Friday, January 11, 2008

Blogroll on the Paul Fallout

Tim Sandefur is compiling an excellent and helpful list of links of libertarian repudiations of "Pauline Paleoconservatism."

"Now You Know," Says Cato

For the last several months, the Cato Institute has been held up for harsh criticism in various libertarian circles due to its apparent lack of enthusiasm for Ron Paul. The argument was that Cato's relative silence on Ron Paul meant that they were either not "really" libertarians interested in expanding freedoms or that they were more interested in cozying up to the political establishment than in actually showing an interest in the Paul campaign.

At first, I was a bit confused about this lack of interest. Still, the relative silence from Cato sent a subtle message that there was something about Ron Paul that didn't quite add up; something that made displays of enthusiasm for him rather dangerous. That subtle message led me to start keeping my guard up a bit with respect to my support for Paul. When I listened to Paul's Alex Jones appearance, the reasons for Cato's lack of enthusiasm suddenly became much clearer. With the newsletter revelation, it would seem that Cato's position is completely vindicated.

Today, David Boaz tells those who questioned Cato's motives "now you know." Boaz's lengthy post is a powerful plea for libertarians to distance themselves from their paleoconservative cousins (though he points out that they're not even really paleoconservatives). More importantly, though, it is a powerful defense of libertarianism against an association with the words printed under Paul's name and a very public challenge to Paul's remaining defenders to actually address those words rather than obfuscate the point.

The entire post is powerful and, I think, important - so much so that I do not want to weaken it by quoting only part of it. Still, I could not agree more with Boaz's final paragraph:

Libertarians should make it clear that the people who wrote those things are not our comrades, not part of our movement, not part of the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick. Shame on them.

Romney's Claim as Reagan's Heir

Mitt Romney and his automoton-ish supporters have a tendency to emphasize that he is the heir to the Reagan legacy, and that "Mitt Romney is the only candidate who can unite the three-legged stool of the Reagan coalition." (I put this in quotes because it's become the Rom-bots version of the Paulbots' "DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION! ONLY RON PAUL UNDERSTANDS THE CONSTITUTION!")

I've posted more than enough times about how the Reagan coalition is all but dead but for a McCain-Huckabee ticket or maybe a Thompson victory, and how Romney in fact is the least capable of uniting the coalition again in a meaningful way.

But a reader at Townhall noticed something about Romney last night that does more than a little to debunk the notion that Mitt is the rightful heir to the Reagan legacy:

At the post interview with Mitt Romney, Alan Colmes asked him about distancing himself from Reagan/Bush in 1994 and his response was “I went to the funeral and learned about Reagan’s optimism and saw the light? EXCUSE ME, YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT REAGAN AND WHAT HE MEANT TO THE GOP TILL HIS FUNERAL? THAT HAS TO BE THE LAMEST answer and one of the biggest flip flops EVER. NO SERIOUS candidate who wants to carry the Reagan Mantel [sic] can honestly say they didn’t believe in Reagan till he died!

Romney may really be the most hollow man to ever run for public office in our history.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

The Newsletter Story Gets Worse

Matt Welch at Reason Hit & Run does some honest and redeeming work in digging up some past comments that Ron Paul has made about the newsletters. What Welch has dug up effectively destroys any defense (however implausible) that Paul had against the letters. Reason stuck its neck out for Paul by putting him on the cover this month with a puff piece, and the initial reaction to the newsletter story by some of them was a bit too equivocating. This new post from Welch shows that Reason is now serious about doing what is necessary to redeem libertarianism from Paul's deep flaws, even if that means discovering and divulging some very hard truths.

As damning as the newsletters were, and as depressing as Paul's response to the story has been, learning how he responded when similar allegations came up in 1996 is worse. Paul currently denies writing the newsletters and denies agreeing with their content; he also (implausibly) denies knowing who wrote the passages at issue. Yet the Welch piece shows that almost identical allegations came up during Paul's 1996 congressional campaign. At the time, Paul took full ownership of the statements at issue, and even defended them. The most damning passage comes from a 1996 Dallas Morning News article:

Dr. Ron Paul, a Republican congressional candidate from Texas, wrote in his political newsletter in 1992 that 95 percent of the black men in Washington, D.C., are "semi-criminal or entirely criminal."
According to a Dallas Morning News review of documents circulating among Texas Democrats, Dr. Paul wrote in a 1992 issue of the Ron Paul Political Report: "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be."

In the interview, he did not deny he made the statement about the swiftness
of black men.
"If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them," Dr. Paul said.
He also said the comment about black men in the nation's capital was made while writing about a 1992 study produced by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a criminal justice think tank based in Virginia.
Citing statistics from the study, Dr. Paul then concluded in his column: "Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."
"These aren't my figures," Dr. Paul said Tuesday. "That is the assumption you can gather from" the report.

Paul's current defense is that he doesn't know who wrote the articles, never supported the statements in the articles, and that he has taken moral responsibility for the newsletter for over a decade. Welch's piece shows this is not true; worse, it shows that he at one time publicly and personally defended some of the worst statements. Disgusting.

The comments to the piece show that most libertarians (now derisively called "cosmotarians" by the Rockwell Brigades) are asking some very hard questions about the relationship between the mainstream libertarian movement and the Rockwell Brigades. A number are advocating a clean split with Rockwell, the Mises Institute (which we all agree has done some important work despite its deep-seated problems), and the rest of the paleo-libertarians/paleo-conservatives. Count me as one of them.

I Don't Want to See This, But...

I in no way, shape, or form want DailyKos' Michigan readers to do this, since it will decrease the chances of the one relatively sane Republican frontrunner from getting the nomination. On the other hand, anything that makes Hugh Hewitt spin even more incoherently for Romney is something I can approve of. I love that they even put up a "Pro-Romney" campaign banner.

Money quote from Kos:

With a history of meddling in our primaries, why don't we try and return the favor. Next Tuesday, January 15th, Michigan will hold its primary. Michigan Democrats should vote for Mitt Romney, because if Mitt wins, Democrats win.
Bottom line, if Romney loses Michigan, he's out. If he wins, he stays in. And we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan.

After Hewitt blamed Romney's New Hampshire loss on Dems voting for McCain because they thought McCain would be easier to beat, this has to be a punch in the stomach. Or not- at least it gives His Man Mitt a chance at victory. Of course, it also ought to embarass the hell out of him that he was so, so wrong about what Dems think of McCain.

So far, I haven't seen a response on this from the Hewitt camp. I really do hope he responds- I can't wait to see the hoops he jumps through to spin it.

Free Speech and Hillary Clinton

I'm pretty sure I would have paid good money to watch this case before the DC Circuit. If nothing else it shows the arbitrariness of our campaign finance laws. The laws, as the DC Circuit seems set to rule, essentially amount to prohibitions on advertisements that say something that others might view as bad about a candidate. Since political speech is supposed to be the most protected form of speech, prohibiting people from speaking ill of a candidate in the most widely-disseminated forum without complying with various government regulations is patently offensive to free speech.

The rules generally restrict this kind of speech by independent groups close to an election, although a narrow exception was returned last year with the allowance of issue ads. Still, outright advocacy for or against a politician within the weeks leading up to an election (including a primary) are still banned. This leads to the inexorable question of what qualifies as an issue ad and what qualifies as a political ad.

