Steven Greenhut is the vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which operates and provides support to online investigative journalism endeavors and news bureaus throughout the country. He is the founding editor of CalWatchdog, a contributor to City Journal California and a California-based newspaper columnist, whose column is published weekly in the Orange County Register, North County Times in Escondido, Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Reason.com and Human Events. Previously, he was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation” and “Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain.” He has been published widely including in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the New York Times online edition and is a frequent guest on radio programs.
Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.
Welcome to OpenBeast. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
That’s a rather open-ended question! I’m known mainly for my political writings, which are driven by my belief that people ought to be free to pursue their own lives as long as they don’t harm others. I don’t shill for either major party. As a longtime columnist in the nation’s most Republican large county, I spent most of my time humiliating and exposing terrible Republican politicians – the type who yammers about free markets and limited government, but who wants to expand government to fight international hobgoblins, put pot smokers in jail and harass people who cross the border illegally. Of course, Democrats manage to get it wrong on just about everything. I’m an old-time limited government advocate, civil libertarian and believer in the “leave us alone” philosophy. But I’m something of a bleeding heart – I really want to help the poor and downtrodden. But in my years of covering government as a newspaper editorialist, I realized that government is the last thing I want to inflict on anyone. George Washington had it right when he reminded us that government is not eloquence, but force.
I have been married to my lovely wife, Donna, for 28 years. We have three daughters and live out in the country on a few acres outside Sacramento, where we raise a menagerie that includes llamas, goats, chickens, a horse, emus and my favorite, a big white turkey named Lyle who will never be on a dinner table. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and went to college in Washington, D.C. I grew up Jewish but am a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian.
What’s your job performance opinion about our 44th President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden?
Terrible. Awful. Despicable. I actually voted for them because of my dislike of John McCain, who once lost his temper at my colleague during a newspaper editorial board meeting. That’s when I made mental note: “This guy should never be near the nuclear switch.” Other reports from the Senate seemed to confirm his hot temper. And I argued in a newspaper column at the time – the GOP needed to lose the election, regroup and come back to fight another day. So in fairness, I never expected much out of this liberal administration. But even in the areas Obama should be good – war and civil liberties – he has been as bad or even worse than George W. Bush. He is spending the country into oblivion. The administration’s commitment to crony capitalism and bailouts is disastrous for the economy and for the notion that people ought to win or fail based on their own merits, not their political connections. Obama needs to lose, but it’s hard to support the GOP candidates running to fill the slot. In my view, the last good president was Grover Cleveland. I mean that with total seriousness. He was the last Jeffersonian Democrat. I even helped start a group called the Grover Cleveland Social Club, where we celebrate his limited-government legacy and eat his favorite food, sausages, and drink lots of beer and smoke cigars. Highbrow stuff.
Talk to us about your views on the current situation and regime in Iran.
The regime in Iran is troubling and retrograde, but what made the U.S. the emperor of the world?
Do you think Meg Whitman should run again?
Heaven’s no. She ran a disastrous gubernatorial campaign. She assembled a massive staff but took no difficult positions. I voted for the Libertarian, whoever that was. She epitomizes the new breed of soulless Republicans who just want to be in charge but have no real governing philosophy. The GOP is no longer a viable statewide party in California, so the only candidates are rich folks who can self-finance their campaigns. Jerry Brown is a big-spending, tax-increasing liberal, but he ended those awful urban renewal agencies called redevelopment agencies, which ladle out corporate welfare and abuse property rights. I can’t imagine a corporate go-along, get-along type such as Whitman coming up with that idea. So as bad as Brown is, it’s possible Whitman would have been worse. The GOP will never come back to life in California with candidates such as Whitman.
You seem to revolve around limited government, free markets and low taxes. If you have all the power, what one thing would you address first?
That’s the weird thing – if I was given all the power, I would quickly give it away. Libertarians do not believe in central planning or rule by experts. We believe in creative destruction, spontaneous order and the ability of individuals to plan their own lives. But I might play around with the rules a bit. The best real reform I’ve come across would actually increase the number of politicians in the state, odd as that sounds. California has a representation problem. We have one Assembly member for approximately every 480,000 voters. We can’t effect change or even get to speak to our representatives. In New Hampshire, that number is around one statehouse member for every 3,500 or so voters. An activist I know convinced me that increasing representation is the best single reform we can do. A proposed initiative would do that, but it will probably take years before people embrace this idea.
Why are you critical towards Liberal Democrats?
I’m critical toward liberal Democrats for the same reason I am critical toward conservative Republicans. Both parties want to micromanage our lives, take our money and lavish the benefits on their friends. I am a classical liberal – the old term that referred to Jeffersonians before this new crop of big-government types grabbed the moniker. The government that governs best governs least. Democrats want to regulate everything we do in the economic arena. They recognize few limits to political power and few areas of life that are free from state and bureaucratic meddling. That’s worthy of criticism.
What is your typical day like?
I don’t really know yet. I just started a new job working from home and I’m still figuring it out. So far, I like to get up early to do my writing, which is when I think the best. Then I spend lots of time on the phone dealing with editing and management issues. I travel a lot and enjoy heading to the Capitol to write about the Continuing Crisis. Do you remember those “scared straight” programs that were popular when I was in high school? That’s when troubled youth were taken to the jails to be scared into not pursuing the criminal lifestyle. I think all Americans ought to be taken to their state Capitol where they can be scared straight about what happens when they vote for numbskulls. But I digress.
Any upcoming projects or initiatives you would like to disclose?
I’m working with my publisher on a new book idea. Can’t divulge details yet, but I guarantee it features lots of troubling stories about government.
What are your leisure time activities?
I have a hard time relaxing. But I’m trying to spend more time out at the barn with my daughter tending to our animals. I am something of a California geography aficionado, so I like to travel the state visiting its magnificent scenery. I only have five counties out of 58 that I have yet to visit, and I have that route already planned out to get to the other counties. I like to fix up old houses, which comes from my past days as a Better Homes and Gardens building and remodeling editor. There’s nothing like kicking back with a glass of zinfandel, a cigar, good music and my family – although the cigar usually scares everyone away. I love political conversations with my friends, also.