Monday, June 30, 2008

Gods and Generals

The blogosphere is going nuts over Wesley Clark's comments about John McCain's military service, and Obama's speech on patriotism in which he rebuked Clark's comments. I can't say I care a whole lot about either, but the whole overblown controversy led my friend Kyle at CFLF to make some really important points about McCain's concept of the relationship between the President and the military that I think hits on something that is just about always missed by commenters of all stripes. In the process, he also takes the opportunity to point out that much of the criticism of Gen. Petraeus' testimony on Capitol Hill is unfairly directed at a man whose job is not to tell Congress what he personally thinks. (I wish Kyle had also pointed out that much of the reliance on Petraeus' testimony by war supporters is misplaced for the exact same reasons).

Key 'graphs:

...McCain’s military experience doesn’t even necessarily seem to translate into a respectable understanding of how the military works. This as evidenced by one of
the most frequent attacks he launches at Obama for not being willing to “listen to the commanders on the ground.”

In a nutshell, that seems to be all that McCain’s foreign policy truly entails; listening to the commanders on the ground. But this gross misunderstanding on where the President sits in relationship to the military chain of command can only result in the kind of dangerous circular logic that got us here in the first place.

When we look at the military as a whole, it is a tool tha tis to be used at the discretion of the President, with the body of Congress acting as an important check on power.
It is the president who sets policy, congress that approves policy, and the military that enacts that policy.

The particulars are a little more complex than that, of course, but for the sake of brevity, that’s how it is supposed to work, with the President being the ultimate decision maker. What John McCain’s rhetoric essentially promises, though, is that McCain will hand over the decision making to the military.

That’s not their job, and we’ve already seen the kind of negativity that can result when you put the military in what is essentially a politician’s job in General David Petraeus. Petraeus, has taken much criticism, mostly from my friends on the left, for going to congress and delivering his testimony. But what many people fail to understand is that Petraeaus was given a task to perform. It’s not his decision to decide whether the task is doable, that rests completely with George W. Bush. Petraeus’ job is to accomplish the task by any means necessary.

Thus, when you remove the decision making prerogative of the President, you create a perpetual machine with no safety stop.


(My emphasis)

Read the whole thing.

A Liberal for Barr?

Ron Beasley at Newshoggers hints that Obama's recent capitulations on civil liberties and foreign policy will likely lead him to either sit the election out or vote for Bob Barr for substantially the reasons I suggested liberals should vote for Barr the other day. Beasley writes:

I disagree with the Libertarians on many issues but on what I consider the two most important issues they and Bob Barr are the only ones who get it right. The first of the issues is the occupation of Iraq but even more important is the erosion of civil liberties and the slide into a totalitarian state.


Ron is even more glum about the future of civil liberties and foreign policy under a President Obama than I am, but this is precisely the reason I think a liberal vote for Barr would have a substantial effect. Were Obama to lose or only win narrowly due to a substantial number of liberals (perhaps 2 or 3 percent is all it would take), the Dems in Congress would be forced to finally start resisting the temptation to vote like Republicans on these issues. In order for Dems to grow a backbone on these issues, they need to first know that they face a greater risk of defeat without the backbone than they do with the backbone.

The fact of the matter is that in any left-libertarian coalition, as in any political coalition of any sort, each group will have to make its share of sacrifices on secondary and tertiary issue sets in order to advance its primary issue set. In the short run, however, the primary issue set of many liberals and libertarians is precisely the same: civil liberties and foreign policy.

In the short run, Obama's capitulations may foreclose a meaningful coalition of libertarians and liberals within the context of the Dem Party. But that coalition can still exist, at least in the very short term, in the context of this election if liberals are willing to make short-term sacrifices of secondary and tertiary issues in order to send a message on their primary issues of civil liberties and foreign policy. In the long-run, the Libertarian Party probably could not sustain such a coalition; however, in that long-run, it is still my argument that the Dem Party will become more hospitable to libertarians, provided that the Dems first grow a backbone on civil liberties and foreign policy. In so doing, it is likely that (small-"l") libertarians, broadly defined, will sacrifice a large number of their secondary and tertiary issue sets as long as the Dems are willing to push the issues of civil liberties and foreign policy, and maybe throw libertarians a bone on a few other issues that may be of significance to libertarians but are of relative unimportance to most liberals.

My liberal case for Barr is, at its core, an argument that a vote for Barr will result in minor potential short-term losses for liberals, but will also ensure far more important long-term gains by forcing Dem politicians into stronger positions on civil liberties and foreign policy.

Right Wing Political Correctness Strikes Again

This has to be the funniest example of right-wing political correctness I've seen in days.

"The far-right fundamentalist group replaces the word “gay” in the articles with the word “homosexual.” I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems to make the AFA happy. The group is, after all, pretty far out there. The problem, of course, is that “gay” does not always mean what the AFA wants it to mean. My friend Kyle reported
this morning
that sprinter Tyson Gay won the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials over the weekend. The AFA ran the story, but only after the auto-correct had “fixed” the article. That means — you guessed it — the track star was renamed “Tyson Homosexual.”


Read the whole thing, including the magnificent screen grabs they link to.

When you start using auto-replace to remove "offensive" words from legitimate news stories, you play with fire. For all that I hate left-wing political correctness, I can't imagine a Lefty news article being this idiotic. Of course, the fact that the word "gay" is offensive at all is beyond amusing in and of itself.