Anyone who knows anything about issue ads knows that the line between issue ads and political ads is entirely arbitrary and subjective. But it is still a legal distinction, which is what led to this priceless exchange in the current DC Circuit case:

"What's the issue?" asked Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a federal appeals judge sitting on a mixed panel to review the case.
"That Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist," Bopp replied. "That is an issue."
"Which has nothing to do with her campaign?" U.S District Judge Royce C. Lamberth interjected.
"Not specifically, no," Bopp replied.
"Once you say, 'Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,' aren't you saying vote against her?"
Bopp disagreed because the movie did not use the word "vote."
"Oh, that's ridic...," Lamberth said, trailing off and ending the line of questioning.

As I said, the line is a bit arbitrary. Where does election advocacy begin and information dissemination end? As nasty and wrong as the Swift Boat campaign was, it had every right in the world to exist. Restrictions on independent political advertising don't just set an arbitrary line; they actively prevent or restrict the dissemination of candidate information by all but the candidates themselves. True, that information is sometimes fictional or disseminated for less than scrupulous means. But I'd rather have third parties disseminating information in addition to the candidates than just have the candidates controlling the dissemination themselves.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obama the Libertarian?

Last night I started working on a post that was going to conclude that Obama is easily the most libertarian of the viable candidates in either party's race (the Ron Paul newsletters obviously being a disqualifying factor for him in my book). I was hoping to have it finished tonight. Unfortunately for me, it looks like I was beaten to the punch in this Daniel Koffler piece at Comment is Free. Maybe I'll still provide my arguments at a later point in time, which are centered on the idea that free market economics should be less important this year than personal and civil liberties. I loosely started to sketch this point in the second half of this post.

In any event, money quote from the Comment is Free piece:

Goolsbee and Obama's understanding of the free market as a useful means of promoting social justice, rather than an obstacle to it, contrasts most starkly with the rest of the Democratic field on issues of competition, free trade and financial liberalism.

Is it possible that Obama is really a libertarian in a Progressive's clothes? Doubtful. But I have long thought that Obama's relationship with Austin Goolsbee was extremely promising compared to traditional Dem candidates, and even Republican candidates these days. Even Ron Paul would not end the welfare state over night; Obama's policies at least aim to end or reduce the welfare state at some time down the line by ultimately eliminating the need for that welfare state.

Bottom line: Koffler makes a pretty strong argument that Obama is more sincere about individual freedom and ending coercion than just about any other candidate on either side. Given their differences on federalism and immigration, you might even argue that Obama is a firmer believer in individual liberty than Ron Paul. I don't know if that's a winning argument, but it's not a laughable one either.

Obama's Day of Endorsements

Obama has been on a roll the last few days in terms of stealing Hillary's establishment base out from under her. Since Wednesday, he has received the endorsements of probably the two most important unions in the key state of Nevada, and then the endorsements of Ned Lamont, John Kerry, Gary Hart, and Tim Johnson as well (also George Miller). Generally, I don't think the endorsements of other politicians mean very much except as a bellweather of how a candidate is viewed by his party's establishment (the local union endorsements are a different story).

In any event, I heard Kerry's endorsement speech in the car this afternoon- by Kerry's relatively low standards, it was a pretty good speech. In the process, he took a number of not-too-subtle jabs at Senator Clinton, which rather surprised me. I'm starting to wonder how much elements of the Dem establishment resent the Clintons' stranglehold on the party machinery.

While endorsements by politicians don't usually mean much, the Lamont endorsement strikes me as significant. Lamont of course was the Dem who beat Joe Lieberman in the primary thanks to the help of the Dem Party netroots; to a large extent, it is the netroots who are most resistant to Obama now, often comparing him unfavorably to Joe Lieberman. They - incorrectly - think Lieberman's bipartisanship is the same as Obama's bipartisanship. In any event, Lamont's endorsement largely takes the wind out of the netroots' sails when it comes to accusing Obama of being another Lieberman and something less than a real Progressive.

The Sculpture

This is a response to an offhand question posed by Tim Sandefur, whose original post on the Ron Paul fallout for libertarianism I cited in my summary. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have open comments, so I'm going to answer his question here. As an aside, his original post is absolutely one of the must-reads about the Paul fallout- it blends the philosophical understanding of a much more studied libertarian than I with an extremely frank repudiation of the Rockwell Brigades.

Anyways, he complements me on the sculpture at the top of my blog and asks which it is (thanks, by the way). The answer is that it is the Rape of Polyxena by Pio Fedi, which is one of many sculptures that are stored at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy, next to the Uffizi Gallery.

For the record, the Loggia dei Lanzi is an outdoor sculpture gallery on one side of the Piazza della Signoria. It features several Renaissance-era sculptures, most famously Cellini's bronze statue of Perseus and a copy of Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women, as well as some imperial Roman works.

Fedi's Rape of Polyxena is a much later 19th century work. It adorns the top of my blog not as a metaphor of any sort (ie, I'm not trying to make a statement that we're all getting raped by the gummint or anything involving rape whatsoever). Instead, I just like the striking diagonal style of the sculpture, which I find to be generally inspiring, vibrant, and powerful. For whatever reason (I'm not an art historian in any way, shape, or form) the wife and I decided we liked it even more than the more celebrated Rape of the Sabines.

Looking at the Dark Side

One good thing that may come from the fallout from the Ron Paul mess is that many of the long-time movement libertarians are coming clean about what has been a dark underbelly of the libertarian history. I say this is good because it allows people like me who are new to the movement (if not the broader philosophy) to understand more about the movement's history, its dark side, and the longstanding schism between the cosmopolitan elements of the movement and the Old Right so-called paleo-libertarians. More importantly, it is good because these long-time cosmopolitan libertarians are telling us that although the paleos have made important contributions, they do not and cannot define libertarianism, and indeed never have. We are learning that many of these people did not sit passively by and tacitly approve of the nativist and racist sentiments coming from this group.

Perhaps they could have done more to stop it at the time- but that is far beyond the scope of my knowledge. As Ron Paul rose last year with the close help of the paleos, they probably should have done more to at least sound the warning bell more explicitly to those of us who are relatively new to the movement. For the most part, though, those recent errors of omission are forgivable- many had already distanced themselves from the paleos, others tried to raise the alarm more subtly, and still others perhaps thought that things had changed or that Paul's status as a peace candidate outweighed his affiliation with the darker side of the movement. Whatever the case may be, the old-time cosmopolitans are standing up for what libertarianism could and should be about, saying quite strongly "not in our name." They are largely advocating a deep self-examination by the cosmopolitan libertarian movement about its relationship, however uncomfortable, with its Old Right brethren. They want to know why our philosophy attracts so many neo-Confederates and die-hard conspiracy theorists.

Below are some of the most insightful pieces and excerpts I have found discussing libertarianism's past, present and future, and the role of the Old Right in that past, present, and future. Some are from old-time cosmopolitan libertarians, some from newer libertarians, and one or two from other sources. Each article or post is worth reading in full. (UPDATE: For the record, my views on the topic are here).

Prof. Steven Horwitz (who has previously expressed these types of concerns about the Paul campaign):

Those of us who have been paying attention knew of Ron Paul’s first or second-hand association with all of these groups and we knew their odious ideas. We knew that people like Lew Rockwell were long-time associates of Ron Paul’s and thus the recent speculation that his pen is prominent in those nasty newsletters comes as no surprise as well.
I hope this causes libertarians who are rightly horrified by the bad stuff in those newsletters to wake the hell up and realize the ways in which this nastiness has infected parts of the movement over the last 15 years or so. Read what Right Watch and Palmer have documented and decide for yourself if those people and organizations represent the ideas that attracted you to libertarianism and the Paul campaign.

