Thursday, January 31, 2008

Debate Thoughts

When I've blogged about the Democratic debates, I've generally tried to avert a lot of the domestic policy issues. I do that primarily because I've spent most of my life as a Republican, and I have very little idea how specific differences on domestic policy play within various Democratic Party groups. For a better idea on those issues, I strongly recommend Kyle's live-blogging of the debate. Still, I feel plenty comfortable discussing foreign policy since many Dems are more libertarian-friendly on this issue than Republicans are; ditto with immigration policy. And of course I feel comfortable discussing the unsubstantive things about the debates that still wind up being critically important.

Given those limitations, here are my thoughts on tonight's debate:

1. Despite his momentum, Obama is still trying to come from behind, and has only a few days to do that in over 20 states. To voters in those states who are just starting to pay attention and are not generally obsessed with politics, Obama is probably still something of an enigma. Hillary, on the other hand, is a completely known quantity within the party rank and file. This meant that tonight was much more important to Obama than it was to Hillary. It was his chance to sell himself to people currently supporting Hillary on name recognition alone. With that in mind, the primary question coming into this debate was not so much whether Hillary or Obama would win, but whether Obama would be able to cut into Hillary's support by enough of a margin to catch her.

2. The generally civil, policy-focused tone favored Hillary substantially on domestic policy. I say this because the discussion of domestic policy generally amounted to incredibly specific, detailed discussion of numbers whose actual significance to the average voter is nil. In getting into those details, Obama's ability to inspire is dramatically neutralized.

3. Foreign policy, however, has become extremely easy to understand these days, at least from the perspective of the average dove (which fairly well sums up most Democrats, I think): are you for the Iraq War or against it? Are you for an aggressive foreign policy or a more humble one. On these questions, Obama wiped Hillary across the floor. In fact, Hillary wiped herself all over the floor, managing to sound like a neo-con with her approving use of the phrase "coercive diplomacy." If I were Obama, I would take her sentence on that and play it on loop in as many Progressive media outlets as possible.

4. It would seem that Hillary's response to the dynasty question was approvingly received by the Dem grassroots. Certainly her catch phrase of "It took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush..." hit home beautifully with the base. It's unfortunate that they largely ignored the part of the response where she increduosly claimed that she and Obama had to start the campaigns on an even footing, as if her fundraising ability and initial name recognition advantage had nothing to do with her famous last name.

5. If there were concerns about how Obama would respond to Republican tried-and-true arguments, I think you'd have to say he passed with flying colors: humorous, disarming, and devastatingly accurate. How anyone can think that Hillary would stand up better to such arguments than Obama is officially beyond me at this point.

6. Both of them have clearly learned from their past mistakes that the first person to go onto the offensive winds up the loser in the long run. As a result, they both spent the debate trying to bait each other into going on the attack - neither ever really did it, though Obama through some beautiful soft jabs that no one could take offense to, but which did paint some differences between the two.

7. After Obama started landing some of those soft jabs, Hillary's demeanor did seem to change a bit, at least when he was speaking. She did a good job composing herself for her answers, but the look on her face while he was responding was all too similar to McCain's "too-cool-for-the-room" smirk last night. I thought that demeanor hurt McCain significantly last night, and I think it hurt Hillary again tonight.

Final verdict: Despite all of the above, I'd say it was a draw or only a slight advantage to Obama (Hillary just had too much of a built-in advantage on domestic policy questions in this format). Still, given the familiarity of so many voters with Hillary built up over the last 16 years, I think Obama probably picks up a couple of points on her, making the national poll numbers close to a dead heat. How that plays out in the individual Super Tuesday states I have no idea, though.

More thoughts on memeorandum.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Quick Word on Tonight's Debate

I've been too ill to blog anything today about the Florida results, the Giuliani endorsement, or the Edwards news.

But the debate tonight, especially the exchange between Romney and McCain over McCain's accusation about Romney supporting timetables, struck me as noteworthy.

First, in the aforementioned exchange, McCain may have done himself some serious damage, both short and long-term. He came across as a bully who was just out for blood, trying to kick Romney when he was down. It was the first time....ever....that I've felt any sympathy for Romney. The exchange also seriously damaged McCain's claim to being the "Straight Talk" candidate.

I say this as someone who would vastly prefer McCain to Romney (which isn't to say I necessarily prefer McCain overall), but in trying to go for an unnecessary knockout blow of Romney, I think McCain might have given Romney an opening by looking like a complete douche in what may have been a critical debate. Frankly, to out-douche Romney takes a lot of work, but I think McCain managed to do that tonight.

The entire exchange struck me as similar to bickering between an older, favored son, and his younger brother unsuccessfully trying to point out that, in fact, the older brother wrecked the car.

Thankfully, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee came in and played the parents in the exchange, with Paul taking the role of the disciplinarian father taking them both to task for being babies, and Huckabee being the soft-hearted mother just trying to cool the situation down.

On the whole, Huckabee and Paul were both ignored far too much in a debate that is now down to a manageable number of candidates. While I can understand giving McCain and Romney more facetime overall, the extent to which Huckabee and Paul got the shaft was truly excessive.

Paul, to his credit, did what he could to expand his quixotic attempt to explain the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle. This is not an issue that works well in a debate - especially one where you're not getting much speaking time - but I give Paul credit for trying to explain what is clearly his favorite topic of discussion, and what he has apparently chosen to make the basis of his campaign now that he knows he is just a protest candidate at best. Unfortunately, explaining Austrian Theory in such short spurts is more likely to just confuse people than do any good. He would have been well-served to focus on less heady issues, though the connection he drew between Reagan and the gold standard probably helped his cause a little. Still, I was happy to see him get to play (along with Huckabee) the role of "adult" at one or two junctures.

In his short periods of camera time, though, Huckabee actually managed to sound the most like a Reagan Republican of anyone on the stage. He managed to pay more than mere lip service to traditional Republican concepts like federalism, taxes, and deficits. There were even times when he sounded almost as libertarian as Ron Paul, particularly because he spoke only fleetingly about "values" issues. This isn't to say that his overall agenda is libertarian in any way (quite the opposite of course), that I could ever support him, or that his performance tonight is remotely indicative of his overall policy preferences...but if anyone sounded like Ronald Reagan tonight, it was the Huckster.

After tonight, I suspect that Huckabee will do slightly better than expected on Tuesday, McCain noticeably worse, Paul slightly better, and Romney slightly better. This would make (gulp) Romney the effective winner of the debate since Huckabee and Paul are so clearly also-rans. However, I doubt that McCain hurt himself enough to cost him the nomination.

More debate reactions (I'm sure) at memeorandum.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another Libertarian Blogger for Obama?

I've been taking some mild flak the last few days for my quasi-endorsement of Obama, by which I mean that I currently support him, and would support him over any other potential major party nominee. However, I may yet decide to go with the LP nominee in the general election, depending on how things play out between now and November. To reiterate, though - I have no illusion that Obama is himself a libertarian in any way; however, I believe he is more genuinely open to libertarian solutions than any candidate of recent vintage, particularly on social and civil liberties; on economic liberties, he appears far better than any Democrat in many years (though I hasten to add that in effect, the Clinton presidency wound up being quite pro-market).

In any event, my sentiments appear to be seconded by Cosmo's Brain, who has gone even more whole-hog for Obama than I have. Cosmo also hits on a theme that I've been striking with increasing frequency of late: the Republicans are no longer a good home for libertarians.

Money quote:

I have come to learn something very important about the Republican Party and libertarians: the big tent welcomes libertarians only when it suits their convenience to do so (which is about every even numbered year). When those same libertarian principles Republicans champion are applied to issues like drugs or morality, then Republicans do not want to hear what libertarians have to say. Rudy Giuliani believes in expansive executive power; Mitt Romney is more pro-business than pro-free market (somebody should tell Mitt that being a businessman and being an economist are not the same thing); John McCain would gladly sacrifice civil liberties in the name of “clean government;” and Mike Huckabee, well, he is a statist who calls himself a conservative.

Later tonight, I think I will try to start a compilation of libertarian, libertarian-ish, and small government bloggers currently supporting Obama.

Libertarians on Warrantless Wiretapping

Kos asks where the libertarians are on fighting against the current FISA bill.

This is largely an important and fair question. Little is ever heard publicly from libertarian organizations on this issue, yet it is something going on - right now - that implicates libertarian values as much as anything else.

