Personally, I’m not a fan of labels like conservative and liberal. In this era of talk radio, ‘fair and balanced’ television and other venues for political invective, the terms have become accusations rather than descriptions?a substitute for analysis used by voters too lazy to figure out whether they agree with a candidate’s positions. It’s easier just to vote for the guy wearing the appropriate label.
As Indiana’s gubernatorial primary nears, the Republican contest has boiled down to a single question: who is the “real” conservative, Mitch Daniels or Eric Miller?
Personally, I’m not a fan of labels like “conservative” and “liberal.” In this era of talk radio, “fair and balanced” television and other venues for political invective, the terms have become accusations rather than descriptions—a substitute for analysis used by voters too lazy to figure out whether they agree with a candidate’s positions. It’s easier just to vote for the guy wearing the appropriate label.
Problem is, it’s a bit dicey deciding who gets to be the “conservative” when the party of self-described conservatives is busily imposing tariffs, expanding government and spending like there is no tomorrow. What, exactly, might conservative mean these days?
Take former Georgia Representative Bob Barr. Barr would certainly seem to be an Eric Miller variety conservative: while in Congress, he garnered 100% approval ratings from the Christian Coalition, sponsored the federal Defense of Marriage Act, was a prosecutor during Clinton’s impeachment, and was an NRA Legislator of the Year. He’s a vocal abortion opponent and an enthusiastic drug warrior.
But Barr also was—and is—a persistent critic of government’s abuses of power. He took the lead in investigating what happened in WACO. He opposed Clinton’s efforts to undermine due process guarantees in terrorism cases. When he lost his bid for re-election in 2002, he took an advisory position with the ACLU, and has spoken out forcefully against Bush Administration efforts to infringe fundamental liberties. In a recent Reason interview, he disavowed his vote for the Patriot Act, saying
“[I]ts been a taking-off point for expanded authority in a number of areas…the administration seems to be pushing its application as broadly as it can in non-terrorism cases. And despite assurances by the administration that Section 215, which relates to obtaining records from libraries and other repositories, is not being used, the fact is it is being used.”
Barr has criticized Terrorism Information Awareness (a version of “Total Information Awareness,” renamed after TIA generated a storm of criticism) and CAPPS legislation that authorized airline passenger profiling. He opposes both same-sex marriage and a constitutional amendment, contending that Bush’s proposal would erode both federalism and state’s rights. He says that he affiliated with the ACLU when he realized “the expansiveness of government power was creating a smaller sphere of personal liberty and personal privacy, and that we needed to find allies in this fight, and work together on those issues on which we agree and agree to disagree on the other issues.”
Do Daniels and Miller share Barr’s concerns about abuses of state power? Do they even agree on what constitutes an abuse? Does “My Man Mitch” share the President’s enthusiasm for the Patriot Act and other police powers? Is Eric Miller willing to sacrifice Indiana’s authority in order to prohibit gay marriages? What might such positions suggest about the way each would exercise power?
What does a ‘real conservative’ look like?