Politics & Media
Jan 13, 2016, 09:56AM

State of the Unions

Big week for three weak branches.

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The legislative branch, at least in theory the equal of the executive branch, let us down yesterday as the Senate failed to marshal the 60 votes needed to pass Rand Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve. The tally was 53-44 on near-perfect party lines, with only one Democrat (Tammy Baldwin) and one Independent (Bernie Sanders!) voting in favor of auditing and one Independent (the dreadful Angus King) and one Republican (Bob Corker) voting against. It was, I believe, the faux-populist Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s vote that was the deciding no (or at least her no vote was called just as the official “no” count went to 41).

The only consolation in this defeat is that in some ways it was a case of Congress voting against itself, since—as former Fed chair Ben Bernanke argues—an audit at the behest of Congress could just further politicize the Fed, which in theory is independent. Better to just abolish the Fed, then, to be on the safe side. Furthermore, why keep printing a government currency when we could let people adopt private ones along the lines of the oft-maligned but still spreading Bitcoin?

One hope with this vote was that it would provide a bit of positive attention for Paul prior to the Iowa caucus, though I fear its defeat may just underscore the new narrative of Paul-as-disappointment. He even went unmentioned in a recent Politico piece on the lack of presidential candidates interested in pressing libertarian issues, which is troubling.

Yet if Paul doesn’t press big issues like the Fed, ending the drug war, rolling back foreign military interventions, radically shrinking the federal government, and eliminating the debt, rest assured almost no one else will. That’s far sadder than his poll numbers or him seeming a little stiff on Colbert.

President Obama, in his final State of the Union speech, skipped current policy battles to say that our long-term goals should be to give everyone a shot in the new economy, make technology work for us instead of against us (take that, robots!), make America safe without becoming the world’s policeman, and make our politics reflect what’s best in us and not what’s worst.

That noble tone probably won’t stop him from spending the coming year making misleading claims such as that you can easily buy guns online without a background check even though that’s already illegal. I think the ultimate verdict on his presidency will be something like: lofty hopes, moderate rhetoric, some dirty tactics, and meager results. Could be worse, though—don’t get me wrong.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s Republican response speech after the State of the Union also mostly went the high road, taking time to concede Republicans have “played a role in how and how and why government is broken.”

It appeared the Supreme Court might almost redeem its existence this week, as justices appeared to lean against teachers unions in a potentially pivotal case that could eliminate parasitic public sector unions’ ability to extract dues from unwilling workers—one of the most dangerous, self-perpetuating sources of funding for pro-government causes in this society.

And if the teachers unions cease to exist as a result, maybe it’ll in turn help break up the education near-monopoly, which I hope happens before the so-called cultural Marxism that abounds in colleges takes over high schools as well.

All the horrors of the federal government’s three branches become more bearable if the states are granted more independence, so it was good to see Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urging a convention of the states aimed at reclaiming some of their power from the feds. Scary things could happen during a constitutional convention, though, so continual pressure on the center without any actual change to the Constitution might be best.

And pressure from Texas in that regard right now would jibe nicely with an anti-big-government Texan such as Ted Cruz winning the presidential caucus in Iowa in three weeks. I now suspect that’s the GOP’s only hope of survival, but more on that topic in another column, perhaps to be followed by years of analyzing State of the Union speeches by a President Cruz. 

Todd Seavey can be found on Twitter, Blogger, and Facebook, daily on Splice Today, and soon on bookshelves with the volume Libertarianism for Beginners. 


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