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Rep. Flake's Way Out of the Wilderness:

Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) lays out an agenda for House Republicans seeking direction after yesterday's defeats.

I suggest that we return to first principles. At the top of that list has to be a recommitment to limited government. After eight years of profligate spending and soaring deficits, voters can be forgiven for not knowing that limited government has long been the first article of faith for Republicans.

Of course, it's not the level of spending that gets the most attention; it's the manner in which the spending is allocated. The proliferation of earmarks is largely a product of the Gingrich-DeLay years, and it's no surprise that some of the most ardent practitioners were earmarked by the voters for retirement yesterday. Few Americans will take seriously Republican speeches on limited government if we Republicans can't wean ourselves from this insidious practice. But if we can go clean, it will offer a stark contrast to the Democrats, who, after two years in training, already have their own earmark favor factory running at full tilt.

Second, we need to recommit to our belief in economic freedom. Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" may be on the discount rack this year, but the free market is still the most efficient means to allocate capital and human resources in an economy, and Americans know it. Now that we've inserted government deeply into the private sector by bailing out banks and businesses, the temptation will be for government to overstay its welcome and force the distribution of resources to serve political ends. Substituting political for economic incentives is not the recipe for economic recovery. . . .

There are, of course, other pillars of the Republican standard -- strong national defense, support for traditional values and the Second Amendment -- but these are not areas where voters question Republican bona fides. In any event, as we have seen over the past several months, economic woes tend to subsume other concerns. We shouldn't complain. We can now play our strongest hand.

I suspect Rep. Flake's principled, forward-looking, and surprisingly optimistic outlook would appeal to libertarian-leaning Republicans.

llamasex (mail) (www):
At this point, I think Republicans are only pulling out the fiscal limited government card as an excuse to be obstructionist. After the last 8 years The party has not credibility.

Really guys come kick the football, I am not going to yank it away at the last second.... I promise...
11.5.2008 11:24pm
Oren:
Notably (and pleasantly) absent is the lack of a culture-war component to the strategy. It's as if Rep Flake somehow views distraction issues as, well, distracting from the true task of governing.

His is a GOP I could get behind.
11.5.2008 11:25pm
Oren:
Aside: Jeff Flake is an very unfortunate name to have as a politician.
11.5.2008 11:26pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Oren: Would you rather have Dick Armey?
11.5.2008 11:28pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
1 - how do we get the GOP to listen to us? Even if we withhold our money, they get money from other sources, too.

2 - where is the proof that small government conservatives win tough elections? The GOP isn't going to change if we can't show them that we have the winning message.

3 - who will be our champion? We need a unifying figure. Newt Gingrich once played that role. We need a leader to step up and take charge.
11.5.2008 11:31pm
Brian K (mail):
I don't see the first two happening anytime soon. the republicans turned away from "limited government" and "economic freedom" (especially civil freedom) remarkably quickly. it'll take a lot to convince anyone on the fence that they still stand for those things.

(am i the only that thinks that flake would not be saying these things had mccain been elected? funny how a limited government is desirable under a democrat but not a republican.)


other pillars of the Republican standard -- strong national defense, support for traditional values and the Second Amendment (my emphasis)

i don't know how he sees the former as a "pillar" given the fiasco that is iraq. it also seems a not insignificant number of voters see it that way too. and as to the latter, i think it actually might help republicans if they didn't appeal so much to the bigoted wing. it doesn't seem like gay bashing is a top priority to independent and moderate members of either party.
11.5.2008 11:36pm
Oren:
To be fair, Brian, the failures of the leadership in the war in Iraq has not detracted from the generally positive esteem that the US Military has always had in the public's eyes.
11.5.2008 11:41pm
Tiger (mail):

Notably (and pleasantly) absent is the lack of a culture-war component to the strategy.


My first thought when I read it. A secular Republican party, if you will.

I'm with Brian K, though. Regardless of what Representative Flake has to say, I wouldn't believe the whole party was going to tow this line--through thick and thin--short of some sort of blood oath.
11.5.2008 11:46pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
I agree that this would appeal to a lot of conservatives (libertarian or otherwise). The only problem is that the current Republican party does not have the credibility to run on this agenda. The American people have short memories about individuals but long memories about party associations, and it will be a long time before they believe that the Republican party is the party of principled small government.
11.5.2008 11:49pm
Bruce_M (mail) (www):
My suggestion to the GOP would be to study Barry Goldwater, and follow in the footsteps of "Mr. Conservative." I'm a proud "Goldwater Liberal" and if a candidate like Goldwater were running, I'd vote for him/her in a second. But Obama and Hillary are more similar to Barry Goldwater than the current Republican party is (of course some Republicans are more far right than others).

Tell the religious right, christian fascists that they are no longer wanted in the GOP. Like Goldwater did. That's step one. Tell them to go abort themselves with rusty clotheshangers. Then the Republican Party can begin to get back on track - the party has been hijacked by Christian theofascists, and every policy mistake the GOP has made can be traced directly to placating them.

