The Muddle of the Road

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I’ve
been reading The
Bush Betrayal
by James Bovard (Palgrave Macmillan, $16.98,
330 pages) and I’m impressed by the wit, bite, attention to documentation,
and eye for moral concerns in James Bovard's approach to things
political, here dissecting the Bush White House in cuts more libertarian
than conservative.

Mr.
Bovard has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York
Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Playboy. One
of his books, Lost Rights (St. Martin's Press), made him a best-selling
author. He boasts that he's been denounced by the director of the
FBI, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development, as well as the heads of the Drug Enforcement
Administration, the U.S. International Trade Commission, the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA).

Libertarians
say he must be doing something right.

Well,
what of the Bush White House for the past four years? Our author
faults President Bush for braggadocio and double-talk. In his April
13, 2004, press conference, for instance, Bush puffed that "as
the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation
to help the spread of freedom." Bush hailed our troops in Iraq
defending "security for America and freedom for the world."
Freedom for the whole wide world? A big place. Does this mean, for
instance, that the U.S. could turn on dastardly Chavez in Venezuela,
another oil-producing state? Or on rank Mugabe in Zimbabwe?

Earlier,
on January 22, 2004, Bush justified his preemptive war on Iraq as
his way of forging a free society: "Free societies do not breed
terrorism. Free societies are peaceful nations." But the question
is: Will Iraq, so full of insurgents bent on kidnapping or even
beheading their adversaries, ever get to be a free society? Anything
but so far. Well, what about after January 2005?

Mr.
Bovard isn't holding his breath.

In
that regard, he quotes President Bush declaring on March 12, 2004,
"I proposed doubling the budget of the National Endowment for
Democracy to $80 million. We will focus its new work on bringing
free elections and free markets and free speech and free labor unions
to the Middle East." So Bush, says our author, sees a surge
in propaganda as a blow for freedom. Bush again: "By radio
and television, we're broadcasting a message of tolerance and truth
to millions of people. . . ."

Tolerance
and truth? On February 4, 2004, Bush gloated: "Saddam Hussein
now sits in a prison cell, and Iraqi men and women are no longer
carried to torture chambers and rape rooms." True, but along
came Abu Ghraib, a U.S. military prison in Baghdad with vile torture
photos of stacked, naked, Iraqi POWs in mock electrocutions, forced
simulation of sexual acts, cringing before leashed attack dogs,
all in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, all televised
to shocked Muslims everywhere and to the rest of a war-weary globe.
No wonder the U.S. lacks friends in international society.

Anyway,
on May 24, 2004, Bush blamed "a few American troops who disregarded
our country and disregarded our values." Our author rightly
wonders just where was the supervision, and how far up the Pentagon
hierarchy does the blame extend.

Mr.
Bovard also wonders how come in March 2002 the White House slapped
on a 30 percent steel tariff to protect steel jobs in West Virginia,
Pennsylvania, and Ohio – all critical states in the 2004 election.
Double-talked President Bush: "An integral part of our commitment
to free trade is our commitment to enforcing trade laws to make
sure that American industries and workers compete on a level playing
field." Sure.

Our
author quotes one expert holding that the "new steel tariffs
would cost about eight American jobs [in steel-consuming industries
such as autos] for every one steel job saved." The World Trade
Organization also weighed in, charging the U.S. with violating international
trading rules. The European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs
on U.S. exports. The pressure worked, apparently. On December 4,
2003, the White House dumped the steel tariff

Perhaps
you wonder how Mr. Bovard derives his standards for his critique
of President Bush. His source is, in a word, liberty, including
its theory and application. He finds Bush, for example, fond of
holding how much the world has changed since 9/11. Our libertarian
author is unimpressed, asking over and over: What about the Constitution?
He reminds us that our Founding Fathers taught us that power is
a blunt instrument – no matter who wields it – that checks and balances
preclude the idea of a power-expedient presidency, that Article
1, Section 8, of the Constitution expressly says only Congress can
"declare War."

No
wonder our author has some nice words for a few Democrats in opposition.
He commends Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) for opposing the war on
Iraq, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) for opposing the Patriot Act,
and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) for opposing Attorney General Ashcroft.

Yet
plainly our author is no friend of either major and most interventionistic
party, the Democrats or the GOP, or of enforcing the tyranny of
the status quo (to use Milton Friedman's phrase), or of the many
neocons in high places in both parties who, openly or otherwise,
laud the Welfare State, the New Economics, or the so-called Third
Way of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

So
the plight today of so many polarized Americans – split virtually
into two giant 50-50 opposing camps – who seek relief by switching
from one party to the other, reminds our author of an alcoholic
trying to solve his fix by switching from whiskey to rum.

Our
problem, as Mr. Bovard sees it, is increasingly one of unlimited
democracy, of public choice ever selling out to special interests,
of corruptive power vainly trying to undo the abuses of power, of
state spending more and more for less and less, of vice “seen too
oft,” to revert to Alexander Pope, "familiar with her face/We
first endure, then pity, then embrace."

God
save us, says James Bovard in his incisive book, from our self-imposed
"moral Dunkirk," from our self-appointed saviors, from
the White House down.

November
10, 2004

William
Peterson [send him mail],
who
studied under Mises at NYU in 1950–1969 and taught economics at
NYU, is an adjunct scholar at the Mises
Institute
and contributing editor to The
Freeman.

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