Friday, September 5, 2008

The Unpersuaded

I can’t fault Republicans less ideological than myself for being fired up after Palin and McCain’s convention speeches. Neither, though, can I blame (all of) the “Obamacons” and Obama-sympathizing libertarians for wanting to further punish the Republicans for their misbehavior over the past eight or fourteen years. I have never been entirely satisfied with any of my own presidential votes, so I can hardly blame other people for solving the “least-bad” dilemma in other ways.

At the same time, I will observe that four particularly McCain-averse libertarians who sound like they might be McCain-averse enough to vote for Obama — Megan McArdle, Andrew Sullivan, Reason’s Matt Welch, and Jacob Levy — might have one motive in common that I’m not sure anyone’s pointed out: war guilt. All four of them ranged from gung-ho to at least moderately supportive of going into Iraq and — dare I say it — might be overcompensating a bit now with their Obama sympathies. But again, I recognize there are no perfect solutions, and for all I know, they’ll all end up staying home or casting Bob Barr protest votes, as I plan to (sitting here in what I assume to be a hopelessly blue state anyway), likable though I find Palin.


In the case of Jacob Levy, too, he might agree with me that his familiarity with Obama and Obama advisor Cass Sunstein from the days when all three of them were at the University of Chicago may reduce his horror at the thought of an Obama presidency, rationally or not (Jacob and Sunstein are even fellow former Volokh Conspirators, and Sunstein, despite being a diabolical statist monster, was invited to participate in that Critical Review conference I went to this past Sunday — Sunstein is interested in libertarian ideas, though mainly, it seems to me, for purposes of subverting them and advancing statism).

I was surprised, though, to see Jacob saying on his blog that he’d probably vote for Obama even if Dick Gephardt were his running mate. It’s bad enough Obama picked libertarianism-bashing Biden, but if he has hidden virtues great enough to offset even a hypothetical arch-protectionist, union-goon running mate like Gephardt, I must really be overlooking something (Jacob, in his thoughtful and slightly dry way, explains that he mainly feels the Republicans still need to be punished for abusing executive power, which may be true, though I wish we didn’t have to be punished along with them, with one-party Democratic rule and all the taxes and regulations it is certain to bring).


More useful to Republican strategists than the observations above might be the complaints from my friend Chris, another (non-blogging) GOP-averse libertarian. Chris dashed off (so forgive any typos — and he swears like Peggy Noonan!) a long, very effective e-mail explaining exactly why he, despite being a laissez-faire capitalist like me and the four writers invoked above, still gets too angry at the Republicans to support them, and I genuinely think that even the most venal and self-interested Republican strategists could learn something from Chris’s comments, so listen up (or just hire me as a political consultant so that someone can add common sense to the muddled verdicts of all those focus groups, primarily by reminding you that “us vs. them” tactics inevitably leave some people feeling you’ve put them in the “them” category when you might have put them in the “us” category). Says Chris:

I think it comes down to this: the republicans as presently self-defined, based on the main thrusts of their campaign rhetoric, hate me. It was pretty clear from all the speeches last night they hold the following sorts of beliefs:

–Being patriotic (and, ideally, excited about the idea of fighting for one’s country) is good and being critical of one’s country (assuming one’s country is America) is bad.
–Loving God and having unquestioning faith in Him is good while basically anything that goes against this, biological science in particular, is suspect or bad.
–Being intellectual in the sense of thinking that ideas are important (especially complex ideas) is bad, while thoughtlessly sticking to your inherited beliefs (or “going with your gut”) is good.
–Being gay or thinking, say, that gays should get the same rights from the gov’t (and here I mean basic rights like marriage, not special rights like discrimination protection, etc.), is bad.
–Small town living is somehow more authentic and good than living in a city;
–The West (of the US) is good, the East is bad.
–Things that appeal to the masses are good, things that appeal to the intellectual and economic elite are bad (Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, Mao Zedong)
–Education past high school makes one less authentic and good, the better the school one went to, the worse one is.
–Interesting in things foreign is inherently suspect.

