Monthly Archives: February 2011

Walker, Wisconsin Ranger

We’re closing in on the month of March, and that means budgets are being prepared by state governments as well as Washington. Still on a post-election high, Republican leaders across the nation are taking it upon themselves to cut spending and get the nation on level ground. Nowhere is this struggle more encapsulated than in Wisconsin, and Governor Scott Walker is the face of the movement. In an effort to carve a chunk out of a projected $3 billion budget shortfall, Governor Walker is proposing a strong budget that will reign in the runaway public sector unions by asking them to pay more for their pensions and health care benefits, as well as restricting their collective bargaining to wages. These proposals have been met by protests launched by unions and supported by liberal action groups like Organizing for America and MoveOn.org, some almost as large as the many Tea Party protests over the last two years. These events have triggered a nationwide battle over what should and shouldn’t be cut, and every lobbyist inside and outside the Beltway is trying to protect their special project or giveaway that might face the ax. One trend that seems to be true in all cases is that Republicans are more willing to cut spending and reduce the size of government than Democrats.

The situation is Wisconsin is currently ground zero in the battle over spending cuts. Governor Walker’s proposal to limit the power and influence of public sector unions has drawn anger from nearly every left-leaning action group in America, and caused 14 Democratic senators to flee the state rather than give the budget the up-or-down vote it deserves. This mass exodus by the Senate Democrats is shameful and cowardly, and proves that they don’t want to have a serious discussion about spending, even when the state is in fiscal disarray. When the Democrats in Washington passed the health care law last year, the Republicans could have walked out at any point during the debate, but they stayed and fought because they know that walkouts are not the way to negotiate. Also, it is expected that if the GOP did walkout, you could count on the mainstream media doing everything they could to paint them as obstructionists, if they didn’t do that enough already. When the Democrats in Wisconsin walked out, though, they were lauded as heroes by many liberal media outlets. Some even called Governor Walker an obstructionist, despite the fact that it’s his bill that he wants to get passed.

What is more, many of the protests’ leaders are making this out to be far worse than it actually is. Even without many bargaining privileges, the unions will still be able to negotiate over pay, probably the most valuable chip to have at the table. Also, they unions will still be better off than their private-sector counterparts, who don’t get the same lavish pensions and benefits. The more one reads about the facts of the debate, the more clear it becomes that the public sector unions, once praised as the champion of the working man, are now becoming more and more greedy and protective of their taxpayer benefits, even when states like Wisconsin are in fiscal distress and can’t afford to keep paying them.

Governor Walker’s proposals to limit the bargaining privileges also demonstrate his commitment to keeping his promise to cut spending. The only way to cut spending is for him and his government to have a more hands-on approach when it comes to dealing with government employees. After all, it is his government that has to write the checks and hand out the pensions, so why not have more power to determine what the rules are? Although I am an advocate for smaller, limited government, I am strongly in favor of this increase in power because it amounts to less government spending and a reduction in the influence of public unions and their taxpayer-funded giveaways. If one works in the public sector, he or she is doing so not for the pay or the benefits, but because he or she wants to work in the public sector. Teachers, police, and firefighters should all be professions filled by people who desire to be these professions, not because they want to cash in on the benefits. Ever since public sector unions started clamoring for these benefits, it seems that many employees are in it for the benefits, not for the love of the job, which is a shame because America could have the best teachers and law enforcement in the world if their ranks were filled with people who desire to be teachers or law enforcement. I understand the pay structure is not very high, but working in the public sector will always have that drawback, as it should. That is what makes public service so admirable: the people who serve do it because they want to serve the people of their community, not because they want to be wealthy. Public sector unions cheapen this line of work because it then becomes a struggle over getting benefits that private sector unions wish they could have, and people sign up for public service for the benefits. If these unions’ powers were to be restricted, it will lead to more determined employees who would gladly trade the larger wages of private sector work in favor of serving the community. Also, the quality of services would be greatly improved because the workers would gladly come in every day to a job they love, and would perform better than a person who was just there for the money.

The next scenes in this budget fight are yet to be played out. Governor Walker’s budget proposal is a welcoming sign that there are politicians that were elected in November that took their campaign promises to heart, and are determined to cut spending and restore fiscal sanity to the states and to Washington. Riding Walker’s coattails, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Ohio Governor John Kasich have taken up similar budget plans to address their states’ fiscal health, and are being met with the same protests from unions, though nowhere close to the ones in Wisconsin. Even though there is still a long and challenging road ahead, if more governors will follow Walker’s example, the era of big government could finally be over.

