Week of Vexing Individuals: Day Six — Liberal?
From January 25-31, I’ll look at individuals who somehow complicate our ideas about property rights or capitalism — in alphabetical order.
It’s still assumed by most modern liberals that their philosophy and its representatives in Washington, DC aid “the little guy” — though Hillary Clinton is surely becoming Secretary of State largely in order to facilitate her husband’s lucrative overseas business dealings, Barney Frank routinely shakes down banks and businesses by showing them advance copies of pending legislation and softening it later in response to their resulting political donations, Obama is pressing for billions to be showered upon well-connected big businesses (at least they will have their messianic hopes for the new president fulfilled, despite over two hundred economists, including three Nobel Laureates, signing this Cato Institute ad from the New York Times opposing Obama’s stimulus and government spending in general), and, perhaps worst of all, Supreme Court liberals — not the conservatives — voted as a bloc against the occupants of Susette Kelo’s house in New London, CT, saying the government had every right to take their house away in order to give the land to a powerful and lucrative business (while Howard Dean, in an astonishing lie, tried to claim on TV that it was the conservatives who’d voted for the Kelo taking).
I’m pleased to say two small chunks of pink-painted wood from the Kelo house (which was ultimately moved to another location with the help of volunteers) now sit on my bookshelf, next to my first edition first printing of Atlas Shrugged (and the Superman clock Jacob Levy gave me). I’m not pleased that so many liberals (the term greatly corrupted from its original, anti-government, pro-individual meaning), though smart people, continue to defend the state — and to claim that having liberals on the Supreme Court is a victory for freedom. (The situation has gotten too grim for me to keep politely humoring these people at parties, so my social life should start getting more interesting soon — but let’s get back to the Supreme Court.)
The one justice to express some sympathy for libertarianism — and get raked over the coals for it by evil statist Joe Biden in his confirmation hearings eighteen years ago — is Clarence Thomas. You’d think with the skepticism he’s shown in his decisions toward state power (writing the fantastic dissent in favor of term limits for members of Congress when liberalism thwarted that noble crusade, for instance) and toward implicit threats of racial violence in (some) Klan cross burnings (something I’m willing to see as more than just idle speech, depending on the likelihood of real violence in a given social context, though many libertarians might disagree), he might get a little more sympathy from other black Americans — but not in a crowd like the one I was part of Sunday…
Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem hosted a debate on Sunday about whether religion is socially useful, and the moderator mentioned that Clarence Thomas was at one point in the seminary but was alienated by racism among the seminary students, hearing at least one celebrate when Martin Luther King was shot — causing Thomas to lose his Catholic faith for a time. This story makes me like Thomas even more, but the crowd mainly seemed worried that something sympathetic was being said about a Republican.
Indeed, the two sides in the debate were represented by a leftist (yet intelligent design-praising) priest and an atheist who, alas, turned out to be from the Revolutionary Communist Party, so I (being an atheist capitalist, like all right-thinking people) didn’t have too much sympathy for either side — as I told an inquisitive reporter for the RCP’s Revolution newspaper afterwards (though I can’t imagine he had time to jot down much of my comment, since he was explaining the oppressive nature of global capitalism to me at great length).
I was pleased, at least, that a large, camouflage-wearing guy at the back of the crowd, in asking the very first question, urged the communist, Sunsara Taylor, to explain how she could judge religion so harshly on humanitarian grounds when communism itself had murdered millions (exactly the question I had!). Astonishingly (unless you know the RCP is Maoist), Taylor flat-out denied that Mao had murdered millions, praised China’s mid-century achievements in raising life expectancies and standards of living, and even had the audacity to claim that China has been going downhill since the modest market-friendly reforms of Deng. A rightwing conspiracy, she said, has been duping us into thinking Mao is history’s most prolific murderer. (The only person to whom the RCP is apparently more loyal than Mao is their leader-in-hiding, Bob Avakian, for whom the non-hiding Taylor is technically on a book tour, apparently.)
Denying the tens of millions dead at China’s hands or the brutal political repression of the Cultural Revolution is sort of like being a Holocaust denier — and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one of those in the crowd, too. There was, at least, a man who chastised Taylor for wearing what appeared to be a diamond necklace despite, as he put it, “the Zionists” running the diamond trade. In perhaps her only human and vulnerable-sounding moment, Taylor just said meekly that the necklace had been “a gift” — no defense of “the Zionists” was offered, of course. Another man objected to “retail” altogether (and I don’t think he was suggesting that wholesale is a better deal) and to technology, saying some of it is helpful but some is not.
One man, in a plea for pragmatism, noted that churches are discouraged by government from giving care to transients unless they can do so on a reliable daily basis, but no one (vocal) seemed to see this as an argument for a free market and against government. Everything tended to get shoehorned into the “capitalist system vs. blacks” narrative, tragically — and Taylor coldly said that aid from churches does little to foster a full-scale revolution, which is all that will truly help the poor.
I have this much in common with that crowd, though: their moderator was from the skeptical/atheist Center for Inquiry — and so is one of our scheduled Debates at Lolita Bar participants for April 1, Austin Dacey, who will duke it out with Rabbi Simcha Weinstein.
But more about that debate in a couple months — in the meantime, if you’re as expert on the squabbles of right and left as some of the people mentioned above, let me know if you’ll be in New York City on the night of Thursday, Feb. 19 and want to be considered as our defender of the “No” position in our impending debate on the question “Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?”
Ken Silber will argue yes, and that the right has already begun to bounce back. Whether you’re rightwing, libertarian, moderate, or liberal — though preferably not a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party — perhaps you think Silber’s nuts and that the right is still plummeting downward. If so, e-mail me your credentials and maybe we can work something out.