Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
An Early Conservative Leader Reflects on How America -- and the Republican Party -- Lost Its Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back
There can be little doubt that the American society is now in trouble. We have huge budget deficits, two questionable wars, an ever-expanding federal government, and a battered economy.
While some blame all of these developments on the current Obama administration, the fact is that the previous Republican administration, that of George W. Bush, set all of these trends in motion. Many traditional conservatives have been critical of the departures from the Goldwater-Reagan tradition upon which President Bush embarked, with the embrace of those who called themselves "compassionate" or "big government" conservatives. Now, in an important new book, Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back, an early conservative leader, Tom Pauken, examines the question of how America went from having the strongest economy in the world to facing our most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. He asks, "What became of an American culture that once was guided by the principles of Christianity."
Tom Pauken was elected national chairman of the College Republicans during the rise of the anti-Vietnam protest movement. Enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1967, Tom served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam and served on President Ronald Reagan's White House staff. Named director of the Action agency by President Reagan, he eliminated the use of federal tax dollars to fund Saul Alinsky-style leftist organizers. For his service at Action, Pauken was awarded the Ronald Reagan Medal of Honor. In 1994 he was elected Texas Republican State Chairman, and helped build a Republican majority in Texas from the grassroots. He currently serves as chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. (This writer has known Tom Pauken since our college days.)
How did the Bush administration squander the political capital that Goldwater-Reagan conservatives took more than three decades to build? In one sense, success has led to our downfall. When conservatives made the Republican Party the majority party in America, the opportunists, pragmatists, and phony conservatives moved in and took control of the Republican Party, and of the conservative movement itself -- all in the name of "conservatism."
What passes for conservatism in the post-Reagan era of Republican politics, writes Pauken:
. . . is barely recognizable to many of us who were grassroots activists in the early days of the conservative movement -- especially after eight years of a Republican administration headed by George W. Bush who claimed to be a conservative. The results were not pretty. . . . On the domestic scene, the Bush administration failed to act in time to stem the credit and spending excesses of the "bubble economy." While these excesses stem from bad decisions made during the Clinton years by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Bush administration did nothing to reverse those flawed policies. Now we are paying a heavy economic price for postponing action to deal with what turned out to be a slow-moving train wreck.
These developments are particularly troubling to those who, like Pauken, invested so much in developing and applying the conservative philosophy of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a prudent foreign policy, beginning in the early 1960s.
"The Bush administration," he writes:
. . . squandered the political capital built up over three decades of hard work by the Goldwater-Reagan movement. In the process, great damage has been done to the conservative movement, the Republican Party, and our country. That capital is depleted and we conservatives have to start all over in putting together a set of principled policies to address the enormous economic, foreign policy, and cultural challenges our nation faces. . . . We should not support Republican candidates for president just because they happen to be the lesser of two evils. That has not worked out well for conservatives in the post-Reagan era of Republican politics.
Pauken is particularly critical of the emergence of neo-conservatives as a driving force in taking the U.S. into what he believes was an unnecessary "preemptive" war in Iraq. He notes that:
These former liberal Democrats turned Republicans remind me of Robert McNamara's civilian whiz kids who planned and oversaw our flawed strategy during the Vietnam War. Those intellectuals thought they were a lot smarter and knew a lot more about how to fight the war than our soldiers in Vietnam did. Indeed, the McNamara whiz kids had high IQs, but they were brilliantly wrong. I saw that firsthand as a young military intelligence officer in Vietnam. Similarly, the neo-conservatives, architects of George W. Bush's strategy to defeat militant Islam, were a group of arrogant intellectuals with very little, if any, military experience. They made things worse, not better, for the soldiers who had to carry out their plans.
The first goal for traditional conservatives, in Pauken's view:
. . . must be to recapture a Republican Party that has been taken over by Machiavellian pragmatists and neo-conservative ideologues. . . . That will not happen with slick political slogans or 30-second sound bites but with a serious assessment of how our leaders have failed us and what is required to make things right. And that assessment can be made only on the basis of principles. . . . The conservative movement has been gravely wounded by wrongheaded decisions made during the presidency of George W. Bush. The economic- and social-conservative majority, which was so much in evidence when I left the Reagan administration at the end of the President's first term, is history.
Any real progress in reversing course, Pauken argues, must address the problems of our twin deficits -- our huge budget deficits and our trade deficits. It requires, he believes, slowing the growth of government and taxation, while providing incentives to encourage savings and investment in American businesses and creating jobs at home. Beyond this, he declares, it requires policies that will return us to the "constitutional morality" of our Founding Fathers with their emphasis on checks and balances, separation of powers, and support for the principles of federalism. And it urgently requires the restoration of a culture guided by the principles of Christianity, rather than one shaped by what Pope Benedict XVI has called the "dictatorship of relativism."
Under George W. Bush, there was a surge of federal spending. A Cato Institute study refers to Bush as "the biggest spending president in 30 years." Beyond this, notes Pauken:
President Bush completely failed to exercise his veto power during his first term in office. The President even teamed up with Teddy Kennedy to ensure the passage of his "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which expanded the federal role in education beyond the wildest dreams of diehard liberals. Moreover, President Bush sought and received from Congress, the first extension of entitlements (in this case, Medicare entitlements) since the Johnson administration. . . . The budget of the Department of Education more than doubled during George W. Bush's tenure.
