Tag Archives: Tea Party

The Problem With Today’s ‘Conservatives’: They’re Not Really Conservative

When Republicans took control of the Congress in the 2014 elections, they did so without an agenda or alternative vision for the country. In spite of this, they hold their largest majority since before World War II.

It seems they achieved this, not because they laid out a clear alternative, but simply because the American people perceived Democrats and the left, as having failed to govern the country (or having done so poorly).

However, a couple of long-term problems for the Republican Party have developed since November’s elections. The first being that President Obama’s approval ratings have begun to rebound. The second, is that Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, again, instead of laying out any credible alternative agenda for the country. The Republican Party seems to be strongly divided between it’s “establishment” wing, and a more conservative Tea Party-aligned wing.

The biggest problem however, is that the Tea Party, and many of the self identified “conservatives” aren’t really conservatives at all. They’re really populists, ideologues, and radicals, that have abandoned traditional conservatism.

Ultimately, this is bad for the entirety of what could be called the “center-right”, because these people frankly make us look insane. When you try to build a movement purely on rhetoric and rabble rousing, without a solid foundation, history has shown that bad things happen.

During the French Revolution, there was a faction of revolutionaries called the Jacobins. The Jacobins were fiery populists, who aligned with the mobs on the streets of Paris, and eventually took over the revolutionary government, installing what came to be known as “The Reign of Terror“. Under the Jacobins, the revolutionary councils known as “committees of public safety”, targeted essentially anyone who disagreed with the Jacobins in the slightest, as “enemies of the people”. This demagoguery resulted in the deaths of thousands, in mob led mass executions.

Eventually, the French Revolution collapsed into near anarchy and was devoured, when in reaction to Jacobin misrule, Napoleon seized power in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

An English member of Parliament, Edmund Burke, warned that the French Revolution would descend into tyranny. In his famous book “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke argued for gradual change; emphasizing the necessity of specific, concrete rights and liberties; and essentially that society could not be, or should not be, molded or reshaped by government, in the name of “reason.” It was an argument against central planning and utopianism before they became more developed political concepts. Burke’s work is regarded as one of the founding documents of Anglo-American conservatism. and even Freidrich Hayek was heavily influenced by Burke.

Fast forward to today’s American er…..”conservatives”. What generally poses for conservatism these days is the Tea Party movement. To be perfectly blunt, the Tea Party isn’t very conservative at all. The Tea Party are demagogues who seem to want to launch a revolution against the “establishment”. Except, the problem is, they’re not too sure what the “establishment” is. They’re populist radicals and reactionaries, who have no idea what conservatism is.

The latest case in point, the silly and failed attempt to remove John Boehner as Speaker of the House, launched by Tea Party-aligned Congressmen, and egged on by various Washington D.C. and West Coast-based “grassroots” organizations who never miss an opportunity to fundraise over manufactured outrage.

The challenge to Speaker Boehner began when Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine announced he wasn’t going to vote for Boehner. He cited his opposition to the so-called Cromnibus which was passed in order to keep the government open, late last year. Bridenstine, like many conservatives, was opposed to the bill because it funded the Department of Homeland Security and President Obama’s immigration executive amnesty until February, and because it spent too much. Tea Party opportunists and other irrelevant backbenchers, saw an opportunity for self-promotion and self aggrandizement through the entertainment wing of the Tea Party (talk radio, bloggers who specialize in the daily “outrage”), and decided to “challenge” John Boehner.

Eventually, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Florida), threw their tin foil hats into the ring and challenged Boehner for the position of speaker. In a way, both men are a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with the Tea Party movement. Congressman Daniel Webster (R-Florida) also entered the race, but he’s generally an unremarkable backbencher (as well as one of the most liberal Republicans in congress).

A quick Google search would quickly tell you that these are not serious men, let alone serious alternatives to Speaker John Boehner. No one outside of Florida knows who Daniel Webster is, and sadly that probably makes him the most qualified out of the three. Ted Yoho’s big claim to fame is that he’s a birther who wants to find Obama’s secret Kenyan birth certificate in order to nullify Obamacare or something.

Finally, we have Louie Gohmert who is truly little more than a demagogue with no philosophical foundation. Gohmert once took to the floor of the U.S. House to warn about terrorist babies. Oh and Gohmert is also a birther. Gohmert has a long history of demagoguery both as a judge and a Congressman. There’s crazy and then there’s Louie Gohmert. 

Even those who dislike John Boehner (and there are many) would have to concede that, if they were honest, these three men were not qualified to be second in line for the office of President.

The problem, is that instead of presenting a coherent alternative to progressivism, the Tea Party and its allies have resorted to base demagoguery and reactionary populism. Further, they are imposing strict purity tests (the true mark of a Jacobin) to identify who they see as “the enemies of conservatism” and “Betrayers of the American People”. Only their ideas and positions are allowed, all must conform perfectly, there can be no dissent.

Take, for example, the case of Congresswoman Mia Love (R-Utah) a conservative rock star who voted for Boehner to continue as Speaker, and how she was vilified on social media:

There are many other examples like these on Twitter. Essentially, anyone who voted for the Speaker of the House, who oversaw at the very least a freeze in government spending; is being portrayed as some kind of a liberal, or worse, as having “betrayed the American people”.