Needless to say, I fall on the bad end of basically all these things. I think patriotism or basically any unconditional adherence to any group or organization is a bad thing and is evidence of stupidity and moral laxity. Though there are situations in which I would consider fighting for America the correct thing to do, those situations are extraordinarily rare and I don’t think that joining the army is inherently more moral than being a teacher, scientist, business person, hedge fund manager, etc. I don’t believe in God and do believe that science offers the most accurate and convincing ways to explain the world. I like ideas and think there’s great value in being intellectual, vague though that term is. I don’t think there is anything immoral or unnatural about being attracted to people of the same sex and though I don’t think the gov’t should have a role in marriage at all, if it does I think it should treat hetero and homosexual couples equally.

I’ve lived in both small towns and big cities and like aspects of both. In my experience people in small towns are just as promiscuous, dishonest, violent, etc. as people in big cities, but they also tend to be more narrow minded and unintelligent than the average city dweller (with, of course, many exceptions on both sides). I’m perfectly happy with the East Coast and don’t think that the West is in any way more authentically American, at least not in any good way. I am part of the elite and I think the things that appeal to my tastes are just fine, in fact in most cases objectively better than those things that appeal to the masses. I’ve been in school in some manner or another for almost my entire life and I plan to stay there. I have devoted a good part of my intellectual and professional life to studying foreign cultures.

Now I should have grounds for agreement with the GOP on economic matters and that is the one area in which I found myself in agreement with some of the rhetoric. However, most of the speeches last night defined the GOP in social, not economic terms. Sure, Romney Huckabee, and Palin brought up shrinking gov’t and keeping it out of our hair. Romney is the only one that has a shred of credibility there. Coming from Huckabee it’s laughable, and it increasingly looks like Palin grabbed every cent of gov’t money for Alaska (and her hometown before that) that she could. Yes, she rejected some ridiculous showy items, like the gov’s private jet, but there was no reduction in the earmarks that Alaska (and her small town before that) got from the federal gov’t (including the money for the “bridge to nowhere”).

So even if I thought the GOP would be better in economic terms, and I’m not convinced that it would given historical reality, I just can’t vote for people who are openly hostile to almost everything about me…[H]ere are some part of the speeches that particularly annoyed me or struck my as hypocritical (with my comments):


“You know, for decades now, the Washington sun has been rising in the east. You see, Washington has been looking to the eastern elites.”
–1. So what?
2. It’s bullshit anyway. The only recent president who has been a member of the “eastern elites” was Bush I (and possibly Bush II, if you consider being born in Greenwich and going to Andover, Yale, and Harvard elite). Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton were not “eastern elites” in any meaningful way (unlike, say, Romney himself).

“Is a Supreme Court decision liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It’s liberal.”
–O.K., then I’m for a “liberal” Supreme Court, as I think the rule of law is an essential part of a civilized and prosperous nation.

“Opportunity rises when children are raised in homes and schools that are free from pornography, and promiscuity, and drugs, where there are homes that are blessed with family values and the presence of a mom and a dad.”
–Maybe not the best line for a presidential candidate who left his crippled wife for a rich woman 20 years younger. And there seems to be a bit of promiscuity (and drugs) in the Palin family as well. Oh, and are the democrats running on a pro-porn, promiscuity, and drugs platform? I must have missed that.

“You know, it’s time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother.”
–Cute line. What are those ideas, exactly? And who was it that has fought tooth and nail to increase the gov’t’s ability to listen in on phone calls, etc. without warrants? Yes, the dems are definitely in favor of big gov’t, but let’s not pretend that our freedoms have somehow increased during the last 8 years. That’s just fucking absurd.

“Our economy is under attack. China is acting like Adam Smith on steroids, buying oil from the world’s worst and selling nuclear technology. Russia and the oil states are siphoning more than $500 billion a year from us in what could become the greatest transfer of economic wealth in the history of the world.”
–Wait, so now the free market is bad? I’m confused. Would he rather China act like Marx on steroids? Does he expect other people and countries to GIVE us their oil? Yes, Russia and Saudi Arabia are hardly free-market paragons, but that’s not the force of his criticism here.

“Our economy has slowed down this year, and a lot of people are hurting. What happened? Mortgage money was handed out like candy, and speculators bought homes for free. And when this mortgage mania finally broke, it slammed the economy.”
–No shit. But what a strange example! All this happened under Greenspan’s watch. What does it have to do with liberals? This is the market at work (and I don’t think it’s bad that people are now facing the implications of their moronic decisions) and I fail to see how it can be blamed on the dems.


