Thin Gruel for “Social” Republicans

By: Carl Graham

Bozeman: Barry Goldwater, in a line that may have cost him the presidency, famously quipped that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue. Turns out he might have been on to something there, and Montana’s latest legislative session is a great example.

Goldwater’s quote came in 1964 when Republicans were in a fissile state just hot enough to self-immolate but not hot enough to start a real fire. The “establishment” wing of the Party was mostly comfortable with a growing government and felt that if they didn’t rock the boat they’d have a seat at the table and get their slice of the pie even if it consigned them to being forever small fish in a big pond.

This governance-by-metaphor confused amity with effectiveness, as well as the electorate, and resulted in a two party, one philosophy system that left a large chunk of American conservatives without a political home until the Reagan revolution scooped them up nearly twenty years later.

Into this vacuum stepped two disparate groups: a new dissident small government movement and a loud anti-communist faction that allowed themselves to painted as nuttier than an Angus bull pen. Goldwater’s quote appealed to the former group but scared enough people into thinking he was a part of the latter one to at least partially account for his losing to an incumbent with few tangible accomplishments under his belt. President Johnson was easily able to win by defining Goldwater as an extremist rather than running on his own merits. Sound familiar?

So what’s all that got to do with Montana’s legislative session? In 1964 the candidate who represented smaller government, fiscal responsibility and libertarian principles was thwarted by a combination of status quo Republicans and Democrats who successfully labeled him as a nut. In 2013 the smaller government, pro-liberty agenda of a GOP majority in both legislative chambers was successfully undermined by the combination of a lockstep Democratic caucus and a handful of – let’s use their term – “Responsible Republicans” intent upon growing state government and presenting a harmonious front. So how’d that work out?

First of all, I don’t blame the Democrats for growing government any more than the turtle blames the snake for biting him halfway across of the river. It’s what they do, and the economic or philosophical merits of that approach are arguments for another day. I even, however grudgingly, respect the consistency and clarity of their approach. But they could not have succeeded in the minority without the handful of “Responsible Republicans” who crossed the aisle on some key bills. So let’s see how the guiding principles of amity and moderation turned out for those folks.

If increasing the state’s budget by 14% when most Montanans are seeing their paychecks stagnate at best is responsible then they’re right on track. If delivering an unbalanced budget to the governor is responsible then they’ve got a lock on what’s good for Montana, if not a handle on what’s required by Montana’s Constitution. If, after inheriting a huge surplus, it’s responsible to have spending increases outpace tax relief by a factor of ten, then those “Responsible Republicans” have their fingers on the conservative pulse. If tying school funding to volatile commodity prices is responsible, then our kids won’t be able to wait until they’re eighteen to vote these guys back in office, if they can read the ballot.

In truth, none of those things are considered responsible in the conservative districts that put most these Republicans in office. To be fair a couple of them are in moderate to liberal districts that fall under the Buckley Rule of electing the most conservative person possible. But most of them advanced an agenda that is anathema to the fiscally conservative, ruggedly individualistic beliefs held by most of the people who sent them to Helena. They either misrepresented themselves to their electorate or they are so devoid of core principles that they covet power for power’s sake and will do whatever it takes to not be called names.

They are Social Republicans, not to be confused with social conservatives who actually stand for something. The “social” in Social Republicans means they want to be seen as socially acceptable by all. They want to get invited to the “right” parties, fawned over in coffee shops, and above all not have any uncomfortable moments with people who disagree with them or be made fun of in the papers. They, like the establishment Republicans of Goldwater’s time, confuse amity with effectiveness and power with principle. And what did they get for it?

The governor slaughtered their sacred cows with the same zeal he took to the priorities of those upstart conservative Republicans who booted them out of leadership positions. They lost the respect of their opponents and the trust of their peers. And for what? To be liked? To not be called names by people who still want to beat them? To get along rather than fight for the values of the very people they were elected to represent?

No, in the end it seems the Responsible Republicans got their cake and ate it too, except that the governor got to eat it first. Bon Appetit.