The enlarged Federal state was not built in a day and it will not be dismantled in one election, especially when Democrats hold the White House. That’s not how I want things, but that how the world is. Conservatives are supposed to look at the world, understand and accept it for what it is, and understand that radical change rarely works out well.

In the meantime, we must seek to develop a credible, coherent, and comprehensive, alternative agenda for the country. We must get back to first principles and turn away from populism and demagoguery. We must rediscover traditional conservatism and combine that with some Milton FriedmanCharles Murray, and finally add some Hayek to the mix*.

Most importantly, conservatism is a philosophy, and a mindset, not an ideology. Gradual, incremental change, is always a better approach than radical change, because radicalism so often leads to failure at best; at worst, the guillotine or the Killing Fields.

While building a movement with popular appeal is important to the advancement of liberty, we must not let that become the sole focus. Winning without a solid philosophical and intellectual foundation, a principled moral focus, and a realistic view of the world, may ultimately lead to tyranny. That’s why the mindless populism and demagoguery of the Tea Party and the far right must be rejected.

*There are many great conservative/classical liberal thinkers and writers, but those three, along with Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Edmund Burke are the ones you should get started with.

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.

Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

Vote Cynically… The Politicians Certainly Do

So far, my co-contributors at The Liberty Papers have encouraged you to vote for Democrats, vote for Republicans, vote for Libertarians, not vote at all, and vote idealistically.

All are good arguments… or at least reasonable ones, with well argued rationales and logic behind them. I encourage you to take the time now to read all of them, and then come back here before continuing.

Done reading? Great…

Now, my position on how you should decide who to vote for is basically…

Screw all that… Vote Cynically

Presuming of course you’d prefer to optimize your voting pattern for reduction in the amount YOU… and most everyone else… gets screwed by the government that is.

I base this on one simple fact, that we all know (or at least should know) to be true:

Politicians are all liars

Of course, not all politicians lie about everything all the time, but generally assuming that all politicians are liars is a sensible optimization.

Though actually, there is a better… or at least more accurate and comprehensive…way of putting it.

Politicians, respond to their perceived incentives, to maximize their perceived advantages, and minimize their perceived disadvantages, for their own perceived benefit or interest (whether direct or indirect); often without regard for objective truth, facts, or “the greater good”; if these things are perceived to be in conflict with their interest.

Of course, so does everyone else.

Generally speaking, people respond to their perceived incentives and interests. Of course, they may misperceive or misunderstand what those are (very frequently), and they may respond in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inappropriate, or counterproductive (in fact they most often do).

Even in the case of “pure altruism” (which yes, some deny the existence of), people do what they think is the “good thing”, or the “best thing” to do… which is still acting in according to a perceived interest or incentive, they just valued the “higher interest” greater than their own direct personal interest.

Most often, people do not intentionally act against against their own perceived interests

If you think politicians are better than everyone else, that somehow their motivations, intentions, or actions, are purer or more altruistic than those of any other person, you are wrong…

… and you know you are wrong… or at least you should.

If you think any politician is actually protecting your interests, or “standing up for you”, or “for the little guy”, or “the victim”, or  that they value or prioritize the principles, “values”, and issues, that they notionally “share” with you; over… or even equal to… their electoral calculation, you are wrong…

… and you know you’re wrong… or at least you should.

Sadly, most people seem to delude themselves into believing otherwise… or they wish it were, so strongly, that they simply choose act as if it was, against all evidence.

Some people just can’t, or won’t, let go of that hopeful, comfortable, delusion. Even when they know the truth, they keep voting for politicians thinking that somehow, “this one will be different”.

No… they won’t be different… 

Politicians are “different” , only in that they ACTIVELY seek direct personal power over others, and are willing to do what it takes to gain that power; including lying, cheating, stealing, and killing (even if it’s only at second hand).

This certainly does not make politicians better or more altruistic than anyone else, no matter how “good” or “beneficial” they, or you, or anyone else believes their ideas are, or how much “good” they claim to want to do (or you think they could do).

Yes, it’s possible that some politicians, at some point, will stick to their “values” or “principles”, or their honest position on issues, even if they know that doing so is against their own personal best interests.

It does happen… very rarely, but it does happen.

Most often though, no matter what they actually believe, or pretend to believe, or publicly claim to believe (sadly, often all three are different); what they actually DO, is vote cynically (or tactically, or strategically, or pragmatically, or corruptly, or with loyalty to their party and their financial supporters). They vote for what they believe to be optimal for advancing their true interests: perpetuating and increasing their own power, and enforcing their own preferences against others.

… After all… that’s why they become politicians (no matter what language they choose, or justification they claim, to pretty it up).

This is true of those who call themselves Democrats, and those who call themselves Republicans.

This is true of those who call themselves liberals, and those who call themselves conservatives.

What about Libertarian (or libertarian) politicians? 

There are so few who even CLAIM to be libertarians (or Libertarians), who are actually elected to national office (or  who in anything close to the real world, even stand a remote chance of ever being elected to a national office) that they are safe to ignore for the most part (and thus far almost all of them are actually Republicans).

Even if they were not however, libertarianism as a philosophy (and basic economics for that matter) would rather clearly show, that you shouldn’t trust “libertarian” politicians either.

