Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stateless Humans Are Still Humans

(Cross-posted at Upturned Earth, where comments are open)

Sonny Bunch has responded to JL’s excellent post yesterday discussing the problems with holding so-called “stateless terrorists” to a lower standard of human rights. JL’s argument was essentially that the Bush Administration’s arguments for avoiding the Geneva Conventions with respect to alleged terrorists denies those individuals their essential humanity, regardless of whether those individuals would act in an inhumane way.

Sonny’s response is two-fold: first that accused terrorists do not “deserve” the protections of Geneva as a legal matter (I think he’s wrong, and for what little it’s worth, I actually am an attorney), and second, that they have forfeited their moral claim to the benefits of human society:

By engaging in the behaviors that enemy combatants have engaged in, they have forfeited their place in human society and the basic protections that all members of human society should be afforded. If you plan to kill civilians–men, women, and children who want to go to the open air mall or fly on an airplane or whatever else–for the purpose of causing terror, you have given up your claims to human sympathy and basic human decency. If you capture people on the battlefield and ritually slaughter them on videotape for the purpose of causing terror, you have given up your claims to human sympathy and basic human decency. The United States’s lawyers haven’t separated the world into “two classes” of humanity. These men have done it themselves by their actions. Terrorists are subhuman, morally if not genetically.

So legally speaking, enemy combatants don’t deserve the protections afforded them under lawful combatants as far as Geneva is concerned. And morally speaking, enemy combatants haven’t fulfilled even the most basic tenets of the social contract.


Needless to say, I think he’s very wrong about this. There are a few obvious flaws in his reasoning, one of which he even acknowledges in the comments - to wit, we are denying these individuals their humanity without first having provided due process to prove their guilt or innocence in the first place; if we haven’t proven guilt or innocence, we can’t know for certain that these individuals have committed the acts that allegedly forfeit their membership in the human race. There is also of course the utilitarian point that torture is terribly unreliable and thus inefficient.

But the more pertinent problem is this - it is abysmally arbitrary to argue that someone gives up their moral and legal right to be called a “human” simply because of the type of crime they are alleged to have plotted and because of their citizenship status at the time of that plotting. Except for anti-immigration extremists, for instance, would argue that an accused murderer who happens to be an illegal immigrant should be held permanently without trial or otherwise deprived of basic due process rights simply because of his citizenship status - and that is for a crime that is committed, if at all, within the physical borders of the United States. Yet, when the crime is that the accused was involved with an organization with the terrorist label, Bunch’s argument would hold that the accused loses all fundamental human rights, both morally and under international law, regardless of whether the accused committed his acts while within another jurisdiction. This is extraordinarily arbitrary, to say the least, resulting in a situation where we are more willing to deprive individuals of basic due process protections when they never avail themselves of the jurisdiction of the United States than when they are accused of express violations of US law, of which they have intentionally availed themselves.

I suppose the counter to this is that terrorism is “different.” I fail to see how, though - the only difference between terrorism and other forms of murder/attempted murder is the actor’s intent to use the crime to further political aims . . . and last I checked, conservatives and libertarians were not particularly big on enhancing punishments because of the political message underlying a crime (see, e.g., conservative and libertarian opposition to so-called “hate crimes” legislation).

Ideally, we would turn over accused terrorists to local authorities, of whose jurisdiction the accused have deliberately availed themselves. But that is not always realistic, especially since in many instances those local authorities may be sympathetic to the accused terrorists. And that is (or at least should be), to my knowledge, one of the very points of the Geneva Conventions - to provide some form of cover to prevent captured combatants from falling into some sort of a legal “black hole.” That the combatants are acting on behalf of a stateless group rather than a recognized nation should make no legal or moral difference - they are still acting within that nation’s jurisdiction, subject to the laws of that nation (which would include any treaties to which that nation is signatory). Nor does the fact that the combatants themselves have failed to abide by the Geneva Conventions remove the combatants from the protections thereof, from either a moral standpoint or a legal one: “two wrongs don’t make a right” is a true statement from both perspectives. Instead, each violation of the Geneva Convention, just like every immoral act, is a separate and discrete instance.

Otherwise, the Geneva Conventions would be utterly useless, since war crimes will inevitably happen on all sides in a conflict, with or without those conventions. North Vietnam’s ignorance of the Geneva Conventions (to which it was a signatory), for instance, did not justify ignorance thereof by the US, and I don’t think many would argue otherwise.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Politics Corrupts Interest Groups

(cross-posted at Upturned Earth, where comments are open)

Freddie DeBoer has an outstanding post up that discusses the way in which achieving legal and social equality, when it finally happens, will be the death knell for unified gay support of the coalition of the left. In essence he argues that success on these fronts would remove the raison d’etre for near-universal gay membership in the coalition of the Left. While many/most individual gays would remain in the Left’s fold, they would no longer be a solid bloc because the issue that made them a solid bloc will have been removed. As Freddie writes:

Sometimes certain groups of people actually have special interests, and as democracy is a system of individuals and groups competing for their own best interests, it’s natural to have affinity groups dedicated to pursuing those interests. So the cure for minority politics is to remove the complaints of the minority groups in the first place.


