Tag: Libertarianism

Empathy in Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how bad things have gotten in politics. When I started this blogging thing back in 2004, blogging about politics was a lot of fun. It wasn’t just that “my guy” was in the White House, if Bush was ever “my guy”. It was that the internet had opened up a million voices. It could allow someone like Lee to rise to some degree of prominence by making smart, focused and often hilarious arguments in favor of his beliefs.

Over time, however, a lot of that has curdled. Not just on the internet but everywhere. The most powerful voices are, often as not, those that demonize the opposition. Arguments tend to be less about facts than name-calling. Liberals are dysfunctional snowflakes who are, nevertheless, turning America into Nazi Germany. Conservatives are mindless thugs who are also turning America into Nazi Germany. It’s a big reason why I blog less and have been engaging less on Twitter. And it’s odd (or maybe not so odd) that the tone has gotten so bad considering that the policy differences between our two major parties are smaller than they were when I was coming of age in the 70’s and 80’s.

I’m used to a bit of crazy in politics, especially from the side out of power. Megan McArdle long ago coined Jane’s Law: “The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.” But what’s distressing is that we’re now seeing insanity from the devotees of the party that is in power. We saw some of this with Obama but it’s been ratcheted up to 11 with Trump. Charles Skye has a great piece on conservatism and how it has lost its way:

If there was one principle that used to unite conservatives, it was respect for the rule of law. Not long ago, conservatives would have been horrified at wholesale violations of the norms and traditions of our political system, and would have been appalled by a president who showed overt contempt for the separation of powers.

But this week, as if on cue, most of the conservative media fell into line, celebrating President Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and dismissing the fact that Mr. Comey was leading an investigation into the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia.

While there are those like Sean Hannity who are reliable cheerleaders for all things President Trump, much of the conservative news media is now less pro-Trump than it is anti-anti-Trump. The distinction is important, because anti-anti-Trumpism has become the new safe space for the right.

Here is how it works: Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”

For the anti-anti-Trump pundit, whatever the allegation against Mr. Trump, whatever his blunders or foibles, the other side is always worse.

But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.

That’s the conservative side. But I would argue that the liberal side has gotten just as bad if not worse. The entirety of the Left Wing media has lost its damned mind. I’ve backed off of all the late-night TV shows except Oliver (on occasion) because the tone has gotten so bitter and angry. We are constantly deluged with outrages Trump has committed. And while some of those are indeed outrageous, others are stuff Obama did (executive orders), stuff every President does (Loyalty Day) or stuff that did not, in fact, actually happen (the MLK bust removal). Despite no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians and little evidence that anyone in his campaign did, it’s routine to see him denounced as a traitor and to hear Republicans denounced as complicit because they haven’t impeached him yet. And it culminated last week with a Democrat — one who loved Maddow and Maher and belonged to Facebook groups calling for revolution — taking shots at a bunch of Republicans.

Look at the comments section of any liberal blog or even a New York Times article on bad rhetoric. Republicans are routinely denounced as, in one of the top-rated comments, “ignorant, mean-spirited, inhumane, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, culturally backward and/or downright stupid.” And if you have the temerity to point this out, you are blasted for “false equivalence”. We’re told MSNBC isn’t as bad as Fox News or that Colbert isn’t as bad a Limbaugh. Maybe. But which side rioted in the streets after an election? Which side has Antifa thugs punching people, looting stores and shouting down speakers? Which side is turning places like Evergreen College into Mickey Maoist clubs?

None of these points are new. The press, the media and the pundits have been talking about the extreme partisanship for some time. But I think they have tended to misjudge the problem. Most of the time, they simply decry “partisanship” or “rhetoric”. But … we’ve always had that. And frankly, it doesn’t bother me that much. I want people to be passionate for and motivated by the things they believe in. If you think abortion is a modern-day holocaust, I don’t think you should feel any compunction about saying so. And if you think abortion restrictions make women slaves to their wombs, don’t hold back. I want people to speak powerfully for what they believe to be right. If you remember Lee, you’ll know he wasn’t one to pull punches at all. That’s what I liked about him.

In fact, partisanship can be a good thing. McArdle points out one of the blind spots in policy wonkage — people don’t look too hard for evidence that invalidates their pet theories. Partisanship, however, becomes a natural balance to this:

The idea of perfectly neutral arbiters looking for “just the facts, ma’am” is an illusion; we are all human, fallible, and more than occasionally blind. Ideological diversity within a group means that even if the individuals are blind in different spots, at least the collective has a decent panoramic view.

That base, irrational, often angry “I know that’s wrong!” feeling that people get when reading an op-ed by the other team is actually the start of something wonderful: the search for disconfirming evidence that can falsify bad theories (the other team’s, of course), and refine good ones (yours, of course). So that bit by bit, jab by jab, we get closer to the whole picture.

So I don’t mind partisanship. Debate and argument are not just “not bad”; they’re essential for the proper functioning of a democracy. Partisan opposition killed some of the worst parts of Obamacare. Partisanship brought us a balanced budget back in the 90’s. Often, when we’ve blundered, it’s because of a lack of opposition. “Partisanship” usually translates out of Punditese as “people disagreeing with me” and calls to end “partisanship” are often misguided calls for one side to just concede.

No, partisanship qua partisanship isn’t bad; what’s bad is the lack of empathy for the other side. The problem is that both sides have decided that the opposition is not just wrong, but evil. That every argument “they” make is a disingenuous front to conceal their real motives. So the pro-life side can’t honestly be concerned about what they see as the extinguishing of millions of lives; no, that’s just a front to conceal their hatred of women and desire to control their bodies. And the pro-choice side can’t honestly believe women should control their own bodies; they want a hedonistic society in which sex doesn’t have consequences. We’ve defined each side not by the millions of reasonable people but by the thousands of crazy assholes. We don’t just hate politicians; we hate everyone who supports them.

Look at our current healthcare debate. One side is telling us that the Republicans want to literally murder millions of people so that rich people can get tax cuts. The other side insists Obamacare is the step to fascist welfare state. Never can it can be considered that maybe Republicans honestly think handouts are a bad idea and maybe Democrats honestly think people shouldn’t be terrified of losing their insurance.

We can’t bring ourselves to think that gun controllers may not want to create a policy state or that second amendment advocates may care about gun violence but don’t see gun control as the answer.

We can’t admit that maybe thawing our relationship with Iran is a good thing. Or that maybe getting close to another terror state is bad thing. Or that maybe we should be less involved with NATO. Or maybe NATO is more important now than ever.

We can’t admit that a lot of this nation’s poverty is a result of people making bad life decisions. Or we can’t admit that it’s easier to make the right decisions (and recover from bad ones) if you’re not born into poverty in the first place.

This, of course, has been fed by a media and social media machine that insists on a constant cycle of outrage. They define the other “side” entirely by their worst imaginings. And every misstep — be it a comedian’s bad joke or a politician’s awkward quip — is recast into some peek into their inner awfulness.