You shouldn’t trust ANYONE who has, wants to have, or is trying to obtain, personal control over the coercive force of the state. Including those who claim to wish to reduce that control, use less of it, or to abolish it entirely.

It’s simply safer… and smarter, and more realistic… to assume that they are all lying; or that even if they are trying to be honest, once they have that power, they won’t want to reduce or release it (no matter what their justification may be).

… such an assumption has been proven by history, to nearly always be justified.

You have to understand, that most of the time what most politicians claim to believe, and their claimed goals and positions, are simply not what they actually believe… and very often even when they are, that’s a bad and dangerous thing.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a true believer, with the power, and the motive, to enforce their beliefs on others.

Most of what politicians claim to believe is actually about social signaling and fundraising

Allow me to repeat my frequent admonition, that many… perhaps most… of those who identify themselves as conservatives, are in fact no such thing; they are reactionary populists… or just cynical opportunists.

Many or most of those who claim to be liberals… or progressives… are ALSO reactionary populists, or cynical opportunists.

They claim what they claim, because it’s just about the easiest way for them to raise three things they need: Passion, Fear, and Money.

Politics runs on Passion, Fear, and Money

Importantly, any one, can be converted into any of the other two (with varying degrees of difficulty).

Real policy, is boring. It’s messy, and detailed, and complicated, and tedious, and most often unsatisfying.

“Doing nothing”, which frankly is most often what the government SHOULD do,  is even more boring.

Most people don’t have the time, the background, the information, or sufficient interest; in the complexities of the issues, the details of policies, of how real legislation actually ends up being written and passed into law… nevermind the infinitely more tedious and complex regulations that implement those laws.

Hell… even most politicians don’t… They staff it out, or just do and say what their party, their PR people, and their fundraisers, tell them.

I can only think of one president who was elected on a platform of doing as little as possible, and just trying not to screw up too much, Calvin Coolidge… and that was only because he was running for re-election on a successful record of having done so the previous two years, after being elevated to the presidency by accident (the death of Warren Harding). The only thing he ever actually actively did, was to increase tariffs dramatically… which as it happens, turned out very very badly.

Good government is boring. Bad government (or the idea of it) is what generates passion, fear, and money

Government is complicated and boring, and people for the most part don’t understand it… but they do understand narratives that conform to their sociocultural expectations, norms, and biases.

So that’s what politicians and the media give us (not because it’s a big conspiracy, simply in furtherance of their own interests).

We have shorthand. We have litmus tests, and shibboleths, and sacred cows, and “dog whistles”.

We have social signalling, and ingroup identification, and outgroup demonization.

We have “Barack Obama is a secret muslim socialist” and “The Republican war on women”, and “the Democrats will steal your 401k” and “the Republicans will ban abortion”.  Or to simplify “Democrats are evil and stupid” and “Republicans are stupid and evil”.

We have constructed narratives, that people can relate to, idealize, and project themselves into

There are a disconcerting number of people “on the right” who seem convinced that if we just wish hard enough, we can live forever in a magical time approximating 1957 through 1962 on continuous loop… But with iPhones.

For leftists, its the same kind of fantasy, except it’s 1962 through 1967, and Kennedy never dies (and is actually the “Progressive” fantasy they project onto him…).

So, these are the narrative preconceptions that “liberals” and “conservatives” attempt to pander to, and the narratives they attempt to construct.

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, PR people, political consultants, and the politicians themselves; figured something out a long time ago, which unfortunately many don’t understand, find disturbing, or simply refuse to believe…

For most people, most of the time, the facts, issues, positions, policies, and outcomes, don’t even really matter that much (though most don’t understand this about themselves, or believe it when it’s pointed out to them). Politics (or political issues) become a matter of social signaling;  ingroup selection, identification, and reinforcement; and outgroup exclusion and demonization.

Their sociopolitical identification becomes part of their identity, their self justification, and their ego.

It’s a team sport, and it’s about scoring points for “their side”, and avoiding having points scored on  “their side”. Their side has to be defended and error cannot be admitted, because the other side would score points, the “good guys” might lose the “bad guys” might win etc…

The way you “score points”, and raise passion, fear, and most importantly money; is to make people believe you’re like them (the good guy – ingroup identification), that the other guy isn’t like them (the bad guy – outgroup exclusion and “othering”), and that they are bad, and evil, and stupid, and wrong, and ruining everything in every way (outgroup demonization).

Once someones sociopolitical identification has become internalized as part of their sense of self, they generally cannot admit serious fault or error on the part of their sociopolitical ingroup, without causing themselves emotional and intellectual injury and pain, cognitive dissonance, even existential crises… most people try to avoid those things whenever possible (sometimes going to great or ridiculous extremes to do so).

There are two major parties, but one overriding interest is shared by both.

Some believe that there is effectively no difference between the major parties… that’s is JUST a team sport, or a horse race etc… That they’re the blue statist party and the red statist party, and the only difference is in the rhetoric.

This is false. There are plenty of very important differences. The devil is in the details, and there are so very many details… Particularly when you get into cabinet and subcabinet posts, executive appointments (and the impact on the executive agencies), and state and local government.

The great problem though (and the large element of truth in the concept), is that both major parties believe in using the coercive power of the state to “fix things” and “do good things” and “make things better”.

