Posts Tagged With: Barack Obama

In Defense of “Wives, Mothers, and Daughters”

In case you missed it, certain feminist quarters have, in recent months, taken the Obama administration to task for his tendency to refer to women as “our wives, mothers, and daughters” in policy speeches. Back in February, a petition on the White House’s “We the People” page protested the President using similar language in his State of the Union speech. The feminist blogosphere has since been in a bit of a remarkably prolonged state of fury over what they perceive as a tendency to only value women in direct correlation to their relationship to men. One blogger recently equated talking about women in this more relational sense with “perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.”

Now, all of this uproar over a relatively innocuous turn of phrase, (innocuous compared to, say, drone strikes against innocent women in Yemen and Pakistan), might seem a bit overblown. Far be it from me to wander unwittingly into the linguistic hinterland that is home to the contemporary gender-equality movement. However, behind all of this debate over the President’s language, I think something much more profound- and troubling- is taking place here.

What is really being objected to is not so much the President’s choice of words but a particular understanding of human nature. The current culturally-prevalent view of human nature rests on an anthropological assumption that posits womankind as consisting, ultimately, of atomized female  individuals with no inherent social or familial obligations to any other individuals (male or female). Speaking generously, one could perhaps attribute this individualistic view of human nature to a misguided affirmation of the undeniable value of each individual man or woman. But to the extent that this modern anthropology advances each woman’s individual identity as an alternative to the preponderance of social/familial identities that traditionally have held sway over both genders, one can easily expect those (quite legitimate) relational identities to be seen as a threat to a woman’s true worth, which proponents of this view argue is internal and non-relational. In other words, to the extent that women see their relationships with other individuals (or with the Divine) as an integral part of their being, their status as women is somehow suspect. Melissa McEwan, who started the We the People petition against Obama’s “wives, mothers, and daughters” language, did so because she took exception to any expression of femininity that “defines women by their relationships to other people.”

The problem with all of this is that society cannot long remain functional once its members (both male and female) reject their traditional obligations to one another. The foreseeable social consequences of such a radical break in human self-understanding sound all too familiar today:

-          an increase in divorce and abortion rates

-          an increase in the number of children born out-of-wedlock or raised in single-parent households

-          an increasing, culturally-pervasive materialism that attempts to fill relational voids with physical possessions

-          an increase in interpersonal egocentrism that sees other people as mere tools to be used for one’s own gratification

-          a decreasing amount of mutual respect among relationships (particularly inter-gender relationships) of all forms

If these indications of social disintegration sound familiar to the modern ear, it is because of the enormous extent to which modern American society (with considerable help from the welfare state) has successfully stripped modern men of those relationships- as husbands, fathers , brothers, etc.- that historically have given male life meaning. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon references as much when she writes that  “women are still living in a world where we, unlike our male counterparts, are defined by our relationships to others.”

From a relational and familial standpoint, American society today seems to be on the verge of going completely off the rails, if it hasn’t already. To the extent that proponents of gender-equality are troubled by the perceived increase in destructive behavior patterns among American males (especially in regard to their relationships with women), they recognize this problem. To then present women in an individualistic manner- particularly to the exclusion of the relational components of human nature- is not only to deprive each female life of a significant source of meaning, but to exacerbate their own social disintegration.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural renewal, Feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Enigma of Rand Paul

Ben hopes that Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday can turn civil liberties and checks and balances into bipartisan issues.

I hope so too—and I think there’s some reason for hope—but I’m still extremely skeptical. While lots of people are “standing with Rand,” the support isn’t nearly as universal as one might hope.

Among liberals, the MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell called the filibuster “rambling madness,” while Dave Weigel at Slate breezily writes it off as silly “paranoia.” Nancy Pelosi claims that “life is too short” to care about it—though for many future drone victims, life would be much longer if Pelosi cared a little more.

Likewise, if you read the comments sections of the various Slate and Huffington Post articles on the filibuster, you will find a shocking amount of virulently anti-Rand, pro-drone comments, presumably from regular, middle class, non-pundit voters who would have been up in arms if Bush ever claimed the right to target American citizens like Obama does. The vitriol hit a particularly horrifying note when one HuffPo commenter—jocrin—fantasized about Obama sending a drone to murder Rand Paul in the middle of his speech. Checks and balances, indeed.

And of course, the other side is nearly as bad. It is very hard to imagine people like Ted Cruz opposing drone strikes if it were a President Romney ordering them. Anyone who can remember back to last week might recall the Tea Party’s hyperbolic attacks on Chuck Hagel, for Hagel daring to suggest that the Iraq War was anything less than sunshine and roses. Lest we also forget, Rand Paul did not carry himself well through the Hagel hearings, though he ultimately did the right thing.

It’s possible to take these claims of hypocrisy too far. Many of the HuffPo commenters tend to focus myopically on such Tea Party hypocrisy—a tactic that looks a lot like a coping mechanism to avoid the uncomfortable question of whether their own president is pursuing policies that they should, consistently, oppose. Just because some people are hypocritical doesn’t mean we should oppose them when they do good things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t take what they say at face value.

Still, the powers of partisanship notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that Rand Paul has never been more popular than he is today. Principled liberals like the ACLU, Code Pink, and even Van Jones have expressed their support. Van Jones went so far as to call him a “hero.”

Maybe this will be a lesson to Rand that he can garner more support by standing against war and supporting civil liberties than from endorsing Mitt Romney or pledging war on behalf of Israel. He can never please the Obamaphile hordes who have sworn allegiance to their leader, right or wrong. But maybe he will realize that his cultural base lies more with the younger generation of antiwar civil libertarians than with the Fox News-watching septuagenarians that he has hitherto courted.

We will have to wait and see. Like all else with Rand Paul, his filibuster was an enigma.

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A Conservatism the Cool Kids Will Like

Being a conservative academic can be tough and thankless. On college campuses, all the accolades will go to the Left. When you apply for teaching positions, you have to hide your own convictions just to get the job. If you do get the job (remember that F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize but couldn’t get tenure at the University of Chicago), your peers won’t really respect you, or they’ll only grant you the grudging respect of an outsider who doesn’t belong. Intelligent media outlets like the New York Times and NPR will feed your colleagues an endless stream of tidbits on just how dumb people like you really are, and how superior they all are in comparison.

Given the culture we live in, it’s understandable that a lot of conservatives will start longing for the praise that their liberal friends receive, but which is always denied to them. It’s a process that anyone who’s spent any time around conservative students and academics has seen countless times. You realize that you can’t win any praise by pushing conservative ideas, so instead you push liberal ideas from a so-called conservative perspective. People like Bruce Bartlett, David Frum, and Sam Tanenhaus have turned it into an art form.

Ann Coulter recently made a lot of waves by calling libertarians “pussies” for doing essentially the same thing. Libertarians like to focus on their support for gay marriage and legalized pot, which earns them a few pats on the head from liberals. But at the same time they downplay their positions on things like economics and employment discrimination, which would invoke liberal hostility. She’s right to call this cowardly. Drug legalization is certainly important, but so are free markets—and focusing on one and not the other is just a cheap way to court praise and avoid confrontation.

Joe Ptak’s recent string of posts on this blog represents a perfect example of the cloying conservative begging for praise.

Most recently, he tells us that conservatives must accept gay marriage, because, in his words, it isn’t as bad as “some radical left wing gay orgy.” Okaaay. They should also oppose the March for Life because—gasp!—it is “ideological.” And if they object to the massacre of peaceful Branch Davidians at Waco, well, then they’re just a bunch of “tin-foil hat wearing oddballs” who “ignore or deny the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.” (I’ll admit I’ve heard the tin foil part before, but the second part . . . well, that’s a new one.) Rather than attacking the modern state, conservatives are also supposed to “touch the ‘why’ of power.” (I don’t know what that means, or even what a “why” feels like. I just know that touching one doesn’t seem overly important, especially if it takes away from real opportunities to delegitimize the state.)

