Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Real Presidential Question: Who's Sanest, If Anyone?


So, Fred Thompson (who’s a bit like my two favorite candidates, Giuliani and Paul, averaged together, though I can’t decide if that’s a good thing) made his debate debut today, and I must say, from what little I saw, he sort of sounds like an actor searching for the right “conservative running for president” line to utter, but what do I know?

At least he doesn’t seem completely out of his mind, and it strikes me that we have some rather eccentric characters running for president this year, which leads to an obvious question that rarely gets asked about large fields of presidential candidates: regardless of ideology (that is, if you were a psychotherapist solely concerned with the candidates’ own health, for their own sakes), how would you rank the candidates of both parties in order of apparent sanity?

While you think that over (offering your choices below if you wish — one comment per commenter, please), to remind you how crazy the political realm can be (though I admit the non-crazy political agents are often the most crass and loathsome), some thoughts and links:

•This week may see apparent non-candidate Al Gore designated this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, for his work exaggerating the threat of global warming, a reminder (like many of the panics dissected at my day job at ACSH) that humans only seem able to assign two levels of risk to phenomena: beneficial and apocalyptic. What a contrast his Peace Prize would be, if I may say so, with the far more scientifically-grounded one given over three decades ago to Dr. Norman Borlaug, ACSH Trustee and agricultural scientist credited with saving a billion lives.

Joe Kennedy Jr. — who either needs the money or just believes in the cause — was recently seen in TV ads hawking oil from “our friends in Venezuela” (i.e., democracy-wrecking thug Hugo Chavez), though he’s been outflanked on the left by Danny Glover, who’s producing not just a TV ad but a whole movie in collaboration with Chavez, while socialist/Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont tours South America trying to undermine support for free trade agreements.

•So few are the people on the planet who’ve stumbled upon the right combination of political, moral, and skeptical-philosophical attitudes that ToddSeavey.com, as of this writing, is the tenth-highest Google hit for the seemingly mundane search: libertarian utilitarianism Nietzsche (not to mention one of the first hits for: debates bar, another sign that there’s a lot less intellectual activity going on on this planet than you’d think).

Heather Mac Donald notes that while p.c. discourages thinking that crime rates might vary by ethnic group, the black crime rate is over six times that of the white crime rate, something never once mentioned back when Brown (about which, more next week) was teaching us all that it was irrational to be more wary of young black men than of elderly white women. Disillusioning people — whether they be racists or naive leftists — is good.

(Other recent NRO pieces of interest have included several on Star Trek, one of which praised Doctor Who in terms after my own heart as a “Tory anarchist,” and an encouraging Dave Kopel piece saying Ron Paul may yet have a chance — and let me add this in favor of my favorite candidate: resist the impulse to think of him as a third-party vote-splitter. He’s not one — he’d be a major-party candidate, at a time when there’s a broad consensus that both military and domestic affairs have been bungled and should be conducted with greater humility. Vote for him, make him president. And after all, do you want to just win an election, you coward, or win a republic? Meanwhile, notes Jacob Levy, this chart of presidential candidates and the superheroes they resemble picks an odd character with whom to equate Paul.)

•Getting back to blacks and justice, though, the sister of an ex-co-worker of mine defends Clarence Thomas, for whom I have to have a soft spot if only because pundits were hysterically warning that his dissent in favor of term limits back in the mid-90s brought us within a hair’s-breadth of discarding the Constitution and returning to the Articles of Confederation — as if.

•Since the Court majority squelched term limits, some of the activists behind that movement went on to form the Sam Adams Alliance and Americans for Limited Government/GetLiberty.org, worthy causes in their own right — and begun with the help of my fellow Phillips Foundation fellow Heather Wilhelm. They strive not so much to set policy as to simply get governments to be honest about whatever policies they’re already pursuing, letting the public see the real budgets, letting people collect petition signatures, allowing measures on the ballot even if they inconvenience politicians. If you don’t like these groups, you don’t really like being free. And that’s a pretty common view.

