He’ll be baaaccck ….

Go get ’em Arnold!  He’s promising to sue the feds over their recent refusal of the EPA to grant California a waiver, allowing them to set stricter standards for emissions than the federal government requires.  President Bush, again angering small government types like me, shows a lack of understanding of states rights stunning for a former governor …

“Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases? Or is it more effective to have a national strategy?”

Of course, his answer ignores the fact that California wants STRICTER standards, that presumably would be more effective in cutting emissions, the supposed point of the feds recent bill.  It ignores the 10th Amendment too, but I think we can say we’re all used to that by now.  And in truth, it quite likely WOULD be MUCH more effective for each state to set their own standard.  A federal standard has to encompass not only smog-choked cities like Los Angeles, but also the largely rural areas like the Dakotas where emissions are not nearly as concerning.  With that idea in mind, you’d think the federal bill would end up being not nearly strict enough for LA, and overly strict for the Dakotas and how many other states.

Dang, this government has become the biggest of big governments, intruding on states rights on all kinds of issues.  From medical marijuana to assisted suicide to now emissions standards, the era of big brother is here.

Reality bites …

Fred Thompson voices why he disagrees with social conservatives on the Terry Schiavo case …

“Obviously, I knew about the Schiavo case,” he said. “I had to face a situation like that in my own personal life with my own daughter.”

Mr. Thompson was visibly flustered by the question.

“I am a little bit uncomfortable about that because it is an intensely personal thing with me,” he said. “These things need to be decided by the family. And I was at that bedside. And I had to make those decisions with the rest of my family.”

Reading the full article, I find myself really empathizing with Thompson.  Not because I’ve also had to make a ‘pull the plug’ decision, thankfully I haven’t. And not even on the Schiavo issue so much; when it happened I supported the Republicans.  But rather, when a political issue showed up on his doorstep in the form of an intensely personal tragedy, he found the social conservative’s position over-bearing, unwelcome, and just a plain bad idea.

About two years ago, I considered myself a hard right wing conservative.  (In truth I never was, I’ve been a libertarian conservative since about 5th grade, but that’s what everyone told me I was, so I believed it) I realized that ALL of my major conflicts with conservative ideas, whether the issue was drugs, immigration,  consumer protections, or civil liberties, stemmed from either my own personal experiences, or the experiences of close friends.  That in itself was extremely enlightening, and made me realize that I’d have to take another look at all my views, including those with which I did not have the same personal experience.  If the right was wrong on every issue I had personal experience with, were they just as wrong on the ones I didn’t?

Eventually, I’ve come to believe that part of the problem is that many of these issues are treated as ‘theoreticals’ by politically minded people on both sides.  The problem, of course, is that life isn’t theoretical, and the effects of these policies are not theoretical either.  Every one of these policies affects a number of people, sometimes intensely so.

If there’s one thing I learned from this revelation, it was that policy-making can not, and should not, be ever separated from human compassion and emotion.   Because, in reality, every situation, Terri Schiavo being a perfect example, is intensely personal to at least a few people.  This argument alone is the single greatest refutation to ‘mandatory minimums’, another conservative idea that in reality is plainly horrible.  A ‘logic-only’ policy, whether it’s disguised as ‘common sense’ or ‘sticking to principles’ by the gasbags on tv, precludes any appeal to human emotion or weakness.  This in itself is illogical, as our policies are targeted to only one kind of creature, the human creature, who is inevitably bound by human emotions and frailties.  The left gave this idea a terrible name in the 80’s, as they basically used appeals to emotion as an excuse to ignore the Constitution.  Now, ironically, remembering these appeals could help the right REMEMBER that the Constitution still exists.   Perhaps we could start moving away from such idiotic and anti-American ideas as extraordinary rendition, warrantless wiretapping, the unitary executive, and mass deportations.

Nonetheless, the government has no way to act using compassion and emotion.  Even the courts, the one area of government where judges DO typically consider each personal situation in handing down punishments, have been crippled in how they can consider the human condition by the aforementioned mandatory minimums.  The government is bound by law to treat all equally and without bias.  But life demands bias.  No two situations are ever the same. Ever.  And that, perhaps, is as clear a calling there is for the case of limited government.  In other words,  as Thompson realized with Terri Schiavo, there are plenty of times when the government just needs to butt out.

Ron Paul raises 5 million in 3rd Quarter!

Two million more than the preliminary numbers his campaign released earlier this week.  His supporters have gone from spamming internet votes to spamming his campaign coffers, obviously.  🙂 And doing it while the top GOPer’s are all declining. Before you know it, they’ll be spamming the ballot box!

