Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rise of the Liberaltarians

I'm not going to rehash all of my arguments about why a liberal-libertarian coalition is inevitable (DISCLAIMER: for purposes of this argument, the word "libertarian" is relatively broadly defined based on the definitions used in David Boaz's 2006 report on the libertarian vote), but this latest poll from Montana suggests that such a coalition is further along than I ever expected (I have argued that the Dem Party is not quite ready to accomodate libertarians).

To summarize: Montana is currently leaning to Obama over McCain by five points. That a Republican Presidential candidate is trailing in Montana (a state Bush won by 20 points in 2004) is a particularly strong indication of how alienated libertarian-ish voters now feel from the Republican Party. As Dave Weigel writes at Hit & Run:

This is a state that elected a Democratic senator in 2006 who told voters "I want to repeal the PATRIOT Act." This is a state whose governor gave Homeland Security Michael Chertoff a rhetorical kick in the teeth when he opted out of REAL ID. This is, finally, a state whose Republicans gave Ron Paul a quarter of their primary and caucus votes, and where the balance of power in the state House is held by the Constitution Party.

I think it's safe to say that Montana voters have stronger libertarian leanings than just about any other state.

It may be that Montana's libertarian-ish voters are more Dem-friendly because they have a relatively libertarian Dem governor who is extremely popular. But I frankly don't know enough about Gov. Schweitzer to say that he's more libertarian than the average Dem - I just know that he's really popular.

More at memeorandum.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Questioning Smears

This James Kirchick piece has attracted a fair amount of attention the last day or two. In it, he essentially argues that despite conventional wisdom on the Left, Obama has been complicit in far more "smears" than John McCain. The piece is, to put it bluntly, silly. Frankly, any debate over who "smears" who more is beyond trivial, and is a particularly strong example of how dumbed-down politics are (I won't say "how dumbed-down politics have become" - they've always been pretty dumbed-down, though the internet provides for my dispersal of this trivial sniping). Of course, Kirchick is no stranger to the art of smearing politicians himself, having authored the piece that brought Ron Paul down (not to be read as an endorsement of the actions Kirchick documented in that piece; just pointing out that Kirchick is no stranger to making personal takedowns of politicians, however justified or unjustified).

In any event, I just want to express my wholehearted agreement with every word in this James Joyner post. Money quote:

Do I think there’s a concerted effort on the part of Democrats to call into question the degree to which John McCain’s military service makes him more qualified than Barack Obama to step in as commander-in-chief? Of course. Are some of the attacks over-the-top? Yup. Have they reached the worst levels of the Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry in 2004? Not yet.

Is there a smear campaign to undermine public confidence in Barack Obama’s patriotism and that of his wife? To say that he’s a Muslim and might be terrorist-friendly? Yup. Were they promulgated by Republicans? No, by Hillary Clinton supporters, actually. Will Republicans pick up the ball? Probably.

In other words: both sides, quit yer bitchin' - you're both pretty devious.

I think I agree with Mark, Jeff and Kip...

It may (or may not) have been more appropriate to insert my own thoughts on Mark's comments on John's post at the bottom of Mark's post, but I thought I'd put them up here since I'd rather not be poking around the work of others, even if the idea is well-intentioned. Mark, please feel free to move it anywhere you wish if you disagree.

John is right. Both the Left and the Right do take morally authoritarian positions on certain issues that matter to them, whether it be sexual activity or freedom of contract and seek to resolve matters through regulation or outright prohibition. I have never suggested otherwise. To be fair, I know John's comment to this effect was geared towards the discussion toward a libertarian alliance with the Left. If anything, it is a useful reminder. Another useful reminder is David Bernstein's recent op-ed, written in light of the Heller decision comparing liberal and conservative views of individual rights.

Mark is right. I say this because differences between libertarians and liberals (or conservatives in the days of fusionism) on state regulation of "virtue" is not enough to disqualify the possibility of an alliance. Substantial differences in opinion between traditional conservatives and libertarians (or perhaps classical liberals) did not keep Frank Meyer from attempting to seek common ground between traditionalists and libertarians. A strong enough issue or set of issues could be the impetus for an alliance today. As with fusionism, any liberal-libertarian will have its critics. This will be neither new nor surprising.

Kip is right. While I have not completely worked through the possibility of a left-libertarian alliance, I am skeptical because:

1) the notion of limiting the power and reach of government is still important to us and goes beyond issues involving surveillance or national security. This was, I think, the fundamental reason why the right-libertarian alliance has been severely undermined, if not fatally; and,

2) if David Bernstein's article is any indication on the differences between conservatives and liberals on individual rights, it is almost obvious who holds the upper hand and it is not the Left. I take no pleasure in this assessment. If we assume "civil liberties" as some subset of individual rights and people wish to run with it, so be it. If lefties start to take matters like economic liberty (freedom of contract) and private property rights more seriously, then I would be more enthusiastic than I am protecting a limited basket of rights one political persuasion believes is worthy of protecting above all else.

This is not to say that my mind would not change with further analysis, the passage of time or changing circumstances, but my quick take on the idea raises many questions. Mark has written more about this and I should probably take some time reading those arguments before I go any further.

