Columns » Warwick Sabin

Trojan man

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In the four weeks since Jim Holt secured the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, political partisans have been arguing about whether or not he is actually a “radical” or “extremist.”

His detractors eagerly point to one of Holt’s recent comments, when he was explaining why he voted as a state senator against expanding pre-kindergarten programs and raising the minimum wage.

“I was an analyst of the Soviet Union [at the National Security Agency] and I know socialism when I see it,” he said. “Our children are not wards of the state. Taking children from their parents and setting a minimum wage is what the Soviets did.”

But that’s not radical or extremist in the eyes of Holt and his supporters, who are tired of being called demagogues.

“If I’m with the people on issues with 70 and 80 percent, how is that demagoguing?” Holt went on to ask.

Never mind that most Arkansans — including those not aligned with the Soviets — favor public education and a higher minimum wage.

Never mind that if 70 and 80 percent of Arkansans actually agreed with Holt, he would be that much more a demagogue, which the American Heritage dictionary defines as “a leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.”

The problem isn’t that Holt is a radical. The problem is that his entire candidacy is dishonest at its core. He is asking us to put him in charge of an enterprise he does not believe in so he can destroy it from the inside.

In this sense, he is part of a breed of conservatives who are responsible for recent and ongoing failures in government nationwide. But as Alan Wolfe asserts in a new article in the Washington Monthly, we shouldn’t be surprised that they failed, because they were never interested in succeeding in the first place.

“Conservatives [are] in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions — indeed, whose very existence — they believe to be illegitimate,” Wolfe wrote. “Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.”

Think about this contradiction in terms of where Holt stands on the issues. For instance, he wants to invest enormous sums of money to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country, which is practically impossible. Yet at the same time his voting record and rhetoric indicate that he is against almost all forms of taxation.

In a fairy-tale world, that would be a heck of a deal. But in the real world, spending more than you have on a hopeless endeavor is irresponsible and, well, incompetent.

But that doesn’t matter if you hate the idea of government. After all, what is the difference between making government fail and stripping the government of its ability to do anything positive? Not much, in the end.

As Wolfe put it in his essay:

“If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. … Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”

With that in mind, an examination of Holt’s policy positions at his campaign website reveals that he has no use for government involvement in anything beyond the military, border control and banning abortion. He considers any other spending wasteful, including almost everything state government does, like education, health care, and unemployment assistance.

In one section, he answers the question, “Which [services or programs] would you abolish?” by saying “The better question would be which ones would I not try to abolish?”

And this is the guy who is asking us to put him one heartbeat away from running state government. He is offering himself for government service the way the Greeks offered Troy that magnificent wooden horse.

So let the party operatives bicker about whether or not Holt is a radical. What’s indisputable is that he hates what state government does yet wants to be in charge of it.


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