Monthly Archives: May 2011

Gov. Johnson Takes on Hannity

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary “Veto” Johnson made a recent appearance on Hannity last week (see video below). I have to say I was pleasantly surprised both with how Sean Hannity conducted the interview and how Gov. Johnson responded. I haven’t really watched Hannity since before the “& Colmes” was dropped a few years ago; from what I remembered he didn’t normally allow guests he disagreed with explain their position (especially on topics like drug legalization). I was also happy that he gave Gov. Johnson 20 plus minutes of some very valuable air time on a program widely watched by Republican primary voters. There’s just no way Gov. Johnson will ever be given that much time in a primary debate.

For Gov. Johnson’s part, I thought he communicated his message very skillfully. His cost/benefit approach that he is campaigning on, especially on issues that the G.O.P base generally disagree (ex: non-intervention and drug legalization/harm reduction) will be helpful in advancing libertarian positions in the long run (much as Ron Paul did in 2008 and since). When Hannity finally broached the war on (some) drugs, Johnson was able to get Hannity to concede that marijuana ought to be considered in a different category from harder drugs (i.e. heroin, crack, etc.). This in of itself is very encouraging.

Ad Populum

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” – Barry Goldwater

Ron Paul’s supporters and detractors would probably agree that many of his positions are out of the main stream of modern political thought. By definition, this makes Ron Paul and those of like mind extremists.

Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones has put together a list of what he considers “Ron Paul’s 15 Most Extreme Positions.” Among these “extreme” positions are “eviscerate entitlements” (such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), eliminating entire departments (ex: Education, Health and Human Services, Energy, etc.), “enable state extremism” (allow the states to determine issues like gay marriage and school prayer rather than address these issues at the federal level), end the war on (some) drugs, and Ron Paul’s statements against the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Josh Harkinson lists these positions and calls them “extreme” but does not make any arguments against these positions because these positions are already unpopular in his estimation (and indeed, many of these positions are unpopular). Harkinson, either consciously or not has resorted to what is referred to as the Ad Populum fallacy, otherwise known as “appeal to popularity.”

Ad Populum fallacy works like this:

1. Most people approve of X
2. Therefore, X is true

By calling someone an extremist or calling his/her positions extreme is at least a variation of this fallacy: “Most people disagree with Ron Paul on entitlements, therefore; Ron Paul is wrong.”

To be sure, most of the items on the list of 15 that I fully agree with, others that raise my eyebrows (ex: I haven’t investigated number 4 yet) and others that I disagree with* but whether or not each is an extreme has nothing to do with if I agree or not. Whether a position on an issue is extreme or not is entirely beside the point! Rather than calling a position extreme, it should be debated on its merits or lack thereof.

Popular opinion, especially in American politics, is a very fickle thing. Consider how much attitudes have changed over the history of the U.S. It was once considered perfectly okay for one human being to own another. To call for the abolition of slavery in one era was considered extreme, in another controversial, in yet another popular. Any person who would say today that the institution of slavery should be resurrected would now be called an extremist (among other things).

What does this change in popularity concerning slavery tell us about the morality of slavery? Was it a moral institution because it was accepted as part of the culture and perfectly legal but now immoral because most would say that slavery is one of the great shames in our nation’s history?

Of course not.

Slavery was as immoral when Thomas Jefferson owned slaves as it would be today. Popularity has no bearing on questions of right and wrong.

Obviously, there are many more examples of how popular opinion has shifted over time. These positions of Ron Paul’s that Josh Harkinson calls extreme today could become controversial (i.e. having nearly as much support as those who are opposed) or even mainstream in the future. This is likely a great fear of Harkinson and those of his ilk as it’s much easier to call Ron Paul, libertarians, or libertarian positions extreme than it is to confront them directly.

Yes, Ron Paul is an extremist but he is in some very good company. We can safely say that the founding fathers – the original tea partyers were the extremists of their day. They certainly couldn’t be described as mainstream. The words penned by Thomas Paine in Common Sense and later Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence were downright treasonous!

“You’re an extremist!”

My response: “Yeah, so? What’s your point?”