But it’s a deeper even than that. It’s a cliche to say that our debates suffer from an unwillingness to listen to the other side and that we all live in “bubbles” of websites, blogs and news stations that agree with us. That’s true enough but those bubbles are not some law of nature; they are created on purpose. They are a result of our need to divide the world into “our” tribe of decent people and the “other” tribe of bad people. And in this, they reflect a deeper and more malignant ill that is afflicting our culture: an inability to empathize with anyone beyond our own social circle.

The great advice columnist Amy Alkon has written about this many times — that we have minds evolved for the stone age functioning in a modern world. We tend to see people close to us — usually limited to a couple of hundred people — as human and fallible. When they make mistakes or have misfortunes, we sympathize. When they make arguments we think are wrong, we engage them honestly. But we regard those outside of that small circle as alien and view them with suspicion. This is why we tend to be rude to strangers, why we scream at cars in traffic, why we get furious at people we don’t even know. It explains why we so readily form internet shame mobs: because we understand if your uncle makes a racist joke he’s just making a bad joke. But if someone we don’t know does it, they’re a vile person. If your sister leaves her children in the car for ten seconds, she’s just being practical. If a stranger does, they’re endangering their kid. And so we quickly revert to our primal need to stone foreign devils.

Returning to politics, the 2016 election was the eruption of this malignancy into the political sphere. The primary qualification of both candidates was their ability to enrage the other side. Democrats loved that Republicans hated Hillary Clinton. And Republicans loved that Democrats hated Trump. And now it has progressed to where what Democrats most love is hating Trump and what Republicans most love is Democrats hating Trump.

We need to get past this is we’re going to be a functional society. It’s not just a need to listen to the other side; it’s that we need to empathize: to see their politics from their point of view. You can still think they’re full of shit (and you’ll probably be right because almost everyone is full of shit about something). But we have to engage them on the arguments they are making not the arguments we wish they were making (typically because those arguments would cast them in a bad light or are easy to rebut). We have to remember that, if we’d been born in a different place or raised in a different environment, we’d probably have the same views. We have to imagine that their views are held by someone we deeply care about and respect. Because inevitably they are held by someone that someone loves and respects.

(I’m as bad at this as anyone. I try to be better, mostly because I have good friends and family members in both ideological camps. It bothers me to see them at each other’s throats, mainly because of scrounging carnival barkers persuading them that the other camp is filled with vile uncaring monsters. But it’s hard not to just write off whole masses of the body politic.)

There are people who don’t have any political principles, of course. Both the 2016 candidates come to mind. But we can’t let them define our country. As much as I despised Clinton, her supporters were fundamentally decent people. And as much as I despise Trump, his supporters are fundamentally decent people. Almost everyone is fundamentally decent, regardless of their politics. Yeah, there are the deplorables — on both sides. Antifa and the Alt-Right crowds come to mind. But they are a tiny, tiny fraction of this country and even their ranks are filled more with misguided idiots than evil zealots. We can’t let our politics be defined by such debris. And until we stop, until we stop defining political success entirely as “winning” one from that awful awful other side, our politics will continue to get not only more nasty but more dysfunctional.

A Small-l Libertarian Primer

With Gary Johnson threatening to be a factor in the election, Ken White has must-read where he argues that libertarianism isn’t a a series of answers, it’s a series of questions.

I’d like to propose presenting libertarianism as a series of questions rather than a series of answers or policy positions. Even if I don’t agree with people’s answers to these questions, getting them to ask the questions and confront the issues reflected in the questions would promote the values that I care about.

These are all questions that I think ought to be asked whenever we, as a society, decide whether to task and empower the government to do a thing.

You can click through and read them. I think a conservative audience will like it, as well, because what Ken says of libertarianism, I would also say of conservatism: that it’s more about questioning whether government should do things. It is what Andrew Sullivan calls “a conservatism of doubt”. As I said in my own essay:

Conservatives are leery of sudden radical change because they understand that the human engine is complex. Sudden shifts can produce bad Unintended Consequences. This is seen as a resistance to “change”. But resisting change is sometimes a good thing. Not all change is good. And all of it needs to proceed carefully. We have a wonderful society. Improving it is our second duty; protecting it our first. Conservative thought on this is akin to the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. Big Grand Plans for Remaking the Universe — like socialized medicine — draw opposition from conservatives because they know these plans will not work as advertised … if they work at all.

The reason I left the conservative movement was because it not only stopped being about doubt and caution, but saw doubt as unpatriotic. It became a conservatism that was dead certain it had the answers to everything. Me again:

The problem, of course, is that conservative philosophy and the conservative party have diverged. The ideas I list above really don’t reflect the Republican Party or many of the commentariat who call themselves conservative. Faith-based initiatives, abstinence education and compulsory volunteerism are based on the notion that government can make people better. You will not find a more hair-brained Grand Plan for Remaking the Universe that throws caution to the wind than the attempts to create democracy in the Middle East. Institutional responsibility has been tossed out the window with regulatory capture and deficit spending. Arrogance has replaced humility, zingers have replaced thought. A healthy suspicion of ruling elites has morphed into a raging anti-intellectualism. Conspiracy theories — about global warming, Obama’s birth, Obamacare — have become acceptable discourse. It’s no longer enough for the Democrats to be wrong; they have to be evil socialists who hate America.

Policies that were good ideas have been chased too far, dogma has become the order of the day. The GOP has taken good ideas and chased them into a cul de sac. And on culture issues, they’ve gotten more extreme. I don’t agree with everything in this diatribe, but it cuts deep. Here’s Bainbridge again on the problem: the lack of prudence and caution in today’s GOP; the canonization of views on taxes, regulation and government; is alarming. During the debt debate, the GOP openly contemplated default. That’s not a “conservatism” I can embrace. It’s a dim-bulb populism masquerading as conservatism.

Donald Trump is the apotheosis of this. He is spectacularly ignorant on the issues. He seems to regard knowing things about issues as a weakness. And yet he’s absolutely certain that he’s right.

Libertarians for Sanders? Naaah.

With Rand Paul out, a lot of libertarians, conservative-libertarians and lib-curious are fumbling around for a new candidate. Ted Cruz looked like he might pick up the liberty vote for a while with his opposition to surveillance. But then he backed out of criminal justice reform and started striking an aggressive tone on foreign policy. Donald Trump is a fool. Hillary Clinton is a power-hungry shill. Rubio doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So where do we turn? Andrew Kirell asks if it’s … Bernie Sanders

While Sanders’s economic policies deeply conflict with libertarians—single-payer health care, government-funded college tuition for all, etc.—he is their only remaining ally on a slew of other big issues.

And, besides, “there’s this little thing called Congress,” as Michael noted. “Any radical law he tries to pass will run through an obstacle course.”

So the logic goes: With a Republican-controlled Congress—or one remotely close to its current makeup—President Sanders would have a tough time getting his most radical economic policies passed, leaving him to fight for the civil liberties causes that matter to liberals and libertarians alike: e.g., reforms to the criminal justice system, the ongoing drug war, and the government’s surveillance efforts.

In other words, backing a Sanders presidency would mean wagering that Sanders’s most left-wing economic policies wouldn’t come to fruition. And that he’d pull a conservative Congress to the left on civil liberties issues, with the help of cross-partisan allies like Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee.

