The Coming Republican Rout

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It is only late March and the Republicans already are dead meat, from President George W. Bush through the Congress. Right now, the only question is not if the Democrats will do well in the coming election, but how well can they do. In my mind, it is not impossible for the Democrats to win back majorities in the House and Senate, along with easily winning the presidency.

I write this with some trepidation, as anytime one goes out on a limb to make bold predictions, there is always the danger of an "eat crow" moment. Moreover, while the Republicans are going to get what is coming to them, the agenda of the Democrats, from John Kerry on down, is hardly reassuring for one who wishes against hope for the return of the free society.

These bold predictions (which even Democrats will not make in public) are based partly on the results of the post-attack elections in Spain, where Muslim bombers were able to change the course of the vote simply by killing a lot of people at once. Despite all of the bold "stay the course" talk from Republicans and their operatives in the media, U.S. voters are not going to stay any course if we have a mass attack in this country before November — which I am willing to predict is very likely to happen.

If there is an attack, Democrats will benefit even more than what I believe will be the case. The Republicans have become a caricature of themselves, and they have run out of ideas, not to mention have completely abandoned any commitment to freedom. On the other hand, Democrats are no more enamored of a free society than Republicans, but given their absolute commitment to turning every aspect of the Sexual Revolution into law, they will carry the urban areas and places populated with young singles. It is not a replacement for true freedom, but since Republicans have given up on Americans being free, can we blame Democrats when their view of freedom is limited to unlimited sexuality?

If I am going to excoriate Republicans — which is quite obvious — then I need to spell out my differences (and they are legion). Our story begins with the election of 1980, when the candidates discussed real issues (for the most part, although the usual election silliness also was an integral part of the campaign) and the Ronald Reagan campaign demonstrated some touches of libertarian thinking.

Unfortunately, like Barry Goldwater before him (who in his disastrous 1964 campaign came out foursquare for fighting a war in Vietnam), Reagan could not extricate himself or his presidency from the idea that the United States had to "stand tall," and that meant sending troops abroad (again). Reagan’s election promise to end draft registration was soon abandoned after he occupied the White House, and it was not long after that the U.S. military adventures overseas resumed, Vietnam having been stuffed down the Orwellian Memory Hole.

First, there was the disaster in Lebanon, the "invasion" of Grenada, then came the attacks on Libya and, finally — and unfortunately — the ill-fated attempt to "protect" oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, an exercise that ended with the unfortunate shooting down of an Iranian passenger airliner. (In retaliation, Muslim radicals bombed a Pan Am flight in late 1988, killing all the passengers aboard.)

Unfortunately, as Reagan’s term progressed, it became apparent that his government not only would "stand tall" abroad, but also at home, as the drug war escalated. To get an idea of where things stood when Reagan took office, there were about 300,000 prisoners in state prisons and about 20,000 federal prisoners. Laws governing illegal drug possession and sales for the most part were handled by the states.

The drug culture was growing, however, and stories of wealthy "drug lords" in South Florida purchasing mansions and Mercedes with suitcases full of cash helped fuel a "do something" atmosphere in Congress. Members of Congress — and especially Republicans — in an effort to be seen as relevant, began to pass draconian anti-drug possession laws, using the "Commerce Clause" of the U.S. Constitution as a hook, and whatever hopes that the Republicans would move in a libertarian direction were lost completely.

From asset forfeiture to the expansion of laws against "money laundering" and other such "crimes," Congress and Reagan created an atmosphere that made prosecutors and law enforcement personnel nearly invulnerable in the field and in the courts. The "Just Say No to Drugs" atmosphere was reflected in the explosion of state and federal prisoners. (Just 24 years after Reagan’s election, the U.S. prison population has exploded to more than two million inmates, the majority incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.)

Meanwhile, for all of its "free enterprise" rhetoric, the Reagan Administration decided to destroy Michael Milken and the work he and his investment-banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert had done to enable large numbers of firms to raise capital through means other than what had been traditional on Wall Street. From CNN to MCI, Milken raised the money, and also raised the political hopes of Rudy Guiliani, Reagan’s U.S. attorney appointment to the Southern District of New York.

As has been documented on these pages many times, Guiliani managed to force Milken to plead guilty to offenses that never had been criminalized before in U.S. courts, and in the end, Drexal was bankrupt and numerous savings and loan institutions that were holding the "junk bonds" issued by the firm were pushed into insolvency. In other words, the U.S. Department of Justice, first under Reagan, and then under George Bush, would engage in a literal jihad against the most innovative and creative of the Wall Street firms (to the pleasure of the established financial entities that did not like having to compete with Milken and Drexal), and leave much of the U.S. financial system in a shambles.

The Bush I Administration completely abandoned whatever libertarian principles had been part of the Republican campaigns, replacing a view of liberty with a "doctrine" of overwhelming government force both overseas and at home. This has been part and parcel of Republicanism ever since. There was a very brief time following the elections of 1994 that swept the Republicans into control of Congress in which libertarian ideals were near the front in the form of the "Contract with America."

In the aftermath of the Waco and Ruby Ridge killings, not to mention the Clinton Administration’s wholesale attempt to nationalize medical care, voters chose to put Republicans in power, as they promised to put a stop to government running amuck. Unfortunately, just a few months after the new Congress was sworn in, the Oklahoma City bombing put the pro-government forces back into the spotlight, as President Bill Clinton and his political and media allies attempted to broad brush all libertarians as mad bombers and murderers. The much-anticipated congressional hearings on Waco and Ruby Ridge in the summer of 1995 fizzled out as Democrats and some Republicans stood firmly behind the actions of the FBI and the ATF, thus destroying what ultimately turned out to be the last chance for libertarians to influence national policy.

Since then, the small group of libertarians in the Republican Party have been on the run and are ignored in the larger political discussion, as the Neoconservatives have taken over the ideological wing of the party. The result has been the current economic and foreign policy debacles that ultimately will lead voters to throw out this set of rascals (and vote in a new set of rascals).

Of course, this does not mean I have hope for the Democrats who will replace them. This is the party that long ago abandoned any pretense of being for a free society, supporting, instead, an authoritarian government. Granted, the Democrats say they don’t want as many foreign policy adventures as do the Republicans (although the record of the Clinton Administration exposes that lie). However, my guess is that they want fewer resources spent on imposing war abroad so that government can have those resources in order to conduct its own anti-business war at home, as Democrats seem to hate productive people of the private sector and want them to be destroyed at all costs.

When I hear the Democrats give their political vision, I wonder how anyone could listen to what they say — until I hear the Republicans give their own "vision." They offer nothing, absolutely nothing of value. (Oh, yes. They are "tough on crime," which basically means they want to treat all private citizens as criminals.) Democrats, on the other hand, do not claim to be "tough on crime," but during Clinton’s administration, the U.S. prison population doubled.

In 1980, the Republicans ran a wonderful political advertisement starring a Tip O’Neal look-alike. The Tip character and a friend were driving down the road, when they ran out of gas. The ad concluded: "The Democrats have run out of gas."

Indeed, that was true in 1980. Today, after a decade of mostly Republican rule in the Congress, it is the Republicans who have run out of gas. Their war abroad, authoritarian rule at home platform is an outrage. All they want to do is to retain power for the sake of retaining power. That their political opponents are just as outrageous will not matter to the voters, who will vote for the opposition because they are not Republicans.

A new, Democrat-led government will be no better than what we have now. However, because the Republicans abandoned any principles of a free society, they have made it even easier for the Democrats to continue their own brand of soft totalitarianism.

March 20, 2004

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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