More at memeorandum.

UPDATE: This is the gift that keeps on giving. Not surprisingly, this is hardly the first time there has been trouble with the auto-replace feature and the word "gay." New York Newsday's Spin Cycle observes another magnificent example of this, involving the NBA Draft last week and the shortlived pairing of Kevin Love and Rudy Gay on the same team, with Love later traded for former USC Star OJ Mayo. I don't want to spoil it, so click on the link.

About that Leave Us Alone Coalition

My colleague East Coast Libertarian wrote a critique the other day of Grover Norquist's utterly silly argument that the Republican Party, including its constituent social conservatives, are the "Leave Us Alone Coalition." As ECL pointed out, social conservatives are far from interested in "leaving us alone," but instead are quite insistent on imposing their worldview on others. Of course, it is generally assumed that at least social conservatives are willing to "leave us alone" on economic matters in a way that liberals allegedly are not.

An article the other day by Dem Congressman Barney Frank helps demonstrate that even that assumption is bitterly false, and that the social conservatives even control Republican thought on economic issues. The article discusses a recent attempt to reduce the regulations and restrictions on the free market related to internet gambling. Specifically, the bill sought to reduce the restrictions and regulations on banks, who the previous (and utterly ridiculous) law made responsible for the decisions of their customers who chose to spend a few dollars leisurely placing bets online. The bill did not seek to repeal the ridiculous anti-internet gambling law entirely, but rather only sought to ease the regulations on banks. It was introduced by Republican congressman Peter King and supported by the entire pro-market establishment, including, I should say, Grover Norquist himself.

Congressman King's bill went up for a vote before the House Financial Services Committee, and failed to escape committee after a tie vote. In the vote, representatives of one party voted better than 7 to 1 in favor of this entirely reasonable, pro-market bill that was introduced by the committee's senior-most Republican. Meanwhile, representatives of the other party voted more than 9 to 1 against this bill and, in essence, in favor of tighter financial regulations on banks. Except that the party voting against the free market by more than a 9 to 1 margin was the Republicans; the party supporting the free market by better than 7 to 1 was the Democrats.

As Congressman Frank wrote:

In other words, the leading economically conservative organizations and representatives of financial institutions who are argued that the proposed regulations would interfere with the functioning of our financial system had the support of less than 10% of the Republicans. 90+ % of the Republicans voted along with the social conservatives to maintain the position that the federal government should be restrictive of individual choice in the matter of gambling and should compel the banks to be the banks to be the enforcers.

I regret the fact that this became partisan. I was hoping that it wouldn't be, and I have been working closely with some of those most dedicated to economic deregulation of the appropriate sort. But it became partisan because the religious/social extreme conservatives continue to be in control of the Republican Party on a whole range of issues, and they demonstrated once again that it is they and not those dedicated to what they believe are free market principles who have the upper hand in internal Republican Party disputes.



And then people wonder why I say that the Republican Party no longer has any claim to the support of libertarians. After being defeated like this by his own party, I have to wonder if Norquist is re-thinking whether he should have written that book.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Songs of Freedom: The Return

A few weeks ago, I promised to post weekly videos of the late, great South African reggae star Lucky Dube. Sadly, I didn't live up to that promise. But that doesn't mean that I forgot about it, either. So rather than finish off your week with this underappreciated and profoundly libertarian-ish artist, this week I will allow you kick your week off with him.

To recap briefly, Lucky was a passionate and outspoken opponent of apartheid. After the end of apartheid, he became a regular and frequent critic of the ANC-led government's policy on taxes, affirmative action, corruption, and of course the government's inability to do anything to stop or slow down the unspeakable level of violent crime in South Africa. For all of his criticism of the government, he was above all an advocate of non-violence and peace. Sadly, he was murdered in a carjacking in front of his own children while dropping them off for school last October.

In my previous post, I embedded the music video for "Taxman," perhaps the most libertarian song I've ever known. This morning, we'll switch gears a little bit and turn to Lucky's landmark anti-apartheid "Together as One," the first anti-apartheid song to ever get airtime on South African radio. Added bonus: Cheesy '80's synthesizers!

A Liberal Case for Bob Barr

I have blogged extensively in recent months about what I view as an inevitable alliance between the American Left and libertarians that will eventually replace the longstanding alliance between libertarians and the American Right that existed in the context of the Republican coalition. I have also said, however, that I don't think that the Dem Party coalition is quite ready to accommodate libertarians in its fold, at least as long as it contains a considerable populist element (best represented by the pro-Hillary elements of white, "working class" voters). I expect these voters to slowly move towards the Republican Party, with its emphasis on American exceptionalism and power, so-called "traditional values," and increasing nativism. As these voters leave the coalition of the Left for the coalition of the Right, Dem Party politics will be less anchored by these elements, and able to stake out stronger positions on social and civil liberties issues.