This commentary appeared on Montana Public Radio : 5/9/2013

Rob Natelson: On the Medicaid Expansion—Yes, Montana Should Say No

When the Supreme Court’s Obamacare case was pending, I noticed that while there was a lot of attention given to the individual insurance mandate, there was little discussion of the Medicaid expansion.

The Medicaid extension was the part of the law that sought to force states into signing up for an expensive new program by threatening to cut off all Medicaid funds if they did not.

Whether the individual mandate was constitutional was an arguable question under the Supreme Court’s modern jurisprudence.  (As you probably know, the court’s modern law on federal regulation and spending is largely disconnected from the Constitution’s actual meaning.)

But the Medicaid mandate was different. However, I looked at it—under modern law or the Constitution’s actual meaning—that mandate seemed flagrantly unconstitutional to me. But almost no one was addressing it.

As a result, I authored one of the very few Supreme Court briefs to address the issue in detail. The brief was edited and filed by Dave Kopel at the Independence Institute, where I am also a senior fellow.

Against all popular expectations, we won: By a 7-2 margin, the Supreme Court struck down the coercive portion off the Medicaid expansion. This left the states free to make their own decisions.

A recent MPI post explains why Montana should not sign up for the budget-busting, dependency-creating Medicaid expansion. As if any additional reasons were necessary, health care expert Linda Gorman adds this compelling argument. It’s written for Colorado, but applies to Montana as well.

Rob Natelson: The Misplaced “Philosophy” of I-166

    In the 2012 elections, Montanans overwhelmingly approved I-166—a measure that has no substantive effect, but expresses the “philosophy” (the word used in I-166) that corporations have no First Amendment rights.

When you read I-166 carefully, you have to wonder what the voters were thinking when they passed it. In case your own thoughts on the subject are fuzzy, here are some cool, clarifying fresh breezes:

1.     Corporations are not alien cyborgs from the planet Bloton. They are merely teams of people working for a common purpose.

Some are big and rich, but most (especially in Montana) are small and relatively poor.

People incorporate because the state pushes them to.  The state offers them the right to (1) use the corporation’s name in lawsuits rather than listing all the owners individually and (2) dispense with clumsy liability disclaimers to protect owners’ and members’ personal assets. (Corporate assets are still vulnerable.) But the team choosing incorporation has to pay extra taxes, extra fees, disclose a lot of private information, and abide by numerous state rules.

2.     The “philosophy” of I-166 would destroy freedom of the press.

Because of how state law is structured, nearly all media companies are forced to incorporate. If groups choosing the corporate form have no constitutional rights, then they have no freedom of the press. Some of the greatest victories for freedom of the press were won only because media corporations could defend their rights in court (for example, the Pentagon Papers case).

So if your “philosophy” is that the politicians should be able to bully all the newspapers and broadcasters into silence, then I-166 is for you!

3.     The “philosophy” of I-166 would heavily impair freedom of speech.

State law effectively pushes political associations to incorporate. If the “philosophy” of I-166 were to prevail, those associations would have no free speech rights.

In the 1950s, racist state officials in the South tried to crush pro-civil rights membership corporations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Those state officials didn’t think corporations had First Amendment rights, either. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed. (NAACP  v. Alabama).

4.    I-166 has nothing to do with “leveling the playing field.”

I-166 says it seeks a “level playing field in campaign spending.” But does it?

The “philosophy” of I-166 restricts corporate spending, but not union spending. Even worse, it says nothing about controlling government political spending, such as lobbying and other government interventions in the political system. Government political spending is a MUCH bigger problem than corporate spending, because government political expenditures are bigger, largely hidden, and financed with money forced from people.

5.    Campaign finance laws are counter-productive.

In the real world, government campaign laws always are politically manipulated, but still yield unintended results. As I pointed out last week, the 1912 Montana initiative that abolished corporate spending may have INCREASED the power of the Anaconda Company over Montana politics.

Montanans need to reconsider what they did when they approved I-166. And make sure that they are more wary in the future.