Libertarians have not been silent on this issue. Ron Paul - to the extent he is a legitimate representative of libertarianism (debatable) - is quite clearly opposed to warrantless wiretapping, and has been fairly vocal about it to my knowledge. Reason has also come out quite clearly against the wiretapping bill, including this article by Julian Sanchez. And of course Radley Balko has made a career of documenting abuses by law enforcement in general in a way that perhaps no one on the Progressive Left can really match. Unfortunately, Cato seems somewhat divided on the issue and has been far too silent.

A number of libertarian bloggers (myself included) have in fact been quite vocal in their opposition to the warrantless wiretapping.

Despite this, our primary institutions have not been vocal enough in trying to influence the debate. Thankfully, David Weigel at Reason is trying to take some steps to rectify this problem. But it's probably too little, too late.

More reactions at memeorandum.

Monday, January 28, 2008

2008 SOTU Drinking Game Rules

For the last several years, I've enjoyed playing my own State of the Union Drinking Game. The rules change from year to year based on current events (though some rules are constant as long as Bush is in office). This year's rules are below:

1 Drink:
Any mention of a new government program
Anything that will involve an increase in deficit spending
Any ovation in which the Republicans stand and applaud - but not the Democrats
Every syllable of the word "Ahmadinejad"- if any is mispronounced, finish your beer
Any reference to the telecoms as "good patriotic corporate citizens" or some derivation thereof
"The State of the Union is Strong"
Every mention of a gratuitously invited guest

Finish Your Beer:
Any mispronounced word other than "nucular."
Any attempt to (falsely) blame the Democrats for allowing the end of the warrantless wiretapping program
Any mention that one of his invited guests is not even supposed to be allowed in the country because she is HIV positive.

Feel free to add more rules in the comments.

When Will They Learn?

In 2004, John Kerry hurt his chances (though not fatally) in Pennsylvania when he went to one of Philly's legendary cheesesteak places and ordered it "California-style" with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. To this day, this blasphemy is the first thing my wife remembers when she hears the words "John Kerry."

The other day, Mitt Romney committed a similarly unforgivable food faux pas when he picked the skin off his fried chicken. In Pensacola, Florida - a town not that far from Alabama. Afterwards, he claimed that he was just looking for a healthy food option. But sir, when you are running for President, healthy eating must take a backseat to following cultural food conventions. This also doesn't answer the important question of why he thought a KFC would be a politically appropriate place to get lunch when I am quite certain there are better fried chicken options in Pensacola. For shame, sir, for shame!

New rule: If you wish to be my President, then you have to show you are willing to make modest personal sacrifices to your health by showing that you actually appreciate local food culture. Otherwise you're just transparent that you are pandering to make the locals think you like their food.

H/T: memeorandum.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Does Sully Have a Libertarian Version of the Malkin Award?

Andrew Sullivan has an always interesting feature called the Malkin Award for "for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric." (His Moore Award is for similarly insane left-wing rhetoric). But I'm not sure if such rhetoric qualifies when it comes from a self-described libertarian. If so, this post by Michael Rebmann should take the cake:

While listening to the news on WBEN this morning, I heard the worst reason yet for voting for Barack Obama. A mother in South Carolina voted for Barack for her children. She said, she’s always told her children that “you can be anything you want to be” and that Barack Obama shows that the statement is true.
I’m sure that Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler also believed that they could be anything they wanted to be. Presidents need to be elected based on ideas and qualifications, not race or gender.

This is not only an absurdly hyperbolic comparison, it also manages to qualify for Godwin's Law.

More on Why I Can Support Obama

I wrote last night that I have an odd enthusiasm for Obama even though I disagree with perhaps the majority of his policy positions. The reason for this enthusiasm was, I said, that Obama appears to have classically liberal ends even though he does not wish to pursue libertarian means.

Doug Mataconis at the Liberty Papers picked up on my post, and has some disagreements with it, to wit:

The question is whether there’s anything there that libertarians and classical liberals can admire, or even support.
Politically, the answer has got to be no. Rhetoric aside, Barack Obama is as much of statist as Hillary Clinton. While he seems like he’d be more open to free market ideas, it’s clear from his positions and his rhetoric that he views governments as a force for good, rather than the cause of problems. Yes, he’d be better on civil liberties than George W. Bush, but you can forget about reducing the size of government if Barack Obama is President.

My response is posted in the comments section to Doug's post, and reprinted in revised form below:

Politically, [Obama is] definitely a statist. But the big thing for me is that I view libertarianism as the best means to achieve classically liberal ends (ie, socio-economic mobility, individualism, and legal equality). My point with Obama is that he seems serious about achieving those same ends, even though he prefers different means.

What it comes down to is that Obama's history (which is often overlooked) and rhetoric point to him being willing to consider alternative means to achieving his liberal ends. Similarly, I am a libertarian only because I think it is the best way to achieve liberal ends; if better means for doing so exist, then I will no longer be a libertarian. While I obviously disagree profusely with him on a couple of issues, Brink Lindsey actually expressed this exact sentiment in his response to the Ron Paul newsletter story (available here):

"I’m a libertarian because I’m a liberal. In other words, I support small-government, free-market policies because I believe they provide the institutional framework best suited to advancing the liberal values of individual autonomy, tolerance, and open-mindedness. Liberalism is my bottom line; libertarianism is a means to promoting that end."

I see the divide in this country as being primarily between those with liberal ends, and those who at best pay lip service to liberal ends but ultimately care only about implementing their chosen means (ie, their ends and their means are the same thing). It is identical to the divide between principle and "pu-pu platter partisanship," something I have been hitting on for quite awhile.

Doug acknowledges that Obama is slightly more open to free market principles than Hillary. I don't think it's only a slight difference, though. He is also quite clearly committed to liberal values in the arena of foreign relations and - at least more so than the vast majority of politicians - social and civil liberties. That makes Obama relatively close to libertarianism on two of the three main issue areas, and closer to libertarianism than most Democrats (as well as, these days, many Republicans) on economic liberties and property rights, though by no means close enough.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why this Libertarian Can Support Obama

Obama is NOT in any way a libertarian. However, the goals of libertarianism (well, at least cosmorangelinebeltwaytarianism), and - for that matter, Burkean conservatism, are fundamentally liberal in the classical sense: a meritocracy in which economic and social mobility are maximized. The major difference between the Progressive, libertarian, and Burkean conservative are the means in which these goals are to be accomplished.

Again, I could not disagree more with Obama on many of his policies. Yet I find myself drawn to supporting him - passionately, even - because his goals are liberal in the classical sense. I repeat - I do not think his means are libertarian in any way, and are arguably not even classically liberal means. But the goals, so far as I can see, ARE classically liberal. His are not goals centered entirely around maximizing his own political power, and thus he is a candidate worthy of my deep respect. These ultimate ends are the same ends as exist for us perjoratively-named cosmo-libertarians (as well as for other derivations of classical liberalism).

***UPDATE*** From Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Obama (to appear in the Sunday NYT):

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved. (emphasis added).

This paragraph of Kennedy's beautiful if unspecific endorsement best sums up why I'm able to support Obama. Much of Obama's appeal to me is in his apparent desire to encourage rather than require moral behavior. If government is necessary, a libertarian should be much happier with a government that relies on encouragement more than mandates. Though this is nothing compared to a lack of any government or a government confined to truly libertarian principles, it is still a vast improvement over most politicians' views of government.

More at memeorandum.

Something Big about Tonight's Results

The big story in the first primary with a large African-American vote is that not only did Obama win that vote, he did so by a margin that is almost unfathomable. Not only that, but he also won by again getting over half of the young, white vote, and by winning by a huge margin in the state's largest county.

So the Obama movement amounts to a coalition of African-Americans and young and/or educated white voters. That sounds an awful lot like the coalition that brought down Jim Crow, no?

I still think Hillary will win the Democrat nomination. But Obama's chances look much better tonight. And reforming the old civil rights coalition is nothing to sneeze at.

More reactions to tonight at memeorandum.

McCain, Libertarianism, and Uniting the GOP

Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey make a compelling case for John McCain as the truest conservative in the race for the Republican nomination. As Will Wilkinson argues, theirs is essentially a case for "national greatness conservatism." They make the point that John McCain's appeal arises out of his commitment to virtue as the ultimate goal of society rather than commitment to any one ideology. For instance, they say, an ideological commitment to free markets misses the point - free markets are merely often useful tools for permitting virtue to flourish in a nation.

With McCain's sense of virtue guiding his thought rather than a commitment to any one "conservative" ideology (or for that matter a commitment to the party platform), they argue that McCain is the truest representative of conservatism in the race.

They make a major flaw in their argument, though. They assume that "virtue" (as they and/or McCain defines it) is not an ideology unto itself. But their concept of virtue is in fact an ideology unto itself- it is an ideology which holds that the goal of the state is to encourage (or require) virtuous behavior amongst its citizens. It is an ideology which I find personally distasteful, but it is an ideology nonetheless.

