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Dispatch from “Defending the American Dream”

By: 
Jordan Bloom
Source: 
The American Conservative
August 6, 2012

Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream summit is the kind of event at which the mere mention of Scott Walker’s name receives a standing ovation.

That actually went down at the conference’s first plenary session in the Washington Hilton’s basement ballroom on Friday. The governor, in the flesh, received further applause that evening. Were it not for the army of elderly activists in short sleeves and the piped-in John Philip Sousa marches, the staging, with a podium flanked by two AFP torch logos lit up in bright red, might have had a vaguely despotic vibe. But such as it was, Sen. Ron Johnson, radio host Rusty Humphries, and AEI president Arthur Brooks whipped the crowd into a free-market frenzy, kicking off a weekend of training sessions and celebrity speakers for the influential and well-heeled Koch-backed network of activists.

Brooks reiterated an argument he’s been making for some time, that conservatives and proponents of economic liberty must make the moral case for free enterprise. Fairness says Brooks, is not solely a property of liberals, though the left “waves it around like a magic talisman.” Other speakers echoed the same theme throughout the weekend.

It’s a cheerful message that goes well with a movement that sees itself as on the rise. Even Peter Schiff, who was there promoting his new book and speaking on a panel about overregulation, struck a more upbeat note than usual in an interview with TAC: ”There are a few good people now. In the last election cycle we got some people who have gone there for the right reasons, who understand the significance of the problem and what needs to be done. But they’re still a small minority. We need to change the numbers.” Political gains notwithstanding, Schiff’s view of the economy is still bleak:

We always say we’re going to end up like Europe, but the question is whether Europe will end up like us. Maybe Greece is beyond us, but countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland, Austria, Denmark that are there are in much better fiscal shape than the U.S. … [W]e’re in worse fiscal shape than Spain. They’re dealing with interest rates at seven percent. Think about where the economy would be if that’s where we were. The economy would be a basket case. The only difference between us and them is their creditors have figured it out and ours haven’t. Eventually our rates are going to go up and it’s all going to hit the fan.

Schiff is deeply skeptical when countries like Canada are held up as examples of prudent banking regulations that enabled their economies to weather the worst of the financial crisis:

It’s just because they weren’t as reckless. But there are countries that have a lot less regulations than Canada and America, like New Zealand. New Zealand did a great job, and they don’t even have any deposit insurance on their banks. You can look at a country’s success or failure and say “it must be because of their regulations.” That’s just an assumption. There’s no way to prove that.

Sweden, in the last 10-15 years, has moved to the right. They have moved to dismantle safety nets. They’re still there, but they’ve changed a lot. They eliminated their capital gains tax, eliminated the inheritance tax, and are making the country less progressive. They aren’t a free-market paradise, but they’re moving in the right direction. And they’ve been forced to do so because of the problems with their welfare state. But it’s hard, politically, to wean people off a system of dependency once they’re used to it. Norway has done it too. The reason their economies are succeeding right now, relative to a lot of others, is not because they have so much government, but because they have less government than they did and they are moving in the right direction.

Paul Ryan had been slated to speak at the “Hands off My Healthcare” rally on Friday but cancelled, giving rise to breathless and unsubstantiated speculation about whether this indicated he was on the home stretch for the VP nomination.

Saturday’s line-up included a screening of “2016: Obama’s America,” the latest vehicle for Dinesh D’Souza’s case for Barack Obama’s Kenyan anti-colonial mindset. The film, which has already opened in a handful of theaters, is expected to receive wider distribution in the coming months due to a strong initial showing. The interview in the film that makes it slightly more substantial than D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, is an interview with George Obama, the president’s Kenyan half-brother. D’Souza seizes on some controversial written remarks about how an enduring colonial legacy can’t fully explain its failure to grow at the same pace as other postcolonial successes like Singapore, suggesting that Kenya might have been better off had the Brits stayed a bit longer.

D’Souza errs, badly, when he tendentiously suggests these heretical remarks are the reason why his half-brother hasn’t been sending him welfare checks all these years. Elsewhere he says profoundly unconservative things like “if [America] is an empire at all, it’s an empire of ideals.” And it ends with a bizarre mirage, a “United States of Islam” resurgent in 2016 thanks to a schizophrenic foreign policy, as if a gridlocked congress and an indecisive president would be enough to restore the Islamic caliphate.

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