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Rolling up our Sleeves: Final Day at CPAC 2011

The final day at CPAC has come and gone. The speeches have stopped and the supporters have gone home, but not before one last hurrah. The straw poll was today, as well as speeches by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, Ambassador John Bolton, and the closing remarks by Florida congressman Allen West. While few in number, the speakers on this final day were some of the best of the conference, and the straw poll results created the buzz typical straw polls create: jubilation for the supporters of the winner, despite its lack of importance.

The straw poll was without a doubt the highlight of the day, and with most highlights, it occurred at the very end. Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, won for the second year in a row with 37% of the vote. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney finished in second place with 31%, followed by Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson with 21%, New Jersey governor Chris Christie at 16%, and Former Speaker Newt Gingrich at 11%. The announcement of the results rocked the ballroom, which was packed with Ron Paul supporters. As a Ron Paul supporter, I was one of those that applauded, but since I was holding a camera and a laptop I couldn’t really join my hollering friends in celebration. While the conference is geared towards students (about 50% of the registrants), who make up the bulk of Paul’s support group, winning a field as large as CPAC is an accomplishment, especially with the dedicated support this man has, good to have in a Presidential campaign. There are a few points that need to be cleared up about this straw poll, namely how only 30% of those who were at CPAC voted. The small number of voters meant that only the committed supporters of a particular candidate would vote, which Ron Paul supporters are. The other factor to consider is that we are still a year away from primary season, so many of the candidates on the ballot will not be on the ballots in Iowa or New Hampshire, or more can be added on. So congratulations to Ron Paul for winning two years in a row, but to his supporters, if you actually want him to win in New Hampshire, you’re going to have to go beyond the CPAC ballroom and get others involved.

As for the speeches of the day, the few that spoke offered a mixed bag of topics, from foreign affairs to stump speeches to reasons why America is awesome. The morning kicked off with Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, an amiable man from a state that is the “safest place to have an unborn child”. Barbour has been touted by many conservative blogs and media outlets as one of the frontrunners, should he decide to run, and with a record of eight years of balanced budgets, low taxes, and textbook disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Still, his biggest challenge will be the media’s interpretation of his candidacy; he’s a southern white governor running against the nation’s first black President. I can only imagine media outlets playing this one off.

Barbour’s speech was about how the GOP should run on principled conservative platforms in 2012, or else suffer “quick defeat”. Such platforms include a pro-life agenda (one Barbour helped push through a Democrat legislature), low taxes (9.2% cut in his 8 years as governor), and more accountable government programs (Medicaid error rate fifth-lowest in country, $50 million per year saved). In an effort to boost support outside the South, he gave shoutouts to Governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Chris Christie of New Jersey on their commitment to shrinking the size of government, as well as successes each governor has had. He also hit Obama on his energy policy, calling it an attack on our economy in its most vital sector. It wasn’t an emphasis one would expect from a Southern governor from either party, because the trade in energy and renewable resources is very small in that part of the country, far from the coal-rich states of Appalachia whose politicians shoot holes in the cap-and-trade bill. He does make an important point however; if we are taxed for the energy we consume at higher rates than we are right now, it will be more difficult for businesses and consumers to keep doors open and trucks moving, thus making commerce more difficult. As for the next two years, the Barbour plan of action is for the GOP to take the White House and Senate by winning the support of “American workers, corporate executives, and mama grizzlies”, an homage to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (who was not at CPAC this year), and the many Americans who the GOP must win over for the ultimate goal of the Presidency to be theirs.

Getting into the realm of international affairs, Ambassador John Bolton discussed how conservatism can work in the arena of foreign policy, a subject that other speakers only briefly mentioned. John Bolton was our UN ambassador for two years under George W. Bush who was noted for his far-right, “America first” platform, a position that lead to a lot of criticism from liberals, as well as the fact that he was a recess appointment. As expected of a former diplomat, he gave a speech on foreign policy, specifically Egypt, whose President just resigned in the face of two weeks of protests. Bolton called on Obama to support democracy in Egypt and the rest of the world, but not to allow violent extremists to field candidates, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, a multi-national, Iran-backed group promoting Islamic law in the Arab World. While I respect Bolton, the thought of telling other countries which political groups should be allowed to field candidates sounds very undemocratic. If political parties like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas win, we should only be worried if the elections were rigged, or fraud was in place, which may be the case in these countries, but if the elections are fair, that’s democracy for you: you don’t always win. In addition to that, Egypt is currently under a military-led transition government until the next election, which was on the side of the protesters, so there really is no stable government to back up at this moment to carry out this policy. The best course of action for Egypt is to wait until the elections are over and try to forge good relations with the new government, which Bolton supports.