•They inspire me with their trans-partisan obstinacy in much the same way as the cranky little Phoenix, AZ anarchist magazine The Match, which a concerned reader sent me after I wrote a Wall Street Journal article about anarchism. The Match, for all its ostensible extremism, is a delightful dose of reality, since it spends more time listing the crimes of dumb Tazer-happy local cops (something tech writer Seth Porges warned the world about long before the recent “Don’t taze me, bro” incident at that Kerry speech), DMV bureaucrats, dog wardens who love paperwork more than dogs, and zoning board tyrants who enjoy dictating the color of your house than it does rambling about Kropotkin or what have you — it’s a surprisingly practical little reminder, cheaply printed, that most government is just stupid, self-serving, unphilosophical, boring, non-ideological, useless, obstructionist nonsense, not a grand dialectical battlefield for opposing utopian visions.

•If you’re the sort of conservative who doesn’t know what I mean by “dumb cops” (and I’m not saying that’s the only kind), you might want to watch this clip of local newscasters struggling to keep from laughing while listening to a tape of a cop who ate the evidence from a marijuana bust.

The New Yorker profiles libertarian and investment-guru Victor Niederhoffer (as pointed out to me by Marie Huber), and they make the odd claim that his daughter Galt is named after nineteenth-century statistics and “eugenics” expert Francis Galton — despite the fact that Galt is the name of an Ayn Rand character, and Niederhoffer has another daughter named Rand and one named Kira, the name of Rand’s We the Living heroine. Might the real-life Galt be trying to deny her nominal heritage? If so, would being named after the man who coined the term “eugenics” be a clear improvement?

Norman Podhoretz has written a new book about why we are already in World War IV, and he’s interviewed about it by an anti-interventionist libertarian, Charles Pena, here. (You might expect most establishment conservatives to be on Podhoretz’s hawkish side, but I was intrigued and surprised, at the annual dinner for the aforementioned Phillips Foundation this year, to hear an especially enthusiastic standing ovation for superhuman, warzone-hopping, eightysomething journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave, who basically gave the assembled Reagan and Bush fans a remarkable, despairing speech saying we’re frittering away American credibility in a doomed war while civilization comes apart at the seams — but then, Robert Novak, whose new book I’ll review later this week, is a Phillips Foundation trustee, and he’s not only anti-Iraq-War, he has said he likes Ron Paul.)

•Then again, lest we get too self-indulgently, nihilistically self-hating about American empire, let us ask ourselves which way we’d lean if detailed knowledge of the future of humanity revealed that the Bushian right, the poverty-making socialistic left, and Islam are the only viable alternatives, disturbing as that thought might be.

•Speaking of asking tough political questions, Radley Balko came up with a surprisingly good, long list of ones they ought to ask in presidential candidate debates like today’s but don’t.

•And lest my de Borchgrave story above make the Phillips Foundation sound like a hotbed of McGovernite leftism, Phillips Fellow Catherine Sanders notes that her husband worked on this project, unveiled last week at the Heritage Foundation, suggesting that (contrary to my comments earlier today — and many other days — on this blog), religion can be empirically demonstrated to be the answer to our social ills.

•At the Reason Foundation, by contrast, they are more likely to pin their hopes on Strippers for Ron Paul.

And do consider weighing in on that sanity-of-the-candidates ranking question I asked at the top of this entry.

P.S. You know, while Giuliani seems to me to have too much anger and too many quirks to make it to the top of the sanity heap (and I won’t pretend for a moment that my man Paul wins the contest), one sanity-encouraging thing about Rudy becoming president is that he would unite two fairly down-to-Earth elements of the Republican Party: the fiscal conservatives and whatever little’s left of the old East Coast Establishment, Rockefeller-Republican types. As my review of the Novak book will note, these two factions once seemed like complete opposites — welfare-statist northeastern Rockefeller vs. libertarian southwestern Goldwater, night and day, mortal foes! — but in a world where people are all too eager to ignore fiscal calculations altogether in favor of divine revelation, mindless doling out of favors, or reckless warfare, I think any leaders seriously focused on bean-counting and budget-balancing, be they mushy-moderates or radical supply-siders, might be a welcome return to sobriety.

And even Michel Evanchik’s dad might conceivably vote for a real Rockefeller Republican, despite the whole Evanchik family’s Continental political attitudes, since the elder Evanchik revealed at that baptism I went to Sunday — during his spirited discussion of municipal debt with my liberal-finance-sector-lawyer-girlfriend Koli (who needs a job, so contact me if you have one) — that Rockefeller was the one Republican he ever voted for, though he came to regret it. If Rudy wins the nomination, Mr. Evanchik, maybe it’s time at long last to come back over to the other side…


Jen said...

