Last night saw Avery Knapp hosting a Ron Paul presidential campaign party at the New York campaign’s HQ, 515 W. 29th St., perhaps-fittingly in a building that used to be a sex club and turned out to be located on the most decadent block in New York City, 29th west of 10th Avenue. And I don’t say decadent because the rest of it is full of porn or sex clubs (for that you need 42nd St. pre-Giuliani) but because it’s a strip of youth-filled bars so boisterous that at night it’s closely watched by cops standing behind traffic barriers, as drunken young people stumble home from what an angry Curtis Sliwa once referred to, rather quaintly, as “gin mills.” I remembering looking at that block one night, coincidentally, and thinking that it looked like the opposite of a libertarian society: irresponsible individuals plus an authoritarian police presence. But I hope the Ron Paul signs around that one door will now help make the neighborhood a bit more respectable.
The diversity of the Ron Paul movement is an encouraging sign, by the way, and a more moderate but equally diverse version of the movement might be the route to victory someday, making libertarianism the hybrid “middle” of American politics instead of a fringe — which is why I was a bit enthusiastic about Jesse Ventura when he first arose as a political figure, somewhat libertarian in spirit but too ordinary a mind to get frighteningly ideological, which may be the slightly-mushy formula America ultimately needs: a more-culturally-flexible version of conservatism, or “conservatism for punks,” if you will, rather than a precise economic creed that few will ever learn or love.
But in the meantime: Last night’s party was organized to celebrate today’s “Ron Paul Tea Party,” the latest Paul fundraising stunt, in which supporters hope to break the one-day fundraising record for a presidential candidate that they set back on November 5, the earlier one-day stunt helping to give Paul his boost in the polls from a meager 1% or so to his current non-dominant but respectable 8% or so. Pour the resulting money — including some of yours, if you care to donate — into an ad blitz in Iowa and New Hampshire, produce a surprise outcome in the early-January primaries there, and perhaps Paul will become more than a footnote. (Iowa likes Christian pro-life politicians, after all, and New Hampshire likes humble, libertarian candidates who want to keep taxes low and keep the state out of your life, so they all ought to vote for Paul.)
If no surprise occurs by that point, of course, it’s time for me to survey (with no small amount of horror) the rest of the candidate field and, while not necessarily picking one to enthuse about (one really shouldn’t enthuse about them), at least mull the better and worse plausible outcomes, if only to give myself something to feel anxiety about. Here are some thoughts, then, about all the still-viable candidates who aren’t Ron Paul, of which I count five now:
I’m pleased to see National Review’s Rich Lowry continue the NR crowd’s criticism of Huckabee, and it will be interesting if Huckabee actually becomes president with so little enthusiasm — perhaps an unprecedented lack of enthusiasm — from America’s flagship conservative magazine. (The Weekly Standard supported McCain at one point in 2000, rightly seeing him as the most TR-like, progressive/bold-projects-oriented Republican presidential candidate, but they’ve been pro-Bush ever since 9/11 caused Bush to have “national greatness” foisted upon him.)
Maybe Arkansas is the problem. I’m not the only one who finds himself most dreading the twin possibilities of Dem Hillary and GOP Huckabee becoming president, both of them plagued by financial ethics-violation charges over the years and both of them alarmingly and self-servingly flexible about their purported principles — even while being wrong about many of the things they stick to resolutely. It’s funny how the “New York” race of Hillary vs. Rudy could so easily become an “Arkansas” race of Hillary vs. Huckabee, and you have to think that would change the way Hillary talked about her past. To some extent, the record of how America fared under Bill Clinton vs. the somewhat Giuliani-like Bush would become a less useful point of comparison than how Arkansas fared under Bill Clinton vs. Huckabee as governor — yet who cares about those details? (My apologies to Arkansas state rep. Dan Greenberg.)