Actually, I consider being called an extremist a badge of honor; so much so that I have put a bumper sticker on my vehicle declaring myself as such (I bought the sticker below from LibertyStickers.com).

The day my views become mainstream will be the day I have to seriously reevaluate my views because I doubt they will be mainstream any time soon. But even though my views or those who promote them don’t win very often on Election Day doesn’t make my views wrong…just unpopular.

Hat Tip: The Agitator
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Quote Of The Day

Very, very important:

When I hear communitarians like Etzioni describe the libertarian view of individualism, I wonder if they’ve ever read any libertarian writing other than a Classic Comics edition of Ayn Rand.

There’s no conflict between individualism and community. There’s a conflict between voluntary association and coerced association. And communitarians dance around that conflict.

H/T: David Boaz @ Cato

I think it’s a very important point. People assume that because libertarians object to many government programs centered around helping people in need, that we don’t care about helping people in need. That’s not true at all; many of us simply prefer to do it through voluntary charity that might show results. We resent being told that we must surrender our paycheck to government programs, designed around bad incentives, and that we’ll be locked in a cage if we refuse.

There’s no conflict between libertarianism and being a force for good in your community. Anyone who thinks otherwise takes Ayn Rand’s points on altruism FAR too seriously. I don’t think even Ayn Rand was against charity, she was against feeling guilty for achievement and against the idea that charity is OWED by the giver.

Gary Johnson to President Obama: “Time’s Up in Libya”

The “limited kinetic action” (don’t call it military force or war!) in Libya has reached the 60 day mark; the statutory time limit a president can use military force without congressional approval according to the War Powers Act of 1973. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot about the goings on in Libya in the news these days with Obama deciding what another sovereign nation (Israel) should do about its borders*.

Not everyone has completely forgotten about Libya though. Former New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson wrote an opinion piece today in The Daily Caller pointing out that the president’s authority to use kinetic action in Libya has expired today.

This blatant disregard for the law must not go unchallenged. As several senators did this week, Congress must demand an explanation for the fact that, with no declaration of war, no authorization from Congress, and certainly no imminent threat to the U.S., our forces are today engaged in what is clearly a military conflict halfway around the world in Libya.

Specifically, the War Powers Act requires that the use of American forces in a conflict must be ended within 60 days of commencing — unless Congress expressly authorizes otherwise. In terms of our current engagement in Libya, Congress hasn’t authorized anything, nor has the president asked them to, and today, May 20, is the 60th day.

[…]

[The War Powers Act] was carefully crafted to allow the commander-in-chief to respond to attacks and otherwise take whatever action necessary to protect us. At the same time, it was obviously crafted to limit precisely the kinds of ill-defined and costly uses of our military that we are witnessing in Libya right now.

[…]

To be fair, this president is certainly not the first to disregard the War Powers Act. Some have even questioned its constitutionality. But until the courts or Congress deem otherwise, it is the law of the land — and in my opinion, a good one.

This is yet another example of President Obama’s lack of respect for the rule of law when the law isn’t compatible with his policy.

Hope n’ Change you can believe in.

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Hugh Hewitt: RNC Should “Exile” Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul from Future Debates

In reading Doug Mataconis’ recent post about pundits on the Right ignoring the presence of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign and my subsequent listening and reading of many of the same pundits who have since mocked Ron Paul for daring to say such things as the war on (some) drugs has been a failure, I am reminded of the famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

It seems to me that the anti-liberty forces on the Right aren’t all at the same stage, however. Some want to ignore Ron Paul and Gary Johnson while others simply laugh at them. Conservative radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt seems to have moved past the ignore and laughing stages and on to the fighting stage. How exactly does Hewitt wish to fight: by silencing what he calls the “marginal” candidates.

This is why the GOP needs to rethink its debate schedule and why the RNC should take over the operation of the debates and exile Cain, Johnson and Paul as well as every other candidate without a prayer of winning. (Santorum is a long shot, but he has a realistic though small chance of winning the nomination, while the others do not.) The seriousness of the fiscal crisis requires the GOP and its candidates to act seriously, and allowing marginal candidates to eat up time and distract from the enormous problems facing the country is not serious.