Both parties believe that to do so, they need to increase the power of the state in the areas that “need to be fixed” (…and between them, they believe EVERYTHING needs to be” fixed”).

Both parties believe that they (and the people who they agree with and identify with) are the “right people” to have that power, and make those changes, and “fix those problems”; and that in order to do so they need to stay in power, and in control of its mechanisms and institutions.

It’s just that the two major parties believe that different things are “wrong”, or “broken”, or need “improvement”… Or that they should be “corrected”, “fixed” or “improved”, in different ways, by different means.

That’s not “no difference at all”, or even a distinction without a difference… but it can certainly seem like that at times.

Let’s be clear about something though… 

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT CONSERVATIVE.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT LIBERAL.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT LIBERTARIAN.

…Even if what they are doing is in fact, bad, and stupid, and wrong, and harmful.

Let me use the Republicans and “Conservatives” as my example for now…

One must draw the distinction between a political party (which must operate in the real world of electoral and legislative politics), and a political philosophy.

The Republican party is in no way “the” or even “a” conservative party, they are simply
generally more notionally and theoretically “conservative” in their rhetoric, than the Democratic party.

They officially profess to subscribe to some conservative principles and ideals, but they also have elements of their platform and policies which are in fact antithetical to truly conservative principles and ideals. That’s not even getting into what they actually DO… or sometimes more importantly, choose NOT to do.

There is no truly, explicitly, and consistently conservative political party in the United States… or at least none that have any national notice or significance. That includes the American Conservative party, and the Constitution Party; both of which are even more reactionary and populist than the Republican party.

This of course is how they attract and retain their adherents, and raise their money.

There is little money in true conservatism. There is often little passion as well, at least from the outside perspective. 

There is money (and power) in anger, and fear.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian reactionism.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian populism.

There is money (and power) in “there oughta be a law”.

These things are not conservative (nor are they liberal).

Actual  conservatives, are actually generally pretty “boring”… or at least they are more nuanced… subtle… or just muddled looking and feeling; than either media, or “the base” can get excited over, or even understand.

There is rarely any purely black and white, definitely good or unambiguously bad, in ACTUAL conservative policy; there is only “less bad” and “slightly better”, and balancing of interests, advantages, and disadvantages.

With truly conservative policies, without gross oversimplification, there is rarely a clear, compelling, and easily understood narrative for people to identify with, or for the media to  portray.

In an attempt to engage the public, sometimes conservatives or their supporters, attempt to use the techniques of narrative construction that reactionaries and populists use (beginning with the aforementioned gross oversimplification)… This generally results in less than positive outcomes. Often at best misunderstanding and misrepresentation (intentional or otherwise), at worst descending into parody and mockery, and buried under strawmen.

When there is a clear, factual, and truthful narrative, it is generally inconsistent with… or even explicitly contradicts, the activist, statist, idealist, or authoritarian narratives; that most people (both those who identify as “liberal” and those who identify as “conservative”) have internalized as their own map of “reality”, and as part of their own identities.

Rather than face this contradiction, most will ignore it,  oversimplify and distort the truth to sorta kinda almost fit an existing narrative they understand, or simply make one up that fits their preconceptions and biases.

Ironically, those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be conservative; who with great wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, decry the Republican party the loudest for being insufficiently so; are IN FACT  most often doing so, not for being insufficiently conservative, but in fact for being insufficiently reactionary, authoritarian, statist, or populist.

Of course… do a find and replace in this section on “conservative” and “Republican”, with “liberal” and “Democrat” , and it will also be accurate (… okay… you also have to replace “constitution” with “green”).

Most people want to be controlled… they simply want to believe they chose their own masters

It is sometimes said, there are three types of people:

  • Those who want to control others
  • Those who want to be controlled
  • Those who just want to be left alone

The core problem libertarians face, is that most people really do want “someone to be in charge of things”. Either themselves, or someone they agree with, or identify with, or think is “the right man”, or who will “do the right things”.

Even if they don’t want to be controlled themselves, they want “someone to be in charge” of  “the other people”… You know, the bad people… the ones they disagree with and don’t identify with. The ones who are “screwing everything up” or “getting in the way of things being improved”.

They see the many problems in the world, see the resources, reach, and power of government, and think “hey, we should SOLVE these problems… Fix these injustices. Right these wrongs… We can do it if we really try, we just have to really want to do it”.

Most people have internalized the idea, that if we just put people who are good enough, and smart enough, and “right” enough, in charge of everything, with the power to “make it right”, that everything will be better, or good, or right….

…or some other such fantasy.

Even if they know it’s a fantasy, most pretend it’s true anyway, because the alternative seems far worse… Far scarier.

The idea that no-one is in charge, and that no-one can “fix it”, is far more terrifying, than the notion that “the bad people are controlling everything and making it all bad”. At least then, there something you can do… some control you have.

Most people simply don’t want to face that there isn’t any such thing as “the right people”, and only very rarely is there a “right thing”.

Trying hard, and meaning well, don’t count.

“Ok… so what do you do then? Give up? Ignore politics? Don’t Vote? Does it really just encourage the bastards?”

Well… yes, voting DOES encourage the bastards, but that’s not ALL it does.

You may not like politics, but you can’t ignore it. To paraphrase… You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

You are a participant, whether you want to be or not… just like everyone else.

