Breakfast With Nussle

This morning, The American Spectator hosted a Newsmaker Breakfast with OMB Director and former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, during which he emphasized the need for Congress to vote on Iraq supplemental funding and made his best attempt to defend the Bush administration’s spending record to a room full of skeptical conservatives.

Citing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Nussle said that if the pending $108 billion request was not met, the troops would begin to run out of funds by June 15. When I asked him when the ultimate drop date was — i.e. when they could no longer shift around funds from one account to another to fund the troops – he said the end of June, or July 4 at the latest.

Nussle argued that normally supplemental bills come up as a surprise, but this is something that Congress knew was in the pipeline for 16 months, so they should bring it up for a vote. His position is that anybody can disagree with the politics of the war, but once we have troops committed, we have to meet their needs.

Nussle reiterated that President Bush would veto the Farm Bill immediately upon receiving it in the next day or two, and that Congress plans to immediately vote on whether to override the veto.

When Nussle was asked whether deficits matter, he said they do, but noted different types of deficits. On Sept. 10, he said, we were running a fiscal surplus, but there was a deficit in our defense and homeland security capability, which we had to increase. This is an argument that the Bush administration has employed consistently to explain away its atrocious spending record, but it doesn’t really fly. Even if one were to concede that all of the homeland security spending actually went to homeland security – quite a concession – it doesn’t explain the expansion of the rest of government. Furthermore, if we are to continue with Nussle’s line of logic that we had a defense and homeland security deficit, did we not have a surplus in other parts of government that could have been used do pay for the increased defense expenditures? Did Bush and Republicans need to go through with No Child Left Behind? Or the Medicare prescription drug bill?

Toward the end of the session, Nussle took issue with a chart showing that federal spending had skyrocketed by $867 billion during the Bush years (vs. a $577 billion increase in revenue), by saying that most of that increase was due to “automatic” (i.e. mandatory) spending that they had no control over. Quin Hillyer rightly noted that even discretionary spending growth has far outpaced the rate of inflation since 2001. Nussle became quite agitated. I would only add that it’s a total copout for the Bush administration to absolve itself of responsibility for the rise in mandatory spending, because he had a Republican congress for 6 years and could have pursued entitlement reform. Instead, he pushed through the largest expansion of entitlements with the Medicare drug plan, which greatly exacerbated the “automatic” spending problem.

Will the Real Libertarian Please Stand Up?

Wayne Allyn Root says he’s the Muhammad Ali of the Libertarian Party — he may talk big, but he can back it up in the ring.

Speaking to me before a forum for Libertarian presidential candidates hosted by Reason magazine at its Washington, D.C. headquarters, the Las Vegas odds maker shared his plan not only for capturing the party’s nomination at this weekend’s convention, but for winning the presidency.

Root isn’t delusional, Root said — he doesn’t expect to win it all this year. However, he claims he can appeal to the millions of online poker players who were fed up with the ban passed by the Republican Congress in 2006. Combined with the fact that he can attract home-schoolers as a home-schooling father himself and small-business owners as a businessman, Root projects he can win four million votes this year. Next election cycle, he’ll build up to Ross Perot type numbers, and by 2020, he’ll capture the White House.

On Tuesday, however, he had to survive the grilling of moderator Dave Weigel, the associate editor of Reason. Root shared the floor with former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, and former Alaskan senator and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Gravel — three of 14 candidates running in the party’s wild nomination contest.

“I spent my entire adult life on television,” said Root in his opening pitch. “I like to think I’m a Ronald Reagan for the Libertarian Party.”

DESPITE ROOT’S REAGAN reference, the politician who was invoked most by the Libertarian candidates was Ron Paul.

“We are poised for a new birth of freedom,” Barr, the frontrunner, declared. “Inside the heart of every American beats the heart of a libertarian, and what we need to do is show the American people that that is mainstream. Ron Paul has shown us the way, but we need to build far beyond that.”

Gravel, a longtime liberal, has the steepest hill to climb to prove he belongs in the party. He huffed that he was prevented from participating in the later Democratic debates this cycle because he was “too libertarian.”

Not having much in the way of small government bona fides, he focused on harsh anti-war rhetoric and generic bromides about how “the American people sense that something is really wrong in Washington” and need “a party that stands for liberty and freedom.”

Weigel had each of the candidates answer for some of their deviations from Libertarian orthodoxy.

Barr explained why his political action committee has donated money to Republicans and a Democrat by saying that he has cooperated with a number of groups that have fought for one aspect of freedom, a list as diverse as the ACLU, the NRA, the American Conservative Union, and Americans for Tax Reform.