Who’s sanest? Giuliani, by a longshot. He’s deeply flawed, totally normal, and completely transparent about it. There he goes, exaggerating his role in 9/11 for political gain (as would nearly any ambitious-but-not-brilliant politician) and flitting from vagina to vagina as per his ephemeral preferences (as others do more clandestinely, all while preaching far-right sexual mores).

As for the rest of the field, Hillary and Obama are products of inscrutable marketing machines, and the right’s slate of professing theists (or worse, theocrats) have excused themselves from sanity by definition.

Todd Seavey said...

And by New York media-people standards, that’s pretty high praise for Giuliani, I have to say.

Here’s my own take, and let the record show that this ranking, from sanest at the top to insanest at the bottom (Who will it be? The answer may surprise you!) bears almost no resemblance to my political preference-rankings, so I think I’m being fairly objective in that sense:

1. Edwards (D) (weather-man hair = weather-man normality)

2. Huckabee (R) (just a governor)

3. Hunter (R) (ideological but not too weird)

4. Chris Dodd (D) (ideological but not too weird)

5. Obama (D) (rhetoric/reality lines seem blurry [see also: Thompson])

6. Thompson (R) (rhetoric/reality lines seem blurry)

7. Giuliani (R) (angry, familial instability)

8. Paul (R) (prone to conspiracy theories)

9. Clinton (D) (megalomaniac, career criminal, congenital liar)

10. McCain (R) (torture may have liberated him, like an ubermensch, from emotional and logical constraints)

11. Kucinich (D) (vegan, emotionally-needy suck-up to Islamists)

12. For good measure: Gore (D) (seminary dropout with messiah complex)

13. Mike Gravel (D) (paranoiac)

14. Romney (R) (favorite novel: _Battlefield Earth_)

15. Brownback (R) (lives in a church)

16. Tancredo (R) (xenophobe)

17. Biden (D) (plagiarist — I think plagiarists tend to be nuts, but that’s a topic for another time)

18. Keyes (R) (delusional, severely homophobic)

19. Richardson (D) (calls for end to UFO cover-up, I kid you not — why is this not news?)

Jacob T. Levy said...

I’m surprised how little I agree with Todd’s list.

People who run for President in the first place have to have a good dose of megalomania and maybe a hint of sociopathy. While I think the “danger Will Robinson” alarms go off quickly as a candidate shows even a little bit more megalomania (Gore) or sociopathy (Nixon) than the baseline required to run for President, I’m not willing to think of someone as nuts just for being on that baseline– where I think both Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney squarely lie.

But I think Giuliani is on the steeply upward-sloping part of the megalomania curve– not quite Keyes, since he doesn’t think God has a mission for him, but well past just believing his own press releases.

Plagiarism is a hanging offense but not a mental illness– it makes you a bad person, not a crazy one. I think Biden is perfectly sane, and certainly a lot saner than McCain, Kucinich, Gore, Gravel.

Is Romney’s favorite novel actually Battlefield Earth, or are you just making fun of Mormonism by comparing it to Scientology?

Todd Seavey said...

Hillary reportedly doesn’t let underlings make eye contact, that sort of thing.

Romney said B.E. was his favorite novel when asked by the press — with the Bible being his favorite non-fiction book. You do the math. Though Jonathan Leaf (I think) has suggested _Romney_ may have been the one engineering a Mormon-Scientology comparison, so Mormonism would look good by comparison (maybe he’d have been better off pointing to the work of novelist Orson Scott Card, cartoonist Mike Allred, or producer Glen Larson, who patterned _Battlestar Galactica_ after the Book of Mormon — I could imagine voting for someone who said his favorite novel was _Ender’s Game_).

And I’m not saying any of these people are drooling psychopaths, of course, so this is all very subtle — but I think plagiarists are a desperate, self-deceiving, self-destructive lot.

And Giuliani is partly _tough_ rather than just self-aggrandizing, keep in mind — I very much look forward, should he become president, to him taking as forthright and argumentative a tone with opponents as he did on the radio and in press conferences while he was mayor. I admire the willingness to argue instead of sugar-coating things, which is why I had high hopes for Jesse Ventura at the beginning, but that’s another story.