Radley Balko:

The 1990s is not "ancient history." We were by then well past the point in American history where the kind of racism and bigotry present in those articles had any place in civil discourse. I simply can't imagine seeing any piece of paper go out under my name that included sympathetic words for David Duke. That a newsletter with Paul's name did just that demands an explanation from Paul. The "I've answered that in the past" reply isn't sufficient. You're running for president, now. You have a national platform. You've been an ambassador for libertarian ideas on Colbert, the Daily Show, Meet the Press, and Jay Leno. That you've provided a brief explanation for some of these passages a decade ago during a little-noticed congressional campaign doesn't cut it. No one was paying attention then. Just about everyone is now.

Megan McCardle:
It kind of doesn't matter what he actually believes. A number of libertarians have argued that Dr. Paul is obviously not a racist because he has so many other crazy ideas that if he did hold repulsive racial views, he would have aired those too. I find this pretty unconvincing. Since my blog brought me out of the closet, pretty much everyone I know is aware that I think we should privatize Social Security, eliminate most forms of government spending, get rid of the corporate income tax, legalize heroin, etc. etc. Almost all of them think I am crazy. But they still associate with me. I myself am friends with at least one person who claims to be an actual communist, and doesn't suffer socially for it. However, if either of us started saying "You know, the real problem with America is race-mixing" that would clearly put us in an entirely different category of crazy loon: the kind you shun.

But regardless of whether he believes the things he wrote, we punish people (socially) for enabling racism. Dr. Paul should be abandoned because that is how American society, and the libertarian movement, says: "Helping racists publish
their nastygrams is totally legal, but it's not ok."

Ross Douthat:

When you're way out there on the fringe, without any obvious way to reach the mainstream, it's very easy to tell yourself that your dubious friends aren't
really all that bad - and that besides, if you ever start finding your way back to the mainstream, it won't be all that hard to jettison them along the way. It's easy, as well, to start making excuses for them: If the mainstream accuses you of anti-Semitism, unfairly, because you're a principled non-interventionist who wants the U.S. to pull out of the Middle East, it's easy to find yourself making excuses for other people who get tarred (more justly) with the label. And then time goes by, the mainstream never gets any closer, you're spending all your time in a cramped and crankish and resentful world, and you hear yourself thinking hey, if these neo-Confederate guys are right about states' rights and the Constitution, then maybe they're right about race too ...

Timothy Sandefur:

I would like to see the libertarian community as a body repudiate the Lew Rockwellers entirely. They are not libertarians, they are paleo-conservatives
who do not share our primary concern with individual liberty and constitutionalism. Ultimately they lack a grounded perspective on what liberty means and why it is important. Their moral and cultural relativism, their traditionalism and their alliances (both intellectual and strategic) with southern-style paleo-cons have misled them in many ways. They are stasists; we are dynamists. We are a
variety of liberal
, they are old-fashioned conservatives who believe in “popular sovereignty,” oppose judicial independence, think states should be free to violate individual liberty without federal intervention, and that foreign dictators should be able to tyrannize without hearing complaints from the United States. These guys are the creationists of the libertarian movement, and we would all be much better off slamming the doors on them entirely.
Unfortunately, the down side to that is that they are a very large part of the contemporary libertarian community—so large that this is probably not possible as a practical matter. Given that reality we ought to at least make it a point to be as honest as possible about these two camps and as clear as possible about who belongs in which. We should prevail upon our leading intellectuals to make their positions clear on these matters and, if they take the wrong side, we should make our judgments as clear as possible.

Tim Cavanaugh:

But it's weird that a philosophy of non-aggression, ownership of self and property, individual choice, free trade and so on is so attractive to people whose greatest passsion is arguing that Abraham Lincoln was the foulest butcher in American history, that black people are stupider than white people, that Mexicans are naturally inclined to favor a welfare state, that our culture is being undermined by the feminization of boys, and so on.
I don't say these ideas have no place in libertarianism, an essential ingredient of which is not fearing either questions or answers. I do think the focus on so many of the Old Right's hobbyhorses crowds out much of what's more interesting (and certainly more marketable) in the philosophy. Postrel and Nick Gillespie were both skillful at steering Reason through more interesting territory, and I expect Matt Welch will continue that course. But as Ron Paul is not easily disowned, I think it's worth taking a look at the Old Right fellow travelers, if only to note where they are right and where they are (much more frequently) wrong.

Wirkman Virkkala:
Frankly, I had forgotten about most of this old “Ron Paul” bigotry. I mean, one reason for my tepid-at-first enthusiasm for the recent Paul outing was, after all, his old connection with Murray Rothbard, whose influence on the libertarian movement I regarded as poison. And Lew Rockwell, whose influence on Murray Rothbard I regarded as poison in double dose.
And it does go deep. Right down into the vile maw of Paleolibertarianism, the strange stance of anti-statist class warfare and out-group hate.
So blame me. Don’t blame Virginia. Don’t blame Reason. Blame all us old
guys who heard the gossip about the Rockwell-Rothbard alliance. Blame the late
Bill Bradford, who heard all this first hand. Or not. Realize that we opposed this nonsense at the time. At least I did, as much as I could in print.

Other worthwhile posts: Jim Henley, To The People (and also here, more in their typical good-humored style). And probably dozens more I haven't found yet.

My Past, Present, and Future as a Libertarian

Although I've identified closely with most libertarian policy views going back to about 1995, I was never what you would call a "movement" libertarian until very recently. For the most part, I had arrived at my libertarian policy views independent of any direct influence from libertarian sources, largely because I was only vaguely aware that there was such thing as a libertarian "movement."

I quickly became concerned about the tone of the Rockwell Brigades towards any dissent whatsoever and in the manner in which they seemed to root for the anti-gay, anti-semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But, I had a hard time identifying their core philosophy as being of a piece with my view of libertarianism, which I found quite compatible with the freewheeling debate and commentary at Reason and the sober pragmatism of Cato, among others. It was these institutions that had always been the public face of libertarianism to me, and more than anything it was they who led me into becoming a "movement" libertarian. Because they were the only face of libertarianism of which I had been previously aware, I thought the Rockwell Brigades were very much on the fringe of the libertarian movement. Eventually, I realized that they were a sizable portion of the movement, and that they were largely responsible for attracting the "fellow travelers" that seemed to have no real understanding of libertarianism's fundamental lesson of tolerance.

I also realized that Congressman Paul was uncomfortably close to the Rockwell Brigade portion of the movement; after the last Alex Jones appearance, I even realized that he valued that portion of the movement more than he valued the libertarians who were making calm, reasoned arguments on his behalf. What I did not realize, however, was the extent to which the Rockwell Brigade portion of the movement (aka, the "paleos") was not only attractive to conspiracy theorists and race warriors but actually were conspiracy theorists and race warriors.

I did not realize their history, nor did I realize the size of their portion of the movement. I only knew that their way of doing things was on the whole harmful to libertarianism as I understood it, and - less importantly - harmful to Ron Paul's ability to appeal to a wider audience.

Certainly there were warning signs, but eager for a candidate who seemingly spoke our language on many issues, we largely either ignored them, excused them, and in some cases just denied them. As for me, I stopped excusing Paul with the Alex Jones interview and I was always quite critical of the Rockwell Brigades. I continued to express lukewarm support for Paul, going so far as to reluctantly endorse him for the nomination last month. Although I still feared that Paul's candidacy could be bad for libertarianism because of his close ties to the Rockwell Brigades and Alex Jones, I decided that his campaign had gotten so much publicity that Paul had already become the public face of libertarianism, for better or worse. I believed that, if there were still worse things to come out about Paul, it was already too late to prevent those things from harming the libertarian movement; on the other hand, if nothing worse existed, and the Paul campaign grew, I thought it would be a crucial force in significantly expanding the movement. The campaign in my view became a feast-or-famine issue for libertarianism and as an anti-war protest vote; since I couldn't do anything to prevent a famine, I figured I may as well do my small part to increase the chances for a feast, while continuing to do my best to distinguish between my view of libertarianism and Ron Paul's.

