[Flashback interview] Retired Senator Malcolm Wallop: “Frontier Freedom”

“America needed to define its interests. . . . The first, foremost obligation is defense of the homeland. . . . (2) We are a trading nation. We need access to our markets and we need for those markets to be reasonably secured. . . . (3) We are a communicating nation which needs access to space, access to the seas. (4) We are a studying nation. Scholarship from science is important to the whole world and those people need to be able to be safe and secure in what they do. (5) Our hemisphere is quite important. If there’s not security in our hemisphere, there’s not security in the homeland. (6) Finally we are a nation with some conscience. It means alliances are extremely important when they’re based on a national interest. We have to have the ability to sustain our presence within those alliances.”

wallop

by Rick Henderson & William H. Mellor III*

November 1, 1995

In the introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 1996 , Michael Barone asserts that the election of 1994 signaled that the nation seems to be returning to a “Tocquevillian America, to something resembling the country that French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831 and described in his Democracy in America. Tocqueville’s America was egalitarian, individualistic, decentralized, religious, property-loving, lightly governed.”

Ironically, the elected official whose public statements and voting record may have most clearly articulated this new Tocquevillian vision retired in 1994. Republican Malcolm Wallop had been the senior senator from Wyoming and had advanced a principled, limited-government agenda over his three terms.

In the mid-1980s, he argued that the Food and Drug Administration should be stripped of many of its regulatory powers, envisioning an agency that would, like a medical version of Underwriters’ Laboratories, endorse high-quality drugs and medical devices but that could not prevent consumers from buying unproven remedies. He was a consistent tax cutter, leading a Senate revolt against George Bush’s 1990 budget deal, much to the irritation of then­ Minority Leader Bob Dole. And he served as a sounding board for individuals and business owners beaten down by government environmental, safety, and financial regulations.

Wallop may be best known for his views on national security issues, many of which were ridiculed until the Soviet Union imploded. Before Ronald Reagan used the term “evil empire” to describe the former Soviet Union, Wallop regularly denounced the Soviets, saying arms-control treaties dignified communist regimes on the world stage and that the United States should try to topple communist dictators instead. He was an early advocate of strategic defenses and continues to support them enthusiastically. His 1987 book The Arms Control Delusion offered what turned out to be an accurate view of the Soviets’ aggressive intentions even though the Cold War would soon abruptly end.

Most recently, Wallop served on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, the group headed by Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebr.) and Jack Danforth (R-Mo.) that was charged with recommending changes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal pensions. When the commission issued a preliminary report in August 1994 spelling out the long-term fiscal shortfalls in Social Security, Wallop refused to endorse it, writing in a letter to Kerrey and Danforth, “I believe that no one is entitled to the earnings of others, and…the first step towards reform should be to dispel the notion that any social welfare spending is automatic and irrevocable.” The 104th Congress is now contemplating changes that would terminate the open-ended entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid.

Wallop briefly contemplated a campaign for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, but the challenge of fund raising (and Wyoming’s tiny base of three electoral votes) ended that quest. Had Wallop remained in the Senate, he undoubtedly would have aligned with such freshmen as Spencer Abraham (Mich.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), and Rod Grams (Minn.), aggressively anti-regulation and skeptical of large-scale social-engineering schemes. But he’s on the outside now, overseeing Frontiers of Freedom, an advocacy group he started to promote his issues while his presidential hopes remained alive.

Wallop spends about half his time working for Frontiers, the rest on his ranch in Wyoming.

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REASON Washington Editor Rick Henderson and William “Chip” Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice, interviewed Wallop in the Arlington, Virginia, office of Frontiers in late June.

Reason: Over the past few years you have been identified as the champion of a number of issues that are suddenly starting to resonate: property rights, reform of the Endangered Species Act, entitlement reforms, national security issues. Where do these issues stand right now?

