I was pleased to have the opportunity to quiz ALG head Bill Wilson about a number of issues facing the conservative movement and the nation at large.
Bill was elected President of Americans for Limited Government two years ago, which was the latest step in over 30 years of work within the conservative movement. Wilson began as an organizer for Ronald Reagan’s 1976 Presidential campaign in Maryland and southeast Pennsylvania and later spent a decade at the National Right-to-Work Committee before spending the last 15 years with the Americans for Limited Government organization. He’s also been active on the political end, managing a number of Congressional, state, and local campaigns.
monoblogue: Obviously you’re an advocate for limited government, simply based on the name of your organization. With the recent election of Barack Obama and the promise of a more powerful federal government, how do we sell the benefits of limiting government when millions of people want to get their piece of the bailout, either via their employers or their mortgage companies?
Wilson: As a country we are at or very near the tipping point. With approximately 40% of the population now dependent on government support and 60% doing the supporting, the first step has to be to do no more damage. Organizing the producers of income to defend their position is the first and most important step we and others interested in restoring Constitutional government have to take. No American likes to be conned or ripped off. But that is exactly what is happening. Constantly pointing that out, giving examples, and providing ways and platforms for those paying taxes to fight back is our primary objective.
monoblogue: With that said, Obama won because he promised “change”, and many of his promises involved increasing spending in a number of areas. What do you see as the biggest threat on the Obama agenda?
Wilson: There are almost too many to list. Money to do many of the things Obama promised will simply not be available. The government is already putting the country in position for a massive inflationary cycle. Every new spending item only will make it worse and longer. So, I am betting Obama will push the ideological, non-spending items. Things like union-boss privileges with Card Check or forced local unionization, the gag law known as the “Fairness Doctrine,” and every loony environmental scheme Al Gore can come up with. These actions taken one by one may not appear to have that much impact. But taken together they comprise a radical shift in power.
And, of course, trumping all of this will be the Obama defense policy. Keeping Robert Gates was designed to calm fears. But with zealots like Barney Frank calling for a 25% reduction and key slots manned by anti-defense advocates, this could be the one ultimate battle everyone will have to fight.
monoblogue: Now letʼs look on the other side of the aisle. Many conservatives arenʼt fans of President Bush, and in many respects itʼs because he grew the federal government in a number of areas. While you and I probably agree thereʼs a number of programs and initiatives ripe for criticism, which Bush-era program do you think was the worst offender?
Wilson: Many of our supporters would say the so-called Patriot Act was the most offensive because of its destruction to civil liberties. I believe the most long-term destructive policy advanced by the Bush Administration is the $700 billion give-away package to Wall Street. Bush has legitimized attacks on the very concept of free markets. This one action will be seen as igniting an inflation bomb that, when it explodes, will destroy the savings and livelihoods of millions of families. Absent the bailout, I would have said No Child Left Behind. The federalization of education has accelerated, and will continue to exacerbate, the downward spiral of education in America, affecting the future of everyone in the country for the worse.
monoblogue: There is some tension in the conservative movement between those who favor a strict limit on the size and influence of government and the social conservatives who look to the federal government in order to limit or eliminate abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Does the limited government ALG favors leave an exception for social issues?
Wilson: Yes and no. Our view of limited government is based on the clear intent of the Founders for localities and states to run their own affairs. Those advocating a variety of social issues have seen great success on the local and state levels. I see our efforts running in parallel – to the extent we and others working in the area of limiting government succeed, social issue advocates will find they can expand their successes. Where we will not agree is looking to an all-powerful federal government to impose any set of cultural policies on the entire nation.
monoblogue: In that same vein, does the definition of limited government as you see it call for a non-interventionist foreign policy?