The revelations the other day made the famine a reality. Libertarians will need to re-seed the fields for a future day and hope they grow quickly. Hopefully our most valuable institutions - who made a point to keep the Paul campaign at arms length (with the notable exception of Reason) - will emerge relatively unscathed. More hopefully, the large group of young Paul supporters will retain their interest in libertarianism even as they abandon the Paul campaign. But for the time being, the Paul campaign and the fallout from these revelations will likely make it more difficult than ever to influence the policy decisions of non-libertarians.

Certainly with respect to the Republican Party, our former foster home, that ability is greatly diminished. And we never had much ability to influence the Democratic Party on much of anything, at least with regards to our traditional emphasis on economic policy.

However, the Democratic Party, particularly Senator Obama, is perhaps open to libertarian thought on other policy matters: civil liberties; education reform; foreign and military policy; immigration policy; and executive power, amongst other things (including the War on Drugs). After the Bush years, these issues are more important than they've ever been, and I would argue that they are now even more important than our traditional focus on free market economics. We should also keep in mind that Democratic President Bill Clinton was arguably better for free markets and smaller government than even Reagan.

For the moment, at least, the Democratic Party seems a better home, one which will be less likely to equate us cosmopolitan libertarians with the paleo-libertarians. We should remember that Ron Paul is a Republican, as are, by and large, the Rockwell Brigades. By dissociating with the Republican Party, we are dissociating our happy, optimistic, and humane pro-individual philosophy from the conspiracy obsessed, pessimistic, and (seemingly) bigoted anti-federal philosophy of the paleo-libertarians.

We would do well to remember that arguably the most influential libertarian-ish organization is already associated quite closely with Progressivism (and by implication the Democratic Party): the ACLU (though they have some important policy differences with libertarianism on things like school choice and government regulation of corporations). We should also remember that even on free trade, a majority of Republicans are now against us; we may find Democrats as or more open to free trade arguments, especially as immigrants become an increasingly important part of their base and as the Republicans become more and more in favor of closed borders. After all, immigration is an essential element of a strong free market economy. Immigration restrictions do more than perhaps anything else to restrict the free market in labor, in my opinion the most important market of all.

Milton Friedman famously said that he was a Republican because that was the party where he believed he could have the most influence. With the fallout from the Ron Paul campaign and the recent changes in the Republican Party, I think libertarians may find more common cause and influence within the Democratic Party.

The Headlines We Feared Most

Those of us who were worried about the long-term implications of Ron Paul's past (and present) on libertarianism now seem to be seeing our worst fears come true. Headlines like this show exactly the problem with permitting one man with some very questionable frineds to become the most prominent spokesman for the libertarian philosophy:

"Grandfatherly libertarian cult leader to be grilled about race war at tomorrow night’s debate"

The words "libertarian," "cult," and "race war" are not words that libertarians want to see in the same sentence. But the insistence on orthodoxy amongst certain elements of the Ron Paul movement, combined with Paul's now quite-public newsletters (written it seems by the head of the Orthodox Church of Ron Paul) make the above headline far too accurate a description of the Rockwell Brigades. Unfortunately, the prominence of the Rockwell Brigades has led to the somewhat justifiable belief by too many people that the Rockwell Brigades actually ARE the libertarian movement rather than just shameful (though all too powerful) part of it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

He Warned Us!

Kip is definitely entitled to this bit of finger-wagging. For some reason, Monty Python can always take the edge off of a depressing situation.

Kip laments:

So, on top of having to laboriously explain ab initio that I am a "small-l libertarian," I apparently will forevermore have to pre-emptively declare that I am a "small-l, Non-Paul libertarian." Splendid. Ron Paul has, quite simply, wrecked libertarianism for at least a generation. And, unlike Barry Goldwater, his legacy will never be rehabilitated.

This is the nightmare scenario Kip has been warning about ever since before my foray into the blogosphere. It is also the nightmare I started to fear in November when I actually heard Paul's Alex Jones appearance. Unfortunately, by then it was too late for anyone to put the brakes on this, and I reluctantly endorsed Paul as a legitimate protest candidate, though not as a legitimate representative of libertarianism. Although in my limited defense I should point out that at least I was willing to criticize the campaign on a whole host of issues almost right from the beginning of this blog.

There were good elements of the Paul campaign, to be sure- mostly involving his more creative but not necessarily obnoxious supporters. For a few weeks, it even looked like his best supporters were starting to self-police and rid themselves of the infamous Paul-bots and spammers. Alas, it will be for the obnoxious supporters, the 9/11 Truthers, the Stormfront crowd, and more that the Paul campaign will be remembered. Because in the end, he was closer to them than he was to us.

I just hope that the number of non-libertarians who indelibly associate libertarianism with Ron Paul is relatively small, and that they associate him more with constitutionalism than libertarianism. I doubt it. A more likely effect will be that most people will completely forget about Ron Paul within a few months, or at least won't care to read about the newsletters. Even so, enough will know the story that it will make being a small "l" libertarian a more difficult task than it was.

A Four-Step Argument Against Voting for Ron Paul

(Cross-posted as a comment at Unqualified Offerings)

After the newsletter revelations, I can no longer vote for Ron Paul (barring unforeseen events), particularly from a libertarian interest point of view.

The argument against supporting Ron Paul is quite simple, really- and applies even if he was a consistent representative of libertarianism to begin with (which he was and is not, IMHO).
1. Paul has no chance of winning the GOP nomination or becoming President even if every potential supporter of his backed him. This is even more true today than it was before the story broke.
2. As such, supporting Paul can only serve one of two purposes: as a protest vote, or as a way of advancing the philosophy most associated with him (ie, libertarianism).
3. He is only a valid protest vote if he is most associated with things that you wish to protest (ie, the GWOT); if he is primarily associated with other things, then your protest vote will have zero effect since it will be viewed as an endorsement of those other things rather than his position on the GWOT.
4. He is only worth supporting as a means of growing libertarianism if supporting him will actually help the libertarian cause. Such a vote essentially tells the world that this man is a good representative of libertarianism. Since these newsletters are now a major part of how the public views Ron Paul, a vote for Paul on these grounds amounts to a libertarian endorsement (or at least acceptance) of the material in the newsletters. That is not a good way to advance libertarianism, unless of course you agree with the content of the letters.

Delusional Hewitt

I really hope Romney stays in the race for awhile, continuing to lose every key primary along the way, just so I can continue reading Hewitt's post-mortems.

Hysterical Hewitt-ism of the NH post-mortem:

Michael thinks --rightly I suspect-- that many independents who were going to vote for Obama yesterday got to the polls today and, thinking it was in the bag for their guy, decided to vote strategically for McCain. Some of those votes were probably out of respect, some from love, and some from indies wanting the GOP to nominate other than Romney, whom they considered the strongest GOP nominee in the fall.

Hewitt may be correct that some independents decided at the polls to vote for McCain instead of Obama, figuring Obama had it made (though I doubt that effect was nearly strong enough to change the outcome of either race). But the idea that independents would cross-over to vote for McCain because they think Romney is the stronger general election candidate is just laugh-out-loud funny. Apparently, Hewitt has ignored all the polls that show McCain performing by far the best of the GOP candidates against every possible Dem. He has also apparently ignored Romney's extraordinarily bad favorability ratings.