Since despair and inaction are rarely the right responses to circumstances (a utilitarian is obliged to keep seeking a way to make an unhappy situation yield long-term increases in happiness), I must add that if Huckabee is our next president, the entire focus of the center-right-libertarian coalition should be on holding him to his half-baked tax reform plan and — this is crucial — making sure that the part about abolishing the IRS, the existing tax code, and withholding happens before the imposition of a national sales tax (a.k.a. “FairTax,” though even to me it seems a tad regressive, more so than a flat tax, which always exempted people at the bottom in Steve Forbes’ formulation anyway — not that that stopped an ostensibly objective CBS News report from calling his plan “wacky,” despite the flat tax taking little flack when Democrat Jerry Brown was pushing it four years earlier).
If Huckabee actually scrapped the tax code, he could end up being the best friend freedom has had in the Oval Office since Coolidge (and would get a lot of cheers from Ron Paul supporters). But Huckabee doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, no advance cheerleading — he actually has to accomplish this massive thing before I view him as anything more than our latest national problem.
At this juncture, focusing on SocSec or Medicare reform — or any other budget cuts — would make more immediate fiscal sense, but the IRS has to go at some point, so now’s the time, President Huckabee, unless of course you’re just a faddish demagogue or a lying con artist.
My anarchist political-junkie friend Michael Malice (who’ll speak to us at Lolita Bar on Jan. 2 about Ultimate Fighting, which McCain, incidentally, crusaded to outlaw) may have been right, according to some recent polls, when he predicted that Huckabee’s rise (as a religious-right candidate) would hurt Romney most. Huckabee, after all, is rising mostly as an alternative to pro-choice Giuliani, and GOP voters don’t really need more than one not-Giuliani candidate. I’m starting to wish they didn’t even have one not-Giuliani candidate, though, since I think he’d bring about a welcome secularist shift within the GOP (even Lowry from religion-friendly NR framed his criticism of Huckabee partly as a criticism of conservatives who focus solely on religion). And I think that absent a religious-right candidate, GOP voters actually would suck it up and vote for the tough-on-crime, tough-on-liberal-foes, terrorist-hating Giuliani, which would be good practice for them for facing what I hope will prove an increasingly secular future.
If Romney, endorsed as a sort of strategic compromise between religiosity and sanity by NR, becomes president, I am not at all worried that he would prove overly religious, though. If part of your own base is troubled by the fact that you’re a Mormon, you could keep throwing them bones (of Christ), but surely it’d be far safer to just avoid ever doing anything that reminded them you’re a Mormon. Stick to secular topics. And on those topics, Romney would be fairly sane. Not that I think Mormonism is substantially nuttier than other branches of Christianity — and it is a branch of Christianity, unless your definition of “Christian” is so narrow that even people who think Jesus is God and rose from the dead to offer us eternal life don’t count as Christians, which I have to say seems a tad narrow-minded to those of us who are completely outside Christianity — sort of like insisting that a woman who says Allah is the One God and Mohammed the most important prophet is not a Muslim if she doesn’t wear a veil. So, the Mormons think an angel talked to a nineteenth-century American and that we each get our own private universe after we die if we’ve been good, big deal — like Catholicism isn’t weird?
Despite the delight that some Democrats take in seeing Obama’s rise in the polls, I still think the odds are that Hillary Clinton will be our next president — and it’s interesting that many Republicans I know think so, too, while many of the Democrats I know, more prone to see the bulk of the American population as sexists and racists, don’t think either Obama or Clinton could prevail in the general election. Yet these Dems are rooting for them anyway, which I suppose is admirable. (I wonder who NR would have endorsed had they not explicitly deployed a formula for picking the “most-conservative viable” candidate [that is, electable at both the primary and general phase] and instead just followed their non-strategic, principled preferences — perhaps Giuliani, though I argued on NationalReview.com it really ought to be Paul unless only hawkishness matters to GOP voters now — Paul fitting in more perfectly with NR’s stated domestic-policy principles than any other candidate.)
I do not want to dismiss the legacy of racism and sexism in the world, and (as I’ve been told several times in the past few months) I probably don’t say often enough that (at least some forms of) racism and sexism are precisely the sort of cultural problems that (unless one is excessively value-neutral and relativist in one’s endorsement of market outcomes) free individuals ought to work to combat, in ways that clearly render state solutions unnecessary (in the same way that properly-functioning charity and social networks eliminate the need for a welfare state). Having said that, though, can we all agree in advance that if perchance America actually elects a black president and female vice president (or vice versa), we are allowed to beat ourselves up about our history of racism and sexism at least a little less? I know it’s easy for me, born in 1969, to act like Jim Crow laws and the absence of women from the workplace are ancient historical phenomena — and that in doing so, I’m being as myopic as a teen who thinks the Cold War is ancient history because he was lucky enough to be born after 1989 — but times really do change, sometimes with surprising speed (picture New York City in 1907).