Howard Dean was able to translate internet excitement to a lead in the polls in 2004, and to be honest, I see no reason to think Paul can’t do the same thing.  There are no ‘anointed ones’ on the GOP side this year, and every top candidate has major question marks.  Plus, Paul has a unique message that breeds loyal followers and perhaps the most enthusiastic base of support of any candidate, except maybe Barack Obama (who himself DOES have to deal with an ‘anointed one’).  At the very least, Paul has forced the rest of the GOP field to acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people out there who might be willing to vote for them if they’d start doing more than paying lip service to ideals of freedom and small government.

It’s hard to dislike Paul and his message, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s a sound message, a freedom based message, and a very Reaganesque one as well.

A ‘chilling effect’ on free speech?

The IRS has concluded a three-year investigation into an L.A. church, deciding not to punish them while still claiming they believe the church “broke the law”.

In its latest letter to All Saints, dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status, but said that Regas’ sermon did amount to intervention in the 2004 presidential race. The letter offered no details or explanation for either conclusion.

That sounds about par for the course if you’re trying to force the so-called ‘rule of law’ on people while also doing everything you can to avoid scrutiny of your interpretation of the law. Or, it also rings familiar as the IRS knowing they have no case against the church, but trying nonetheless to intimidate them into silence.

This also shows that just because you may be just about the only group still supporting the President’s agenda, you will be afforded no protection from the administration once you go ‘off the reservation’, so to speak. Republicans became alarmed in the 90’s that President Clinton may have been using the IRS to go after his political enemies. Will they show the same alarm that the IRS is trying to chill speech over the most critically important issue of the moment?

I’ll ignore for the moment my disgust at the general idea that tax-exempt organizations must remain silent from political activism. So was this church violating the law? OMBWatch.org has a report from the Congressional Research Service on the history and meaning of the ban. We can thank (Senator at the time) Lyndon Johnson for the ban on political campaigning …

The political campaign prohibition was enacted as part of the Internal Revenue
Code of 1954. The provision was added by Senator Lyndon Johnson as a floor
amendment. Upon introducing the amendment, Senator Johnson analogized it to the
lobbying limitation; however, he mischaracterized the lobbying limitation by saying
that organizations that lobbied were denied tax-exempt status, as opposed to only
those organizations that substantially lobbied. The legislative history contains no
further discussion of the prohibition, including whether Senator Johnson’s overlybroad
description of the lobbying provision and inaccurate analogy were noticed.
Although Senator Johnson’s motives behind the provision are not clear from the
legislative history, it has been suggested that he proposed it either as a way to get
back at an organization that had supported an opponent or because he wished to offer
an alternative to another Senator’s proposal that would have denied tax-exempt status
to organizations making grants to organizations or individuals that were deemed to
be subversive.

Wonderful, so a church in 2007 cannot talk about war because a Senator in 1954 may have tried to exact revenge on a political opponent, using an erroneous argument as his justification. So what does the ban mean?

The organizational definition in IRC § 501(c)(3) prohibits these organizations
from “participating in, or intervening in (including the publishing or distributing of
statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate
for public office.” The IRC does not further elaborate on the prohibition.

Doesn’t sound too bad, so what actually happened at the church? From the LA Times article …

One of Southern California’s largest and most liberal congregations, All Saints came under IRS scrutiny after a sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election by a guest speaker, the Rev. George F. Regas. In his sermon, Regas, the church’s former rector, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Regas did not endorse either candidate, saying that “good people of profound faith” could support either one. But he strongly criticized the war in Iraq and said that Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war strategy in Iraq “has led to disaster.”

Even though they’re banned from political campaigning, tax-exempt organizations ARE allowed to engage in issue advocacy. From the CRS report …

On the other hand, IRC § 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to conduct
activities that are not related to elections, such as issue advocacy, lobbying for or
against legislation, and supporting or opposing the appointment of individuals to
nonelective offices.
Additionally, IRC § 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to conduct certain
election-related activities so long as the activities are non-partisan and do not indicate
a preference for any candidate.

So an argument can certainly be made that the church was in no way violating the law. What was the argument of those saying it did? Some of the factors used by the IRS to determine issue advocacy by tax exempt groups may be illegal, again from the CRS …

Key factors that indicate an issue advocacy
communication is not political campaign intervention include:
! the communication does not identify any candidates for a given
public office,
! the communication does not express approval or disapproval for any
candidate’s positions and/or actions,
! the communication is not delivered close in time to an election,

So the problem for the church was that the sermon did mention both Bush and Kerry, despite not endorsing either one. As well, the timing (2 days before an election) was problematic as well. Nonetheless, the vagaries of this ban sure seemed to indicate that by not endorsing either candidate, the church was avoiding the intent of the law, whose original concern was the tax-deductible donations being used for political advocacy. While the IRS can make an argument that they violated the law, the church seemingly can make a much stronger case that they were obeying the spirit of the law by refusing to endorse any candidate.