Apparently, it’s not enough for Hugh Hewitt that the Fox News moderators focused most of their serious* questions and attention toward “long shot” Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty. No, the very presence of Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson distract from the “important” issues facing our country.

On electability
Marginal candidate Herman Cain placed second in a Zogby Poll that came out Tuesday, largely due to his performance in the debate that Hewitt says he had no business taking part.

Marginal candidate Rep. Ron Paul has won the CPAC presidential straw poll two years in a row. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, Paul trails Barack Obama in a head to head race by 7 percentage points while “serious” candidate and Hewitt favorite “Mandate Mitt” Romney trails Obama by 11.

Marginal candidate Gary Johnson, like Herman Cain, doesn’t have the name recognition (until recently maybe for Cain) that some of the top tier candidates have. This reason alone could explain why he hasn’t polled well so far. But as Johnson himself points out, when he ran for Governor of New Mexico in a state that votes 2-1 Democrat he didn’t have the name recognition either. He was told back then that could never win but Johnson got the last laugh when he beat the incumbent governor by 10 percentage points.

Cain, Paul, and Johnson may be long shots but I wouldn’t go as far to say they “don’t have a prayer” of winning the nomination. One advantage of being a long shot is they can say what they really think about the issues while the “contenders” have to be cautious – which leads me to my next point.

On “marginal candidates eat[ing] up time distract[ing] from the enormous problems facing the country”
Moderators and interviewers can only do so much to get straightforward answers from candidates. The top tier candidates should actually be grateful to have candidates like Cain, Paul, and Johnson in the primaries to challenge them. The eventual nominee will be battle tested for the general campaign since s/he has already had to offer alternative answers to challenging questions about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy, etc.

If Herman Cain says our government should replace the income tax with the Fair Tax, the other candidates have to explain why the income tax should remain in place or offer another alternative. If Ron Paul says that our government needs to stop policing the world and audit the Fed, the other candidates have to explain why our government should continue to police the world and continue to keep the activities of the Fed secret. If Gary Johnson argues that from a cost/benefit approach the war on (some) drugs has yielded much greater cost than benefit, the other candidates have to explain where Johnson is wrong in his analysis.**

Far from being a distraction from the important issues, Cain, Paul, and Johnson can focus the debate in such a way that would be otherwise not possible. Of course this assumes that the debate moderators give all the candidates a chance to respond.
Hewitt made one other point that needs to be challenged:

When the first tier of GOP candidates gather to discuss how to begin to fix the mess we are in, the voters deserve to hear the problems and the solutions fairly and fully talked through, and done without the interruption of the 1%ers with agendas unrelated to defeating President Obama in November, 2012.

Hugh, it’s still very early in this campaign, relax! Part of the reason that some of these candidates are 1%ers is because they lack name recognition (i.e. who are these people?). These 1%ers at least deserve a chance to introduce themselves to primary voters. Even as closely as I follow politics, there are quite a few names I’ve heard recently attached to individuals I know nothing about. Honestly, I know very little about the GOP field overall – at least those who didn’t run in 2008. I’m quite sure I am not alone.

And yes, the 1%ers probably have agendas besides defeating President Obama in 2012. If you want to be honest though, this is probably true for all the candidates. The more crowded the field, the more difficult it is for any candidate to win the nomination. A presidential primary is a perfect opportunity to speak about issues one cares about in a larger marketplace of ideas than normally possible. It’s not unusual for the eventual nominee to adopt some of the positions of his primary rivals in the general campaign (so in a sense, one’s issues are as important as winning the nomination…unless it’s only about ego).

But isn’t talking about having an agenda besides beating Obama in the general putting the cart before the horse just a little bit? I’m quite sure that if Cain, Paul, or Johnson actually won the nomination, beating Obama in 2012 would become the primary objective. They each have their own vision for this country.

The truth is, I think, you don’t want Cain, Paul, or Johnson in the debates because you are an establishment guy not because they are 1%ers. You don’t want to see any of these men in the debates because they are a threat to the status quo of the Republican Party (this is probably more true of Paul and Johnson than Cain though Cain would still be an outsider). I don’t believe for a minute that if any of these men became contenders you would suddenly welcome them in the debates.

It’s my hope that the RNC doesn’t take your advice seriously.

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