Oh, and, beyond all that, conservatives should also vote for Barack Obama, because, hey, he decided not to build a Death Star.

Of course, though all of these positions are justified from an allegedly conservative perspective, they all reach conclusions that perfectly align with the Democratic Party platform.

In this kind of “conservatism,” the liberal is the one who makes history; the conservative just lives in it. So, if the world that the liberals made empowers the government to massacre peaceful separatist groups, so be it. Conservatives will just make sure the liberals don’t go too far. (Joe writes: “It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts.”) But of course, with every successive change, the definition of “going too far” expands. Twenty years from now, we can expect Joe to support “radical left wing gay orgies” as being preferable to pedophiliac orgies.

Here, the liberal is the rock star who passes through town impregnating groupies and trashing hotel rooms. The conservative is the meek lawyer who stops by the next day to settle accounts and smooth over hard feelings. But never does the conservative question that preventing destruction in the first place is a worthy goal. Nor does he question the justice of a world that leaves only destruction in its wake.

No: “Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die.” After all, to call social destruction “unjust” would be radical or ideological or . . . something.

Maybe Michael Oakeshott or Peter Viereck would recognize this as conservatism, but—as Joe asked of the Waco massacre—why should we care? If your version of conservatism just so happens to justify everything the Left does, then what’s the point of even calling it “conservatism” at all? Does it really matter if you like Burke’s epistemology if you also vote for Barack Obama and make peace with the modern state? Why not just drop the pretense and call yourself a liberal?

It’s always respectable to stand up and fight for your principles. So conservatives should be willing to accept the Left’s ire if that’s what sticking to your principles leads to. But to constantly tailor your positions just to fit in with the popular kids—that’s just a middle school morality that should be totally rejected.

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Ronny Reconsidered

The good Benjamin David first invited me to Beyond the GOP to provide a view less sympathetic to libertarianism, and particularly to Ron Paul, then is often represented on this site. Indeed, Ben himself has eloquently defended Paul in the past, and it is certainly a testament to his intellectual character to invite some friendly opposition. I have been meaning to join in here for some time anyway, and now is as good a time as any. Though I apologize in advance for being a little long winded and inadequately substantive at times. The medium of blogging is always prohibitive!

First and foremost, I concede that there is more to admire about Ron Paul than there is to dismiss. This is a man who does what he says and lives what he preaches. Such integrity commands my respect, as does his courage to resist the rapid departure in Washington and elsewhere from anything even resembling conservatism. Indeed, resistance is the very foundation of conservatism – as well as constitutionalism. Ron has also been a relentless defender of individual liberty, limited government, and advocates a monetary policy that actually acknowledges reality. Furthermore – and this is where I depart from many of his usual critics—I think he is ultimately right about most of his foreign policy. For some, he seems to be an isolationist and weak; as someone waving the white flag. Yet when one looks more carefully at his position, this is not the case. Ron recognizes—as the imperialistic and ideological neo-conservatives and many liberals do not—that America’s faux-imperialism is doing more harm to our economy than good and is increasingly devastating to civil liberties. This is particularly true with the increasing and terrifying use of drones—something which no person with a historical sense should support.

Still, I voted for Mitt Romney. Why? For self-defense and self-preservation. Romney is not very conservative, nor would he have been able to clean up the devastation wrought by the reckless and ideological Obama administration. But Obama’s government is, I would argue, the worst presidential administration in American history. Anything I could do to help resist his assault on liberty, limited government, and religious freedom was worth doing. I realize that a vote for someone like Ron Paul would be in principle the same thing, but in a practical sense and in a manner cognizant of efficacious political morality, I chose the lesser of two evils. In an imperfect world, that is often the best we can do.

This brings me to my first major objection to Ron Paul. He is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist like Obama is, but his uncompromising commitment to his principles is politically objectionable in my view. Yes, the current political landscape is littered by people who live in a dream world in which money grows on trees and democracy never fails, but you cannot simply ignore such things. The “games” of American politics are utterly corrupt and broken, but the game is the game. It is not a concession to choose to play it when you know you can’t win everything. Compromise is not a dirty word – it is a necessary element of a just and enduring order. The Constitution was a compromise on multiple levels, and this need has never changed.

Ron Paul does not strike me as someone willing to make this concession to the “game,” but he would do well to learn some lessons from Machiavelli and Aristotle. Machiavelli taught us essentially that when we stick to our principles, to moralism in an imperfect world, and ignore mankind’s fallen nature we lose both our principles and ourselves and accomplish nothing. But when we account for human nature as it is, for fortuna, necessity, and historical examples and circumstances, we can achieve greater virtù—a more efficacious political sensibility and morality. Of course, Machiavelli is famous for suggesting rather sinister and violent ways in which this may be realized in principalities and republics—so we need an Aristotle. Aristotle encouraged us to look for a golden mean between two extremes, and to always choose our actions and recognize virtue as doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and so on. Yet, unlike Machiavelli, there were certain lines one ought never cross irrespective of means and ends. Certain means and ends would always be evil no matter the circumstances, and I am suspicious of whether or not Machiavelli ever admitted that.

In other words, Ron Paul rightly sticks to honorable principles, but would ultimately find them undermined at every turn should he ever make it to the Oval Office. This is why Clinton was so brilliant. He understood better than most that political success was more about playing well than about principles. Of course, we do not “play” for the sake of playing—but for the sake of those very principles. The ends do justify the means in politics (though not always). Obama is learning this the hard way, stubbornly blaming everyone else, arrogantly refusing to compromise, and failing in every way to lead. His principles mean more than the game, and though he has had some rather unfortunate victories, it is the game that has kept even worse successes from becoming a reality. Ron Paul would have to work miracles in Washington to acquire the necessary political coalitions behind his efforts—coalitions unlikely to be realized at present.

My second objection to Ron Paul resides in my suspicion of capitalism. Now I do not object to capitalism as such, and though I have been tempted by distributism, I have not given in. I believe in economic freedom and have no objection to private property or free markets. Yet capitalism must be restrained by a healthy dose of suspicion: that it is the least worst option and must always be checked by other forces. Ron Paul, and especially his son Rand, seem to me (based on reading his book The Revolution, his campaign websites, and TV appearances) to subscribe to a free-market fundamentalism that I cannot embrace. Markets will not save us, and an economic arrangement elevated to the position of a moral absolute can become an end in itself, instead of a means. We see this constantly in the utilitarian justifications of morally reprehensible policies advanced on purely economic grounds. There is also a tendency in capitalism to treat people as less human, and more like mere wallets and consumers. Furthermore, big business can be just as hostile to liberty as big government.

A conservative economics then is a reluctant capitalism which resists the exploitation of local communities and rural resources for the benefit of distant and impersonal large corporations. It’s one which favors small businesses, a workforce that accommodates multiple levels of skills, less distance between the producer and consumer, opposes outsourcing, and favors the least amount of regulation possible. Ultimately if limited government is to become a reality, it must be replaced by something, by strong local communities, families, and churches. Government is not merely huge because of top-down power grabbing, but because the intermediary associations formerly disincentivizing big-government have broken down. Ron and Rand Paul’s enthusiasm for economic liberty, though welcome, would be better received if it made these qualifications.

In sum, Ron Paul is an exceptional man and politician worthy of our attention. But his political morality and excessive enthusiasm for capitalism bother me. So when you comment below in defense of him, I hope you will comment on these grounds. Is he more politically effective than I am letting on? Does he qualify his love for free-markets in a meaningful way that I have overlooked? I could have also mentioned the objectionable positions of libertarianism when it comes to drugs and the environment…but that is for another blog.

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The NRA Was Right About Obama

The NRA’s new ad about Obama’s children has been getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately, most of the criticism—e.g., on whether it is good form to talk about the president’s children or whether it is in fact true that Sasha and Malia’s school employs armed guards—misses the important point. That is: whether we’re turning into a society with one set of laws for the well-connected and another set for everyone else.