Malcolm Wallop: They’re big issues from which political players are seeming to flinch. The property rights issue resonates all over America. It was in the Contract, and all of the sudden you see both the Senate and some House Republicans beginning to try to make cautious constraints on their erstwhile enthusiasm. I think it’s a big mistake.

Reason: Are you suggesting that the “Republican Revolution” has stalled? Are you sounding a death knell for that revolution?

Wallop: No. I really don’t think that. Stalled, or stuttered, perhaps. I don’t find among the freshman class or others who were working on these issues before that there’s any hesitation about where we want to go. If it is a death knell, I think it’s the death knell for the leadership.

Reason: In the wake of an overwhelming mandate for dramatically reducing government intrusiveness, we see both the House and the Senate currently debating such proposals as a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and national ID cards issues that would seem to be at best a distraction from the election’s mandate. Is this a failure of the leadership, something lacking in the Republican Party, or just a momentary distraction?

Wallop: These are distractions, and the worst part is that they are totally anti-Republican distractions. They are not the kinds of issues that Republicans ought to be wrapped around. Republicans ought to be in the trenches opposing them.

We don’t need a nation that has national identity cards. It’s insanity for a party that believes in freedom to allow some Republicans to seize an agenda that is totally alien to the agenda that was established in the election. My class and above in the Senate is full of people who hear the old political music. Some of them have even said, “What revolution? I didn’t see one.”

This fall, with the reconciliation of the budget and debt limit, our leadership will be pushed back. If they are not pushed back, the [party's] new members will still be seriously devoted to these issues. And if the new members don’t have their ideas accommodated by a major effort on the part of the leadership, then once again you’re back to the point that I was talking about a year ago in National Review [the emergence of a major third party].

The Ross Perot phenomenon was not about a passion for a man with a squeaky voice and big ears. It was the belief that maybe politics-as-usual could be changed. There is no other explanation for such instantaneous support from 31 percent of the country.

When Ross Perot announced, the Bush people in the Republican Party didn’t even remotely understand it. They said, “Well, since Perot said he wasn’t going to run, all those votes will come back.” They didn’t come back. People had been liberated from that connection [to the Republican Party] and they were looking for a party that really had another idea about where government ought to go. Perot never really articulated that idea, but his vote didn’t fall.

Republicans forget that we were born out of the ashes of the Whigs, a party in a time very much like this time, that could not take a position on the significant issue of the day the abolition of slavery. The Whigs and the Democrats were two big-government parties who more or less accommodated each other and were arguing with each other about variations on a theme which party would be the more kindly owners of slaves. It isn’t that different from what the public perceives as the distinction between the Republicans and Democrats today.

Reason: You’re a strong supporter of devolution, of decentralizing functions from the federal government down to the state or local level. What is the ultimate end in federalism?

Wallop: The ultimate end is a nation that lies under the concept of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is such an extraordinary statement it was designed by people skeptical of government, local or national, but in particular national.

Then the Bill of Rights came along. The idea that government was supposed to be empowered by the people runs right through all those first 10 amendments. And the fascinating thing about that is that it’s almost an instruction to stay skeptical. Not to believe the government has no place, but to believe that government’s only place is the one that is generated by the will of the people, who are citizens of it, not subjects to it.

If the Republicans think that by having stated and even achieved most of the Contract that they are therefore entitled to the acceptance and favor of the American voter, they’re crazy. We have a long way to go from the Contract to a government that accepts skepticism as part of its rationale, as part of its basis for governing.

You talked about national identity cards and the terrorism bill. We have made a government that has grown used to viewing us as subjects, has grown used to seeing its role as commanding us.

Reason: Congress has scheduled hearings on federal law-enforcement abuses at Waco and at Ruby Ridge. Could current elected officials or the press learn some lessons from these events?

Wallop: Oh yes. They already have. [FBI director Louis] Freeh didn’t demote [former Deputy Director Larry] Potts for any other reason than that these hearings were coming. ABC hasn’t run a series of stories of how Waco might have ended in a surrender for any other reason than these hearings were coming.