There are ways to provide an economic "stimulus," Pauken writes:
. . . without deficit spending. We need to rekindle the American work ethic in which individuals take pride in their work and in using the talents God gave them. The early Obama policies are doing just the opposite, creating the expectation of handouts. Give a man a fish, the proverb goes, and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime. That was the message of Booker T. Washington to the students at the Tuskegee Institute, which he founded in 1881 to educate freed slaves. . . . Compare that with the socialist economic philosophy of Washington's rival for leadership of the black community at that time. W. E. B. Du Bois favored government solutions to the economic problems of the black community. President Obama seems to be listening more to the advice of W. E. B. Du Bois than that of Booker T. Washington.
Of particular concern to Pauken is the coarsening of the American society and the embrace of the imperial presidency by Republicans, who once decried excessive executive power. He has issued a clarion call to conservatives to recapture the Republican Party and move America back onto the path of limited government, fiscal integrity, and a prudent -- rather than messianic -- foreign policy. Hopefully, his eloquent voice will be heard.
National Debt Is Described as a Fiscal "Cancer" and a Threat to National Security
The co-chairmen of President Obama's debt and deficit commission called current budgetary trends a cancer "that will destroy the country from within" unless checked by strong action in Washington.
The two leaders -- former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Clinton -- sought to build support for the work of the commission, whose recommendations are due later this year.
Bowles said that unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in fall 2008, the coming fiscal problems are staring the country in the face. "This debt is like a cancer."
The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Simpson said:
The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans -- the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries.
Addressing the National Governors Association in July, Bowles declared:
We can't grow our way out of this. We could have decades of double-digit growth and not grow our way out of this enormous debt problem. We can't tax our way out. . . . The reality is we've got to do exactly what you all do every day as governors. We've got to cut spending or increase revenues or do some combination of that.
Michael J. Boskin, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of economics at Stanford University, declares that:
President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2011 lays out a stunningly expensive big-government spending agenda, mostly to be paid for years down the road. In addition to the proposed increase from today's levels in capital gains, dividend, payroll, income, and energy taxes, the enormous deficits and endless accumulation of debt will eventually force growth-inhibiting income tax hikes, a national value-added tax similar to those in Europe, or severe inflation.
In the first three years of President Obama's term, federal spending rose by an average of 4.4 percent of GDP. That is far more than during President Johnson's Great Society and Vietnam War buildup and President Reagan's defense buildup combined. Spending will reach the highest level in American history (25.l percent of GDP) except for the peak of World War II. The deficit of $l.4 trillion (9.6 percent of GDP) is more than three times the previous record in 2008.
Professor Boskin points out that:
Remarkably, Obama will add more red ink in his first two years than President George W. Bush -- berated by conservatives for his failure to control domestic spending and by liberals for the explosion of military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan -- added in eight. In his first fifteen months, Obama will raise the debt burden -- the ratio of the national debt to GDP -- by more than President Reagan did in eight years.
It must be remembered, argues Boskin, that:
Obama inherited a recession and a fiscal mess. Much of the deficit is the natural and desirable result of the deep recession. As tax revenues fall much more rapidly than income, those so-called automatic stabilizers cushioned the decline in after-tax income and helped natural business-cycle dynamics and monetary policy stabilize the economy. But Obama and Congress added hundreds of billions of dollars a year of ineffective "stimulus" spending more accurately characterized as social engineering and pork, when far more effective, less expensive options were available.
President Obama said in his budget message that "we cannot continue to borrow against our children's future." Yet, his budget proposal appears to do exactly that. He projects a cumulative deficit of $11.5 trillion, bringing the publicly held debt (excluding debt held inside the government, for example Social Security) to 77 percent of GDP and the gross debt to over 100 percent. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush each ended their terms at about 40 percent.
Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard and Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland have studied the impact of high levels of national debt on economic growth in the U.S. and around the world. In a study presented earlier this year to the American Economic Association, they concluded that as long as the gross debt/GDP ratio is relatively modest, 30-39 percent of GDP, the negative growth impact of higher debt is likely to be modest as well. But as it rises to 90 percent of GDP, there is a dramatic slowing of economic growth by at least 1 percentage point a year. The Obama budget takes the gross debt over this line, rising to 103 percent of GDP by 2015. Such a huge debt implies immense future tax increases. Balancing the 2015 budget would require a 43 percent increase in everyone's economic tax.
Two other factors greatly compound the risk from the Obama budget plan, according to Dr. Boskin:
First, he is running up this debt and current and future taxes just as the baby boomers are retiring and the entitlement cost problems are growing. . . . Second, the president's programs increase the fraction of people getting more money back from the government than they pay in taxes to almost 50 percent. Demography will drive it up further. That's an unhealthy political dynamic.
To Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels (R), the federal debt represents as much a threat to the American way of life as terrorism. He suggests placing other, partisan issues aside to concentrate on debt reduction:
If you don't accept the premise that the American experience is mortally threatened by a couple of problems, this one (dealing with the budget) -- and I would add the problem of terrorism . . . then my suggestion may not make sense to anyone. But I personally feel that there's urgency around dealing with those problems, both as a matter of priority but also as a matter of getting a broader consensus of Americans together.
Recently, Daniels told The Weekly Standard that the next president "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues until the country's fiscal house was in order." Speaking to a Washington summit organized by Americans for Generational Equity and the American Benefits Institute, he said:
I don't think we can solve that problem (on the debt) . . . in a sharply divided America. We're going to need to trust each other, and accept the good will, accept the sincerity of other parties to do some fundamental things.
Mitchell noted that skeptics of the United States and of democracy have questioned whether U.S. leaders are good at dealing with big problems -- such as our skyrocketing budget deficits. The challenge before us is now clear -- as deficits skyrocket and entitlement spending promises to grow dramatically. Fortunately, a number of thoughtful observers are beginning to confront it. Whether our political process is able to move us forward, however, remains to be seen. *
"[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." --Thomas Jefferson