At first blush, the critics’ complaints have some plausibility. If we assume that the NRA is talking about armed school guards (and not the Secret Service, which is unclear from the ad), then even if the Obama girls get protection and public school students do not, maybe that isn’t a problem, from a conservative or libertarian perspective. After all, Sasha and Malia go to a private school, so their protection is provided voluntarily on the free market, whereas public school protection can only come about through taxation. (As an aside, I wish the NRA would stop talking about public police in schools. Focusing on that instead of private ownership certainly weakens their argument.)

Moreover—and perhaps more importantly—critics complain that the Obama girls need more protection because they are at greater risk. The president’s daughters are a natural target for attacks in a way that a mechanic or a philosophy professor’s daughters are not.

But just because the Obama girls are at more risk than others doesn’t mean that others are at no risk. And how those others decide to deal with their varying levels of risk will depend on their own individual circumstances.

For instance, it makes sense for the Obamas to have a highly-trained contingent of Secret Servicemen surrounding them 24/7. But for a convenience store owner in the ghetto, it might only make sense to have a single gun on hand (and preferably a more powerful one than any attackers would likely use). Even if the store owner had the means to hire a private Secret Service, he might very well consider doing so to be an exorbitant waste of money, given the limited nature of the risk he faces.

In short, people can judge the risks they face themselves, and then decide what preventive measures are appropriate. Some might only need a small handgun; others, 24/7 armed protection. Each decision is just an individualized response to one’s own circumstances.

Obama doesn’t seem to oppose private businesses employing armed guards, or taxpayer-funded Secret Service protection. But he does have a problem with forms of private, individual gun ownership—and as Politico reports, for one of the first times in his presidency, “he is willing to burn political capital” to restrict it.

But all that means is that he is willing to regulate away the forms of protection that the poor and middle classes would use, while leaving intact only those forms that the rich (or powerful politicians likely to be the target of some attack) can afford. At best, this means that poorer people will have to drastically increase the money they spend on protection services (which would leave them much less money for everything else). At worst—and which is more likely—it means that they would be forced to do without, or be pushed into the black market for guns.

The NRA says that this makes Obama an “elitist hypocrite.” Well, it isn’t necessarily hypocritical to believe that only you and people like you deserve protection. But it is certainly dishonorable. Allowing the free market to work for the rich and stymying it when it would help the poor is just as bad as any other government intervention. And even though the ad unfortunately focuses on the NRA’s questionable proposal of bringing police into public schools, it is clear that Obama’s general gun policies would indeed disparately harm the poor.

So, the critics miss the point when they say that Sasha and Malia get their security from the free market. The issue not that these two get protection—they deserve security, just like everyone else. The real issue is that, if Obama had his way, other, less fortunate children will be effectively barred from protection. Eventually, you might have to be a millionaire who can afford a fancy private school—or maybe even a president who gets free bodyguards—before you can adequately protect your children.

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5 Arguments We Should Abandon in 2013 (But Probably Won’t)

2012 was a good year for bad arguments. Here’s a list of the five worst arguments of 2012, and what is wrong with them.

1.  Obama won the election fair and square, so now we should let him carry out his mandate.

Most people agree that politics should be about pursuing policies that are likely to improve the conditions of the citizens. Accordingly, if something would make us worse off, then it should be rejected.

But whether something is popular is irrelevant to the question of whether it makes people better off. In fact, many of Obama’s policies (like taxing the rich or forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions) are likely in the long-run to make the bulk of people at least somewhat worse off. And if you believe that, then you’re not doing anyone any favors by sitting by and letting politicians carry out a destructive mandate unopposed.

Nor is it any answer to say that, in a democracy, the people demonstrated their preference for these policies and so should be able to have them. If it were possible to confine the economic effects of higher taxes and a burdened insurance market strictly to Obama voters, I wouldn’t complain. But, as the Left likes to remind us, no man is an island. Voting for a bad president isn’t like going on a bad diet, where only the person who made the mistake has to suffer the consequences. Rather, when the president pursues destructive policies, everyone suffers, both here and abroad. If we want to mitigate that suffering, the last thing we should want is to let Obama carry out his mandate.

2.  “Epistemic closure” is a serious problem on the Right.

A popular belief among the cognoscenti is that conservatives live in their own little cocoon and refuse to listen to dissenting voices. This may be true for parts of the talk-radio Right, like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. But I see no reason to believe that the Right on the whole is any more “epistemically closed” than the Left as a whole. Indeed, having spent the last two and a half years at Cornell Law School, I have been surrounded by some of the most highly-educated liberals that I’ve ever met . . . but I’ve never been in a more intellectually-stultifying atmosphere, where there is only one permissible way to think. This belief that only liberalism can be respectable comes from the same close-mindedness that caused Paul Krugman to wonder that, if any independent, unorthodox Republicans do exist, “Why not call them ‘Democrats?’” And it is, from my own experience with academia, a very widespread belief.

So, the key difference between Left-wing and Right-wing epistemic closure is that, whereas the Right-wing variety tends to come from partisan talk show hosts that no one takes seriously anyway, the Left’s comes from its most credentialed intelligentsia—which is where it is least appropriate.

3.  The Sandy Hook shooting changed EVERYTHING.

I have blogged a lot about this. To argue that the Sandy Hook shooting changed everything and that, therefore, we should be more open to gun control makes a lot of implicit assumptions.

At the heart of the “changed everything” argument lies a confusion over the realm of facts versus the realm of theory. Theory gives us a way of understanding the world and allows us to explain why certain facts occur. Facts just exist, and are meaningless without an explanatory theory. For instance, it is a fact that incidences of rape increase alongside incidences of ice cream sales. But we know, as a matter of theory, that the two really don’t affect each other.

Likewise, just because there are loose gun laws doesn’t mean that Sandy Hook happened because of them. We have to rationally weigh the arguments for and against gun control to be able to understand whether the shooting happened because of or in spite of the current laws. But the things that should be driving our understanding of gun control are competing theories, not just the particularly striking facts of this shooting. Unfortunately, many people are so shocked by the Sandy Hook massacre that they are willing to jump to normative conclusions about gun control without really asking whether gun control is actually effective.

4.  Obama inherited this economy from Bush, so we shouldn’t be too hard on him.

The descriptive part of this statement is true. But, so what? Why can only one person be to blame?

If I were shot down outside my house, I would blame the person the person who shot me. But if, when I went to the hospital, the surgeon used unsterile instruments to remove the bullets, so that I became infected and never fully recovered, I would blame both the initial shooter and the blundering surgeon who tried to help me for the full scope of my injuries.

Bush may have started the recession, but Obama has done nothing to make it better. Indeed, many of his policies have probably made it much worse. Depressions need not take a decade to self-correct; if one takes the correct responses to it, as the link argues that President Harding did in 1920, they can quickly disappear and be forgotten. But to try to absolve Obama from blame just because he didn’t cause the recession ignores the fact that decisions that prolong and exacerbate suffering can be just as bad as the initial cause of the suffering itself.

5.  Politicians need to relearn the values of bipartisanship and compromise, like they did in the 1950s.

This is my choice for the worst argument of the year. But it is one you hear repeated everywhere, constantly.

The mid-century was indeed a time of bipartisanship, but it was also a time of intellectual homogeneity. It was a time when conservatism could be written off by a prominent liberal scholar as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas” and when there was virtually no outlet for serious libertarian thought, aside from a few low-circulation newsletters. Meanwhile, the “bipartisan” policies were invariably statist ones. The entire mid-20th century can be characterized as a series of unchecked encroachments on a once-free economy while the US cemented its empire overseas. It might be nice to see people working together, but when they’re working together to pursue bad ideas, bipartisanship isn’t so great.