Most Americans are frightened of their government. They’re frightened of the IRS, they’re frightened of the Federal Communications Commission, or the FBI, or the FAA, or whoever and whatever part of government happens to affect your life. People are actively trying to serve government, lest it take notice of them. And they are resenting it big time.

The people are way ahead of politicians on this. And it’s not rednecks, disaffected, disenchanted, angry white males, or militia men. It’s ordinary people.

Look at the Endangered Species Act. You have this apparent contradiction: Seventy some percent of people say it’s important to somehow maintain a specific species’ presence on earth. But if you just ask if species, in general, ought to be preserved, nearly the same percentage of people say that you are entitled to be compensated for it, to have this burden of preservation shared with you by all the American people.

Until people are actually required to face that cost themselves, it’s easier to think of property holders as being somebody like Donald Trump or some rancher than it is to think of somebody who owns 21/2 acres upon which they were going to build a retirement home.

But the Constitution doesn’t distinguish between the stature of property holders. I was in trouble over the last couple of years of my tenure in the Senate because I was against the idea that the federal government would take the water rights of the Church Universal and Triumphant in Yellowstone to satisfy the public’s natural desire to protect the geothermal features of Yellowstone. I was saying that it was up to Montana to determine whether under Montana law the church had a valid existing water right. If it did, and if the government said the church couldn’t use the water because we want to protect creatures, fine, it’s the government’s obligation to buy the water rights.

I have absolutely no doubt that if that land- owner had been named Steven Jones, the issue would have been very clear of course the government has an obligation. The Church Universal and Triumphant was sort of an apocalyptic outfit and therefore not popular.

The previous owner of the water rights was Malcolm Forbes. I’m not even certain he would have had a comfortable political reaction, probably more comfortable than the Church Universal and Triumphant, but people would say, “Hell, he could afford it.”

Reason: The 1994 and the ’95 crime bills have centralized law-enforcement powers, contradicting the Contract’s decentralist message. Might the Republicans reconsider their tendencies to nationalize law enforcement?

Wallop: Republicans are in a constant quandary. They believe in the security of their citizens, and they believe in the suppression of crime. And they live in Washington where crime is visible and the only way they can do anything about it there is through a federal police force. But they seem to have lost the notion of what a federal government is all about.

The idea that we would sit here and mandate the state penal code in order for states to qualify for funds for prison building and the idea of hiring 100,000 new police officers these things don’t make sense. Ruby Ridge and Waco may help the public relocate their ground. That’s what happens when you have a national police force that is acting as a local police force and in each instance they were.

Reason: In the areas of illegal immigration and drug enforcement, the federal government is considering a much broader use of the RICO law and asset forfeiture. Republicans with no resistance from Democrats seem to be absolutely determined to expand the use of both these law -enforcement tools. Is there any chance of getting them reined in?

Wallop: Well, there’d better be. Or again, I sense that here comes a third party. It’s very easy for the Pat Buchanans and others of this world to fan the flames of anxiety of citizens about illegal immigration. And it’s very easy for the Clinton people to propose and the Republicans to embrace the idea that the military might become one of the biggest assets we know of to address these issues.

I’m a big supporter of immigration. Republicans [make a mistake] when they think they’re going to protect jobs by eliminating illegal or legal immigration. It is the obligation of the United States to protect its borders but it’s far more important for that protection to come from a force that is organized for that specific purpose, namely the INS.

Reason: How about the drug war? In particular, abuses of the asset-forfeiture laws have real property rights implications.

Wallop: They do, and I’ll tell you it was all right, in the minds of most Americans, to use RICO and asset forfeiture if they thought you were seizing the property of some Colombian. But when HUD starts using RICO as a challenge to Americans who disagree with it, then the forfeiture laws begin to take on another dimension. My guess is you cannot define them so specifically as to apply only to foreign drug lords.