In all, there is little with which I disagree in Freddie’s post. But there are some important implications to Freddie’s points, which apply equally to nearly all interest groups.

Specifically, he helps demonstrate one of the fundamental reasons why interest group politics often wind up with the interest group being influenced far more heavily than the subject politician/political party. So long as a group presents a relatively stable voting bloc for a political party, that party will have little incentive to remove the causes that create that bloc’s stability. Thus, what often happens with interest group politics - and you can see this in Andrew Sullivan’s complaints about the Human Rights Campaign and in gun-rights supporters’ complaints about the NRA - is that the interest group’s policy preferences become increasingly identical to the policy preferences of the party behind which they throw their support. Indeed, this happens so often that I consider it a fundamental rule of interest group politics. The group’s goal become, in essence, electing more politicians from Party X because Party X is more friendly to the group than Party Y.

To retain the support of the interest groups, the parties will pay much lip service to the interests of those groups. They may even push legislation that marginally advances the groups’ agendas (think hate-crimes laws, for example), or fight against legislation that will severely hurt the interest group (and thereby undermine the cohesiveness of the interest group or reduce the group’s membership). What they will rarely do, however, is push for legislation that can be characterized as achieving the group’s ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, the coalition’s comparative friendliness to the interest group will lead to the interest group working extremely hard to nominate candidates that are part of that coalition. It will also, inevitably, lead the group to push issues that have nothing to do with the interest group but which advance the coalition’s overall positions. For instance, think of a labor union with a relatively pro-life membership fighting confirmation of judges on pro-choice grounds…believe me when I say that this happens.

In the specific case of gay rights groups, it is in the Democratic Party’s best interest not to throw its weight behind things like gay marriage; if it is successful in its efforts, then it will have removed one of the very issues that makes gays a fairly reliable vote for the Democratic Party. This is not to say that there are no Dem politicians willing to legislatively push gay rights; rather, it is to say that there is little incentive for most Dem politicians to do so. It is also not to say that the Dem Party makes a conscious effort to disregard fundamental gay rights issues; although that is certainly possible, it is at least as likely that the Dem Party simply takes the gay vote for granted, which moves fundamental gay rights issues far down the priority list.

Update - The debate between Daniel Larison and Andrew Sullivan over the role of evangelicals in the Republican Party seems pretty relevant to the points in this post as well. I think Larison gets the better of the exchange, mostly because his points implicate precisely my points above - evangelicals have been terribly unsuccessful at pushing through their legislative agenda despite one-party rule in Washington for much of the last eight years, yet they continue to support the GOP like no other group. As Larison says, “one reason they are so easy to blame [for the GOP's problems] is the same reliability of support that allows them and their issues to be taken for granted by the party.” That about sums it up. It also explains why change - no matter which side you take on a given issue - can be so hard to create on a political level; simply electing nominally friendly candidates does nothing to advance a meaningful agenda if the candidates’ party takes your group for granted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Case Against Regulation

(cross-posted at Upturned Earth, where comments are open)

Matt Yglesias displays his libertarian streak this morning, writing of the financial crisis:

Investors will be extremely reluctant to get involved in the exact kinds of products that recently crashed, everyone will worry that the first sign of housing price increases is a bubble, and regulators will be keenly aware of everyone’s pet theory of what went wrong. But the crux of the matter is that though the phenomenon of financial crises repeat over time, but no individual crisis repeats itself. The trick, if you can pull it off, isn’t to prevent a repeat of the current crisis, but to prevent (or mitigate) the next crisis which is something else entirely.


This, to me, has long been the strongest Hayekian and/or utilitarian argument against regulation. Much principled regulation is inherently reactionary, trying to solve yesterday’s problems, “fighting the last war,” as Yglesias suggests. Yet the circumstances that caused yesterday’s problems are unlikely to reoccur, making reactionary regulation largely worthless.

And while the trick is to prevent or mitigate the next crisis, this is a trick government is often ill-prepared to pull off. Rarely does government have the kind of information necessary to predict exactly, even approximately, where and how the next crisis will occur; thus, to the extent government regulators make good-faith efforts to move pro-actively, they are likely to regulate something that either does not require regulation. In so doing, the new regulation can either have no effect on preventing the next crisis or can even marginally worsen the next crisis by reducing the ability of the market to adapt to the changing conditions.

Worse, though, pro-active regulations are particularly susceptible to regulatory capture. The average person who could be affected by a new regulation is unlikely to get terribly involved in the debate over that regulation because the average person’s interest therein is purely theoretical or potential. For example, a regulation that will increase the entry costs into an industry will not inspire massive opposition from people who will be priced out of entering into that industry precisely because those people are not yet in that industry; they are not yet aware of the fact that their potential interest being affected by the new regulation. Indeed, they likely are not even aware that they have a potential interest if they haven’t yet looked into the possibilities of entering a particular industry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Politics, Federalism, and the Limits of Language

(cross-posted at Upturned Earth, where comments are open)

(This is the first of what I expect will be a series (of as yet unknown length) on the need for a new federalism that respects the need for communities to foster their own sets while at the same time seeking to protect the rights of dissident minority or relatively powerless interests within those communities).