Barr said he would always “search for a commonality of interest to increase freedom” and had no problem donating to politicians, of any party label, who took stands for liberty on important issues.

Gravel was forced to justify his statements criticizing the Founding Fathers for making a crucial error in writing the U.S. Constitution.

“One of the real damages they did is they denied people the procedures to be able to make laws and amend the Constitution,” Gravel grumbled, describing the undemocratic nature of the document. “Freedom is participating in power. The central power of a democracy is making laws. We don’t make laws at the federal level in this country. We really don’t have freedom.”

He referred the audience to his book, Citizen Power, and argued that “representative government is broken” and proposed that Americans be allowed to “vote on all things that affect their lives.”

Root, meanwhile, claimed the award for the greatest show of candor by a presidential candidate in a debate when he was asked to explain his donation to Joe Lieberman, whose combination of hawkish foreign policy and big government domestic views make him anathema to libertarians.

“I’m a businessman above all else,” he boasted unapologetically. “About two years ago, a very good friend of mine gave me $1 million for my business, and he was bundling checks for Joe Lieberman, and said, ‘By the way, would you make an investment in Joe Lieberman’s campaign?’ And I wrote a $1,000 check as a sign of friendship for someone who gave my business $1 million.”

ROOT SCORED SOME POINTS with the crowd when he declared the fight for school choice “the civil rights issue of our time” and railed against the Republican Party’s intrusion into people’s bedrooms on abortion, gay rights, online gambling, and medical marijuana. But he elicited boos when he called for sealing the border until the nation could figure out what to do with immigrants who were already here, given the existence of the welfare state.

Gravel won his most applause of the night by retorting, “The people I’ve met, the immigrants, they don’t come here for welfare. They come here to work.”

Barr did his best to argue that one of the legitimate roles of government was “to protect the sovereignty of the nation” and he called for all immigrants to undergo a basic background check, a test for communicable diseases, and to show identification.

On foreign policy, the candidates were asked whether they thought any wars since 1991 were justified.

Root, who said he used to support a hawkish foreign policy, but came to realize it was incompatible with a small government, said he only supported the first Gulf War, to which Gravel responded that the U.S. could have removed Saddam Hussein from Kuwait diplomatically. The only war he supported in the 20th century was World War II, but he said it was only made necessary by World War I.

During the debate, Barr, who voted for the Iraq War, said he didn’t think any intervention since 1991 was justified. But pressed by TAS contributor John Tabin after the event, he said he supported U.S. action in Afghanistan.

No doubt to the disappointment of some libertarians, all three candidates took a stand against kiddie porn.

AFTERWARDS, I ASKED Gravel to discuss his views on health care. He said I could find his proposal in his book, before cautioning, “But my health-care plan isn’t going to pass Congress. Nor is any other. There’s no money.”

He said he would “empower the American people so they could make a decision” about what health-care system they want.

“Do you think it’s the government’s role to give people health care?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know who else could give people health care,” Gravel said. “Government is like a tool, a tool for our collective activity.” He described government as being like a hammer, which could be used when we need it, put aside, but also has the power to kill if not reined in.

“Do you think people have a right to health care?” I followed up.

“Yes, I think people have a right to a sound economy, to health care, and to education,” he insisted. “Yes they do, because they have a right to freedom. You can’t have freedom unless you have the other three. How are you going to be free if you have no money? You’re not free — you’re just a drunk in the street. How are you going to be free if you’re sick? You’re sick like a jerk. How are you going to be free if you’re dumb? You’re too dumb to participate in freedom. Freedom means education. Freedom means health care. Freedom means a sound economy.”

He acknowledged that he was old enough to know that he doesn’t have all the answers, which is why he would leave it to the people.

“But what happens when 300 million different voices and people disagree with each other?” I asked him.

“You rule by majority,” Gravel said.

“Well, what if the minority doesn’t want to pay for someone else’s health care?”

“Go to another country,” he said.

You Say ‘Stinking Corpse,’ I Say ‘Cancerous Tumor’

Time‘s Joe Klein is out to prove that McCain is lying about Obama’s position on negotiating with Iran, and doesn’t know who is running the country.

He wrote:

On Friday, I promised to check into whether Obama had ever said that he would negotiate–specifically, by name–with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, according to the crack Time Magazine research department and the Obama campaign, he never has.