Small, secular government. Keep the government out of our personal lives, whether it's using heroin, birth control, or having an abortion. That's what Barry Goldwater would have done, and the GOP needs to revert to its origins - regardless of one's own personal moral/religious beliefs. Trying to force religion, and Christianity in particular, on all Americans has lead to the destruction of the once great Republican party. Religion is like pubic hair - keep it to yourself. And surely don't make your political party's chief platform analogous to the forcible spread of pubic hair down everyone's throat.
11.5.2008 11:51pm
Brett Bellmore:
Seems to be missing an issue on which the losing Republican nominee was conspicuously at odds with both his party and the majority of the public: Illegal immigration. An issue Obama could easily have been attacked on, if McCain weren't as bad.
11.5.2008 11:52pm
David Warner:
Brian,

"(am i the only that thinks that flake would not be saying these things had mccain been elected? funny how a limited government is desirable under a democrat but not a republican.)"

If you knew Jeff Flake, you'd know he's been saying these things since before he was first elected. Now that his fellow Republicans have been suitably chastened, this would be a good time for them to begin to listen to him.

Even if they do, it will require Dem overreaching for the public to follow them in doing so. For now, its wait and see.
11.5.2008 11:53pm
accountibility moment:
The proliferation of earmarks...
It's as if Rep Flake somehow views distraction issues as, well, distracting from the true task of governing.

I believe it was the first debate where Sen. McCain made a really, really BIG deal out of $18 billion worth of earmarks.

Funny how I remember McCain's $18 billion earmark number. I kept putting it into the context of the recent $700 billion bailout. And comparing it to the discretionary federal budget of somewhat over $1 trillion. Within a total federal budget around $3 trillion.

All from a US economy with a GDP of about $14 trillion.

Folks, honestly, $18 billion is a distraction.

If you Republicans want to be taken seriously, then don't assume that every American is innumerate. When you start blaming $18 billion worth of earmarks, and claiming that if Congress fixes earmarks, then that will solve all the budget problems, well, I start thinking the Republicans are either stupid or fundamentally dishonest. Either way, I start thinking Republicans can't trusted be trusted with money.
11.5.2008 11:56pm
Order of the Coif:
The Republican Party has no credibility with Republicans. How can anyone expect the other 50% of Americans to believe them.

I've had Republican politicians lie to my face when we both knew they were lying. They seem to think that the listener's knowledge that they are going to lie makes it OK to go ahead and do it. Not two in a dozen are worth a $1.00's support.
11.5.2008 11:56pm
David Warner:
Prof. Adler,

If he wants to appeal to libertarians, and especially younger ones, he needs to drop the talk about "returning" to anything. Out with all "re-"s. Look forward. State the specific principles, don't just refer to the general term. Certainly Smith is a great place to find them, but trotting him on in one's argument is superfluous.

Talk about what, specifically, needs limiting, not limited government in general. The public believes that the government has been all too limited in its oversight of lending practices over the last ten years. Limiting trillion-dollar foreign wars might also bend some ears.
11.5.2008 11:59pm
Constantin:
i don't know how he sees the former as a "pillar" given the fiasco that is iraq.

We won, you know.

Regarding the original post, almost nobody cares about earmarks. They're a drop in the bucket, and one that most voters seem to like. There's a reason why the "I approve of the job my congressman is doing" number is about five times the overall congressional approval. People vote their pocketbooks and like the guys who bring home the bacon.
11.6.2008 12:04am
Kevin P. (mail):
Jeff Flake on the issues. Looks pretty good to me.
11.6.2008 12:06am
Cold Warrior:
A new leader emerges from the vacuum.

The Republican Party establishment managed to keep Flake on the margins for years, most notably denying him the Minority Whip appointment a few years ago.

This is precisely what the Republican Party needs. The DLC ultimately rescued a Democratic Party that had been captured by far leftists and corrupt Rostenkowski types.

One question: I know Flake is a Mormon, and I'm not at all bothered by that ... assuming that he isn't going to make a "pro-family" (read: anti-liberty) agenda part of his plank. Anyone know where he stands on those "cultural" issues?
11.6.2008 12:15am
JB:
Campaign based on plans. Any plans. If Obama screws up, campaign on "We can do better, and here's how." Make the free-market argument to liberal goals.

For example:
McCain's strongest moment, the one that made liberals suck in breath like they were punched in the gut, is his response on the "Manhattan Project or 100,000 workshops" question about alternative energy. If by 2011 we do not have substantial progress on alternative energy, there is a wide opening to argue that the market will do better--"We will put American ingenuity in charge of solving this problem, and we will solve it!"

Ultimately, Republicans need to articulate a positive vision for the future, in which government is limited in its scope to allow the genius of the American people free rein, but within its scope is watched like a hawk to maintain good governance. No more arguing about preachers and flag pins while the administrative agencies fall victim to regulatory capture and established businesses strangle innovation. Republicans must lead the way to refocus government on what it should be doing, and place as much stress on that as on stopping it from doing what it shouldn't be doing.

I don't want to vote for Democrats. I hate identity politics, and the left is generally ignorant about any tool whatsoever for evaluating tradeoffs in politics. A Republican party built around making government work would be tremendous. I would vote for it, volunteer for it, work for it.
11.6.2008 12:15am
Kevin P. (mail):
Cold Warrior, Jeff Flake's web site has nothing about cultural issues, except perhaps Immigration Reform, which of course can be viewed through the prisms of national security, economics and culture wars:


Congressman Flake believes that a comprehensive temporary worker program, coupled with rigid enforcement of immigration laws, will go a long way toward alleviating the problems caused by the federal government's failure to secure the border.