When you’ve seen RICO-like provisions becoming part of the terrorist bill when we don’t have a terrorist problem then it’s time for Republicans and civil libertarians to say, “What the hell are you doing to the Constitution?”

Reason: Let’s talk about national security issues. Bosnia is collapsing as we speak, Republicans are clearly skeptical about direct intervention there. What should the U.S. response be?

Wallop: On the one hand you have the president and leaders of both parties expressing anxieties about pictures on television and the news of ethnic cleansing and on the other hand you have a sitting Democrat president and the previous Republican president unwilling to put American concepts in play, [instead] using the U.N. as an excuse for a lack of national policy.

The best thing that has happened is that we have validated the idea that there’s no such thing as a multinational force or purpose unless one of the group is ready, willing, and able to do it all by itself. The utter incompetence of the U.N. is literally incomprehensible.

Reason: Should the United States withdraw from the United Nations?

Wallop: Yeah. Certainly for any security reasons. We might want to stay in it for the World Health Organization or other reasons not related to security. But the U.N. is becoming a very articulate tool for national decline. We can’t do anything without their permission, yet we are unwilling to have them command our troops, yet we are willing to commit our prestige to their judgment. And they can’t find a way to act on their own, when their own prestige has been threatened by lack of judgment or an inability to make decisions.

Reason: What general principles do you believe justify military involvement abroad?

Wallop: Historically, this has been a country that operated more surely when it had a doctrine whether it was the Monroe Doctrine or the containment doctrine or any number of other kinds of doctrines and very unsurely when it didn’t have one or had renounced one.

Doctrines provide an architecture for both Republican and Democrat presidents to carry out policies. They weren’t the same from Truman to Kennedy. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford­­ — all of them had a little different idea of what containment was about, but as a general principle, containment of communism was something that appealed to the American people and was the basis upon which a military and foreign policy structure could be invoked.

So with the end of the Cold War, it became increasingly obvious that there was no basis upon which any decision was being made, not in the White House, and certainly because of that, not in the Congress. The defense budget became increasingly a function of the defense of the local economy and had nothing to do with any military purpose.

In 1990, well before the Gulf War, I went to ask President Bush to put together a new American doctrine. [National Security Adviser Brent] Scowcroft was there and I was very skeptically received ­­even with some sort of cynical amusement. They said containment had been necessary because the Soviets had exploded a nuclear bomb, or were about to get the hydrogen bomb, but nothing like that is going on now.

In the few short minutes before I was laughed out of there, I tried to explain that America needed to define its interests. I don’t think they’re very difficult to define. The first, foremost obligation is defense of the homeland. No problem there, I think everybody agrees on that.

We are a trading nation. We need access to our markets and we need for those markets to be reasonably secured. If they’re not, we can’t trade.

We are a communicating nation which needs access to space, access to the seas.

We are a studying nation. Scholarship from science is important to the whole world and those people need to be able to be safe and secure in what they do.

Our hemisphere is quite important. If there’s not security in our hemisphere, there’s not security in the homeland.

Finally we are a nation with some conscience. It means alliances are extremely important when they’re based on a national interest. We have to have the ability to sustain our presence within those alliances…

Reason: You mean like NATO?

Wallop: …particularly like NATO, but not an expanded NATO that has no idea of what its role is in the world. The idea that Russia would be part of NATO is to say that NATO doesn’t have any relevance to us and our national interest anymore. If NATO wants to have a security arrangement with Russia, that’s a little different thing than having Russia part of NATO.

The certain, powerful presence of the United States provides an enormous economic lever to us. When I said this the second time to Bush in late June or early July of ’92, he sort of laughed at it, and said, “I don’t want to be the world’s policeman.” I said, “We don’t have to be the world’s police man, but how would you like to live in a world with no policeman?”

Reason: There are clear differences in the lifestyles of the Eastern and Western United States. A notion of rugged individualism still characterizes life in the West. How much of that is myth and how much reality?