As for J. Klein’s first point, Michael Goldfarb has already done an able job of discrediting it by posting a video of Obama using the name Ahmadinejad in the context of his pledge to negotiate with Iran, so I expect that a correction will be forthcoming.

But J. Klein makes even more of a fool of himself — if that’s at all possible — by trying to suggest that Obama may have been talking about Iran’s supreme leader, rather than its president:

(Obama) did say that he would negotiate with the Iranian leadership–but, on matters of foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear program, the guy in charge is the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As of today, John McCain was still accusing Obama of wanting to negotiate with Ahmadinejad. Why doesn’t the McCain campaign and other assorted Republicans ever accuse Obama of wanting to negotiate with Khamenei? Well, because Khamenei isn’t quite the flagrant anti-Semite Ahmadinejad is…and, as we keep hearing, Obama has a Jewish problem.

I wonder what his definition of “flagrant anti-Semite” is, because it turns out that while Ahmadinejad has called Israel a “stinking corpse” that needed to be wiped off the map, Khamenei has called it a “cancerous tumor” that “should be removed from the region…”

As Reuters reported on Decmber 15, 2000:

“Iran’s stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon (Israel). We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region,” Khamenei told thousands of Muslim worshippers in Tehran.

The larger point here is this. The left wants to portray McCain as an ignoramus for constantly mentioning Ahmadinejad –the most identifiable public face of Iran — rather than Supreme Leader Khamenei. J. Klein proudly confronted McCain on this at a press conference today. But it isn’t as if Ahmadinejad is a member of some opposition party, nor would he be allowed to make the statements he does were his views not shared by the ruling regime. It’s pretty clear that his inflamatory statements were just in keeping with long-standing Iranian policy.

So, McCain was absolutely correct when he responded to J. Klein’s chest-pounding interrogation by saying of Ahmadinejad that:

When he’s the person that comes to the United Nations and declares his country’s policy is the extermination of the state of Israel, quote, in his words, wipe them off of the map, then I know that he is speaking for the Iranian government and articulating their policy and he was elected and is running for reelection as the leader of that country.

If Obama and his media allies want to change course, and advocate meeting with the guy who thinks Israel is a “cancerous tumor” instead, that’s their right.

But I say, let’s call the whole thing off.

CNN: Ted Kennedy Has A Malignant Brain Tumor

CNN reports:

Sen. Edward Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. The hospital treating Kennedy released a statement today saying that the tumor was found during tests after the senator had a seizure Saturday. The tumor is in his left parietal lobe.


From the Centre for Neuro Skills website:

Damage to the left parietal lobe can result in what is called “Gerstmann’s Syndrome.” It includes right-left confusion, difficulty with writing (agraphia) and difficulty with mathematics (acalculia). It can also produce disorders of language (aphasia) and the inability to perceive objects normally (agnosia).

Re: Conservatism R.I.P.

I read through George Packer’s New Yorker article, “The Fall of Conservatism” that Stacy mentioned yesterday, and I also would take issue with it. Rather than starting with the development of intellectual conservatism in the 1940s or 1950s, or of political conservatism with Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, Packer chooses to begin his article — and frame his entire piece — around Pat Buchanan and Richard Nixon crafting the Southern strategy in 1966. Most conservatives would not even consider Nixon — who supported price controls and guaranteed income — to be an ideological conservative. But Packer would rather taint the entire intellectual and political movement with two of its most controversial figures from the outset. All political success for conservatives, to Packer, seems to stem from dividing the country and running on a negative appeal. Only deep into the article does he get to Ronald Reagan, who he begrudgingly acknowledges “turned conservatism into a forward-looking, optimistic ideology” before criticizing him.

But what really bugs me about about the article is, through an over-reliance on quotes from David Brooks, believing in limiting the size of government gets reduced to a “dogma.” Among the quotes offered by Brooks are, “The only thing that held the coalition together was hostility to government” and, on the government shutdown:

At the end of that year, when the radical conservatives in the Gingrich Congress shut down the federal government, they learned that the American public was genuinely attached to the modern state. “An anti-government philosophy turned out to be politically unpopular and fundamentally un-American,” Brooks said. “People want something melioristic, they want government to do things.”

