When conservative writers and thinkers come to San Francisco, it’s a good bet that they’re doing so under the aegis of Sally Pipes’ Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a conservative think tank rather surprisingly located in San Francisco. Sally’s specialty is free-market medical care, but PRI is concerned generally with free markets. Thanks to PRI, I’ve already had the opportunity to hear Jonah Goldberg and Michael Ramirez speak. Today, I added to my collection of scintillating conservative speakers when I attended Stephen Moore’s luncheon talk and book signing. (If you want the book for yourself, it’s called Who’s the Fairest of Them All?: The Truth about Opportunity, Taxes, and Wealth in America.)
If you get the chance to hear Moore, seize the opportunity. He’s a delightful speaker. He knows his stuff, so he doesn’t bother with notes; he’s not shy, so he engages well with the room; he’s an organized thinker so, even when he goes off on a tangent, the tangents are interesting and still relate to the main topic; and he’s quite funny. I’m still snickering over his statement that a friend of his says it’s no surprise that Republicans are the pro-Life party, because they so often end up curled into a fetal position. That’s too true. When the going gets tough — especially when the drive-by media gets nasty (which is always) — Republicans tend to shrink in on themselves, rather than re-taking the field with banners flying.
Moore’s primary topic, which he interspersed with funny anecdotes; ruminations on the wonders of fracking, which will make America one of the giants of the energy world; and on-point (rather than name-dropping) reminiscences about Milton and Rose Friedman and other well-known political thinkers and actors (on both sides of the aisle), was the fiscal cliff. He had the room (and it was the grand ballroom, not some little back room) eating out of the palm of his hand when he said that Republicans should stop negotiating with Obama, because Obama is not negotiating with them. Moreover, to the extent there are budget talks, they should take place in the open, rather than behind closed doors, a process that invites dishonesty and corruption. (Those last two nouns are mine, not Moore’s.)
Moore said that, if he had his way, he would tell the Republicans in the House to pass two bills, one of which keeps the Bush tax cuts in place for everybody and the other of which gives Obama what he told the voters he was going to get: namely, a tax increase on the top 2% (after all, elections do have consequences). Then, House Republicans should pass those two bills on to Harry Reid in the Senate and stand down. Harry Reid then has a problem, which is compounded by the fact that he’s managed to let the United States go three years without a budget. If he has a brain in his head, he’ll realize that the best deal for American tax revenues is to keep the Bush tax cuts in place. As John F. Kennedy (D. Mass.) said in 1962 (and Moore approvingly quoted):
It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now … Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.
Because Reid is long on political game-playing, but short on practical knowledge, he’ll reject the reinstatement of the Bush tax cuts. Instead, he’ll have to go with the tax increase. You know, and I know, and Harry Reid is quickly going to figure out that the tax increase on the 2%, the same 2% that is already responsible for paying a significant chunk of taxes for our underfunded budget, won’t make a dime’s worth of difference to increased revenue and, instead, will almost certainly decrease revenue. The pressure will then be on Obama to cut his beloved government or to be remembered as the president who led America into bankruptcy.
Moore also said that Republicans shouldn’t fight sequestration — which was Obama’s idea back during his last round of serious negotiations with the Republicans — but should, instead, embrace it. The best thing to happen to the federal government would be belt-tightening. Moore acknowledged concerns about the American military but, pointing to stream-lined American businesses, he said that there’s no reason why America’s public institutions can’t do the same — including the military.
Overall, Moore was optimistic about conservativism’s future. His advice was to bypass the Republican party, which is depleted now, both financially and ideologically, and to give any monies we still have lying around after four years of Obama to innovative, energetic organizations and think tanks, such as PRI or the Heritage Foundation. He also said that, if Republicans can manage to hold firm to true conservative values, when things go badly, as they inevitably will, Obama, not Republicans, will be on the defensive. (Can I pat myself on the back here, since I’ve been saying the same thing?)
Moore’s message could be summed up as follows: Be of good cheer. Although things are inevitably going to get worse before they get better, they will get better. Conservative ideas are better, Progressive ideas will fail once they get out of the Ivory Towers and into the market places; and fracking (assuming that Obama doesn’t put a stop to it somehow), will make us the world’s leading energy exporter and will bring production costs down across the board.