Category Archives: Liberty

It’s Time To Double Tap The Republican Party And Build Its Replacement

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The Republican Party primary voters did it. They nominated Donald Trump as their presidential nominee.

I predicted as far back as August 2015 that Donald Trump would destroy the Republican Party and it appears he has. Trump is the choice of it seems Republican voters. His numerous racist and xenophobic statements and positions and his hostility to the Constitutional limits of his power weren’t a problem in the end.

There is no home in a Republican Party ruled by Donald Trump for those who hold classical liberal views and/or traditional conservative values. Those libertarians, conservatives, conservatarians, Constitutionalists, classical liberals, and the rest who believe in the principles of the American founding are now politically homeless. The day after Trump knocked Ted Cruz out of the race, I left the Republican Party.

The Republican Party is a dead political party. It’s a zombie just shuffling forward in search of human flesh. The #NeverTrump movement should double tap the Republican Party. It is little more than a Grand Zombie Party now and start building its replacement.

The #NeverTrump movement is beginning to realize that the Republican Party is beyond saving. A couple of Iowans, Joel Kurtinitis at The Blaze and Steve Deace at Conservative Review, want the movement to think bigger than just defeating Donald Trump. They’re both on board the “we need a new party train.” I completely agree with both men.

We need a party that argues in favor of the classical liberal principles of America’s founding. We need a party that recognizes that populism is just another form of statism.

Why Not The Libertarian Party?

The Libertarian Party is America’s third largest political party. It will likely have ballot access in alll 50 states plus the District of Columbia this year. It is running some pretty good candidates for president. I hope they get the 5% of the vote necessary to receive Federal campaign matching funds. This would be good for American politics.

However, as a long-term solution, the LP is not what I’m looking for. The Libertarian Party’s primary purpose is an educational tool for libertarian ideas and that’s great. But a new home is needed for the broad classical liberal spectrum for winning and governing.

What Should This New Party Look Like?

Some thoughtful pieces have come out recently about the direction this new party would take. The first one is a two-part series run on The Federalist by Paul D. Miller about bringing back The Federalist Party. The second part outlined a platform suggestion.

Decentralizing power is the best way—perhaps the only way—for an increasingly pluralistic people to govern themselves: a pluralistic people calls for plural governments. Americans are increasingly divided not merely by race, class, and gender—which has always been true—but by differing sets of values, by religious and sectarian identities, by basic understandings of justice and democracy that have drifted apart in recent generations.

The progressive left and quasi-fascist right believe the increasing fragmentation of American life is a malady which must be cured by the strong hand of government. In fact, those very movements are both cause and consequence of the fragmentation of American society, and their agendas can never create the imagined unity of the romantic past or utopian future.

The Federalist accepts the pluralism of American life as a reality to be accommodated, not a disease to be cured. The way to safeguard human dignity and self-government in a culturally pluralistic nation is to revive the institutions of plural government; that is, to devolve power to the several governments closer to the people they govern.

A more decentralized Federal government must be a major part of the platform. After all, we are a nation of 50 different states, each with their unique values and cultures. A “one-size fits all” approach to government fails. But decentralization alone is not enough. The Federal government has some roles.

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom had some thoughts of his own on a possible new party platform. I recommend reading the entire piece but I wanted to highlight his 6 main planks.

1) Individual liberty
2) Federalism and representative republicanism
3) Constitutionalism
4) Judicial originalism
5) National sovereignty
6) Free-market capitalism

These are a good start. The only minor quibble I would have is I’m more of a Randy Barnett “judicial engagement” type than a judicial originalist. I can get on board with the rest easily though.

I think we need to add a few planks though and call the whole thing “Nine For Freedom” or something. Here are my suggestions:

7) Growth and opportunity: The old economy is dead. The idea of having a job right out of college and staying with the same company until you retire doesn’t happen anymore. We’re shifting towards a “gig economy” where many people are freelancers. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Fiverr, Ebay, and many other innovations make it easy for almost anyone to be in business for themselves. The economy itself has an anemic growth rate that shows signs of getting worse. We need to unleash the American people by getting government out of the way. We need to lower the world’s highest corporate tax rate, reduce regulations, and attack crony capitalism that delivers privileges to a well connected few. We need to reform our outdated Industrial Era education system, promote school choice, and fix higher education so that you don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree to wait tables. Finally, we need to have a free market approach to fix or replace Obamacare.

