Monday, June 14, 2010

Populism Alert

Sullivan piggy-backs onto Radley Balko's piece about Kansas gubernatorial candidate (and former senator) Sam Brownback, who has proposed an "Office of the Repealer," a government agency tasked with the responsibility for seeking out bad or repetitive laws, wasteful programs, and archaic state agencies for elimination.

In principle, the idea of creating an office in federal or state government that weeds out wasteful spending is a solid proposal, one that any sensible person could and should support. For a second there, even I was intrigued.

And then I remembered: this is proposed by Sam Brownback, former Republican presidential candidate, rabid Christianist, and textbook Kansan. He's the guy that Thomas Frank eviscerated in his fantastic book, What's the Matter with Kansas?. Oh, yeah, that guy. Now, while Brownback is on record as supporting a flat tax "experiment" in Washington, DC, he's a staunch GOP line-toer. There isn't a moderate proposal he's met yet that he couldn't oppose. So why in the world would anyone trust this guy?

Coming from Brownback, "wasteful government spending" is code for things like spending on liberal ideas, like support for the arts and all manner of social services. So, consider that this office would be set up under a Republican administration. The first targets would be the low-hanging fruit like the National Endowment for the Arts, various federal programs providing grants for scientific research, and federal gas taxes. Next would be things like the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Energy, all targets of Republican and Libertarian idealists who believe should be under state authority. In fact, this would be an agency which would have a very difficult time unemploying themselves, constantly looking for new ways to cut government. Watch for guys like Grover Norquist to be appointed to the advisory board, who would like to drown government in the bathtub.

Nope! While this may be a good idea on paper, in practice it would be another disaster, mismanaged just like nearly everything else the government runs, and highly politicized. Just another way for the president in power to usurp budgetary authority from Congress.

The answer here, my friends, is in electing an empowered Congress who truly understands why they are there. Not only as a check/balance on the president and the judiciary, but as fiduciaries of the national wallet. Only then will Americans actually get something of value when they vote.

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