In the United States, and really in most all of the developed world, some form of post-Enlightenment classical liberalism is the ruling philosophy. Critical to any such worldview is an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Of course, no modern philosophy lays as much a claim to classical liberalism as libertarianism - and yet few libertarians would call the world remotely “libertarian.” Why is this? Does the world just pay lip service to the idea of freedom and to Enlightenment ideals?

On the whole, with some exceptions, I think the answer is no. Instead, I think the answer lies in the fact that the boundaries of just about any concept are extraordinarily difficult to define in a universal manner. To be sure, we can all largely agree on the core elements of most important concepts, and those core elements must be protected. But on the edges, those concepts become very blurry and not subject to a priori universal definition.

Take for instance, the most basic of human precepts, the moral and legal imperative against murder, most absolutely stated by the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” You will find virtually no person or society who disagrees with the sentiment of this statement, nor with the necessity for it. And yet almost no one accepts it (in practice) as a moral absolute. Societies make varying legal and moral exceptions for self-defense, for war, for defense of others, for defense of property, or for enforcement of government laws. Indeed, as any doctrinaire libertarian will be quick to tell you, the very existence of government authorizes the use of lethal force since one who chooses to defend themselves against what they perceive as an unjust government action will be subjected to potentially lethal violence at the hands of that government.

Similar problems arise with just about any other significant legal or moral concept. The Non-Aggression Principle (which prohibits the initiation of force, and which many non-libertarians agree as being a worthy principle) for instance begs the question of what exactly is the “initiation of force.” Without resorting to utilitarian arguments (which inherently require a subjective weighing of costs and benefits), why is it a priori necessary to limit the definition of “force” to the use of physical force?

Short of anarchy (which has its own set of problems), there is simply no way to accommodate all these potential definitional boundaries within one government. Democracy seeks to do so, but must necessarily fail because of the manner in which it makes morality a function of the opinions of 50% plus 1 of those who vote - an arbitrary way of defining morality, to say the least. And yet, people need to have a clear set of definitions upon which to rely if there is to be any concept of a rule of law.

What is needed, then, is a system in which individuals have the opportunity to select, as near as possible, the set of definitional boundaries with which they most agree. The more freedom individuals have to select those boundaries, the more that government action for violation of those boundaries is justifiable and - as importantly - legitimate. Thus, the more centralized government becomes (and the more factions over which it has power), the less legitimate that government becomes.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t get to choose the government under which we are born. Nor is it terribly easy to escape that government, no matter how localized, if it imposes an unacceptably different set of definitional boundaries from you. Still, the more localized the government, the less difficult it will be to escape that government or, at a minimum, to effect a change in that government.

This thus implicates a system of federalism - but importantly one with a significantly different emphasis than the system with which we are most familiar - about which, much more later. But the big problem with our current concept of federalism is its emphasis on states’ rights, which fails to recognize that states are way too large an entity to respect individual rights or to rely on a valid concept of having the “consent of the governed”; indeed, many are larger than the entire United States at the time of the Constitution. This is also not an argument that implicates nihilism or moral relativism, at least not as I understand those concepts; instead, it seeks to permit - to the maximum extent possible - those with similar mores to live together under a common system of law and prove, in a non-violent fashion, their moral superiority or inferiority. Rather than demand a community accept behavior it deems immoral, it merely demands that a community tolerate the existence of other communities that it deems immoral.

NB: It may appear that I have conflated morality and the rule of law at various points in this post. That is not altogether unintentional. Indeed, part of my argument rests in part on the idea that: 1. A moral act requires some degree of voluntariness to truly be moral (i.e., an act is not made moral because it is legal, nor is an act made immoral because it is illegal); but 2. A community should have a right to protect its moral values to the extent there exists a consensus upon the definition of those values. In essence, the rule of law should, to the extent possible, reflect local consensus, both on matters of a moral and amoral (ie, things like weights and measures) nature. Regardless, this post is really just the tip of my arguments, so if you find my arguments lacking in some respects, please recognize this in your comments.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Bipartisan Capital"

I have my first guest-post up at Upturned Earth, and it re-explores a lot of the ground I covered in my "Myth of the Moderate" post. The inspiration for the post is the way in which the Administration-to-be has been less than encouraging on the very issues upon which so many relatively prominent libertarians, conservatives, and disaffected Republicans found Obama appealing.

The post is pretty well summed-up with this 'graph:

Now, in the case of scuttling investigations into potentially criminal abuses by the Bush Administration, it would again be bad politics. Why? Far from being a precious waste of “bipartisan capital,” it is these very potential abuses that, more than anything, led Republicans and disaffected former Republicans to vote for Obama. I am, after all, quite certain that Republicans and disaffected former Republicans who voted for Obama did not do so because they favored his health care plan or his support of the bailout, to name a few. Instead, they voted for Obama over fundamental issues of executive power and excessive war-making. To thus
talk about risking “bipartisan political capital” by investigating Bush-era abuses of power is to ignore the base upon which Obama received whatever “bipartisan political capital” he obtained in the first place.