Along with Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, he has introduced the STRIVE Act (H.R. 1645), which would increase border security, strengthen interior enforcement, create a temporary worker program, and deny amnesty to illegal immigrants.


Someone will have to look up his voting record. I wouldn't be surprised if his voting record on family issues is conservative, but I suspect his area of interest is economic conservatism.
11.6.2008 12:21am
Matt_T:
Oren: Would you rather have Dick Armey?

No, but Barney Frank would! *rimshot*

Dick Armey himself made that joke, if I recall.
11.6.2008 12:32am
Suzy (mail):
I agree that the language has to be forward looking. I also think you have to look at what most people agree with Republicans/Libertarians on and start emphasizing it: People hate this bailout. They may or may not be convinced it was necessary, but they hate the whole idea of it. Billions of dollars to take a state interest in banks? The whole concept is scary to most people, including Democrats, moderates, religious conservatives, whoever. They're asking, why do we really have to do this? Is this the best use of my tax dollar? That's the beginning of a future-looking small government story that can win votes.

The other problem is that Republicans used to reassure people that they'd provide security. Even Bush made that case well for a few years. But then we saw Katrina, and billions sunk into wars with uncertain outcomes, and an economic crisis, and we felt vulnerable and unprotected. The Republicans who were supposed to keep the ship on a safe course had let us down, so the uncertainty that might normally drive voters into their arms was pushing the other direction. Conservatives need to make voters feel safe with them again--voters need to know that they're not going to charge headlong into wars, alienate our allies, rob the nation blind and leave us with debts and pseudo-socialist control of various institutions, or leave us stranded after the storm. The usual fear-baiting tactics didn't work this season, because voters did not feel any safer with McCain and Palin! Obama was the calm, steady hand in the public's mind.

The basic message needs to be: we are going to keep you safe, as priority 1, and we are not going to take or waste more of your money.

It might be nice to find someone to deliver the message who seems stable and wise. Keeping someone like Palin on the scene would be totally counterproductive. Conservatism will remain the refuge of idiots and religious extremists, if she's the face of the future. How is that helpful? Small government that keeps you safe and stays out of your pocket.
11.6.2008 12:40am
Math_Mage (mail) (www):
Flake's no flake; that was a good message. A few problems, though:

The first problem that I spot with this is that earmarks are essentially irrelevant numbers-wise. Regardless of the moral high ground of being anti-pork, it's hard to get excited when one of the main pillars of a platform is 2% of the nation's discretionary spending and eliminating all of them would just barely keep the budget flat for one year.

Second problem: when a conservative talks about free-market principles, voters will think "deregulation." And when they think of deregulation, they will connect it rightly or wrongly to the financial crisis. That's not a platform anyone can win on.

Third problem: by putting the Second Amendment right next to "strong national defense," Flake plays right into a fundamental paradox of the right wing that many voters see: that while conservatism is about limited government, conservatives often push for a stronger government and the curtailment of absolute freedom in the interest of security. When I say "curtailment of absolute freedom," I don't mean that Big Brother is now watching you and a wrong word will get you carted off to prison; I mean that the right wing will support legislation establishing the potential for a Big Brother system in times of conflict. Yes, the economy is important, perhaps more so than anything else from a strictly political standpoint. But if the Republican Party wants to reestablish credibility, it needs to start by explaining the seeming contradictions in its platform, and this is perhaps the biggest of them all. After we've established that the platform is consistent, THEN we can move on to consistently living up to it.
11.6.2008 12:45am
MisterBigTop (mail):
Being gay, one might expect me to be a Democrat. However, I agree with the Republicans on abortion, economics, crime/punishment, and defense. If any of those were to be removed from the platform, I have to admit that I might rethink my allegiance to the GOP.

I agree with the idea that the party needs to lay off the anti-gay rhetoric, but for some republicans, social issues other than gay marriage are still important, so if you remove that faction completely, you're going to lose a significant number of voters. You can call them the kook fringe if you want, but those voters do come out in droves and it'd be a shame to completely lose them instead of figuring a way to work with them under the big tent.

In all honesty, the best way to create a big tent is for Republicans to promote federalism. I agree that we would win more elections if the culture wars were off the table on the national level, but that won't happen until the courts change. Promoting our understanding of federalism can change that.

I know this will offend some libertarian purists, but I have no problem with one state banning abortion, another banning it after the first trimester , and yet another funding it in its own clinics. That's the beauty of our country. The federal courts should not be magically creating rights where the Constitution does not contain them. In that sense, Roberts and Alito have been great so far. We need more judges like them in the federal judiciary.
11.6.2008 12:47am
Cold Warrior:
Thanks, Kevin P. I appreciate the info on Flake. The immigration plank sounds imminently sensible, too.

Is he too sensible to succeed?
11.6.2008 12:54am
Francis (mail):
a recommitment to limited government

There are only 5 federal programs of substantial size: defense, interest on the debt, social security, medicare and medicaid.

SS is self-funded and currently runs a surplus.