The Dems' - and Obama's - recent capitulation on warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity should, I think, be viewed as much as an attempt to appease these wavering voters as anything else. To be sure, campaign contributions from the telecoms certainly helped, but those contributions would have been meaningless if there were no elements of the Dem coalition that support warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity. This is being portrayed by some as a "move to the center," and to a certain extent it is - socially conservative, economically liberal populists have become very much a "swing vote" that has become increasingly Republican in recent years, just as economically conservative, socially liberal voters (sometimes roughly and somewhat inaccurately described as "libertarians") have become increasingly Democrat. But as Glenn Greenwald correctly points out, this "move to the center" doesn't necessarily help Democrats, and may even hinder them in the sense that it forces Democrats to portray themselves as just "Republican-lite." To make matters worse, though, it results in policy decisions that are virtually indistinguishable from Republicans on issues like civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as cultural issues. But by standing strong on civil liberties and foreign policy issues, Dems actually wind up forging a new coalition of sorts - one that appeals to lots of disaffected Republicans (such as libertarians) even as it turns off the so-called "white working class."

Principled Dems who long ago accepted the death of socialism (ie, most Dems under the age of 40) should not resist this changing coalition, but should instead embrace it, as it allows them to actually push forward proposals consistent with their political beliefs.

As long as Obama continues this so-called "move to the center," what he is really doing is simply seeking to maintain the existing Dem Party coalition, hoping that the more ideological liberals continue to support him as simply the "lesser of two evils." In so doing, it is likely that the end result - even if Obama wins - will be simply more of the same, and a style of government that is substantively very little different from McCain. If that will be the end result, then what, exactly, are liberals voting for?

It is my belief that liberals would instead do well to try to push the Dem Party into a position where they have no choice but to grow a backbone on civil liberties and foreign policy. After all, it is beyond dispute that the Dems will maintain control of both houses of Congress this year. Wouldn't liberals be happier if they had a Republican President who was actually being thwarted in his attempts to restrict civil liberties and engage in an aggressive foreign policy than a Dem President who was indistinguishable from a Republican, except that he was unrestrained in his attempts to restrict civil liberties and engage in aggressive foreign policy in the name of "moving to the center"?

To be sure, some liberals will say that it may be true that Obama is only the lesser of two evils on foreign policy and civil liberties, but at least the Dems will be able to push through Progressive economic policy. And if you are really that concerned with pushing through a more "Progressive" economic policy, then I really can't say much, although the combination of aggressive foreign policy, abuse of civil liberties, and more interventionist economic policy is a really disturbing nightmare for libertarians; on top of that, it seems very few Dems are actually all that much in favor of large-scale economic interventions.

Which brings me to my point: liberals/Progressives whose top priority this election is to restore civil liberties and put a halt to neo-conservatism ought to throw their weight behind a candidate whose entire campaign is built around the restoration of civil liberties and putting a halt to neo-conservatism. It may be that candidate will not win; however, if Obama loses or wins only narrowly, the vote for said third party candidate will send an effective message to the Dem Party that it needs to start taking a stand for civil liberties, in much the same way that the huge vote for Perot in 1992 sent a message to Republicans to start adopting stronger anti-immigration policies (few recall that until the mid-1990s, both parties were quite split on immigration), and to become bigger budget hawks (in which they succeeded for a few years). The result was a Republican Party that few would say cow-towed to the Dem President; indeed, I would even argue that the result was a Dem President who was forced to be the most economically conservative President in recent history.

And that is the opportunity I think Bob Barr may present to principled liberals - the opportunity to force the Dems to actually fight for issues like civil liberties and a less aggressive foreign policy. To be sure, most modern liberals may be ideologically closer to Ralph Nader than Bob Barr (though perhaps not as much as they think). But I do not believe that a vote for Ralph Nader would actually push the Dems to act more strongly on civil liberties and foreign policy - the man is too closely associated with economic issues for a Nader vote to be viewed as primarily a civil liberties and foreign policy vote. Barr, on the other hand, has made civil liberties and foreign policy the primary focus of his campaign, and a vote for Barr can only be interpreted as a firm rebuke of Republican assaults on civil liberties and foreigners, as well as Dem capitulations thereto.

More on the "move to the center" silliness at memeorandum.

**UPDATE**

Thoreau has a slightly, umm, different take on what to do about Dems who don't stand up for civil liberties:


"...[F]rom now on I’ll keep kicking them until they reflexively lash out at Republican hawks, and reflexively buckle under to the ACLU. “Bad Pelosi!” (KICK!) “Bad Pelosi!” (KICK!) “Refuse to hold that vote!” (KICK!) “I said REFUSE TO HOLD THAT VOTE!” (KICK!) “CAN’T YOU F*CKING HEAR ME? I SAID REFUSE TO LET THAT BILL COME TO A VOTE OR I’LL KICK YOU AGAIN! DON’T MAKE ME DONATE MONEY TO THE GREEN PARTY, YOU LATTE-SIPPING CAPITULATION-MONKEY!” Eventually, they’ll be so habituated to being kicked that they’ll fold at the merest hint that a civil libertarian might say something mean about them."


Heh.

Also- John Schwenkler responds to this post, saying:

"I’d certainly be happy to see this happen, though I am sadly sure that it will not. That so many generally clear-headed progressives have been so incredibly soft on Barack Obama’s frequent slides into foreign policy “centrism” and capitulations to the Bush Administration on such things as telecom amnesty - not to mention his support for disastrous domestic policies like ethanol subsidies - has been deeply disappointing, and the fact is that if it keeps up the Democrats are very quickly going to find that they have become the very same sorts of blind, knee-jerk, unthinking supporters of “their guy” as those who drove the GOP coalition into the ground."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Religious Right = A Leave Us Alone Coalition?