Now that the internet has done a lot to decentralize information away from a few well-connected news sources, it is inevitable that there will be less agreement. But that’s hardly a bad thing. Rather, it’s a function of the fact that hitherto neglected ideologies are suddenly able to reach a much wider audience than ever before. The old guard of the center-left establishment can be expected to complain—no one likes losing a monopoly on ideas. But the rest of us are much better off when people can bicker, argue, and reject the old orthodoxies that defined past generations. The fact that, today, political debates are more likely than ever before to focus on first principles (i.e. on whether taxation is justifiable at all rather than on whether the top marginal rate should be 38% or 41%) is a great opportunity to challenge the old statist orthodoxy and hopefully to replace it with something better.

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O’Rourke to Obama: Stop Being a Grinch!

P.J. O’Rourke has an op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, “Dear Mr. President, Zero-Sum Doesn’t Add Up.” He thanks the president for doing his job, getting bin Laden and not being Jimmy Carter, but also refuses to thank him for the variety of foreign policy and economic mistakes of his presidency.  Mostly, O’Rourke goes after Obama for insistence on understanding economics as a zero-sum game, focusing on redistribution of a fixed economic pie. Leaving aside a discussion on conservative and libertarian understandings of economic growth, O’Rourke makes an outstanding point about the nature of Obama’s economic plans. In the Christmas season, does he seem more like Santa or the Grinch? Do the President’s economic plans appeal to the generosity represented by the symbol of Mr. Claus or envy represented by the symbol of the Grinch? O’Rourke writes,

A zero-sum faith in getting what’s wanted by taking it can extend to faith itself. In some places there is only one religion. If other people have a religion of their own they must be taking away from my religion. Give up that faith, infidels.

Speaking of infidel faiths, Mr. President, please consider the message of this Christmas week—a message of giving, not taking. And consider your prominent position as a messenger of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. When you embrace a belief in the zero-sum nature of what’s under the Christmas tree and propose to redistribute everything that’s in our Christmas stockings, you’re asking the world to go sit on the Grinch’s lap instead of Santa’s.

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Music for the Obama Era

I finally finished my final exams today. Part of the silver lining of law school exams is that, because I’m sitting in front of my computer from the time I wake until the time I go to sleep, I end up finding a lot of new music to listen to while I study. As a fan of folksy country music, I was especially pleased to discover two new (to me) bands this exam season: American Aquarium and Hiss Golden Messenger (the latter thanks to this post at The American Conservative). (For two emblematic songs, click “read more,” below.)

I have no idea what political beliefs (if any) these two bands hold, and I certainly don’t presume that they would agree with me. However, I do think their music does a great job of capturing the sense of life of millions of people living in 2012, under the administrative state. As layoffs continue, factories close down, taxes and regulations increase, and the “mess that Obama inherited” never seems to go away, their music captures the melancholy feeling of continuous decline that future generations might well associate with the early twenty-first century.

The Democratic position is always that our problems will be solved if only the rich learn more patriotism and accept higher taxes and lower profits. But the realities of the twenty-first century are different. As Sheldon Richman argued in a recent piece, modern political problems are not about the rich laissez-faire capitalists on one side versus the government-craving working man on the other. Nor can they be solved by redistribution.

Rather, our present problems stem in large part from an excess of government redistribution—but of a kind where money is redistributed from the poor to the rich, and not the other way around. Indeed, the modern state is best understood as a means by which the rich can continue to enrich themselves, while the middle and working classes stagnate and decline. Increased taxes and regulations raise barriers for small companies to compete with their large corporate competitors, while the whole structure of the Federal Reserve system relies on a steady infusion of cash into well-connected banks and bond dealers who then use it to bid up prices for everyday goods, to the detriment of people on more fixed incomes, who see prices rise but their paychecks remain the same. The “too big to fail” mentality essentially works as socialism for the rich, where well-connected businessmen are protected from their own bad decisions—and was incorporated into the Democrat’s beloved Dodd-Frank Act, through increased oversight and protective regulation of so-called “systemically important financial institutions.”

Accordingly, to be libertarian is actually to promote the interests of the poorer members of society. I think the Republican Party would rather go down in flames than to actually start talking about benefitting the poor, even when the means proposed are through deregulation. The Party’s recent treatment of fiscally conservative congressmen and copyright dissenters show just how averse to introspection it actually is. But for the rest of us on the Right, the issue should not be to simply dismiss the poor or unemployed as lazy welfare queens, or whatever. We should realize that millions of people really are victims of circumstance and that they will continue to be so until we can start repealing the administrative state. “A working man can’t make it, no way.”

Continue reading

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Someone at Barnes & Noble Has a Sense of Humor

Spotted at a recent visit to my local Barnes & Noble. (I promise that I wasn’t the one who put it there.)

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Obama’s Awful Drone Wars

Kudos to Ben for highlighting the Obama administration’s lawless drone violence. Undoubtedly, the best article I ever read from this past election cycle was by Conor Friersdorf, on the topic of Obama’s drone wars. Wrote Friersdorf:

[I]f you’re a Democrat who has affirmed that you’d never vote for an opponent of gay equality, or a torturer, or someone caught using racial slurs, how can you vote for the guy who orders drone strikes that kill hundreds of innocents and terrorizes thousands more — and who constantly hides the ugliest realities of his policy (while bragging about the terrorists it kills) so that Americans won’t even have all the information sufficient to debate the matter for themselves?

How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.

But I don’t see many Obama supporters feeling as reluctant as the circumstances warrant.

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.

Keen on Obama’s civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers? 

(Emphases added.)

The election has shown that millions of voters do not in fact have any deal-breakers, but rather will happily—joyfully—vote for someone whose behavior they would have vociferously condemned if engaged in by a Republican. I will go to my grave before I understand why Obama supporters apparently believe that continued funding for PBS is more important than ending the bombing of innocent civilians. But their willingness to accept horrible violence overseas in return for Big Bird and gay marriage at home can only be described as tragic.

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Sir Thomas More and Drones

The New York Times has a nice article on the White House’s push to develop a “rule book” to regulate drone strikes. Apparently, during the campaign the Obama White House was scrambling to develop concrete procedures that would regulate how and when a hypothetical Romney administration could use drones. The article quotes an unnamed White House official admitting “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.” Once the election was over, however, such an attempt to institutionalize policies suddenly lost their sense of immediacy. The White House is still working on crafting a “rule book” but seem in no real rush to do so.

The overarching message from all of this seems to be: “there need to be clear standards and procedures in place; just not for us.” Rarely is liberal hypocrisy ever so blatant.

While it is reassuring that the Obama administration at least comprehends that their actions have consequences that will continue after them, they don’t seem willing to change their own behavior accordingly. The NYT article points out the very real possibility that other countries will follow suit in developing and using drones. The fact that the Obama administration sees no problem continuing to use drones that kill a startling number of civilians  (including children) without first formulating any kind of institutional regulations for ordering drone strikes shows a contempt for legal procedure that borders on the tyrannical. The fact that the entire drone program remains shrouded in secrecy only adds to the dangerous precedent being set. Set aside what such strikes do to the public perception of America in Yemen and Pakistan; it is this disregard for legal procedure- in effect, disregard for the rule of law- that will come back to haunt America.

All of this reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies (and plays). In Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More gives one of the most eloquent defenses of constitutionalism and conservatism to ever grace the silver screen.

The Obama administration may think that killing terrorists and protecting America’s security is a worthy enough goal to justify working without specific institutional procedures. But when we begin to cut down the laws that stand between us and whatever Devil we are after, that same law will be utterly unable to protect us from the Devil, as well as ourselves.

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Arianna Huffington’s Fool-Proof Strategy for Reform

Arianna Huffington has a post on how now, after giving Barack Obama their unconditional support, it is time for the Left to hold his feet to the fire. Based on the Huffington Post’s past activity, this is the best I can make of her “strategy.”