Wilson: Again, yes and no. The federal government’s primary responsibility is the common defense. And, I have no doubt that ensuring that common defense will from time to time require the U.S. to be very interventionist. But as a rule, any government powerful enough to intervene in the affairs of other countries on a whim is just too powerful and should be cut back.
monoblogue: On the federal level there have also been attempts to enact a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and a call for term limits for members of Congress, with the argument that these would encourage a more limited government because members would have to prioritize spending and not be quite as likely to dole out pork to ensure perpetual re-election. Does this also fit into the scope of limited government as you see it or is that too much intervention in the process?
Wilson: It does fit into our view. For nearly 150 years of our history, men and women were elected to Congress, stayed a short period and, for the most part, followed the intent of the Founders by returning back home. Government started down the road to becoming the massive, centralized beast we see today when politicians began staying for longer and longer periods of time. Term limits were debated at the Constitutional Convention, but were thought to be unnecessary – which proves that even the great ones miss now and again.
The “process” has been so distorted and mutated by those looking to build power bases and expand the reach of government that now only counter-intervention can restore the rights of the people and return us to a system of true self-government.
monoblogue: Certainly the impact of big government isnʼt just felt at the federal level but at the state level as well. Given the number of governors forming a line to receive a federal handout from the bailout money, are there leaders we can point to at the state level as good examples to follow in limiting government?
Wilson: Absolutely. Mark Sanford in South Carolina has drawn a clear line in the sand over spending, taxes, and individual liberty. Rick Perry in Texas has been a leader, too. As for that mob of Governors running to the federal government for handouts, they really are pathetic. Having spent money like fools in the good times, they are now refusing to take the necessary steps to put their fiscal houses in order. They know they are spending more than they can ever hope to legitimately pay. But rather than rein in their wretched excesses, they go begging the Feds pay their bills. As for those ideologically blind who push for higher taxes, I believe they will find a very hostile and energized public.
monoblogue: In the previous election cycle, a number of Presidential candidates and others formed groups to finance chosen political candidates in the form of political action committees – some examples are Fred Thompson starting FredPAC, Mike Huckabee creating HuckPAC, and the Our Country Deserves Better PAC formed by Howard Kaloogian in California. Since itʼs not apparent that Americans for Limited Government participates in that arena, is this something ALG will be exploring for the next election cycle?
Wilson: ALG has no plans for a PAC that would spend hard dollars. Frankly, we have no desire or intent to be strip-searched by the Thought Police of the FEC. That said, ALG has and will continue to engage in free issue discussion. The Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC sets out clearly the path to get in the middle of the debate without surrendering First Amendment freedoms to the bureaucrats of the FEC. We intend to be very active in speaking out.
monoblogue: Given that there will be 35 Senate seats, all 435 House seats, and 37 governorships up for grabs in the 2009-2010 election cycle, who would you most like to see ejected by the voters the next time theyʼre on the ballot?
Wilson: Oh, that is a long list. There is Harry Reid in Nevada, arguably one of the most ruthless hacks in Congress. And, it can be argued that Barney Frank has done more damage to America than any other single member with his defense of the theft by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As for Governors, I would personally hope that any of them who abdicated their responsibility by running to Congress for bailout money would be kicked to the curb.
monoblogue: ALG is trying to expand its influence on the internet with the Daily Grind update that you edit (and I subscribe to) along with the formation of the NetRightNation website, which promises to harness the power of thousands of grassroots bloggers to influence policy. While you are making steps in the right direction, what other steps are you contemplating to combat the massive Obama propaganda organ and e-mail machine?
Wilson: Building traffic to our sites and expanding our email outreach capacity is the first step, of course. But it will have to go a lot further. The real genius of the Obama operation was that he melded new media outreach with a wide reaching old-style on the ground organization. The GOP and many conservatives seem to miss that point. At the end of the day, boots on the ground capture turf. The Internet, with all the new and expanding methods of communication, is a tool for organizing on the ground. Our goal is to unite a growing Internet based presence with on-the-ground organizing in selected locations aimed at having maximum impact on the legislative and political process.
Once again, my thanks to Bill for participating in what turned out to be an excellent exchange along with thanks to Alex Rosenwald of ALG for helping to set things up.
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