Only Senate can stop Big Labor wrecking ball

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
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Collectivist agenda sets sail in U.S. Congress

Election Day 2008 gives us little reason for optimism or good cheer. The economic news is bad and is getting worse. The unambiguous winner from this nonstop maelstrom is Barack Obama, who will likely sail through to the presidency. His meteoric rise is a once in a lifetime phenomenon.

Obama deserves top marks for running an astute campaign that revealed his personal steadiness under fire. He handled the inflammatory race question with tact and discretion. He should stand acquitted of the guilt-by-association charges with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. What remains are the profound symbolic gains of his anticipated victory. Many will genuinely rejoice that his administration marks a new age in American life, free of the defensive hostility in the last years of an ever-more embattled Bush administration.

But let's not tarry over congratulations. The key question on Election Day is whether Obama's overall performance merits the endorsement of a consistent libertarian. One point in his favor is that John McCain cannot claim a clean bill of health on that issue. The Evangelical base of the Republican party puts its priority on a socially conservative agenda that spells intolerance on lifestyle issues that leaves this libertarian most unhappy. And McCain has unwisely curried favor on Main Street by denouncing the greed on Wall Street, and bashing the pharmaceutical industry. His wobbly personal performance and weak running mate, Sarah Palin, make it unwise to support or endorse his candidacy, which I don't.

It is, however, a sign of the isolation of libertarianism that a thumb down for McCain does not give Obama the nod in a two-man race. Can't be done. Sadly, on all mid-level issues Obama's program is vastly inferior to the McCain platform. Just wince at the list of his favored initiatives: bailouts and stimulus programs for everyone; another round of windfall profit taxes on oil; subsidies for solar and other alternative energy sources; ethanol subsidies; steeper progressive taxes on the rich and handouts mislabeled tax cuts for everyone else; extensive nationalization of the health care industry; a misnamed Employee Free Choice Act that will ravage labor markets for big and small business alike with its toxic combination of card-check authorization plus mandatory arbitration. I can't bite my tongue hard enough to say yes to such a misguided program.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

So where, then, is my passion on this election? Answer: in the senate. The success of an Obama presidency depends on his being unable to implement his warped economic agenda. And to do that he must be lucky enough to lose a filibuster-proof Senate. Let there be 60 or more Democrats in the Senate and our battered Republicans can do nothing to prevent Obama and the Democrats from wielding a wrecking ball of New Deal proportions to our economic system.

Two different explanations fuel my dread of one-party domination. The first is global. Mark Twain got it right when he said that no person's liberty or property is safe so long as the legislature is in session. We need strong priors before examining particular legislation. I cast my lonely vote with the founding fathers who adopted the complex voting rules of our Republic precisely because of their abiding fear of the leveling tendencies of strong democratic rule (small "d") by simple majority vote.

Globally, therefore, we should welcome any division of power that slows up legislative action. So getting more than 40 Republicans in the Senate--lame, halt or blind--is the first order of business. Three cheers for divided government!

Locally, this global instinct is backed by the grim particulars about the catastrophic Obama initiatives. Obama lives in a moral universe in which his direct perception of hardship and injustice unfailingly triggers a Herculean response. But in each case, his committed view of government assumes that his legislative program--intended to rectify some perceived injustice--cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Not so. He has got to learn that indirect consequences count, and only economic theory identifies them. Until that happens, we should take steps at the polls to see that he cannot road test his destructive regulatory agenda. So begs the libertarian.

- Richard Epstein writes a weekly column for Forbes.com.


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