  1. Vigorously promote a candidate who says he opposes war, Guantanamo Bay, and the surveillance state.
  2. Sit by and make up rationalizations while that same candidate escalates war, keeps Guantanamo Bay open, and expands the surveillance state.
  3. Vigorously promote that candidate’s reelection.
  4. Hope that now, with no future elections to worry about, that same candidate will go back to the promises he reneged on the first time around.

Fool-proof!

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“Vote or Die,” Indeed

Here’s someone who gives the “Vote or Die” movement new meaning (h/t Attack the System):

[An Arizona] woman critically injured her husband by running over him with an SUV during an argument about the presidential election, police said.

Holly Solomon, 28, was upset about President Barack Obama’s re-election and began arguing with her husband when she found out that he didn’t vote, authorities said.

Daniel Solomon, 36, told investigators that his wife believed her family was going to face hardship as a result of Obama’s election to a second term.

During the argument, Daniel Solomon got out of the SUV and gave his wife a dirty look, according to a police report obtained by Phoenix television station KPHO. That’s when she started chasing him through a Gilbert parking lot.

Police said he took refuge behind a light pole as she circled him numerous times while continuing to yell at him.

She struck him as he tried to run toward the road, pinning him between the SUV’s underside and a curb, police said.

According to Politico, Mitt Romney won Arizona by approximately 20,000 votes. So whether or not this woman’s husband voted for Romney is completely meaningless. The only way he could have made any kind of difference is if he were able to convince 20,001 Arizonans to switch from voting for Romney to voting for Obama–a proposition that seems . . . unlikely.

If some other ideology could motivate one spouse to run over the other in a car, it would be called dangerous fanaticism. That is especially so when a failure to conform has no real-world consequences. But the “everyone must vote” line has never corresponded to the realities of the electoral college or to the fact that aggregate phenomena are only determined by the actors on the margins. It seems, then, to have more in common with older mass hysterias like witch-burning than it does with rational political deliberation.

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Post Election Analysis: Ok Guys. Pep Talk

What was it the Mayans said about 2012? Anyway, about last week: it could have gone better.

Let’s be honest here. The political future is bleak. A good portion of the populace would prefer the sham security of the state to liberty, with all the wondrous uncertainty that it entails. We can try to convince people, but it’s not that they don’t understand freedom; it’s that they don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t see the value of local control; it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility themselves. As Ross Douthat explains: “Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements.”

We took a beating, but that doesn’t end the world. From Deadwood (language alert):

I have no illusions about what Romney or the Republicans would have done if things had gone differently last week. If the Republicans had won we would have faced the same frustration that followed 2004, and 2000, and 1988, and 1984…etc. Things would have continued more or less in the same statist direction. Nevertheless, I do see the election as a clear ratification of statism in a way that a Romney victory was not. Even though Romney offered little in the way of an alternative, it was at least an opportunity for the electorate to say, “Well, to hell with this!” even though they would have to say the same thing in four years. That didn’t happen. If anything, the parties will both shift to the left (an illegitimate political term from the French Revolution, but you know what I mean). Certain encouraging trends that Kelse notes aside, it still means a repudiation of traditionalist and libertarian ideas. I’m happy we have those eight good YAL-endorsed candidates, but we have little else.

However, it is possible that the Republican Party will not shift to the left and become more statist, but more libertarian. It’s a dubious statement given the likely political fallout, but nonetheless it is probable that libertarians will have a larger microphone within the opposition party in the coming years. Neoconservative Bill Kristol affirmed the increasing presence of the Pauls and their type in the future of the Republican Party on Fox News. Apparently a hard pill for him to swallow.

I’m ambivalent as to whether this is a good thing. On the one hand, I like the Pauls for reasons Ben outlined before and I look forward to the increasing presence of Rand Paul on the national stage; on the other, many who claim to support them are fools. So when we say that followers of the Pauls will have an increasing role in the Republican Party, I don’t know that it will be a good thing for reasons that will become clear below.

Everyone, including the talking heads in the video posted above, have asserted that conservatives have lost on social issues. Maybe they’re right. In 1980, two thirds of people defined the family as father, mother, and children. Today, one third or less define it that way. All social conservative values essentially trend around the central place of the family. A decline in the traditional (as in the basic mom, pop, kids) understanding of the family tracks a decline in social conservative values. Many libertarians deny that the changing attitudes are a problem. Like the nineteenth century utilitarians they hate the intermediary institutions that circumscribe the individual, the family most of all. It alone is able to shape individuals from the cradle through all of their formative years. They see the collapse of the family as only one more step in the march of individual freedom. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Pauls pull a lot of support from this brand of libertarian.

The problem that should concern libertarians—and does concern traditionalists—is that the family is the unit that trains people to be self-sufficient and provides them with a financial (and emotional) safety net to keep them free from the need for government aid. Persons without that background will turn to the state to provide that security. If a kid wanted to go to college, the family would rally around and provide the means to get him there or at least co-sign on the loan. If he wanted to start a business, he would turn to his family for the starter loan. At least then, if the kid couldn’t make the payments he would have to work it off for mom and dad or dad’s brother Sam. But what if kids don’t have two parents? What if the only possible back up plan is to stick it to Uncle Sam (the proverbial Uncle Sam, not their actual Uncle Sam) when they don’t get a job or can’t make the payments?

No amount of ratiocination regarding the free market (and I like the free market) will convince them that their lives will be worse without guaranteed healthcare and guaranteed retirement funds and all the rest. The local community composed of family and friends used to provide for individuals financially when times were tough. Now we just turn to Ole’ Uncle Sam. The election is an indication that more and more people see things that way, either because they can’t imagine an alternative or because they aren’t willing to take the risk.

This is another way of saying that persons are more than homo economicus. Libertarians often make the same mistake as Marxists in thinking that people are only their economic interests: appeal to those and you win. The fact is, you don’t. Which is both reason for encouragement and discouragement. On the one hand, we have the trends on filial decline noted above: that’s the bad news. On the other hand, it means that we can still articulate a case for traditionalism and libertarianism and actually have a chance of prevailing.

This is all to say that the pre-political matters for politics. The political outcome of any election will only reflect the possibilities inherent in the pre-political elements already in place. The question then is: how can we influence those?

So let’s turn now to an oldie but goodie, Albert J. Nock’s 1936 essay in The Atlantic, “Isaiah’s Job.” Nock was notorious for his belief that speaking to the multitude was useless. He believed he was speaking to a Remnant who would endure through the contemporary civilizational crisis and rebuilt civilization once it became possible again. He uses the prophet Isaiah as the symbol for the man God calls to minister to the Remnant.  Isaiah, however, is confused as to his role. It doesn’t seem like any significant portion of the people will listen to him.

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

It’s a great article. The problem is that it works from the premise of despair. Whatever traditionalists and libertarians want to say about the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, the election was still a repudiation of our values and ideas. People by and large embrace what Obama offers. This isn’t reason to despair. Renewal is possible among many people, not just a purported Remnant that will rebuild when all has fallen. Historically, it’s happened under worse circumstances.

What are we to do? Remember the scene from Deadwood above:

The world ends when you’re dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.

Edmund Burke reportedly said something similar, “Never despair, but if you do, work in despair.” Kelse could be right; renewal could be on the horizon. Either way, whether for the Remnant or for the masses, we’ll keep blogging and attempting to articulate those permanent values that become clearer to us as we study and discuss the traditions of order and liberty we inherited.

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No Compromise!: More Election Thoughts

In 2008, I was happy to see the Republicans lose. I hoped that a crushing defeat would force them to reevaluate the direction that the Party had taken during the Bush years, and to finally turn against war, the surveillance state, and economic interventionism.

Needless to say, that reevaluation never occurred. If anything, the Romney campaign represented a doubling-down on Bush’s foreign policy–a doubling-down that reached its most absurd when, in his RNC acceptance speech, Romney darkly denounced President Obama for simply “talking to,” rather than attacking, Iran.