The case for Sanders is this:

  • He’s way better on civil liberties that Clinton. Also marijuana, war, surveillance and criminal justice reform. He’s better than her on gun control, although he’s moved Left on that recently. Against the Republicans, he’s better on civil liberties but worse on the second amendment.
  • You talk about gridlock? Bernie Sanders and a Republican Congress would give you gridlock on just about every economic issue.

So that’s the libertarian case for Sanders. It’s tempting in this kind of anti-liberty field. But the case against is strong as well:

  • Sanders would be 75 years old on inauguration day. His health appears good but it could decay suddenly (to be fair, this is also a concern with Trump and Clinton). This could mean a sudden shift to a Vice President and God knows who Sanders will pick for that. If he picks Clinton, he could get a head cold and find himself removed from office.
  • We can not assume that a Republican Congress will continue indefinitely. A Sanders presidency combined with a Democratic Congress could be dangerous.
  • Sanders would appoint at least one, maybe two or three justice to the Supreme Court, maybe even one for a retiring conservative. This could be good if he focuses on civil liberties. More likely, he’d appoint some social justice types who would stand back while the federal government did whatever it wanted.
  • Sanders has zero foreign policy experience. This has become obvious in the debates. While his philosophy is better than Clinton’s, his lack of any credentials could be a problem. Foreign policy is not something you learn on the fly. I could see a Sanders administration being completely feckless and ineffective. Being against stupid foreign adventures is good. Being able to do that and deal with aggressive foreign powers is better.

That lost one is a big point for me. The one arena where the President has the most authority is foreign policy. It’s a big reason I oppose Trump and a big reason I’m partial to Rubio. Almost every other deficiency in a President can be papered over by a reasonable Congress. But foreign policy is the one place where it can’t.

As I said from the beginning, I prefer Sanders’ honest socialism over Clinton’s dishonest mercantilism. But if its Sanders versus a reasonable Republican, I don’t think you can make the case for Sanders. Not for a conservative and probably not for a libertarian and probably not for this conservative-libertarian.

Paul Officially In

Rand Paul has officially thrown his hat into the Presidential ring, unveiling his agenda and opening up a website. I don’t think Paul has much of a chance of the nomination or the Presidency, given some of his unorthodox views. And, for obvious reasons, I’m a little dubious of half-term senators running for President. But I do like having him out there. He’s another voice outside the GOP establishment. He brings to the fore a number of issues — mass incarceration, the War on Drugs, NSA surveillance, aggressive foreign policy — that the GOP needs to confront.

And … he drive the Left Wing absolutely berserk. Today’s stories have alternated headlines of “Paul’s no different from other Republicans” to “Paul is a crazy far out Republican”. They’ve been putting up factually challenged rants about how he wants to return us to the 19th century. They’ve been accusing him of being sexist based on a testy interview with Savannah Guthrie. The Left Wing has a lot invested in the idea that all Republicans are sociopathic, racist, sexist shitlords who only care about rich people. Paul is one of the biggest challenges to that.

But there’s something else I’m picking up on. One of my favorite responses to Paul’s candidacy has been from whichever semi-literate intern wrote Paul Krugman’s column today. He puts up an idiot’s version of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and then claims, based on no data whatsoever, that there are no libertarians1. Everyone in America is either economically and socially liberal or economically and socially conservative. Because apparently the polls showing a large libertarian center don’t exist.

Why is American politics essentially one-dimensional, so that supporters of gay marriage are also supporters of guaranteed health insurance and vice versa? (And positions on foreign affairs — bomb or talk? — are pretty much perfectly aligned too).

Well, the best story I have is Corey Robin’s: It’s fundamentally about challenging or sustaining traditional hierarchy. The actual lineup of positions on social and economic issues doesn’t make sense if you assume that conservatives are, as they claim, defenders of personal liberty on all fronts. But it makes perfect sense if you suppose that conservatism is instead about preserving traditional forms of authority: employers over workers, patriarchs over families. A strong social safety net undermines the first, because it empowers workers to demand more or quit; permissive social policy undermines the second in obvious ways.

And I suppose that you have to say that modern liberalism is in some sense the obverse — it is about creating a society that is more fluid as well as fairer.

This is mind-bogglingly stupid. 40% of self-described Republicans now support legal same-sex marriage, including 60% of young Republicans. 60-70% of independents support same sex marriage. And despite claims by liberals, actual polls show that a clear majority of independents and the vast majority of Republicans oppose single-payer healthcare. So this “actually very few” people who support same sex marriage and oppose single-payer health is approximately half the electorate.

Mankiw:

Similar to Krugman, I would define a libertarian voter as one who leans left on social issues (such as same-sex marriage) and right on economic issues (such as taxes and regulation). I certainly put myself in that camp, and I don’t think I am as lonely as Krugman suggests. I meet lots of students with similar views (though, admittedly, Harvard students are hardly a representative sample of voters).

I also meet a lot of students with similar views at my big state university. Mankiw also reminds us that far “challenging traditional hierarchies”, the Democrats supported them up until about last week:

Many libertarian voters I know (including those students) often vote for Democratic candidates because they weight the social issues more than the economic ones. I usually vote for Republican candidates because I weight the economic issues more than the social ones.

One reason is that I don’t view the Democratic Party as a leader on social issues. Remember that Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Barack Obama was against same-sex marriage when he ran for President, and then he “evolved” (aka flip-flopped) on the issue. On this social issue and many others, our elected leaders are really followers. The leaders are the American people.

Why are so many liberals freaking out about Rand Paul? Why are so many reduced to sheer hysteria by the prospect of a “libertarian moment”? Because libertarianism and libertarian-conservatism put the lie to the liberal conceit, espoused above by Krugman, that Democrats are mavericks who challenge traditional hierarchies. I couldn’t imagine anything further from the truth. Democrats were the party of slavery. Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crowe (especially progressive hero Woodrow Wilson). Democrats support massive government power, including the surveillance state and Obama’s wars. They have only supported social change when forced. They bomb countries, they violate civil liberties, they jail people by the millions and they always, always seek to expand the scope and power of our government. That’s not being a maverick and challenging social hierarchy. That’s being a conformist. It was, in fact, progressive hero Woodrow Wilson who said, “Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.”

Rand Paul isn’t a dangerous loon. And he’s not the antichrist. What he is is a heretic, challenging the religion that is Progressivism. We should be grateful they’re not calling for him to be burned at the stake.

Yet.

Paul says he is not a libertarian and his views would be best described as conservative. But he draw enormous support from libertarians and libertarian-conservatives.

Chasing Libertarianism Into A Corner

One of the problems I have with my libertarianism — indeed, a big reason I often describe myself as a conservative-libertarian — is the tendency of some libertarians to chase the philosophy into intellectual cul-de-sacs. All political philosophies have a tendency to favor ever “purer” strains. But because libertarians define our philosophy as one of personal liberty, we have a tendency to think that the only acceptable policies are those with maximum personal liberty. Any practical objections tend to be swept under the rug with a few unconnected words about “free markets”.

I’m not explaining this well. Let me illustrate with an unrelated example.

