D.C. needs a grassroots fix
Walking across New Hampshire last month, recruiting citizens in the “Live Free” state to the cause of fundamental reform—a 185 mile walk that we just finished, with about a hundred crossing the finishing line: read more here—I met a man who told me he was a “conservative Republican,” which, as he explained is “spelled ‘T E A P A R T Y.’” “What’s the chance,” he asked me, “of getting one of us to take this issue on? What Tea Party candidates are with you?”
His question reminded me of just how different New Hampshire is—at least from the world within the beltway of D.C. Because within New Hampshire, there are plenty from the right who look at the “system of corruption in Washington,” as John McCain described it in 1999, and are open to the sort of fundamental reform that would actually fix it. Andrew Hemingway, a young leader of the Tea Party in New Hampshire, and the likely Republican nominee for governor, marched with us on the walk. So too did Republican Jim Rubens, a former state senator now in the Republican primary for the United States Senate. These Republicans are not afraid to talk about real reforms that would actually address this “corruption.” They agree Washington is broken, and they are serious about finding a way to fix it.
But when you look to the standard bearers of the Tea Party Right—even those who, as the Daily Kos described, are “strategically adopting positions to triangulate … left and right flank[s]” (read: Rand Paul)—the substance of their reforms is pretty weak tea. Though they insist (and they are right) that “crony capitalism” is corrupting both government and capitalism, their remedies seem more designed to avoid offending the large funders of Republican campaigns than to actually changing anything fundamental. I get how “repeal(ing) the 17th Amendment!” sounds really tough. I don’t get how it does anything to solve the corruption that is Washington. And as far as I’ve seen, none within the cabal has yet to explain just how their dream—of a smaller government, not infected with the cronyism that now reigns—gets built so long as congressman profit from a larger, and more invasive government (just ask Peter Schweitzer: more targets for “extortion”), and so long as “corporate welfare,” as the Cato Institute reminds us, is the easiest way for congressmen to recruit loyal funders.
But if you take a step outside of D.C.’s beltway, you can begin to find thinkers from the libertarian right who are talking about the sort of reform that would radically change the way Washington “works,” so to speak. And more intriguingly, people who talk about it in away that suggests a platform that could genuinely unite Right and Left.
Take David Stockman—the former Republican congressman from Michigan, and Ronald Reagan’s budget director (until a “friend” betrayed his confidences and Stockman’s true views about the Reagan administration became public). At an event at Harvard last fall, Stockman spoke about his latest book, The Great Deformation, a work practically architected to be hated by everyone. There are no heroes in Stockman’s book—or at least none that any ordinary American is likely to recall. Keynes was wrong, Friedman was wrong, Reagan was wrong, Obama is wrong, Larry Summers is the devil, and both FDR and the Reagan supply-siders were frauds. Even Stockman gets attacked in Stockman’s book. The book is depressing on steroids. The meme is the inverse of Harvey Milk: you gotta take away all their hope.
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