Please read the whole thing here. And, while you're at it, add Upturned Earth to your RSS feeds.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can Federalism Be the Seat of the Stool?

Writing at Culture11, John has a post that serves as an almost-perfect springboard for my guest-blogging at his usual homepage beginning tomorrow, where I am hoping to put forward some lengthy thoughts about secessionism, federalism, and individual liberty.

Regular readers of mine will be well aware of my argument that the so-called "Three-Legged Stool" of the Republican coalition has become philosophically incoherent to the point that it no longer has a common theme that serves to bind all elements of that traditional stool. For about the last year, I've been arguing that the only logical result was that libertarians no longer have enough in common with Republicans to be part of the Republican Coalition, to the point that the Dem Coalition will eventually be (though is not yet) more palatable to libertarians than the Republicans. Simultaneously, the Republican Party will be better off, electorally, without libertarians because this would allow them to present a more coherent worldview centered on something akin National Greatness Conservatism, which is entirely consistent with two of the three legs of the stool, and which could accommodate fiscally liberal, socially conservative "working class" voters. Various forms of this argument seem to be becoming something of a conventional wisdom within the libertarian blogosphere over the last few weeks.

John, generally speaking, disagrees with this assessment, arguing that even if GOP economic arguments must move slightly to the left towards the Grand New Party arguments of Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, those arguments are relatively compatible with libertarianism. Underlying his disagreement, I might add, is the assumption that Republican willingness to invade foreign countries will of necessity fade (as long as this does not fade, there is no hope for libertarians to remain or return to the fold). I think this assumption is unlikely to come to pass, but even if it does, the dominance of religious conservatives on the national level is just too much to overcome. At best, I think this leaves libertarians as something of political free agents. And while Salam and Douthat may have good policy proposals palatable to libertarians, those proposals are far too specific to form the "seat" of a diverse political coalition. Instead, they are best seen as a way of bringing new voters into the GOP coalition without altering the coalition's "seat" (whatever that may be).

In any event, John's post today at Culture11 looks at the numerous remaining successful Republican governors and finds a long-overlooked potential "seat": federalism. He argues, correctly, I think, that the relative success of Republican governors does not provide a blueprint for success on the national level, as is the conventional wisdom. Instead, he says, the success (or lack of failure) of Republican governors is much more an endorsement of federalism, noting that Republican governors are extremely diverse from an ideological standpoint. By emphasizing federalism over all else on the national level, the Republican Party can accommodate any number of viewpoints. John then says "Presenting themselves, not as a single-minded party with an inflexible platform and no place for disagreement, but rather as a group that is focused on enabling local governance and a consequent sensitivity to regional particularities, can help Republicans to overcome their internal conflicts without having to throw the dissenters overboard."

I think, insofar as this goes, John is fundamentally right. While federalism as contemplated by the Constitution is far from perfect and too susceptible to local majoritarianism,* the local flexibility it permits can accommodate a diverse number of conceptions of freedom and liberty. The problem, as he acknowledges, is that uniting around federalism would require Republican conservatives "abandoning the attempt to make federal policy decisive on issues like abortion, marriage, drug policy, and euthanasia." For libertarians, of course, this is probably a feature rather than a bug, and I think John does a good job arguing why this would actually be good for social conservatives as well. In this sense, then, John has I think identified a viable "seat" to put the Three-Legged Stool back together. (But see Joe Carter's response, which raises a bunch of issues that I will probably address in my post at Upturned Earth on my proposal for improving federalism).

But after the last eight years of Terry Schiavo, medical marijuana raids, and attempts to prevent assisted suicide laws, I simply don't think federalism is a philosophy around which social conservatives are willing to rally any more....even if it is probably in their best interest in the long-run.

*Much of this can be alleviated through rigorous and expansive enforcement of the 14th Amendment, at least from a libertarian perspective - I don't think social conservatives would be too keen on that solution, though.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Proud Mary Keep on Burning

First, I want to announce that effective Thursday, I will have the privilege of being one of several guest-bloggers for the always-outstanding John Schwenkler at Upturned Earth. I am, to say the least, excited at the opportunity of reaching John's substantially wider audience. I will try to cross-post a good chunk of my work over there at this site, but I would encourage my readers to comment at the Upturned Earth posting, where there is guaranteed to be substantially more conversation. My co-guest bloggers will include JL Wall, blogger and Culture11 contributor, William Randolph Brafford of williamwrites, and Nathan Origer of Nathan contra Mundi. We will be joined by Kyle Erickson, a PoliSci grad student at Georgetown, who will no doubt keep me honest with all my cockamamie political theories.

And while I'm here, now is as good a time as any to recommend some outstanding posts from our own blogroll that I've been meaning to write about.

First, if you're not reading Wirkman Virkkala, then I don't know what to tell you. There is no one more intellectually challenging or with a more independent voice on the internets. At least not that I've run into. You can start with his take on Roderik Long's take on a left-libertarian coalition.

Good friend Kip points out something truly evil in the Progressive blogosphere that puts a little bit of a crux into the idea of a left-libertarian coalition.

The Whited Sepulchre on why we could have done much, much worse than Barack Obama.

