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Group of Odd People

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What a sorry lot the GOP is. The frontrunner, Gov. George W. Bush, bases his campaign on the slogan “prosperity with a purpose.” Pardon me? I have no idea what that means, but I don’t like the sound of it.

A president of the United States, and the irants for that office, have no business concerning themselves with the purposes to which people dedicate their prosperity (as long as those purposes respect property rights). That’s the point of freedom. We are free to choose our own purposes, and the state has to butt out. Is it too much to ask for the news media to query Governor Bush on what the heck he’s talking about?

Then we have Sen. John McCain, a possible threat to Governor Bush. McCain has distinguished himself by wanting to decimate the people of Serbia, by applauding the travesty of justice known as the tobacco settlement, and by pushing so-called campaign finance reform. The self-righteous Senator McCain hasn’t gotten around to explaining how the government can limit or ban campaign contributions without infringing on freedom of speech. That may be because such a thing can’t be explained. Free people (including the people who compose corporations) have a right to give money to candidates and parties without government restriction. What’s so hard to understand?

The campaign finance reformers at this point will ask how government corruption (surely a redundancy) can be averted if contributions aren’t controlled. Fair question. Contributions are often given with the intention of getting something from government in return. The way to stop that is not the feeble and indirect method of controlling contributions. We need to go directly to the source of the trouble: the government’s power to distribute wealth. All favors granted by government are reducible to a distribution of wealth from those who produced it to those who didn’t (which includes plenty of affluent folks). Mencken called elections advance auctions of stolen property. Government is like a fence’s store for people with special access. They put their money down and pick something off the shelf that was previously taken from the taxpayers. The way to end that corrupt system is to forbid the government from having booty on the shelves. I guarantee the campaign donors will stop coming around.

When Senator McCain announced his candidacy, he said he wanted to be president in order to repay his debt to his country. Now that’s chutzpah. An electorate that will believe that will believe anything. Is there anything more self-serving than “public service”?

For the moment Patrick Buchanan is still a Republican, so let’s have a word about him. Buchanan’s problem is not that he doesn’t buy the establishment line on World War II-that line is state-serving nonsense. His problem is that he says he favors limited government and free enterprise while calling for tariffs, other policies to protect incomes, and immigration controls. Have words no meaning?

But lest it appear that I have it in for the leading Republican presidential contenders, let me hasten to level some criticism at the Republicans in Congress. The GOP majority, authors of the gossamer revolution, have shown their true stripes and are in the process of appropriating the current Social Security surplus for their own pet programs. This is fascinating because the Republicans promised not to spend it and have talked about cutting taxes. (Of course, the piddling tax-rate cut they sent to President Clinton was promptly vetoed.) Instead of cutting spending, the Republicans are increasing it. Having depleted the expected general-fund surplus, they have moved on to the Social Security surplus. I won’t go into the ways these plunderers insult our intelligence, for example, by calling money for the census an emergency expenditure so they can get around the formal spending caps. Gee, they have only been on notice since 1789 that there would be a 2000 census.

I respectfully submit that no party that looks for ways to increase government spending can be taken seriously as a party of limited government. With Republicans like that, who needs Democrats?

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.