Then only question is, are you going to be a passive participant, or are you doing to at least try to do something?

Is voting actually doing something? 

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t… It is if you do it right.

Of course, it’s not the only thing you can or should do… but that’s a discussion for later.

“I hate this politics crap… it doesn’t work, it’s all wrong, it’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s nasty, it’s corrupt… ”

Yes… it is. That’s life. Deal with it.

I’m a libertarian, not an ideologue.

For me, libertarianism is a matter of ethics, and morals,  and process improvement. It’s not really a matter of politics… or at least not just politics.

“Politics” is not an identity, or a moral system, or a philosophy, or a social belief system.

… or at least it shouldn’t be, because man… it’s pretty awful at being any of those things, never mind all of them.

Politics, is how economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, and psychology; all battle against each other (and often, against reality itself), in an absurd and perverse attempt, to agree on some way of not killing each other… or taking or breaking each others stuff… at least not without permission, or damn good reason.

More concretely, “Politics” is a set of frameworks for making collective decisions. Governments are one of the systems we have for managing these frameworks. States are one of the structures by which we can enable and execute on these decisions (there are several other options in all three categories, but what we’ve got now isn’t likely to be replaced by anything better any time soon).

They are just part of the toolsets needed to execute the mission of  maximizing human liberty, and minimizing the coercive restraint thereof.

note: For those of you who are actually strict or pure anarchists, who believe that human liberty can only be maximised in the absence of governance, or of a state… unfortunately you are wrong. Without government, the strong who desire power over others, will  gather power to themselves, and use that power to force their will upon the weak and the unpopular. 

…Of course they do that with government as well… the tyranny of the majority is the worst tyranny… The trick is to limit government power, and ability to grant itself more, as much as possible… and to periodically shoot them all and start over.

As a minarchist, I understand and accept that the state exists, likely always will exist, and for some things it is the best realistic option (meaning likely to be close to achievable in the world we actually live in) to get certain things done which need to be done.

Note: Or which are of such great benefit to all, at so little detriment, that doing so is an objective good, and not doing so is an objective negative (basic sanitation, public health, common defense, disinterested courts etc…) Exactly what things are absolutely necessary, vs. what is just acceptable for the state to do, vs. what it is NOT acceptable for the state to do…  is a much bigger argument… actually a centuries long series of much bigger arguments. 

There’s lots of things we COULD do using the power and force of government. I just think that most of the time we shouldn’t, because no one and certainly no collective, knows how to run my life better than I do… And I don’t know how to run anyone else’s life better than they do.

…Even if that means that stupid or evil people do stupid and harmful things, or that we don’t make things as good as we could possibly make them. 

We can’t ever know what all the consequences and effects of our decisions and actions may be, nor can we truly know if we made a correct or optimal decision, nor can we eliminate our own biases and prejudices, nor can we ever have perfect information or perfect reason.

No matter what we do, we will always be wrong, in some way, at some time, for some one. We can only make what we believe to be the  least wrong decision for ourselves, at the time  we have to make it, with the information we have at the time, and under the conditions we made it.

Since we cannot know these things, and can’t be right, only less wrong; we should only force on others that which is absolutely necessary (or which is of significant, unambiguous and compelling benefit to all, with minimal or inconsequential cost or detriment… and even that much, and what constitutes that… is up for major debate). 

We don’t have the moral or ethical right,  to violate other peoples rights for their own good, or for the collective good; even if they are doing stupid and harmful things with those rights… so, long as they are not actually violating anyone elses rights (and again, what that constitutes is vigorously debated). 

I believe it is a moral imperative to use the force of the state as little as possible. I believe it is a practical optimization to help achieve this imperative,  to reduce the power the state has whenever possible, as well as reducing both the opportunities it has to use it, and the ease in which it does so. 

Unfortunately, this ethical philosophy generally won’t get you elected anywhere I know of…

Politicians get elected, because people still believe “there oughta be a law”

There are NO elected or electable politicians who agree with me… or at least those who


Even those who claim to be libertarians… They still believe (or at least claim to believe) in using the coercive force of the state to enforce their preferences.

…Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a purpose or a job.

Politicians don’t get elected on the promise of doing nothing, they get elected by promising to “right wrongs” and “fix problems”.  They get elected because most people, no matter what they claim to believe, still think “there ought to be a law” when they see something they dislike enough.

There are plenty who CLAIM to agree with me, or who agree with me in part, or who will at least generally vote in a way that would advance (or not undermine) what I believe in… at least on some issues. Particularly when it comes to local politicians and local issues.

… but that’s an awful lot of caveats.

The Perfect is The Enemy of The Good… or the “Good Enough For Now”… or the “Best We’re Gonna Get”… or the “Least Bad” 

Since no one who is ever going to be elected, ever agrees with me completely… or generally in more than a few particulars… I have to work on a “least bad” decision making basis.

That’s almost always true of any complicated issue by the way… there’s rarely ever such thing as an unambiguously good or right decision… Only the “least bad” or “least wrong” decision.

So, whenever possible, I vote in the way that I believe will reduce the power of the state, the legitimate use of that power, and the ease with which the state may do so; unless doing so would be cripplingly wasteful, inefficient, or hindering, of the critical and legitimate missions of the state.