More from Hewitt:

Romney took the "expectations" hit in Iowa and came roaring back on Sunday and Monday in New Hampshire, though not with enough to get the win.

So, a five-point, 13,000 vote loss to McCain is "roaring back" when McCain was consistently averaging about a five-point lead in most of the polls since Iowa? (Yes, I'm aware of the ARG outlier that had McCain up by double-digits, but there were also a couple outliers that had Romney in the lead).

High comedy.

A Heartfelt Appeal to the Ghostwriter

Wendy McElroy has a heartfelt appeal to the ghostwriter behind the Ron Paul newsletters that have destroyed his campaign and now threaten to sully libertarianism itself. I don't know the person to whom she is referring, as I have not traveled in libertarian circles for nearly enough years (though she gives some pretty strong hints). McElroy pleads that the ghostwriter out himself and provide an accounting of the events:

I am addressing an appeal to this man. Damage is being done to the libertarian movement (see Radley Balko's analysis) and to Ron Paul. Frankly, I don't give a flying fuck about the latter...but I know you do. Will you now do the decent thing for libertarianism and come forward to acknowledge responsibility for the material being used against your mentor?

For the sake of libertarianism, I can only hope the ghostwriter comes forward and provides a full accounting.

Nevada Culinary Workers Endorsement

Per Marc Ambinder, Obama is expected to get the much-coveted Culinary Workers union endorsement in Nevada despite Hillary's win last night. He has also received the somewhat less important Service Employees International Union endorsement. Since the endorsement isn't official yet, I probably should hold commenting on it for the moment, but I won't.

At first glance the move by the Culinary Workers doesn't make that much sense. Hillary holds much more sway over the Democratic party machine. As long as she has a strong chance at the nomination she is not a candidate that the union wants to annoy. On top of that, there is the fact that Obama has been unusually willing to criticize unions on occasion just like he would any other interest group.

Of course the Culinary Workers are a powerful union considered essential to victory in the Nevada Dem primary. If indeed they are powerful enough to decide the outcome of the Nevada primary, they could create an overpowering momentum for Obama (it seems safe to assume that he will win the SC primary). Additionally, that union includes a massive percentage of immigrants, for whom Obama is a far superior candidate.

The Culinary Workers have to have a couple of priorities, as would any union. However, all their priorities are meaningless if the Dem candidate fails to win in the general election. With McCain's victory last night, he becomes the front-runner for the GOP nomination; he is also the candidate who is most capable of beating a Democrat, and especially of beating Sen. Clinton. By endorsing Obama, they may have decided that their power is best used to push for the candidate most likely to win in November rather than the candidate who would support their agenda (at least vis a vis employers) in toto. This decision is probably made possible by the fact that Obama's stronger pro-immigrant position counterbalances Hillary's stronger overall position with respect to unions.


As my previous post pointed out, Obama has suceeded in doing what no candidate in recent memory has done: he has gotten the youth vote (meaning 18-24 year olds) out to the polls in numbers shockingly on par with senior citizens and baby boomers.

Specifically, the number of 18-24 year olds voting in the Dem primary was 11%, about the same percentage as 18-24 year olds amongst the statewide voting age population. By comparison, voters over 65 years old were slightly under-represented in the Dem primary (13% of the vote but 15% of the voting age population). The group that came out in the most overwhelming numbers was the Baby Boomers - 50-64 year olds, who made up 31% of the vote, but make up only a little over a quarter of the voting age population. So the real youth vote did just as well at showing up as the legendary senior citizen vote, but not as good as the highly mobilized Baby Boomer vote.

There was, however, one group predisposed to supporting Obama that barely showed up at all: Generation X, essentially voters between 25 and 39 years old. Combined, Generation X made up only 22% of the vote despite making up more than a quarter of the state's voting age population.

So the question, and the challenge for Obama is this: having awakened the youth vote, how do you awaken the still-dormant Generation X vote? How do you get a generation to the polls that largely grew up in a gilded age, in which the defining political moment was a President saying "that depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"?

About the Bradley Effect: Not So Much

As depressing as I find Hillary's comeback, I can't agree with the initial reaction that it may have been the so-called "Bradley Effect," in which white voters say they will vote one way in a poll in order to appear more tolerant of a black candidate. Sully initially showed some sympathy for this view, though he has since backed off from it.

But looking at the last polls before the election, Obama does not appear to have lost much support. Indeed, the last four polls taken before the primary put Obama at between 37 and 42 percent support, with the 42 percent being the notoriously unreliable Zogby poll. The largest poll sample, Rasmussen, actually had Obama at 37 percent, which looks to be where he finished. The big swing, then, came in Clinton's support, which went from between 30 and 34 percent up to 39 percent. Richardson was between 4 and 8 percent, Edwards between 15 and 20, and undecideds between 5 and 8.

As much as Hillary gained, those gains appear to have come as much from the pool of undecideds/ former Dodd and Biden supporters, Edwards, and Richardson as it did from Obama. On average, Obama perhaps lost 2 percent of his support overnight- hardly significant, and well within each poll's margin of error.

We also know, according to the exit polls, that Obama's youth support got beaten pretty badly by an even more mobilized than usual elderly vote. Not only that, but he only won by 10 points amongst first time primary voters. That's not to say that the youth vote didn't turn out for Obama in large numbers- the 18-24 age group made up a surprising 11% of the vote- almost as much as the 65 and over vote, and proportionally almost as much as the baby boomer age bracket- and went overwhelmingly for Obama. The problem for Obama was that the 25-29 age group made up only 7% - and was about evenly split between Obama and Hillary. Finally, the 30-39 age group (which went pretty clearly for Obama) only made up 15%- only slightly more than the much smaller 18-24 age group. By contrast, Hillary dominated the three oldest age groups, which collectively made up 67% of the vote.

Bottom line: Hillary did a good job winning back the less certain supporters of all her opponents and of winning the undecideds. It's tough to say how much of that was her moment of sensitivity yesterday, how much was her moment of humanity during the debate the other night, or if it was just an outstanding get-out-the vote effort. Still- Obama should be proud of the fact that he is the first candidate in my lifetime (and probably longer) to actually succeed in mobilizing the youth vote; unfortunately, the Gen X-ers seem to have retained their collective cynicism about the political process.

(via memeorandum)

**UPDATE** One of Matthew Yglesias' commenters also noticed the same problem with the "Bradley Effect" narrative.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

More on the Paul Newsletter Story

The New Republic has posted what looks to be several dozen excerpts from Congressman Paul's newsletters, covering a wide number of years. Many of the earlier ones are limited to conspiratorial stuff- but this is not the less-whacky-sounding "conspiracy of ideas" conspiracy talk. Instead, it is deeply focused on things like the Trilateral Commission, Skull & Bones, and stuff like that- not just an irrational fear of NAFTA. In one newsletter he even accuses George Will of being one of the enemies on the Trilateral Commission- interesting now that Will has spent the last several months being one of Paul's best friends in the media. I think that's about to change.

For four consecutive months in 1990-1991, his newsletters threw out all kinds of slurs about Martin Luther King, and/or praising David Duke. Seemingly around the same time, he (or his associates using his signature) issued a solicitation letter talking about a conspiracy of gays and the government to cover-up some unknown aspect of AIDS. The letter is filled with thinly veiled slurs, conspiracy theories, and almost as bad, a blatant attempt to use his position as a then-former Congressman to demonstrate that he knew about all these scams first-hand and, in the process, swindle recipients (who probably deserved it, but still....) out of their cash.