I haven't paid much attention to Grover Norquist although I can respect some of his views on limited government and the idea of a "Leave Us Alone" Coalition. However, in a recent article in the Financial Times, Norquist writes:


Social conservatives – the so-called religious right – are a parents’ rights movement that wishes to be left alone with their faith and families. They organised in the late 1970s when the government threatened Christian radio stations and Christian schools with new regulations.


This is what Norquist in his most in his most recent book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives. It is also why I could not continue reading his book, especially after the brief and appallingly bad discussion on gay rights. While there are perhaps some (or very few) social conservatives, like my father in-law, who genuinely believes in live and let live (i.e. believes in marriage as being between a man and a woman but would never support a ban on same-sex marriages), it approaches absurdity to suggest that social conservatism as a political force has primarily been a "leave us alone" bunch when:

1. They have advocated amending our Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman (hence, using government to define marriage is for the rest of us - that's hardly leaving me alone).

2. Demanded that the federal judiciary intervene in a case that was solely within the jurisdiction of the State of Florida, and when that failed, a vicious and mostly misguided assault on the judiciary ensued. Of course, it didn't seem to occur to many of them that the federal government really does have no jurisdiction over these matters leaving (us alone?) the matter to the states. I should note that the whole Justice Sunday mess did not help matters.

3. Similar to Point 2 above, believe that it is perfectly legitimate for a majority to use government to violate the rights of others at will, even when such prohibited actions or arrangements in no way shape or form violates the rights of anyone. This is hardly a characteristic of a group that belongs in a "Leave Us Alone" coalition.

I could go on, but I think I've made the point.

One has to have their head in the sand to think that the group of people he associates with the "Leave Us Alone" coalition really belong. I think it's somewhat of an affront to libertarians or limited government types who have witnessed the likes of Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and others running roughshod over those principles to see them being described in this way.

Norquist can put as much lipstick on that pig as he likes but it will still be a pig no matter how hard he tries to hide that fact.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Major Announcement: A Libertarian Supergroup

As some may have already noticed, I am proud to announce a major change here at Publius Endures. Effective today, I am happy to say that I am no longer the sole author of this blog. Instead, I am now joined by the anonymously named, but always thoughtful, East Coast Libertarian of the site of the same name (his excellent first contribution to this site is here). But that's not all! Also joining us at Publius Endures will be Nick Bradley of Confessions of a Right Wing Libertarian (and, notably, occasional contributor at LewRockwell.com) and the equally outstanding Tony from RollingDoughnut.

I am proud to have these three joining me here - all of them are outstanding bloggers in their own right, all are libertarians, and all have a history of making cogent, logical arguments that tend to avoid the demagoguery that is all too typical of the blogosphere. To paraphrase Andrew Sullivan, they are all what you might call "libertarians of doubt." There will nonetheless be plenty of issues on which we disagree, but the respectful disagreements I have had with each of them are a major reason I am so proud to have them join me.

So what drove this change? First of all, there was the decline in my own blogging that resulted from the birth of my daughter and my career change. At the same time, I found that the quality of my blogging is best when I stick to what I know best - i.e., the discussion of factions, interest groups, and political coalitions. So for me to maintain a blog that had frequent (daily or bi-daily), high quality posts was becoming increasingly difficult, and I decided that it would make sense for me to join or create a group blog.

Oddly, at the same time as this was going on in my life, I learned through various postings and discussion threads that these three bloggers were going through very similar changes in their personal lives that would likely reduce their blogging output. Since all three were already among my favorite libertarian bloggers, it only seemed natural to me that we should combine our forces to create something of a libertarian blogging supergroup. Thankfully, they all agreed, and the resulting merger should make this site relatively unique in the libertarian blogosphere, with each of us able to focus our posting on areas where he have a particular interest.

So welcome to ECL, Nick, and Tony, and thank you all for growing this little corner of the blogosphere.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A couple of thoughts on the death penalty and Kennedy v. Louisiana

Regarding Kennedy v Louisiana, Ilya Shapiro at Cato-at-Liberty writes:


I won’t say much about Kennedy, other than that, as he has so, so many times in the past, Justice Kennedy again shamelessly substituted his own policy preferences for the will of the people. Regardless of one’s views on whether certain types of crimes short of murder(aggravated rape, child rape, treason, etc., etc.) warrant the death penalty, this is an issue properly left to the people and their elected representatives in state legislatures. We do not pick nine (left alone five) black-robed lawyers to be our moral arbiters, philosopher-kings, or bureaucrats-in chief. Kennedy versus Louisiana indeed!


Two (somewhat long) thoughts:

First, reasonable people can (and do) disagree on the outcome. Shapiro's comment on leaving these matters up to the states is likely the position I would have taken in the Roper v Simmons ruling, which addressed the death penalty for 16 or 17-year olds. As for the rest of his post, I do believe that Justice Kennedy was accused of "shamelessly substituting his own policy preferences for the will of the people" in the very libertarian-oriented Lawrence v Texas so I don't know if I would go down the "will of the people" road because libertarians understand, rightly, that the "will of the people" is a far greater threat to liberty than any so-called judicial tyranny.

Second, I would have rather seen this decision "flow" from Coker v Georgia (see Kipesquire's analysis on the issues here and here) rather than the "evolving standards of decency". On principle, I wouldn't want any branch of government making the determination of what is decent and what is not. I rarely spend time studying Eighth Amendment jurisprudence so I am admittedly out of my element here, but if Coker describes a theory of justice and punishment that is consistent with the text of the Eighth Amendment, then why not build off of that?

