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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 11, Issue 26: June 30, 2009

  1. Classical Liberals Led the Battle for Civil Rights, New Book Shows
  2. Despite Shortcomings, Obama’s Foreign Policy Beats Bush’s, Eland Argues
  3. U.S. Politicians Falter on Iran—Again
  4. Federal Soda Tax Is Nothing to Drink To
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Classical Liberals Led the Battle for Civil Rights, New Book Shows

From 1776 until well into the twentieth century, classical liberals led the fight against racial discrimination in the law. As immigration advocates, they defended the “natural right” of migration to America. Unfortunately, because they do not fit neatly under the contemporary labels of “liberal” or “conservative,” classical liberals have not received due recognition for their achievements. That may change with the publication of the first collection of writings on race and immigration to document the role of the classical liberal tradition, Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, edited by Jonathan Bean, Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and professor of history at Southern Illinois University.

Citing such influential Americans as Thomas Jefferson, Louis Marshall, and Frederick Douglass, plus those missing from other books and heretofore lost to history, Race and Liberty in America demonstrates the major impact of classical-liberal thought on race relations and investigates how it helped shape both law and public opinion. Each chapter investigates a specific time period in American history, including the Revolution, the antislavery movement, post–Civil War reconstruction, the Progressive Era, the Republican era of the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II, and the civil-rights era. The book presents dozens of speeches, letters, court decisions, editorials and other documents that show that classical liberals were at the forefront of the fight against America’s racial inequality.

Race and Liberty will interest readers tired of the Left and Right debates on television or the Left on Left offerings in the classroom,” writes Jonathan Bean in the book’s introductory chapter. Author Shelby Steele writes, “Race and Liberty in America is the race and civil rights anthology we have been waiting for.” Juan Williams, senior correspondent for National Public Radio, writes, “If you are interested in the real history of the civil rights movement in America—the radical ideas that set it in motion no matter where they came from—get ready for an intellectual thrill ride.... Race and Liberty in America is full of revelations and stunning in its honesty.”

Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, edited by Jonathan Bean

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2) Despite Shortcomings, Obama’s Foreign Policy Beats Bush’s, Eland Argues

Although he criticizes President Obama for escalating the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland argues that Americans are better off with Obama’s impure brand of foreign-policy realism than with his predecessor’s neoconservative interventionism.

In his latest op-ed, Eland describes the different approaches to foreign policy pursued by U.S. policymakers. The country’s founders, he argues, were “realist minimalists with a twist.” They believed, for example, that intervention abroad undermined liberty at home. However, their noninterventionist realism fell out of favor in the late 1800s.  In the early twentieth century, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson exemplified a crusader mentality that favored foreign-policy interventionism. “Realism” returned in various guises, but even when it was not pure, it tended to be better for Americans than a policy of liberal interventionism (à la Woodrow Wilson) or neoconservative crusading overseas (à la George W. Bush).

“Obama’s pragmatism in foreign policy is more reassuring than the messianic meddling overseas of George W. Bush,” writes Eland. “But if Obama is to avoid a common pitfall of realism—a dearth of values—he needs to value liberty at home above all and promulgate a restrained foreign policy that will preserve it.”

“Is Barack Obama’s Realism Better than George W. Bush’s Idealism?” by Ivan Eland (6/29/09)

Video: Ivan Eland on Obama’s first 100 days

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

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3) U.S. Politicians Falter on Iran—Again

John McCain and Barack Obama faltered in their recent comments about Iran’s recent protests, according to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. McCain (and others on the right) erred by attempting to score political points domestically, whereas Obama erred by discounting the differences between Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose post-election challenges run counter to the country’s leading cleric.

“Nobody who openly disobeys Ayatollah Khamenei and places electoral legitimacy—and therefore government by consent—above the word of God emanating from the supreme leader, can be compared, until he proves otherwise, with the regime he is fighting against,” writes Vargas Llosa in his latest op-ed. “Mousavi’s followers obviously see it that way—including the women who march holding signs in English, Satan’s language, or the students who tell us their revolutionary tales through Western technology, for whom Twitter, YouTube and Facebook mean what Gutenberg’s printing press meant for Europe’s Renaissance.”

Vargas Llosa also notes that Iran’s reformists can draw upon a tradition of liberal democracy that had long been suppressed. In 1906, for example, Iranians limited the power of the shah and forced him to accept an elected parliament and a liberal constitution. Unfortunately, Western powers thwarted Iranian liberalism in the 1920s when they backed a coup by Reza Pahlavi, and again in the 1950s when they helped topple Prime Minister Mossedegh, which served to create resentment of the West and momentum for the 1979 revolution that brought the Iranian theocrats to power. Western politicians faltered then, and they are faltering yet again.

“Not Their Finest Hour,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/24/09) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Lessons from the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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4) Federal Soda Tax Is Nothing to Drink To

More than two centuries after Alexander Hamilton proposed taxes on “demon rum” to help pay off the nation’s Revolutionary War debt, sin taxes on beverages are again in play as Congress looks for ways to finance President Barack Obama’s proposed health-care reform initiative. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart explains why this is a bad way to fund health reform.

For one thing, the soda tax barks up the wrong tree. It’s a stretch to argue that sodas have significantly contributed to nationwide obesity because, writes Shughart, “soft drink sales have already been declining for the last nine years without a federal excise tax.” Moreover, excise taxes punish responsible consumers as well as those who overindulge, and they would fall more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy.

“Today it may be carbonated soft drinks,” Shughart cautions. “Tomorrow, it may be ethnic food, coffee, bacon and eggs, hot dogs and red meat.”

“Taxing Soda Pop Is No Way to Fund Health Reform,” by William F. Shughart II (San Jose Mercury News, 6/24/09)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

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5) This Week in The Beacon

If you haven’t done so yet, please be sure to check out the past week’s offerings from the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon.

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