When I was in college, I took a philosophy class with a feminist professor. When we got to the portion on feminism, we were discussing third wavers who thought that women in an oppressive society fundamentally could not consent to sex, that all sex was therefore rape and therefore women should not have sex. My response was that any philosophy that countenanced, at least in theory, the potential extinction of the human race was fundamentally immoral. I said that these were the deranged ramblings of someone who had drunk too deeply of the feminist well. They had taken good ideas (women shouldn’t be second class citizens) and purified them to a bizarre extreme.

A more germane example: a number of libertarians oppose environmental regulation on the grounds that if my neighbor is polluting my land, he is violating my property rights and this should settled in the courts. That sounds good if you only consider the ideology. But as a practical matter, it is a recipe for disaster. First, it’s not always clear that pollution has happened. The residents of Love Canal had no idea why they were getting so many birth defects and miscarriages. By the time they did figure it out, there had been immense suffering already. Second, it’s not always clear who is responsible for ills caused by pollution. In the Woburn Massachusetts case, it wasn’t clear who poured chemicals into the river that sickened the children. The jury was asked to decide the lawsuit based on a series of bewildering technical questions. Third, even in cases where the culprit is clear, you are frequently talking about powerful businesses with armies of lawyers who can drag a case on for decades. The Exxon Valdez lawsuits dragged on for twenty years. You can imagine how bad it is when the polluter is the government itself or when you’re dealing with the decade-old pollution of a business that no longer exists. Fourth, the ability of such a system to prevent pollution is dubious since it’s not always clear that Substance X will produce Harm Y for a long time. Finally, it seems absolutely appalling to countenance reparations for birth defects, miscarriages, severe illnesses and deaths rather than just preventing them in the first place in the name of free markets.

Does this mean the government isn’t over-zealous in fighting pollution? It frequently is and often chases its own ideology into banning minimally dangerous substances. Does this mean government always makes the right decisions? Of course not; the aforementioned Love Canal community was built on land the local government was warned was dangerous. Does it sometimes carve out exemptions for big polluters while hurting little guys? Absolutely; see what happened after the lead toy debacle. But at some point, we have to accept these limitations rather than get seduced by the seductive appeal of bottomless liberty.

(Another good example, on the Civil Rights Act, is illustrated here by James Joyner.)

I bring up this subject because there is a debate going on at Reason between Ronald Bailey and Jeffrey Singer over mandated vaccinations. Singer’s op-ed, which you can find here, crosses as me the rambling of someone drunk on libertarian ideals. It’s a series of libertarian statement strung together in the hope that it makes an argument. And it winds up saying bizarre things like this:

The phenomenon of herd immunity allows many unvaccinated people to avoid disease because they free ride off the significant portion of the population that is immunized and doesn’t, therefore, spread a given disease. Economists point out that free riding is an unavoidable fact of life: people free ride when they purchase a new, improved, and cheaper product that was “pre-tested” on more affluent people who wanted to be the first to own it; people free ride when they use word-of-mouth reviews to buy goods or services, or to see a film; those who choose not to carry concealed weapons free ride a degree of personal safety off the small percentage of the public that carries concealed weapons. So long as a person being free-ridden is getting a desired value for an acceptable price, and is not being harmed by the free riding, it really shouldn’t matter to that person. Achieving a society without free riders is not only unnecessary, it is impossible.

Well, duh. But we should try our best to limit the free riders to people who can not be vaccinated — people who are immunocompromised, for example. And while we can’t force 100% compliance, we can do as much as we can to get the immunization numbers into the 90-95+% numbers necessary to establish the herd immunity that protects the millions who have no choice but to free ride. Or people for whom the vaccine didn’t take.

On this subject, I find myself agreeing with Bailey: your freedom to swing your fists ends where someone else’s nose begins. I find it very difficult to countenance any version of a “free society” that includes the freedom to run around potentially spreading dangerous and deadly diseases. Most people are smarter than their government. But you don’t need a large percentage to be dumber to have, as we now do, huge outbreaks of entirely preventable diseases that are leaving dead and hurt children in their wake. Are those children to be human sacrifices to our idealized notion of freedom?

If we were talking about sexual transmitted diseases, I would agree with Singer. But these are diseases that can be spread by casual contact. They can be spread by people who are already vaccinated. They can be spread by people who never catch the disease themselves. This isn’t the moral equivalent of seat-belt law; this is the moral equivalent of laws against drunk driving.

Vaccinations are one of the greatest achievements in human history. They have destroyed smallpox and put hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and some forms of meningitis on the run. These diseases used to kill and maim millions. Their eradication is far too great an achievement to trust to the ideology-addled hope that people will act in their own enlightened self-interest.

Because too many people don’t.

Why Don’t You Move to … Nowhere! Hahahahaha!

Yesterday, Salon published what must be the dumbest critique of libertarianism I’ve read that doesn’t use the word “Somalia”.

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?

First of all, libertarians don’t claim we know best how to organize a modern society. We claim that modern societies are better at organizing themselves. The entire basis of libertarianism is one of restraining power, not acquiring it. Because politics is filled with people who desire power, this tends to crowd us out. It’s hard to get elected on a platform of “I will leave you the hell alone”.

Libertarians are at a particular disadvantage because we hate politics for politics’ sake. We have little interest in the petty political games that make up much of politics (and about 90% of Salon’s coverage of it) but empower greedy grasping power-hungry individuals.

Let’s just take a look at a few stories that are percolating right now. In the IRS scandal, we are seeing a large effort to target organizations based on their political views. To the libertarian, this would be simple: identify the people who abused power and fire them; overhaul the tax code to give the IRS less power; get the government out of the business of deciding which organization are and are not tax-exempt. But to the media, including Salon, this is about whether the Republicans can “get” Obama or whether they are “overplaying their hand”. Are they pushing too far? How will this affect the 2014 election?

Another purely political shitstorm is brewing over the appointment of judges. Obama, frustrated with the Senate not doing their job and bringing the courts to a standstill, has nominated three new judges for the DC circuit. For the libertarian, this is pretty simple. We have the same attitude we did when the Democrats refused to consider Bush appointees: the President has the duty to nominate judges and the Senate has the responsibility to vet them.

But to the political parties, this is yet another way to play political bullshit games. When Bush was President, the Democrats screamed about extreme appointees and the Republicans fulminated about judgeships going unfilled. Now the parties have completely reversed. And the media are happily playing along, speculating about whether Obama is “packing” the courts or not.

This is what politics is about, not creating a unifying vision for how to guide society or how to create an ideal state. And libertarians, because we don’t care for power or its adherents, tend to avoid this crap. It does mean we don’t tend to walk in the halls of power and hold high positions.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t have influence, as we will soon see. Let’s not mistake “not being in power” for “not having an influence”.

When you ask libertarians if they can point to a libertarian country, you are likely to get a baffled look, followed, in a few moments, by something like this reply: While there is no purely libertarian country, there are countries which have pursued policies of which libertarians would approve: Chile, with its experiment in privatized Social Security, for example, and Sweden, a big-government nation which, however, gives a role to vouchers in schooling.