8) Welfare and Entitlement Reform: We have a major problem with our welfare state. It still traps people in dependence and discourages work. Social Security Disability fraud is bleeding the system dry. We can’t have this as a nation. At the same time, we shouldn’t hold people who do need a temporary hand up in disdain. Most people don’t make welfare a lifestyle. You can hit this many ways. The guys over at the Foundation for Government Accountability have great ideas to reform welfare. If we want to go bolder, we may want to consider scrapping the alphabet soup of welfare programs and replace it with some kind of basic income program. If you want to undermine the sources of support for the Trumpist right and the progressive left, you have to attack the welfare state.

9) A Strong, Secure, And Free America: We will aggressively confront the enemies of this country. We will stand for liberty and freedom allaround the world. We will have a military and intelligence capability that is second to none. However, we will not engage in military crusades for democracy, seek dragons to slay, and engage in dubious neocon nation building schemes. We believe in the power of diplomacy and we believe in free trade. America will be involved in the world but we will not police the world alone. We will ask our allies to do more to protect themselves not because they’re not important but because we cannot and will not do it alone. Finally, while we will be vigilant about detectingthreats from abroad, we will not listen to your phone calls, read your emails, track your online browsing, or otherwise spy on you without a warrant. America should not throw away its founding principles even in wartime.

We have an opportunity to reshape the political landscape. The Republican Party is little more than a home for racists, kooks, reactionary populists, demagogues, con artists, and political opportunists. It no longer serves the purposes of liberty.

Let’s build something that does.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Libertarians Debate on Stossel (Part 1 of 2)

Watch-Part-One-Of-The-Libertarian-Party-Debate-On-Stossel-702x336In case you missed it, the first half of the Libertarian Party Presidential Debate aired on Stossel on April 1st (the second half will air on Friday, April 8, 2016). The three participants were 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, software developer John McAfee, and the founder of the blog The Libertarian Republic Austin Petersen.

After watching some of the GOP debates and the first Democrat debate, watching the Libertarians debate was refreshing. No name calling or commenting on the appearance of the other candidates. No scolding the debate moderator for asking questions the candidates didn’t like. To the extent that one candidate challenged or disagreed with another they were on the substance of the issue at hand (more on that in a moment). There seemed to be more areas of agreement than disagreement (and even a kiss on the cheek) among them. This debate was more about presenting to a national cable audience the case for Libertartian policy alternatives to those of the Republicrats.

Did any candidate “win” Part 1 of the debate or help/hurt his chances with the LP faithful or viewers who are open to supporting a third party candidate?

I can only answer for myself. I enthusiastically supported Gary Johnson in 2012 all the way back from when he was running for the GOP nomination to election day as the LP’s nominee. Of the three, he’s the only one I was all that familiar with. I took the Isidewith.com survey on the issues (mentioned in the debate) several weeks ago and found that I sided with Austin Petersen 97%, Gary Johnson 92%, and Ted Cruz 77%. I’m not sure why John McAfee wasn’t among those I sided with because I found myself in agreement with much of what he said in the debate. Due to these results, though Gov. Johnson is sort of my default favorite I watched with an open mind.

To my surprise, indeed I did find myself agreeing more with the thirty-five year old Austin Petersen than the other two. For libertarians looking for “purity” of libertarian principles, Petersen is your guy it seems (based solely on one half of one debate). When asked about whether a cake decorator should be forced to make a cake for someone based on personal or religious reasons, Johnson (to my profound disappointment) said they should while Petersen said the market should decide making the freedom of association argument (an argument every good libertarian should have down pat).

The second strike against Johnson and for Petersen was the question of the so-called gender pay gap. Johnson sounded like a progressive echoing the “equal pay for equal” work line but said he would be hesitant to sign any equal pay legislation because “the devil is in the details.” Petersen on the other hand skillfully explained why the gender pay gap is a progressive myth. McAfee, for his part argued that if a person doesn’t like how much they are being paid they are free to look elsewhere.

There’s certainly more in the debate that I didn’t get into here. My conclusion as far as my opinion goes: Petersen helped himself, Johnson hurt himself, and McAfee is intriguing. In a world where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are looking to be their party’s nominee any of the three would be hands down a better choice.

