Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I’ve had a couple of unrelated conversations this week that, when taken together, probably explain a lot about why we currently have gridlock in our political system, and why despite the efforts of those who prefer gridlock as a method to deter the government from continuing down a path they fear is reckless or unwise, things tend to be moving down that path at an even faster rate.
One was a Facebook debate over energy policy and cellulosic ethanol. My work with the Bio Feedstock Industry Association has allowed me to learn quite a bit about the difference between what most of us know as ethanol – the stuff we grow from corn – and cellulosic, which is an entirely different chemical compound and has many viable uses that are economically competitive without the never ending subsidies that corn ethanol requires.
The discussion was going well with one participant, while another (who didn’t seem to get the difference between corn and cellulosic) finally ran out of objections and essentially said that if the government was involved at all then we didn’t need it as an alternative form of energy. He prefers a pure market.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it defies the reality that we live in every day. The gasoline that we buy is regulated by the EPA, Interior Department, Commerce, and much of the activities of the State Department and Department of Defense are geared to ensure that we have supplies of foreign oil on demand as needed. I’m sure I’m missing the involvement of many other agencies that are also involved, and let’s not forget the tax policy that has significant tax credits for domestic oil drilling but also takes a huge share back from the consumers via motor fuel taxes when we pay at the pump.
It’s not exactly a “pure” market now. Yet when policy alternatives are discussed, any movement toward an improved trade balance, bringing jobs back to domestic producers, and improving our economic and national security must somehow be judged as “pure” from government interference before some will consider the benefits and the costs.
It’s clear some don’t understand the free market. Our status quo is far from free. The reality is, in today’s regulatory environment, solutions that put us on the right path – paths with less government involvement – will still require some level of government activity and oversight. To pretend otherwise is foolish, and is merely an excuse to withdraw from any debate that will offer actual policy solutions.
The other debate was about a Congressman running for Senator and whether or not he was a fiscal conservative. To the surprise of my friend, I said that Congressman Paul Broun is not a fiscal conservative. Now I’ve typed it here, in black and white.
Broun has adopted the Ron Paul strategy of just voting no on all bills that require spending he finds objectionable or unconstitutional. The problem is, that someone that is a consistent “no” vote is never at the table when actual deals get cut. Thus, by taking the most (and I hesitate to use this word in this context) extreme conservative position possible and making it an absolute, there are less conservatives at the negotiating table when the other math that counts in taxing and spending bills – the math that gets to a majority vote to pass – comes into play.
Conservatives who have taken the absolute position of voting no on everything in hopes that the system will crash around them aren’t ultimately helping the conservative cause. Instead, they are making sure that when the votes are taken to pass constitutionally required budgets, only more moderate and liberal voices are at the table doing the negotiating.
Conservatives who like to grandstand and play holier than thou on fiscal issues actually harm the issues they grandstand upon. Conservatives who disengage from policy discussions as soon as they hear that Ayn Rand and invisible hands aren’t the only principles invoked for new policy initiatives likewise unilaterally disarm in the fight to be part of solutions.
Conservatives must keep pushing for and voting for our ideas. This requires engaging at all stages of the process, not standing in the corner on a pedestal of idealism and criticizing those who decide there are better seats at the negotiating table.