Almost every item highlighted at TNR (except, arguably, the Mises Institute materials) makes the material that came out last summer look like a love letter. I should also point out that every single one of these newletters is written in the first person, bearing Paul's name. While there is no byline, the newsletters aren't set up as standard reports, but rather as personal stories. Even if Paul did not actually write the material (which is plausible), it defies logic to think that he had no idea of the content of the content of the newsletters. Perhaps he is truly reformed; certainly his more recent rhetoric is difficult to jibe with many of the statements in the newsletter. But if he is to reclaim even the slightest bit of my respect, then he will need to make it absolutely explicit that he repudiates everything in the letters and, in my view, he must also come clean about the level of knowledge he had about the newsletters.

Sadness Sets In

It's been a long time since I felt this punched in the stomach by the political process. I suppose I would have felt this bad after Bush v. Gore, except I was a loyal Republican (though still a McCain supporter) at the time.

I'd say South Carolina in 2000 was pretty bad, since I saw Bush then in much the same vein as I see Hillary now: an uninspiring candidate who does more to fulfill a revenge fantasy than a worthy leader. The difference being that at the time I figured that any Republican would be better than Al Gore. I was wrong. I fear that Dems made the same mistake tonight.

It looks like she won it in the afternoon and evening- the early exit polls showed a big day for Obama; the final ones, not so much.

Combined with the extent of today's Paul revelations, the it's been a bad day for the independent-minded voter. At least we can take some solace that Romney is 0-2.

What's Next for Libertarians and Ron Paul?

This piece by Jamie Kirchick about Ron Paul's racially incendiary newsletters is receiving plenty of attention today in the blogosphere and on Drudge and other news sites. The details of the article make extremely clear that Paul's history has much closer ties to extreme racism than anyone except perhaps Dave Neiwert ever thought. When stories like this first started to break nationally over the summer, it seemed like it may have just been one or two articles that slipped through the cracks under Paul's name. Kirchick's article makes quite clear, however, that it was far, far more than just one or two newsletters, but was rather a repeated and frequent occurence.

While Paul is disowning authorship of the newsletters that went out under his name, it does not excuse the fact that he allowed so many newsletter with such incendiary content to go out under his name. Moreover, his initial in-person response left more than a little to be desired.

At a bare minimum, the whole sequence shows horrible leadership; more likely, however, it shows actual sympathy for the views expressed therein. While Kirchick has a record of being less than fair with Paul, it is tough to see how he could have left any details out that would morally excuse Paul's relationship to the pieces. It's possible, I suppose, that the whole story is a fabrication- but given Paul's penchant for affiliating with elements like this, that's close to impossible to believe.

So- what is the fallout from this, both for the Paul campaign and libertarians (even those who were not supportive of the Paul campaign)?

Many Paul-ites are questioning the timing of this article on the day of Paul's most important primary. But that timing may be Paul's one saving grace; with New Hampshire likely to result in the annihilation of the once-inevitable Clinton campaign and the almost guaranteed coronation of perhaps the most noteworthy Presidential candidate since at least Kennedy, the Paul news should play a tiny role compared to what it would have had the article come out two weeks from now. Moreover, the story probably came out too late to have much effect on today's voting.

Still, it's tough to see how he remains a viable candidate - even as a protest vote - after this. Paul was already deeply unpopular amongst most Republican voters; this will make him even more deeply unpopular amongst voters across the political spectrum. On the other hand, he still has about $20 million to spend, so I'm guessing he'll remain in the race; but I'd be shocked to see him pull over 5% in any competitive state after tonight. I don't think he'll save the money for a possible third party bid; this article effectively removes any potential he had to be a viable third-party candidate, even in the hopes of getting 10% of the vote. Moreover, much of his strength has been driven by his legions of volunteers; while the 9/11 Truthers and JBS-types will remain, I suspect that the cosmopolitan libertarians are largely done with him, barring an unforeseen event that makes his relationship to the newsletters forgivable.

The bigger question for me is what will happen to the libertarian movement in the public eye. I raised concerns awhile back that Paul would garner just enough support that his relationship with extremists would become a major issue and taint libertarianism in the public eye. That was before I had any idea his relationship with extremists was this tight. Hopefully, as I said, the timing of this will strongly mitigate any effects, particularly on libertarianism as a movement. We are still likely to be a significant swing vote in the general election; the question is whether the fallout from this article will grow to a point where the contenders view the libertarian vote as worth seeking. I hope not.

One hope lies in the fact that there have been a good number of libertarians who have been critical of the Paul campaign on a substantive level. But I do not think that they have been heard loudly enough to dissociate libertarianism from the Paul campaign's rather un-libertarian flaws. Still, the timing of the announcement probably limits the effects on libertarianism more than it does on the Paul campaign.

Unfortunately, I fear that the gains that the Paul campaign might have made will be erased. This is a shame, because large elements of the Paul grassroots organization were beginning to prove how beautifully the concept of Hayekian spontaneous order could work.

I do, initially at least, have a pipe dream for how libertarianism can turn this negative into a positive. And believe me, this is a pipe dream. We libertarians of the more, uhh, cosmopolitan mindset ought to prove that libertarianism is fundamentally about optimism, choice, and being pro-freedom more than it is about being anti-government. Perhaps we could find a high-profile libertarian celeb to run a campaign along the lines of the infamous NC State Pirate Captain as something of a protest candidate. Or perhaps we could find a serious, but high profile, libertarian to pick up the mantle and talk about a truly libertarian philosophy. Maybe we try to maintain our organization and do a better job at organizing behind whichever major party candidate is more palatable to us, making ourselves an influential portion of their campaign in the process, and essentially making the unofficial libertarian seal of approval an endorsement worth pandering to.

Or maybe we'll find that the LP really does offer us something worth supporting; unfortunately I'm not familiar enough with the LP candidates. In the 3 minutes of research I've done, though, I've found leading candidate George Phillies to be a rather rational libertarian. While the LP has always failed to attract small "l" libertarians in large numbers, perhaps Paul's soon-to-be-alumni will be willing to switch gears.

I don't know, to be honest. But the cosmopolitan libertarians can and should do what they can, either individually or collectively, to reclaim the name of freedom from the racists, hatemongers, and die-hard conspiracy theorists.

Dozens more reactions at memeorandum.

***UPDATE***In a thorough post, Radley Balko raises many of the same concerns as me.

The End of the Reagan Coalition

(via Memeorandum)

Professor Balkin has a must read post on the break-up of the Reagan coalition and how it was created by the failures of the Bush Administration. He also argues that the rise of Obama is a direct off-shoot of this collapse; Obama's rise is thus directly attributable to the deep failures of the Bush Administration.

Money quote:

If 2008 turns out to be a pivotal election, defining a new political era, it is important to give credit where credit is due. Two key reasons for the change will be the crackup of the coalition of the dominant party of the era, the Republicans, and the almost complete political failure of George W. Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove.

Professor Balkin's point is something that I've been saying here for a while: the elements of the Reagan coalition no longer have anything in common such that they can remain together under one umbrella. Where Professor Balkin goes further- correctly - is in placing the blame for this at the feet of Bush's failed policies.

Each group within the GOP coalition obviously has its priority issues. The coalition has held together by allowing each group to get its way on its priority items, while subsuming their secondary and tertiary priorities to the other groups who placed a higher priority on those issues. But the failed policies of the Bush Administration have forced a reshuffling of each group's priorities.

For example, social issues have long been the top priority for evangelicals; but the failures in Iraq and on economic issues have made those issues as or more important to evangelicals than they once were- hence you have the rise of Mike Huckabee's populism.