Bolton also criticized Obama for the passing of the new START treaty, which he claims will cripple our ability to protect our allies and ourselves from nuclear attack, as well as his inability to secure trade agreements with nations like South Korea, Panama and Columbia. Bolton called for a strong national defense that is ready for anything, as well as the continuation of America as a backer of democracy and a force against tyranny around the world, earning a modest response from the audience. While Bolton is not a presidential candidate this time around, there are rumors that he may run in 2016, but to do so would mean focusing more on domestic policy, which I personally believe he is ill-equipped to deal with. His speech was solid, and provided valuable insight on foreign affairs that any presidential candidate must have, but it wasn’t the “stump speech” that other speakers had throughout the weekend.

The final speech of the conference was delivered by Representative Allan West of Florida, and it was clear the organizers of CPAC saved the best for last. Chosen largely because he is a Tea Party backed freshman, his speech served as a rallying point for the audience to spread what was learned this weekend and share it with everybody back home. Mentioning how he is already being targeted by Democrats for defeat in 2012 one month into his new term, he laid out his vision for Congress over the next two years, which includes repealing ObamaCare, and instituting a balanced budget amendment. With exclamations of “This is the Time”, he got the audience to its feet in what may’ve been the record for standing ovations this year with at least eight. As a member of the Tea Party, West is in a position of strength despite being only a freshman, as the movement is already making an imprint on the policies of the Republican Party. Advocating a strong national defense, a government committed to cutting costs, and a party committed to defeating Obama in 2012, West ended the conference with a sense of anticipation, celebration, and a renewed drive to continue fighting the conservative fight wherever it is necessary.

To sum up my three days at CPAC 2011, I would have to say that if you are a committed conservative, you should go to at least one conference in your lifetime. The amount of energy and excitement this conference generates every year is unmatched, with anything and everything a conservative activist could wish for in one place at one time. Also, nowhere else can you see great politicians, speakers, journalists, and writers past and future up close and personal, without paying ridiculous prices or knowing a friend of a friend. If you do go, try to go after a victorious election season (hopefully CPAC 2013), where the buzz will be at its peak. Bad election cycles are still energetic, but the mood is more about checking liberalism and not running the country.

There is no cause greater than the restoration of our republic and our government, and there is no place better to get it going like CPAC.

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March of the Candidates: Day Two at CPAC 2011

While the first day was devoted to the old regime of the Republican Party, notably Donald Rumsfeld’s award and Dick Cheney’s speech, today at CPAC was all about prospective presidential candidates making their first speeches of the 2012 election cycle. Today’s speakers were all potential candidates for the Republican nomination next November. Some spoke well, adding to their credentials for why the base should support them for the presidency, while others fell flat.

The first speech of the morning was by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a man whose presidential ambitions are about as subtle as Darth Vader in a Clone Trooper reunion banquet. Romney’s speech was essentially a stump speech, preaching about how important conservative politics are to American society, especially cutting spending and reducing the size of government. He also mentioned his personal history, including his father who served as governor of Michigan, similar to John McCain’s references to his time as a Vietnam POW in his 2008 RNC speech.

You are probably expecting me to heap praise and admiration for the last Republican governor of the state I once lived in (after all, this is The Boston Conservative), but I would be betraying my fiscally conservative principles if I praised a man whose health care “reform” became the model for Obamacare. Romney’s tenure as governor was characterized by social liberalism and massive spending increases in Massachusetts. Not only that, RomneyCare (as Mass’ health care “reform” is named) has added $100 million to the state’s deficit since its implementation. This is in opposition to his original promise of erasing the $400 million budget gap with the passage with this bill, which has now escalated into the fifth-largest debt per capita in the nation and a state budget that is half-health care spending. Romney may talk a great game, but in the end, he has a record that he must account for, and his record is far from being conservative, as any Bay Stater can tell you.