“[Obama has] no leadership or major legislation to speak of. His rise is remarkable in its own right — it’s the kind of thing that could happen only in America. But he’s never run a city, never run a state, never run a business. He’s never had to lead people in crisis.”
–Gee, where have I heard this before? Oh yes, he used the same exact words during the primaries about McCain. Now he’s just added the last line, as if being in a POW camp prepared McCain to be president.

“Having been to that part of the world many times and having developed a clear worldview over many years, John knew where he stood. Within hours, he established a very strong, informed position that let the world know exactly how he’ll respond as president. At exactly the right time, John McCain said, ‘We’re all Georgians.’”
–What does this mean? How would McCain respond? Would he attack Russia? Send troops to Georgia? Disasters both.

(Continuing on Georgia) “Obama’s first instinct was to create a moral equivalency that ‘both sides’ should ’show restraint.’ The same moral equivalency that he has displayed in discussing the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel.”
–1. I’m not sure how “both sides should show restraint” creates moral equivalency.
2. Both sides SHOULD show restraint! Is there another alternative that would be better?

“John McCain will follow the fanatics to their caves in Pakistan or to the gates of hell. What Obama wants to do is give them a place setting at the table.”
–1. I’ll believe that when I see it. Didn’t Bush say the same thing about Bin Ladin?
2. When has Obama advocated organized negotiations with Al Qaeda? Iran is hardly the same thing. And frankly, negotiating IS better than armed conflict in almost all situations.


“A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.”
–See my comment about small towns above.

“When I ran for city council, I didn’t need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters, and knew their families, too.”
–But when she was mayor she hired Ted Stevens’s former chief of staff as a lobbyist. He brought in over 25 million worth of earmarks for the town.

“As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man. I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment.”
–1. McCain flip flops constantly. Taxes, climate change, torture, you name it. He attacked the religious right until he finally recognized he needed them to get elected. Then he sucked their dicks hard. Very hard. And given that Palin has been in political positions basically non-stop since she was 28, and is now running to be fucking VICE PRESIDENT, I think she can start to consider herself a member of the permanent political establishment.

“There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you … in places where winning means survival and defeat means death … and that man is John McCain.”
–1. So what? Thanks and all that (though, of course, we lost the Vietnam war and last I checked it didn’t lead to the collapse of the free world. Why, because capitalism, not invasion, is what changes countries for the better and makes enemies into trading partners), but I didn’t realize that the presidency was a reward for good service in the military 40 years ago.

“If our state wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves.”
–As noted, she was strongly in favor of the bridge until the political fallout hit. Then she still accepted the money for the state. Alaska suck more gov’t teat than just about any state, living off taxes from oil companies and federal money. The former has increased since she’s been in office and the latter has stayed the same

Might it not be easier and wiser, Republican Party, to stick to deregulation and tax cuts and thus get this man’s vote? I’m sure he could tolerate a nice comment or two about Jesus if you did, as long as you put your money where your mouth is on the fiscal topics.

P.S. Meanwhile, back in the paleo world (or, in honor of recently-deceased narrator Don LaFontaine, perhaps I should say “In a world where ancient customs still rule…”), it’s interesting to find that some bloggers at American Conservative are calling Palin too neocon or at least insufficiently paleo even though Buchanan himself is excited about her. Those cranky, hard-to-please Buchananites have gotten more Buchananite than Buchanan himself, in other words. Tough crowd.


Neil C. said...

Yeah, it’s all these issues why the Republican Party has lost me (and I was a member of the College Republicans at NYU!). If they had stuck to the Jack Kemp-style of fiscally conservative, but not caring about social or religious issues, I could vote for them. But as long as there’s a Christian, right-to-life element looming large (such as their VP candidate) this Jewish voter cannot in right conscience vote that way.

Mark said...

Was Matt Welch such a hawk? I followed his stuff pretty closely in Canada’s National Post before and at the start of the War, and if he was “lukewarm” to start with, I thought he turned cold on the idea pretty quickly, more so than Andrew Sullivan.

Todd Seavey said...