Wallop: It’s not all myth by any stretch of the imagination. [Interior Secretary Bruce] Babbitt is an urbanized Westerner, and he makes the mistake of calling the West the most urbanized part of America. Well, it is. If you look at the map more inhabitants of the West live in its urban centers than in the urban centers of Connecticut, but that’s partly because you can’t live in all the West.

But what Babbitt doesn’t understand is that when anybody moves to the West, the first thing you do is buy a pair of cowboy boots. You identify with what you believe the West to be. The West doesn’t have to sell itself as a haven for rugged individualists.

The West by and large views itself in tension with the federal government, because of the federal [ownership of] land. And therefore, far more skeptical of the presence of government than people here [in the East] who don’t live with that tension.

For most average citizens of Maryland, the idea that the federal government says you can only drive 55 miles an hour is not a whole lot different from a decision their own government would make anywhere in the state. But when you have roads in the West that are 26 miles without a kink in them, nobody believes that their local government [would mandate a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit]. All of the government’s presence in the West, and not just with respect to the land, is far more visible and a far more oppressive part of the ordinary citizen’s experience than it is here.

Reason: Thanks to, among other things, telecommuting, which allows people to live anywhere they want, people are leaving the cities and suburbs of the East and moving to the West. Can the fragile ecology of the West accommodate such massive migration? And will these newcomers indelibly alter the indigenous culture of the West?

Wallop: The presence of the federal government is going to make that [migration] extremely difficult. And the more you have people like Babbitt in there, the more difficult it’s going to be.

Babbitt is trying to make use of the public lands less and less economic for traditional purposes, and more and more a sort of playground and park for visitors. The private lands then begin to have less and less economic value on their own, and therefore will have to be sold in smaller and smaller parcels.

What Babbitt is doing is the worst possible thing for the environment and the West. We have two options: Go back to a full-blown view of multiple use or privatize the federal lands. One of the early concepts of public land was that it wouldn’t be just one big ranch or one big mining operation or mineral or timber operation there would have to be an economic mix that could provide some economic resiliency, assuming that not every commodity, not every use, would be available at the same time. We had a breadth of economic uses. You can’t do that if you assume that any commercial use of federal lands is an affront to the recreational users of it.

My preference would be to privatize. Some people say you’ll lose hunting privileges, but the federal government isn’t going to be a bit more hospitable to recreational users than the private guy who might make a little money off this person because the private owner would give them a better experience anyway.

Reason: Social Security is a major project of Frontiers of Freedom. What are you doing?

Wallop: We’re taking on Social Security as a property rights issue. We figure that every single American has an absolute property right interest in the fruits of his or her own labor. What I work for should be my property.

Along comes the federal government and takes 151/3 percent of that laborer’s fruit and promises that should you die prematurely, the government is happy to be the beneficiary. Should you live to the time of retirement, you will receive benefits which have not yet been described, at an age which has not yet been guaranteed, and taxed at a level which has not yet been identified.

You have no say in how it’s invested or where it goes. You can’t leave it to your widow, you can’t leave it to your children, you can’t retire early and still have the fruits of your labor. I’ll crawl off my libertarian perch far enough to say that we [have] to make savings an obligation, but the savings are yours. You will have a couple of dozen options as to how to invest that or where to save it, but your limit of earnings will be the success of your investments.

Reason: Will Social Security privatization becomes a bigger issue, say, in three or four years, just as tax reform is now?

Wallop: It has to because no tax reform is of any consequence unless it also deals with the payroll tax. You can’t get rid of the IRS as [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill] Archer or others want to do without getting rid of the payroll tax.

There is no more unfair tax right now than Social Security. It takes 15 1/3 percent off of the wages of the poorest earner in this country. And privatization would make each American a share holder in their economy, and interested in where it’s going. Think of what the country could do with this huge infusion of capital that was no longer in the hands of government and in the hands of people creating jobs. And we could get over this goofy idea that growth is an economic detriment.

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* This interview first ran in Reason Magazine.