Koli said...

I’m not sure that simply telling people who disagree with you that they are wrong (or need “therapy”) counts as “agrument.” That’s essentially what Giuliani did on his radio show. If he ever made an argument other than “I’m right; just look at how I did on 9/11″ maybe it would be a better choice than “sugar coating.” But he doesn’t. All he ever says is “trust me, because I’m right.” That’s a la George-Bush-shcool-of-reason and just as worthless as any sugar coating.

Todd Seavey said...

Fair enough. Any way you slice it, I guess the reasonable answer is still: Ron Paul.

Koli said...

You will be happy to note, Facebook has a featured chat just for Ron Paul supporters today. He might win yet!!

Todd Seavey said...

And everyone in the NYC area should consider attending his (relatively inexpensive) fundraising party Friday night (10/12), noted in my previous blog entry and organized in part by my friend Avery Knapp:


Todd Seavey said...

You might even want to inquire about getting a 90% discount on that Paul event (seriously), though I may have misunderstood the latest news from the organizers. Ask them.

Christopher said...

Just out of curiosity, where did you read that Hillary doesn’t let underlings make eye contact? That seems so ridiculous for a politician and sounds so much like descriptions of Tom Cruise, Sly Stallone, etc. that I’d bet it’s made up (though not by you). Seems not unlike the rumors that Bush can’t actually read, never left the country before being elected pres, etc. If people can point to a “Bush derangement syndrome” in which people on the left will believe any outrageous charge or rumor about Bush, clearly we have to admit that the right suffers from a far worse case of Hillary derangement syndrome (which is not in itself to say anything positive about Hillary). I do think she’s far more sane and intelligent than Rudy, but that doesn’t mean I want her to be elected president. Smart sane people can have very bad ideas.

And you do realize that all the 18-25 year-olds who think that Ron Paul is basically Nader will eventually wake up, right? Enjoy the dream while it lasts but he’s got less than a snowball’s chance when the general public starts actually paying attention to his ideas beyond opposition to the war.

Todd Seavey said...

Steve Malzberg, Robert Novak, and Gary Aldrich, among others, have all reported completely separate and unrelated no-eye-contact incidents/edicts about Hillary — not shocking, since there are also stories of her making contemptuous comments about the commoners while they’re _standing right there_ back in her Arkansas days. The Clintons obviously also lied about lots of things lied suddenly “finding” lost documents and getting very lucky on stocks back in the day that suggest a bizarre sense of entitlement and superiority to ethical norms — but I’m not going to say anymore about the old Clinton days, since I’m exhausted just contemplating the possibility of new ones.

(Am I suffering from the right-wing version of Bush Syndrome? Seems to me there are about 100 books denouncing Bush as an evil moron for each of my sentences about Hillary, but let’s not try to weigh them all in the balance now.)

I also have a friend who was falsely accused of attempted murder by one of the Clintons’ army of private-eye goons but was soon told that exiting Arkansas would be sufficient for the Clintonites to call off the heat, as indeed it proved to be — and I’m not saying anymore about that, either, save that the Clintons are indeed dangerous gangsters.

And when Ron Paul is President of the Matrix, he will conduct things more ethically. You just have to believe.

Todd Seavey said...

One final note: I have no idea how reliable rumor-monger Aldrich or talk-radio guy Malzberg are, but I’ll try to post my assessment of the more revered Robert Novak, who was an early influence on me, and his autobiography, tomorrow…

Christopher said...

A quick Wikipedia search says that there are indeed more anti-Bush than anti-Hillary books out there now (37-24). That makes sense as he is, after all, a president who has sent the country into a very unpopular war and she’s had…lesser posts.

If the no-eye-contact thing is true, how weird!

I’m sure Hillary v. Paul is the former’s wet dream, though it would certainly be a massive step for the country to have a libertarian as a real presidential candidate.

Keyes is the craziest, and most consistent.

Todd Seavey said...

Aw, man, all I can think about today is Gore. Give me another day to recover, and then I’ll have that Novak review up — with bonus commentary on the right/greenish _Crunchy Cons_, now with necessary Gore aside…