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Scott Walker, Sports Stadiums, and Crony Capitalism

I may have hit a nerve.

In this week’s column for National Review Online, I discussed crony capitalism and how too many supposedly free market Republicans were quick to grant favors for friends and constituencies. I particularly faulted some of the GOP presidential candidates.

http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/republicans-crony-capitalism

One of the samples I cited was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, pointing out, among other things:

His support for using $250 million of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team is a quintessential example of crony capitalism. Among those who will benefit from the taxpayers’ largesse is real-estate mogul Jon Hammes, a partner in the investment group that owns the NBA franchise; Hammes has agreed to serve as the national finance co-chairman for the Walker campaign.
Apparently, my comments hit a nerve with the governor’s campaign. Within hours they had rushed out a reply from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider defending Walker’s support for the stadium. (At least I presume that the Walker campaign was behind it, given the speed at which it was put out).

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/422452/scott-walker-milwaukee-bucks-arena-deal

Today, NRO senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru weighed in, pretty much shredding Schneider’s response.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/422493/walkers-stadium-subsidy-ramesh-ponnuru

Ponnuru really nails it, but I would add just a couple more points.

Schneider appears to suggest that the stadium financing will be offset by taxes paid by the Bucks and the NBA. That might be an argument if he was talking about new taxes that would be generated by an improved stadium or something. But Schneider makes a point of saying that “This isn’t expected revenue from future economic development — this is money already being paid to the state.” (His emphasis). If so, that money is already being spent on something. If it is now to be dedicated to the new stadium, won’t it have to be made up through other taxes, in which case the Wisconsin taxpayers will be indeed be footing the bill.

I suppose the lost revenue could be offset by cutting current spending, which would be a good thing. But if that spending could be easily reduced, shouldn’t it have already been eliminated and taxes correspondingly cut. Anyway you look at it; it appears Wisconsin citizens end up paying more than they should in order to benefit wealthy and connected private businessmen.

That the beneficiaries are private businessmen is also an important point. Schneider compares the stadium deal to funding for a chemistry lab at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. But there is an obvious difference between spending money at a state-owned university and spending it to benefit private businesses.

Walker’s camp also warns that without the stadium deal, the Buck’s owners might have taken their team and left town. This was a legitimate worry. But I thought Scott Walker’s claim to fame was that he was a tough leader who faced down the unions – Wisconsin’s version of Donald Trump, as it were, when it came to negotiations. That his spine suddenly turned to jelly when confronted by irate millionaires is less than inspiring.

Finally, on the merits of the deal itself, Cato has published several studies showing that there is little if any economic benefit from government-financed sports stadiums, including: Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys, “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Cato Institute, Briefing Papers No. 89, October 27, 2004.

http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/bp89.pdf

I am not suggesting that support for the stadium disqualifies Walker for president, especially since his opponents are far from pure. But let’s not pretend this deal is something other than what it is.

PS: My colleague David Boaz has been blogging on the deal as well.

http://www.cato.org/blog/scott-walker-hands-250-million-taxpayers-money-billionaire-bucks-owners

PPS: My NRO column also criticizes Marco Rubio’s support for sugar subsidies. Jim Bovard makes the same point in yesterday’s USA today.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/08/11/sugar-subsidies-political-scam-column/31467729/

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Politically Incorrect?

“I don’t have time to be politically correct,” Donald Trump declared during last week’s GOP debate.

In an age of political correctness run amok – when students attend “ovulars,” because a seminar implies male dominance. or retreat to a “safe space” when faced with the prospect of hearing a dissenting opinion, or when there is an ever growing list of topics that cannot even be debated because to do so would be racist, sexist, heteronormative, or whatever – there is an immediate sympathy for Trump’s remark.

But recall that Trump was responding to a charge that he called women “fat pig,” “slobs,” “bimbos,” and similar insulting terms.

Comments like that are not being politically incorrect, they are being a jerk.

I see a very similar phenomenon on my Facebook feed or in the comments section for my columns. People feel free to indulge in any insult, to argue from the most despicable stereotypes, or cast off the simplest rules of normal human interaction, in the name of political incorrectness.

I certainly can understand the frustration that people feel when it is implied, for instance, that the only reason anyone could possibly oppose Obamacare is racism (just read any Paul Krugman column on the topic). And one can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous lengths that some go to avoid acknowledging that Islamic terrorism is, well, Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t excuse referring to the president as “Obozo”, or posting memes that insult 1.5 billion Muslims. Moreover, the current level of discourse now goes well beyond puerile juvenility. I’ve seen commenters feel free to use the N-word, call gay people derogatory terms, or make disparaging comments about women’s appearances, and then excuse it by saying how politically incorrect they are. Wrong. You are not politically incorrect. You are crude at best, a bigot at worst.

The basic rules of human civility apply even in politics.
Moreover, being a jerk is not even a good tactic. Calling someone “stupid,” “an idiot, a “traitor” or a “DemoRAT” does nothing to advance your argument or convince anyone of anything. The same applies to the Left. You don’t win an argument if you shut it down by crying racism or whatever. ReThuglican is not a clever riposte.

Now, before you raise the straw man, I am not saying that all opinions or arguments are equal. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very passionately held beliefs. But, that said, there is virtually no topic that should be off limit for debate. There is also virtually no topic that cannot be debated civilly, with attention to the facts and logic, rather than the personal characteristics of the debater.

And if you start mistaking insult for argument, maybe its time to rethink how politically incorrect you really are.

Of Conservatives and the Police

What is it with conservatives and uniforms?

For a long time we’ve known that conservative opposition to big government doesn’t apply to the military. Our national debt may have topped $18 trillion, but every major Republican candidate for president wants to increase defense spending (In fairness, Rand Paul at least proposes offsetting the increase through cuts elsewhere. On the other hand, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted against that proposal).