To Brooks, evidently, an aversion to the expansion of government power is a sort of affectation, akin to not liking the color green or the taste of fried flounder. But conservatives believe in limiting the size and scope of government not because of some random whim, but because it is a necessary way of preserving liberty. Unlike anarchists, we believe that government is necessary to protect individual rights — through a police force that catches criminals, a court system that prosecutes them and settles disputes among individuals, and a military that protects us from foreign threats. Far from being “fundamentally un-American,” these are precisely the principles on which the nation was founded. The Declaration of Independence reads that “governments are instituted among men” to “secure” our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit –not attainment — of happiness. The U.S. Constitution also envisioned a federal government of limited scope. As the decades have gone by, of course, Americans’ conceptions of what the government should do has been greatly augmented, and we’ll never return to where we were in the 19th Century. But conservative efforts to push back the expansion of government, however futile, have been rooted in the belief that people are less free when they are forced to hand over a large percentage of their wages to support government programs that they have no use for and when businesses are strangled by regulations. These beliefs are informed by the experience of totalitarianism in the 20th Century, which demonstrated the close relationship between political and economic oppression.

That’s not to say that Packer (or some of the people he quotes) don’t have any legitimate points about the difficulties facing the modern conservative movement, both politically and intellectually. I do think that conservatives need to do a better job of explaining why our principles are relevant to the challenges America faces today. But I see a big danger in conservatives adopting a myopic view, making snap judgments based a few lousy election cycles for Republicans, and concluding that they should stop worrying and come to love big government — as long as it’s family friendly. I never supported limiting the size of government as a political operative who thought it was a winning political strategy, but because I believe in individual liberty. So I’m not going to stop fighting encroachments of the state because David Brooks thinks it’s un-American and David Frum has determined it’s not an effective political strategy for the Republican Party.

In Reversal, Obama Says Iran Is A Threat

I suppose some campaign staffer must have alerted Obama to the fact that if he says Iran is not a serious threat, it’s one less thing he can blame on President Bush and John McCain, so now he’s singing a different tune:

“Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program. It supports terrorism across the region and militias in Iraq. It threatens Israel’s existence. It denies the Holocaust,” he said. “The reason Iran is so much more powerful than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran. They’re the ones who have not dealt with Iran wisely.”

Re: Obama-Byrd ’08

Well, what better way for Obama to win over voters who refuse to vote for a black candidate than with a former Klansman?

And McCain wants to run on experience? I mean, McCain may have been in a North Vietnamese POW camp when Obama was still a kid in Indonesia, sure, but Byrd joined Congress in 1953. At the time, McCain was just a bratty jock at Episcopal High School in Alexandria.

Obama-Byrd sounds like a winner to me.

Obama Channels Carter

Obama campaigning in Oregon:

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

I suppose the fine print of “Yes We Can!” should read, “as long as we get permission from other countries.”

Via Yuval Levin.

Obama Says Iran Not A “Serious Threat”

Via Jenifer Rubin, I see this video of Barack Obama making the argument — popular in liberal foreign policy circles — that Iran does not pose a serious threat because it is much smaller and spends a tiny amount on defense relative to the United States. What Obama does not seem able to grasp, or at least doesn’t want to engage, is that in an era of asymmetric warfare, dramatic differences in size do not matter as much as they do when fighting a conventional enemy. On 9/11, 19 men armed with box cutters killed more civilians on American soil than the Soviets or Nazis did, with all of their weaponry.

Asymmetric warfare is especially effective at neutralizing size advantages when the more powerful country is civilized and seeks to protect innocent life. In a conventional war, Israel would obliterate Hamas and Hezbollah because it has a more advanced military, but when both groups are willing to launch rockets at Israel, hide behind women and children, and store weapons underneath hospitals, those groups remain formidable because Israel isn’t willing to indiscriminantely bomb those areas. And what better example than Iraq — where U.S. forces have been battling insurgents for five years — to demonstrate why size isn’t everything?

“If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance,” Obama said. That would be absolutely true in a conventional war, and it would be true if America were willing to use its nuclear arsenal to level Iran, or at least use non-nuclear devices to carpet bomb its cities. But in reality, if Iran posed a serious threat and America tried to act, it would have to avoid using its most powerful weapons and be careful to prevent civilian casualties.

Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world. Right now, Iranian weapons are killing Americans in Iraq via insurgents and overrunning a U.S.-supported government in Lebanon via Hezbollah. They are financing Hamas, which threatens Israel, a nation that Obama has recently taken to calling an American ally. And all of this is without them having nuclear weapons.

Sure, Iran is unlikely to create a world without America or Israel. It’s not likely to be able to restore the Caliphate and turn the U.S. into an Islamist state. But it sure as heck has the potential to do a lot of damage in the process of pursuing its insane goals, even if its military is puny compared to the Soviet Union.