Checking Out The Field
Reason’s June issue has an article looking over the major and minor contenders for the White House in 2008. And it’s not a pretty picture:
If the 2008 presidential election is a baseball season, weâ€™re still in that early, delusional phase when even Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans can dream of a World Series ring. The race for the White House is chock full of hopeless players destined to be sent down to the minors before mid-seasonâ€”and full of superstars who will unexpectedly bust a knee long before the All-Star break and spend the rest of the season muttering in the showers. At a time when candidates have already raised record amounts of money, the polls show tight bunching among upper-division candidates, and the Middle East shudders under daily car bomb attacks, it isnâ€™t at all clear who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations, much less the general election in 2008.
Like another cellar-dwelling season for the Devil Rays, only this much is certain: Whoever comes out on top will give libertarians plenty of reasons to complain. Whether or not most Americans reflexively embrace â€œFree Minds and Free Markets,â€ various polls and analyses suggest that between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters reliably try to cast their ballots for candidates who are both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In an era in which presidential elections are routinely decided by percentages smaller than the rounding errors in Barry Bondsâ€™ monthly BALCO delivery bill, that creates a serious opening for candidates who recognize that being, say, both pro-gun and pro-gay might just grab more votes than trying to squeeze one more win out of the worn-out liberal and conservative playbooks.
Unfortunately, as the article poinits out, even some of the people that libertarians might have high hopes for come up wanting.
Take, for example, Bill Richardson:
Pros: The only governor in the Democratic race is also one of the countryâ€™s most fiscally tightfisted executives. Richardson cut New Mexicoâ€™s income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent, halved the capital gains tax, and eliminated the gross receipts tax. He frequently and explicitly draws a link between lower taxes and economic growth, something rare in a national Democratic politician. He not only supports the right to carry a concealed weapon but holds a concealed-carry permit himself. He sometimes skirts close to libertarianism on other issues, endorsing charter schools (but not vouchers) and medical marijuana (but not decriminalization).
Cons: Richardson has signed a smoking ban and is warming to the idea of a drug offender registry. Thereâ€™s also the lingering issue of his behavior during the espionage investigation of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, when he may have leaked damaging information about Lee, using his power as a cabinet secretary to try an innocent man in the press.
Bottom Line: Of all the Democratic candidates, Richardson would be most likely to cut taxes. And after Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), heâ€™s the most open to reforming drug laws. If the party really wants to make a play for the â€œlibertarian West,â€ itâ€™ll nominate Richardson.
All in all, not bad for a Democrat. Unfortunately in order to get the nomination he would have to pander to the unions and special interest groups that make up the core of the Democratic Party. By the time it was over, a Richardson Administration probably wouldn’t amount to anything that would thrill libertarians that much.
But what, you might ask, about those guys who haven’t even announced their running yet ?
Like Newt Gingrich:
Pros: Itâ€™s a clichÃ© now, but Speaker Gingrich revolutionized Washington, marshalling budget cuts, welfare reform, and still-extant congressional reforms through the House. Since leaving Congress he has been a frequent critic of the floundering, big-spending GOP majority (RIP).
Cons: Gingrichâ€™s record in the House doesnâ€™t hold up under scrutiny. His first term included some substantial successes, but he soon morphed into one of George Orwellâ€™s Animal Farm swine. He frustrated GOP budget cutters by appeasing the partyâ€™s biggest earmarkers, preparing the ground for the corruption that would eventually bring down the Republican Revolution. Whatâ€™s more, if he gets in the race, Gingrich would become the electionâ€™s biggest hawk. He considers Americaâ€™s greatest challenge to be the â€œtransformational warâ€ against the â€œIrreconcilable Wing of Islam,â€ which he has dubbed â€œWorld War III.â€ And he has a closet packed with skeletons. If the Republicans nominate Gingrich, a Democratic victory, possibly a landslide, is highly likely.
Bottom Line: Gingrich is more interested in big ideas and multipoint plans than a coherent philosophy for government.
The highlighted sentence is my work and is, in the end, the reason I think that Gingrich would not make it through the Republican primaries intact. There are some people in the GOP who take things like cheating on your wife and serving her divorce papers while she’s sick in a hospital bed with cancer seriously. And even if you don’t, it’s just a little sleazy.
Okay, then how about Fred Thomspon ?
Pros: Watergate-era Thompson was a dogged investigator of a corrupt White House. Sen. Thompson was a term limits true believer who voted for tax cuts and passed a bill reforming Congressâ€™s labor laws, making legislators follow the same rules private companies have to obey.
Cons: If you go by his second-most-prominent media appearances these daysâ€”filling in for Paul Harveyâ€™s folksy radio commentaryâ€”Thompsonâ€™s worldview is a combination of tough-guy thuggishness and â€œbomb the bastardsâ€ foreign policy. He has taken Gandhi to the woodshed and is a big fan of that musty applause line, â€œIt is the soldier, not the journalist, who has given us freedom of speech.â€ He has praised President Bush for refusing to negotiate with Iran and Syria and, instead, â€œtaking them on.â€ In office he voted for all of John McCainâ€™s campaign finance proposals. He also proudly raised money for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, surely the most ironic career move for a Law and Order prosecutor.
Bottom Line: If he runs, Thompson will be the most pro-Bush Republican in the race; he narrated Bushâ€™s bio films at the 2004 Republican convention. If you liked the Bush era but wished the presidentâ€™s voice had a little more bass, Thompsonâ€™s the one.
As for Ron Paul, I think Reason sums up the reality of his campaign quite nicely:
Bottom Line: It would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could actually win.
But that, quite frankly, isn’t the world we live in.