Likewise, on the economic front, Tea Partiers are a definite improvement over the rank-and-file from the Bush years. But even still, they tend to only envision a rolling back of the regulatory state to the level it was at in, say, 1982, rather than engaging in a fundamental rethinking of the entire post-New Deal philosophy. They may dislike Obamacare, but they don’t like to question its predecessor, Medicare, too deeply. And their rush to embrace Mitt Romney, who enacted the same healthcare plan in Massachusetts that the Tea Party denounces on the national level, should give any consistent conservative or libertarian pause.

My old hope, then, that the Republicans would reevaluate themselves turned out to be totally misplaced. But if the Republicans refused to reevaluate themselves after 2008 (or 1992, 1996, or 2006), then what reason is there to think that they’ll do so after 2012?

Indeed, even if they did reevaluate and suddenly returned to being the laissez-faire, non-interventionist party of Robert Taft that I’ve been waiting to see, I am not at all convinced that that would bring them any more electoral success than they actually got. However difficult it may be for some of this blog’s intended audience to accept, the masses of people who opposed Mitt Romney did not do so because they thought he was just a watered down version of Barack Obama (as many of us did). Instead, it seems that they voted against him because they actually bought into the Democrats’ caricatures of Republicans slashing government programs, or waging a “war on women,” or something–however little these caricatures actual correspond to the reality of Romney’s political career.

Yes, it is tempting to believe that everything would go swimmingly as long as the Republicans adopted my own beliefs. But I don’t see any evidence to believe that, at this point in time, my own beliefs are nationally popular (despite smaller-scale, encouraging signs).

Many commentators take this electoral rejection of libertarian principles as evidence that the Republican Party needs to give up its appeals to the “anti-government” crowd and go back to being the “moderate” party of Eisenhower and Nixon. Apparently, according to such people, the two-party system already gives voters too many choices–what we really need are two parties that offer only oh-so-slightly different variations of the same liberal platform.

But the argument for moderation misses the hugely important fact that the choice between, for instance, increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich is not simply a question of whether the majority gets to implement its will. Indeed, what is at stake is not really a question of will at all; it is a question of economic law, which can no more be defied than can the laws of gravity.

If the majority believed that the way to achieve social prosperity was to jump out of tall buildings and flap your arms until you fly away, then people who understand physics are duty-bound to demonstrate that the majority program is doomed to failure, regardless of whether people want to listen or not. The same is true regarding economic issues, whether taxation, debt, inflation, or Obamacare. People who understand economics and fear for the fate of their neighbors should not give ground and adopt their enemies’ program. Rather, if they really care about their neighbors’ well-being, then they should continue to expose the fallacies of the majority even more vigorously than before. It was in this spirit that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises identified as his life slogan, from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.” (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it!”)

As far as economics is concerned, whether the Tea Party decides to moderate its rhetoric or whether Barack Obama can claim a mandate for higher taxes is entirely beside the point. Actions have consequences that democratic majorities cannot abolish. Higher taxes will stifle savings and investment, and therefore economic progress, regardless of whether voters want them. As Mises proclaimed, a failure to understand the economic consequences of certain political actions “will not annul economics,” but will instead simply lead to general destruction and impoverishment. (Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition, p. 881.) (For more detailed arguments on why taxing the rich is economically destructive, see, e.g., herehere, and here.)

Of course, there is little hope that the Republican Party will become an effective vehicle for these ideas. If after eight years of Bush and four of Obama the best they could give us was Mitt Romney, then I take that as ample evidence that they are incapable of changing. That’s not to say that we should neglect the opportunity to elect a Rand Paul or Justin Amash if the chance arises, or even to search for and recruit other like-minded candidates who are yet unknown. But I do believe that placing our hopes for the future on reforming the Republican Party is an enormous waste of time.

Rather, the long-term interests of libertarians and conservatives can only be served by looking “beyond the GOP.” Ultimately, politics is only the manifestation of underlying cultural and ideological forces–what people on this blog call the pre-political. If you can change people’s hearts and minds, then they will cease supporting awful people like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and politicians will have to adapt in turn.

Thankfully, culture is the area where libertarian ideas are meeting with their greatest success. Ron Paul became popular among the youth not by channeling Richard Nixon, as the cheerleaders for moderation would recommend, but by presenting a refreshing and radical alternative to the status quo. This is the same phenomenon that catapulted The Road to Serfdom to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, eighteen years after its author’s death, and that made the fledgling Ludwig von Mises Institute–a tiny think-tank in the Alabama hinterlands, with no source of federal funds–a vibrant and hugely popular educational source for libertarian students and scholars all over the world.

In a sense, it is disheartening to know that there is no viable political party that represents our ideas. But the times that we live in are doing much of our recruitment for us. The manifest failures of statism are becoming clearer and clearer. As people begin to realize that persistent problems of economic stagnation, higher prices, and falling living standards are not going away, they will start looking for non-mainstream political alternatives. We see this now in Europe, although, there, popular dissatisfaction has been translating into support for fascistic parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece and for real, flesh-and-bones socialists in France.

Nevertheless, “more statism” need not be the only alternative to Obama or Romney’s middling interventionism. Our job must be to promote a plausible and humane option that people can turn to as a credible means of improving their lot. Such educational promotion doesn’t have the luster of an election campaign, but, with the political world as it is, it is the only permanent cure for statism.

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Murder She Tweeted (Twote?)

Now that the presidential campaign is over, we can finally start to look back on the race with some degree of objectivity. This is the moment that we political scientists live for: our chance to be clinically detached while attempting to engage a public that is still half-interested in politics.

This story is a few weeks old, but it gives a perfect snapshot of the 2012 election. We’ve already posted articles here and here, about out how childish and uninformed American political discourse has become. However, when we start to talk about assassination threats on Twitter, everything else starts to look pretty good in comparison.

Yes, assassination threats on Twitter. I wish I was joking.

It turns out that after the foreign policy debate a few weeks ago, an astounding number of Obama supporters took to Twitter to vent against Mitt Romney. And to issue death threats. To take one of many, many examples, look at the words of I_B_New_York: “i jus used close to $200 worth of food stamps today…Romney dont take that away..70% of America will assassinate u.” More examples are listed at the bottom of the article.

The threats kept coming through at least Monday, according to examiner.com. Once again, to take a particularly colorful example: Jamarea Gage writes: “I’ll personally f*****g kill Romney if he try’s some dumb nazi s**t f**k that.” Or this tweet by Lifted Boy: “I crash that f**king airplane that that f**got n**ga Romney, stab Mrs. Romney in her G** D**N esophagus. & won’t stop until the cops come in.”

In a way, I’m not that surprised. In fact, I’ve come to fully expect this kind of rhetorical violence, given our current political climate. What is interesting to note, however, is that there seems to be a double standard in the media’s coverage of Twitter death threats. Very few media outlets have touched the Romney threats, while two relatively isolated cases of assassination threats against Obama have received a staggering amount of media attention.

The first came back in September,  when there was a national furor over 16-year-old Alyssa Douglas tweeting the following:

Her Twitter and Facebook accounts were promptly deleted and she became a national symbol for racism and bigotry. A Daily Kos article (written, incidentally, under the hilarious nom de plume therehastobeaway) opined, “when a 16 year-old white girl takes to Twitter to openly call for the assassination of our President, you have got to wonder where we, as a society, have gone wrong;” [emphasis in the original]. The author went on to encourage viewers to contact the FBI, the Secret Service, and Ms. Douglas’ high school Principal. Ms. Douglas herself was quickly inundated with hate mail. Worst of all, she doubtless found life for her entire family turned completely upside down due to a single thoughtless, childish action.