Please, please let us know which of the other four programs can be substantially cut, with the support of the voters.
11.6.2008 1:00am
tsotha:
Please, please let us know which of the other four programs can be substantially cut, with the support of the voters.

I'd like to see a rollback of Medicare prescription drug coverage. There's no reason to subsidize drugs for old people when there are working families with no coverage at all, especially given Medicare's financial condition. And the program hasn't been around so long people won't remember a time when we got by without it.
11.6.2008 1:30am
Brian K (mail):
To be fair, Brian, the failures of the leadership in the war in Iraq has not detracted from the generally positive esteem that the US Military has always had in the public's eyes.

I apologize if I implied otherwise. the military is, it think, widely regarded to be under the control of the political branches and that that is where most of the blame lies.
11.6.2008 1:35am
accountibility moment:
I think the voters expect the Obama administration to cut some of the $10 billion a month currently spent on Iraq.

Not necessarily right away. Probably no impact on FY 2009. Maybe little impact on FY 2010.

But sometime before the end of his first term, I think that's one of the jobs the new administration was elected to do.

$100-$120 billion is roughly 10% of the discretionary budget for FY 2009.
11.6.2008 1:46am
David Warner:
Cold Warrior,

""pro-family" (read: anti-liberty)"

What, we're supposed to brew kids in vats? I agree with just about everything else you say, but all this anti-social conservative hysteria is, literally, drinking the Kool-Aid offered to R's by oh so helpful D hacks.

Being pro-family doesn't have to mean Rovian Soc-con triumphalism.
11.6.2008 2:00am
MisterBigTop (mail):
"I'd like to see a rollback of Medicare prescription drug coverage. There's no reason to subsidize drugs for old people when there are working families with no coverage at all, especially given Medicare's financial condition. And the program hasn't been around so long people won't remember a time when we got by without it."

Unfortunately, once given, it's almost impossible to take back. Any party that has this on its platform will lose the important senior vote. I think one has to plan to end such programs in the future, not now. In other words, make it so the youth and middle-aged of today won't get such coverage when they turn old, but the grannies of today won't suddenly find themselves without prescription coverage.

It's a perfect example why we must fight ANY government expansion of this nature before it passes.
11.6.2008 2:12am
Cornellian (mail):

I suspect Rep. Flake's principled, forward-looking, and surprisingly optimistic outlook would appeal to libertarian-leaning Republicans.


I suspect Rep. Flake's outlook holds little appeal for what the Republican party has become.
11.6.2008 2:58am
MCM (mail):
Cold Warrior,

""pro-family" (read: anti-liberty)"

What, we're supposed to brew kids in vats? I agree with just about everything else you say, but all this anti-social conservative hysteria is, literally, drinking the Kool-Aid offered to R's by oh so helpful D hacks.

Being pro-family doesn't have to mean Rovian Soc-con triumphalism.

Does it have to? Of course not. Does it almost always? Absolutely.

I invite you to google "pro family". I think you will find the vast majority of "pro family" websites are concerned with either (1) banning the sale of violent video games or pornography or "objectionable" literature or contraceptions, (2) banning the employment of homosexuals in schools, (3) insinuating Christianity into schools, (4) banning gambling, et cetera.

When a politician indentifies himself as "pro family" he is knowingly invoking every concern listed above, and more.
11.6.2008 3:15am
A.C.:
Here are the Top 10 from my wish list:

1. Lay off the gay-bashing. Plenty of gays have conservative leanings, but won't touch a party that is offended by the very existence of homosexuality. Just get over it already.

2. Promote business formation and job creation, especially in the heartland. It's a bad, bad thing to have the country too deeply dominated by the coasts and by the so-called "new class" of "knowledge workers." At least half of what is done in modern offices by people with fancy degrees really shouldn't be done at all, as the recent financial crisis indicates. We've got to shift the emphasis back to making things and providing services that actually have some value. The financial speculation and random spouting-off sections of the economy should shrink, and the productive part of the economy should be encouraged.

3. Fund basic science big-time. Industry has an incentive to turn basic discoveries into marketable products, but not always to do the underlying basic research. Research into basic principles is a public good as far as I'm concerned, and funding it is entirely appropriate for the government. And wouldn't we rather have our best quantitative brains doing this stuff instead of gambling on Wall Street? We can, if we provide research opportunities and stable and attractive career paths.

4. Argue pro-life and family issues like grown-ups. Confront the issue of family breakdown seriously, and try to do something about the pain it causes that does NOT involve scapegoating and lashing out. Argue the tragedy of abortion and the need to keep anyone from getting into a situation where that is the only "solution," again without the scapegoating and lashing out. In particular, enlist women in the discussion. Family breakdown and abortion fall a lot harder on women than men, but there is more than a little suggestion that the debate on the right is conducted by men with an eye to keeping women down rather than on helping them (us) improve our lives. If you want more women to vote R, fix this fast.

5. Support the military. Better pay. Proper equipment. The best health care for veterans that money can buy. There's no excuse whatsoever for stinting in this area. Play the duty-honor-sacrifice card for all it's worth, but back it up. And try to reform the military so that our soldiers don't show up for war with the wrong equipment and strategies again.

