The Next Issues

David Frum  has a provocative post up about how dealing with the aftermath of the government’s “bailout” of financial institutions will shape the political debates of the upcoming years:

How will you use and how quickly will you unwind the huge ownership position the US government has taken in the nation’s banks and financial institutions?

Paul Krugman recently advanced the idea that the government may be obliged to order banks to lend money. (This was his answer to the old “pushing on a string” problem – the government can insert capital into banks, but what if the banks are too frightened to use this capital?)

I don’t myself think we are anywhere close to this being necessary – but what if it should happen? You do not have to be very anxious to imagine great possibilities for abuse. Will this lending have to be regionally “balanced”? Should unionized firms be favored? Or firms that locate manufacturing plants in America? How about special consideration for minority owned firms? Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Right now, everybody agrees that government ownership is undesireable. But people will get used to anything. Four years from now, some in Washington may well who want to retain a small ownership stake as a way to enhance government monitoring and regulation. And even if today’s mood persists, the terms and conditions of reprivatization will surely prove bitterly controversial, with Democrats pushing for the toughest possible terms (even at the risk of prolonging government ownership) and Republicans pushing for the speediest possible liquidation (even at the risk of receiving a lower price than might be available later).

It’s this consideration, even more than foreign policy, that motivates me to vote for John McCain. I know I can count on him to dislike government ownership – to shun any political use of financial power – and to liquidate as rapidly as possible.

Barack Obama? I worry that he’ll succumb to the temptation to abuse this power for utopian ends. Whether he is (or was) a socialist in any dictionary definition way I do not know. I doubt it. But there’s no question that he’s a redistributionist and a utopian. I heard yesterday a clip of him speaking at a rally a few days ago. He urged supporters to keep working till the very end because, “Power does not surrender.” It’s a phrase of pure Alinskyism, a reminder that with all that Obama has left behind in his upward quest, the habits of mind he learned in his 20s remain in place underneath.

Whatever exactly Obama may have meant by his words, they count as a warning: He sees wealth as power – and power as something to be taken and used. I prefer leaders who think in terms of markets – and see markets as spheres for choice and freedom.

Oversight and balance are crucial. This is a radical expansion of government powers, and the consequences are great.  Democratic leadership doesn’t need to be given a blank check.

Also at National Review, Andy McCarthy has an interesting essay on one means by which Obama may choose to effect his “redistributive change”: the ratification of the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights:

In 1966, with key help from the Soviet Union, the United Nations began promoting a monstrosity of a treaty known as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is chockablock with exactly the things Obama would say government must do on your behalf: provide housing, clothing, education, health care, employment, a living wage that accounts for comparative worth (meaning the government, under the guise of preventing discrimination, determines what you are paid), limited labor hours, paid vacation and holidays, paid parental leave, nearly unrestricted trade unionization, social security (including “social insurance”), “equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need,” and so on.

This economic-justice compact was so patently socialist that, even at the height of his Great Society and War on Poverty, President Lyndon Johnson declined to sign it. So did Presidents Nixon and Ford. But alas, there is always Jimmy Carter. Thirty years ago, he signed the ICESCR, but it has languished ever since, never ratified. President Clinton lauded the treaty but shrank from prodding the senate, where staunch Republican opposition made the required two-thirds approval margin a pipedream.

Obama, by contrast, expects to have the wind at his back, at least for a time. Gone is the Republican Congress of the Clinton years. Despite their appalling performance and historically low approval ratings, cocky Democrats expect to pad their congressional majorities. They anticipate inching close to 60 seats, or beyond. With an assist from the usual GOP moderates — who’d no doubt be anxious to join a charismatic new president in a bipartisan effort to “improve America’s image in the world” — the 67 votes needed for ratification could be attainable.

The Constitution stipulates that, once ratified, a treaty becomes the supreme law of the land. No longer would Obama need to worry about the “essential constraints” that relegate our fundamental law to “a charter of negative liberties.” Federal judges would now be unleashed to direct the redistributions necessary to ensure a “living wage” and the ICESCR’s remaining laundry list of economic rights. Congressional Democrats, egged on by ACORN and its hard Left allies, would craft legislation to further codify, explain and expand on them.

Though reporters are reluctant to break through the fog of Obama secrecy, maybe one of them could bother to ask Obama/his campaign whether he would support the ratification of the ICESCR?

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