Oh, it’s a lot more than that. Libertarian ideas helped Hong Kong get rich while the rest of China wallowed in poverty. Libertarian ideas made the West strong while the Communist Bloc fell into ruin. Lind will get into the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index in a moment in a very selective and idiotic way. I will pre-empt him by looking at it in a more objective and thorough way. Look at countries with the greatest economic freedom. You will find it is dominated by wealthy countries: Canada, Scandinavia, USA, Australia, Germany, the UK. And, in fact, most of those countries have moved dramatically toward more economic freedom, with the worldwide index increasing 2 points since 1996. And that was after the fall of communism. The simple fact is that the countries that have pursue libertarian ideals are wealthier, happier, healthier places than those that have pursued collectivist numbskullery.

Let’s just take one example almost at random. Lind uncorks this stupid statement:

Libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies to create an imaginary utopia. A real country must function simultaneously in different realms—defense and the economy, law enforcement and some kind of system of support for the poor. Being able to point to one truly libertarian country would provide at least some evidence that libertarianism can work in the real world.

Some political philosophies pass this test. For much of the global center-left, the ideal for several generations has been Nordic social democracy—what the late liberal economist Robert Heilbroner described as “a slightly idealized Sweden.”

Sweden, you say? Do you know that Sweden, over the last 17 years, has massively improved its economic freedom index from 61 to 72? That it may soon be more economically free than the United States? And that Sweden incorporates many of the socially liberal ideas that form the other pillar of libertarianism (one Lind completely ignores)? How about Canada? Canada has increased its economic freedom index from 69 to 79 over last 17 years. Canada is, in fact, the sixth most economically free country in the world right now.

I cite these two examples specifically because they get to another problem with his critique. “Libertarianism” covers a very broad range of ideas. I know libertarians who oppose abortion. I know libertarians who think we shouldn’t legalize drugs. I know libertarians who believe in universal healthcare and social safety nets. Most libertarians believe in sensible environmental regulation and making sure kids get an education.

What marks libertarianism out is not a platform, but a way of thinking. It is a philosophy of being suspicious of government and favoring liberty if it is practical. But it is, by no means, purist. Very few libertarians believe in anarchy. But this is apparently beyond the ken of perennially political bullshit obsessed Salon.

Lind claims that there is no country that is truly “libertarian”. But show me a country that is pure “Nordic social democracy”. There are various flavors that approach some Platonic Ideal of that, I guess. But I would posit that most of the Nordic countries would fail to be true “Nordic social democracies” the way Lind defines it. Sweden is the source of the “Swedish model” approach to prostitution that has been a fiasco. It is also currently enjoying rioting and disruption from unassimilated immigrants. Finland has restrictions on abortion but also practices a very different (and highly successful) education model than liberals prefer. And all five of the traditional Nordic countries have very high Economic Freedom Indices and all five have seen them increase over the last twenty years. That they have universal healthcare does not mean they are not embracing many libertarian ideas.

Oh, but the article gets even worse. I’ve been talking about the Economic Freedom Index to show how you use it properly in a political debate. I did that because Lind is about to cover himself in excrement using it incorrectly. He looks at some of the highest ranked countries, notes they are successful but then dismisses their success for completely arbitrary reasons. Just for fun, I will play this game with his “Nordic social democracy” ideal.

Even worse, the economic-freedom country rankings are biased toward city-states and small countries.

Because it’s not like liberals never compare us to Monaco.

For example, in the latest ranking of economic liberty by the Heritage Foundation, the top five nations are Hong Kong (a city, not a country), Singapore (a city-state), Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland (small-population countries).

With the exception of Switzerland, four out of the top five were small British overseas colonies which played interstitial roles in the larger British empire. Even though they are formally sovereign today, these places remain fragments of larger defense systems and larger markets. They are able to engage in free riding on the provision of public goods, like security and huge consumer populations, by other, bigger states.

Australia and New Zealand depended for protection first on the British empire and now on the United States. Its fabled militias to the contrary, Switzerland might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II.

Of the five Nordic social democracies, three are part of NATO and heavily dependent on NATO resources for the defense. Its fabled neutrality to the contrary, Sweden might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II (during which Sweden also the most economically free power in Europe, incidentally). There was a powerful pro-Nazi movement in Sweden during the war.

In fact, almost all of the massive social welfare states have been enabled by massive military spending by the United States. Very few of them maintain anything resembling a modern military and none maintain the kind of presence that would have staved off the Soviet Union, the kind of presence that currently keeps pirates at bay and that neutralizes any expansionary ambitions from China and Russia. It’s easy to have a Nordic Social Democracy when your defense duties are being paid for by someone else.

These countries play specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets, rather as cities or regions do in a large nation-state like the U.S. Hong Kong and Singapore remain essentially entrepots for international trade. Switzerland is an international banking and tax haven. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the U.S. (number 10 on the Heritage list of economic freedom) or even medium-sized countries like Germany (number 19) or Japan (number 24).

None of the Nordic Social Democracies have a population of more than 10 million. They are all playing specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets. Norway has massive fossil fuel reserves; Iceland almost destroyed itself with banking and is no backing to fishing; Sweden’s economy seems dependent on exporting crappy IKEA furniture. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the US.

And then there is Mauritius.

And then there’s Cuba.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. has less economic freedom than Mauritius, another small island country, this one off the southeast coast of Africa. At number 8, Mauritius is two rungs above the U.S., at number 10 in the global index of economic liberty.

Cuba has guaranteed universal healthcare and first-rate gun control.

According to the CIA World Fact book, the U.S. spends more than Mauritius—5.4 percent of GDP in 2009 compared to only 3.7 percent in Mauritius in 2010. For the price of that extra expenditure, which is chiefly public, the U.S. has a literacy rate of 99 percent, compared to only 88.5 percent in economically-freer Mauritius.

Infant mortality? In economically-more-free Mauritius there are about 11 deaths per 1,000 live births—compared to 5.9 in the economically-less-free U.S. Maternal mortality in Mauritius is at 60 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 21 in the U.S. Economic liberty comes at a price in human survival, it would seem. Oh, well—at least Mauritius is economically free!

Cuba has an (official) infant mortality rate of 4.8 compared to the 2.7 for Singapore and Hong Kong. Cuba suffers from massive civil liberties repression. Oh, well-at least Cuba has universal healthcare!

Look, I can play this game all day. The simple point is that there isn’t any country out there that practices idealized “Nordic Social Democracy” either. And those that are close have been moving away from that model toward greater economic and personal liberty. Or they’ve been moving toward bankruptcy.

Look, every libertarian knows there is no such thing as a perfect libertarian state. The very phrase is an oxymoron because libertarianism is a responsive political philosophy, not an active one. We don’t have grand plans for remaking the universe. What we do is identify things the government is screwing up and try to make it stop. We are not a bunch of silly self-important men sitting behind desks and telling people what to do. We are an unceasing crowd of people surrounding the capitals of the world with pitchforks and torches on standby.