6. Find an acceptable balance on agriculture. The R's are a rural party, and agriculture is a rural issue. Factory farms are a fact of life that almost nobody seems to like. Family farming, boutique production, organic production, and so on are always struggling to make a come-back, and they should be encouraged even if they seem to cater to the urban Whole Foods crowd. See #2 about creating jobs in the heartland and producing things consumers actually want to buy. Regulate the nastier aspects of factory farming, and try to strengthen and diversify the agricultural base.

7. Ditch the culture of greed. Business formation, yes. Making money, yes if you can do it legitimately. Flaunting it in people's faces and making them feel inferior, no. Running into massive debt to maintain a high-fashion appearance, absolutely not. Bring back some reticence in these matters. Think Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

8. Fix immigration. Enforce labor laws, and this includes safety and minimum wage laws as well as laws about who is allowed to work. (A debate about the proper level of labor regulation is fine, but merely failing to enforce rules on the books is not.) Punish employers who violate the rules. Expand legal immigration, but reduce the reach of family reunification rules to immediate family. Promote assimilation, education, and upward mobility very strongly. In short, don't import a new underclass.

9. Expand energy production. Drill, yes, but build nukes and windmills and geothermal and anything else that can get into the range of economical energy supply. And research the daylights out of anything that might be there in a generation or so. See #2 about jobs in the heartland and making things people actually want. People want energy in a serious way. See also #3 on funding science.

10. Put up a serious intellectual challenge to the leftist gobbledygook in education, including education in other countries. Even on the left's favorite issues of anti-racism and female empowerment. There are plenty of good arguments in both the serious Christian tradition and the traditional European secular tradition as to why equal rights are a good idea. No need to chuck all this stuff away in favor of a debate that's all about power and victimhood and intellectual sloppiness. This nonsense does not serve anyone well, particularly not the intended beneficiaries. But racism and sexism do have to be taken off the table. See #4 about involving women, and this goes double for non-white minorities.

Oh, and I've got to add a #11.

11. Develop and promote a scheme that lets the self-employed and small business owners/employees get health insurance at reasonable rates, and with tax benefits equivalent to what big-company employees benefit from. Also consider getting people with expensive chronic conditions into a separate, perhaps even subsidized, risk pool. People, even those with disabilities, should not have to burrow into corporate or government employment to get health care. I don't want the government running health care for everyone, but locking people into large-organization jobs is bad too. This may be an area where a little flexibility on the government side could lead to a lot more dynamism on the private sector side.
11.6.2008 3:27am
David Warner:
MCM,

"When a politician indentifies himself as "pro family" he is knowingly invoking every concern listed above, and more."

Hmmm, you sure you want to be associated with everything one could find on libertarian websites? Is Obama knowingly invoking Kos when he calls himself progressive? Not sure the internet is such a representative sample of the population. Or maybe it is and we've got to work with the population we've got, warts and all.
11.6.2008 3:35am
Cornellian (mail):
Wow, I could vote for A.C.

Notably (and pleasantly) absent is the lack of a culture-war component to the strategy. It's as if Rep Flake somehow views distraction issues as, well, distracting from the true task of governing.

His is a GOP I could get behind.


Unfortunately for the GOP's chances in the next few elections, his is a GOP that the Republican base will not get behind. For much (not all) of them, it's all about abortion and gay people, 24/7.
11.6.2008 4:25am
David Warner:
Cornellian,

"Unfortunately for the GOP's chances in the next few elections, his is a GOP that the Republican base will not get behind. For much (not all) of them, it's all about abortion and gay people, 24/7."

That's the Dem hack smear. You don't have to believe it.
11.6.2008 6:07am
Brett Bellmore:

Funny how I remember McCain's $18 billion earmark number. I kept putting it into the context of the recent $700 billion bailout. And comparing it to the discretionary federal budget of somewhat over $1 trillion. Within a total federal budget around $3 trillion.


Senator Jefferson's "freezer cash" was chump change compared to the national budget, too, but it was still bribery. Earmarks are how members of Congress bribe each other. They need to go.
11.6.2008 7:26am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

I suggest that we return to first principles.



Back to basics- works in boxing, and football, too.

I don't know that conservatism is necessarily nuanced; that is, complications are applied, not inherent.
11.6.2008 7:30am
cfpete (mail):
Sorry this is so long but I believe it provides a good representation of Jeff Flake's governing philosophy and his honesty.

From Reason in 2007:

Rep. Jeff Flake

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was elected to Congress in 2000. A member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which pushes for libertarian ideas within the GOP, he has broken with his party to vote against No Child Left Behind, the Homeland Security Act, and Medicare Part D (which added pricey prescription drug coverage to the program), while voting for comprehensive earmark reform. He was one of the first House Republicans to demand the resignation of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Reason: Give us your pitch: Why should libertarians vote for your party's candidates this year?

Jeff Flake: Well, if they grade on a curve, we're still a better choice. (Laughs) If you believe in limited government, the Democrats don't offer you very much. I've yet to see a Democrat actually bring a proposal to the floor that spends less or is less intrusive. But having said that, there's nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record.

Reason: Whatever happened to the class of '94?

Flake: I think Republicans have by and large gone native. I don't know how you can conclude otherwise. You look at any measure of spending—overall spending, mandatory, discretionary, non-defense discretionary, non-homeland security spending—whichever way you slice it, the record looks pretty bad. When you look at where we're heading, with Medicare Part D, it just means that these programs run out of money a lot sooner than they were going to already.

