Monday, June 13, 2011

Pre-GOP Debate Politics Round-Up (plus: How Libertarian Is Todd Seavey?)

The polls lately show that Romney is the favorite presidential candidate of about a quarter of Republicans, with Palin way behind him around 15% – and everyone else down in single digits.  Under those circumstances – and with the election nearly a year and a half away – I try to tell myself not to waste time worrying about questions like these:

•Why did they invite Republican candidates who didn’t technically qualify to be in tonight’s debate in New Hampshire to be there but not libertarian Republican Gary Johnson?  (I may join a bunch of libertarians who are watching the debate tonight at King’s Tavern from 8-10pm at 222 East 14th, by the way.)
•Should Johnson throw his faltering support to more-popular Ron Paul or vice versa? 
•Could it be that Paul has a better (albeit small) shot at winning the nomination than (pro-choice) Johnson but that only Johnson could win the general election (since Paul’s “fringe” baggage is so easily targeted, much as I like him)? 
•Is Palin getting more libertarian lately?  Is Bachmann? 
•Why did Mitch Daniels hurt me like this?

The way things are going, the only question that may truly matter is: Will the (libertarian-written) Book of Mormon winning at the Tonys last night help make Romney seem more mainstream?  (Not to mention Hunstman.  And Mormon-convert Glenn Beck.  And one of my exes.)

Perry or Christie or Ryan or someone could still change that, of course.  And Huckabee threatens to reconsider (no, please no). 

In the meantime, a few more quick thoughts that will be going through my head during the debate:

•I miss Steve Forbes, even though the sell-out started saying skeptical things about Darwin in his second campaign, presumably to compensate for being a smart, well-educated, New Jersey-dwelling economics expert.
•In an Economist post about Johnson, Will Wilkinson admitted that there doesn’t (yet?) seem to be much of a constituency for “liberaltarianism,” which shows admirable humility on his part – but he still doesn’t seem to accept that right-leaning libertarianism is happening, in a
bigger and more inspiring way than ever.  So he must imagine that the Tea Party/Ron Paul movement – the Tea Party/Ron Paul era of American politics, we might even say – does not exist or is not to any significant degree libertarian, in order to make the far more illusory “liberaltarian” idea seem as if it possesses greater potential. 
•I’ll stop mocking efforts to make left-liberals more libertarian if the “liberaltarians” will refrain from needlessly bashing the right, at least until we see how far the Tea Party insurgency can go.
•I admit that the insurgency-from-within model is a different sort of fusionism than the gradualist effort I had envisioned/encouraged in which libertarians would quietly and cooperatively steer the neocons, who would in turn quietly steer the right in general, which would in turn steer the Republican Party, which in theory would steer the government, which ultimately, I admit, would probably do something so watered down and dissimilar from what I originally wanted that wiser heads would ask why I bother even to hope.
•If I overestimated the educability of the neocon-style fusionists, I was if anything too pessimistic about the prospects for the Paulite brand of right/libertarian fusionism, and the latter is catching fire now, especially among the young, who I feared would be Obamaniacs for life.  I encounter more young libertarians now (including hip ones and, shockingly, female ones) than I did when I was a young libertarian myself.  To sneer at this and tell them all to await proper instructions from Cato (so to speak) would be arrogant and self-defeating. 
•If we are to avoid Romney (who really is nothing more than a New England moderate at heart – I recognize my own kinfolk) getting the nomination, it would help if National Review didn’t endorse him this time (as they did in 2008, you may recall). 
•If they do, though, I think the proper Straussian/neocon thing to do would be to start writing articles about the glories of Mormonism even if they don’t believe in Mormonism, the way Irving Kristol praised religion without (apparently) believing in God – but more about that whole Strauss/neocon/“noble lies” thing in my July Book Selections blog entry in a few weeks.
•We can also discuss that complex subject at Langan’s on June 27 (with Middle East-analyzing and decidedly non-neocon guest Saif Ammous) or at Lolita on July 14 (Bastille Day!), the latter being the momentous event called That Which Roasts Todd Seavey Makes Him Stronger – but more about that in a couple days).
•As if it weren’t painful enough watching Johnson try to get traction, I noticed one seemingly-sincere fellow post a comment online saying he wished Johnson would be part of tonight’s debate because it would be good to hear a gay, liberal voice within the Republican Party.  But Johnson is not gay (and he’s engaged), and “libertarian” would (regardless of how you interpret my “liberaltarianism” comments above) be a better political descriptor.  And the Republican Party, like Broadway, is “not just for gays anymore.”
•Very roughly speaking, by the way, I think the existing GOP candidates who’d probably make the government at least a bit smaller if they were president are Paul, Johnson, Pawlenty, Palin, and Bachmann, and the ones I don’t trust to do so (despite some good, vague rhetoric) are Giuliani, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum, Huntsman, and Romney.  I could be wrong. 
•That reminds me that Gingrich, when asked about some specific entitlement question, responded with the amusingly Bill-Clinton-era-sounding comment that we should “have a national dialogue” about that, to which some online conservative writer said, “Is that like a ‘listening tour’?”  It’s good that that sort of vagueness is ringing a bit more hollow these days, since we do not have time for it.
•I do not think the cause is helped by things like this book’s argument that the Federal Reserve was responsible for, among other things, the Civil War, which happened fifty years before the Federal Reserve existed (and you needn’t contact me to defend the theory; I’m sure there’s some roundabout, technical sense in which it’s true – there always is – and that’s the way marginal, crank theories of limited use tend to be).
•I for one was ready to have a far-ranging national dialogue about the pervasiveness of mental illness years ago.  I mean, like ever since I was in junior high and noticed how little sense my peers made.  So don’t ask me to assume that a self-destructive loudmouth such as Anthony Weiner is “all there.”  Weiner’s nuts.  But one sidenote on that: a journalist should be ashamed to say that her sympathies for a politician are increased regardless of the facts in his case – and that she will lean in a certain direction regarding those facts – simply because she first heard about a given scandal due to right-wing sources (even after the story has gone on to be reported across the political spectrum, with the basic facts on display, with a life of their own, regardless of where they were first noted).  Yet that is the only coherent way to interpret what Joan Walsh was trying to say in this Salon piece.