Otherwise, the subjectivity of making a "national consensus" determination just makes a mess of things. For example, Justice Alito's dissent argues that "misunderstandings" of previous case law (specifically Coker v Georgia, which addressed the unconstitutionality of the death penalty for rape of an adult woman) has worked to prevent a "national consensus" because states that were considering the death penalty for child rape decided not to pursue these laws because of a (possible) misunderstanding of Coker. Also, Jim Lindgren over at the Volokh Conspiracy posts old poll data that suggests a different "national consensus" different than the one put forth by Justice Kennedy. Why base a legal opinion on a concept that can be so widely disputed that it can completely undermine the decision? Again, these are questions for lawyers and not people like me.

For the record, I make two disclosures:

1. I oppose the death penalty on practical grounds. I do believe, however, that capital punishment is a just punishment for the taking of another human life.

2. I believe that the taking of another life is the only justification to administer the death penalty, and I think it can become incredibly problemmatic. Punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. While I have no problem with locking up child rapists and throwing away the key (for good), I can not accept that the death sentence for child rape, adult rape or any violent crime where the victim survives is somehow proportional. Revenge and, as Kip puts it, "naked bloodlust" are not legitimate reasons to elevate crimes that understandably shock the conscience to capital offenses.

Maybe these views bias me on the issue, as I think the Court did reach the right conclusion although I think the legal reasoning is a bit suspect.

Last, I want to thank Mark for inviting me to post over at this blog. As I love his work, I do take it as an honor and I'm glad to be here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zimbabwe: A Proposal

(Revised version of a cross-posted comment at Matt Yglesias' blog)

I apologize for the lack of blogging lately - the baby's been keeping me busy, plus I've had a case of writer's block.

In any event, the rapidly deteroriating situation in Zimbabwe has inevitably resulted in the question: what, if anything, should be done?

In my view, this is a clear case where the need to defend others against the brutal oppression of their government - which the people have actively and openly fought against - justifies humanitarian intervention of some sort. But what sort? Sanctions don't work (and if you subscribe to a free trade theory of democracy, as I do, are actually counterproductive); resolutions, even when allowed to pass by Russian and China, are toothless; the US military is stretched to thin to attempt yet a third military occupation, and any direct American or Western military intervention would lead to (justified) cries of neo-colonialism/imperialism; and eliminating sanctions would have little effect because Mugabe would probably not take advantage of the eliminated sanctions in a way that would rapidly increase freedom (ie, there would not be a sudden restoration of free trade). Even if Mugabe did re-open Zimbabwe's economy to the world, the re-opening of the country would still require years before it would result in a hypothetical restoration of freedoms, during which much more political oppression and murder would occur.

The only answer that really makes sense to me is the answer that most goes against every fiber of my libertarian being: "regime change." Before I get chastized for this idea by the entire non-interventionist wing of the libertarian movement, let me make clear that I am NOT arguing that the US military should undertake this venture. Indeed, I believe doing so would be extremely ill-conceived and would primarily result in driving support to Mugabe and further legitimizing already valid concerns of neo-colonialism and imperialism. Instead, I advocate seeking intervention to remove Mugabe, by force if necessary, by either the African Union or by independent African nations.

I believe this because, if ever there was a country where "regime change" would actually work, it would be Zimbabwe. First, it is a country with a relatively weak military and an increasingly unpopular leader. But, then again, compared to the US, Iraq's military was very weak and Saddam Hussein was obviously deeply unpopular amongst the majority of Iraq's population. Yet Iraq was an extraordinarily bad candidate for "regime change," as we have found out, and as I frankly believed at the time. The difference, however, is that in Zimbabwe's recent past, it had a relatively strong civil society (Mugabe's turn to totalitarianism occured largely in this decade), the remnants of with are apparently still in enough operation to permit someone like Tsvangirai to pose a threat to Mugabe. Furthermore, intervention by a coalition of neighboring, non-Western nations would largely overcome any local fears about neo-colonialism and imperialism. In essence, what I am advocating is what should have been done in Rwanda.

As I said, the key factor here is that Zimbabwe has or until relatively recently had a relatively strong civil society. A strong civil society is usually a pre-requisite for liberal democracy, even if that civil society is largely non-politically based - this is why, say, Spain's transition to liberal democracy was rather smooth, while the transition in much of Eastern Europe and the former USSR has been marked by outright civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, low-scale civil war and a decade of authoritarianism in Georgia, a reversion to authoritarianism in Russia, widespread corruption in Ukraine, etc.

My point is this: at the moment, Zimbabwe would not fall into chaos like Iraq did if Mugabe was forcibly removed and his army disarmed. But the more that he continues his crackdown, the weaker Zimbabwe's civil society will be as practicing the freedom of association becomes increasingly dangerous. Mugabe's crackdown the last few weeks is designed to accomplish precisely the effect of destroying free association and civil society. In so doing, he will not only make open dissent impossible, but he will have the perhaps unintentional effect of making a peaceful succession to anyone of whom he does not approve nearly impossible. So the longer the world allows Mugabe to remain in power, the less outside military intervention will be a viable option and the more chaotic will be the aftermath of his or his successors' eventual fall from power.