Republicans have adopted the belief or the principle that you spend money to get elected. When I was elected in 2000 it was ingrained in us, and since then it's been even more so: Here's how you get reelected, bring home the bacon. You have the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose job it is to reelect Republicans, saying in defense of his earmarks that it's the job of Congress to create jobs.

Reason: Has the GOP given up on the ideals of small government?

Flake: Well, that's the natural conclusion to draw. There are some—like [fellow Arizona Republican Rep.] John Shadegg and not many others—who still vote for limited government. Of course all of them still profess it, but when you look at their votes you have a hard time concluding that they really believe it. Staying in office, staying in power, has come to overwhelm everything.

Reason: What policies could a GOP-run Congress enact that would appeal to libertarians?

Flake: At this late date? Adjournment.

We're doing some earmark reform, which will have more accountability, more transparency. That alone isn't going to solve much. But it's a first step. There's some recognition at least that the voting populace values that.

Reason: Why shouldn't libertarians vote Democratic this year to punish the GOP?

Flake: We're better than the other guy. Maybe we've learned a few lessons. Maybe the [Terri] Schiavo experience or the prescription drug deal or some of the other items have taught us a lesson. I can't honestly say that they have.

There is one policy Republicans have doggedly defended and sought to expand: the tax cuts. And that's good. At least there's that recognition that Americans spend money better than government. Just don't give it to us first. So that is a positive, and that creates a difference between Republicans and Democrats. Having said that, the spending spree we're on makes it difficult to defend our position. Democrats charge, "Well, we're tax and spend but you're no tax and spend." We're more prone to that criticism. So with hand firmly attached to nose, press the Republican button.

And also, look among the Republican candidates: You have good limited-government candidates running. Groups like the Club for Growth have done a good job putting their seal of approval on them. There are different Republicans running, so get involved in the primaries.
11.6.2008 7:54am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Nice, and all.
But the Chicago machine just opened a franchise in DC.
There is never any going back with the Chicago machine.
11.6.2008 7:54am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
accountiblity:
Ref earmarks.
You missed the point. The earmarks are the key, the bribe, to get legislators to vote the required way, on the big things.
A key doesn't weigh much, but heavy doors can be unlocked.
Now, if you want to claim that all that matters in earmarks is the total spending, I suppose there are some people dumb enough to fall for it.
11.6.2008 7:58am
Mark E.Butler (mail):
I know Flake is a Mormon, and I'm not at all bothered by that



Gee, Cold Warrior that's real good of you. I suspect that you're not a Mormon, and I'm not at all bothered by that.



Seems to be missing an issue on which the losing Republican nominee was conspicuously at odds with both his party and the majority of the public: Illegal immigration.


You misread the views of the majority of the public, Bellmore. The troglodytes get all the press, but they don't really have the numbers.

Rep. Flake has long been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and has not changed his position just because much of the GOP has gone nuts on this issue.
11.6.2008 8:19am
Kevin P. (mail):

You misread the views of the majority of the public, Bellmore. The troglodytes get all the press, but they don't really have the numbers.

Cite?
11.6.2008 9:21am
Kevin P. (mail):

Cornellian (mail):
Unfortunately for the GOP's chances in the next few elections, his is a GOP that the Republican base will not get behind. For much (not all) of them, it's all about abortion and gay people, 24/7.

That's funny, that's what people say about the liberal Democratic base as well! It's probably just as accurate too.
11.6.2008 9:23am
Terrivus:
Flake's position sounds good, but the problem is the REST of the GOP in Congress. In fact, the GOP kicked Flake, one of their own members, off the House Judiciary Committee because he refused to tow the party line on each and every issue. (He is still technically "on" the committee, officially, but my friends on the Committee tell me he was forced to take an extended "leave of absence" and hasn't participated in Committee activity in years.)

Flake is a lone voice crying out in the wilderness... even though he's right.
11.6.2008 9:47am
Cornellian (mail):

"Unfortunately for the GOP's chances in the next few elections, his is a GOP that the Republican base will not get behind. For much (not all) of them, it's all about abortion and gay people, 24/7."

That's the Dem hack smear. You don't have to believe it.


When I look at the performance of the Bush administration and the Delay Congress, I'm skeptical (to put it mildly) that things like limited government and balanced budgets ever mattered at all to them.

So I'm not just talking about their apparent fixation on abortion and gay people, it's their remarkable lack of interest in what used to be Republican values.
11.6.2008 9:53am
Oren:

In all honesty, the best way to create a big tent is for Republicans to promote federalism. I agree that we would win more elections if the culture wars were off the table on the national level, but that won't happen until the courts change. Promoting our understanding of federalism can change that.

Sounds like the best way to promote statism, except at a State and not Federal level. The idea that libertarians should endorse vast government power at one level as the solution to expanding government at a different level is just plain rank. Moreover, it makes a mockery of the whole notion of the theory of natural rights -- a cornerstone of American political philosophy.
11.6.2008 10:45am
MisterBigTop (mail):

Perhaps it's just plain rank if you never want to see libertarianism anywhere, but it's the realistic option. You're never going to get your libertarian utopia on the national level, at least not for many years, but you certainly could get it in a state or local community.