Rob Natelson: Amendments Convention

Ed. Note: We welcome MPI Senior Fellow for Constitutional Jurisprudence and retired UM Professor Rob Natelson to our blog. Rob is a national expert on constitutional issues and will periodically post insights and information on a variety of topics. You can find his full bio here.

Senator Art Wittich has introduced SJ 5, by which the state legislature would formally apply for an interstate convention to draft and propose the National Debt Relief Amendment. That amendment, if ratified by 3/4 of the states, would require approval from a majority of state legislatures before Congress could add to the national debt.

At the legislative hearing, opponents trotted out the “runaway convention” scenario. This is the discredited claim that a convention to propose such an amendment would be a “constitutional convention” that could do anything it wanted.

I correct the record in an essay that discusses the claim here.

Rob Natelson

* Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, Independence Institute
* Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, Montana Policy Institute
* Senior Fellow, Goldwater Institute
* Professor of Law (ret.), The University of Montana
* biography & bibliography:


Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy

Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy

Changing the course of human history, this idea – that freedom is a natural right – inspired Americans to want to live their lives in liberty, while at the same time respecting the rights and property of others. Then in 1787, the Second Continental Congress further guaranteed these rights by adopting The Constitution of the United States of America, clearly differentiating the rights and obligations of both Government and its Citizens.

Under the guidance and direction of these two documents, America has become the model of prosperity for the world. It has fed, clothed and housed more people at higher standards of living than any society the world has ever known. All other forms of government have fallen by the wayside and America has become the destination of choice for the world’s citizens.

At the Montana Policy Institute, we use these two “settled truths,” our Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, as the basis for researching and recommending prescriptions for today’s policy questions.

When we study an issue, we begin with the core assumption that private property and free market economies are superior to state ownership and central planning. This is not simply a superficial opinion; rather, it is now the standard-bearer among people who have their eyes and ears open and for whom reason, logic, facts, evidence, economics and experience mean something.

The “Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy” that follow are pillars in a growing movement among state-based think tanks to reinforce and reinvigorate the application of these two “settled truths” toward defining sound public policy. They are not the only pillars of a free economy, but they do comprise a pretty powerful package. If every cornerstone of every state building were emblazoned with these principles – and more importantly, if every legislator understood and attempted to be faithful to them – we’d be much stronger, much freer, more prosperous, and far better governed.

1. The legitimate power of government begins and ends with the people.

Government exists to serve the people, not vice versa. When government no longer serves the people, but rather becomes self perpetuating or only responsive to certain interests, then it has lost its legitimacy.

2. Government exists to protect rights, not to create them.

We should all be free to live our lives as we choose, so long as we respect others’ right to do the same. Government exists to ensure that we respect each others’ rights, not to create (or destroy) privileges that favor one interest group over another.

3. Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

Whether through nature or nurture, we all bring different skills, ambitions, ethics, even luck to the table. People who are free to use or ignore their individual strengths and weaknesses will inevitably see different individual results. Since we are all provided different strengths and weaknesses, we can only be made equal by forcefully holding some people back and artificially pushing others forward. Unequal outcomes, because they reward positive behaviors, are an essential feature of freedom, not a shortcoming.

4. Long term and cumulative consequences should be considered more carefully than short term benefits.

Too often we try to fix a current problem with long term solutions that inevitably hold long term or unintended negative consequences. We need to consider all times and all costs when debating public policy, not just immediate gratification.

5. Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody else.

Government does not create things, which is different than saying it does no good. The resources it uses, even for good, must be taken from the productive sector of our economy, and from people’s wallets. We should consider the fundamental fairness of taking from one person and giving to another when looking at policies that use the political process to create winners and losers.

6. A government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.

7. Nobody spend somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

8. One cannot claim as a right that which someone else must provide.

A true Right does not impose a duty on another person. Your right to life and property, for example, does not require anyone else to do anything except respect that right and not cause you harm. A “Right” that imposes a duty on another is actually a privilege granted either by force through government action or by charity through the person providing it.

9. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one (or everyone) tends to fall into disrepair (nobody washes a rental car).

10. Free people engaging in free enterprise, not the political allocation of wealth and opportunity, are the engines of economic prosperity.