When, as is so often the case, I am unable to vote “well”, I try to vote in the way that will be “least bad” for that goal.

If that’s impossible, I will attempt to vote in a way that blocks the formation of overwhelming power blocks, or restrains the use of such power; for example voting for split government, bloc spoilers, effective opponents to dominant power concentrations etc…

Purity tests are not useful. They are in fact harmful. Trusting them is stupid, and applying them makes you miss out on things which might usefully advance your interests (or at least usefully aid in defend them)

If you could trust them, then MAYBE purity tests would be worthwhile, but you can’t.

As a libertarian, how can you vote for “them”?

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a Republican when the party is controlled by so called social conservatives, who are against drugs and gay marriage”

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a democrat when the party is controlled by socialist nanny staters”

Because in the real world, politics and government are not about purity, or perfection, or ideals… They’re about calculation and optimization, of the possible. It’s simply a question of least bad decision making.

If I waited for a candidate who believed exactly what I did… Well, that’s never going to happen.

If I waited for a candidate I trusted completely…. Well, that’s never going to happen either.

So… if I want to have any impact or influence whatsoever, I need to act locally, and personally, and apply least bad decision making.

Why bother voting at all?

Because yes, least bad decision making actually works.

Is it great… no… but it’s better than nothing…

You CAN have an impact as an individual. You can influence local candidates, and local parties. Local parties write state level platform and legislative input, and select local candidates. Local candidates become state level candidates, and local party positions become state party positions. Then later, state candidates become national candidates, and state party positions become national party positions.

Hell… Robert Heinlein wrote a book about the process in 1949 called “Take Back Your Government”, and most of what he wrote then still applies today (at least in principle… obviously demographics, social issues, cultural tastes etc… have changed).

Decisions are made by those who show up

I go to local political events. I meet candidates and participate in conference calls, and round tables, and townhalls and debates. I have been active in my local political scene several places I have lived. Through county level involvement, I’ve helped write position papers  which became part of the state party platform, select candidates who were elected to statewide office, and even write legislation that was eventually passed on the state level (in north Idaho… we basically arranged a libertarian takeover of a county republican party).

… Perhaps more importantly, I’ve helped STOP legislation, and positions, and candidates, which would have been AWFUL for liberty.

If there is a competitive libertarian (no matter what party affiliation they claim), who isn’t a nutjob, or a 9/11 truther, or some form of involuntary collectivist, or authoritarian statist claiming to be a libertarian (Chomskyites… christ no… ) I’ll gladly vote for one. I have voted for libertarian local candidates in the past, a couple of whom even got elected.

If I live in a state or a county that’s going to go Democrat, or Republican, no matter who I vote, I’ll absolutely vote for a libertarian, because the higher the numbers libertarians get, the less they can be ignored,  the more negative press the major parties get, and the more people get exposed to libertarian ideas.

If both parties select absolutely awful candidates who I can’t see any advantage in voting for, or disadvantage in voting against, I will vote libertarian as well.

As I said above, I will vote to block concentration of power, or to counter existing concentrations or excesses, or to blunt their effectiveness.

Most often though, least bad decision making, means I vote Republican (and every once in a while, very rarely, and only on a local level, Democrat).

Why Republican? Why not Democrat?

There are a few “benchmark issues” that will GENERALLY give you a good idea about where a politician stands on rights, freedom, liberty as a whole, individualism and collectivism and the like.

  • Abortion
  • Gun control
  • Economic freedom
  • Drugs
  • Taxation
  • Wealth redistribution
  • Personal moral choices
  • Publicly funded and controlled education
  • Foreign policy
  • Freedom of speech

Sometimes an individual politicians positions on these issues will be inconsistent with each other, or with other members of their party, but they’re generally clustered into areas of agreement with their party which are generally roughly identified as “social issues’ and “economic issues”

I disagree with most major party candidates, about most of theses issues… “both” sides… in some fairly significant ways.

I disagree with both major parties, about social issues, and economic issues. I am not socially a Democrat and economically a Republican. That’s just pseudo-libertarian populism. My disagreements with the Republicans  are absolutely as strong, and as important to me, as my disagreements with democrats.

So why do I generally vote Republican (at least for national offices)?

Because I’m a cynic…

Well, that, and because I’m an engineer by both nature, and by education and training.

Engineers understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that small incremental changes with testing, and iterative optimization over time (with evidence, data, and metrics); is the only way to actually be successful in complicated endeavors over the long term.

We got here by creeping incrementalism. We can roll SOME of it back through creeping decrementalism

Liberals, and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans… All have stupid, harmful, and destructive notions about the use of the coercive force of the state. I would like to minimize the impact of these stupid, harmful, and destructive notions, to the extent I am able.

Very broadly, Democrats claim to believe (and generally vote for) one set of ideas in each category, and Republicans claim to believe pretty much the opposite set of ideas in each category.

As I said, I am not a Democrat on social issues, and a Republican on economic issues… HOWEVER, very broadly and generally speaking, Democrats claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “economic” category, and Republicans claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “social” category.

So, if both social and economic issues are equally important to me, why do I generally vote Republican?

I’m counting on incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, venality, malice, and deceit.

… and I’m rarely disappointed.

Now… the thing is… with liberals, or “progressives” or leftists of most stripes… most of them really sincerely believe in using the coercive force of the state to make changes in society.