Too many conservatives see no contradiction between their understanding of government failure here at home, but support nation building abroad. Government couldn’t rebuild, say, Baltimore, but it can somehow create a stable Iraq?

But lately, in the wake of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, I’ve become increasingly aware that the Republican big-government exception for people in uniform also extends to the police.

If there is one group that Republicans have traditionally rated somewhere below the Islamic State, it is public employee unions. No Republican speech is complete without a – usually justified – jab at the National Education Association. And, leading Republican candidates for president, like Scott Walker or Chris Christie, rose to prominence on their willingness to take on public employee unions.

But Republican willingness to take on these powerful special interests suddenly evaporates when the union in question represents police officers.

Take Illinois, for example. New Governor Bruce Rauner spent much of the first half of this year traveling the state to push his proposal to reduce the state’s heavily underfunded pensions for public employees, saving taxpayers some $2 billion. Well, not quite all public employees. The cuts won’t apply tp police (and firefighters).

That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, police and firefighters were also exempted from Scott Walker’s signature legislation that rolled back collective bargaining for government workers and required them to contribute more toward their own pensions and health coverage. Similarly, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder included a “carve out” for police and firefighters in right to work legislation that eliminated mandatory union dues for public employees.

We’ve seen this same deference toward police in the aftermath of recent highly publicized examples of alleged police misconduct. Republicans have been quick to defend the police and criticize efforts to hold them accountable. And, while the Michael Brown case in Ferguson should provide ample reason not to rush to judgment, Republicans too often seem to reflexively favor the police in these controversies (with the obvious exception of Sen. Rand Paul).

And, yes, I recognize that the abuses that are alleged in the Freddie Gray case are the exception not the rule. As has often been pointed out by conservatives, a young black man is at far greater risk of dying at the hands of another young black man than at the hands of police. But a police killing is not like any other killing. The police represent us. They act under the color of authority that we grant them. That makes police misconduct far worse than ordinary crime — It’s a violation of the public trust.

No one doubts that police have an important and dangerous job (although, in terms of work-related deaths per 100,000 workers, police work is far safer than power line workers, truckers, loggers, construction workers, and many other professions). And the vast majority of police do their job well. I’m glad they are out there. And, I’m also grateful for our military, and respect the sacrifice of all those who have served, especially those who gave their lives or suffered terrible injuries on our behalf. We owe them a debt.

Still, it would be nice if conservatives occasionally extended their suspicion of government a bit more broadly.

BTW: Anyone interested in following police misconduct, should check out the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project:

http://www.policemisconduct.net/

GOP Hawks and Doves

This week brings another entry in my ongoing look at where the GOP presidential candidates – and potential candidates – stand on the issues. My latest column for National Review Online looks at the candidates on foreign policy, defense, and homeland security. Rand Paul, of course, is the most dovish of the candidates, though nowhere near as noninterventionist as his father (or as he’s often portrayed in the media). After Paul, its various shades of hawk, but there are surprising nuances among the candidates. Marco Rubio, for instance, seems to take the pure neocon line, intervention everywhere, while Ted Cruz falls somewhere between Paul and Rubio.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416609/early-look-gop-candidates-positions-foreign-policy-michael-tanner

The GOP Candidates on Crime

As part of my ongoing look at where potential 2016 presidential candidates stand on the issue, my latest column for National Review Online examines Republican hopefuls and criminal justice reform. Surprisingly, most of the leading candidates are in favor of sentencing reform, ending-mandatory minimums, and making it easier for non-violent felons to expunge their records. While Rand Paul has been the candidate most identified with the issue, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and even Jeb Bush have all bought in to the need for reform to some degree. The conspicuous exceptions are Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, who are sticking with the old “tough on crime” message.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/415557/republican-2016ers-are-rethinking-tough-crime-michael-tanner

The Pandering Begins

Saying that politicians pander is like saying that water is wet. But some pandering is more egregious than other. This is especially true when candidates who ostensibly believe in smaller government genuflect at the altar of a big-government program simply because it is supported by an important voting block. A classic example is Republicans who want to cut spending on public broadcasting or planned parenthood but shrink from reforming Social Security or Medicare. After all, seniors vote. I shouldn’t be disappointed, but I am.

The latest example of fair-weather principles, is the renewable fuel standard, a government mandate that benefits corn farmers in the Mid-West, while driving up the cost of gas and food, and actually harming the environment. But the first step on the road to president is the Iowa Caucus next January. Therefore, we are treated to the spectacle of supposedly free-market GOP candidates trekking to the Iowa Agricultural Summit and pledging their eternal fidelity to ethanol (with the notable exceptions of Ted Cruz and RandPaul).

I write about it in this week’s column for National Review Online:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/415211/iowa-agricultural-panderfest-michael-tanner

One note: After the column was published, I was contacted by Marco Rubio’s office. He does indeed have a position on the RFS. He thinks it should be phased out someday, but not now. So add Sen. Rubio to the list of panderers.

The GOP candidates on Debt, Spending, and Entitlement Reform

Throughout the coming months, I will be looking at where the various would-be presidential candidates stand on the vital issues of the day. Today, in my weekly column for National Review Online, I look at how they would cut spending, reduce the debt, and reform entitlements. As I point out, it is very early in the campaign, and most candidates have now yet laid out detailed proposals. So, mostly this is an exercise in tea leaf reading, based on congressional votes or state budget performance, plus a statement here or there. Still, at this point, it seems reasonable to say that it looks like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are the biggest fiscal hawks, trailed to some degree by Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker, with other candidates bringing up the rear.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/398361/debt-and-gop-michael-tanner