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An Echo, Not a Choice


Must the Republicans’ abandon every semblance of principle in order to save us from a Gore presidency? In the minds of the GOP leaders, the answer seems to be yes. Apparently, a decision has been made that victory is so essential that the party will say anything to avoid offending anyone. I’m reminded of the line from the musical 1776. When the Continental Congress is editing the draft Declaration of Independence and several lines have been deleted to avoid offending the British Parliament or the English people, an exasperated John Adams, shouts, “This is a revolution! We have to offend somebody!”

Not today’s Republicans. But the irony is that in seeking to avoid offending anyone, they offend everyone who innocently had been led to believe the Republicans believe in liberty and limited government. The National Convention should finally disabuse anyone of that particular illusion.

To be sure, there was lip service paid to the idea that it’s the people, not the government, that makes America great and prosperous. We heard the word “freedom” a few times. But look at the particulars. Was a single federal agency sentenced to elimination by the platform or the candidate, George W. Bush? Did anyone propose reducing spending from current levels? Quite the contrary.

When a subcommittee of the platform committee offered language to abolish the Department of Education (which spends billions of dollars but educates no one), Bush’s man on the scene, Sen. Bill Frist, crushed the effort. Vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, who has been hammered by Democrats for voting against creating the department, today says he would not vote to abolish it. (By the way, it was his wife, Lynne Cheney, who under George I set up the federal history-education-standards machinery that under Bill Clinton was predictably turned over to Marxist historians and their politically correct agenda.)

The GOP platform opposes the current federal program that promotes “family planning.” Good — except the party calls for replacing that program with a bigger program for “abstinence education.” The point here is not the relative merits of condoms and abstinence. The point is that this is no business of the federal government! The U.S. Constitution delegated powers to the central government that are, in James Madison’s words, “few and defined.” There’s nothing about sex education of any kind. What happened to the Republican pro-family agenda? Pro-family means leaving sex education not to Washington bureaucrats but to the family.

Republicans used to vote against Head Start, which took some courage, since this program is nearly as sacred as Social Security. Indeed, Dick Cheney voted against Head Start. But now that he is running as a New Kind of Republican, he says he’d vote for it. Earth to Head Start defenders: There is not a single study that demonstrates any lasting benefits from Head Start. And besides, the federal government has absolutely no authority over education under the Constitution. But that argument falls on deaf ears these days in Republican circles. The Constitution has been jettisoned by the New Republican Party, which is dedicated to the proposition that saying any warm, cozy thing is justified if it will bring victory.

No one is warmer or cozier than Colin Powell, which is why he was a featured speaker at the convention. Hardly anyone in Philadelphia seemed to mind that Powell chided the party for opposing the use of race and ethnicity as criteria for hiring and admissions. In other words, a Republican speaker endorsed the employment of force against private employers and schools that defy the government by using their own standards. So much for private enterprise. It’s worse than that: Bush and the folks in the convention would have sold their souls to have Powell on the ticket. (They seemed to have forgotten that he did not want to go to war against Iraq to save Kuwait; unlike the affirmative action matter, he showed good judgment on that one.)

Compassionate conservatism? Clintonesque drivel! In 1964, the GOP slogan was “a choice, not an echo.” Today it’s “an echo, not a choice — except we promise to leave the interns and Buddhist nuns alone.”

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at 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.