Importantly, they often actually attempt to. and are depressingly successful in, passing legislation theoretically intended to implement and enforce their stupid, harmful, and destructive ideas (though generally speaking, not the changes they actually claimed they were trying to make, with the results they claimed to intend; since it seems liberals don’t believe in or understand the law of unintended consequences, or that results are more important than intent).

Critically for my optimization process (and most unfortunately) Democrats seem to be pretty good at passing stupid and harmful laws in both the social and the economic regimes.

Republicans for the most part, limit their efforts to… or at least focus the majority of their claimed efforts on… their harmful, stupid, and dangerous social ideas (yes, the majority of… not all, by a long shot).

In particular, with notionally socially conservative politicians… or at least the ones that actually manage to get elected… most of them don’t actually believe in the stupid ideas they claim to believe. They’re simply social signalling, or pandering to the less intelligent on “their side” (who unfortunately are also often the most motivated).

More importantly, they rarely make any kind of sincere or effective attempt to actually pass these idiotic and harmful laws (they’ll propose them, but they hardly ever actually even try to pass them). The few true social conservatives who actually manage to get elected, and who do sincerely believe their own idiocy, are mostly ineffective at passing legislation attempting to implement said idiocy

Basically I trust Republicans to generally be less competent and effective  at executing on their agenda than Democrats

Which, under this rationale, is exactly what I want.

So… it’s generally a cynical, but realistic, optimization to vote for Republicans, because the stupid and statist ideas from their side generally don’t actually get implemented or enforced (or they get overturned in court), while the Democrats stupid and statist ideas often do.

That’s what voting cynically really means.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Yes, There Are Reasons Why Libertarians Should Vote Democratic


It’s no secret that there are very few issues that Democrats and libertarians can align on. The modern Democratic party is awful once they have a position of power. The Democratic party is reflexively hostile to free enterprise, embraces crony capitalism, has a strong nanny state component, is awful on civil liberties, have proven themselves to be even worse on foreign policy than neocons, and have contributed the current state of affairs which has created a Federal government that is highly dysfunctional. If you’re looking for a policy alignment between Democrats and libertarians, you won’t find it outside of very few social issues.

Having said all that, there are still some reasons why libertarians should consider voting Democrat, although I won’t be taking my own advice.

The Republicans are running on nothing:

What are the Republicans running on this year? Where is this year’s Contract With America?  The GOP released something last month called the Principles for American Renewal, which are essentially talking points. The only concrete pledge the GOP is making is to try and pass a balanced budget amendment. Why should a party running on nothing but “Obama sucks” be rewarded with control of the Senate?

The GOP Contains The Most Useless Politician In America:

The Republican Party is home to the most useless politician in America. That man is none other than Senator Ted Cruz. A vote for the Republican Party is a vote for Ted Cruz and to allow him to increase his power. Ted Cruz released his own set of talking points in October which reads like a reactionary manifesto. If you want to reform the Republican Party, you have to defeat Ted Cruz. The only way to defeat Ted Cruz is for him to lose power, which can only happen if the GOP loses the midterms. Just an illustration of how powerful Ted Cruz is, last year he shutdown the government in order to promote himself. As long as Cruz is in a position of influence, he can sell conservatives and Republicans on false hopes that Obamacare will be repealed, gay marriage can be stopped, and everything will go back the way they used to be. A vote for Democrats will help marginalize Ted Cruz.

If Republicans Fail, Maybe They’ll Have To Change:

Doug Mataconis wrote a good article over at Outside The Beltway about a what might happen if Republicans don’t take the Senate. Mataconis argues that it would the beginnings of a no holds barred civil between the hard-right Ted Cruz/Tea Party wing of the GOP and the establishment and more moderate conservatives. Unlike many liberty Republicans, I don’t view Ted Cruz and the Tea Party as allies because they’re pursuing a hard-right, exclusionary agenda. Perhaps this would make Republicans acknowledge the need to reach out and broaden the party’s appeal to more than just old white males.

Long story short, libertarians should vote Democratic to force the Republican Party into the 21st century and punish it for its lack of an agenda. At least with Democrats, you know what you’re getting.

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.

Why Libertarians Should Vote Republican


America is a bit of a rarity in modern politics in that it is a two party system with so little penetration by independent and minority party politicians that it is difficult to attract qualified candidates to any alternatives. Of the billions spent on electioneering in the U.S., mere millions go to Libertarian, Reform, Constitution, and Green Party candidates, let alone pure independents, unless they have the explicit backing of the Democrats or Republicans. In almost every state in the union, Libertarian candidates struggle to draw enough signatures on petitions to even appear on the ballot, and even when they do, they rarely pick up more than a few percent of the vote. In the face of such a rigged system, it is hard for Libertarians not to become bitter and frustrated with the process, abstaining from the vote, voting for Libertarian candidates in protest, or even using their vote as a weapon against the GOP for keeping them from the podium. I, myself, have felt such a desire myself on occasion. Although I am closing to core republicanism than most of the contributors here, I don’t consider myself a member of the party and have a number of issues where I lean more Libertarian. But here’s the thing that should stop us from walking out on the GOP – here is the reason we need to vote Republican, at least for now.

