Are you already tired of the presidential debates, where neither candidate truly differentiates himself from the other on the issues that matter? Shouldn't it be rare for us to live in a society where two liars try to out-lie the other liar on national television? Shouldn't that make them “outliars”? Sadly, this is very much the norm in politics. Candidates don’t want to differentiate themselves too much when they’re on live television and standing next to each other. This is in part because it denies us a real chance to see them cover the issues in a meaningful way, as we attempt to make our educated guess as to who we should elect to the most powerful political office in the world.
This is why Jon Stewart’s interview with Rand Paul was so refreshing. Stewart is known for being courteous and fair, even with those he disagrees with. This sets the stage for actually grappling with the larger issues that some politicians would rather avoid. This is not the first time these two have had an ideological discussion over government. Paul was on The Daily Show last year, where he discussed the problems inherent in government spending. Stewart complimented him then on being “the walkiest of the talkers.” This time around, Rand is promoting his new book Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds.
Wednesday night's interview started off on a high, as the act before starred none other than Stephen Colbert, riding into the studio on a chariot pulled by young, shirtless bodybuilders. After Stewart jokingly suggested that Paul could have the same entrance option as Colbert, he becomes impressed with the senator’s predictive powers as to who would win the debate (the show was taped before Romney was declared the “winner”, but aired afterwards)and tries to figure out how Paul got a certain congressman from Texas to write the forward for his new book. After these icebreakers, they both settle down to business.
Essentially, the premise of Paul's book is that the unintended consequences of government regulation hurt real people in real ways. Paul uses a fair amount of anecdotes, presumably from the book, while Stewart tries to drive home his view on how government can also be beneficial. Here is part one of their discussion.
Part two can be found here:
A key issue that Stewart tries to make, that isn’t really answered by Paul, is the difference between wanting smarter government regulation versus no government regulation at all. Stewart has a point about the slight change in rhetoric; Paul uses a tactic I like to call the “at the very least” argument. It’s given to people who fear truly free markets by saying, “hey, you may not accept that individuals can make better decisions and regulations than the government, but at the very least, help us remove the ridiculous regulations that are hurting ordinary people, while simultaneously helping big business." Paul's argument is that things have gotten so bad, that he wants to focus on the problems we can all agree need changing.
This question of just how helpful government regulation is for our lives is obviously important to everyone. For those of us who favor small and limited government, we see how businesses unfairly profit by using the government to stifle competition. Government itself is the vehicle through which big cartels maintain power.
For those who desire more government and more regulation, there is a concern that businesses won’t make necessary improvements fast enough, if at all. We as private citizens need some protection from profit seeking enterprises, enterprises that probably don’t have our best interests at heart.
What pro-regulation types need to do to convince us their way is best is to demonstrate that major improvements really did come about through government regulation, and not through the gradual improvements made on the margin by companies who care about their reputation. They need to show us that government is the only way to solve these problems; that there are no acceptable free market solutions for things like air pollution. Also, that the damage caused by regulation is not greater than any good that might come from it.
For those of us who are not so trusting of governmental interference, we have to convince the other side that we as independent actors and planners can think up better solutions on how to regulate businesses that may want to pollute our air, water, and land. Can we find better solutions than the baby seal killing club of government? This is the argument we have to make.
Regardless of one’s views on governmental regulation, it should be noted that the natural tendency of government is to, much like our waistlines, expand outward. For those of us who understand the need for limited government, the battle will be never ending. As I look at my own waistline, I realize that it’s time to head out to the gym. But I’m happy to report that Rand Paul, Jon Stewart, and I have one thing in common: Unlike government, when we look down, we can still see our feet.