serious reform. Unfortunately, recent events may undermine what the GOP did accomplish, and quite frankly the GOP shares a large part of the blame.

*Stephen Moore takes a detailed look at government spending, and this is where the GOP has failed miserably. While real nondefense discretionary spending did go down 3.1% during the 104th Congress, spending has exploded ever since. Most egregious is during Bush’s first term, nondefense discretionary spending went up 34%, faster than it did under President Lyndon Johnson!!

*Dan Griswold examines trade policy, concluding the GOP made modest accomplishments in expanding trade.

*Michael Tanner examines Social Security reform, which didn’t occur during the GOP’s rule, but opinions started gradually shifting in favor of partial privatization. I wonder how much that still holds true now??

*Ron Haskins looks at welfare reform, calling it the Republican Party’s biggest accomplishment, and provides some statistics to back that up.

*Michael Cannon tackles health care, another black-eye for the Republicans. While we did see health savings accounts enacted, it came at a gigantic cost, as the GOP enacted the largest entitlement expansion since the creation of Medicare with the prescription-drug benefit. It’s estimated this will cost taxpayers $600 billion over 10 years. Health care in general has become more socialized under Republican rule, as Cannon points that in 1995 patients directly paid only 12% of the costs for physician/clinical services. After 10 years, that number dropped to 10%. And yet we’re paying even more out of our pocket than ever before, demonstrating the perverse effects of socialized health care.

*David Salisbury highlights how disappointing the GOP has been on education, as they’ve adopted the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy. Spending for the Department of Education went from $32.3 billion in FY1995 to $66.4 billion in FY2005. The centerpiece of GOP education policy is the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates national standards on schools, something the GOP used to vehemently oppose.

*Adam Thierer looks at telecommunications and technology policy, calling it a “nonrevolution.”

*Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. looks at the regulatory policies of the GOP, concluding the Republicans are just as receptive to regulation as the Democrats, and pointing to many examples.

*Jerry Taylor examines the GOP’s environmental policy, concluding very little has changed with regards to regulations.

*Timothy Lynch highlights how the GOP failed to restore a federalist approach to criminal justice, despite a landmark Supreme Court decision that provided the momentum to do so.

*Chris Preble looks at how the GOP is still clinging to a Cold War model to national security, which is no longer relevant in today’s world.

There were high hopes for believers of limited government when Republicans took Congress in 1995. Unfortunately, serious efforts to scale back government were dismissed, and once Bush came into the White House, Republicans embraced big government with open arms. That is not leadership, it is not change, and it certainly isn’t a revolution. It’s an absolute disgrace.

This book provides a great public service in documenting the GOP’s betrayal of their supposed small-government principles. I highly recommend picking this up.

(For anyone who thinks the current fight between President Obama and the Republicans will end with meaningful spending reform: look at the history. Did the GOP bring about meaningful reform when they previously held the reins of power? This is why I don’t expect the current showdown to end well for taxpayers. I hope I’m wrong.)

**UPDATE 10/9/13: A lot of the fear about this shutdown is in regards to the debt ceiling, and the threat of a “default.” This article throws some cold water on the default hysterics. My statement about “not ending well for taxpayers” is my belief that all this acrimony will not produce any changes to Obamacare or the unsustainable path we’re on with entitlement programs.