But again, neither the US nor any other Western nation can or should be involved in any military intervention except perhaps to provide logistical support. Anything more would simply have the effect of feeding into deep-seated resentment of colonialism that would rally support to Mugabe. Instead, I would argue that we should do what we can to encourage a large-scale intervention by either the African Union (unlikely to succeed, unfortunately) or by Zimbabwe's neighbors and other African countries. If that results in the successful removal of Mugabe, then a UN peacekeeping force would be appropriate and would probably need to remain for only a brief period of time, perhaps a year or two.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Political Coalition Shifting Redux

I'm having a bit of a tiff in the comments section to my post the other day, which was otherwise one of the best-received posts I've ever had. Although it is not worth reviving most of the debate here, I think the commenter does make one important point that is presumably intended to undermine my argument that political coalitions are not monolithic but are instead slowly but constantly shifting as different issues fade from or jump to the forefront. His point is that the leadership of the "Left" actually IS monolithic. Although they are not "socialists" (or, for that matter, even classical liberals, as demonstrated by their lack of backbone on warrantless wiretapping) as he perjoratively calls the leadership, it is probably true that this leadership is fairly monolithic. However, this is also equally true of the leadership of the Republican Party, and the leadership of the "Right" more generally.

So, this must prove that political coalitions are, in fact, monolithic, correct? No. All it proves is that party leaders represent their constituent party groups. The role of party leaders is to maintain the party's coalition as best as possible while doing what they can to push through top-priority issues for as many consituent groups as possible. As a result, party leaders well represent the results of the logrolling and unconscious dealmaking that occurs in the formation of a coalition. As coalitions change, so do party leaders - but always the party leaders will approximately represent the top priority issue positions for the coalition's most important constituent groups at a given moment in time. The result is that party leaders are rarely philosophical ideologues*, but are instead usually uninspiring and philosophically incoherent practitioners of "pu-pu platter partisanship," taking a few pet positions from every constituent group.

Over the course of time, top priorities change for constituent groups as victories are won or those priorities become obsolete. As a result, priorities between constituent groups will inevitably conflict. When that happens enough times, the group that loses the conflict will start to withdraw from the coalition as it becomes increasingly willing to question party orthodoxy on lower-priority issues. As long as we remain in a two-party system, the likely effect of withdrawal from one coalition is to simply switch coalitions- provided, of course, that there is common ground with the other coalition on a sufficiently important issue.

Admittedly, even this is an oversimplification - even within subgroups, individuals will have many different secondary and tertiary priorities, and may even have different views on the prioritization of its primary issues (e.g., libertarians). A party's failure to support the subgroup's primary priorities will thus not necessarily result in the subgroup abandoning the party if the other party is little or no better on the issue set.

Once a good chunk of a constituent group begins to migrate to the other coalition, it will begin to exercise an increasing amount of pull on its primary issue sets. This pull will result in increasingly friendly policies towards the consituent group's primary issue set such that, over time, the entire body of the constituent group switches coalitions, leaving a void in the process in the old coalition that will be filled by either formerly allied groups that remain in the coalition or by another group that is also switching coalitions.

To return to the issue of why party leaders are so monolithic, I think this analysis leads to two explanations - one cynical, one less so. I suspect the truth is a combination of each. The less cynical explanation is that party leaders reach their positions because they are the people whose views are most capable of achieving consensus within the party, or at least of representing the largest number of constituent group priorities. The more cynical explanation is that it is absolutely essential to party leaders that they maintain the then-existing coalition. Any changes in the coalition's fundamental structure are a threat to the party leaders' positions, and thus they need to maintain the coalition's status quo in order to keep their hold on power. Taking a position that may force one group out of the coalition may guarantee that the leader will lose power, even if (and maybe especially if) the outgoing group is replaced by a larger incoming group.

*Newt Gingrich is the exception that proves the rule. Although he was most certainly a philosophical ideologue, he was successful because his Contract with America strategy was entirely centered on finding the issues on which the various Republican constituent groups could agree and pushing only those issues. In so doing, he brought the Republican coalition back from its initial post-Cold War life support and revived it long enough for the Clinton-era scandals to take over as the unifying factor for Republicans.

UPDATE- Re-reading my post this morning, I realized that a sentence in my first paragraph was poorly worded and could have been construed to mean that I was calling the political Right as a whole monolithic when I was only intending to call the leadership of the Right monolithic. That sentence has been corrected.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Towards a Libertarian Realignment

In my post on the DNC deal on Sunday, I linked to Will Wilkinson's outstanding post on so-called "Liberaltarianism." Wilkinson's post is outstanding and, as much as I didn't want to, I found myself nodding in agreement with just about everything he wrote. In the post, Wilkinson points out that although much libertarian attention is focused on Rand and Rothbard, thinkers like Hayek and Friedman were far less absolutist in their approach and far more willing to argue on behalf of some form of basic social safety net. This is not to say they were socialists - far from it. And that is exactly Wilkinson's point, which is that not every single government program represents an irrevocable slide towards socialist totalitarianism. Indeed, he argues that the experience of most liberal welfare states in recent years shows a general trend away from socialism and towards a "liberal-capitalist welfare state."

