by J.D. Tuccille
March 1, 2004

Which Presidential Hopeful Will Tame Government?

For people who like government to be effective at a few tasks, but otherwise inoffensive -- like a guard dog that's good with the kids and doesn't eat much -- the leading presidential candidates look hopeless.

For starters, the incumbent Bush administration lays to rest myths about frugal Republican presidents. The Washington, DC-based Cato Institute points out that discretionary federal spending soared under George W. Bush at its highest rate since the spendthrift administration of LBJ. While defense spending logically rose after the September 11 attacks, spending unrelated to efforts to protect Americans from terrorists also skyrocketed.

By comparison, John Kerry's vow to sink more tax money into projects favored by his backers, such as government-run healthcare and a "Manhattan Project" for alternative fuels, almost draws a yawn. If he wins the election, he'll have to work overtime to out-do his predecessor in busting the budget. His one-time support for short-lived budget-balancing legislation even suggests a small potential for frugality.

True, Kerry plans to fund his promises by socking the public with higher taxes. But Bush's miniscule tax cut is already being offset as middle-class Americans are forced by inflation to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax originally intended for the wealthy. According to the Brookings Institution, "by 2010, the AMT will affect 33 million taxpayers."

The current president is as hopeless with our civil liberties as he is with the federal checkbook. With luck, the Supreme Court will soon overrule his administration's imprisonment of both Americans and foreign nationals without charges.

The Bush administration's pet USA Patriot Act, rushed through Congress after September 11, has unleashed federal law enforcement agents and dramatically expanded the definition of terrorism, potentially to include mainstream political protests that include civil disobedience.

As if to fulfill civil libertarians' worst fears, on February 3, 2004, law enforcement officials working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force demanded that Drake University in Iowa surrender information about a November 2003 anti-war conference. The subpoena was withdrawn, but news reports including a high-profile New York Times article reveal the government's use of its new investigative powers in hundreds of cases that have nothing to do with national security.

This gives John Kerry plenty of material with which to work -- or it would if he hadn't voted enthusiastically for the Patriot Act, and hadn't supported expanded law enforcement powers even before September 11. Today he accuses the president and the attorney general of abusing their powers, but his position seems to be that these extraordinary powers would be just fine if he were the one wielding them.

Kerry even agrees with Bush that gay couples shouldn't be allowed to marry. The candidates disagree only over whether the restriction should be written into the Constitution.

Voters with a taste for a less intrusive government understandably look for alternative candidates.

In his third run for the White house, Ralph Nader is obviously on an ego trip, but that hardly sets him apart from other presidential hopefuls. Reassuringly, Nader advocates repeal of the Patriot Act and an end to arrests without charges. He also calls for an end to the war on drugs -- the main threat to civil liberties before federal officials started riding the terrorism hobbyhorse.

Unfortunately, a little control-freakery surfaces in Nader's platform with a call for taxes on "activities we dislike" (apparently we all think in lockstep) such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling. He's also out to compete with Bush's spending binge with funds targeted for "infrastructure, transit and other public works."

Nader also apparently wants prosecutors to have a free hand against business people. Once again, extraordinary power is apparently fine, so long as it's in his hands.

Then there's the Libertarian Party, which traditionally fields a sacrificial presidential candidate who says the right things before fading into obscurity, like the nagging ghost of Thomas Jefferson whispering from a dark corner of the room.

This time, Aaron Russo, the Hollywood producer behind movies including "The Rose" and "Trading Places," brings media savvy and money to his campaign for the Libertarian nomination. He bluntly tells audiences, "America is becoming fascist," and wants the Patriot Act repealed, the war on drugs curtailed and both taxes and government spending slashed to the bone.

Russo connects Defense Department recruiting for selective service boards with congressional calls for revived military conscription, and warns that federal officials may plan to restore the draft to fuel the country's imperial-sized military commitments.

There's nary a call for more power in Russo's platform -- not even for the "right" people. How refreshing.

Sadly, Russo -- or any independent candidate -- is unlikely to win the election. But it's infinitely more palatable to consider voting for a candidate who probably won't be president, rather than for candidates who certainly shouldn't be president.


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Copyright (c) 2003 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and Iíll use your polished skull as a beer mug.