What Is The Best Way To Advance Liberty?

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In the wake of Rand Paul’s departure from the presidential race, the question being asked is what is the best path to advance liberty? Should libertarians work within GOP, the Libertarian Party, or even the Democratic Party? Should libertarians be anti-establishment or should they try to become the mainstream? Should libertarians focus on politics, policy, or reject both altogether in favor of free market solutions?

The answer is all of the above. There is no one path to advance the ideas of liberty. Nor will there ever be a utopian society that is 100% libertarian, nor should there be in a pluralistic society. Liberal ideas and ideals advance and change over time.

There are some ideas we need to dismiss off hand.

  1. Building a libertarian safe space. Congratulations to the Free State Project on getting enough people willing to move to New Hampshire to trigger the move. However, I still question its usefulness. What is the point of trying to move libertarians into a state and take it over as a utopian example to the rest of the world? Wouldn’t it best to have libertarians spread out all over to try and influence change everywhere? Besides, isn’t a mass migration to take over an argument against open borders?
  2. Reject coalition building. Libertarians need to build coalitions with everyone. There are libertarian conservatives, libertarian centrists, libertarian progressives, and classical liberals (such as myself). Many Americans and others around the world have some kind of libertarian leanings and there are very, very few actual libertarians. Unless libertarians just want to yell in the wilderness, you have to work with others.
  3. Lose the savior complex. The United States, or any country for that matter, will likely never elect a libertarian president, ever. The majority of voters are not libertarians and never will be. That’s fine, in a free and pluralistic society we need voters with all sorts of views. That’s what debate is for. Even if a libertarian did get elected president, libertarians would be disappointed because a president is not all powerful. Process matters as much as results do.

The prospects for liberty are great, regardless of the struggles of one particular presidential candidate. In fact, liberty means many things to many people and that’s good. While authoritarianism is rearing its ugly head in both political parties this year, I’m confident we can defeat it.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Gawker, the Freedom of Expression, and the Power of Consequences

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Is Gawker violating its writers’ rights if its chief executive editor de-publishes a controversial post?

What about if a company’s CEO is forced to step down in the face of a threatened boycott over the CEO’s political positions? Is an artist being “censored” if a comic book publisher cancels his covers and suspends him? Is it an unconstitutional “ban” on speech if Amazon and Walmart remove Confederate flag memorabilia from their offerings?

Across the web confusion abounds about what freedom of expression really means.

Most recently, in the messy wake of its sex-shaming post about a private citizen’s violation of Gawker’s neo-Victorian strictures on monogamy, founder and CEO Nick Denton (who pulled the post) had this to say to his editors:

What I can’t accept is an unlimited and subjective version of editorial freedom. It is not whatever an editor thinks it is; it is not a license to write anything; it is a privilege, protected by the constitution, and carrying with it responsibilities.

Literally, every part of that last bit is wrong.

The editorial autonomy of Gawker writers is not constitutional in nature. It is a license granted by their employer—i.e. Denton. Absent a binding contract, it can be revoked at any time without running afoul of anyone’s rights, and certainly not running afoul of anyone’s constitutional rights.

The constitutionally protected freedom that Gawker writers do have (as do we all) is not to publish at Gawker. The Constitution restricts the power of Congress, not the discretion of Nick Denton.

Nor is that constitutionally protected freedom a “privilege.” It is a right.

And it does not have to be exercised responsibly.

It vexes me when people who should know better get sloppy in their framing. Messy language leads to messy thinking and, in the process, dilutes effective defense of this crucial freedom.

Perhaps a libertarian(ish) review is in order.

“FREE SPEECH” V. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Although routinely used in Supreme Court decisions, the words “free speech” do not appear in the Constitution. In my opinion, overuse of this terminology induces people to mistakenly believe their speech should always be costless and consequence-free.

That is not how it works.

Speech requires a forum, which must be paid for by someone.

In public forums paid for by taxpayers, “time, place and manner” restrictions may be imposed to keep things orderly. But content-based discrimination is not permitted. Even the Nazis get to express themselves.

In private forums, on the other hand, the property owner gets to decide what speech he is willing to host.