Still, they are correct in their implication that McCain's ideology of virtue is the best representative of the modern Republican conservative movement. This ideology of virtue in fact explains why McCain is able to (with some obvious and notable exceptions) adhere relatively closely to the Republican party line without sounding like a complete robot along the lines of Mitt Romney. The major difference between McCain and Romney, then, is that McCain's personal ideology roughly lines up with the Republican platform, whereas Romney's ideology actually is dictated by the Republican platform. As such, the Storeys' argument serves as profound support for my longstanding argument that McCain is the only candidate actually capable of unifying the old Republican coalition of interest groups, most of which have a somewhat similar concept of virtue at their core.

Alas, the Storeys' article also makes clear that there is no place for libertarians in that coalition any more:

"The problem with absolute faith in any ideology, including that of the free market, becomes evident with a glance at the flagship publication of the libertarians, Reason magazine. It is no coincidence that Reason publishes hagiographies of Milton Freedman as well as pleas for drug legalization and appreciations of cartoon pornography: economic libertarianism, elevated to the status of inviolable first principle, leads to moral libertarianism. The moral vacuity of dogmatic libertarianism is poisonous to public life. By teaching that 'greed is good,' strict free-market ideology holds out the promise that private vices can be public virtues."

This of course is a repeat of the old "libertarians are libertines" fallacy. In fact, libertarians believe that virtue is a noble and worthy goal of society; in some ways, a virtuous society is even the penultimate goal of most libertarians. However, I (and I suspect most libertarians) have a much different concept of virtue. The Storeys (and by implication McCain) think that virtue arises simply by doing good and virtuous things. Libertarians, however, see virtue as arising from the act of individual choice to do good and virtuous things. To the libertarian, an otherwise virtuous act undertaken with a proverbial gun to your head loses its virtue. It is the very voluntariness of an act that makes it virtuous, not the act istelf. It would appear that McCain's ideology of virtue does not accept this concept, but instead begins and ends with the principle that virtue comes from virtuous action rather than virtuous choices.

Although I find this ideology of virtue deeply flawed, to the extent that this ideology actually motivates McCain, he is worthy of profound respect. His is an ideology in which ends do not justify means, as the means themselves must be consistent with his principles. As such, he has admirably stood up against waterboarding, torture, and abuse of executive power. That is more than can be said about the man without a real ideology other than his own thirst for power, in which his ideology becomes simply a blind adherence to the party line. Since the party line merely represents a conglomeration of priority issues for various party constituent groups, such an ideology lacks any common theme or principle, and is utterly incoherent. As I've argued elsewhere, such an unprincipled ideology creates deep partisanship, hatred, and a deep willingness to abuse power and disregard institutions.

However, McCain's ideology of virtue is also an ideology that is extremely un-libertarian and illiberal in general. As such, libertarians must remain extremely wary of the prospects of a McCain presidency. I still think he is the least-bad Republican (of those with a real chance to win the nomination) from a libertarian standpoint, if only because his ideology is not apparently rooted in his own thirst for power. But after reading this article, it's also quite clear that he is anything but friendly to libertarians. At least he and the Storeys are being honest about that fact.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Abuse of Process

Via memeorandum:

After all the shady things that the Clinton campaign has done in the last few weeks, this one has to be the most blatant: the campaign is now going to fight to have the Florida, and more appallingly, Michigan delegates seated at the party convention. Of course, Hillary won Michigan by default since Obama and Edwards removed their names from the ballot in order to play the part of the "good soldiers."

At this point, any knowledgeable person who still supports Hillary but complains about Bush/Cheney abuse of executive power is close to the pinnacle of hypocrisy. While technically speaking Hillary has no ability to force the convention to seat these delegates, that's not really the point. The bigger point is that the Clintons are demonstrating a complete disregard for the process to which they have agreed. While this is an election rather than a presidential exercise in decisionmaking, it provides a lot of insight into Clinton's views on process and especially the applicability of process to her. Which is to say that she thinks she's above it.

Unfortunately, as this commenter at Obsidian Wings (responding to another excellent post by hilzoy) shows, Clinton's die-hard supporters don't really have a problem with the Bush/Cheney way of doing things in principle. No, their real problem is with the fact that their side is currently out of power. Their view isn't that the problem is that the President has become too powerful. Instead, their view is that the problem is that they're not in control of the Presidency. This kind of rationale (that ends can justify means as long as they're your party's chosen ends) is a perfect example of, or at least a corollary to, Kip's Law.

Now that the Giuliani campaign is on life-support, I'm moving ever more firmly into the Anybody But Hillary camp - and that includes "Battlefield Earth" Romney.

Reinventing the Bush Years

Via memeorandum.

Peggy Noonan is attracting a lot of attention today for her claim (with which I agree) that President Bush is responsible for destroying the Republican Party. Ed Morrissey strongly disagrees with her, but in his typically coherent fashion that is worthy of a read.

But then there's this response, which I found laugh out loud funny from "The Strata-Sphere" (which sounds about where this guy lives):

"She’s is [sic] all upset Bush did not court to her and her ilk and instead represented the nation."

Bush has done such an excellent job "representing the nation" that his approval ratings must be at record highs, right? Errrrr, no.

According to "The Strata-Sphere," in fact Bush is a great President who is actually a moderate that didn't kowtow to the far right during his Presidency. In fact, President Bush is a true bipartisan who "crafts solutions that can progress conservative values without causing a liberal uproar that stalls progress."

I actually don't have a joke here, this is so off the reservation.

Fun with Conspiracy Theories

Via memeorandum.

Someone at Crooks and Liars picked up on a whisper during one of Romney's answers last night that appears like someone was feeding him answers. This is almost certainly nothing of course....but it would also fit beautifully into my theory that Romney and his supporters are in fact robots. Just saying....

The Trouble With Sub-Samples

Andrew Sullivan is intrigued by this recent South Carolina poll, which appears to show that Obama has a huge lead among Latino voters in the state. But there's one problem:
Hispanics only make up 1% of the expected electorate. In a survey of 685 people, that means the subsample of Hispanics was no more than 7-15 people- not exactly a statistically significant sample.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Must Read for Younger Libertarians

...Myself included. Carol Moore, a longtime "movement" libertarian, has pieced together a compelling history of the story behind the Ron Paul newsletters going back 20 plus years, and where they fit in libertarian history. Her posts provide some much needed background that is free from much of the emotion and invective that has characterized much of the debate.

Her posts are in no way a defense of the newsletters; however, they provide some infinitely valuable context. I highly recommend that younger libertarians or libertarians who are relatively new to the movement take a look at what she has written. I actually have found her posts as or more valuable than Julian Sanchez's excellent reporting on the matter. In either event, I hope libertarians on both side of the divide take her words seriously, though it would seem most of it is directed at the Rockwell side. The first of her posts is here, the second here.

I'd give a couple of quotes, but there is no element of her reporting that is any less invaluable than the rest. If you have about 10 minutes, take the time to read both posts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Story for Radley Balko or at Least To The People

If Radley Balko or my friends at To The People don't comment on this story, something is seriously wrong in the Cosmorangelinebeltwaylibertarian blogosphere.

A winning lotto ticket as confiscable proceeds from drug dealing? There's got to be a good post in there somewhere.

Madison in the Nomination Process

Via Memeorandum.

Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics takes a look at the Madisonian nature of the Republican nomination, and discusses how he thinks it works to McCain's disadvantage. Certainly he is correct that the process contains many safeguards against dominance by one minority faction of the party.

The biggest problem with Cost's argument is that it fails to recognize the Republican establishment as a faction unto itself. This faction is the sole faction that is vocally opposing McCain; while establishment conservatives vary on their choice of pet issues, they generally insist upon party orthodoxy on all issues. The various other factions within the party, however, do not insist upon party orthodoxy, because they are themselves not adherents to such orthodoxy. In fact, McCain's approval ratings within the party are extremely high - it would seem that his fierce opposition comes exclusively from the establishment faction of the party.

It is true that the GOP nomination process is probably more Madisonian than the Dem nomination process, with its myriad "Superdelegates." However, the GOP establishment still exercises a sizable amount of control over the process. The big problem for the party establishment this year, however, is that its influence within the party has waned considerably over the past several years thanks to the various failures of the Bush Administration, scandals in Congress, and its increasingly incoherent ideology. In this sense, the party's nomination process is far more Madisonian this year than it was in the past.

