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Eye on the Right: Policy Arguments to Watch in 2009

12/30/2008 12:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At the Drum Major Institute we've been keeping an Eye on the Right. Here are the most memorable arguments (if you want to call them that) we heard conservative think tanks peddle in 2008--arguments likely to be repackaged and regifted as the Obama administration and new Congress enter in 2009.

The Cato Institute: Zoning Ordinances Are More Harmful Than Deregulation

It isn't lax regulation of irresponsible lenders that brought down the economy, but "planners trying to socially engineer our cities." That's right: zoning ordinances caused the financial crisis. In an essay called "Why Government Planning Always Fails," Cato's Senior Fellow Randal O'Toole makes the case that government efforts to protect open space and fund mass transit systems are the real causes of the housing bubble because these government interventions can increase home values.

The American Enterprise Institute: Poor People Lie, So Don't Give Them Lawyers

Legal aid programs are too under-funded to meet the need for lawyers. So every day, Americans with important claims related to their health, housing, sustenance, child custody, and safety are forced to go to court without legal counsel; frequently, they lose their case. Don't worry, says the American Enterprise Institute, those people are probably liars who are unworthy of representation anyway. AEI Resident Fellow Ted Frank argues that providing access to a lawyer to low-income people in important legal matters is a "socially wasteful proposal" that would make it difficult for judges to determine who "is not one of the liars" (apparently, he means those rich enough to pay a lawyer).

The Heritage Foundation: Women Need to Relearn Motherly and Wifely Duties

While it's easy for young women to become rocket scientists, according to Jennifer A. Marshall, Heritage Foundation's Director of Domestic Policy Studies, girls need to understand more about how to become good wives and mothers. While ostensibly talking about issues of work-life balance and how "some [career] dreams come with conditions," in the form of delayed marriage and parenthood, Marshall shows no interest in extending these lessons to young men. Instead, "girls need more encouragement to develop this character of self-sacrifice..." Forget public policies like paid family leave and universal preschool that the rest of the world uses to make it easier for parents to balance work and family. Young women need to stay at home in the kitchen; otherwise they are too selfish.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute: Anti-Energy Jihadists Do More Damage Than Global Warming

Your electricity is in danger, says Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Steven J. Milloy, because environmentalists want to conserve energy before building more coal-fired power plants. "Environmental zealots," he explains, want to "continue their anti-energy jihad against essentially defenseless coal-based electricity producers." Of course, there's no evidence that anyone has actually faced a blackout caused by environmental activism. What's more, coal-fired power plants present human health risks beyond the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming; its toxic mercury emissions can lead to brain damage and nervous system disabilities among adults, children, and developing fetuses. But Milloy comes to the rescue of the poor vulnerable coal industry by suggesting that they deny the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming all together. With his organization relying on support from the oil industry, what else can he do?

The Hoover Institution: Bush's Tax Cuts Are the Road to Economic Recovery

The ideas of Herbert Hoover never go out of fashion at his think tank. Hoover Institution fellow John F. Cogan teamed up with American Enterprise Institute fellow R. Glenn Hubbard to insist that the nation must balance the budget and retain the Bush tax cuts even in the face of economic crisis. "Taxes would choke off the [economic] recovery," they insisted without evidence in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. If tax cuts expire, "the promise of higher revenues would encourage Congress to continue its profligate spending." Retaining the tax cuts while balancing the budget would require the nation to "change entitlements to slow their cost growth" - a slick way of advocating cuts in Social Security benefits - but "increasing the size of the Defense Department's procurement budget by 25 percent" is somehow to them the farthest thing from excessive.

The Manhattan Institute: Poor People Don't Work, and Behave Badly

According to Manhattan Institute Fellow Steven Malanga, "In America, the poor don't work." Call the Census Bureau! Someone has lost track of more than 9 million working poor Americans - and the families they're trying to raise. Malanga and his colleagues are more concerned about "poor girls without a high school education... having children by a man who won't marry and support them." There's no point in improving their access to childcare or education and job training because "beating poverty in America nowadays is largely a matter of personal behavior." So we need movies that teach the value of staying in school and getting married. Bring your own popcorn.

The Center for Immigration Studies: Immigration Makes America Incoherent

This anti-immigrant organization uses less hateful and inflammatory rhetoric than many of its conservative counterparts, but the overall goal remains the same: terminating virtually all immigration, legal or otherwise, to the United States. Scratch the surface of their work and some familiar right-wing preoccupations with race and culture turn up quickly. In an essay in the National Review online, CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian argued that McCain has not flip-flopped convincingly enough. Because McCain opposed English-only ballot initiatives, supported bilingual education programs for students learning English, and has not taken a hard line against affirmative action in Arizona he "strike[s] at the coherence of the American nation." What's more, McCain dares to have more evolved views on American identity than Theodore Roosevelt expressed in 1918. The Center for Immigration Studies boasts being "the nation's only think tank devoted exclusively" to immigration, but aggressive attacks on McCain's "liberal stances" on global warming and judges suggest a far broader right-wing agenda.