Three new books are out that tea party activists, libertarians, Constitutionalists and limited government advocates should skim. I am not convinced any of them are worth reading, and I would certainly be cautious about spending money on them. But speed reading them in a book store or reading sections of them on line or listening to the authors on TV, radio, or internet will probably be informative.
The first, and possibly the most valuable, is Linda Killian’s The Swing Vote (Macmillan, 2012, 320 pages). The book has nothing to do with the mediocre Kevin Costner movie of the same title from a few years back, though they are both about how to get at and manipulate (or “represent”) the swing voter.
In her book, Killian, a Washington, D.C. think tanker, protege of David Broder, and occasional public speaker before the “Coffee Party” and on C-Span, uses the word “libertarian” a lot to describe the people she interviews (she says hundreds), many of whom are “socially liberal” or “socially moderate” and “fiscally conservative.” Killian’s book is very concrete bound and anti-conceptual. She concentrates on four “swing” states, Ohio, Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia, and she creates four archetypes of independent or swing voters, “America First Democrats,” “NPR Republicans,” “Starbucks Moms and Dads,” and “the FaceBook generation.” The first two groups are renamed Reagan Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans, and Killian is very proud of her introduction of new nomenclature (because, as she observes, many of these voters were born after Reagan and Rockefeller were in office). She doesn’t ever rise to the level of any abstract philosophical or economic analysis about what moves them. They are just different swarms she noticed in the garden, none of which seem to want to land on either of the two trees provided. She admonishes her liberal and centrist readers to face up to the fact that 40% of the electorate are independents, 20% of them hardcore independents who are persistently unhappy with both major parties, not just people who vote split tickets contentedly.
At a talk and Q&A session at Politics & Prose, the Washington, D.C. bookstore cum liberal Democratic safe house, Killian made it clear that her intention is to define, and help independents to self-define, as centrist, Coffee Party, no-labels voters, rejecting the polarization of the two parties. Almost all of her examples of polarization are of the tea party however. She leaves unanswered the question of how many independents view themselves as not centrists between the two parties, but as tea party conservatives to the right of the GOP, or libertarianish voters who don’t even fit on a left-right spectrum. Strangely, Killian doesn’t address a similar book that predates hers by 6 months or so, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America (by Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie). Typically, the people at Politics & Prose who asked questions mainly identified themselves as left-liberal Democrats and fretted about how to coax these independents back into a major party and about how to stop the influence of anarchic and uncontrolled campaign donations that might threaten incumbent parties in the wake of Citizens United. No one seemed to have heard of Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out and realize that one of the main problems of money corrupting Congress is that Congresspeople pass laws to enrich themselves by making their own portfolios of stock, land, etc. experience rapid capital gains. Typical DC crowd.
Another book probably not worth buying is Bruce Bartlett’s semi-encyclopedic The Benefit and the Burden (Simon and Schuster, 2012, 288 pages). Bartlett is a former economic advisor or staffer for variously Ron Paul, Jack Kemp, Ronald Reagan, and I believe for one of the substantial white papers on economic and budgetary topics issued by the 1980 Libertarian Party presidential campaign of Ed Clark. Post-Reagan Bartlett has seen the light, namely, that he could most easily get paid in DC if he took a more pro-government line (he spent a lot of the last few years defending Obama against all his “crazy” “racist” critics). Now he can be one of those people quoted by the liberal media along the lines of “even former Reagan administration budget analyst Bruce Bartlett agrees….”
Bruce Bartlett intends to stay fed
The burden of Bartlett’s Burden is to show that Grover Norquist and his tax pledge is wrong for America. This is explicit in the final chapter, but the argument basically goes like this: Norquist got the GOP Congresspeeps to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. But since that did not automatically make them cut spending, they blew up the budget, spending freely to buy votes. Bartlett says explicitly that he believes if they could have raised taxes, they would have done that to finance the new spending, instead of resorting to debt, inflation, borrowing. The increased taxes would have made it clearer to voters what programs would have cost, and we would have a more accountable and democratically mandated mix of more careful spending, increased taxes, and a more balanced budget with lower debt. Bartlett then comes out for imposing a Value Added Tax on the country.
I don’t believe Bartlett deals with the gigantic piece of evidence that contradicts his argument, namely Europe. No one there has signed Grover’s pledge, and they have a Value Added Tax. They seem to be going bankrupt at least as fast as we are. Indeed, our government and its banking cartel are bailing them out. At no point does Bartlett grapple with any public choice theory, any idea that government will use all the resources provided to it by taxation to buy votes (campaign donations, etc) and then will borrow and inflate, until it meets resistance, to buy even more. Since that idea underlies Grover Norquist’s tax pledge, not addressing it makes Bartlett’s work less than honest.
A final tome in this trilogy of quasi-duncery is The Leaderless Revolution (PenguinUSA, 2011, 272 pages), by a former British diplomat to the United Nations, Carnes Ross. A meandering account of recent popular revolts in a variety of countries, pretty much ignoring the tea party movement, Ross calls for people to get involved and take back the power and take control of their government. Some would think this naive, others a deliberate distraction from the task of limiting state power. It’s mainly a series of anecdotes and currents events reports, with no real conceptual framework. But the author is kind of a cute nerd in his photos.