Social Service for Feral Children documents the thirty conspiracy theories of the 2008 elections.

Turning to the political Left...

I meant to note awhile ago that longtime PE commenter (and polite gadfly?) Dynamic finally has his own site. Dynamic is always good for an interesting, good faith debate.

Last but by no means least, good friend Kyle, now semi-semi-retired from poliblogging, writes about "No Drama Obama." He argues, accurately I think, that Obama will not govern as a Progressive ideologue but rather will take a considered, deliberative approach to decisionmaking.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Proof that the Dems are the Future Party of "Free Markets and Free Minds"

I don't think one could find a more ringing endorsement of the theory that the Dems are going to (eventually) replace the Republicans as the party of "free markets" than the fact that the Great Scotsman himself appears to be a Dem:

On CNBC this morning, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) said that Congress shouldn't bail out companies that are poorly run, and said he would prefer that they go into bankruptcy and using the "bailout" money to retrain the workers.


Music to my ears. I of course oppose any "bailout" money. But the point is, on the whole, abnormally supportive of the "invisible hand" for a Dem, no?

One Ring To Bring Them All and in the Darkness Bind Them

Via John and Mona.

The last few days - and really months - have brought much hand-wringing amongst the political Right as to how to rebuild the coalition of the Right. Part of that of course involves figuring out where, exactly, Republicans went wrong. Participating in this debate have primarily been the more intellectually-honest Righty bloggers such as Ross Douthat, highly regarded economist Greg Mankiw, and Patrick Ruffini, amongst several others. Because none of these figures are about to leave the Republican coalition anytime soon, their thoughts give a pretty good picture of where that coalition is likely to head. Some blame social conservatism, some blame insufficient social conservatism, while others blame Bush-style big-government conservatism and still others blame too much small-government conservatism. The thing is - there is one thing none of them are willing to blame or are at least willing to dispense with. It's safe to assume that one thing will therefore act as the "glue" for the future Republican coalition... the One Ring, if you will. And what is that one thing?

No one seems to have described it quite better than Brad at the lefty blog Sadly, No!:


Here’s something none of them mentioned: our current foreign policy of starting wars for no reason. I’ll put it to you like this: in the aftermath of 9/11, I had a few friends join the army out of what they felt was their patriotic duty. Now, if a commie from Massachusetts like me had friends join the army after 9/11, I’ll wager that lots and lots of politically neutral people my age from across the country had friends who did the same thing. What’s more, I’ll bet a lot of these people were sent off to Iraq in 2003.

After it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, a lot of people who saw that their friends and loved ones had been put in danger over a non-existent threat were pissed. What pissed them off even more were apologists within the conservative movement who said that it was no big deal if we never found a single weapon of mass destruction anywhere in the country.



I don’t think you guys can begin to understand the sheer amount of damage [the Iraq war] did to conservatism’s reputation. Sending people to war for bogus or fictitious reasons is one of the most heinous things any government can do — after all, why should anyone agree to make the ultimate sacrifice if they can’t be sure that their government is telling them the truth? If an entire generation of voters holds this against the Republican Party for the foreseeable future, I can’t say I’ll blame them.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. As much as anything else, the Republican foreign policy of the last eight years has destroyed the GOP's appeal to wide swathes of people, particularly in the younger generations. It is also, however, the one thing that still unites both the remaining Republican intellectual establishment and the socially conservative Republican "base." And so it is the one thing with which the Republican Party cannot dispense if it wishes to remain viable in the short-to-intermediate term. On the other hand - it is something around which a new, electorally viable coalition may be formed in the long-term if Obama governs in a more dovish fashion than Bush. Indeed, the demographics in which McCain did comparatively well included essentially pro-war constituencies that ordinarily would vote for the Democrat (to wit: older voters, which McCain won, and union voters, with whom McCain made some inroads).

So the point is, I guess, that the fundamental unifying factor of the Republican Party is going to be its view on the use of American power. While folks like Mankiw may wish that it move in a less socially conservative direction, this is unlikely to happen or to do much electoral good given the socially conservative nature of the Republican "base." The party may continue to pay lip service to fiscal conservatism....but so long as it remains the party of American Power, with all the spending that entails, it will practice a form of big government conservatism. It may (or may not) be that in the short term its electoral survival will hinge on adopting something akin to Douthat and Reihan Salam's "Grand New Party" vision. This would give the Party some appeal on economic issues that could draw in some of the remaining foreign policy conservatives who are economic statists. Their vision is also comparatively inoffensive to the nominally small-government sensibilities of intellectual conservatives.

And while I agree with John that Douthat and Salam's vision is economically superior to the vision of most Dems, I disagree that it will be enough to bring libertarians back into the GOP fold. As long as the expansive use of military force is part of the GOP platform - and for the foreseeable future, it must be - the spending this will entail (not to mention the other problems it poses to libertarians) will far exceed the comparative superiority of "Grand New Party"-style economic proposals, at least to libertarians.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Joe Must Go! Joe Must Go!