A far better performer on the big stage was former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty’s speech was similar to Romney’s, but unlike Romney, he has a record of cutting spending as governor of Minnesota, a traditionally left-leaning state. Many audience members that I talked to after the speech commented that Pawlenty, for better or worse, sounded like a “policy wonk”, which is a good thing if you are running for President. Pawlenty’s speech emphasized the need to cut spending and pass a constitutional amendment demanding a balanced budget. As governor, Pawlenty cut spending by nearly $1.2 billion, by his own admission; all while cutting taxes by $800 million. The speech was punctuated with over five standing ovations from the 3,000 audience members, especially in his pledge to be aggressive towards “bullies” like China and Russia in international affairs, something that Obama has not done, especially towards Russia and the must talked about “Reset” button. With the backdrop of the Egyptian revolution, being a good negotiator and partner in democracy is one of the most important components of being a President. Pawlenty was the first speaker of the conference that mentioned international affairs in depth, while many of the preceding speakers only gave it a passing glance if any mention at all. Like Romney, Pawlenty hasn’t announced his candidacy yet, but given the fact that he is spending a good deal of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, an announcement isn’t a question of “if” but “when”.

Getting outside the governor’s mansion, South Dakota Senator John Thune also made his name known to his hopeful supporters with his plan for action as a member of the newly empowered Republican Senate delegation. For my readers who have never heard of John Thune, I can’t blame you. Thune’s main attraction is that he’s the cleanest candidate in the potential field, but he also doesn’t have any major legislative achievements either. So far, his big achievements have been that he is only the third Republican in a century to be re-elected to the Senate unopposed, and that he grabbed the seat from the then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, no small trick as people in Nevada can tell you. Focusing mostly on the actions of his colleagues in the Senate, as well as the House, Thune’s speech did not receive the same approval that Governor Pawlenty earned, but his emphasis on congressional ethics and etiquette, especially with regard to transparency was a welcome addition to the day’s speaker list.

The other presidential candidate that spoke, and the man with the most loyal following at CPAC, was Ron Paul. Like he has done at nearly every speaking engagement that he has attended, the conference room filled to capacity, and several overflow rooms were scattered throughout the site. In fact, the main room filled to capacity two hours before he came on, as his supporters (myself included), jockeyed for a prime seat close to the front. Including the audience in the overflow rooms, it is estimated that close to 5,000 people watched him speak. In typical Ron Paul fashion, the speech was about the dangers of the Federal Reserve and how to be a strong country without being interventionist. Emphasizing the need to cut spending and restore individual liberty, Paul outlined a proposal to cut all federal taxes to 10% in exchange for being completely free of government programs and interference in our lives. When he asked how many people would support such a proposal, the entire audience stood up and cheered.

The speech was also rhetorically different from his normal method, without a doubt an attempt by him to win supporters from outside the libertarian tent. Unlike last year’s speech which was met with disapproval by many rank-and-file Republicans, the atmosphere in the ballroom was electric, and his proposals to cut military spending, particularly in countries like Germany and Japan, as well as crediting the House for temporarily stopping the Patriot Act, were met with general cheering (the Patriot Act was reauthorized the next day). His speech wasn’t the strongest of the day, but that is largely because the opening acts of Pawlenty, Thune, and Romney are very tough to compete with, but Paul effectively got his message out to a broader audience in an attempt to boost his support. It might be easier for him to win people over to his cause this time because many of his platforms, particularly auditing the Federal Reserve and slashing the military budget, are now mainstream Republican/Tea Party agenda items. His bill to audit the Fed currently has 300 co-sponsors, but when it will come up for a vote is anybody’s guess. As head of the Monetary Policy Subcommitee, he has a considerable amount of leverage in that regard, leverage that he will no doubt use in the coming months.

More candidates will be introduced on Saturday, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, as well as the results of the straw poll, which will have more significance this year than last year, since we are approaching the time that most candidates begin to declare their candidacy. Every candidate today put forward a solid opening speech to the base, but there were signs of who did better, and who might have the easier time appealing to conservatives come primary time.Who will win the poll is anybody’s guess, but doing well at this point is usually a good indicator of who the frontrunners will be when primary season rolls around, so it is worthy of note.

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Booing the Old, Cheering the Future: Day One at CPAC 2011

If you’re a conservative in America, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC is the event you circle on your calendar with big giant red arrows pointing at it. CPAC is three days of lectures, seminars, speeches, and meet-and-greets with the top conservative thinkers in America, many of whom are or were Washington politicians or interest group leaders. For me, this is my first CPAC that I am attending live, and the first one that I am reporting from.

