Monthly Archives: May 2008

Random Thought For The Day: When Will They Start Hating Us ?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best sign that libertarian ideas have become a real threat to the status quo in the Republican Party will be when the right-wing screed machine starts attacking libertarians.

The minute you hear Limbaugh/Hannity/Levin talking about a Bob Barr or Ron Paul with the same irrational vehemence they usually reserve for anyone who dares to attack the Bush Administration — take a look at what they’re saying about Scott McClellen — we’ll know we’ve arrived.

Personally, I hope it comes sooner rather than later. Because the moment they start attacking individual liberty , they’ll be revealed for what they truly are — statists.

States Rights — Petty Oppression Better Than Widespread Oppression?

I’ve long said that I only support democracy so much as democracy improves individual rights. Likewise, I only support federalism and states rights so much as they improve individual rights. Federalism is a means, and liberty is an end.

And as this story shows, local government doesn’t always lead to more libertarian ends than we get from Washington:

Another unmarried couple is being told by a suburban St. Louis town they’re not welcome.

A man, his girlfriend and her three children recently bought a house in Black Jack in north St. Louis County. But because Toi Pruitt and Joe Pulliam and the children don’t meet the town’s definition of a family, they couldn’t get an occupancy permit.

In 2006, Black Jack revised its definition of a family after initially refusing a permit for Fondray Loving, Olivia Shelltrack and their children. That family had filed a federal lawsuit.

The new ordinance allows unmarried couples as long as the children are related to both. None of the children are related to Pulliam.

The city attorney says he’s willing to fight for the ordinance in court.

To be fair, there are advantages to local power. It’s far easier to oust politicians on a local level, and it’s far easier to leave a locality that doesn’t respect your rights when it’s a city-sized rather than a nation-sized geographical area.

But it can often be harder to change laws like this in local areas, for two reasons. First, these types of infringements occur every day, and often go unnoticed by the media and even fellow townspeople. Because these issues don’t reach a level where the general public is aware, they don’t have the incentive to change the law. Second, simple bigotry may account for a town that democratically prefers to infringe upon the rights of unmarried couples to buy and occupy property. In that case, even if the majority of the town understands that a situation like this is occurring, they may not care.

Remember, “states rights” is but one tactic, that can sometimes lead to greater liberty when it is used in opposition to federal government infringement of rights. But it’s a double-edged sword. Your local government can infringe upon your rights and damage your life just as thoroughly as the federal government can, and it’s just as wrong. Liberty is the end, and we should not lose sight of this goal in our search for tactics that may improve it.

Hat Tip: Radley Balko

The Huckster — “Libertarians Want To Steal Grammy’s Meds!”

It’s obvious to all people with functioning brain cells that the Republican party’s reputation has taken quite a beating over this decade. When it’s been dominated by the profligate spending and mismanagement of the “compassionate conservatives”, Mike Huckabee lays the blame at the people who have been criticizing that profligate spending all along, and makes an utter fool of himself in the process:

What can the party do to reverse course?

Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says “look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it.” Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly. People aren’t going to buy that, because that’s not the way we are as a people. That’s not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it’s just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for.

Huckabee makes two logical errors here.

First, he conflates libertarianism’s goals with methods. The goal is a government that is not providing these services, and a private sector that replaces the government provision of services. The State has been built incrementally over the last century and beyond, and society has grown accustomed to the infringement of their own methods for handling social problems by the government. Most libertarians want to see a dramatic reduction in the State, but understand that the methods must also be incremental. Societies such as post-Communist Russia show what happens when you simply disintegrate heavy-handed state control in a society which does not have the natural infrastructure to support it– the State is replaced by other goons, like the mafia.

Second, he assumes that if government doesn’t provide these social services, all hell will break loose when the vacuum forms. As a Baptist preacher, he above all should understand the amazing capacity that Americans have for voluntary charity. He seems to impugn libertarians with the motives of “well, if all hell breaks loose, it’s too f’ing bad.” Instead, our belief is that the government is an inefficient, uncaring, and ultimately unreliable provider of social services, and that the poor and elderly will be better off and our children will be better educated if we get the government out of the way. After all, government didn’t socialize medicine for senior citizens up until a few years ago, and the world hadn’t ended. Government has constantly been “improving” (read “throwing more money and bureaucracy at”) education for 50 years, and watched as American children have fallen further and further behind our international rivals.

Oh, and I don’t understand what Huckabee’s Republican view of government, “to be as little of it as there can be”, defines him any different from that of a Democrat. His view of “as little of it as there can be” seems to include lots of “compassionate conservative” programs, which sounds like it includes a lot of prescription drugs for the elderly and a big federal education bureaucracy. As is true of most politicians, he’d simply prefer that his team be pulling the strings instead of those dirty liberals.

But, if you can believe it, it gets worse. He goes on to prove that he doesn’t understand a thing about libertarians:

My experience in Arkansas was, a lot of the so-called conservatives said “Let’s cut the budget.” But they wanted to add prison sentences, they wanted to eliminate parole, they wanted to have harsher sentences for various crimes. And I said “OK, that’s fine, but that’s going to be expensive. So which do you want?” You can’t have both

I think most libertarians would tell you that our prisons are FAR too crowded, and that we’re wasting our time prosecuting victimless crimes while actual dangerous people roam free. These “so-called conservatives”– who don’t actually call themselves conservatives, mind you– aren’t usually the ones asking for tougher sentences, mandatory minimums, and fuller prisons. We’re the ones arguing against that!