After Joe Lieberman endorsed John McCain despite his already fragile relationship with the Democratic "base," it was pretty clear that his future with the Democratic Party was tenuous at best. Today, it would seem, he has begun to reap the rewards for his disloyalty, being informed that he will likely no longer be able to hold his position as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He was offered the ability to chair a lesser subcommittee, which it would seem he rejected. As a result, it is increasingly unclear whether he will be allowed to remain a member of the Democratic Caucus (presumably he would then caucus with the Republicans if he is kicked out).

The prospects of this move are nothing but music to my ears - and should be music to the ears of all libertarians. First - and most important - Lieberman is perhaps the single most pro-Global War on Terror Senate Democrat; there is thus no worse Senate Democrat to chair the Homeland Security Committee from a libertarian (or liberal) perspective. Indeed, his views on foreign relations can pretty much only be described as "neo-conservative." Whoever his replacement may be, that replacement is guaranteed to be an improvement.

Second, if Lieberman is indeed removed from the Dem Caucus (as he should be), then that will marginally increase the ability of Senate Republicans to filibuster Dem legislation. In other words - it marginally increases the chances of a successful filibuster on any given issue. From a libertarian perspective, frequent filibusters are almost universally the best we can hope for whenever there is single-party rule in Washington (regardless of which party that may be).

Although less relevant to the moral implications of rooting for Lieberman to be sent packing to the Republicans, it's worth noting that his departure would play a significant role in the slight reformation of the political coalitions. Specifically, Lieberman is quite left-of-center on economic issues. I would expect that his switch of coalitions would hasten the gravity pulling the Republicans to the economic left, while also removing some small modicum of the inertia keeping the Democrats from slowly moving towards the economic right.

The bottom line - there are few things that are, in the long run, more beneficial to libertarianism than the immediate departure of Joe Lieberman for the ranks of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, because of Lieberman's apostasy on foreign relations and the Global War on Terruh, his departure would be a huge victory for liberals as well.

For what it's worth, Jane Hamsher - a powerful voice for civil liberties - has put forth a petition asking the Senate Democrats to strip Lieberman of any committee chairmanships. Liberals and libertarians alike can sign it here.

More at memeorandum.

The (Slow) Rise of the Left-Libertarian Coalition

I've written time and time again (see, e.g., here) that I think the future of libertarianism will be inextricably linked with the Democrats (the nominal coalition of the Left) more than the Republicans, with whom libertarianism has been most associated for the last few decades. The fundamental basis for this argument has been that the Republican Party coalition has become untenable (see, e.g., here) , creating a situation in which the modern Republican Party can no longer be reconciled with any conception of libertarianism beyond lip service to "lower taxes" and "lower spending." In order to form a coherent but electable coalition again, the Republican Party will have to reach out in new directions. Huckabee-style conservative populism, and McCain's National Greatness Conservatism, are the natural ideological viewpoints around which to build this new coalition, as they combined are capable of retaining virtually all of the remaining coalition while also bringing in some traditionally Democratic voting blocs (and/or swing voters), to wit: the elderly and working-class whites with relatively little education. As this happens, and as socially liberal, fiscally conservative people (the broad definition of "libertarian") become an increasingly Democratic voting bloc, my theory holds that the Dems will become more fiscally conservative while the Republicans will become more fiscally liberal.

What we saw the other night was the beginning of this. Indeed, as Will Wilkinson points out, despite the conservatives fears about Obama's "spread the wealth" theme, the wealthiest voters switched their votes from Republican in 2004 to Democrat in 2008 at an unusually high rate. Meanwhile, the only demographic group where Obama actually lost support compared to 2004 was the elderly. I think there was also some evidence of a minor PUMA effect, as - despite the extremely favorable political environment, Obama did no better than Kerry amongst self-identified Democrats - the only other group where Obama failed to outperform Kerry. If you will recall from the primary campaign, PUMAs tended to be more socially conservative but fiscally liberal Hillary Clinton voters.

If the above shifts do represent a semi-permanent change in the electorate - and I obviously think they do, since that's the whole point of what I've been arguing lo these many months - then we can expect the Dems to slowly start moving in a more fiscally conservative direction just as the Republicans slowly start moving in a more fiscally liberal direction (actually, they won't have to do this slowly, since Bush pretty much already put them there). Thus, Wilkinson is I think clearly right when he states:

In the short term, this might make for a decrease in polarization on economic policy, which may produce bipartisan support for policies that will horrify libertarians. In the long term, the Democrats will continue to become ever more “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” despite the attempt of the ideological left-leaning media and academic opinion elites (who are full of New New Deal ideas) to prevent this.


That said, although Wilkinson is right when he says that "The GOP is now pretty clearly the party of the religious, white, middle-aged and elderly middle class–not a group with a shining political future," I don't think this means the GOP is permanently a minority party. Instead, if indeed Huckabee populism and National Greatness Conservatism are the future of the Republican Party, then we can expect an end to Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric. This will only be hastened by the troubled economy, which will necessarily reduce immigration (both legal and illegal) without any further government intervention. If I'm correct, then I think this election will have represented the high-water mark of Latino voting for Democrats, who will over time become increasingly Republican.

