As we switch to a session of Congress with Republicans in the majority of the House of Representatives, the Republican Liberty Caucus’s newly released Liberty Index ratings for 2009 provide an important reminder of the positive impact that being out of power — and in the minority — had on Republican legislators. With a clear anti-liberty, big-government agenda coming from the White House and the Democrat leadership, Republicans embraced their role as the “party of no” in 2009 and were more true to basic principles of limited government and individual liberty than they have been in many years. Our Liberty Index, which has been compiled every year since 1992, reflects this environment with more high ratings on both the Personal and Economic Liberty scales than ever before, particularly in the U.S. House.
A not-so-surprising standout in the House of Representatives rankings is Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is the first member of Congress in the history of the Liberty Index to score a perfect 100/100 in the Economic and Personal Liberty components of the index. Flake was not alone at the top, with perennial top scorers Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) not far behind. They both scored 100 on Personal Liberty and 96 on Economic Liberty because of problematic votes on earmarks and a technology bill. Other than these minor exceptions, Paul and Rohrabacher were outstanding champions of liberty.
With Democrat spending completely out of control, many Republicans were given an opportunity to oppose their policies and as a result score very well on Economic Liberty. Forty-eight House members scored perfect 100s on Economic Liberty. Personal Liberty scores were less consistent, though 115 House Republicans scored in the Libertarian quadrant on their combined scores.
Senate Republicans were somewhat less impressive than their House allies, but five did manage to score perfect 100s on the Economic Liberty scale. Because of the types of votes that came up in the Senate, it was more difficult to score well on Personal Liberty, but 31 Senate Republicans did have combined ratings in the Libertarian category.
In both houses Democrats scored substantially less well on both Economic and Personal Liberty issues. Two-hundred and twenty-five Democrats in the House and 36 in the Senate scored so low that they were scored Authoritarian, siding with increasing government power and reduction of civil and personal liberties. Three House Democrats, all from California and including outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, scored perfect 0/0 results, voting against liberty on every major issue to come before them. Senate Democrats did somewhat better, especially on Personal Liberty, but Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), who was fortunately never elected to office, was the one Senator to score an imperfect 0 on Economic Liberty.
In many cases the deciding issues which separated those who did well from those who did poorly were votes that were split on non-partisan lines, particularly over issues of military spending, foreign policy and national security, where both parties have strong internal divisions. Many Republicans are rejecting the policies of the Bush era and moving toward limiting America’s overseas commitments, while some of the most powerful Democrat leaders remain committed to a policy of war and nation building. And, of course, many of the important votes where Republicans took a stand against bigger and more intrusive government were votes where their efforts were doomed and produced nothing more than good ratings on this index due to their minority status.
The Liberty Index is based on forty roll call votes, twenty on issues of Economic Liberty and 20 on issues of Personal Liberty in each chamber. The votes are compiled and analyzed by Professor Clifford Thies who holds the Eldon R. Lindsay Chair of Free Enterprise in the Economics Department of Shenandoah University. He is assisted by an anonymous panel of experts who have worked with him on the project for many years. This year his work is dedicated to the late David Nolan, whose system of charting political ideologies has been a valuable tool for educating voters and promoting libertarian ideas.
The full results of the 2009 Liberty Index are available in PDF format from the Republican Liberty Caucus, including charts of the distribution of the ratings and detailed analysis by Professor Thies. For comparison you can find past results going back to 1991 in the RLC archives.
This year’s results are unusual because the Republicans in Congress were both in the minority and the opposition party. With the Presidency and total control of the Congress, the Democrats advanced an ambitious statist agenda. This agenda involved raising taxes, increasing regulations, huge subsidies for green industry, and a very significant increase in the federal government’s involvement in health care. Although not so well-known, the agenda also involved the nanny state, political correctness, national service, and government-funded propaganda. Resisting these changes made many Republicans look more libertarian, a shift which appears dramatic, but is largely the result of circumstance.
What remains to be seen is if — once they are back in a position of power — Republicans will continue this pattern and listen to the mandate of voters who clearly want them to pursue a policy of controlling spending and limiting government power. Will Congressional Republicans become more than the “party of no?” Can they develop a positive agenda which will roll back spending and reverse the erosion of individual liberties when they are under less pressure and feel more secure?
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