I could not find any cases of the Bush administration prosecuting a church because of it taking a pro-war (or pro-Bush) stance. Nonetheless, the only conclusion I can draw is that not even the church is immune from the crackdowns of the Bush administration, no matter how friendly the administration is supposedly seen as being to religious people. You can’t have totalitarianism without total, after all.

Rudy, your autocrat is showing

The more you read between the lines, the more Rudy Giuliani sounds like a big government conservative and the closest thing in this race to W …

Glossing over the less appealing line items on his gun control resume, ex-NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani presented himself as sympathetic to the aims of the National Rifle Association and pledged, as president, to protect gun rights.

“Your right to bear arms is based on a reasonable degree of safety,” he said.

So much for the second amendment, that bit about “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Rather, America’s Mayor seems to be saying, “You can play with these as long as you behave. But I’ll be watching.” Ouch. Don’t forget, he’s TRYING to win over the NRA. He’s expressing (trying, actually) his belief in personal freedom! He’s not wrong, but it is telling that he can’t or won’t just express a simple belief in personal freedom. He’s saying “I’ll ALLOW you to do this” instead of “What right do I have to stop you?”.

In case we might dismiss this rhetoric as simply a poor choice on words, he start’s going off-topic and ensures us that, yes, you MUST “respect his authoritah!”

Giuliani said that MoveOn.org’s ad criticizing Gen. Petreaus was out of bounds and hinted that the group should face some sort of sanction.

“They passed a line that we should not allow an American political organizations to pass,” he said. “We are at war right now, whether some people want to recognize it or not.”

As disgusted as I was (and I’m rather agnostic on the war at the moment, leaning towards withdrawal) by MoveOn.org’s ludicrous and tasteless portrayal of “General Betray-us”, I’m not willing to just throw out the First Amendment to get back at them. Unfortunately, many of today’s Republican’s are, and judging by his words and actions, perhaps none moreso than Giuliani…

James Dobson: I won’t support Fred Thompson

I find today’s story that James Dobson states that he won’t support Fred Thompson interesting for a number of reasons …

In a private e-mail obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Dobson accuses the former Tennessee senator and actor of being weak on the campaign trail and wrong on issues dear to social conservatives.

“Isn’t Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won’t talk at all about what he believes, and can’t speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?” Dobson wrote.

“He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent ‘want to.’ And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this story was, well, let’s see what he thinks next summer, will he support him then if he’s the nominee? With the spectre of a Hillary Clinton Presidency looming large over conservative Christians as the alternative, I have no doubt Dobson would feel intense pressure to support Thompson, and will be singing a much different tune. Clearly, though, Dobson is more concerned with who the Republican nominee is right now than with winning a general election, so it makes sense that in a year he’ll have much different priorities. Of course, he also said he would never vote Rudy Giuliani, including a general election, so who knows. But if it comes down to Giuliani vs Clinton, no matter how much they don’t like him, I can’t see too many others joining Dobson in sitting on his hands.

The second thing that pops out is WHY he’s not supporting Thompson. Essentially he doesn’t like Thompson’s support of states rights on the issues important to Dobson. Dobson is saying he wants a big government bureaucracy to clamp down on gay marriage and abortion. At the least, Thompson’s seeming support for federalism is a truer conservative position than Dobson’s preference for a heavy-handed, big government nanny state approach. Dobson’s demands could not be a clearer example of what has gone wrong with the Republican party over the last few years. A humble and decentralized approach to governance, an approach that recognizes both the limits of government and the right of Americans to determine their own fate has been replaced with a big government conservatism that instead eschews an autocratic and top-down enforcement of morality.

Part of the problem, I think, is that today’s conservative Christian movement may have to recognize that they are in the minority, in terms of political power. The revolution of 1994 swept them into power, and from 2000 to 2005 they enjoyed majority status in both houses of Congress, the Executive branch, and arguably the Supreme Court. But that revolution came after nearly 50 years of a Democratic stranglehold on Congress. In other words, they should be concerned not that the Democratic revolution of 2006 was a fluke, but rather that the revolution of 1994 that finally gave them some power may have been the fluke. Democrats had control for 50+ years, lost it for 12, and gained it back last year. Where it goes from here who knows, but Dobson and his followers have to recognize that they are in a precarious spot this year, and that a whole lot will be riding on the election in 2008.

