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March 30, 2011

Sarah Palin's Not-Really-a-Problem Problem on Film & TV Subsidies

There is no issue about her that can't turn into a fight immediately.

When Governor, Sarah Palin signed into law a bill granting subsidies to TV and film productions shooting n Alaska. The subsidy was 30% of all money spent in Alaska.

Later, her reality show benefited from just this law. On this last point, I think there's nothing really to talk about -- she could not have foreseen being an indirect beneficiary of this law. Further, she was just an indirect beneficiary -- Mark Burnett was the producer and would be doing the business end of things. Sarah Palin was the talent -- the talent usually doesn't do a lot of tax planning for the production.

But back to the first point, about the subsidies themselves. Some are making hay of this, because it seems to be contrary to the Tea Party spirit of very, very limited government intervention in the markets.

Let me propose something that people don't seem to take into account: We've been experiencing some serious ideological swings in opinion lately. What seemed to be a respectable opinion for a conservative to hold a few years ago has now become almost an anathema.

And people don't seem to even take this into consideration when judging politicians, except vindictively, to attack those they don't like.

Example: People used to attack no-longer-a-possible-presidential candidate Mike Pence for proposing a "touchback" compromise during the amnesty fight. I didn't like that nonsense compromise, but here's the thing: Conservative opinion on immigration and a possible amnesty changed in a matter of weeks as the fight occurred, and people finally started picking sides and deciding what they really thought.

A lot of people -- not just politicians, but conservative voters -- were wishy-washy before amnesty but as the debate crystalized became committed to one side or the other. I started out not thinking an awful lot about it, for example. When the lead blogger at PoliPundit (if I recall this bit of internet imbroglio right) declared that no coblogger on his site could have any position except firmly anti-amnesty, way back before the actual fight, like in 2004 o4 so, I wondered why he was so determined on an issue that seemed -- to me, to ignorant me -- so speculative and so far off.

Well, it turned out the issue was coming to a head more rapidly than I guessed. Where I'd once been squishy on it -- mostly because I hadn't really given it much thought or attention -- I became fairly convinced on the anti-amnesty side (or at least the "enforce first, confirmably, stop illegal immigration for at least 4 or 6 years and then we'll talk about some kind of limited amnesty or 10-year get-your-affairs-in-order visas for current illegals").

My point in defending Pence wasn't to say he was right to have attempted a lame compromise in a fight that really allowed for little compromise (either we'd have amnesty now or not, after all); but that mainstream conservative opinion on the matter had changed in a month from "leaning against amnesty but willing to consider it" to "no amnesty, at least until demonstrable, provable near-complete-success on border enforcement."

And my problem was that nailing him too hard on that touchback thing seemed to be a case of carpet-yanking -- we had changed our opinions (as a group) pretty swiftly, and had to provide some kind of grace period to allow stragglers to catch up with the group.

And as I always noted, too: Sarah Palin spoke nicely about John McCain's basic pathway-to-citizenship plan.

I give Tim Pawlenty a break on his cap-and-tax nonsense, too, because, if you remember, a short five years ago it seemed like we were pretty much destined to lose completely on this fight. I didn't (and still don't, actually) mind a little window-dressing to let Environmental Saps think we're really working on cars that run on sunshine and pixie-sweat.

I think of that as the Stupidity Tax -- the tax we must all pay to the stupid to be left alone from their plodding economic manslaughter. Obviously you want to pay as little in Stupidity Tax as possible, but sometimes, your choice is really between a low-ish Stupidity Tax (offered by a Republican giving dumb squishes some window-dressing) and a very, very high Stupidity Tax (offered by idiotic liberals who really believe this crap).

Anyway, that situation, too, has changed quickly, and I am willing to grant Pawlenty forgiveness -- a temporary insanity plea, if you will -- so long as I never hear this crap coming from him again. (Except for some window-dressing Stupidity Tax.)

Back to Palin: There are actually two strands of thought here, which aren't necessarily related:

1. That limited government is mostly a matter of actual cash-money tax rates -- taxes should be as low as possible on enterprise, and it doesn't matter much if this low-tax regime is achieved through special breaks and subsidies for wealth creators.

2. That limited government is not merely a matter of cash-money tax rates, but also of the goverment's busybodying, bullying, hectoring and subsidizing; its intrusions into the marketplace, basically, and that government should be as non-interventionist as possible, and therefore there should be as few earmarks as possible and no special breaks or special tax subsidies for wealth-creators, either.

In other words, "limited government" can be charted on two axes -- one in terms of total government bite, and the other in terms of the level of interventionist subsidies and discouragements to this or that industry or this or that style of lightbulb. Whereas once the the Republican position was more to the right on one axis and sort of in the middle on the other (the picking winners and losers one), it now has shifted to be to the right on both axes.

Palin's tax breaks for TV and film crews would be "limited government" on axis 1 but not really "limited government" on axis 2.

I think people have to keep in mind that until five years ago there was no serious push against earmarks (a sudden shift in priorities that also caught Palin on the wrong side), and until recently the true libertarian, non-interventionist, leave-it-where-it-lie style of conservative limited government was also much, much less dominant -- the GOP, until recently at least, was in fact for generally keeping tax rates low but also, in the appropriate case, in favor of special breaks for what we call "wealth creators" and what other people call "businesses and rich people."

There has been, it seems to me, a pretty sharp turn towards the Libertarian concept of limited government -- and that means far, far fewer breaks, subsidies, and especially-favorable corner-case tax rulings -- and that it's kind of unfair to condemn Sarah Palin as Infidel for proposing a few years ago what was, at the time, considered perfectly ordinary "pro-growth" conservative meddling in the markets.

A lot of people are wedded to the idea of politicians as ideologues and thought-leaders. I'm not. They get elected, usually, by representing a consensus of opinion either on the right or the left, and usually -- let's just say "always" -- that consensus is itself a muddled and contradictory thing. Even on this site, which might be considered pretty darn heterodox on the matter of spending cuts, we do have a big minority (maybe 35%? 40%?) of readers and commenters who are pretty firm on the idea that spending cuts do not mean Entitlement spending cuts.

Some politicians are extraordinary, and are thought-leaders, and actually become successful not by creating a consensus but by making a new consensus; Reagan, obviously. But the fact that I am just writing "Reagan" instead of "Reagan, and X, and Y, and of course Z, and who could forget Z the Younger" should indicate how rare that is.

Most of the time a politician isn't going to have a terribly coherent ideological undergirding for his surface (expressed) positions; he usually just assembles a bunch of surfaces that are attractive to a majority of the constituency he seeks to govern.

Many in the party once considered "business-friendly" to include special advantages for this or that business. Actually, many in the party still do think that's what business-friendly means. But many have turned away from that and are now seeking a cleaner, more transparent, less interventionist, less feudal style of government with almost no winner/loser picking at all.

It's really not fair to slam Palin for having not made this ideological commitment to strict libertarian non-intervention before most of us made it ourselves.

The "mainstream" of conservative thought has changed pretty seriously in the past five years. If we're picking our candidates according to who was in the current mainstream five years ago, well ahead of the pack, on every single issue, well, I don't know who exactly would fit that profile. (Ron Paul!!1!! -- true, I'll grudgingly say the mainstream has moved closer to Paul on many issues, but still not close enough for Paul to actually be mainstream himself.)

Politics, like fashion, is always changing. Some lead the trends, others follow them. I'd concede it's better to be a thought-leader than a thought-follower but so long as someone is on my side now, when it counts the most, that's the most important thing, and I can excuse a little lateness in getting here, so long as they do get here.



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posted by Ace at 06:01 PM

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