In 2000, for instance, McCain was stopped early on because the party establishment was extremely powerful and its influence on constituent groups was at its nadir. This year, however, the party establishment is left primarily with only its (un-Madisonian) procedural powers. McCain will be able to overcome these powers so long as he can build a solid coalition of support to get himself a majority.

Given that the party establishment has effectively endorsed the two candidates most despised by the other GOP factions, and given that McCain appears surprisingly popular amongst all of those factions, it is difficult to see how the establishment candidate (presumably Romney) will be able to cobble together a majority coalition even with their procedural advantages. McCain, however, will likely be able to cobble such a majority together as other candidates drop out of the race and back him either publicly or privately.

This is not to say that McCain is inevitable- he may have some financial problems that will hurt him deeply without some major changes. But if he can stay in the race and obtain sufficient funding, I have a hard time seeing how Romney, Huckabee, or even Giuliani beats him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wiedersehen Fred!

Fred Thompson has quit the race for the GOP nomination. In some ways he was probably the least offensive candidate to the most elements of the Republican coalition. He was able to speak coherently enough while still more or less toeing the overall party line (though he was, thankfully, opposed to the Bush/Cheney expansion of executive power). Unfortunately for him, the party establishment had already thrown most of its weight behind Romney by the time Thompson finally decided to enter the race. Equally bad for him was the fact that he finally threw his hat in the ring after Huckabee had started to pick up steam with evangelicals. His laid-back style probably would have had more appeal had he jumped in sooner, I suspect.

Given the deep distrust most non-establishment Republicans have for Romney and Giuliani now, it is pretty clear that McCain stands as the sole remaining candidate who actually can be a legitimate standard bearer for something resembling the old "Reagan Coalition." Unfortunately, the departure of his old Senate pal Thompson may hurt McCain more than it helps him since Thompson has hinted that he does not intend to endorse anyone else anytime soon (if he were to do so, McCain would be the safe bet).

Much of Huckabee's rise came at the expense of Thompson's support. But Thompson's overall support came largely from the fact that he was a credible "fusionist" candidate; I suspect that Huckabee had already milked Thompson's base dry of social conservatives, leaving primarily establishment conservatives and fiscal conservatives to be divvied up among the competition. This means that I somewhat doubt the conventional wisdom that Huckabee will benefit from Thompson's departure and that I think most of Thompson's remaining supporters were establishment Republicans who found Romney's weaseliness to be extremely off-putting.

I'm not entirely certain how Thompson's departure will affect the race, but my suspicion is that it will not noticeably increase Huckabee's numbers. I would think that Romney would gain more points from Thompson's departure than anyone, but Chris Cilizza presents some numbers suggesting the benefits will actually accrue to McCain and Giuliani.

More reactions at Memeorandum.

More on Partisanship vs. Ideology

I just stumbled across this extremely old post at Coyote Blog that hits a home run in terms of fleshing out the problems with "pu-pu platter partisanship," or as he calls it "politics without philosophy."

In my view, the biggest cause of the heated rhetoric and immediate dismissal of all things "bipartisan" is "pu-pu platter partisanship" or "politics without philosophy." When you have differences of opinion on political philosophy, you can explore where those philosophical differences arise and whether a compromise can be worked out on an issue that is consistent with both philosophies. If that will not be possible, the impossibility will be readily apparent, and you can move on. Moreover, you wind up at least understanding the root cause of your differences such that on future issues you may be able to work together in a way that is consistent with both aims. Thus, even when compromise is impossible, you at least walk away from the situation with at least a grudging respect for each other.

But when you are dealing with someone who engages in "pu-pu platter partisanship" or "politics without philosophy," a positive result (either compromise or at least a grudging respect without compromise) becomes impossible. This is because you cannot engage in rational discussion with someone whose political positions lack any philosophical grounding other than "the positions of the Democratic/Republican party," or "I'm for government intervention except when I'm against it." Instead, the party's position IS the philosophy, as I've argued before, even though the party's position is nothing more than the aggregate of top-priority issues of its constituent interest groups. The reason this makes rational discussion impossible is that a completely different set of logic applies to each position the person holds; the fact that this set of logic is completely inconsistent with the person's logic on another issue never crosses their mind. It is, in a word, doublethink.

When there is no philosophical underpinning to an opinion, it is impossible to engage the person on terms that they can understand. They have no ultimate goal for how society should look, and so the policy is a goal or principle unto itself and thus not subject to compromise. In order to justify such an uncompromising attitude, the individual must view the opposition as fundamentally evil and thus unworthy of acknowledgement.

And this is how you get the hyperpartisanship characterized by those who condemn Obama for (gasp!) speaking positively about Ronald Reagan, or daring to acknowledge that there is a major problem with Social Security's stability. It is also how you get the hyperpartisanship of Rush Limbaugh when he condemns John McCain for his stance on immigration and fiscal responsibility or when Republicans simply dismiss Ron Paul and anti-war activists as "Blame America Firsters."

It is my position and belief that the politician with a cogent political philosophy is the politician that is most likely to engage in bipartisanship, while the politician whose philosophy is governed primarily by his party's talking points will be the least likely to engage in bipartisanship. In the process, the principled bipartisan will actually build coalitions that achieve or work towards broad philosophic goals, while the "pu-pu platter partisan" will simply push through whatever policies he can without regard to whether the policy achieves some fundamental underlying goal.

Stephen A. Smith Calls Giuliani a Dictator

Per Crooks and Liars, ESPN Radio host called Rudy Giuliani a "dictator" last night on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

...Wait a second! Stephen A. Smith was on Hardball talking politics? When did he become an acceptable candidate for political discourse? It wasn't bad enough for him to ruin one field of journalism in which he actually knows something - now he gets to make a contribution to the cesspool that is political debate in this country, too?

At this point, is there any way that you can take Chris Matthews' show seriously?

The GOP Establishment vs. the GOP Coalition

David Brooks picks up on the vast disconnect between the McCain-hatred (and for that matter, Huckabee-hatred) in the GOP establishment and McCain's performance with the actual GOP voters. He points out that despite McCain's deviance from Republican orthodoxy on arbitrary litmus test issues, he manages to have by far the highest second-choice approval ratings of any Republican candidate. Of course, amongst the GOP establishment class, he likely has by far the lowest approval ratings (other than Huckabee of course). Indeed, McCain's support in South Carolina was solid almost across the board.

What this all shows is that the old remnants of the GOP "coalition" still exist - they just no longer have much respect for the GOP establishment as an arbiter of what is best for them. The GOP establishment has pandered to certain elements of its coalition on issues like immigration and the Terry Schiavo case, expelling Republicans who failed to support the party on those issues as RINOs. But issues such as those were wedge issues not only nationally, but also within the elements of the GOP coalition. By placing those wedge issues front and center, the GOP establishment arrogantly forgot one of the rules of interest group politics:

"Political parties are merely vehicles for the election of interest groups who have chosen to unite under a single coalition. They have no independent ideology of their own; only the collective ideologies of coalition members."

While illegal immigration may have been a top priority issue for one of the GOP's constituent groups, by going along with that group's top priority, the party ignored the fact that a good chunk of its members are actually pro-immigration, and always have been. Indeed, even in South Carolina, as orthodox a Republican state as you can usually find, just about half of Republicans in exit polls favored either a guest worker program or a path to citizenship.

The party establishment figured that immigration supporters would either go along with the chosen orthodoxy or at least ignore it. They were wrong. But instead of backing off on the immigration issue, the attacked Republicans who supported it, calling them RINOs, squishy moderates, etc. In the process, they didn't just make the party smaller by alienating so many of these Republicans; they also made their hold on the remaining Republicans weaker.

McCain and Huckabee have both drawn the continual ire of Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, and more, yet have suffered not at all from it.

The GOP's problem in recent years is that it figured it could tell its voters what to think. Perhaps this is because, as I've argued, the party's constituent interest groups no longer have much in common, and so almost every issue became a wedge issue within the party. As a result, the establishment cannot cobble together a united coalition on many issues at all; indeed, the party's attempts to do so lately have resulted in official Republican orthodoxy being completely incoherent, requiring a level of doublethink heretofore unheard of, which I have dubbed "pu-pu platter" partisanship. That still, however, does not excuse the extent to which it has attempted to use intimidation, name-calling, and purges to keep its constituency in line.

By contrast, when the Republicans swept into power in 1994, they did so on a platform that was based on its supporters telling it what to think. The Contract with America was successful as a political strategy precisely because it avoided wedge issues while focusing on issues upon which nearly all Republicans already agreed. It was a matter of building consensus, even if that consensus was largely just within the party. To accept the principles of the Contract with America did not require massive amounts of doublethink, and so orthodoxy was relatively easy to find.