Politics is a tug-of-war not between liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats, but between Those Who Want to Tell You What to Do and Those Who Don’t. The vast majority of politicians and the vast majority of the boot-licking media at such as Salon are in the the former camp. Everyone else is in the latter to some degree or other. Sometimes they are in it only for an issue like abortion. Sometimes they are in it only for an issues like free trade. But just about everyone who is politically aware spends some time in the libertarian camp. Everyone is a least lib-curious. The one thing I have found, in eight years of blogging as libertarian, is that, with almost everyone, I can find something in the libertarian philosophy that they agree. Lind supports some libertarian ideas, even if he doesn’t realize it. Does he oppose crony capitalism? Does he believe in personal freedom? Does he think we’re jailing too many people? Well, my friend, welcome to Libertarian Land! Mind the barbed wire.

Libertarians don’t want power. We want to keep it in check. This is apparently a novel concept.

Even with those caveats however, libertarian ideas are and have been very influential in the real world. They are wound into the very fabric of this nation. Our Constitution is the only one that recognizes such idealized and universal personal liberty. No other country has as deep and thorough a belief in Freedom of Speech as ours. Combine that with the high economic liberty ranking we have — even after 12 years of Bush-Obama — and you’re doing pretty well. Certainly better than the NSD models that are quickly bankrupting the entirety of Europe.

The entire world has moving more libertarian in fits and starts. Wars and violence are at historic lows (libertarians generally oppose war). Personal freedom is at historic highs. Over the last decade, the expansion of economic freedom has lifted hundreds of millions of people — most of them of a different race than your typical libertarian — out of poverty. Countries like Australia and Canada have found ways to combine economic freedom with a more extensive social safety net — a flavor of libertarianism even if it isn’t the pure University of Chicago stuff.

In the end, Lind’s screed crosses me as yet another one of the “Aaah! Libertarians!” screeds I’ve gotten used to reading from ignorant lazy writers devoted to sad outdated political philosophies. The only lasting value it has is that maybe Mauritius will become the “libertarian ideal” instead of Somalia.

The Somalia Canard

In Josephine County, Oregon, a woman was recently raped by her ex-boyfriend while she was on the phone to 911, begging for help which never came. I’ll forgo the usual “this is why we have the second amendment” point to concentrate on something a little different.

The Sherriff’s office is blaming the lack of response on recent budget cuts and the refusal of the citizenry to support a tax hike. But as Radley Balko points out, the city has had plenty of resources to go after legal medical marijuana growers or small-time illegal pot smokers. When it comes to the things that bring in asset forfeitures and pad arrest stats, they have all the resources they need.

This problem, however, is being enabled by the likeliest of political suspects:

The partisan political reactions to this story are typically awful. Wonkette’s Rebecca Schoenkopf mockingly calls Josephine County a “libertarian paradise,” and chides the dumb rubes for rejecting property tax increases that would (allegedly) fund police officers to respond to 911 calls. (More likely: It would fund more drug raids.) The post then takes the obligatory shots at people who favor local government over national government. You can find similar reactions at ThinkProgress and The Stranger.

Here’s the thing. Maybe part of the reason Josephine County is facing budget woes is because more than half the land in the county is owned by the federal government. The federal government doesn’t pay property taxes. And property taxes are primarily how local government is funded. Perhaps, just perhaps, the county’s residents reject the idea that their federal tax dollars are going toward buying up local land that is sapping the county’s tax base, and they resent the notion that if they then want basic services — like police protection — they are then asked to make up the difference through higher property taxes. And perhaps — just perhaps — they also resent the federal government because while county residents can’t get the local cops to respond to a woman being raped, the federal government is imposing its will on the state by funding task forces to raid medical marijuana facilities in a state where voters have expressed a clear will to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes.

But that would require an analysis of this story that involves some nuance, extra reading, and empathy. Better to just make Ayn Rand jokes and mock the dumb, low-income bumpkins for mistrusting the government.

This is simply another variation on the Somalia Canard. Idiotic liberals have a tendency to respond to libertarian-conservative arguments with some variation of, “Well why don’t you go live in Somalia?! That’s a libertarian paradise!” I regard the Somalia Canard as the libertarian version of Godwin’s Law. When someone brings up Somalia, you know they have run out of arguments and are just going for the ad hominem.

But, OK, assholes. I’ll do this thing. Here’s why we don’t all move to Somalia: because Libertarianism is not anarchism. And conservatism is a long way from anarchism.

The vast majority of libertarians and conservative have no problems with funding things like law enforcement and fire-fighting. Most of us don’t have a problem with making sure our water is clean and our meat is healthy. And many of us even think public schools are OK!

But these are not the only things that government does. They are not even a majority of what the government does.

A lot of what the government does is either unnecessary (if we’re lucky) or damaging (if we’re not). It pays out hundreds of billions in transfer payments every year. It pays employees generous salaries and extravagant benefits for which we are now on the hook to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. It uses asset forfeiture to seize people’s property without trial because they might be dealing drugs. It uses eminent domain to force people to sell their property to rich developers. It fights unnecessary wars. It fights a stupid and devastating War on Drugs. It shovels tens of billions into corporate welfare and tax exemptions to favored businesses. It seizes well-cared-for children because their parents have a little pot.

I have no problem giving government money to do the things that government needs to do. But no one should be willing to just throw money into the equivalent of a wishing well in the hope that, somehow somewhere, it might be spent wisely.

How about, instead of laughing at the low-income people of Josephine County for not wanting yet more money extracted from them, you look into what kind of stupid shit Josephine County was spending money on instead of funding the police? If you can’t find any waste, then I might be prepared to listen to you chuckling at the brutal rape of a defenseless woman.

Update: I shoulde not that what is going on in Oregon is a pattern we have seen at all levels of government in response to budget cuts: getting rid of essential services first in order to increase pressure on the public for tax hikes. One place where this did not happen was Wisconsin, where Walker’s reforms allowed the state to retain thousands of teachers they would otherwise have had to fire. But anytime shrinking governments choose to cut the meat instead of the fat, can you count on the entire Liberal Ecosphere to blame conservatives.

Let All the Poisons That Lurk in the Mud Hatch Out

In probably the most foreseeable political development of the last month, the Ron Paul newsletters have moved front and center in news coverage of the Republican primary. We discussed this issue extensively four years ago and I’ll just repeat what I said then: the content of the newsletters is deplorable; I believe Ron Paul when he says he didn’t write them; but he owes the voters a much more thorough response than he has provided if he wants to be a serious presidential candidate. Ultimately, you are responsible for what goes out under your name. This is an entirely legitimate issue.

Of course, now that this cat has come out of the bag, the entire litter of Ron Paul baggage is following: his association with and occasional indulgence in conspiracy theories; the contributions he’s gotten from a few neo-Nazis; his association with the Birchers, etc., etc. The consensus — at least among Lefties — is that Ron Paul is the kookiest of kooks, a radical racist fascist anti-semitic lunatic: a characterization that sounds ridiculous to anyone has actually listened to him. Only in the alternate reality of a political campaign could that description have credibility.

Getting to brass tacks, let me address the last part first: the association with racists and other loons and the support — political and monetary — from some members of Stormfront and other fringe groups. I despise guilt by association arguments and Ron Paul is a good illustration of why. His critics can not point to a single policy point that is fascist. They can not point to a policy that reflects white supremacy, anti-semitism or racism. Well, they’ll claim cutting off support for Israel — as part of ending all foreign aide — is anti-semitic. But most thinking people won’t buy that.