He’s admirably cautious in some ways — more like a journalist than a philosopher, which I suppose is a good thing — but I assumed his “warblogger” posts of old (he may have coined the term), usually quick to sound supportive of InstaPundit and the like — and critical of hasty exaggerations of civilian deaths and that sort of thing — implied at least cautious pro-war sentiment, but I certainly don’t want to oversimplify. And like most of the Reason folk, he’s been extremely skeptical of all things Bush in more recent years.

A more obvious turnaround in the cases of McArdle and the almost schizophrenic Sullivan (who seems to have snapped around the time Bush/Rove decided to use the gay marriage issue and then started even finding stupid “Bush is dumb” jokes he’d once denounced funny, etc.).

Jacob was never fond of Bush but initially hoped Iraq would go well — then again, he’d like the “federalist solution” idea for Iraq, as did Biden of all people, come to think of it, so I do not doubt Jacob could write an essay-length defense of his internal consistency, with footnotes and stuff, as them Eastern elites are prone to do, even up in Montreal, which ain’t in the U.S.

Matt Welch said...

I never supported the war. Never opposed it, either.

I thought that Saddam Hussein probably had WMDs, and thought that the U.N. disarmament regime that he kicked out in ‘98 was creating an untenable situation in which only the threat of force would convince France and Russia to allow in weapons inspectors…. But I didn’t want Bush’s bluff to be called. I held open the possibility (and in fact still do) that in the long historical sweep of things, removing one of the world’s worst dictators and replacing him with a better system might be a net positive, regardless of the severe costs.

I’m certainly not *proud* of that position, but I don’t feel any “guilt.” At any rate, I’m not pro-Obama by any stretch, don’t know who I’ll vote for, and my unwillingness to vote for McCain is almost entirely based on his expansive, unipolar, and muscular sense of foreign policy.

Todd Seavey said...

Thanks for weighing in! I see Jacob has responded on his site and thinks I’m fairly on target on the war analysis in his case:

Let me add that if I say “war guilt,” I don’t mean it quite the accusatory way a dove would, since I was hopeful Iraq would go well myself and was pretty approving of how the earlier Afghanistan venture was handled, especially its early waiting/ultimatum period during which the Taliban could have coughed up al Qaeda members. On Iraq, I fell back on the “When in doubt, don’t go” position but was enthusiastic during the “democracy, whiskey, sexy” phase and still resist drawing rigid Ron Paul-like anti-interventionist conclusions.

(And I may yet win a bet next year with Chris about outcomes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.)

Ro said...

“Obamacons” I dig that. I think I’ll borrow that word from you.

Todd Seavey said...

It’s been around, so it’s not my doing — and was preceded, I think, by “Obamacans” for Obama-Republicans, a slightly different meaning.

Tomorrow, though, I will address the McCainotista phenomenon, which may be more important than the Palineoconservatives. (Carry on without me until then.)

Koli said...

I would add just one ancillary note to Chris’s ably (and colorfully) made points.

Palin’s remark that she didn’t need focus groups because she knew those voters, and “their families, too” (gotta get “family” in there whenever possible!) is worse than irrelevant. It undercuts the argument for her candidacy. As the nation’s no. 2 exec she won’t be personally acquainted with all her constituents. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if she knew how to gauge public opinion a little better. Or at least had a bit more regard for it. It is, after all, representative democracy that she is hoping lead.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Biden favors partition, not federalism, for Iraq.

I wrote a bunch about federalism before and during the war because it was an area in which I had a comparative intellectual advantage, and I continue to think that federalism is the sine qua non for any tolerably peaceful, tolerably just outcome in Iraq– neither partition nor a unitary state has *any* chance of success– but ‘necessary’ is nothing close to ’sufficient.’

Todd Seavey said...

One related (albeit more obscure) sidenote: One man who sounds a bit like Chris these days is…Tucker Carlson, seen here interviewed by Reason during his emceeing of the Ron Paul alternate-convention this week (as pointed out to me by someone who knew Tucker during his days working in Little Rock, Rep. Dan Greenberg):

Yancey Ward said...

I personally detest John McCain and many of his positions, and I detest what the Republican Party became after the 2000 election, but I see absolutely no upside to handing the Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches.

A libertarian should be for divided government if he can’t vote for an actual libertarian.