What's it going to take for government to get serious about our financial condition and long-term economic health? New legislation, authored by politicians with a different view of what government can and can not do, and what it should and should not do. Enter, Jeff Flake. Perhaps you know that Jeff is already a legislator, being a sixth term Representative in the House from Arizona. But as the House has changed its stripes since last Fall, the Senate clearly has not. It remains an impediment to putting the country back on a path of fiscal sanity, one that will lead to an economic resurgence and better well-being for all of us. Thus, Flake is taking the logical next step and running for Senate in 2012 to replace the retiring Jon Kyl. During his time in the House, Flake has become synonymous with the campaign against earmarks, the campaign that sadly cost him his seat on the House Judiciary Committee in 2007. But how the world has changed. Fast forward to the fallout of the 2010 elections, and you'll find a movement outside of Congress to get Flake onto the House Appropriations committee, the very committee that would oversee the earmarks. The popular groundswell worked, and the same John Boehner who oversaw Flake's removal in 2007 endorsed Flake's appointment to Appropriations in 2011. The irony is rich. Flake's steadfastness and willingness to buck the party line (the flawed party line that didn't just cost the GOP its Bush-era political dominance, but harmed the country as well) has earned him the highest accolades from groups like Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union. This includes a perfect '100' lifetime score at the Club for Growth, yielding him a "Defender of Economic Freedom" award. Indeed, leadership in Washington is often more accurately described as "followership". Many "leaders" are actually just seeking political cover. They're looking to follow groups of people who will ultimately deliver for them not proven ideas of what to legislate, but simply votes for reelection. And thus the cycle of entrenched power continues. Principled legislators like Jeff Flake break that cycle. Consider this exchange, from 2006 no less (it got worse), between CBS News' Morley Safer and Jeff Flake from a 60 Minutes segment devoted to earmarks:
Safer: 13,000 earmarks this year alone, compared with only 4,000 a dozen years ago. And it's no accident that the explosive growth in earmarks parallels the explosive growth of lobbyists in Washington. Flake: Many of the earmark request forms are actually filled out by lobbyists, and then just turned in by the members' staff to the Appropriations Committee. Safer: And the good part of the time, as you say, it's just rubber stamped by the Congressman... Flake: Yes Safer: to put it through. Flake: Yes
A lot of people falsely conclude that we should just ban lobbying. But the right to petition the government is ensconced quite unambiguously in the Constitution. A lobbying ban misses the point. Lobbyists exist because they have a captive and willing audience. Jeff Flake has now severely shaken up that apple cart. While many people denigrate Flake's continued crusade against earmarks, they do so without understanding the bigger implications of an earmarking culture. Earmarks are simply the tip of the much bigger iceberg of crony capitalism wreaking havoc on our country. Crony capitalism -- government dolling out money and favoritism via the legislative process -- is replacing the traditional definition of free-market capitalism itself for millions of people. It is the underpinning of the railing against "Big Business" that we hear over and over, with concomitant calls for increased regulation and oversight, all resulting in a hiring paralysis. It is exactly big (and medium, and small) business that we need to see succeed in order to drive big job creation. We can not seek job creation and bash job creators at the same time. Worse still, crony capitalism turns people off from civic involvement altogether. Against a process driven by lobbyists, money, and unprincipled legislators willing to be influenced by both, the typical voter is completely rational in feeling unempowered and helpless. This goes a long way to explaining the pathetic voter turnouts that are so typical in American elections, but ironically, also the increasing calls for help from the government itself. We wind up in a place where small but passionate groups of people can wield a disproportionate amount of influence and implement bad ideas that do not and can not work. Groups like MoveOn.org and ACORN are born from this environment. Unfathomably large "stimulus programs" are born from this environment. Demagogic Presidents are born from this environment. Electing people like Jeff Flake, and keeping them in office, can restore government to its rightfully limited role, and empower individuals to look to each other to solve society's problems. At the end of the day, it is legislators like Flake that will repeal bad laws and implement better ones. They get to vote on legislation, we don't. But we live with the results, good or bad. If we don't like the results, we need to change the legislation, and thus we come full circle to the need for good legislators who will allow principles that work to guide their votes. The strongest opportunity the electorate has to influence the process is in the voting both. In the meantime, candidates like Jeff Flake who are willing to step up and subject themselves and their families to the rigors of campaigning and public service need to be encouraged and supported. Jeff Flake will bring to the Senate what he's helped to bring to the House: a needed change in culture. Take out your wallet and send a spare twenty bucks, or much more than that, to someone who's got it figured out. Otherwise, be prepared to defend your wallet against the people who don't.
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