So what’s a slime merchant to do? Use guilt by association. Point out that some racists or affiliated scumbags support Paul and darkly intone, “what does that tell you?” What it tells me is that racial hate-mongers are such idiots they are supporting a candidate who, if he had his way, would make their dreams of a powerful leviathan state impossible.

In this country, people are free to support any candidate they choose. The candidates are not responsible for who supports them or votes for them (although I wouldn’t object if they returned their money). The same people blasting Paul because a few racists support him would not blast Obama if some communists or Black Panthers supported him. Politicians are responsible for their views, their votes and their policies. Getting support from the American Family Association means nothing; supporting their anti-gay agenda does. Getting support from PETA means nothing; supporting their animal rights kookery does. Does Paul support the agenda of the racial hate-mongers? I don’t think so.

It’s not like Paul has a dearth of controversial views. But to the Paul bashers, it’s not enough until they’ve tied him to something truly vile, no matter how many degrees of separation are needed.

Now, to address the more serious point about the newsletters and his buddying with conspiracy theorists and racially-amped paleo-conservatives like Lew Rockwell: this does bother me and is one of the reasons, as I explained here, why I can not support Paul for president.

But tar-brushing has simply gotten out of hand. To be sure, some of the views Paul has advocated and is advocating are extreme or even nutty.

But…

Let’s pause for a moment remind ourselves of some of the things that “mainstream politicians” believe.

  • That Medicare, which wastes one in five dollars on fraud and has tens of trillions in unfunded future liabilities is a model for healthcare reform (most liberals) or should be preserved at all costs (both parties).
  • That the government can and should prevent people from getting high (both parties).
  • That government’s various regulatory, anti-terror and anti-crime efforts should be advanced with things like asset forfeiture, no-knock raids, gag orders on critics and shoving aside Constitutional liberties (both parties).
  • That there is no problem with a tax and regulatory structure so complex that the enforcement agencies don’t understand them. That’s it’s perfectly reasonable to jail or financially ruin people who violate these codes without a trace of mens rea (all Democrats; far too may Republicans)
  • That Iraq had WMD’s (both parties).
  • That we should start a war with Iran (the neocons, several GOP nominees).
  • That homosexuality can be cured (Bachman), that gay sex should be outlawed and kids taken away from gay families (Santorum).
  • That you can balance the budget without cutting Medicare and Social Security (most Democrats, many Republicans.)
  • That you can balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending (numerous Republicans and almost all Presidential nominees).
  • That the cap and trade disaster in Europe is a model for dealing with global warming (many liberals).
  • That we should mandate increased use of expensive and destructive corn ethanol (members of both parties).
  • I would submit that the above — all of which are considered respectable beliefs in the political establishment — are far more insidious and dangerous than anything Ron Paul believes. I don’t go to bed worrying that someone thinks the government participated in or provoked terrorist attacks. The danger of Stormfront or other racist groups does not keep me up at night (and as a Jewish astrophysicist married to a foreigner, I’d be near the top of their hit list). But the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the crippling of civil liberties, the expansion of the welfare state and our burgeoning debt do worry me. And from what I can tell, all the mainstream sensible non-conspiratorial candidates support all or most of the whack-job ideas that are ruining this country. Ron Paul may be in bed with kooks, but the mainstream candidates are in bed with entire industries.

    Some of Ron Paul’s ideas are dangerous. Ending the Federal Reserve or going back to the gold standard or whatever. But the President’s powers are limited. And they would be especially limited under someone who is already isolated within his own party and is running on a platform of decreasing his own power.

    Remember my view of checks and balances: our system is not intended to allow a majority to gang up on the individual; it is intended to allow any of our three branches to derail stupid, foolish, reckless, destructive or unconstitutional behavior. Paul is the only remaining candidate who is even dimly aware of this.

    If Ron Paul is a crazy candidate, it’s because we live in crazy times. It’s because he suddenly sounds a whole lot less crazy than many of our mainstream political figures and almost all of the ones running for the GOP nomination (Huntsman excepted).

    Personally, I wish the enthusiasm for Ron Paul were directed toward someone like Gary Johnson, who is just as libertarian but has an established and massively successful track record as governor of New Mexico and lacks Paul’s considerable baggage. However, for better or for worse — probably for worse — the libertarian wing of the GOP is rallying around Paul. And the focus on areas where he is a little batty has taken away the focus from where it should be — the issues on which he is the least insane man on the stage.

    I don’t think the GOP should nominate Ron Paul. But I do think they should listen to him. Because — dirty laundry or no — he’s talking sense on a number of critical issues.

    Paul? Maybe

    If you thought the Republican establishment was having kittens over the possibility of Gingrich winning Iowa, they are *really* having kittens over Ron Paul potentially winning Iowa. Despite his closeness in the polls, every commentary I’ve seen recently has been of the “he has zero chance” variety, even to the point where Chris Wallace has said that if Paul wins Iowa, it won’t count. David Frum unleashed a hard-hitting and factually questionable critique. Rush Limbaugh bizarrely said he is the only candidate who would lose to Obama. And the vitriol that flowed against his inveighing against a war on Iran was fierce.

    I think it’s very possible that Ron Paul will win Iowa. In fact, I hope he does. If nothing else, watching every commentator — liberal or conservative — shit their pants would be fun. If nothing else, watching them trying to declare a second-place Gingrich or a third-place Romney the “real winner” would be fun.

    I’ve liked Paul since he became a national figure in 2008. One thing he has that few have is consistency. Even liberals respect his integrity on the issues. Granted, sometimes he is consistently looney. But his opposition to war, big government and the War on Drugs; his support for basic civil liberties and strict interpretation of the Constitution is sometimes a joy to hear. It is telling that the GOP field has moved heavily in his direction. At last Saturday’s debate, several candidates sited him as having taught them about various issues.

    Now should he be the nominee? Andrew Sullivan, of all people, makes the best argument here. Sample quote:

    I regard this primary campaign as the beginning of a process to save conservatism from itself. In this difficult endeavor, Paul has kept his cool, his good will, his charm, his honesty and his passion. His scorn is for ideas, not people, but he knows how to play legitimate political hardball. Look at his ads – the best of the season so far. His worldview is too extreme for my tastes, but it is more honestly achieved than most of his competitors, and joined to a temperament that has worn well as time has gone by.

    I feel the same way about him on the right in 2012 as I did about Obama in 2008. Both were regarded as having zero chance of being elected. And around now, people decided: Why not? And a movement was born. He is the “Change You Can Believe In” on the right. If you are an Independent and can vote in a GOP primary, vote Paul. If you are a Republican concerned about the degeneracy of the GOP, vote Paul. If you are a citizen who wants more decency and honesty in our politics, vote Paul. If you want someone in the White House who has spent decades in Washington and never been corrupted, vote Paul.