The attempts at enforcing orthodoxy within the party in recent years have left the Republican establishment badly weakened, and the party as a whole rather smaller in number.

More reactions at memeorandum.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rare Praise for Rudy Giuliani

I was listening to Rudy's Sunday interview with George Stephanopolous this morning. For the most party, Giuliani is about the scariest candidate out there to a libertarian, but for (perhaps) the presence of Romney in the race. In any event, Rudy was asked a question about foreign investment in US banks - and specifically investment by foreign governments. To Rudy's credit, he took the unpopular position and argued that this is, in fact, good for the US - any foreign investment in the US is good news. Stephanopolous tried to distinguish between investment by foreign governments and investment from Japan in the 1980s, which caused panic at the time but was ultimately good for our economy.

In any event, Rudy's argument in favor of the foreign investment amounted to an argument for diversification. As long as a large number of foreign governments are investing in the US, they wind up cancelling each other out, and no one foreign government gains much, if any, sway over US policy or the US economy.

Moreover, implicit in Rudy's reasoning is the argument that foreign investment in the US builds cooperation with foreign governments and makes an aggressive policy by those nations towards the US counterproductive to the foreign government's interests. In a way - and I highly doubt the exceedingly hawkish Giuliani would have meant this - foreign government investment in the US serves as a tremendous deterrent to war or foreign aggression against the US.

Indeed, there is substantial evidence that foreign investment and free trade are tremendous forces for international peace. Point being that Giuliani may have inadvertently advocated a policy that would actually reduce the US government's ability to engage in an interventionist foreign policy.

It is in essence a Madisonian argument - maximize the number of groups with an interest in the American system, and those groups will buy into that system and cooperate with each other.

Rudy is still close to the scariest choice of the Republicans, but you have to give credit where it is due.

More on Bipartisanship, Obama, and Shifting Alliances

I've been arguing for quite awhile that Obama's view of bipartisanship is what I call "principled bipartisanship," in which he seeks common policy goals with individual Republicans and independents and then works with them to arrive at a workable policy solution. Hilzoy today has an excellent (as usual) post that starts out as an explanation of why Hillary is a poor vehicle for advancing Dem Party values (a term that I personally find meaningles, but which Hilzoy uses more to mean "left of center" values). But it ends up as a stirring defense of Obama's bipartisanship.

Hilzoy, referring to an old post of hers, hits on the central point that I've been talking about:

Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle.

As evidence, she cites Obama's work with Tom Coburn on ethics reforms, and Richard Lugar on nuclear non-proliferation. The point of this all is that Obama - both rhetorically and in practice - views the American political system as a competition among shifting interest groups. He does not accept, in principle, the belief that membership in a political party means that all members of that political party accept the party line on every issue.

Thus, to Obama, what is important is finding a working majority on the given issue, while also leaving open the possibility of creating working majorities on future issues. So rather than steamroll a plan that has the specifics that he proposes, he seeks out individuals who share the same goals as he does on the topic. He then works with them to create a proposal that will actually achieve their common goal. What he is doing is in effect removing himself from pu-pu platter partisanship, and making the only relevant partisanship whether he can find people with the same policy goal on a given issue.

Since that particular goal is all that is relevant at a given moment, appeasing party interest groups on the details of the solution is less important. And so the final policy result manages to reflect an actual policy preference more than interest group horse trading or the policy preferences of the most influential group in the Dem Party on the given issue. Put another way, the policy that gets implemented represents a meaningful policy rather than simply the intra-party Dem compromise that seeks to appease all Dem Part interest groups (who often are at odds with each other on various issues; see for instance the Dem Party's championing of ethanol, which is mostly ineffective on environmental issues but manages to appease constituent farmers' groups and unions while still being sufficiently "green" to keep the environmentalists on board).

Not only is Obama building a working majority on issues where he actually can find enough members on either side of the aisle to do so, he is also generating goodwill amongst those new allies. He implicitly understands that there will be issues in which he is in the minority. But by building coalitions on specific issues rather than on all issues simultaneously (ie, "pu-pu platter" partisanship), Obama is ensuring that he will get a say in those issues as well, provided that the goals of policy are broadly "liberal." (In the classical sense).

As I've said before, his political acumen shows a deep understanding of Madisonian views on faction.

Individualism vs. Conservatism

Timothy Sandefur has a terrific post in which he shows how divergent the paleo-libertarian view of the world is from the traditional Rand-inspired individualism that has historically been the central characteristic of libertarianism.

The post to which Sandefur is responding (by Nick Bradley of is here. Bradley's post attacks the derisively named "cosmotarians" (which includes Cato, Reason, pro-choice libertarians, and pro-immigrant libertarians). Bradley's argument is summed up in these few sentences:

"Those on the Postrel crowd [sic] are nothing more than "fans of the cool": technology, drug use, prostitution, warfare (before 2004), etc. -- their creed is atomistic individualism, to hell with communities, churches, families, and all non-coercive communities. To them, the individual must stand alone, only to be crushed by the state. They'd support (and do support) a federal ban on the local regulation of abortion long before they'd support a city council's right to put up a Christmas tree, a nativity scene, or teach intelligent design in their schools. "

Since individualism is absolutely the core of libertarianism, and collectivism (of any stripe) is its enemy, Sandefur points out that Bradley is essentially acknowledging that the libertarianism of Ayn Rand, Thoreau, Emerson, etc. has nothing whatsoever to do with the self-styled libertarianism of the Rockwell brigades. Indeed, Bradley himself links to an old LRC article that praises "conservatism" over "libertinism."

I wanted to add a few things to Sandefur's argument, though.

1. Bradley seems to argue that the core of paleo-libertarianism is the non-coercive community. If that is true, then it seems to me that he has several hurdles to overcome: first, if you restrict immigration, communities are not, in fact, non-coercive- you are using the power of the state to force people who wish to leave their communities to remain in them; in addition you are using the power of the state to prevent local communities who wish to have more immigrants from actually receiving such immigrants. I might also add that Bradley's arguments in favor of local governments teaching ID and eliminating church/state separation in fact are ways of saying that local governments should have coercive authority over those who live within their jurisdiction, regardless of whether those persons agree with the sentiments of that coercive authority. Call that what you will, but please don't claim it is a non-coercive community.

2. Bradley's argument falls into the same fallacy as other conservatives (which is what Bradley is, as Sandefur points out) who pay homage to "free markets." Bradley argues that "[t]he public hears "libertarian" and thinks "heroin addict" "prostitute", and "private military contractor", not "peace", "free markets", and "local communities" -- all thanks to the libertines." Bradley repeats the oft-stated fallacy that libertarians who support legalized, well, most everything, are libertines. But really Bradley is just showing a selective understanding and acceptance of free markets. In other words, for someone who claims to be in favor of absolutely free markets, Bradley seems to have no problem with the state imposing restrictions (ie, bans) on markets in drugs, prostitution, and yes, labor (via immigration restrictions). He is perfectly comfortable with forcing those things into a black market, rather than exposing them to sunshine in a free market. In his mind, supply and demand curves apply to goods and services in virtue, but somehow don't apply to goods and services in vice and migration.

The fact is that we "cosmotarians" have no problem whatsoever with voluntary communities, churches, etc. Indeed, we (or at least I) generally think that each of those things have tremendous value; but the value that they have arises from their very voluntariness. When people are forced to remain in communities they do not like or when they cannot join in voluntary associations (as is the case with bans on gay marriage and/or on civil unions), the result is detrimental to society.

Bradley is arguing not for individualism, or for diversity of factions a la Federalist Number 10, but for local majoritarianism. He is thus arguing in favor of a tyranny of the majority - just so long as that majority is sufficiently local for his tastes. The irony is that his ideal communities are in fact quite coercive because of his support of restrictions on immigration and opposition to allowing people to choose just about anything on their own so long as the local community chooses to forbid it. If we have learned anything from American history (and, for that matter, world history) it ought to be that more local governments are every bit as capable of trampling on individual rights as are national governments. Or were Jim Crow laws justified?

Machine Politics

My friend Kyle finds growing evidence of seriously dirty tricks by the Clinton campaign in Nevada this weekend, including this report at DKos. Many of the charges seem consistent with this email to Andrew Sullivan. I'm not going to comment on the charges of fraud in New Hampshire, which I think still lack any real substantiation; however, there is little doubt that the Clinton campaign had better resources there to make sure that it got its supporters got to the polls.