APPENDIX A.  How Libertarian Is Todd Seavey?

If I sound mushy to some of my more radical colleagues due to things like the willingness to work with neocons noted above, or my dismissal of Fed-centered conspiracy theories, let me frame my sanity and moderation this way:

So textbook-libertarian am I that I tend to be undecided (or at least torn) on exactly those issues that divide libertarians, including: foreign policy, abortion, the urgency (or lack thereof) of immigration issues, whether there’s hope for the GOP, the usefulness of patriotism/nationalism, the usefulness of states’ rights, intellectual (as opposed to physical) property rights, what might broadly be called the value-neutrality of public facilities (whether to allow nudity in parks, prayer in school, etc.), constitutionalism vs. anarchism (at least as practical goals), whether to endorse highly-specific technical monetary reforms such as Fed abolition and the gold standard, the role of community, whether often-nasty anti-corporate sentiment is something that can be productively harnessed (ditto “populism”), and whether and how to weigh in on cultural disputes over things like innovation and traditionalism.

I think this is a further testament to the fundamental correctness of the underlying property-based libertarian theory, though: Issues that can be resolved by saying “Don’t steal (even if you call it taxation or regulation)” are easily settled, and this covers an awful lot of territory – virtually all if you move toward an anarcho-capitalist law code – but when you move away from property rights (both in practice and in theory) things get morally, politically, and practically fuzzy very quickly, and not just for libertarians I might add.

There’d be plenty left to debate (I haven’t really mentioned things like art and etiquette) even if we all agreed on property as the legal (and theoretical) foundation from which to start.  And I wish everyone did.  But most libertarians do agree on that, even if in some cases they do so in an unwitting/implicit/asymptotic way (despite the fact that some talk more about, say, the Constitution or individualism).  Functionally speaking, it’s property that most reliably maps where libertarians will stand and where they won’t (both literally and figuratively speaking), regardless of how they carve issues up in their rhetoric. 

And this is a good thing.  Philosophies shift and change.  Constitutions get rewritten.  Whole nations rise and fall.  But, like game theory, property will always be with us – will always be rediscoverable, even on other planets – and will continue to foster efficiency, happiness, and peaceful conflict resolution no matter what cockamamie philosophical/moral alternatives the latest wave of intellectuals, priests, unelected thugs, or elected thugs foists on the sentient beings at hand.

1 comment:

dave said...

For what it's worth, Paul should throw his supporters behind Johnson. From my completely non-libertarian vantage point in 2008, the thing Paul didn't do well (perhaps it's the media's fault, but that hasn't changed) is show us a map from here to there. So "end the fed" or "cut off all foreign aid" really translated to "fight with congress for four years about something hardly anyone understands the implications of, after which, the weaker who benefit from those things will no longer benefit while the stronger have an even greater government-facilitated edge" In other words, interesting theory, hard to visualize in practice. I appreciate having his voice out there, and I'm still learning - probably wouldn't be interested now if it wasn't for Paul in 2008. From my semi-libertarian vantage point now, Johnson comes across as "this (New Mexico) is what happens when a libertarian is in charge" No theory/practice gap. Plus I believe Johnson is a self made business man and climbs mountains, which gives some big time role model cred. Let everyone chew each other up tonight. I like to think he's still in the game.