Also, no one is suggesting that local governments should be allowed to violate the 1st Amendment, 2nd, 4th, etc , but as many people, including myself, reject the idea that abortion and similar issues are, indeed, constitutional rights, local governments wouldn't be violating much of anything from our perspective.
11.6.2008 10:54am
Oren:
How about Lawrence v. Texas. That's the big one, IMO. I cannot imagine how a principled libertarian can reconcile himself with the State of Texas criminalizing private consensual sodomy between adults.
11.6.2008 10:57am
Tim (mail):
"I suggest that we return to first principles. At the top of that list has to be a recommitment to limited government"

The first principle should be a committment to EFFECTIVE government. Only spend the money (or cut taxes for) those projects that will truly help people or the government in the long-term, not any short-term fix, not any particular individual or company.
11.6.2008 11:28am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
McCain's strongest moment, the one that made liberals suck in breath like they were punched in the gut, is his response on the "Manhattan Project or 100,000 workshops" question about alternative energy.

Why on earth would this statement make "liberals suck breath". The Manhattan Project is probably the singularly most impressive and successful government project (heck, make that endeavor by any entity) in the history of mankind. If you want to slam the incompetence and inefficiency of government, don't bring up the Manhattan project.

Consider this: When the war started, controlled nuclear fission, and a nuclear utilizing a cascading fission reaction, was an unproven theory. Less than a year after Pearl Harbor (Dec. 2, 1942), the first controlled nuclear fission reaction was achieved. Two working bomb designs using two different fissionable metals were used as weapons just over thirty-two months later. To do that, the government created pounds of plutonium, a metal that had not existed on earth for hundreds of thousands of years, and separated uranium isotopes using three different separation technologies (one of which used gold wire made from bullion at Fort Knox because of the wartime shortage of copper) for the second bomb.

There is nothing that private industry has done or probably ever will do that can compare to the Manhattan Project.

Much the same can be said for the space program. Private exploitation of space is still a pipe dream.
11.6.2008 11:59am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Funny how I remember McCain's $18 billion earmark number. I kept putting it into the context of the recent $700 billion bailout. And comparing it to the discretionary federal budget of somewhat over $1 trillion. Within a total federal budget around $3 trillion.

All from a US economy with a GDP of about $14 trillion.

Folks, honestly, $18 billion is a distraction.

If you Republicans want to be taken seriously, then don't assume that every American is innumerate. When you start blaming $18 billion worth of earmarks, and claiming that if Congress fixes earmarks, then that will solve all the budget problems, well, I start thinking the Republicans are either stupid or fundamentally dishonest. Either way, I start thinking Republicans can't trusted be trusted with money.
If you've actually paid attention to McCain, you'd hear his argument: earmarks represent far more than $18B, because they're the (as he puts it in soundbite language) "gateway drug." Look at that $700B bailout bill as an example: it didn't pass, so it was loaded down with gifts for everyone, and then it passed.

Earmarks by themselves are small (though $18B is not exactly anything to sneeze at) relative to the budget, but they're used to buy votes for even more spending.
11.6.2008 12:05pm
Oren:
DMN, all that spending is non-military discretionary, which itself is a small fraction of the budget (versus military/entitlement).
11.6.2008 12:25pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
I heart Jeff Flake, he's the only Republican I've ever sent a check to. Earmarks may be a small part of the budget, but their omnipresence is, to me, evidence of corrupt representatives because they are non-public dealings between Congressmen and their contributors.
11.6.2008 12:28pm
josh:
Re AC's 3:27 am post (if he's still around):

I think these are some good points, but I wonder how some of them will come about. I'm specifically thinking about Nos. 2 ("Promote business formation and job creation") and 8 (Immigration). These are areas in which I often differ from my liberal brethren. I'm just not sure how, in our free-market system, we can ever return to a society of "producers" with the costs of production so high in this country. And I really don't think it's fair to lump those costs all on the backs of liberals,progressives, Democrats and/or unions. I simply think that (thankfully) this country has one of the highest standards of living in the world. That's one of the main things that makes us so great. Free-market capitalism, with reasonable regulation, has made the avergae American verry rich compared to the rest of the world. As such, laborers and the businesses that employ (or exploit) them elsewhere can simply built the widgets cheaper. Unless we allow workers willing to work for less into the country (which, in turn, may harm other workers), I don't know how we remain competitive with cheaper producing companies abroad.

I forget the name of the economic theory (comparative advantage?), but isn't it time we focus on other things we excell at (technology, innovation, etc.) and allow other countries to make not just our coffee makers, but our cars?

I really ask these questions in earnest and without normative judgment. They're issues that I simply wonder about.
11.6.2008 12:34pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
"One question: I know Flake is a Mormon, and I'm not at all bothered by that ... assuming that he isn't going to make a "pro-family" (read: anti-liberty) agenda part of his plank. Anyone know where he stands on those "cultural" issues?"

Living in AZ, I've known lots of Mormons. They tend to be social conservative in their private life, libertarian in their public one. I suppose that comes from the Mormon Wars, etc. and having had the federal government impose *its* religious/moral values on them for quite a few years. (And before that, having State governments actually attack them and drive them out, on the same basis).