Finally, Wilkinson argues that the death of any possibility of full-on socialism, combined with the end of Communism has permitted libertarians to more greatly emphasize social issues, something I have argued repeatedly. As a result, we no longer have much of anything in common with the American Right. On the other hand, the effective death of outright socialism in a large part of the American Left makes a long-term alliance with them completely natural. Indeed, such an alliance would be much more of a reunion than a new coalition - as Hayek himself argued in his classic Road To Serfdom, many socialists were really just classical liberals who became frustrated with the speed of free markets and were effectively suckered into alliances with groups that had rather illiberal ends. In other words, the difference between libertarians and many, even most, American liberals is one solely of means rather than ends. By comparison, after 8 years of the Bush Administration, I think it is increasingly clear that the differences between libertarians and American conservatives is fundamentally one of ends rather than just means.

Ron Chusid, a self-avowed liberal with whom most libertarians disagree only rarely, notes that liberals should welcome libertarians into their fold, saying: "If you think of libertarianism in terms of the prominent political candidates this year, you are also missing a considerable amount of libertarian thought which is much closer to liberalism, especially if we remember the origins of liberal thought. "

This is not to say that Wilkinson's points, which have been receiving an awful lot of attention in the libertarian blogosphere, are above criticism. Indeed, Arnold Kling has written his own partial dissent that is worth reading (H/T: Art of the Possible). However, I think Kling falls into a significant logical trap, as I wrote in a comment at AOTP, and which reiterates much of what I have stated repeatedly on this blog: that politics are about shifting coalitions, and there is no reason to believe that a coalition will remain static if its constituent members cease to have much in common:

I think Kling makes an extremely common mistake, which is in assuming the political left to be monolithic. The fact is that the “Left” in this country, just like the “Right” is just a mish-mosh coalition of various ideological groups. Those interest groups can and do change sides over the course of time, as different issues come to predominate within the group.

Much of what the “Left” generally claims to believe in is not as universally held as they like to think. Instead, many in the modern Left coalition, just like many in the modern Right coalition, conform their political views over time on lower priority issues to match the views of coalition members to whom those issues are of higher
importance.

So I think it depends which element of the “Left” you’re talking about. The Barack Obama wing of the Dem Party, for instance, typically is most concerned with civil and personal liberties and a less aggressive foreign policy; meanwhile, the populist wing of the party (now dedicated to HRC) is primarily concerned with populist economics. The Obama wing tends to have a pretty good understanding of the concept of free markets; what winds up happening, though, is that they wind up sounding like outright socialists because the figure that people within their coalition who care more about the issue than they do probably also know more about it than they do. Similarly, politicians in this wing of the party have to tailor their message to be more populist on economic issues in order to make sure they retain the support of the more populist elements of the party.

If you look at the survey TNR posted a week or two ago regarding the respective political messages of the two parties, you kind of get a good idea of what I’m talking about. In that survery, something like 60 or 70 percent of Dems wound up agreeing with restrictions on free trade when the survey indicated that free trade was the Dems’ position; but when you removed party labels from the questions, that number dropped to barely half, with the rest saying that they supported more open trade policies.

Bottom line: if economic populists begin to shift to the Republican Party due to the GOP’s stance on social issues, foreign policy, and immigration, then the remaining Dems are likely to be well worth libertarians joining as coalition members. As I said yesterday, the threatened defection of HRC supporters would hasten this result. However, without that kind of defection, McCain is probably not the candidate to pull the economic populists into the GOP fold. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, would have been exactly that candidate.



In the short term, the coalitions have not switched enough to make me willing to gamble on Obama, even though I think he is a far superior candidate to most recent Dems. In the long-term, though, I see no reason for libertarians to return to the GOP fold.

UPDATE: Several other bloggers have picked up on this now, each with some very smart takes that provide a good supplement to what I've written above: Fester at Newshoggers, Kyle at CFLF, and Ron Chusid. Fester's post does a particularly good job of describing the nature of political coalitions, concluding that:

The coalitions that are assembled under the labels and institutions of Republicans and Democrats will change after this election. But that is normal and healthy. And this is the far more likely outcome than a complete rejiggering of American voting rules, political norms and constitutional governance structure that would be needed to break a two party hold on power.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Well Played, Sir!

As plenty of libertarians are now aware, the Bob Barr campaign issued a press release denouncing the support of Stormfront and an (apparently prominent) racist, which had been posted on an internet message board. The press release is sweeping in scope, and hits every note that a lot of us had wished Ron Paul had hit. As an expression of libertarianism, it just about hits the nail right on the head, I think:

"The Barr campaign is not going to be a vehicle for every fringe and hate group to promote itself. We do not want and will not accept the support of haters. Anyone with love in their heart for our country and for every resident of our country regardless of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation is welcome with open arms.Tell the haters I said don't let the door hit you on the backside on your way out!"


I am not going to say that this statement took a lot of political courage (although given some of the comments in the Hit&Run thread, maybe it took more political courage than it should have in this day and age). But it does demonstrate an understanding of politics and media savvy that has been heretofore lacking amongst libertarian politicians (self-styled or otherwise). Moreover, it shows a willingness to tackle issues head-on that I suspect could have some significant appeal to voters in the general election. In any event, this is the first story of any significance involving Bob Barr since he won the LP nomination last week. I think it gives us a pretty good preview of where he is going with his campaign.

1. The campaign is organized and capable of creating its own news stories. Were it not for the press release, it is debatable whether any news outlets would have picked up on the "endorsement" by the hate group. However, in choosing to both disclose the endorsement and vehemently denunciate it, the Barr campaign gets to control the way the story is portrayed in the media. Moreover, they actually are able to get some media coverage of the issue, which is always something that libertarian and LP candidates find nearly impossible.