The second example also took place back in September when Secret Service officers arrested Donte Jamar Sims in Charlotte, NC. Sims had tweeted, among other things, “Ima hit president Obama with that Lee Harvey Oswald swag” and “Well IMA Assassinate president Obama this evening.” I suppose on one level we can draw a distinction between the immediacy and specificity of Mr. Sims’ threats against the relative improbability of JCBaltodano’s “If Romney wins the elections I will start a national riot to kill his a**!” but that’s really missing the bigger point at hand.

All of this paints a very disturbing picture. Many leading Democrats placed the blame for Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting on Republican rhetoric. They were right, in at least one sense- not in suggesting that Jared Lee Loughner drew his inspiration from Sarah Palin, but in recognizing that there were larger cultural reasons for this violence. And while death threats against the President have been the subject of much media attention- much of it warranted, some of it perhaps not (as in the case of Alyssa Douglas)- there has been just as much, if not more hatred coming from Obama supporters in recent weeks.

The political climate is in shambles, and all of this goes to illustrate a point I made in my very first post on this blog: that a rotten culture leads to rotten politics. You can’t expect to fix the vitriol and violence in the political sphere without first addressing the deep-seated cultural problems that underlie this kind of rhetoric. If we continue down this path, it seems likely that violent rhetoric will soon lead to more and more acts of political violence.

Beneath the surface of every assassination threat lies a deep and unyielding spiritual need. And no amount of hand-wringing or public shaming by therehastobeaway is going to fix that need.

————————

Here are a couple examples from the MSN article mentioned at the beginning of the article:

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President Oakeshott

Joe Ptak believes that, with Barack Obama’s reelection, “we have [a president] who may fit the mold of a [Peter] Viereck or a[ Michael] Oakeshott.”

I have been gleefully waiting for someone here to write something like this. It sheds a lot of light on the debate we’ve been having on this blog on traditionalism versus rationalism. In the beginning of that debate, I tried to make fun of traditionalist conservatives by linking them to Paul Krugman. But for a conservative to link himself to Barack Obama of all people–that’s the jackpot!

Of course, I don’t disagree with Joe’s factual assessment. To the contrary, I think that Obama clearly does fit the mold of Michael Oakeshott.  (I don’t know anything about Viereck, so I can’t comment on that.) In his essay “On Being Conservative,” Oakeshott defined conservatism as essentially just a preference for whatever happens to exist at the present moment. And if there is anything that the Obamaphiles love, it is what happens to exist at this present moment.

But I also agree with Ben when he called this conception of conservatism “deeply flawed.” Indeed, if this is our definition of conservatism, then I’m with the Old-Right journalist Frank Chodorov, who reportedly proclaimed: “Anyone who calls me a conservative gets a punch in the nose.”

Just look at the list of Obama’s “conservative” accomplishments that Joe provides, courtesy of that other eternal defender of the status quo, Paul Krugman. Joe tells us:

  1. Obama’s stimulus bill was half the size that his Keynesian advisors advised. (Gee, thanks!)
  2. He continued Bush’s wars. (Nothing more conservative than demolishing one society and building a new one!)
  3. He put forward a healthcare plan, which all those Burkean Republicans like Newt Gingrich used to support, and which wasn’t even the socialist plan that he originally threatened–err–offered us.
  4. He supports tax cuts and deficit reductions.  That is, he has supported them “in the past few weeks,” after spending 95% of his political career denouncing them.
  5. The New Deal and the Great Society are here, presumably, until the end of time. No use fighting them–a conservative would just lay back and take them.

It is true that these “accomplishments” all fit into the twentieth-century American tradition. But that is also a tradition that gave us the IRS, the Federal Reserve, the Patriot Act, the TSA and body-scanning, indefinite detention of American citizens and non-citizens at the president’s say-so, permanent war and overstretched empire, mass incarceration (much of which stems from the criminalization of victimless conduct), and ever-increasing federal regulation of every aspect of personal and economic life, all accompanied by a decline in the importance of local centers of authority, an increase in single-parenthood and welfare-dependence, a permanent sense of economic instability, high unemployment, and little hope of any improvement in cultural or economic life in the foreseeable future.

One could look at all of that and reply simply, “Yeah, that’s our tradition. Therefore, I support it.” But if conservatism is to be something meaningful, it has to offer something more. It has to be able to engage in a critique of existing social and political structures. (In that sense, whatever my other disagreements with Ben’s traditionalism, it is at least better than Joe’s.) If conservatism cannot engage in that critique, then traditionalists will just end up playing second-fiddle to the Democrats. They will only serve to ratify each new expansion of federal power, with appeals to Oakeshott and continuity.

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The Rest of Obama’s First Term May Commence

Well, Obama begins his second term. But really, it’s more like his first. Stanley Kurtz explains:

Ordinarily, a president enacts various policies in his first term, the public test-drives the changes, and the president’s reelection campaign is a referendum on those new policies. The difference in Obama’s case is that in order to secure reelection, he has backloaded nearly all of his most transformative and controversial changes into a second term. Obama’s next term will actually put into effect health-care reform, Dodd-Frank, and a host of other highly controversial policies that are already surging through the pipeline yet still barely known to the public.

I want everyone reading this to remember, I told you so. So don’t you dare blame me, I voted for Kodos!

Categories: 2012 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Sean Hannity Was Right

Massachusetts has 76.5% of its votes in.  Politico lists 1,433,968 for Obama and 922,822 for Romney–a 511,146 vote victory for Obama.

If only I had listened to Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and not wasted my vote on a third party!  Then Obama would have only won Massachusetts by 511,145 votes.  That would’ve shown him!

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A Last Minute Appeal to Obama and Romney Supporters

Did you know that there is actually a great lineup of TV programming all Tuesday morning and afternoon?  From gritty crime dramas like CSI: Miami to the laugh-out-loud hilarity of The New Adventures of Old Christine, Tuesday’s lineup is not to be missed!

It would be a real shame if there were something else pulling you out of the house.  At the very least, remember that no innocent Pakistani civilians will die as a result of which shows you watch.

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Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.


Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.


Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Write in Ron Paul- The Only Conservative Choice

There is a peculiar hypocrisy that has been going around conservative circles in recent weeks and months: scores of genuine conservatives have dutifully lined up to vote for Mitt Romney, all the while lamenting the state of the political culture generally and the Republican Party in particular. They are convinced of two things above all else: 1) that they have no option other than voting for Romney and 2) that someone else is to blame for this sad state. They blame the mainstream media, the ever-declining culture, big business, party elites, and each other; seemingly, however, none of them stop to consider that blame lies most directly on those who continue to lend their support to a system that has shown so many times that it cannot work. If conservatives continue to vote for the Republican Party, no matter who they put forth, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Despite what you may have heard, conservatives do have a choice next week: a choice to either be on the side of the Constitution and traditional conservative values and a choice to be against them. Actually, two choices to be against them: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are actually on the same side on this issue, like virtually every other issue of any long-range consequence. Mathematically speaking, the practical effect your vote will have is negligible- it is more symbolic than anything else.

In the long run, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which one of the two major candidates wins. The U.S. will remain on the fast track to bankruptcy. Our foreign policy will still wreak havoc abroad and fuel imperial delusions at home. The economy will eventually improve from the current depression, but the Fed will continue to cause economic turmoil in the future. Millions of unborn lives will continue to be sacrificed every year to the pagan god of “individual choice.” More and more economic and political power will be sucked into the vacuums of Wall Street and Washington, DC. More and more Americans will become reliant on an entitlement system that will become more and more untenable. Worst of all, the Constitution will continue to hemorrhage political meaning as it is undermined by Republicans and Democrats alike. If John Roberts’ decisive vote to uphold the Individual Mandate tells us anything, it is that so-called “strict constructionism” is dead on the Supreme Court.

In short, the system will continue along its current unsustainable trajectory.

There is a way out of this mess, albeit one that would require us to turn our backs on the path that both major parties have become hell-bent on walking. In order to save America in this late hour, we can no longer afford to compromise. Our national debt cannot sustain another Reagan or Bush, to say nothing of an Obama or Johnson. After decades of unsuccessful attempts at changing Washington from the inside, maybe it’s time for conservatives to finally realize that the answer to our present political crisis will not come from Washington, but from another source. In our constitutional system, the next most likely candidate for political action has always been, and will continue to be, the several states.