They can’t make the same demands now that they have. Well, they can, but they need to accept the responsibility for their actions. If, as they have done, they ridicule candidates with libertarian beliefs and their followers as ‘nuts’ or ‘crazies’, that’s fine. But they have to accept responsibility then when these voters abandon them (again) in 2008, and when they may well find themselves relegated to minority status in every branch of government.

Thirdly, it was interesting to see Dobson reference Thompson’s image as aloof and undedicated as a major reason for his non-support. Again, Thompson will have to step up to the plate and show he is willing to put the work in. At least in part this means getting into some dustups with his fellow candidates, and fighting for what he believes.

This quote from the article caught my eye as well…

Dobson’s strong words about Thompson underscore the frustration and lack of unity among Christian conservatives about the GOP field. Some Christian right leaders have pinned their hopes on Thompson, describing him as a Southern-fried Ronald Reagan.

This is one thing that really gets me! Reagan is revered on the right, at least in memory. But it seems today’s conservatives really have forgotten a number of things that Reagan did. As the President, Reagan

  • Gave amnesty to all 2 million illegal immigrants that were in the country in 1986
  • Responded to a deadly and massive attack on us in Lebanon by pulling up forces and withdrawing.
  • Nominated judges Sandra Day O’ Connor and Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court.
  • Brought the Soviet Union to it’s knees without firing a shot, and engaging them in talks almost all the time.
  • Generated great legislative success despite Democratic majorities in Congress thru negotiation and camaraderie

Granted he did give us some boondoggles such as an expanded War on Drugs, but my point remains, namely that Ronald Reagan in fact was a lot more like Fred Thompson is being portrayed to be, than Dobson would perhaps care to admit.

Fred Thompson the libertarian?

Could Fred Thompson be a decent ‘compromise’ candidate for the thousands of us pulling for Ron Paul?  Possibly, he even manages a halfway positive write up from <a href=”http://www.reason.com/news/show/122572.html”>Jacob Sullum on Reason</a>. He does espouse the virtues of small government and actually seems to give more than lip service to that idea,  and has a voting record to prove his belief.   Of course, his views on the war are a complete 180 from Paul.  But it may show just how radical today’s Republican candidates have become that Thompson may now, along with Paul, be the only candidates out there who are both extolling the virtues of small government and have a record that shows they believe it too.

The real problem for Thompson is that he has to start taking this seriously and looking presidential.  I think Hillary Clinton really seems to understand the mood of the electorate this year, and she understands that during a time of unpopular war, the American voter is probably going to place a higher importance on experience and competence than in most elections.

The biggest negative about Thompson is a perception that he’s not ‘serious’ as a candidate.  Essentially, skipping the New Hampshire debate to appear on Jay Leno, was, I think, a huge mistake, and the kind of mistake that has to be a one-time thing, not a trend.   Ross Perot could have been president in 1992 until he tried to drop out of the race, almost strictly to avoid a bruising debate fight.  When he came back in, he had lost all credibility.   Thompson can’t follow Perot’s path in either action or spirit if he hopes to win in 2008.

Thompson has to start getting down and dirty.  At least he seems to have committed to a decent number of debates, including one that’s already been canceled! That’s a good start.

My current handicap ….

Democratic nomination…   65% chance for HIllary, 35% for Obama.  I originally wrote 60-40 for Clinton.  Obama does have a number of things going for him, including incredible dynamism, strong fundraising, decent polling in Iowa, and, amazingly, could have the ‘electability’ factor as an advantage, if he’d use it.  You can be sure the Clintonites will turn, in very quiet ways, no doubt, Obama’s race against him.  Much as how Kerry came from behind against Dean in 2004, Obama can still use electability to his advantage.    But Senator Clinton is doing a fine job, I think, so far in her campaign, and may actually be helping to erase her fairly large negatives with the general populace.  Who would have thought that Clinton would be the one candidate on both sides sitting closest to the ‘middle’?

Republican nomination … who the heck knows!? Right now I think it’s a horse race between Romney and Giuliani.  Romney has both money and strong polling in early states that could easily vault him over Giuliani.  Thompson has a real shot as long as he shows he’s serious.  I’d love to see McCain get it, but GOP primary voters seem to be his hardest audience.   Ron Paul is, I think, along with Mike Huckabee, a legitimate wild card, but still does not seem to have a real chance at the nomination.  That could change for them if either Iowa or New Hampshire go for either one in a big way early on.