For libertarians, economic issues were historically the top priority. But the failures of the Bush Administration on civil liberties, Iraq, and the GWOT, amongst other things, have led to foreign policy and civil liberties becoming as or more important to libertarians. Hence, the rise of Ron Paul and the massive shift of the libertarian vote to the Democrats in 2006.

Similarly, economic issues were historically a top priority for those more broadly defined as fiscal conservatives/social liberals. Again, Iraq and the GWOT, along with Bush's relatively extremist social policies have driven this group either out of the GOP coalition or to candidates like Giuliani and McCain.

...And so on. The only group(s) that still seem to hold on to the idea that everything is just fine with the Reagan coalition are the Romney supporters and, to a lesser extent, the Thompson supporters (who tend to see where Bush has failed miserably and that he is Reagan's antithesis, but still hope that the coalition can be reunited).

The result of this is that the GOP will likely need to be re-built in the coming years along new ideological lines; there is even a chance that the party will simply split into two (though Obama's rise may prevent that by co-opting many of those who would have tried to create a new party).

As Professor Balkin concludes:

[I]f Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, George W. Bush is the Great Destroyer of Coalitions.

Steinem: Everyone Must Be a Feminist

Gloria Steinem's rant today in the NYT does a terrific job of completely missing the point about Obama vs. Hillary. She makes a number of completely unsubstantiated claims and assumptions that make no sense whatsoever- such as the idea that a woman running with Obama's style would be portrayed as emotional.

She assumes that Obama's appeal is based on the thrill of breaking down a major racial barrier in American politics, and wonders why breaking down a major gender barrier isn't equally important:

But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

Of all the unsupported assumptions in her column, this is the most flawed and most fatal.

Obama's appeal truly has little to do with his race; at the very least, he has been extremely careful to avoid bringing his race into the question. Whether others choose to do so is not his concern. Obama is not seen as a uniting figure because of his race, or even in spite of it, for the most part (certainly there are exceptions, but we're talking on the aggregate here). Instead, he is seen as unifying precisely because he is sincere when he speaks, because he is a perpetual optimist about Americans, and because he is not angry or bitter.

Hillary is seen as divisive for many reasons- and yes, gender is one of them. But that is because she actively makes her gender an issue; she wants us to elect her in part because she is a woman, whereas Obama appears to want us to elect him because he is an American.

On top of that, when Hillary talks about ending the "old boys network," she is being disingenous- she is part and parcel of that network now; it is a transparent attempt to say "vote for me because I'm a woman." Indeed, Steinem says that "we have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.” (My emphasis).

Steinem's desire, then, is that everyone subvert their own interests to the faction that views having a female President as an end unto itself. Steinem believes, in essence, that voters should align themselves with the ever-shrinking militant feminist interest groups, which is fine- she's entitled to wish people to join her interest group. If Obama's campaign has been about anything, it has been about trying to find a common interest amongst the myriad factions in this country- by the looks of things, he is largely succeeding. If Hillary's campaign has been about anything, though, it has been about demanding people align themselves with her constituent factions.

(via memeorandum)

Romney and Doublethink

In a speech yesterday, Romney said this about a potential matchup with Obama in the general election:

He'll be talking about ... big brother, big government and big taxes and that won't sell. I'll be talking about following in the footsteps that Ronald Reagan built, which is make America stronger, which is strengthen our family, strength our miliary, strengthen our economy.

So the guy who wants to "double Gitmo," won't comment about waterboarding, and supports Bush's warrantless wiretapping program (amongst other things) is accusing Obama of being the candidate of "big brother" and "big government"?

While Republican comparisons with Reagan have become meaningless because of how much the party has changed, there is something amazing about Romney portraying himself as the "candidate of change" when he is just spewing the exact same rhetoric that Republicans have been running on for 25 years. It's just further evidence of how it has become impossible for a Republican to appeal to all the traditional GOP interest groups and manage to sound coherent to anyone but the party establishment.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Losing Her Mind

No, this isn't a post about Hillary's tearful breakdown today, for which I actually have some sympathy. It's about this - her self-comparison with Margaret Thatcher. While Sully is rightfully offended that Hillary of all people would so horribly demean the Iron Lady's conservative rep, the comparison is just bizarre. The last few days and weeks, Hillary has been trying to run to Obama's right, despite the reservations of much of her base that Obama is not really a Progressive. By running to Obama's right, she's giving that base plenty of reason to abandon her for Obama.

What makes this even more bizarre is that it increasingly seems that her last bastion of passionate support comes from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Obviously, Lady Thatcher is hardly a hero to that segment of the American population. It's starting to get to the point where you wonder if Hillary really wants to stay in the race anymore. She seems to be trying the Romney approach of being all things to all people; but just like Romney, she winds up alienating most of the people who would have supported her in the first place.

In all seriousness- after tomorrow's results, I hope Hillary takes a couple of days off. Right now she seems to be doing more harm than good to her cause on the campaign trail anyways. A couple of days' rest may very well be the best thing she can do to regain her nerve and try to salvage her campaign.

Is It Really That Hard?

Ugh. I know this is just a handful of idiots, and the relatively intelligent portion of the Paul grassroots outnumber people like this significantly, but it would be really nice if they would realize just how foolish they make themselves and, more importantly, their candidate look:

Across the street, a few Paul supporters shouted [former President Clinton's] name.
Eventually, Clinton stopped outside a bakery, offered some remarks, and took questions. As he was answering one on Iraq, one of the Paul backers interrupted and shouted that the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job, and that the U.S. didn’t need to be in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he dropped an F-bomb, the crowd booed.

First off- at what point does this subgroup realize that they are representing their candidate when they're wearing Paul t-shirts and carrying Paul signs? As much as they like to claim that Paul isn't one of them, they do a pretty good job making sure that people think he is.

Secondly- what the hell are they doing shadowing President Clinton? Last I checked, Hillary was running in the Democratic primary; for some reason, I doubt that pro-Hillary events are going to be a fertile ground for recruiting new Paul voters.

Thirdly- in the process, they probably gave Hillary a little bit of a boost from people who heard about the story, especially seeing as President Clinton gave this outstanding response (not a difficult thing to do with this group, I might add) after trying to engage the guy in conversation (a very difficult thing to do):

"You wanna know what I think?” Clinton said. “You guys who think 9/11 was an inside job are crazy as hell. My wife was the senator from New York when that happened. I was down at Ground Zero. I saw the victims' families. You're nuts."

Crap like this really undercuts the positive things a good chunk of the Paul campaign has been doing.

The Fascinating New SC Poll

According to this new South Carolina poll, Obama has opened up a 20-point lead over Hillary, hitting a remarkable 50% of the vote. As Sully points out, the biggest swing has been in the African-American vote, which Hillary once led, but is now going to Obama by a 3:1 margin. Hillary actually still wins by 10 points amongst white voters. But there's more interesting stuff here: Hillary actually wins slightly amongst self-described liberals, with Edwards coming in a distant third in that group; what is interesting about this is that Hillary's campaign in recent days has tried to paint Obama as too liberal, even though her core base is mostly liberals. Given Hillary's relatively centrist record in the Senate, I'm wondering how much of her support amongst the most hard-core liberals is really driven by anger at what Republicans did to her husband.

Meanwhile, contrary to Krugman-logic, Obama actually dominates among registered Democrats slightly more than he does amongst self-described Republicans or Independents. In fact, Edwards- the bastion of liberal populism in the race - gets by far the most disproportionate amount of his support from self-described Republicans (although the sample size on that group is pretty small- only around 30 interviewees). Although the sample size of Republicans is tiny, combined with the results in Iowa, it shows just how close Edwards' populism is to Huckabee's.

