Archive for May, 2009

An Idea in Search of a User

Contrary to opponents’ representations, the voter identification legislation considered by the Texas Legislature this spring is a big deal. Proof positive was the 4-day Democrat filibuster that blocked its passage earlier this week.

The legislative question is essentially, “Should Texas require photo IDs at voting booths?”

Democrat critics have called the legislation a solution in search of a problem. However, an innocuous and superfluous “solution” is not beaten back by a rarely used legislative weapon. It is easily passed, albeit with smirks and rolling eyes. There must be something deeper going on here.

To critics, that something deeper is attempted “voter suppression.” Adding requirements to the voting process, they say, disenfranchises certain voters. Minorities, the elderly, the disabled, for example, are less likely to possess photo identification. Therefore, the bill would impair their ability to vote.

This argument deserves questioning:

1. Did the arguers use the same argument when voter registration cards were first proposed? Didn’t that idea disenfranchise people who couldn’t conveniently get such cards: i.e., those who could not acquire, read or complete an application? What about those who didn’t have an envelope or a postage stamp?

I wasn’t around for that debate, but I hope the opponents of the current voter ID legislation had the intellectual honesty to make such arguments then.

2. Even if in-person voter impersonation is not a widespread problem (a debatable assumption), what is the harm in utilizing modern technology to advance systematic accuracy? Corporations, schools, governments, non-profit organizations, etc., of any significant size already utilize photo ID badges for security and access purposes. The Texas legislators’ own staffers are required to wear such ID in the Capitol.

The technology within the proposed legislation is not the wave of the future – it is the wave of the present – and it is quickly becoming the wave of the past as fingerprint, retinal and DNA identification methods progress.

3. Is doubting the ability or determination of certain population segments to obtain required identification an example of the soft bigotry of low expectations? Would true advocates not want to empower such citizens to modernize their identification methods so that, perhaps, one day they could not just vote, but also open a bank account, drive a car or fly on an airplane?

Rather than woodenly opposing the voter ID legislation, Democrats should help every population segment obtain common identification tools.

In conclusion, something deeper is going on here besides pictures on plastic. Fortunately, it is not the voter suppression of which critics speak. Unfortunately, it is the opportunity suppression that they infer.

A Threat to Our Republic?

Every inauguration of a United States president is significant. The one on March 4, 1801, was particularly so. Less because of the man being inaugurated, Thomas Jefferson, as honorable as he was. More because his inauguration marked the young nation’s first peaceful transition of power between opposing political philosophies, a.k.a., parties.

Power batons passing peacefully between administrations has been a hallmark of U.S. government ever since. Nations the globe over ponder the possibility – or difficulty, as the case may be – of such a wonder.

They see Clinton walking with Bush down the covered White House walkway from the residence to the Oval Office. A few years later, they witness another Bush stepping congenially with Clinton down the same path.

The act mystifies parts of the world while reminding us that we are governed by the rule of law and that we are members of the same team.

As sweet as political victory may be, sweeter still is the survival of our republic in a form quite similar to its founders’ design. As such, political victors should give outgoing leaders the benefit of the doubt, especially in uncharted territory.

Currently, some Democrat partisans in Washington, D.C., want to prosecute Bush Administration officials for justifying what these Democrats call “torture” (a.k.a., “enhanced interrogation techniques”). A Spanish judge wants to get in on the action, too, under the ruse of “universal jurisdiction.”

The extent to which the Bush Administration followed federal law and received buy-in for the interrogation practices (including from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then ranking House Intelligence Committee member, now Speaker of the House) may save us from this hind-sighted witchhunt. Either way, it is cause for concern.

Can the D.C. partisans not see that those they accuse now were attempting to protect them (and us) then? That those they now accuse were pursuing the same goals then as they purport to fight for now (safety, freedom, justice, etc.)? Does every new day in Washington not have enough troubles of its own?

What if Republicans had prosecuted former Clinton Administration officials in 2001 for failing to eliminate Osama bin Laden after the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings? The outcry would have been kingdom come-high.

Retributive behavior is frightening for the future of our republic. At best, questioning the intents of past public servants and then prosecuting those we find wanting will discourage competent leaders from serving.

At worst, such actions will jeopardize our heritage of peaceful power transitions and may be the beginning of the end of them.

Obama Leads Nixon by 1

In the race for presidential popularity, Barack Obama is in the middle of the pack after a quarter of play. According to a Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans have approved of his efforts.

Before he builds a presidential library to his first 100 days (as he joked last weekend), he should realize that he’s sandwiched between two less than stellar presidents. Richard “I’m not a crook” Nixon mustered 62 percent approval in his first hundred days while Jimmy “crisis of confidence” Carter garnered 69 percent in his.

He should also remember that Nixon once claimed to have a plan to get us out of an unpopular war and that Carter once bailed out a failing automaker. No hundred-day popularity rating guarantees a popular – or successful – presidency.

Mr. Obama conducted a campaign-like first hundred days. He visited Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. He signed orders on auto bailouts, fiscal stimulus, stem cell research, birth control and Gitmo, all while not neglecting Jay Leno, 60 Minutes or March Madness.