Voting Republican is Working

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Republican Party of late, you know that much is being said about a “Republican Civil War.” The media is no doubt eager to cover our internal squabbles, waiting in the hope that the party splinters, yielding a permanent liberal plurality in command of the Capital. While the headlines may be a bit overblown, they’re not based on outright fabrications, and here’s the thing – the battle of ideas within the GOP doesn’t just come from the Tea Party (the populist flank). Libertarians are making their mark on conservatism as surely as they ever have – and their impact is much more viable, politically, than that of the Tea Party. Libertarians are winning the argument on multiple key issues.

Foreign Policy

Prior to the Reagan presidency, Republicans were not the party advancing the theory of Communist containment, nor were they particularly inclined to use American military might very proactively. Reagan successfully fused American fears about Communism’s international reach with a doctrine of expanding American concepts of liberty and free trade for the betterment of our economy, but he also ushered in an era of Republican military aggression. It became “red meat” in the Reagan years for conservative candidates to promise a strong national defense. From Reagan to Bush to Dole, Bush Jr. and McCain, the GOP grew synonymous with hawkish calls for a defense based on strong offense. Libertarians have long questioned this use of our resources, but ask yourself this – when was the last time you heard a competitive Republican fighting for a national elected post whose campaign was centered on an aggressive foreign policy? Did Romney spend more of his time than I remember talking about his plans for nation building abroad? Are this year’s GOP senate candidates proposing an all-out offensive against ISIS? George W. Bush’s ‘State of the Union’ address in 2004, heading for election season, was roughly 60% national defense and the war on terror. Romney’s campaign was roughly 90% domestic policy. If you’re attempting to advance the Libertarian goal of speaking softly but carrying a big stick in reserve – or forcing the world at large to start spending some money solving their own problems – the GOP is right there with you now, at least at the national level.

Gay Marriage

The national party has not come around on this issue as of yet, but even ten years ago, the thought of a gay Republican group at CPAC would have been out of the question, and the fact that, since DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court, the GOP no longer makes mention of Gay Marriage unless pressed to do so by the media, and then only reluctantly do its candidates offer a plea for traditional marriage should tell you something. If you believe that liberty should include the liberty for gay adults to make contracts of their free choosing but that churches should not be forced to participate – the GOP is right there with you in spirit, and voices like Rand Paul are yanking it in that direction in policy.

Ending the War on Drugs

I remember, when I was growing up, that it was local and state level GOP candidates leading the charge – playing on the “security” voters (married couples with children especially) with promises of laws meant to crack down on drug use. The national GOP has never made this a top priority outside of the Reagan administration, but continues to maintain a position against legalization of marijuana at this time. But for how long will that remain the case? The core GOP voting bloc – even evangelicals – rate the war on drugs as among their lowest priorities in exit polling nowadays and the GOP is not actively pursuing any meaningful legislation on the issue. Sooner or later, libertarian voices, now by far the most passionate advocates in any direction on drugs within conservative ranks, will win out here as well. When the libertarian position on drugs reaches Paul Ryan, and he starts executing decriminalization concepts and jail population reduction plans in his latest round of budget plans, you know your ideas have reached critical mass within the GOP.

Deficit Spending and Government Downsizing

W. Bush’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ (because we all know that libertarians have no compassion, right? /sarc) is now rightly seen by both the Tea Party and the libertarian flanks of the GOP as one of the greatest betrayals in the party’s history. They’re flat outnumbered on this and, if they get a majority in the legislature in 2014, they will be forced to consider actual cuts to government spending and actual tax hikes or face the wrath of the electorate in 2016. Not a libertarian will be rooting for higher taxes, but enough of the middle class is willing compromise now to get the government to reduce spending that it will be incumbent on the GOP to abandon their “no tax hikes ever!” pledge and forcus on reducing taxes on small businesses while increasing taxes on the very wealthy and simplifying the tax code for all. That is if they ever want to be seen as a party that can govern. But even if they fail in that regard in the next few years, they remain a libertarian’s best hope to some day see reason.

Civil Liberties

Here again, the Tea Party and libertarians see eye to eye and have outflanked the establishment wing of the GOP. The leading voices against NSA spying, the use of drones against Americans, the suspension of due process for those accused of sexual assault, the imposition of the IRS on political speech, etc – they’re all Republican. Liberals are united in their indifference to these things, at least in Washington. The McCain wing of the GOP continues to support such actions as the Patriot Act, but they are fast decline and will soon “age out” – both in the electorate and in Washington.

I’ll close by asking, honestly, is the existing Libertarian Party – unsupported as it is, a strong enough body to affect change on its own and bring about an era of increased liberty and prosperity? And which of the major parties is most likely to seek such a noble goal? Small “l” libertarian voices, to a much greater degree than Libertarian voices, are having their say – the system is working, albeit slowly. As the elderly conservative base begins to die, a whole generation of millennial voters who are, by their nature, DEEPLY skeptical of big government AND big business, are primed to come home to conservatism if it puts on a more libertarian face. If libertarian voters of today want to see such a new era, they must keep the current Republican Party afloat and work to change it from within. There won’t be a country left worth saving if the progressives currently running the Democrat Party are ushered in by libertarian support (direct or through abstaining).

I advise libertarians to stay the course – our system is designed to change slowly – be patient and the GOP is yours to inherit.

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