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October 30, 2013

Is Mike Lee The Better Liar I've Been Waiting For?

I've argued before in various places that conservatives need candidates who are better liars. Democrats run candidates in red/purple states that talk a reasonable game back home but when they get to DC, they vote the Reid/Pelosi/Obama line without fail. The GOP on the other hand has a nasty habit of running candidates that talk a very conservative game and then vote like moderates when it counts. Conservatives need to find a way to flip that calculus within the GOP if the marriage is to survive.

One reason I think conservative voters want their candidates to stake out the most rightward position possible and try and hold them to it is they often distrust a candidate who sounds moderate to actually be conservative when push comes to shove.

Yesterday Senator Mike Lee gave a speech at Heritage which set a lot of conservative hearts aflutter. Personally I have decidedly mixed feelings about it and I think it has to do with the sound moderate/be conservative challenge for Republicans.

And let me say this as clearly as possible...I know Mike Lee is a conservative. I'm not accusing him of being an establishment squish.

After reading the speech, which if you haven't you should, I wanted to like it but I don't. That's not to say I dislike it. It just feels...off to me. I'm deeply, deeply ambivalent about it.

My biggest problem with it is Lee isn't arguing that government can not and should not try to solve all of the problems he identifies or that the country faces. At least that's not the overriding theme of the speech. He offers policy ideas where I'd personally prefer a candidate to say, "Government can NOT do anything about this! Stop believing people who say it can".

An example from Lee's speech...

The federal government also needs to open up America’s transportation system to diversity and experimentation, so that Americans can spend more time with their families in more affordable homes, and less time stuck in maddening traffic.

What? Are you nuts? The federal government is going to make your commute easier and quicker? Who is giving this speech, a leading conservative or Dennis Kucinich?

But then you look at his policy suggestion.


Under our bill, the federal gas tax would be phased down over five years from 18.4 cents per gallon, to 3.7 cents. And highway authority would be transferred proportionately from the federal government to the states.

Under our new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas- tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached. Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

Some communities could choose to build more roads, while others might prefer to repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light-rail. And all would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and new ways to finance their projects, like congestion pricing and smart tolls.

But the point is that all states and localities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.

For the country as a whole, our plan would mean a better infrastructure system, new jobs and opportunities, diverse localism, and innovative environmental protection.

And for working families, it could mean more access to quality, affordable homes, less time on the road... and making it home in time for dinner with the kids.

Oh. That's actually a radical small government notion. He just couched it in big government, low-information voter terms (the all important "Cares about people like me" standard).

That's...wonderfully sneaky.

I'm not as much of a fan of his child-tax credit ideas because I want to see as flat a tax code as possible (a version of which is part of Lee's overall plan) and once you start handing out credits and rebates, you open the can of worms that gets us where we are today. It's politically smart but it leads to the picking of winners and losers he's worried about.

People praising the speech should also be honest and recognize he only gives fleeting mention to the two biggest issues we are facing...what to do in the aftermath of the ObamaCare meltdown and entitlements. Saying there needs to be lots of ideas on those two things is fine but hardly as instructive as he is with some of the lower hanging fruit he goes after in the speech.

I think my ambivalence about the speech, in particular the transportation example (which is a stand-in for how to deal with other policy issues, talk big, act small) is that I want someone to have a national fight about the role and scope of government. I want to take the ObamaCare debacle and discredit the notion of big government paternalism for the ages! In short I want to crush the Democrats, see them driven before us, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Lee's approach isn't as satisfying as Rand Paul's slash and burn approach (which Lee supported) but it's likely to be more politically effective.

While Lee might be able to make these kinds of pitches because conservatives trust him, I think it's going to be hard for the average Republican to do it simply because of the distrust that exists between the base and the GOP. Even as someone who wanted to see this kind of approach (moderate talk, radical action) it's still hard to trust, even someone as conservative as Lee. And let's be honest, Lee doesn't represent the majority of the GOP on these issues. This approach isn't a solution to the on-going civil war, it's simply a possible strategy for one side.

There's a Catch-22 here for conservatives and the GOP that I'm still not sure can be resolved.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:37 AM

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