For Mr. Obama, a downside to the quick start is that much time remains to judge the effects of his actions. All the more true if his gargantuan $3.5 trillion budget, his tax increases and his “public option” health care plan (read: step one to a single-payer, government run system) get booked by summer’s end.

According to Gallup, Americans are most critical of the president’s profligate spending and his seemingly laissez faire dealings with dictators and detainees. Americans must feel he is gambling with their money and their lives. Mr. Obama should heed these concerns or risk ending up like Nixon and Carter.

The economy may take off and bring 1990s-like revenues that disintegrate the looming multi-trillion dollar deficits. But if the Internet-driven expansion was more of a once-a-century phenomenon than once-a-decade, we could be in for a slow, hard slog.

Judging from his past comments, the president likely does not care. The historic spending spree accomplishes one of his major goals: wealth redistribution. It redistributes wealth from the haves of the future to the have-nots of the present. And if the economy continues to sputter, “the rich” will continue to see limited gains while their taxes increase. An Obama win either way.

Globally, the president’s charm may warm the Hugo Chavezes of the world to free market, democratic ideals. His apologetic tone may quiet the jihadists’ commitment to kill.

Many Americans are uninterested in making that bet. They want the president to strongly protect us from the ideas and weapons of our enemies, not placate them.

One quarter down. Fifteen to go. Here’s to hoping there’s something left to get us home from Vegas!

The Key to Recovery

Missing from the economic recovery debate: personal responsibility.

No amount of government money can stimulate it. No bailout is big enough to muster it. It must come from within, out of individuals who choose to be part of the solution regardless of whether they were part of the problem.

Downturns should not surprise us. Life is cyclical. Change is constant. Humans are forgetful, not to mention fallible.

Our leaders misstep when they attempt to save individuals and companies from themselves. It is not possible. It only delays the inevitable.

The more responsible thing to do, the more instructional thing to do, and, yes, the more loving thing to do is to let people endure the consequences of their decisions.

Big government in a time of crisis delays recovery. Individual citizens naturally wait for intervention rather than being the intervention themselves.

On the frontier, the cost of waiting for government help in an emergency was often your life.

Today, the cost may not be your life, but it will be your quality of life. Dependence on government “stimulus” will always pale when compared to an independent life capable of creating its own destiny.

For example, two Boerne builders aren’t spending this housing slowdown collecting unemployment checks and waiting for an assignment from Washington. They’ve started a window-washing business.

A crisis calls for risk, courage and sacrifice, not business as usual; not “live how you’ve always lived, spend how you’ve always spent because you’re entitled to that lifestyle.” A crisis is a time to revisit and reduce entitlements, not increase them.

A refreshing message from D.C. would be: “We’ll stop pretending to have all the answers. We were unable to prevent the wreck and we are now powerless to right the ship. We ask each U.S. citizen to take up arms and fight. Create, start, build, solve. Make good happen. We’ll get out of your way.”

That message might get some people off their couches, especially if you tell them that half their income won’t go to help repay a $9.3 trillion national debt.

As it stands, we have such a debt staring us in the face. Substituting trillions of dollars of individual debt with trillions of dollars of collective debt makes little sense. Sounds like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

What makes more sense is for millions of Americans to take personal responsibility for their own provisions and prosperity and for government to trust the people’s potential to do so.

Slowing Down the Sausage

San Antonio’s Joe Straus is leading a revolution in Austin and he may not realize it.

The Texas House elected the Republican as Speaker somewhat suddenly in January.

Without months to prepare for the job, Speaker Straus understandably took longer than usual to assign legislators and legislation to committees. He has since moved bills through the House very methodically.

Through Tuesday, only 10 bills had passed both the House and the Senate. That’s less than 1 percent of the average number of bills that pass in a session.

Granted, 30-plus days remain on the clock and not even Straus can halt the sausage-making (i.e. lawmaking) forever. Still, the Legislature is headed toward its lowest law output in years.

Should the Speaker apologize for this inefficiency and lack of productivity? No! He should wear it as a badge of honor!

He limited the growth of government – a rare feat in an age of something-for-everyone Costco congresses.

Texas’ Constitutional framers created its legislature to meet for 140 days every other year. In doing so, they surely contemplated the travel time required to get to Austin by horse from – say – the Red River.

They also must have believed that Texans shouldn’t need much legislating (God only needed 10 commandments), and more importantly, that the people who make the laws should actually have to go home and live under them.

Today, Texas lawmakers seem to squeeze two years’ worth of legislation into their 140-day regular biennial session.

As a result, we live under more regulations than the framers ever dreamed citizen legislators would pass. (I refer only to the Austin sausage factory, a mere kiddie kitchen compared to the great factory on the Potomac!)

The Texas House has an existing rule for its budget debates: for every dollar more of spending you propose, you must propose a dollar of savings.

We need the same for legislation at large. Before you pass that new requirement on your fellow citizens, Madame Legislator, please find an outdated or ill-conceived regulation to repeal.

The National Cancer Institute released another sobering study last month that sausage and other processed meats will kill a person. Similarly, over-regulation will kill an economy and hamstring liberty, too.

Through his deliberateness, Joe Straus is leading a revolution of restraint. He’s helping shape a state government that recognizes its own limitations, strives to do a few things well and has hopes high enough for its people not to weigh them down with evermore sausage.

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