What all this shows is that political machines still exist in this country at a national level - they're called the party establishments. While it is overly pessimistic to think that we haven't advanced since the days of Boss Tweed, it is also naive to think that political machines suddenly disappeared overnight. This is especially true in the case of party primaries, where one group controls most of the relevant infrastructure, much as Tammany Hall controlled all of the infrastructure in New York City during its monopoly on power.

When a candidate is the favorite of his or her party's establishment, they get access to the entire party infrastructure. In a primary, that access is particularly valuable since the party infrastructure includes control over the primary/caucus procedure and process. We've seen hints of this in New Jersey, where the local GOP party establishment is nearly unanimous in its support of Giuliani.

Political parties in this country are really just rough coalitions of interest groups. These interest groups support the party within which they think they will have the greatest amount of influence. In doing so, rather than striking out on their own, they are able to reap the benefits of the party's massive infratstructure. But that infrastructure is controlled by die-hard party members, not the constituent interest groups. The die-hard party members have an ideology that is best described as fusionist- nothing more than a conglomeration of the top priority issues of each of the constituent interest groups. However, we should keep in mind that the die-hard party members are themselves a constituent interest group, whose primary goal is maintaining the overall party coalition (which entails that they keep control over the reins of the party to keep one constituent group from gaining too much power and annoying the other interest groups). Their top priority isn't implementing policy goals, but ensuring the party retains a hold on power, and that they retain control of the party.

There is also a certain sense of entitlement that comes along with controlling the party - the party doesn't belong to the constituent groups, but instead to the establishment who built the party. The constituent groups are just there because the establishment lets them be there because they are politically convenient at the time. We see this sense of entitlement in the GOP with Hugh Hewitt's meltdowns over John McCain, which he calls an attempted coup that must be stopped in order to "put the campaign back into the hands of the people who built the party over the past 28 years."

When you have this kind of sense of entitlement - as the Clintonites largely do with the Dem Party - the temptation to use your control of the party's vast infrastructure to ensure you keep that control are overwhelming. If you can do so in ways that are ethical (like massive get-out-the-vote operations), then great; if that won't work and you must skirt the boundaries of ethics without necessarily reaching outright fraud, then so be it. As a result, you get what happened in Nevada this weekend, you get the campaign against McCain in 2000 in South Carolina, etc.

By becoming part and parcel of a party, interest groups get access to the party's infrastructure on the groups' top priorities; but when it comes to secondary and tertiary issues, the party winds up having a much bigger effect on the interest groups than the interest groups have on the party. The interest groups, unless they are sufficiently large, do not control the party; the party instead controls them.

The problem we face in this country is that our system of campaign finance regulation, federal control of the airwaves, etc. have institutionalized the two-party system on both the national and local levels. As long as that system is institutionalized, interest groups will be unable to mount credible efforts on their own, which means they will have to continue to subvert their secondary and tertiary goals to the wishes of their chosen party's establishment. And that establishment isn't about to allow itself to lose control of the party, at least not without a fight. The end result is that our national and local governments wind up being controlled primarily by two super-factions, rather than the shifting factional interests envisioned by Madison's Federalist Number 10. When these two super-factions that control each party's infrastructure have to share power, government is at least tolerable as there are truly competing interests on each issue. But that doesn't change the fact that the super-factions' first goal is always maintaining their control of the party infrastructure.

More at Memeorandum.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I still find it ironic that people who care so much about states' rights think it's important what the Presidential candidates have to say on the Confederate flag in South Carolina, when there has never been a suggestion that the federal government can or will get involved in the issue. In other words, states' rights supporters are making the Confederate flag an issue in a federal election when just about everyone else has always considered it a state issue.

What matters to these people isn't whether the candidate would use the federal government to go after the flag, but what the candidate thinks the state should do.

(via memeorandum)

Sanchez on Libertarian Infighting

I agree with every word of this Julian Sanchez post.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Split in the Paul Campaign?

Per David Weigel, Ron Paul last week approved a press release that would have acknowledged Lew Rockwell's role in the newsletters, but it was quashed by campaign manager Kent Snyder.

If true - and the campaign has issued a non-denial denial - then this is either a clever leak or a piece of news that restores some of my lost respect for Ron Paul. There is no information as to the exact content of the quashed release, but the fact that Paul himself approved it suggests that he personally understands the gravity of the situation a bit more than we so far know.

I have continued to think a lot about this issue, and I think there are a few things that can happen that would make me willing to get back on the Ron Paul bus or at least regain some of the good that his campaign had previously been doing for libertarians of all stripes, "cosmos" and "paleos" alike.

1. A statement from Ron Paul (preferably on camera, but a press release might be ok) that simply comes clean about the whole matter. At this point, we pretty much know the circumstances surrounding the newsletters thanks in part to Reason's excellent article yesterday. The press release should come clean about his involvement in the newsletters, and their purpose. It should further state that Paul welcomes support from any quarter in his campaign for freedom, but that the attempts made by some of his newsletters to appeal for support on extremely un-libertarian and racially incendiary grounds was, to say the least, stupid.


2. A statement from Rockwell acknowledging his own role in the newsletters, indicating that he was responsible for the content at issue here, that the racial content was extremely ill-conceived. If Paul was not in fact involved in the most racial newsletters, then Rockwell must make the circumstances of this lack of involvement clear.

I realize I have no right to either of these two things. However, if I am to vote for Ron Paul, I need some kind of specific evidence that shows either that Paul understands the gravity of the situation and how poorly it reflects on him personally and on libertarianism more generally OR that Paul in fact new nothing about the racial content in the newsletters. While the latter shows poor management ability, it does not undermine his value as a protest vote or as a symbol of libertarianism (in my view). What does undermine his value as a protest vote and as a symbol of libertarianism is that these newsletters, with their blatant racism, went out under his name and, it would seem, with his knowledge. It is one thing to accept racists under your tent; but it is quite another thing to actively recruit them by using blatantly racist and inherently un-libertarian terms.

***NOTE- the newsletters I am concerned with are exclusively the racially incendiary ones; the conspiracy theory stuff and the anti-Israel stuff are not inherently un-libertarian, even though I may disagree with them in substance.

Big News Here in Jersey

Rudy Giuliani's strategy has been to lie in wait until Florida, where he has tried to build a firewall, and then take a huge number of delegates on Super Tuesday when New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York all go to the polls. Not only do those three states (all logically Giuliani strongholds) make up about 15% of the delegates on Super Tuesday, but they are all winner-takes-all primaries. A decent showing in the remaining Super Tuesday states (most of which are not winner-takes-all) would leave Giuliani in good shape at the end of the day.

New Jersey in particular played a key role in this strategy, as one of Giuliani's biggest bundlers (who essentially controlled the NJ GOP primary rules) forced through a change in the state's delegate allocation from a proportional allocation to winner-takes-all. The general perception was that in so doing, New Jersey would be removed from play under the theory that Giuliani could get a plurality of the vote in the state without raising a finger. In so doing, it was believed that Giuliani was guaranteeing himself a minimum of 15% of the Super Tuesday delegates without having to spend much, if any, resources - thus freeing up precious resources for other states.

Well, it seems that (apparent) strategy may backfire tremendously on Giuliani. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, John McCain is now beating Giuliani in the state of New Jersey. Of course this is well within the margin of error, but it emphasizes just how badly Giuliani has suffered from the lack of positive headlines in the early states. It's hard to see how he can stay in this race if he doesn't come back and win Florida. Indeed, things have gotten to the point where his biggest supporters think that he could lose his home state of New York should he fail to come back in Florida.

(via memeorandum)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So Much for Petitioning the Government

Former Republican congressman Mark Deli Siljander has been indicted on charges of supporting terrorism. Since this both involves the GWOT and a former Republican politician, Siljander has already been convicted by both the left and right sides of the blogosphere. One place he hasn't been convicted, however, is here.

I have not seen the indictment in this case, but as far as I can tell, neither have any of the pundits, which means all we have to rely on right now is the AP report. To sum up: Siljander was hired as a lobbyist by an Islamic charity to get the charity off of a list of agencies suspected of funneling money to terrorists. This charity was, as far as I can tell, located in Kansas City, Missouri, and was made up of US citizens (I could be wrong about this, though). The organization itself is accused of a number of different things, but the charges against Siljander are fewer and are summed up below:

Prosecutors allege Siljander's co-defendants -- the directors of an Islamic charity -- hired him to get the organization off a list of agencies suspected of links to terrorism and paid him with stolen U.S. government funds.
The Treasury Department designated the Islamic American Relief Agency as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists in 2004, The Associated Press reported.
Siljander is also accused of lying to federal agents and prosecutors about his work for
the group, which allegedly steered $260,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- an ally of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

As shady as all of this sounds, there's a few things that raise some red flags for me, and tell me this case is not as clear cut as it sounds (or at least it shouldn't be). Let me be very clear up front, though: if Siljander knowingly received "stolen government funds" in exchange for his services, then he deserves what is coming to him; in addition, if he lied about his activities in a material fashion when asked, then I likewise lack sympathy for him. But the main thrust of Siljander's indictment (and the investigation of him that led to the apparent perjury charges) appears to be that Siljander lobbied the government to take this particular organization off the watch list, and was compensated for his services.

