Friday, June 13, 2008

Retro-Journal: Four More Years Since Late 2004

The 2004 election was ugly and divisive, but it was much simpler than this year’s, which had myriad primary contenders. The 2004 election also lent itself to a grand narrative of which libertarian aims, contrary to subsequent pessimism, still seemed a part.

•I recall starting out the second half of 2004 seeing a speech by young Kenyan-born libertarian activist June Arunga, who’d toured Africa from north to south for a documentary and — unlike countless other documentarians and activists — showed how free markets could alleviate Africa’s problems, from the snooping omnipresence of Egyptian government to the private-bank-account-pilfering government of her native land — which, like all governments, only pilfered for ostensibly lofty, noble reasons such as constructing a new hospital but of course still drove away wealth and productivity and economic stability in the process, as government action tends to do whether nominally Soviet, Democratic, Bolivarian, or otherwise.

(I felt a bit like I’d ensnared a celebrity when I talked her into joining a mission to the karaoke bar Iggy’s on the Upper East Side earlier this year after a Cato Institute event, though she didn’t sing. I did “Don’t You” by Simple Minds yet again and am still pleased that some curvy blonde pigtailed neighborhood resident named Melanie enjoyed the performance so much, though sadly I have no idea how to contact her to demonstrate my “Sign of Fire,” that being the Fixx song I’ve now concluded works best in karaoke, much as I enjoy doing their song “Stand or Fall,” largely because it contains perhaps the single most pretentious rhyme in rock history: “Empty face reflects extinction/ Ugly skies divide the nation/ Desecrate the population/ There will be no exultation.” I’m grateful to Bob Chitester for getting me into the aforementioned Cato event — and I notice there’s some talk of karaoke happening next week, during the big libertarian event he’s organizing, at which I’ll be on a panel addressing the simple, unambitious question “What Is America?” — thus that picture of my head. I notice I’ll be joined on the panel by a woman from Sweden, so if we all end up doing karaoke, I just may have to perform “Seven Days a Week” by the Sounds, though I’m no Maja Ivarsson — indeed, I think she gives one of my favorite performances of all time here, so it’s a lot to live up to.)

•I remember seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger on TV — himself not yet having abandoned libertarian-Republican policy goals at that time — giving a speech at the 2004 Republican convention that tied together the themes of freedom, U.S. military action around the world, and support for the Republican Party more effectively than any Bush speech had (perhaps tellingly). He traced a short history of the modern world and his own life, from witnessing the repercussions of Nazi and Communist oppression as a child to his hopes for a liberated Middle East today, ending with a litany of libertarian values and telling the world of each of them that if you believe in that freedom, “you are a Republican.”

•At one convention-watching party here in New York City, I met the reporter Steven Vincent — initially approaching him because I thought he might be libertarian novelist/essayist Neal Stephenson — and would hear one year later of his death in Iraq (much as I’d heard a year earlier of the death there of libertarian-conservative editor Michael Kelly, who’d been interviewed for a John Stossel piece back when I worked at ABC News).

Though the conservative and libertarian movements were going through something of an identity crisis then (just as the Justice League was experiencing rape, murder, and other trauma in the darkly epochal miniseries Identity Crisis that year), things didn’t yet look like a certain disaster/crack-up, so I was still able to take some pleasure in seeing the differing and even feuding elements of the movements as a sort of Epcot Center of possibilities rather than fault lines heralding doom.

Indeed, when I went to Rockford, IL to see libertarian Stossel producer Kristi Kendall married that summer, with our fellow libertarian Michael Malice and an ex-girlfriend of his in attendance, I checked to see if the paleoconservative Rockford Institute was hosting any lectures or events that same weekend — then remembered that Chicago is only about a half-hour away if I needed entertainment, and the city was then still home to my friends Jacob Levy, Shelley Clark, and Chuck Blake. But whether hanging with GOP-wary libertarian Jacob or the Chronicles-publishing Rockford paleos, it was all good then — no need to split hairs as long as we were united enough to stop the left, al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Michael Moore, and/or an arrogant faux-aristocratic Massachusetts senator married to a woman whose foundation is directly responsible for about half the crackpot unscientific eco-scares I combat in my day job, a terrifying coalition, in short, that could not in good conscience be handed a victory at that juncture in world history, even if that meant reluctantly voting to re-elect Bush.

(Incidentally, Malice returns to the Chicago area for another wedding this weekend, so he’ll miss seeing his punk friend Tibbie X reading this Sunday circa 5 at Bengal Curry, 65 West Broadway — but you should go.)

Even a staunchly leftist friend who’d touted the Howard Dean campaign in her wedding program that year was expressing newfound sympathy for capitalism since making a foray into yarn store ownership and discovering that regulations and taxes really do make it very difficult to do business — and in ways that did nothing to help her customers or employees, either. I gave her a collection of Rand essays.


That year wasn’t all politics, of course, and I also managed to see the Finn Brothers (of Crowded House fame) in concert in Central Park, the whimsical and They Might Be Giants-like band Life in a Blender, 60s action shows like Green Hornet and The Avengers at the Museum of Television & Radio, the delightfully retro-futurist Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (inspiration for my Halloween costume that year), and on a punk-conservative fusionist note (which combined entertainment and politics) a speech by Michael Graves of the punk band the Misfits, a rock n’ roll Republican whose existence confirms that I did not entirely fabricate the phenomenon commemorated in this site’s slogan, above. Like Schwarzenegger, Graves struck a note both capitalist and globalist, emphasizing the idea that America is a magnet for people seeking freedom from government. Precisely.

I also saw the Pixies in concert late that year and loved them regardless of any political ramifications — and I saw that Muppets marathon I mentioned in an earlier Retro-Journal, the marathon that was a sufficiently effective nerd filter that it led to me bumping into a few friends and one woman I’d dated.

As my birthday outing that year, I saw the live-action Thunderbirds movie with a posse that included the tragically obese manager of Victor Niederhoffer’s libertarian Junto discussion group, who has since passed away from a stroke, in his forties. Happier Thunderbirds-related outings that year, though, included a return to the Museum of Television & Radio to see Supercar (another marionette sci-fi show from the creator of Thunderbirds), and a sangria-enhanced viewing of the Thunderbirds-inspired film Team America: World Police (from the libertarian creators of South Park) while on a visit to Austin, TX to see LB Deyo with Scott Nybakken and Christine Caldwell Ames. While there, I met Diana Fleischman, an evolutionary psychology expert who’ll be one of the egg-sellers on our panel of egg-selling women next month at Lolita Bar.

That half-year at Lolita, though, saw me arguing that America is oversexed (and I was not at that time a living counterargument) against CuddleParty co-founder Marcia Baczynski, who successfully persuaded the audience that America may not in fact be having too much sex — but in truth she won largely on the strength of the admirably moderate, non-radical argument that most people are still uncomfortable even frankly discussing such matters.

Bush also won that year.

Hitchens had wanted it, Andrew Sullivan pre-transformation had wanted it, Central European nations (fond of those who topple tyrannies) wanted it, plenty of libertarians wanted it — and for a very short time, it appeared our considerable patience with Bush would be rewarded by an unexpected renewed emphasis on domestic economic reforms such as Social Security privatization after his re-election. As my fellow hawkishly-inclined libertarian Nybakken liked to say, nothing could pozibly go rwrongg.

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