- - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One of the most encouraging, if underreported, developments of our times is the collapsed career of Nebraska’s soon-to-be former Democratic senator, Ben Nelson. His crucial 60th vote for Obamacare was secured with the infamous “Cornhusker Kickback” deal that ultimately sealed his own demise.

The Obama White House desperately needed Mr. Nelson’s fateful vote to overcome the unified Republican opposition to Obamacare and, when push came to shove, Mr. Nelson voted for the de facto government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, a decision that holds the life and death of every American in the balance. All it took was just a little Washington grease.

Mr. Nelson traded his career and his reputation for Barack Obama’s magic beans. The president offered him a sweetheart deal that would force the other 49 states to pay for Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion, not for a year or two, but forever. Taxpayers in the other 49 states were right to be furious that their president had just sold them out, but this wasn’t Mr. Nelson’s concern. He had just bought off the only voters who mattered to him - or so he thought.

A funny thing happened along the way to the “Europe-ification” of America. It turns out that some voters care more about our nation’s future than the leaders they elect.

Nebraskans aren’t so easily bought off. They understand modern-day America has become a game of three-card monte where everyone is lulled into believing that someone else is paying their bills. But things that can’t go on forever won’t, and eventually everyone is taken. The would-be beneficiaries rejected President Obama’s and Mr. Nelson’s political deviltry precisely because they know nothing is free and the bill would eventually come due, even if it took another form. Dance with the federal devil on Medicaid and soon enough Nebraskans would be forced to bail out Californians or face ever higher income taxes or whatever else Washington wanted to impose on them. Somebody needed to say no. Somebody needed to break the cycle.

Fortunately, Nebraskans are not alone. Witness Iowans’ willingness to just say no to ethanol subsidies.

For years, the conventional wisdom of both Republicans and Democrats has held that the road to the White House starts by buying off Iowans with corn ethanol subsidies in hopes of succeeding in the first presidential caucus state. Even Al Gore himself - at least now that his presidential ambitions are as dead as his claim that he created the Internet - acknowledges that ethanol subsidies are all about buying off voters. “I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa,” admitted the high priest of global warming, “because I was about to run for president.”

So it’s not surprising then that the corporate welfare river flowing to Big Corn has grown deep and wide. The buy-off includes direct subsidies from taxpayers, mandates that customers buy their products, and import tariffs that protect high prices from competition. This has translated into billions of dollars flowing into Iowa and other corn-producing states.

The merits of burning our food supply in our gas tanks, which in turn drives up the costs of both our food and our gas, not to mention damages our cars and causes food shortages around the globe, can be debated elsewhere. The larger point is the inescapable reality that ethanol subsidies create an untenable situation that forces dairy farmers to pay the bills of the corn farmers - and the bills of large corporations involved in the process. In fact, school teachers, mechanics, nurses and everyone else are forced to pay those bills, too.

It’s difficult to find anyone not being enriched by ethanol subsidies who supports them and even more difficult to find anyone being enriched by them who admits their destructive and even shameful nature. But not all Iowans can be bought off so easily.

Witness the success of Republican Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in the Hawkeye State that is turning Washington’s conventional wisdom on its ear. Mr. Paul would like to cut $1 trillion from the roughly $3.5 trillion our federal government spends each year. He doesn’t pretend this can be achieved by simply stamping out “waste, fraud and abuse” - the code words of politicians who lack the courage of real spending cuts. No, Mr. Paul marches straight into Iowa and tells corn farmers that the days of free money from taxpayers is over. Sell all the ethanol you want, he tells them, but you’ll have to pay your own bills.

And how does Iowa respond? Rather than running Mr. Paul out of town at the end of pitchforks, the Hawkeyes instead have embraced the budget cutter’s candidacy. Iowans, like Nebraskans, are smart enough to know that if you allow the government to shove a dollar in one pocket, they’ll swipe two out of another.

Political candidates, in the GOP presidential field and elsewhere, would be wise to take note: Voters will reward courage. And voters should take note: If politicians won’t be courageous, we must.

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a radiologist and President Obama’s cousin. He blogs at miltonwolf.com.