I know that most people hate lobbyists and all, but we have this thing called the First Amendment, which states:

"Congress shall make no law ...abridging ...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

So far as I know, organizations on the terror watch list that are nonetheless American citizens have never lost their right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This is particularly true when said organizations have not yet been convicted of any felonies in a court of law. I am also unaware of any restrictions that have ever been placed on lobbying fees beyond the typical attorney ethics rules (which are not criminal statutes).

While we may find it sleazy that a former government official would lobby to get an organization off a watch list, we would do well to remember that the watch list doesn't exactly give the accused a chance to adequately fight the charges that place it on the watch list. Just as any criminal defendant has a right to fight charges against him, this organization - sleazy as we may find it - had every right to fight the charges against it (as long as it complied with various legal requirements, of course). But more importantly, Siljander had every right to lobby on their behalf and receive payment for it; again, that may seem sleazy, but I don't think it is inherently any sleazier than the criminal defense attorney who defends a serial killer. We would also do well to remember that Siljander was in the private sector at the time, making money as a lobbyist; he was not an elected official anymore, and hasn't been for some 20 years.

If organizations on administrative watch lists cannot use all legal recourses to petition the government to get off those watch lists, then the government has the ability to dramatically penalize anyone without giving them any due process of law.

The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is an often overlooked and - based on the hatred of lobbyists that exists in this country - clearly underappreciated right. In many ways, it is every bit as fundamental as the remaining rights listed in the First Amendment, for without it, the government would never have to hear about the real-world effects of its policies, and could much more easily get away with ignoring other civil liberties, since opposing legislators would not be able to hear about, publicize, and act on problems caused by the majority party.

Now, I want to repeat: it seems very likely that this particular organization was in fact guilty of some abhorrent and rightly illegal activities. However, their relative guilt has nothing to do with Siljander's, and at this point no one has seen the evidence and thus no one knows how much knowledge Siljander had of any illegal activities. But even then, he would still have a right to lobby on their behalf and receive compensation for it just as they would still have a right to lobby to get off the terror watch list.

If Siljander knowingly received stolen government funds, as alleged, then he deserves to be convicted, as is also the case if he lied under oath or otherwise obstructed justice in a manner inconsistent with his duties as an attorney. But if all he did was lobby on this organization's behalf and receive funds that he did not have any reason to think were stolen, then the First Amendment should protect him. If it doesn't, then this case is a dangerous step down the slippery slope- it's always easiest to go after the most unpopular exercises of rights first.

(More at memeorandum)

***UPDATE*** I've now looked at the DOJ's press release about the case, which is much more explicit than the media reports. According to the release, the charges allege that:

"As compensation for the services that Siljander agreed to perform, IARA transferred roughly $50,000 in stolen federal funds to accounts that were controlled by Siljander at the National Heritage Foundation and the International Foundation. According to the indictment, the funds used to compensate Siljander for his services had previously been stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by IARA, Hamed and Bagegni. The International Foundation and the National Heritage Foundation, which is not related to the Heritage Foundation, are not charged with any wrongdoing in this case."

This allegation certainly seems to show shady behavior by Siljander- it would be, I think, quite unusual to have compensation for services funneled through private charities. It is still possible that there would be legitimate reasons for doing so, but the appearance of the transaction suggests knowingly illegal activity. In addition, the press release states that Siljander denied to investigators the existence of an agreement to act on the group's behalf for compensation, and that the payments to his accounts at the private charities were just "donations" to help him with a book he was writing.

I would like to know more about the evidence in this case before coming to any definite conclusions, but it seems likely that Siljander is guilty of some clear wrongdoing. Had he simply received payment for lobbying services directly and told the truth about it to investigators, there would be little basis for the charges; but by funneling his compensation through third-party groups and then lying about the nature of that compensation, it seems likely he knew the money was ill-gotten.

If those facts are accurate, then certainly the obstruction of justice charge is warranted, as is the money laundering charge.

More Conspiracy Theories

Not that long ago, the standard meme coming out of the Rockwell Brigades was that the evil MSM overlords were deliberately pushing him off to the side and understating his chances to discourage people from voting for him. See, e.g., here, here, and here (and probably plenty others).

Now they're complaining that the Associated Press has suggested there's a possiblity that Ron Paul might win in Nevada because that would make a second or third place finish a disappointment? The convoluted nature of the conspiracy theories over there is amazing.

More on Why Romney Can't Appeal to Libertarians (Realignment Watch)

Jerry Taylor at the Cato Institute hits on something I've been discussing for awhile: although Mitt Romney purports to appeal to all the branches of the old Reagan Coalition, the fact is that he really has no appeal to libertarians. Indeed, Taylor points out that Romney's views on trade are not the free market capitalism that libertarians have long championed and which was a cornerstone of the Reagan platform. After all, no free market capitalist would ever argue that an economic problem such as the auto industry's is the result of government doing too little, and that the solution is more corporate welfare.

Taylor calls positions like these what they are: economic fascism, in the historical sense. He further points out something else that I've been arguing- Republicans no longer have anything to offer libertarians, and at least the Dems can offer us something on foreign policy and social issues.

***UPDATE*** Ross Douthat also sees the economic fascism undertone in Romney's campaign.

The Full Newsletter Story

Julian Sanchez and David Weigel have pieced together a history of the Ron Paul newsletters and the attempts at a strategic alliance between paleo-libertarians and far-right paleoconservatives. The article is in many ways revealing- it shows the extent to which Paul reaped the rewards of the newsletters, and the extent to which the fiery - and often clearly racist - rhetoric was part of a deliberate strategy to build a paleo-alliance. They also expose that an element of that alliance was a compromise centered on states' rights, particularly with respect to morality legislation.

The article importantly does not argue that Rockwell, Rothbard, and Paul are racists themselves, but instead that they made a conscious decision that an alliance with racists and paleoconservatives was the best way to grow libertarianism. In the process, though, it seems they did precisely what the accuse Cato of doing: they compromised some of their own libertarian values, rationalizing ways in which very un-libertarian policy aims were consistent with their purported values.

They went beyond traditional libertarian opposition to state-enforced integration to actually providing moral justification for private segregation, calling it a "natural and normal human impulse." The traditional libertarian view, however, would call private segregation irrational and doomed to failure, and therefore utterly unworthy of state intervention.

In any event, the full article is outstanding. Although it will likely be called a "hit piece" or another part of Reason's "smear campaign" (odd for a magazine that did a puff piece on Paul and put it on its cover this month), it is actually far kinder to the Rockwellians than they deserve, pointing out that they have dropped much of their racially incendiary rhetoric over the last five or six years and pointing out that Paul's campaign has for the most part been built on cosmopolitan principles. However, this does not excuse the active attempt to pander to racists, and I could not agree more with Sanchez's final paragraph:

Yet those new supporters, many of whom are first encountering libertarian ideas through the Ron Paul Revolution, deserve a far more frank explanation than the campaign has as yet provided of how their candidate's name ended up atop so many ugly words. Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking "moral responsibility" for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.

Is it really too much to ask for Paul and/or Rockwell to come clean about this fiasco? Instead, the response we get is non-denial denials and, now, this classic straw man - essentially the equivalent of "But I have black friends!" If the Rockwellians can't distinguish between the language in the newsletters and legitimate criticism of Lincoln or legitimate discussion of racial differences, then I feel sorry for them. They don't seem to understand that it's possible to agree with the Walt Williams articles they reference (or at least view them as legitimate inquiry) while still taking deep and legitimate offense at the language in the newsletters.

More reactions at memeorandum, including this from Allahpundit at Hot Air that gives me hope the fallout from the Paul fiasco will be limited and will "separate the wheat from the chaff."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney Flip Flops Again, Wins Michigan

Ugh. Actually, it's not so bad- this will keep Romney in the race for a while longer, which means we'll be treated to more of Hugh Hewitt's riotous excuses for Romney's future failures.