Another thing that is interesting, and of which Hillary should take note: Obama dominates on almost all the issues, but he dominates most on issues where Hillary's experience theme should be most to her benefit: Iraq and terrorism (as well as education). The one area where she has a slight advantage is on healthcare. Obama also completely dominates on Social Security (where he has been accused of using "Republican talking points" by suggesting there was anything wrong with the system), the environment, and another "experience" issue- the economy. He has majority support in every age group under 65 years old; only senior citizens are different- they would still support Hillary by about 7 points.

On the Republican side, Huckabee has not surprisingly opened up a massive lead over McCain in Romney, who are in a dead heat for second in the high-teens. In what has to be bad news for the Thompson campaign, he is struggling at around 11%, only slightly ahead of Giuliani.

Huckabee actually beats McCain by 7 points amongst independents in the state, though independents are expected to be an exceedingly small portion of the overall vote, so the sample size is fairly unreliable. Huckabee does quite well with self-described liberals, but the sample size is far too tiny to reliably evaluate; still, it suggests again the similarities between Edwards and Huckabee's appeal. Unlike Obama, Huckabee appears to have gotten only a slight bump from Iowa, doing only a couple points better amongst people who have decided over the last few days.

Other than that, the GOP results are noteworthy for how un-noteworthy they are.

The Importance of Style

Ed Morrisey has an excellent post on the relevance of salesmanship in the election. Key lines:

If Obama sells hope better than Hillary sells competence, it's not because people value hope over competence but because they value Obama over Hillary.... When unlikable people trying to sell themselves as competent make mistakes like switching positions on drivers licenses for illegal aliens in 120 seconds, or criticizing a candidate for his kindergarten essays -- it challenges their only claim to consideration, and makes them much easier to discount quickly.

Politics is about salesmanship, first and foremost, and if Obama sells his product more competently than Hillary sells hers, then so be it- that just makes him a better candidate.

There may be more to this concept, too. While a President's substantive policy and competence certainly matters, particularly on the foreign policy front and even more thanks to the expansion of executive power, I wonder if a President's ability to inspire is at least equally important.

For instance, if a leader is inspirational and makes Americans feel good about themselves and their future, might this not lead them to be more productive on at least a marginal level? Might this not lead to organic change on some level in which individuals do things for themselves and others that would otherwise be done by government?

Certainly, I think recent economic history would tend to back this up- there have, after all been 3 Presidents in the television era (which has brought the Presidency into our living rooms) who could arguably be described as inspirational: Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. Each of these three Presidents is associated with periods of sustained economic growth. Admittedly, this is not a large sample size, and correlation does not equate to causation. But it's something worth thinking about.

**UPDATE** Many thanks to Tyler Cowen for addressing my speculation here. His answer seems to be that personality/inspiration might play a role, but probably not. Which leaves my speculation as exactly that - speculation.

More Hill-ocrisy

After the debate the other night, it seems Hillary's new "change" message includes accusing Obama of not doing enough to work for change because the lobbying reforms he helped push through are inadequate. While I personally question the effectiveness of a lot of those lobbying reforms, the impulse for such reforms is certainly well-placed. It's also pretty well-acknowledged that the reforms Obama has pushed through (working with Sen. Feingold, I might add) are in fact quite comprehensive. Are there loopholes? Yes, but that's because it's impossible to create lobbying reform without loopholes, which is one of the reasons I generally question its effectiveness. It's also worth pointing out that Obama, along with McCain and Feingold, was one of the few senators who actually opposed the 2006 "reforms" that were essentially just window-dressing. Hillary? Not so much.

But for Hillary of all people to question Obama's commitment to change on something like ethics reform is beyond the pale. Hillary is after all one of the greats when it comes to pushing through earmarks in appropriations bills. In the recent omnibus appropriations bill, she pushed through 261 earmarks, about 5 times as many as any other Presidential candidate. Obama, by comparison had the second fewest of the Senators who were in the race. My understanding of many of his earmarks, by the way, is also that he was just one of several co-sponsors for them, which suggests they are far less shady. Unfortunately, I can't find the source for that understanding right now.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More Talk on McCain-Huckabee

A few weeks ago, I suggested that a McCain-Huckabee ticket is probably the only way of keeping the GOP coalition together in any recognizable form for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, Ross Douthat had floated this idea in late November, a few weeks ahead of me. But in any event, Andrew Sullivan is now adding his concurrence to the idea that such a ticket is the most logical and "obvious" step for the GOP coalition. Sullivan's concurrence comes a few days after Noah Millman called such a ticket "blindingly obvious."

To review the argument I've been making on this issue:
1. It is impossible to be intellectually honest today and support the GOP establishment line wholesale. Since this is impossible, toeing the establishment line will permanently earn the distrust of at least one, and probably two core GOP interest groups. This is why the two "establishment" candidates failed to garner even a combined 30% of the vote in Iowa and may not break 40% combined in NH, which should be one of Romney's best states. As a result, there is probably no single candidate who can keep the coalition together in a meaningful way.

2. McCain on the whole comes the closest to representing the establishment party line while maintaining a semblance of intellectual honesty. As a result, he can keep fiscal and neo-conservatives in the fold while maintaining a respectable (though not great) showing amongst the libertarian vote. However, while he has a pretty consistent record on socially conservative issues, evangelical conservatives do not trust him. Combine that with their current feeling of being taken for granted by the GOP and a McCain-led ticket would have problems keeping the evangelical vote without a significant gesture to show them that they are not taken for granted. A Huckabee VP candidacy would be that gesture. While this ticket would annoy the hell out of the GOP establishment types, their loyalty is primarily to the party rather than a truly identifiable ideology. They would have no choice but to support the ticket since voting for another party is simply not an option to people whose entire raison d'etre in politics is to support the GOP.

I should add that my previous posts on this subject have largely ignored the remote possibility of a Thompson nomination. In some ways, Thompson would be the one candidate who could in fact unite the party without appearing like a "Romney Republican." His only problem would probably be that he just doesn't inspire much passion in any of the core interest groups. But he also isn't offensive to really any of the GOP interest groups, either. If Thompson could somehow stage an upset of unbelievable proportions, he probably could keep the coalition together in a meaningful way. He would get destroyed on the turnout front on Election Day in November, but that's not really the point of this discussion.

AFSCME's Campaign Mailer for Hillary

This pro-Hillary mailer being sent out by AFSCME demonstrates exactly the problems with interest group politics in America today. Not that interest groups should stay out of elections; but the problems of our two-party rule have undermined our system's ability to mitigate the effects of faction. Interest groups like unions who choose to affiliate with a particular political party's establishment wind up caring more about protecting the party's establishment than they do about advancing their own issues. And so a major union sends out a mailer that has nothing to do whatsoever with its core issues.

Matt Yglesias says this:

"It's one thing for a group to attack a candidate on the group's key issues -- that's what groups are there for -- but this is just off-topic fearmongering."

He is of course correct. Since unions like AFSCME (perhaps especially AFSCME, and especially AFSCME's leadership) have tied their fortunes so closely to the Democratic party establishment, supporting the Democratic party establishment becomes as much a priority as actually fighting for their primary issues. Indeed, Mark's Rule #5 of interest group politics predicts this sort of behavior:

The larger a political party and the less coherent its ideology, the more the political party affects the ideology of its constituent interest groups and the less the constituent interest groups affect the party's ideology.

Yglesias points out that a number of AFSCME's board members are upset about the mailer and are actively disowning it, but that AFSCME is such a top-down union that the board members' opinions don't have too much influence with the leadership. From my one or two personal experiences with AFSCME, I can say that he is probably correct about that.