The question then becomes: will either of the candidates bring us closer to a country that lets the states take the lead on matters of national governance? Will either candidate be the first President in over a century to restore respect for the Constitution? Has either candidate shown any sign that they recognize the precarious position that the current trajectory has placed us in? I think not.

If my vote is to be purely symbolic and nothing else, I want to be sure that my vote will not be misidentified. Jill Stein may have some positive decentralist qualities, but overall stands for more statism than either major party candidate. The Constitution Party, as a whole, seems to be on relatively firm footing, but in selecting a candidate as mainstream as Virgil Goode, they demonstrate that they are willing to compromise political integrity in order to gain a few (and I mean a VERY few) votes. Gary Johnson has always leaned more toward the libertine side of libertarianism.

The one candidate that I can vote for without my voice being misconstrued is Congressman Ron Paul. For the past five years, he has been the most dependable national proponent for the constitution, for federalism, and for tradition- all of the values that traditionalists hold dear. He considers himself “libertarian,” but emphasizes an attendant personal moral responsibility more than Johnson does. That, combined with a lifelong demonstration of personal character, more than outweigh any distaste I might otherwise have for the misappropriation of the term “Revolution.” When I sent in my absentee ballot,  I voted for Ron Paul.

Categories: 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

I Voted for Gary Johnson

My default position is not to vote.  As other, more illustrious people than myself have repeatedly argued, not voting is itself a political statement.  Voting, on the other hand, is the act that every supporter of intrusive government points to to prove that you aren’t really oppressed–after all, you have the opportunity to change your rulers every four years!  The more people who refuse to buy into this charade, and who refuse to believe that choosing who will be the one to tax, wiretap, and body-scan you actually makes you free, the better off we will be.

That said, I did vote this year, as I have most years, mainly on the belief that when you have a good-hearted person running for president, and when that person’s policies, though imperfect, would radically improve the country, then it is the neighborly thing to do to support him.  In 2008, that meant that I voted for Chuck Baldwin (of the Constitution Party).  This year, I voted (early) for Gary Johnson.

When it comes to his philosophical understanding of libertarianism, Johnson is certainly no Ron Paul.  As the linked interview shows, he opposes the gold standard and is generally unfamiliar with some of the the twentieth century’s greatest libertarian thinkers.  He also indicates support for the kind of “humanitarian” wars popular among Democrats of the Clinton-Obama stripe.  Moreover, because I am someone who came to his current positions largely through reading Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I am skeptical of Johnson’s support for open immigration.

Still, on serious issues like ending the war on drugs, the TSA, and the drone wars, as well as on his general stand against taxes and regulation, a President Gary Johnson would be a great improvement for this country and for all the overseas victims of the Bush-Obama foreign policy of perpetual war.  Of course, I wish there were a more consistent libertarian running for president.  But I think that the genial Johnson’s positives clearly outweigh his negatives.

Indeed, I had the relatively easy decision of only having to decide between voting for Johnson or not voting at all.  Every other option is totally unpalatable.

Though Chuck O’Shea makes a reasonable lesser-of-two-evils argument in favor of Mitt Romney, his argument rests on the false premise that his vote actually makes a difference–that is, that voting for Mitt Romney is a strategic means of advancing conservative ends.

In fact, the only way that Chuck’s vote will actually make a difference is if the election in his state hinges on a single vote, which itself will only matter if his state has enough electoral votes to affect the electoral-college outcome.  I don’t know of any election where this has actually happened.  Even in the infamous Florida recount of 2000, George Bush still won by 537 votes, which means that no single voter switching from Bush to, say, Pat Buchanan would have changed the election in any way.  And even if the upcoming election were decided by Chuck’s one vote, however unlikely that may be, then surely there would be a recount–which never leads to the same tally as the original count.  The same argument applies to the so-called “Obama cons:” voting “strategically” for the lesser of two evils is a pointless exercise based on the false notion that your own vote matters.  When you realize that it doesn’t, then it makes no sense to vote for someone unless you can give your positive support to their policies.  “Strategic” voting is no strategy at all.

At the same time, I believe that we should hold the minor parties to the same “don’t vote for evil” standard as the major parties.  We should not get caught up in thinking that they are somehow noble just because, unlike Romney or Obama, they actually live according to principle.  Thus, Ron Paul’s position in 2008 that his supporters should “pick any” of the third-party candidates makes very little sense.  Sure, I am willing to accept that Jill Stein is more consistent than Barack Obama and would be a great improvement over him in terms of civil liberties and foreign policy.  But her economic policies would be much, much worse.  Sticking to your principles is only admirable if your underlying principles are themselves admirable.

(As an aside, I also don’t buy “The Lancastrian’s” position that, because Stein wants to run a federal regulatory state with local implementation, that somehow makes her a Jeffersonian localist.  Rarely does the federal government act by a classic command-and-control economy, at least in this country.  Very often its policies are carried out with a great deal of state help, as is the case with Medicaid, or through subsidies or tax incentives to favored industries.  Does the Lancastrian believe that Medicaid also represents “the definition of subsidiarity?”  If so, then conservatism has fallen pretty far since the 1960s.)

On the same note, Virgil Goode supports protectionism and wants to continue the drug war (just at the state level, where most drug-related prisoners are incarcerated anyway).  And despite his non-interventionist turn in recent years, when Goode was a congressman and his positions actually mattered, he voted as a lockstep Republican for war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and the Military Commissions Act.  I’m skeptical of a 66-year-old man who just so happens to suddenly see the light once his political career is over.  If anything, Goode is eerily similar to the 2008 “Libertarian” presidential candidate Bob Barr, who then went on and endorsed Newt Gingrich for president in 2012.

Therefore, given the failings of all the other candidates, I see no choice for those of us who support peace and freedom.  If we decide to vote at all, it can only be for Gary Johnson, who, though imperfect, has certainly done enough to earn our votes.  Intelligent people can come up with all kinds of clever arguments to show why conservatives should really vote for any given candidate.  But at the most practical level, Gary Johnson is the only candidate whose policies would do more good than harm.

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Conservative Obama, Radical Romney

Gary Gutting, a Notre Dame philosophy professor, has a nice article at the New York Times that rehashes a familiar debate from on this blog.  He argues that Obama represents the post-New Deal mainstream, whereas Romney represents a fundamental change for smaller government.  I’m not convinced of the factual basis of that claim, but his conclusion bears repeating:

Thinking in terms of the above framework reverses the standard polarity of the two parties. Those who are conservative in the traditional sense of resisting abrupt major changes in established institutions should vote for Obama. Those who support a fundamental change should vote for Romney.  Oddly enough, Obama’s hopes for a second term may turn on the support of conservative voters.

 
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The Anti-Obamney Majority

Green Party candidate Jill Stein stated at last night’s third party debate that the half of all registered voters–double the amount who will vote for either Obama or Romney–will not participate in this election at all (see video at 1:20:00).  She says that “those are voters who are saying ‘no’ to politics as usual and saying ‘no’ to the Democratic and Republican Parties.”

I don’t think that anyone can know what 90 million other individuals are thinking.  Still–and whatever one might say about some of Jill Stein’s other ideas–I have to admire the sentiment in that quote.  Nonvoters get caricatured as lazy and uninformed.  But it is much nobler to just go to work, spend time with your friends, or even watch reruns of Tosh.0 than it is to give your vote to a candidate who supports drone strikes, indefinite detention, the TSA, or war with Iran.  Not voting is an implicit rejection of the status quo, or at least an indication that you can’t be bothered to care about the major parties.  Either way, the fact that the majority of all Americans won’t be casting a ballot for either Obama or Romney should give some hope to those of us who reject mainstream politics.

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