During the first few weeks of the Republican “revolution,” Republicans were talking like libertarians. “It’s time to dismantle FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society,” they proclaimed. “The welfare state has failed. And it is wrong for the state to take money from those to whom it belongs and give it to those to whom it does not belong.” Some libertarians (myself included) thought that they had died and gone to libertarian heaven. We wondered whether the time had finally come for the restoration of American liberty.
Alas, it was the same old Republican claptrap that had gone on for decades. Talk like a libertarian and act like a Democrat. As time went on, it was easy to see that no part of the welfare state was going to be dismantled. Nothing had changed. The Republicans were still interested in control, not freedom. The Republican mantra — “Put us in charge, and we’ll promise not to abolish anything” — was still solidly in place.
If there were any doubts about this, they were eliminated in the 1996 congressional campaign of Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination to Congress in a district encompassing parts of Houston and Austin. Paul had previously served three terms in Congress as a Republican. After losing a bid for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, Paul converted to the Libertarian Party. In 1988, he was the Libertarian Party candidate for president. Everyone agrees that Paul is dedicated to dismantling, not reforming, the thousands of welfare-state departments and agencies.
Thus, it would be natural to assume that the Republican “revolutionaries” would be ecstatic that Paul had returned to the Republican fold by once again seeking the Republican nomination for Congress.
Not so! In fact, the exact opposite happened. The Republican establishment was angered and terrified that there might be a Republican in Congress who was actually serious about ending, not reforming, America’s welfare-state way of life.
The Republican “revolutionaries” went into action. First, they convinced the Democratic incumbent to convert to the Republican Party in order to run against Paul in the Republican primary. Here were the “revolutionaries,” supporting a person who, as a Democrat, had helped to preserve and expand the welfare-state way of life. Then, the “revolutionaries” brought in the big guns to accuse Paul of being — horror of horrors — a libertarian! Former President George Bush, his son George (the current governor of Texas), and Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (the two Republican U.S. senators from Texas) made campaign appearances in support of the ex-Democrat. “Revolutionary” money poured into the campaign of Paul’s big-government opponent.
Much to the chagrin of the Republican “revolutionaries,” a majority of the Republican rank-and-file preferred a libertarian to a “Depublican.” Ron Paul won the Republican primary. The question left open is whether the Republican “revolutionaries” will support Paul or his Democratic opponent in the November election.
Why are Republicans so wedded to preserving, rather than dismantling, the welfare state in America? The problem is not economic ignorance, because in their minds, Republicans know that libertarians are economically right.
The problem with Republicans is actually a religious or spiritual one. On the one hand, they preach moral values, write books of virtues, and quote the Bible. On the other hand, they support Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, and most other instances of political stealing. While quoting the Bible, they block out of their minds God’s commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
How do Republicans or conservatives reconcile their pronouncements with their actions. They don’t. For self-righteousness has created a moral blind spot that enables them to blithely participate and support the welfare state and, at the same time, condemn others for their sins. One of the main reasons that many conservatives wish that libertarians had never come into existence is that libertarians expose that self-righteousness and moral blind spot.
Let me give you another example from my home state of Texas. I grew up in South Texas in the 1950s. There were at least three counties in Texas that were almost totally controlled by political machines. I lived in one of them. When I was a young boy, my father told me that the political machine in my county (which my father was part of) could produce a Democratic bloc vote in an election of some at least 6,000 or 7,000 voters. At the center of the machine was the local school district, for it was commonly believed that the ballot of every school-district employee was examined by party officials. It was rumored that those who did not vote Democratic would quickly lose their jobs. (I learned early on one of the true values of public schooling, from the standpoint of politicians.) What was the reward? My father told me that just after the Kennedy assassination, President Lyndon Johnson telephoned the local party boss and said: “How much federal money do you want down there? I’ll get it right to you.”
It was even worse in two adjoining counties — Jim Wells County and Duval County. In fact, Jim Wells was the county in which the notorious “Box 13” fraud had propelled Lyndon Johnson into the Senate in 1948. (County election officials “found” 200 additional votes for Johnson after all the other polls in Texas had closed, which barely put him over the top.)
Jim Wells and Duval counties were controlled by a ruthless political machine run by a man named George Parr. The story of Parr is told in a book published last year (1995) entitled The Fall of the Duke of Duval by John E. Clark. The book provides an excellent vehicle by which we can analyze the religious and spiritual malady that afflicts Republicans and conservatives.
Clark was an assistant U.S. attorney in the San Antonio division of the Southern District of Texas in the 1970s. His boss was William Sessions, who would go on to become a federal judge and, later, director of the FBI. It was Clark and Sessions who went after Parr and ultimately “got their man.” (Parr committed suicide rather than go to jail for income-tax evasion.)