So it would appear that the Huckster’s main point is that for Republicans to reconnect with electoral success, they need to leave those elements asking for reduction in government behind. Instead, they need to be the party of fiscal responsibility, and not grow government QUITE as quickly as the Democrats want (or spend the money in the same places). Yet government growth hasn’t been a problem over the last 7 years of the Bush administration, and increasing government nannyism has not led to widespread acceptance of Huckabee’s version of Republicanism.

I disagree strongly with Huckabee, if that hasn’t been evident already. It truly says something when potential voters respond to a centrist-libertarian Republican candidate in record numbers, preferring him to an idealized Democrat, even if he isn’t real:

And after the debate, a Zogby poll found that even among the young, liberal-skewing viewers of “The West Wing,” Vinick had crushed Santos. Before the episode, viewers between 18 and 29 preferred Santos over Vinick, 54 percent to 37 percent. But after the debate, Vinick led among viewers under age 30, 56 percent to 42 percent. McCain could only dream of such numbers. Or maybe he should try sounding like Arnie Vinick.

“West Wing” producers were taken aback by the reactions of real live “voters” to their real live debate. After seven years of heroically portraying the honest, decent, liberal President Jed Bartlet–an idealized Bill Clinton who wouldn’t take off his coat, much less his pants, in the Oval Office–they weren’t about to let a crotchety old Republican beat their handsome Hispanic hero. So they conjured up a meltdown in a nuclear power plant that Vinick had supported, and Santos won the election.

I remember thinking that during those West Wing episodes… “Why don’t real Republicans ever sound like this?” If they did, I might have a reason to support them instead of Bob Barr come November.

The Revolution: A Book Review

About half way thought Ron Paul’s The Revolution: A Manifesto, I found myself thinking that he should have written this book before he ran for President, not afterwards, and that his campaign should have handed out as many copies of the book as they could, because it does a far better job of explaining and defending libertarian values and ideas than the candidate himself ever did on the campaign trail.

There’s not really anything original in the book itself; as other reviewers have pointed out, these are ideas that others have written about before and they are, in fact, older than the American Republic itself. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t important or worth reading, however; as Paul’s campaign and recent polls independent of the Presidential race have demonstrated, there still exists an audience that is quite receptive to the ideas like individual liberty, economic freedom, and the idea that things have gone terribly wrong in this country.

In seven relatively short easy to read chapters, Paul touches on issues ranging from economic freedom, to the assaults on civil liberties and personal property that we’ve seen over the past two decades, to monetary policy, and, of course, foreign policy. If you’re looking for a discussion of what’s wrong in America today from a philosophy that focuses on individual liberty, The Revolution is an excellent place to start.

For someone such as myself who has been immersed in libertarian ideas from the day I picked up a copy of Capitalism & Freedom and then moved on to spend the summer after my freshman year in college digesting everything from Atlas Shrugged to John Locke’s Second Treatise Of Government, the ideas that Paul talks about will be entirely familiar, and there will be more than one moment of head-nodding in agreement as you read along. The sad truth, though, is that we don’t live in a country where the majority of the public can really be said to be familiar with the ideas that our nation was founded upon and our Constitution was based upon. And the political leadership isn’t any better; beyond parroting the words of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July or saluting the flag, politicians on both sides of the political aisle pay little more than lip service to the ideas of the Founding Fathers, especially when they inconveniently interfere with whatever it is they want to achieve, whether that’s health care “reform” or campaign finance “reform.”

But that, I think, is what makes Paul’s book so good. I don’t necessarily think that the American people have given up on the ideals of the Founders, it’s just that they haven’t been presented with a political leaders who even come close to living up to them. That, I think, is why Ron Paul, his faults notwithstanding, attracted the vocal, if small, following that he did during the campaign.

There are some disagreements, of course.

I agree with Paul that our foreign policy has gotten too far out of whack, and that the interventionist and pre-emptive war ideas advocated by the intellectuals who got us into Iraq is both unwise and dangerous. That doesn’t mean, however, that I agree with his suggestion that we merely need to look to the foreign policy advocated by the Founding Fathers in the early years of the Republic to tell us how to manage the affairs of a continent-wide nation existing in a world where destruction can come from the skies in a matter of minutes.

The early Founders, and specifically Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were concerned primarily with the survival of a small, weak nation on the coast of a continent that sat across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, where the two most powerful nations on the planet were engaged in a seemingly endless struggle that dated back to the French and Indian Wars. That conflict didn’t end until Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and America was constantly under pressure to take sides, especially in the years after the French Revolution. Keeping America neutral was in our interests because either nation, England or France, could have destroyed the new Republic merely by imposing a blockade on shipping. We simply don’t know what policy Washington, Jefferson, or Adams would advocate in today’s world; they clearly wouldn’t support foolhardly adventures to make the Middle East “safe for democracy”, but I doubt that they’d also adopt the idea that America’s vital national interests end at the shoreline, which often seems to be what Paul suggests.

The other weakness in the book is also one that existed in the campaign itself; a lack of specifics. Paul admits that most of the changes he proposes, many of which are clearly necessary, can only be achieved if Congress supports them. That isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, and it would have been nice if the book had touched even a little on how to get there from here.

On the whole, though, this is a solid introduction to the philosophy of freedom, and far better reading than yet another devotional to “hope” and “change.”

Quote Of The Day

Jerry Pournelle on the Texas polygamy case:

Punishing people without charging them with any crime or allowing them any defense is a pretty serious thing. I would say that protection from that kind of arbitrary authority is more important than the alleged protection of no more than a dozen kids among the 400 from the allegations of sexual abuse — allegations, by the way, that now turn out to have been made by an anonymous accuser who may not even exist. It may have been a malicious neighbor.

If we are going to establish that precedent — that I can call the police and allege that you are abusing me and your children — and never come forward to confront you, or give any real specifications, but they will come and take your children for their own protection, I have the power to ruin your life.

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