And so we turn to our ritual look inside the exit polls. And what we find is:

-That 42% of Michigan's voters thought Romney's ties to the state as the son of a former governor were either somewhat important or very important. Of these two groups of voters, Romney won over 55% of the vote. Of the remaining 58% of voters who found Romney's ties to be unimportant or not too important, McCain won by a handy margin. In other words, Romney won because of his daddy. Apparently Michigan Republicans haven't learned from the Bush administration fiasco that electing the son of a respected politician doesn't mean you get the respected politician back.

-That Romney won big amongst the remaining Bush stalwarts who made up a little over half the primary voters, and lost big amongst the rest. This suggests that good news for the Bush Administration is good news for Romney. Depressingly, it also means that good news in Iraq is perhaps not as good as though for McCain. This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that Romney won by progressively larger amounts depending on the strength of support for the Iraq War. Given that the current, much more successful, strategy was heavily influenced by McCain, these voters seem to have a strange understanding of what makes a good commander-in-chief. That said, McCain did win big amongst the surprisingly small percentage of voters who viewed Iraq as their top issue.

-The TNR piece seems to have hurt Ron Paul badly. A respectable 12 percent of voters viewed him as the candidate most likely to bring "needed change," yet he won less than half of those voters. By comparison, Romney won 88% of the plurality of delusional voters who viewed him as the "change" candidate, as did McCain; Huckabee pulled a respectable 79%. The numbers for Giuliani and Thompson are unreliable due to an extremely small sample size.

-Also strange- Romney appears to have been the second choice for Paul voters, pulling 22% of people who thought Paul was the best candidate of change. Since, as I've argued, Romney is the least libertarian of all candidates on the GOP side, it seems likely that he pulled potential voters from Paul whose top issue was immigration but saw that Paul had no chance and that the relatively pro-immigrant McCain did.

- As would be expected, Romney won big on voters whose top priority is the economy. More surprising though is that McCain won by 7 points amongst voters who rated the national economy as "poor," and only lost by five points amongst voters who rated it just "not good." Amongst the 30% who thought the economy is "good," Romney won by 20. Which pretty much means that Romney's appeal on economic issues - even in the relatively pro-market GOP primary - is limited to voters who are being hurt the least in Michigan's one-state recession. Surprisingly, the populist Mike Huckabee's appeal was unaffected by views on the economy.

- DKos' Vote Romney campaign had mixed results. Romney only lost by 8 amongst Dem crossover voters, (I would have expected McCain to about double Romney among Dem voters), and actually won by a few points amongst liberal voters, so it would seem the Kos campaign had a definite effect of perhaps one or two percentage points in the final tally. But that only slightly boosted Romney's surpsing victory margin.

-One of McCain's big problems appears to be that he only won by 6 points among independent voters, who made up a quarter of the electorate. I would have expected a somewhat higher turnout amongst that group for McCain.

-Romney won big on the 44% of "values" voters, with McCain not surprisingly trailing Huckabee in that group. Romney also took a straight majority of the "experience" voters and, disturbingly, a majority of the "electability" voters (we're going to chalk that last group up to small sample size, m'kay?)

- Republicans might want to work on that diversity thing - 96% white voters? Yikes! That's a recipe for slaughter in the general election seeing as whites are only about 80% of Michigan's overall population.

- I fail to understand how illegal immigration (13%) is the top priority for more voters than terrorism (11%) in a state with a whopping 4% Latino population.

Other than that, this last week or so has been gawdawful for the independent-minded voter, with only McCain's New Hampshire win to hang our hats on. Obama was shocked, Ron Paul was exposed as an enabler of racists, and now "Battlefield Earth" Romney has gotten his campaign back on track. Ugh.

Walter Block and Libertarian Orthodoxy

(via The Liberty Papers)

Doug Mataconis drew my attention to this column from a few weeks back by Walter Block, arguing that support for Ron Paul is a litmus test for libertarians. Block's argument is absurd in many ways and thoroughly unconvincing. He makes several points as to why he finds several objections to the litmus test false:

1. Anarcho-capitalists who are morally opposed to voting. He claims that Ron Paul's platform undermines their reason for not voting since he would actually decrease the size of government; therefore it is morally imperative for them to support a politician who would help them achieve their goals. I am not an anarcho-capitalist, so I will just link to Wendy McElroy's impassioned response to Block on this issue, which shows that he clearly misrepresented the anarcho-capitalist position on voting and thus his "litmus test" cannot apply to them.

2. Libertarians opposed to Paul's position on immigration and abortion (he leaves out libertarians who won't support him for his position on Lawrence v. Texas). He argues that since these are not settled issues amongst libertarians, they are invalid grounds for opposition to Ron Paul. This argument is utterly fallacious. While libertarians do disagree on these two issues (more on abortion than immigration, I think, since the abortion issue comes down to a factual disagreement rather than an ideological one, to wit the moment when life begins), individual libertarians place different priorities on these issues. Even if the issues were "settled" in Paul's favor, this would not make libertarians who differed un-libertarian- the right to question conventional wisdom is an essential element of libertarianism. More discussion below on this topic.

3. The Randy Barnett test, which amounts to pointing out that support of an otherwise clear libertarian who is pro-war would not be regarded as a litmus test issue by most libertarians. Block argues that Barnett's position on the war is a deviation from settled libertarian orthodoxy, whereas Paul's deviations are on unsettled issues. This is quite disingenuous- while I do not agree with Barnett's opposition to the Iraq War, his basis for supporting the war is consistent with libertarian principles (ie, self-defense) even though he is clearly wrong on the facts. Still, in my mind the issue of war is no more or less settled than the issue of immigration (which I do think is more settled than Block acknowledges).

4. The fact that Ron Paul has no chance of winning. Block argues, quite implausibly that Paul can win. The subsequent results in NH and Iowa have demonstrated this.

5. "Ron Paul isn't cool." Here Block creates a massive straw man of opposition, putting words in Brink Lindsey's mouth. In reality, Lindsey was strongly hinting at the problems of Paul's Old Right connections, pointing out that Paul is not representative of many libertarians, especially younger ones.

6. Fred Thompson is the "real" libertarian. Again, he creates a straw man, misrepresenting the position of two Cato Institute fellows who simply argued that Thompson is more of a small government conservative than the other Republicans running for President on economic issues. Both fellows acknowledged Paul, but seem to have simply regarded Paul as unlikely to win and thus not an appropriate subject for comparison.

Anyways, I wanted to go back to Block's arguments on the immigration and abortion questions, which I find to be quite insulting and, dare I say, collectivist. He leaves out the gay rights issue (probably because it is not an area of serious disagreement among libertarians), but gay rights fall under the same rubric for my purposes. The big problem is that he seems to think that libertarians are bad libertarians if they make "unsettled" libertarian issues a higher priority than "settled" libertarian issues (as defined by Block- in my mind, few issues are truly settled as defining one's libertarianism- it's more an issue of foundational principles).

As I wrote at the Liberty Papers:

Ron Paul's position on immigration alone is probably enough for some libertarians to find another candidate preferable. It all depends on the issue which is your top priority, and how much more a priority it is than your other issues.

For me, it's a pretty high priority- I view the freedom of movement as one of, if not the, most important freedom of all, and immigration is a key factor in terms of human rights (fleeing REAL oppression and poverty) and economic freedoms (the right to hire who you wish), and in my opinion is one of the most important elements of a stable economy. I think this is especially true if you're going to be a non-interventionist who thinks we should stay out of other countries' affairs partly on the grounds that residents of those countries have a right to choose their own destiny. You can't make that claim and then limit the ability of some of those people to choose their own destiny by moving to another country.

Paul's nativism on that issue was the first thing that made me start second-guessing my support for him; alone it wasn't enough to get me to withdraw my support for him, but it was a huge first strike. Additionally, the freedom to engage in consensual sexual relations is a fundamental freedom, and his opposition to Lawrence v. Texas is a major strike against him as well in my book.

Certainly, I think it's tough to argue that the gold standard/Federal Reserve are more important issues than either of those two things.
While those two issues alone weren't enough for me to withdraw my support (my top priority initially was the Iraq War and his position on the WO(s)D was a major plus), I don't think anyone could have justly accused me of being irrational if I had withdrawn my support on those grounds.

...And that's the problem with libertarian orthodoxy- Paul has some very un-libertarian positions on some issues that many libertarians correctly view as extremely important. On those issues, he's not only un-libertarian, but actually worse for libertarians than people like John McCain and Barack Obama, even Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton (as much as I fear those last two!). And let's not forget Bill Richardson before he dropped out (Edwards I'm not as sure about). Hell- even Huckabee is better than Paul on immigration, if that's your top priority.
To make Paul a litmus test on libertarianism is to say that libertarians must subsume the issues most important to them (qua libertarians) "for the greater good." That is collectivism at its worst.