Clark’s book details what Parr was doing with his iron political control of Duval and Jim Wells counties. For years, Parr and his friends had been siphoning off tax revenues and feathering their own nests with cash, ranch improvements, and so forth. The patronage was so large that opposition to Parr was defused. Clark points out that resistance to Parr meant loss of patronage, ostracism, economic boycotts of private businesses, and even worse. (Parr was suspected of murder in one case but never convicted.) Moreover, Clark points out that under the Texas constitution, the state authorities could not initiate an indictment without the permission of the local grand jury; and Parr’s people controlled the offices of the district attorney, the district judge, the county commissioners, and the local school districts.
One day, Clark and Sessions discovered that Parr was taking kickbacks from an architect who was doing work for the school district. They knew that they had no jurisdiction, as federal officials, to go after Parr for crimes under Texas law. So, they used that old federal standby-income-tax evasion — to pursue Parr. They initiated a grand jury investigation in San Antonio, a city about 150 miles away that had no connection to the alleged crimes in Jim Wells and Duval counties. (A local federal judge ultimately threw them out of court, making them refile in the correct district.) They began issuing “instanter” subpoenas, which meant that a person had to drop everything he was doing to immediately travel 150 miles to appear before the federal grand jury in San Antonio. When one bank was a little slow in producing bank records on the county, Clark and Sessions got a court order forcing the bank to bring the microfilm that contained records of other depositors, as well, where they were reviewed by federal agents.
Clark and Sessions secured an indictment against Parr for failure to disclose his ill-gotten, political benefits on his income-tax return. For example, Parr had used county funds to install irrigation equipment on a family ranch. He failed to report the equipment as income on his return. The feds were upset about that.
Clark’s book is filled with righteous indignation at Parr’s political control and actions. Unfortunately, however, Clark fails to express any remorse, regret, or repentance for his own actions. The mind-set is typical of Republicans and conservatives.
What Parr was doing in South Texas was no different, in principle, with what the federal government was doing at a national level. Parr’s people were taxing the residents of the counties, and Parr was redistributing the money to himself and his buddies. But isn’t this exactly what the federal government does? Doesn’t the federal government tax people and then redistribute the money to the politically privileged in the form of farm subsidies, public housing, education grants, and the like? Why wasn’t Parr’s irrigation equipment simply a local farm subsidy?
Moreover, it could easily be argued that Parr’s welfare operation was much more efficient than the federal one. For unlike the feds, Parr did not rely on a multitude of departments and agencies to do the stealing and the redistribution. He did much of it all by himself.
But wasn’t Parr taking kickbacks from the school architect? And what about large campaign contributions and speaker’s honoraria to congressmen? Who’s naive enough to think that those aren’t simply bribes paid in advance?
Clark can recognize the wrongful nature of Parr’s conduct. But his moral blind spot prevents him from seeing the wrongfulness of his own participation, as a federal attorney, in the federal welfare state. Clark writes:
“When George [Parr] handed out the financial assistance for which he was so widely praised, he was actually returning to local taxpayers a few of the hard-earned tax dollars he had stolen from them in the first place.”
Isn’t this exactly what Clark’s coworkers in the federal bureaucracy were doing? Moreover, Clark’s conduct, in one respect, can be considered even more egregious than Parr’s. For Clark is proud of the fact that he was working closely with the IRS in the prosecution of Parr. Where can you find an organization in the U.S. that more closely approximates the Gestapo and the KGB than the IRS? The IRS has terrorized and destroyed many more lives than Parr and his political machine ever did. Does Clark ever express any remorse or regret for working with this terroristic agency; with the use of IRS inquisitorial methods that would have been the envy of the most evil tyrants in history; for abusing judicial power with the filing of an action in the wrong judicial district; for harrassing people with “instanter” subpoenas? Of course not. He’s a federal official — and a Republican, to boot. His conduct, from his perspective, is good “per se.”
It is this self-righteousness and spiritual pride that afflicts Republicans and conservatives. For decades, they have been engaged in the plunder of the welfare state; and they have supported the existence of one of history’s most despicable governmental agencies — the IRS. This is the giant sin for which conservatives have never repented. It is not difficult to see why, when Republicans quote the Bible, they never talk about what Jesus said about hypocrites.
It is this spiritual, moral blind spot among Republicans and conservatives — and this ardent, bullheaded refusal to repent their enormous political sin — that helps to explain the failure of the Republican “revolution,” a “revolution” that fizzled and flopped before it even got started.
What would a real political revolution look like? It would be a libertarian revolution. And it would change the face of the earth.