The first speech I sat in on was from former Pennsylvania Senator and potential 2012 Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum. Santorum was once considered a rising star in the Republican Party before being beaten for re-election in the Democratic wave of 2006, losing by 18 points to current Senator Bob Casey. In his address, Santorum primarily discussed the failings of President Obama’s foreign policy, as well as his definition of social conservatism. During his time as senator, Santorum was noted for being a stalwart on social affairs, a position that ultimately led to his undoing in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Santorum largely criticized Obama for beating around the bush on foreign affairs, unlike President Reagan, who would “call evil evil” as Santorum put it. He also took shots at the evils of Sharia Law and calls for Jihad in Western society, which President Obama doesn’t acknowledge as much as he should.

He also discussed what American ideals are, and why big government is so incompatible with American values, which is the belief that our rights come from God, not the government. This is an important thing to remember because the liberal philosophy is that government can grant rights to people. This is false, government can only recognize rights, because if it could grant rights, it could also regulate and ration them, a very dangerous notion for any nation. Government must be limited if we are to get back on the road to prosperity, and many of the actions Washington undertook, including a 99-week unemployment benefits package, which Santorum described as anti-productive and anti-American. His speech was indeed good, and it was refreshing to hear him talk less about his divisive social issues, especially when his negative statements towards gays cost him re-election, and more about fiscal issues, which was what made him a rising star in the first place.

The best speech was Senator Rand Paul’s speech, which can only be described as the Tea Party platform encapsulated. Rand Paul has quickly become the face of the movement, and it was on display in front of the jubilant crowds at the convention. Sticking to his roots as a libertarian politician, no doubt due to the influence of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, the godfather of modern libertarianism, he called for a drastic reduction in entitlement and defense spending, as well as a return to individual liberty. Each time he mentioned cutting spending, calling anyone who defends pork-barrel spending on the military as a “big-government conservative”, the crowd cheered. I was surprised by this positive response because it was just last year that his father spoke of the same thing and was met with a negative response. It is clear that there is a change in attitude towards the defense budget among conservatives, a very welcome, rational change that recognizes our need to cut spending across all departments and all spending projects. Senator Paul’s words were backed up by the fact that he is currently fighting to cut nearly $500 billion in spending in the Senate, despite the fact that such “extreme” cuts will not go far in a Democratic Senate. While he is still new to Washington, his platform that he put on display today at CPAC is a welcome change from the old guard of the GOP, the representatives that would defend pointless military spending as long as it was spent in their districts. Being a senator from Kentucky also provides him with wiggle room to experiment with being a libertarian-minded policy maker, since Kentucky is a very red state. If his actions are every bit as good as his rhetoric, he’ll be a senator for a very long time.

The most polarizing moment of the day was when the Defender of the Constitution award was given to Donald Rumsfeld, a decision that angered many in the audience. Hearing the loud boos and jeers from the crowd puzzled me a bit, but I soon learned that there are many in the conservative movement that are still hostile towards the Bush administration, and it came through with the eruption of anger at Rumsfeld. It was further emphasized when Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance to present the award, leading one man to shout “War Criminal!” at the former VP. Personally I don’t think Rumsfeld was a good choice for the award, not because he was a bad politician, but because there are many other people that deserved that award more. Rumsfeld’s acceptance speech called for a smart decrease in defense spending, which for him amounted to $10 billion, barely anything in relation to the actual defense budget. He discussed how we must all defend the constitution and gave Cheney credit for being the “best vice president in United States history”, a very interesting title because not that many people remember vice presidents anyway. Rumsfeld’s appearance definitely opened up old wounds with Republicans, and a reminder of one of the low points for conservatives in recent memory, and whether or not it was wise to give him such a prestigious honor is debatable, and there was half a convention hall of people that would question that decision.

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Programming Update: TBC Goes to CPAC

To my faithful readers, you are all in for a treat. Starting Thursday, February 10th and going to Sunday February 13th, I will be bringing you day-by-day recaps from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC!!! Don’t miss my reports on speeches by potential presidential candidates, the number of people I got a picture with, and of course my response to the CPAC Presidential Straw Poll. Also, who made their case to be the GOP nominee for president? Whose stock fell? All of this coming up later this week!!!

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