2. The campaign is politically astute enough to turn a potential liability into an asset. If media outlets had picked up on the "endorsement" before the Barr press release, the headline would have been "Hate Group Endorses Libertarian Candidate." By making itself aware of the "endorsement" and immediately denouncing it, though, the headline becomes "Libertarian Candidate Denounces Hate Group." In the process, the candidate avoids having to answer questions like "What do you think of Mr. X, who has endorsed you?" Look at the fallout that McCain has had to face over the Hagee endorsement, or that Obama has had to face over several of his supporters, and you can see just how difficult it can be to completely recover from an endorsement by a particularly vehement racist or extremist. By taking ownership of the issue immediately, the Barr campaign was able to control its dissemination and to prevent any impression that it was equivocating on the issue.

3. The campaign has decided that the support of more, uhh, mainstream voters is more valuable than trying to keep fringe groups within the fold. One of the biggest problems I had with the Ron Paul campaign was that it appeared to value the support of people like Alex Jones and 9/11 Truthers far more than it valued the support of the average libertarian-minded voter. While this may have allowed the Paul campaign to raise an obscene amount of money, it also prevented the Paul campaign from catering its message to a broader audience. The Barr campaign has no intention of falling into that trap.

4. The Barr campaign is prepared to take advantage of new media to disseminate its message. In addition to being sent to media outlets, the press release was included in what is going to become a regular briefing for "Bloggers for Barr" (Full disclosure: I have joined that list). Within minutes, dozens of bloggers had their hands on the press release, and many of us have now discussed it.

Now, I know there are still plenty of libertarians who resent Barr's nomination or who refuse to consider Barr a libertarian because of his past Congressional record. Obviously, I am not one of them, though I do not begrudge that position. But regardless of whether Barr meets a libertarian "purity" test, there can be no doubt that he is far superior to either McCain or Obama.

The larger point of this post, however, is that the Barr campaign is demonstrating a level of competence that will allow libertarian-minded voters to have a real choice in this election. Even if Barr does not win the Presidency, a vote of just 6-10% would actually have a real effect on the direction of at least one of the two major parties, unlike the usual 1/2 of a percent to which third parties are accustomed.

More from memeorandum.

About that Will of the People Thing

The next time I hear a conservative whine about a governor or court circumventing the so-called "will of the people" by supporting gay marriage, I think they should be required to read the statements below by Vice President Cheney. The first set of comments come from an interview a few weeks ago with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, and the second set of which are from an event at the National Press Club this afternoon.

PART I

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s [the Iraq war’s] not worth fighting.
CHENEY: So?
RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?
CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

PART II
MODERATOR: Do you wish you had answered that question differently? Does it
matter if the public disagrees sharply with the wisdom of the war?
CHENEY: No, when I said, “So?” the point was, “What’s the question, Martha?” She made the statement; she didn’t ask a question.


To be sure, I am not one who thinks that polls should drive political decisions. Indeed, there is perhaps no one as suspicious of the tyranny of the majority as a libertarian like me. But it seems to me that if the majority should be ignored when it comes to issues like ending a war (and thereby increasing government's respect for individual rights), then there is really no basis for claiming that majority should be listened to when that majority seeks to decrease government's respect for individual rights.

So which is it: should the alleged "will of the people" control or should it not? You can't have it both ways.

H/T: Kathy at CFLF

Also more at memeorandum.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Two Cents on the DNC Deal

1. Rules are rules- Florida and Michigan should not have counted at all. The Clintonites' push to change those rules in the middle of the game shows what they think about the rule of law. They would make good friends with the Bushies.
2. I know that all Democrats remember with great vividity the protests inside the Miami-Dade building in 2000. I wonder- whose supporters most resembled those protesters yesterday? As I said, they'd make good friends.
3. There is nothing so Clinton-esque or, for that matter, Rove-ian than the argument that what the Clintonites seek to do is based on respect for the rule of law. If they had any actual respect for the rule of law, they wouldn't have pushed for the Florida and - especially - the Michigan delegates to be seated in the first place.

The Clintonites now threaten to pick their ball up and go home if their candidate is not the nominee. Obama supporters should not have a problem with this- the Clintonites are as illiberal as could be and are an anchor that weighs down any claim that the Dem Party is a force for good in this country, as I explained here. Instead, the Obama campaign and the remnants of the Dem party should start looking at reforming their coalition- let the Republicans be the party of authoritarians. In the process, the Republicans will lose a pretty good number of their own members, who either vote for Bob Barr (like me) or for Obama, with whom they will have more in common than McCain and the Clintons.

Rather than fret over the possibility of losing the Clintonites, Obama supporters should be embracing the possibility of creating a new coalition that is based on a respect for the rule of law.

Right now, those of us who support Bob Barr are quite likely to be the difference in any McCain loss. The belief is that, in so doing, we will force the GOP to rethink its move to big-government authoritarianism. But if the Clinton-ites move to the GOP, any chance of a reunion between libertarian types and the GOP will be forever eliminated; meanwhile, though, the Dem party will have the opportunity to build its coalition around a broad anti-authoritarianism that unites the huge number of Americans who still have a commitment to the ideals of classic liberalism.