As for Obama’s policy ideas, mostly small-step advances in liberalism, they strike me as suggesting that Obama is in some ways more like Bill Clinton than Hillary is. Bill and Obama like a grab-bag of crowd-pleasing programs, while Hillary, I fear, has a vision.
I’ll say this for the Clintons — and we would presumably be “re-electing” them, not merely electing her, make no mistake — for all my griping about them and my rage at her effort to nationalize a seventh of the economy with her old healthcare plan, they (or at least Bill) always had the goal of making America fit comfortably into an emerging global, commercial order (even lefty Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s emphasis on worker retraining was born of the belief that readiness for global markets is the only way forward), as befits Democratic Leadership Council-affiliated quasi-moderates.
And libertarians, too, want a global, commercial order in which trade matters more than war, cultural isolation, and religious conflict. So in some broad sense the Clintonites and free-marketeers are on the same page (witness the rare former Clinton intern turned libertarian who was one of our debaters at Lolita Bar two weeks ago). I doubt historians a thousand years from now will even be able to tell Clintonites and libertarians apart — any more than most Americans today understand why the status of the central bank was the most divisive issue other than slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S.
My friend Richard Ryan — finance-sector-savvy yet solidly on the left and arrested in various political protests over the years — has long said that he feels like Western civilization is sloppily beginning to approximate what he regards as the political ideal, vibrant capitalism with a welfare state sitting unobtrusively atop it, but that no one besides him (and perhaps a lot of Europeans) is really articulating a philosophy that celebrates that two-tiered mixed-economy outcome.
There are different ways of reconciling oneself mentally to servitude, and I suppose if a libertarian like Jacob Levy can comfortably see himself as part of the liberal tradition (broadly defined) and Nick Gillespie is content to view libertarianism as a sort of “marinade” to be added to the concoctions of the left and right rather than a philosophy capable of becoming dominant itself at this point in history, perhaps I can avoid despair if Hillary Clinton is our next president by reminding myself that at least we still live in a very commerce-driven, investor-pleasing world, which is good.
Then again…I have long thought the cold-blooded Hillary is more ideological than her jovial, approval-seeking husband, and as I’ve learned from Jonah Goldberg’s impending book Liberal Fascism (which I’ll review on this site next week as my Book Selection of the Month), she is no mere emotionless, unphilosophical bean-counter but rather a woman schooled since an early age in a religious-left outlook that requires approaching earthly reforms with zeal and forging a sense of community centered on government (what Bill called “The New Covenant” back in 1992, as I’ll recount in this coming Friday’s Retro-Journal entry), a politicized, nation-sized version of community that nonetheless rivals the closeness of a religious sect or, if you will, a village.
That’s a problem, and it may well mean that regardless of whether we get the right-wing Arkansan or the left-wing Arkansan in the White House, we are about to see a huge upsurge in gooey-religious rhetoric being used to cover the welfare state and government in general with the public’s adoration. If so, in the U.S. as in the Middle East, we’ll have achieved the unholy union of love of God and love of government, in some sense a worst-case scenario from my atheist-anarchist (albeit bourgeois and moderate) perspective.
Real Christians know coercion deforms character, though, and libertarians (like Ron Paul) know that the state is systematic coercion, not a village or family, so if — as I expect — Hillary (after getting the nomination) reveals a surprising willingness to talk about Jesus just as much as Huckabee does, be worried about where we’re headed.
And with that, I’m off to a Hanukkah party that’ll probably feature as guests some New York Times contributors who don’t yet realize they face the prospect of choosing between rival socialist Jesus freaks come 2008. (Unless Paul gets a lot of donations, of course.) I’ll finish reading “The Call of Cthulhu” on the way there on the subway, worrying about what horrible future slouches our way.