More at memeorandum.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Right's Busted Gamble

One of the sad ironies that I think may play out over the next several months is that the "Obama is a big government socialist" meme is going to come back and bite conservatives and libertarians (even those of us, like myself, who took issue with the meme). The fact is that Obama ran his general election campaign as a centrist, particularly with respect to government involvement in economic issues. Indeed, he even made the argument for a cut in net government spending, something that most congressional Democrats would likely take issue with. Moreover, too many tend to forget that this was how he ran in the Dem primaries as well, to a certain extent, with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards regularly attacking him from the left on economic issues (remember the controversy when he was forced to flip-flop on NAFTA?). Indeed, his relative centrism on economic policy was largely what led to my qualified endorsement of him during the primaries and to my briefly considering voting for him in the general election.

So Obama campaigned largely on a form of economic centrism that would have hardly represented a drastic change in government intervention in the economy, particularly once mitigated by the political realities of governing. This is something that conservatives and libertarians should have recognized, and ignored at their own peril. (The irony of doing so while so many supported a candidate that "suspended his campaign" to push for the bailout package that was classic socialism seems to have been lost on them).

They also should have recognized that the fundamentals of this election - a weakened economy, a deeply unpopular war, and an even more unpopular Republican President, left it virtually guaranteed that the Republicans would be unable to keep the Presidency even if they had a perfect candidate. They didn't. Instead, they decided to throw a political Hail Mary by painting Obama as a radical left extremist unparalleled in the annals of American history, even while Obama was campaigning as a pragmatic centrist on the vast majority of issues.* This Hail Mary never had any chance of changing the inevitable outcome of the election, which like all elections was always going to be a referendum on the current state of the country.

But by actively pushing the meme that "Obama is a radical, far left socialist," the McCain campaign (and more often its supporters) ensured that the election would be interpreted as a referendum on a clearly liberal worldview, particularly on economics....even though Obama was not running on that economic worldview. And that is now exactly how liberals and progressives of all stripes are interpreting the victory, as well they should - even though the victory is more easily explained as simply being a result of a slight change in the mood of the electorate due to the current state of economic affairs. Which means that Obama now has a mandate, if he so wishes, to put forth some fairly radical economic policies that will be completely unpalatable to believers in the power of the free market. In other words, by painting Obama the Centrist Candidate as a socialist demon, conservatives and some libertarians may have actually created Obama the Socialist Demon President.

The one hope I have - and it is a strong hope - is that the pragmatist and consensus-builder that Obama ran as will reflect Obama's style of government. In fact, I continue to expect that Obama - who is a more prudent and wise candidate than we've seen in some time - will govern much the way that Bill Clinton governed, except with less risk-taking in the early-going. But if he doesn't, conservatives and libertarians who pushed the "socialist" meme will have no one but themselves to blame.

Via memeorandum.

*I'm aware that progressive organizations have called his platform the most progressive presidential platform "in at least 15 years." Seeing as the Dem Presidential candidate just over 15 years ago was Bill Clinton, who is now univerally acknowledged as a true centrist, this supports rather than refutes the notion that Obama ran as something of a centrist.

UPDATE - Not really the same topic, but while we're here, please do go read Will Wilkinson on romanticism, Obama, and the Cult of the Presidency. (H/T: John)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Odd Thought of the Night

If you're looking for sweeping statements about the impact of this election and what it means for the future of this country, you probably came to the wrong place - this is a libertarian blog, after all. All I'll say on that is that: 1. the clearly less-bad candidate won, which is about the best I could have hoped for; 2. there's no denying the symbolic importance of Obama's victory, and for that alone, I am extremely happy he prevailed over McCain. But if you want much more than that tonight, then I would suggest you go to one of the thousands of other blogs with deep reflections on what kind of "mandate" Obama now has, and what we can expect from him. I might go into that topic some other time, but tonight is not the time to look at that.

Instead, I just want to write about one thing that strikes me as deeply interesting and anomolous about this country. For all of our talk about the virtues of military service, in every election since 1980 (with the obvious exception of 1988), the Presidential candidate with the more extensive military record has lost. What this means, I'm not exactly sure, but it's pretty clear that being a war hero has long ceased to be a legitimate qualification for office.

Ron Paul Jumps The Shark

I received an e-mail late last night from the Ron Paul re-election committee (which now controls the leftovers from his Presidential fundraising) with the following message:

As Americans head to the polls for this historic election, I want to ask for your support for a fellow supporter of Liberty, Representative Scott Garrett.
I need my friend Scott Garrett in Congress with me to vote against big government and the further erosion of our Constitutional rights. Scott recently voted with me against the massive taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street and has stood with me so many issues over the years.
Tomorrow promises to be a tough day for supporters of liberty, and big government forces threaten to further their influence in Washington. Scott Garrett needs your help. Please support him in any way you feel comfortable, and most importantly, make sure to get to the polls and vote.


