January 30, 2009 -- President Barack Obama took office promoting the need for the country in general—and policy-makers in particular—to overcome petty differences and unite to solve the nation’s serious problems.
But all differences are not petty. Surely anyone who truly wants to make the country better will need to define what, exactly, “better” is and ask what the best means are to get there.
House Republicans asked some of these questions and showed rare unity in the week following Obama’s inauguration by voting against the $819 billion “stimulus” package. Even though it was supposed to create jobs and launch an economic recovery, all 177 Republicans, joined by 11 Democrats, opposed it. For almost any proposed bill, each party usually can peel off at least a few votes from the other. Not so in this case.
The bill still passed with 244 votes, and you can bet that Obama will sign it into law as soon as the House and Senate can unite on one package.
So did the Republicans vote “nay” in unison for petty reasons? Or to embarrass the new president? Or to commit further political suicide by seeming to be insensitive to the plight of Americans, even as Obama soars with a nearly 70 percent approval rating?
Many Republicans rightly observed that the $750-billion Bush bailout bill, which many of them reluctantly and unfortunately supported last year, did little to stop the economic downturn. Further, many recipients used those taxpayer dollars to line their own pockets as their companies declined further: that’s wealth appropriation, not wealth creation.
Many Republicans observed that there is no evidence that the current bailout will do any better than the first one, and that many of the package’s proposed projects will only start years in the future. That’s hardly a way to immediately create jobs.
Many Republicans worried about future inflation and other adverse economic consequences of this spending.
Many Republicans pointed out that the new bailout is full of pork, special handouts, and socialistic and market-restricting measures that will limit individual liberty in the long run and be difficult to undo. The Wall Street Journal on January 28 called the package " A 40-Year Wish List for including $1 billion for the government’s Amtrak trains (that have lost nearly a billion a year for four decades), $2 billion for childcare, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and on and on. You get the picture. "
And some Republicans might point to the full-page ad on the same day in the New York Times, placed by the Cato Institute, which included a statement denouncing such spending. It was signed by hundreds of economists, including Nobel Prize winners uniting in disunity with the administration’s proposal.
In the face of the stimulus package, the Republicans seem to reject the call for unity in favor of using their brains, for a change, to ask about the consequences of the package they’re asked to vote for. It might seem like they are pointing out important facts that the Democrats haven’t thought about or considered fully. But that would not necessarily be an accurate analysis.
Obama and most Democrats surely know that this package might or might not help the economy in the short run, but it will certainly advance the statist agenda they’ve been pushing for decades. They know it will replace the freedom of individuals to run their own lives and spend their own money with the rule of arrogant, self-styled elites.
That’s the reason for the rush to push the package through Congress so quickly, before its real intentions and effects can be exposed. And that’s the reason for the rhetorical emphasis on unity.
“Unity” in this context means that defenders of freedom should go along to get along, that is, to surrender their principles and their independent judgment for the sake of—what? For the approval of politicians who reject their ideals and would prefer that they shut up about them? For the short-term approval of some of those who will be the victims of foolish policies in the long term, policies that the victims will come to hate them for?
In 1965, Ayn Rand gave a speech entitled “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus,” followed in 1967 by “The Wreckage of the Consensus.” In the former essay, she discussed the nature of a mixed economy, which is what we have had for years and what should get the blame for our current economic mess rather than the non-existent unregulated free market.
Rand then wrote, “It is clear what sort of unity (of consensus) that game requires: the unity of a tacit agreement that anything goes, anything is for sale (or ‘negotiation’), and the rest is up to the free-for-all of pressuring, lobbying, manipulating, favor-swapping, public-relation’ing, give-and-taking, double-crossing, begging, bribing, betraying.”
What an accurate description of how Washington works today and of a system that creates the disunity of an eternal power struggle.
For most of the past eight years, too many Republicans—and moderate Democrats as well—placed themselves in bondage to the idiotic mixed economy impulses of George W. Bush, impulses that grew the government, expanded its power, and then handed it over to the Democrats, the real pros at running other people’s lives. Now as they are rubbing their wrists where those bonds used to be, these politicians—who should have known better—face the possibility of a new set of even heavier chains. Heeding the call for “unity” means binding themselves voluntarily and surrendering our freedom in the process.
Retaining their own independent judgment has at least given them and us a small chance to resist the further erosion of our liberties and to set the stage for regaining the freedom we have lost. Let’s be thankful that Republicans have at long last taken a stand for what they should have stood for all along. And let’s remind them and anyone else who might be seduced by the word “unity” that this is a call to shut down our brains and to guarantee our enslavement.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.