    That’s about as good a case as anyone has made. But .. you know … I kind of agree with the critics. While his supporters are passionate, his broad appeal is almost non-existent. Nominating Paul could mean you’ve basically conceded the election (in fact, I would argue that the withdrawal of reasonable options like Daniels, Christie, Pawlenty and Huckabee indicates the GOP already has conceded the election).

    Now maybe that’s OK if what we’re looking for is a exorcism. The demons afflicting the GOP — big government conservatism, culture war orthodoxy, overly aggressive foreign policy, selective Constitutional adherence, and a pathological hatred of all things Democrat — need to go before they get power back. Tonight’s debate featured calls from the GOP candidates for war in Iran, gutting of the judiciary, deep tax cuts while the deficit explodes, a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage and other nuttery. And of course, they tossed out every calumny they could think of for the President, deserved or not. In 2008, Paul was on the fringe. Now, compared to these jokers, he looks reasonable.

    However … Paul has baggage: his nutty ideas about the gold standard, his support of the Constitution Party in 2008, and especially his association with Lew Rockwell and some racially-charged things Rockwell said in Paul’s newsletter. Here’s what Lee said back in 2008:

    I’m beginning to view Ron Paul in much the same way I viewed Jack Kervorkian, a man whose ideas I fundamentally agree with but who I think is the wrong standard-bearer for them.

    I still think that’s the case. If Paul is the nominee, all of these issues will come out. And his response last time was disappointing, to say the least.

    Moreover, election 2012 is not just about fixing the GOP. While it’s likely that Obama will be re-elected — Americans hate to throw out incumbents — it’s by no means certain. And we have to treat the GOP field as though it contains the next President and act accordingly.

    That’s why my favorite at this point is John Huntsman. He many of Paul’s strengths but fewer of his weaknesses. He doesn’t needlessly bash Democrats but opposes their ideas. He accepts that global warming may be real but opposes radical plans for fixing it. He’s conservative in his personal life but more tolerant in his politics. He has foreign policy experience and a tax plan that would eliminate all deductions. True, his campaign has been spectacularly poor — he’s currently polling slightly lower among Republicans than Nancy Pelosi would. But he’s the better option, in my opinion.

    If Paul wins Iowa or finishes close, this thing is going to go a long time. I still think Romney will win the end. He’s weathered bubbles from Perry, Bachmann and Cain so far. I can’t believe the Gingrich bubble will last or that the Paul bubble is ultimately sustainable. But if it drags out long enough, we may be looking at a brokered convention.

    And in that case, anything can happen.

    Uncle Paul

    Jon Stewart has a point:

    Ron Paul finished second in the Iowa straw pole, but you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage. This is hardly an isolated incident. As Tim Carney notes:

    If Paul had garnered 153 more votes on Saturday, winning the straw poll, you can be sure that every wrap-up story would have focused on the event’s irrelevance.

    Why do the mainstream media and the Republican establishment persist in ignoring and dismissing Paul?

    Part of it, I think, is that Paul is 2008’s news. While he was refreshing then, he’s just crankier now. Paul has always been appealing to certain political junkies, but his mainstream appeal is limited. Now that many of the GOP candidates have picked up some of his more populist points, he’s not as appealing to some (although clearly still appealing to many Iowans).

    However, I think there’s more to it than that. I think the reason Paul is being ignored is because he is consistently embarrassing both the political and the media establishment and it’s driving them bonkers. Paul advocates views that many in the country support but none of the establishment wants to touch — legalization of marijuana, ending the wars and federalism, in particular (all the other candidates makes noise on states rights but end those noises when the states want to do something they don’t like, such as gay marriage). These views are all perfectly within the mainstream. Two-thirds of the country supports allowing gays to marry or form civil unions, the majority of even Republicans want the wars ended and we’re nearing a majority on marijuana. But the power base of both parties supports the war on drugs, the war on terror and wants gay marriage to go away. And since they want it, the media sees these as the “sensible” view. Paul’s popularity is constant frustrating reminder of just how out of touch they are and how the “sensible, mainstream” is neither sensible nor mainstream.

    Paul is also afflicted by what I call the Curse of the Libertarian: you are always ignored but you are always right. And when you’re proven right, you get blamed anyway. Carney again:

    In 2002, as President George W. Bush was pushing more subsidies for mortgages and home-buying under the motto of an “ownership society,” Ron Paul took to the House floor to issue a warning. Through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Reserve, “the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market.”

    Neither the mainstream media nor the GOP leadership wanted to hear this at the time. Housing was the engine of our growth, and Ron Paul was just being a crank again. So we pumped and pumped, until the inevitable crash.

    Paul similarly foresaw our current debt crisis, warning that cutting taxes and increasing spending was the recipe for disaster. “Endless borrowing to finance endless demands cannot be sustained,” Paul said eight years before the S&P downgraded U.S. debt.

    Back then Paul was also warning of the perils of two open-ended wars and lengthy occupations halfway around the world. Paul was nearly alone among Republicans in opposing George W. Bush’s Wilsonian vision of spreading American-style democracy at gunpoint. Today, our continued Afghanistan occupation is generally seen as pointless, and even many conservatives consider Iraq a mistake.

    I liked Paul in 2008 although my support waned due to his association with Lew Rockwell’s racial bullshit. But I haven’t blogged about him this year because there’s not much to say. He’s still who he was four years ago: passionate, annoyingly correct, somewhat flaky and probably unelectable. But I still like him and am glad he is out there even if I’m hoping Gary Johnson will take on his role in the future.

    But here’s the thing. He’s no longer the loopiest person in the GOP field. You can’t possibly say that when the field now includes one hack with a Google problem, one serial liar who support reprogramming gays and another candidate who, in his first week of campaigning, accused the Bush-appointed Chairman of the Fed of treason and joked about lynching him.

    Whatever we think of Paul, he’s a contender. It’s time to start treating him like one.

    Update: Glenn Greenwald nails it (you should read the whole thing):

    There are many reasons why the media is eager to disappear Ron Paul despite his being a viable candidate by every objective metric. Unlike the charismatic Perry and telegenic Bachmann, Paul bores the media with his earnest focus on substantive discussions. There’s also the notion that he’s too heterodox for the purist GOP primary base, though that was what was repeatedly said about McCain when his candidacy was declared dead.

    But what makes the media most eager to disappear Paul is that he destroys the easy, conventional narrative — for slothful media figures and for Democratic loyalists alike. Aside from the truly disappeared former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson (more on him in a moment), Ron Paul is far and away the most anti-war, anti-Surveillance-State, anti-crony-capitalism, and anti-drug-war presidential candidate in either party. How can the conventional narrative of extremist/nationalistic/corporatist/racist/warmongering GOP v. the progressive/peaceful/anti-corporate/poor-and-minority-defending Democratic Party be reconciled with the fact that a candidate with those positions just virtually tied for first place among GOP base voters in Iowa? Not easily, and Paul is thus disappeared from existence. That the similarly anti-war, pro-civil-liberties, anti-drug-war Gary Johnson is not even allowed in media debates — despite being a twice-elected popular governor — highlights the same dynamic.

    Exactly. Ron Paul challenges our media and politicians’ most sacred lie — that our problems can only be solved by absolutely loyalty to the platform of one of our two idiot parties.