My father grew up in a town that was one of a string founded as supply dumps, just in case the Utah Mormons had to flee en masse to Mexico. They tend to like government small, and local.

Trivia: Flake's family comes from the area of Snowflake, AZ. Which was actually named after the two families that founded it, the Snows and the Flakes.
11.6.2008 12:39pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
DMN, all that spending is non-military discretionary, which itself is a small fraction of the budget (versus military/entitlement).
All spending is discretionary, including military and so-called "entitlements." Until people accept that, it's impossible to keep the federal budget under control.
11.6.2008 12:57pm
Oren:
David, the will of the voters is overwhelmingly pro-entitlement. If we had a monarchy, the King would have discretion to cut entitlements -- as it happens, the People's representatives in Congress are not going to commit political suicide.
11.6.2008 1:06pm
Mark E.Butler (mail):
Minor correction to Dave Hardy's comment:


Trivia: Flake's family comes from the area of Snowflake, AZ. Which was actually named after the two families that founded it, the Snows and the Flakes.


My dad's from Snowflake, so I learned when just a lad that the "Flake" of Snowflake was William J. Flake, one of the founders (and an ancestor of Jeff Flake). The "Snow" is from Erastus Snow, a 19th century Mormon leader who had responsibility in organizing settlements in Arizona--but neither he nor any of his family actually settled the town.
11.6.2008 2:04pm
accountibility moment:
If you've actually paid attention to McCain, you'd hear his argument....


Oh, I get it: Earmarks are a symbol. They're like lapel flags. This is emblematic.

You know something? Politically, I'm pretty independent.

But this election season, every time I tried to have a serious policy discussion, some Republican ideologue would end up calling me a Democrat—like that was some kind of mortal insult.

The electorate just smacked the Republican party upside the head with clue-by-four. And you people still have nerve to accuse me of not listening.

Go ahead, get it over with—call me a Democrat. Then fuck off.
11.6.2008 2:37pm
JRL:
Rep. Flake is the real deal. I had the privilege of living in his district and voting for him a few years ago. I heard him speak about 3 1/2 years ago and he was talking about these same issues then. He is THE member of Congress who gets it.
11.6.2008 2:37pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

the free market is still the most efficient means to allocate capital and human resources in an economy

How much risk to the world economy does the (unregulated) credit default swap market represent? Does anyone really understand credit derivatives? Besides Janet Tavakoli, who literally wrote the book on them.
11.6.2008 2:41pm
Oren:

He is THE member of Congress who gets it.

Tom Coburn called and wants to put you in a headlock for that one.
11.6.2008 2:45pm
Bruce_M (mail) (www):
Why is the supposed "breakdown of the american family" (which is usually a phrase spouted off by politicans like Bob Barr who have been divorced at least twice) any business of the Federal Government's? Even assuming the family is as important as the Republicans say (and by "family" they mean one mommy, one daddy, married, having missionary-position sex to spurt out little mini-republicans), and even if there really is a "breakdown" of the family, please tell me where, in the Constitution, the express, enumerated power of "maintaining and fixing the two-parent, heterosexual family unit" appears? It was not in the constitution last time I read it, and if you tell me that falls under the commerce clause, you should be ashamed of yourself and are forever estopped from complaining about "big government" for the rest of your life.
11.6.2008 2:59pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
Flake is a fake. One of the best things the GOP could do is eject those, like him, who support illegal activity.
11.6.2008 6:06pm
darrenm:

Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" may be on the discount rack this year

Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" is easier reading and more relevant.
11.6.2008 6:59pm
darrenm:

At this point, I think Republicans are only pulling out the fiscal limited government card as an excuse to be obstructionist.


As long as they're successful. What excuse would you prefer they use?
11.6.2008 7:01pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Bruce. Your "please tell me where" question directed at the government could, if generally applied, bring DC to a grinding halt and the lights would go out.
11.6.2008 7:09pm
darrenm:

In all honesty, the best way to create a big tent is for Republicans to promote federalism.

I have to agree %100 with this. It would address fiscal conservatives concerns about government spending too much money by restricting overspending to a state. Federalism would address social conservatives concerns by letting them work at legislating their own views at the state level. It would support libertarian views by restricting government at he state level. When a state goes too far with government programs and corruption, they'll pay for it by jobs going to other states (as opposes to other countries), which will act as a natural counterbalance to excess government. I'm not sure how practical or possible this is, but it's a good policy.
11.6.2008 7:12pm
darrenm:

Unfortunately, once given, it's almost impossible to take back.



It's usually easier to correct Republican screwups and Democratic screwups.
11.6.2008 7:18pm
darrenm:
...than Democratic screwups.
11.6.2008 7:19pm
darrenm:

There is one policy Republicans have doggedly defended and sought to expand: the tax cuts.


There's not really much different between increasing spending and taxing the current generation to pay for it or increasing spending and taxing (via massive borrowing) future generations to pay for it.
11.6.2008 7:22pm
Barrett:
BrianK: Jeff Flake has been one of the few true small-government Republicans in Congress the last few years. The Club for Growth has given him a perfect rating for 05, 06, and 07. He'd likely have said the same things if McCain had been elected. The difference is, most Republicans wouldn't be paying attention. Just like they've ignored him in the past.
11.6.2008 7:36pm