The First Step

Every time a Republican politician chirps that that cuts to the US defense budget are unacceptable, or a Democratic office holder squawks that funding for social programs should be increased, one wonders if either side really understands the harm that government indebtedness could do to our country.

If domestic and foreign lenders lose confidence in the federal government’s ability to repay its debts, interest rates on federal debt will drift upward. Then, interest rates in the rest of the domestic market will also begin to rise (banks will be forced to compete with the rates the government is offering). While this trend will be nice for savers, borrowers will be in a tight spot.

The interest rate charged for business loans, mortgage loans, car loans, and sundry other loans, will increase. This in turn will reduce the public’s access to the easy money that often fuels large purchases.

Obviously, businesses that specialize in these sales (e.g. real estate, car dealers) will be harmed. Unfortunately the ripple effects of higher interest rates will gradually impede the economy – job growth will slow, small businesses will suffer, and our overall standard of living will decline.

So the next time you hear one of your elected leaders complaining about the prospect of spending cuts, begin looking for a new office-holder. Evidently, the politician who currently warms the seat has yet to complete the first step.


Does Global Warming Cool Romney?

A week ago potential Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made comments that surprised some conservative political strategists. Offering his his views on global warming, Mr. Romney said the following.

“I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that because I know there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe that we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and green house gasses that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and global warming that you’re seeing. Now how do we go about doing that?”

Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh was unimpressed. He even suggested Romney’s beliefs eliminated any chance of a victorious primary season in 2012. Mr. Limbaugh was wrong.

A fair-mined perusal of the former Governor’s statement a reveals a honestly stated, moderate position that is unencumbered by global warming hysteria. Reading between the lines, candidate Romney is not claiming omniscience on the issue, as most Democrats and some Republicans do, but rather outlining his general views. Perhaps more importantly for Republican primary voters, he readily acknowledged historical variations in global climate patterns. If this acknowledgment means anything, it means Mr. Romney is a dedicated climate-realist – an individual who is no more interested in ignoring data that may prove global warming, than he is in dismissing evidence to the contrary.

Many small-government pundits will flagellate Mitt Romney’s desire to “reduce our emissions of pollutants and green house gasses,” they should do so carefully however. Mr. Romney has been openly skeptical of carbon taxing and trading schemes. From this angle he shows little pragmatic distance from his Republican competitors.

Given the lack of throughly reliable long-term climatic data, those who categorically contend that global warming is not occurring, or that humans are most assuredly blameless, have the same malady as individuals with the opposite opinion: unwarranted extrapolation. That said, if conservative political commentators continue to focus on the logical shortcomings of Romney’s personal beliefs, small-government advocates will have missed a chance to ask the real question: if man-made global warming does exist, what level of government should address the issue?

Regardless of what Rush Limbaugh says, many Republican primary voters don’t care about a candidate’s personal beliefs about global warming per se, but rather how the candidate in question approaches the subject philosophically. If Mitt Romney passes the philosophical test – perhaps by advocating a state-by-state approach and vowing to never sign a cap and trade bill – Republican primary voters will likely overlook his unorthodox beliefs in this area.

However, if Mitt Romney is unable to convince Republican primary voters that he is sufficiently conservative on other meaningful issues (e.g. abortion, same-sex civil unions, gun ownership, federal spending, etc) the Republican presidential nomination will be beyond his reach. Broad ideological incomparability, perceived or real, will do more to stymie a candidate’s chances of winning a party’s nomination than any other single factor.

Forget what Rush Limbaugh said, Republican primary voters are smarter than his one-off comment made them seem. If Mr. Romney loses it will be because he was perceived to be an unreliable moderate on a host of issues – the least of which will be global warming.

Political Banality & Powerful Questions

Hardly two weeks after a demented man’s horrifying shooting spree in Tuscon Arizona, most Americans have barely begun to figure out what went wrong. The questions are troubling, and the answers are subjective. Unfortunately that hasn’t thwarted our nation’s preeminent politicians. In a hasty search for solutions, many political leaders have allowed their judgment to be clouded by emotion, a few appear ready to use this tragedy to implement their controversial policy preferences, and nobody appears prepared to thoughtfully discuss the nexus between privacy, security, and mental illness.

New York senator Chuck Schumer (D) has proposed a superficially rational executive branch policy change: the military should automatically notify the FBI when a potential recruit fails a drug test. With this rule in place, drug users like the Tuscon shooter would not be allowed to purchase a handgun.

However, a less sanguine perspective presents an unsettling possibility: Schumer’s suggestion may lead to legislation requiring all private entities to share the results of their pre-employment drug tests with federal law enforcement officials. More importantly, it’s uncertain where this intrusion would end. Would state governments be allowed to access the drug-test data? What about other possible employers? With questions like these, it seems that emotion-driven policy has triumphed over wise statesmanship.

The Tuscon tragedy has also offered members of congress such as Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), an opportunity to advance their ideological agendas. The former has already introduced a bill to ban handgun magazines that exceed ten rounds, while the latter has promised to introduce a bill banning large magazines soon. If Representative McCarthy and Senator Lautenberg were second amendment champions, they could only be accused of re-evaluating their beliefs in the wake of a tragedy. But since both lawmakers are strong gun-control advocates, it seems likely that their ideological agenda has always included a ban on large magazines. Today, this solution looks opportunistic.

Beyond the political realm, Americans from every walk of life have begun to wonder how our society can more effectively spot individuals who suffer from mental health problems. The question is a good one, but not a simple one. Invariably any attempt to address the issue of mental illness unearths more questions than answers.

For example, is anyone who contemplates murder or extreme violence automatically mentally ill? Does a patient have to hear voices or be violently paranoid? What if an individual believes in something that science or society tends to eschew (e.g. the earth was created, the moon landing never happened)? Where, exactly, is the line between acceptable human irrationality and mental illness? Who decides when the line has been crossed? Moreover, how can society ensure that the mental illness label will not be abused – particularly by government officials?* Doubtlessly a serious debate would highlight additional noteworthy questions.

As with any far reaching and complex subject – particularly one which effects the tenuous balance between individual liberty and societal security – the last thing America needs is more hasty, ideology-first solutions. Hopefully our elected leaders will revise their recommendations, and citizens everywhere will begin to have a rational debate about mental illness. But if members of congress refuse to budge, and Americans fail to ask hard questions, this country will have lost more than six innocent citizens.

*The film Changeling provides an excellent Hollywood example of government abuse.