If Scott Garrett (R-NJ) is a "fellow supporter of Liberty," then the word "Liberty" has no meaning. More importantly, if Scott Garrett is the type of person Ron Paul thinks is a "supporter of liberty," then I think we can officially end any illusion that Ron Paul is a libertarian. While Garrett's opposition to the bailout is commendable, it hardly compensates for his theocratic positions on social issues (he consistenly earns dizzyingly low marks from the ACLU and 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council) and foreign relations (a more reliable vote for non-stop war would be hard to imagine). Simply put - it's virtually impossible to distinguish Scott Garrett from any other "conservative" currently serving in Congress. If this is who Ron Paul is spending his primary campaign riches on, then I think it's time to retire the notion that the Ron Paul campaign was a net positive for liberty in this country.

How I voted.

I have a full recap of my voting analysis/strategy at my site. The quick summary of my ballot:

President: Bob Barr (Libertarian)

Senate: William Redpath (Libertarian)

House: Myself (libertarian)

Since there are no ballot initiatives in Virginia to vote against and my vote will have no affect on the outcome of any of my three national races, I had no compelling reason to vote. I don't even think Barr is a libertarian. I just like the process, probably out of conditioning. And this is the first election I've voted for a candidate other than one of the big two. That's monumental in my small world.

I reached that conclusion after offering myself the common answer of civic duty. I've long abandoned that as silly, although I hadn't identified why. Studying libertarianism helped me realize the fallacy of that. Now I roll my eyes when I hear someone say "If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain." Nonsense. Where anyone violates my rights, any and every complaint I voice is legitimate. I need to evaluate no other considerations.

I didn't vote for Obama or McCain, but whoever wins will violate some of my rights over the next four years. Those rights aren't based on my involvement in a democracy. (Not that I want to be involved in a democracy.) I possess those rights for no reason other than my existence. I would be a bore if I complain but do not do something about a violation. But voting is not the exclusive option in the Do Something domain. Advocates of democracy don't seem to grasp that.

Vote. Or don't.

Democrats Can Play Dirty, Too!

My Congressional race here in NJ is considered one of the seats most likely to be a pickup for the Democrats this year. The Republican Congressman is retiring after four terms and after barely surviving in 2006 due to the anti-Iraq War wave (which the Dems seem to have misinterpreted as a pro-Dem economic wave). The race to replace him pits an long-time state senator, Leonard Lance (a Republican) against the Dem candidate who barely lost in 2006, Linda Stender. There is also an independent candidate who is running to the right of Lance, Michael Hsing, primarily it would seem on social issues.

Lance bills himself as a fiscal conservative who has a reputation for being a social "moderate." In reality, though, Lance's views on social issues are virtually indistinguishable from Stender's, making him a fiscal conservative and social liberal, which has led him to get endorsed by literally every newspaper in the area including the undeniably liberal New York Times. He seems to have been a supporter of the Iraq War and the "surge," but also now favors withdrawing from Iraq on the grounds that the surge has worked. Anyways, the race has drawn lots of attention from both parties' national committees and has featured some high profile guest campaigners (including, unfortunately, the President). Lance is far from a libertarian dream, and I have more than my share of problems with him, but in this day and age, a fiscal conservative/social liberal is about the closest thing you can get to a libertarian; plus, with a Dem President an absolute certainty (and with McCain being far less palatable than that Dem President), trying to keep the margin in the House as close as possible is the only way to have any chance at blissful gridlock in the next 2-4 years. But I didn't decide who I would vote for until I received a couple of pieces of mail that can only be described as blatantly fraudulent and/or deceptive.

Only when you look closely do you realize that they were sent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Nowhere on either of the pieces is Linda Stender mentioned by name. Instead, the first piece is what is facially a hit piece on the independent candidate, Michael Hsing. The piece asks "Is Hsing just too conservative for your family?" The thing is - it was sent to me, who likely only appears on mailing lists idiotic politicos still consider "conservative" (ie, libertarian). When you actually read the piece, moreover, it becomes clear that it is a rather soft hit piece. In fact, it's a blatant attempt to get conservatives (of which I am obviously not one) to vote for Hsing instead of Lance, including such "attacks" as saying that he "wants to lower taxes on American and create a simpler, fairer tax system which could require cuts to important government programs."

The second piece is far worse, though, keeping in mind that it is paid for by the DCCC. It is entitled "For Congress the Choice is Clear." Below is a comparison of Lance and Hsing, with Lance labeled "Trenton Insider" and Hsing labeled "Fiscal and Social Conservative." What makes this a particularly deceptive piece is that it contains clear endorsements of Hsing positions that liberals, as well as the nominally liberal DCCC, obviously do not hold - endorsements of Hsing's "simpler, fairer tax system," his "pro-life," anti-stem cell research record, and his support of a ban on gay marriage.

Now, I have no problem with the DCCC being allowed to do this - and I would fight tooth and nail any attempt to prohibit them from doing so. But that doesn't change the fact that it is brutally dishonest and deceptive in its endorsement of positions that are supposedly antithetical to the Dem platform. It also doesn't change the fact that it shows that the Republicans aren't the only ones who can soil themselves in mud, a fact that too many of my liberal friends seem to deny. In my case, though, it backfired horribly - most of what they rip into Lance on are social issues where I would find Hsing unpalatable and where I usually find the Republicans unpalatable. In telling me that Lance is a social liberal, the DCCC has just made Lance an acceptable candidate in my eyes.