No sooner was the body of 2011 state elections getting buried than Democrat New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu began his 2015 campaign for governor, launching the first iteration of a strategy he hopes will break the Republican stranglehold they now enjoy on the statewide executive offices.
If any lesson in electoral politics has become clear over the past two election cycles in Louisiana, it is that, unless your constituency is in a poor urban area or a backwater, you cannot run and win office as a liberal Democrat for a state office, especially of the statewide executive kind. Landrieu realizes this and so has commenced testing a theme that tries to promote him as a centrist through a kind of misdirection, by offering extreme interpretations of what both major political parties stand for and then positing that he rejects both in favor of consensus and the practical. He launched this in a speech at a New Orleans meeting aptly enough sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
By doing so, he practices two different kinds of deception.
One involves the use of straw men, particularly asserting beliefs to Republicans that simply don’t exist. For example, he implied that Republicans, in order to support ideas of smaller and limited government, adhered to the credo that “government doesn’t create jobs,” and then gave obvious examples of government functions and contracting that had employment opportunities attached to them.
But conservatives in the Republican Party never have argued this. Rather, their feelings more accurately would be expressed with a slight alteration to “government doesn’t create jobs efficiently.” Supporters of limited government note quite correctly that whenever government tries to provide a service that can be done by the private sector, the inherent inefficiency of government, due to following political goals instead of incorporating individual goals expressed through voluntary choices made in a market, makes for more expensive provision of the same good. Thus, they argue that government should do things only where there is an absolute need that the private sector cannot adequately fill based upon equity in provision, such as (at the municipal level) provision of public safety, roads, safety measures, etc.
Therefore, they argue that, wherever possible, government should not engage in anything but these activities because otherwise it drives out private sector suppliers, as its power of unlimited compulsory taxation can fund these activities regardless of how efficiently they get run, and forces more resources to be taken from the people involuntarily to pay for them than the citizenry would pay voluntarily to get services if left to private sector provision. And, they also believe even where policy dictates government provision that it maximally be accomplished through contracting out to the private sector, for the same reason of efficient provision.
If Landrieu believes in any of this, he does so tepidly at best. If he did, that certainly contradicts the record he built as lieutenant governor, where in times of fiscal austerity he continually argued for low-priority items. Nor does his current tenure give confidence that he does not firmly believe that government ought to be the provider of many things, such as by his insistence in public building and support of a New Orleans East hospital, instead of settling for private providers with urgent care facilities, in a service area with too many hospital beds already and more coming and where comparable statistics show it cannot operate at a profit.
What Landrieu truly seems to be is a disciple of the “reinventing government” crowd that does not focus on right-sizing government, but making it work better; thus his rejection, for example, of the statement “there is not too much regulation.” Here, he maintained that the structure of regulatory authority could be altered to increase efficiency – without any admission that the scope and volume of regulatory activities was too great. While a laudatory goal, advocates of this view try to make this a substitute for the need of making the size of government appropriate to what it legitimately should be doing, avoiding any discussion about what needs paring. This constitutes his second deception, at least in the sense that he can present himself as anything but an advocate of big government.
The speech Landrieu gave no doubt he will replay in the future in various forms to enable him to draw out its central theme, as he tests it for its success in shaping his image away from what he really is to one that could make him electable as governor in 2015. Discount the rhetoric and consider instead his past record and what he does to reduce the bloat and unnecessary functions of New Orleans city government in the future in assessing whether he really merits future election to the governorship.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:50