There is no “free speech” right to interrupt a Muslim prayer service at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral’s owner, which is the Episcopal Church, gets to decide what sort of speech occurs there. It doesn’t have to (but may if it wants) host Muslim-haters, atheists, rude people, or morons.

Similarly, bookstores are not required to carry every book printed just because the author claims a “free speech” right. The corner market does not have to sell every conceivable magazine. Art galleries do not have to make room for every painting. Radio stations do not have to play every song.

And Gawker does not have to publish every post. (I would totally make it publish this one.)

If a speaker wants his speech to be “free” in the sense of not having to pay for the forum, he must either utilize a public forum or find a private owner willing to host the content gratis. Luckily, in this day and age, there are lots of options for that.

Gawker is not one of them.

Like other private publishers and forum owners, it exercises its right to decline hosting or publishing content it dislikes. There’s a term for that right.

…Oh yeah. Freedom of speech.

FORCE VERSUS CONSEQUENCE

It is tempting to say that Brendan Eich was “forced” to resign from Mozilla over his position on same-sex marriage. That Richard Albuquerque was “forced” to pull his Batgirl cover variant. That TLC was “forced” to cancel the Duggars.

That Nick Denton was “forced” to pull the now infamous Gawker post.

It sounds more melodramatic and provocative to phrase it that way. But to the extent it’s semantically correct, this is not the kind of “force” that runs afoul of the freedom of expression.

Wrongful force is actual physical force used to prevent or punish speech or other forms of expression.

This includes all governmental interference, because government action by definition involves force. Even civil regulations (like fines) eventually end with puppy-killing SWAT teams. Of course force exercised by private actors, in the form of violent reprisals, also suppresses freedom and therefore should be resisted with the same passion.

Preventing forceful suppression of expression is a higher order principle. When triggered, that principle transcends issues about the content of the speech being defended.

Why?

Because speech is the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist.

It has the power to topple kings, eviscerate falsehoods, destroy paradigms, provoke thought, change minds and hearts, alter the course of history, and transform the world.

And it can do all that without shedding a drop of blood.

A weapon like that cannot be entrusted to the exclusive control of the few. Enlightened rulers using force to curtail speech have too often gotten it wrong. Power once ceded can rarely be retrieved, and battles not fought with words and ideas will be fought instead with violence and bloodshed.

We cannot retain the best of speech without protecting its worst. We cannot extract its power to do harm without diluting its power to do good.

EVERYTHING BUT FORCE IS FAIR GAME

That being said, everything short of physical force is fair game.

A Congressional communications director can be pressured into resigning (or fired) for making snarky comments about the President’s daughters. TLC and A&E can cancel their reality television lineup for any reason consistent with the contracts negotiated. Customers can boycott wedding photographers or bakers in retaliation for expression of disfavored opinions. Landlords can refuse to rent to people with Confederate flags in their rear windows. Employers can bypass applicants over their social media postings.

Firing. Boycotting. Refusing to hire. Pulling advertising. Cancelling subscriptions. Social media flame wars. De-publishing. Disassociating. Shaming.

All of these are fair game. All of these are themselves protected acts of expression.

They may make life unpleasant for the target. They may feel coercive or even deeply wounding.

They’re supposed to.

If speech didn’t have that power, we wouldn’t bother protecting it.

Deciding to refrain from speaking because such consequences are too unpleasant is not a response to force. It is a response to speech.

GAWKER IS GETTING SPOKEN TO, NOT SUPPRESSED

If Gawker were being threatened with forceful suppression of its speech, defending against that violation would be a higher order principle that transcended all others. Personal feelings about the content of the speech would be secondary.

But where no force is imposed or threatened, those secondary principles are the only ones at play. The whole point of the higher principle is to create a circle of freedom in which ideas, without limitation, can be explored and judged on the merits. If we never got around to the judging part, we would destroy the very reason for preserving the freedom.

Nothing happening at or to Gawker (in this specific case) poses any threat to anyone’s fundamental right to free expression. The writers are free to write. The owners of Gawker are free to choose what to publish. The editors are free to “fall on their poisoned pens” in protest. Advertisers are free to abstain. Readers are free to boycott.

None of this constitutes a violation of anyone’s freedom. It’s what freedom looks like.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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