“I don’t see any way that Hillary Clinton won’t be president.” Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who currently chairs the free-market advocacy group FreedomWorks (full disclosure: I used to work there), made headlines with that assessment earlier this year at a Conservative Leadership Conference. In a conversation with National Review Online, Armey confirmed that he does indeed think Hillary will win, but he also said he and his group do not intend to spend 2008 on the sidelines.
“This is a case where you’ve got to start setting off the alarms early,” he says.
FreedomWorks is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to expand its e-mail list from 142,000 members to 1 million between now and the election, according to vice president for interactive media Chris Kinnan. The idea is to create a political movement on par with MoveOn.org, only fighting for the right ideas. Armey claims that one issue in particular is going to motivate people to get involved: HillaryCare.
“The unfortunate thing is, especially the way things are going electorally, [that issue] is probably going to be a defensive issue from our point of view,” Armey says.
You have to predict she will win the election. There is no doubt about it; Hillary’s going to have her way on that. She doesn’t take no for an answer very easily, and she’s going to come back with a vengeance on this — this effort to nationalize our health care system.
Armey explains carefully how he plans to be involved in 2008: “We are not a partisan organization,” he says of FreedomWorks.
We don’t work on behalf of one political party or another. But we do work on behalf of liberty, and HillaryCare is about a reduction in your freedoms. As a consequence of that, I think you can get a lot of people very actively involved, saying, “We’ve gotta stop this thing. We’ve gotta stop the emergence of the electoral configuration that will make this possible. Because she’s serious. She means it.”
“The best way to keep a person from diminishing your liberties is to keep them out of office,” he says.
FreedomWorks faces a couple of obstacles to having the kind of impact MoveOn’s been able to make. For one thing, it has a narrow focus on economic issues, whereas MoveOn supports just about every bad idea the left can come up with; the site has capitalized particularly on the left’s antiwar fervor. FreedomWorks doesn’t get involved in national-security debates. However, Armey says that his group focuses on an issue that has just as much potential to rile up the conservative base, and that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel has handed him a great gift by proposing a trillion-dollar package of tax hikes.
“Charlie Rangel says he’s going to redistribute a trillion dollars worth of income,” Armey says.
Now, Rangel is saying he’s going to wait until he gets the new majority he knows is coming, a bigger majority in the House. But I think that a lot of the people in this country — small-government conservatives like ourselves — are saying this is a dangerous thing. Charlie Rangel is serious about this, and he’s very likely to have the configuration of personnel in office in Washington that would allow him to pass legislation to achieve those types of objectives. So it’s very likely we can get people to jump on these tax battles.
A second obstacle is FreedomWorks’ tax status, which prevents it from directly advocating the election of public officials. Through its PAC, MoveOn spends millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates — mostly thanks to billionaire financier George Soros. FreedomWorks is trying to stay out of that game, but Armey says it hasn’t taken the option off the table.
“We talk about that off and on,” he says, “A PAC would be a good instrument. I just don’t think at this point we have the kind of resources available to be able to ship it out the door in a PAC as opposed to taking care of the business that’s staring us in the face.”
I certainly have no problem intellectually with a PAC. You just follow the same rules: You don’t give contributions to someone just because they’re in a political party of your choice; you give the contributions to the people who are fighting for the things you hold dear. As long as you understand the difference, then I don’t think you have to worry about getting yourself in trouble.
One of FreedomWorks’ defining achievements came back in the early 1990s (when it was called Citizens for a Sound Economy). It organized a major grassroots effort to defeat Hillary’s first attempt to nationalize health care, following Clinton to rallies in a broken-down ambulance to symbolize the future of health care under her plan.
If memory serves, Dick Armey also had something to do with defeating that plan. But he and FreedomWorks will face a much tougher political environment if a future president tries to turn over control of the nation’s health care system to the government – especially if, as Armey predicts, that future president is Hillary.