(Ed. Note: Time of post edited by Mark to reflect actual posting time)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm ready for this election to be over.

I take John Cole's view on Wesley Clark's statement regarding the relevancy of being shot down and tortured to an individual's ability to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. In short, General Clark is correct on the specific statement. That makes all the ranting border on the hysterical. Predictable, perhaps, but still strange.

The worst example I've encountered, which is a key distinction here because I've actively avoided the outrage machine, comes from Andrew Sullivan in response to a reader's dissent. Mr. Sullivan writes (my emphasis added):

Strictly speaking, it is irrelevant for the presidency if someone was shot down and tortured. It doesn't make anyone a better potential president. But there are plenty of ways to put this and to frame this without descending to a default position that seems to devalue McCain's service. Clark is a dreadful politician and his off-the-cuff response, while technically true, is terrible politics and about the last debate Democrats need or should want to have. It has dominated a news cycle in ways that help McCain not Obama and drowned out Obama's patriotism speech. The only silver lining is that the small chance that Clark might be an Obama veep is now zero.
General Clark is correct in his statement. Mr. Sullivan is correct in acknowledging that General Clark's statement is "technically true" and terrible politics. I'm not here to refute the latter point because the rest of Gen. Clark's interview with Bob Schieffer was classic shill. So what? The question is whether we're really interested in an election that puts good politics ahead of the truth? Our unwillingness to deal with the truth because it's politically unpalatable is why we're in so many of the national messes we're in. I'm not interested in enabling that further by pretending like this matters. It's bad enough that we all have to play the game.

But what about the politics of this? The media has engaged itself in the long-standing narrative that Sen. McCain is a Hero™, so we can't question him. Why? One need not question his heroism, patriotism, or sacrifice to get at the present reality. His history is a facet of his application for the office of President. Because his experience is (thankfully) rare does not give him a free pass. If getting shot down and tortured contributes something to the merit of his qualification, let him explain why. But do not treat it as a given. There is a viable thread that his experience gives him unique, applicable experience. There is also a viable thread that it's not a requirement for the job. If one wants to be feisty, maybe his experience is even a knock on his fitness to be president because of how he processes it.


Semi-related, today Mr. Sullivan posts this general defense of Sen. Obama.
But Obama's post-primary pivot to neutralize all the usual GOP attacks - and reintroduce himself to Middle America - has been more than usually pronounced. He can live with FISA telecom immunity; he's flexible on troop withdrawal from Iraq; he's happy with executing child rapists; he doesn't need public financing; he'll out-patriot the Right; he's touting his support for welfare reform; he'll expand Bush's faith-based programs; and he's okay with the Supreme Court's view of the Second Amendment. Oh, and he'll reduce taxes on the middle class, while hiking them for the rich or successful or whatever you'll let me call them.
It's been clear for a long time: A man who beat the Clintons is as ruthless as they are. Just smarter, and less susceptible to losing his grip on the core principles he still believes in.
I don't question that Sen. Obama is an effective politician. This is why I think he'll be more ineffective in office than some want to believe. Being a gifted politician means getting what you want, but it also means making enemies. Hopefully he'll make enough in the Congress.

But I'm not able to decipher a coherent, consistent set of core principles in Sen. Obama's growing spectrum of public declarations. The telecoms broke the law. He won't advocate repealing campaign finance regulations. Faith-based programs miss the point of the First Amendment, among other problems. Adjusting the mix of financial "winners" and "losers" - a rejection of the idea that merit should mean something - ignores property rights and equal treatment under the law in favor of his idea of more equal outcomes. Narrow that down in a way that each set of facts can be filtered through through the same idea and I'll retract my criticism that he is not acting from core principles. Until then, let's not confuse winning with correct. Manipulating the message is great marketing, but it's hardly proof of a statesman.

Can Liberals "Leave Us Alone"?

John Schwenkler cautions that despite the concerns ECL and I have raised about social conservatives being part of a "Leave Us Alone Coalition," similar concerns can be raised on social issues about many/most mainstream liberals.

Before responding to John's thoughtful post, I want to say two important things: first, my various posts regarding my prediction of, and optimism about, a left/libertarian alliance are written on my behalf alone - I honestly don't know the extent to which ECL or any of my new co-authors agree or disagree with those sentiments. Second, I want to promote John's blog, Upturned Earth, of which I was unaware until just yesterday, but which is easily one of the most thoughtful conservative/libertarianish blogs around.

Turning back to John's critique, he observes:

"There is a whole host of issues near and dear to the hearts of many religious conservatives and other traditionalist types - from homeschooling and gun ownership to sex education, vouchers for parochial schools, and the freedom not to violate one’s own convictions in dealing with same-sex unions - where liberals and secularists decidedly are not willing to take up the same sorts of “tolerant” stances that they demand (with sadly little success) in response to their own choices."

He then goes on to argue that any left-libertarian coalition will need to account for this in order to be successful, and that in the process it may wind up, ironically, bringing social conservatives into the fold. I want to make a few points in response:

1. Although I firmly believe that a left-libertarian coalition of some sort is inevitable, I do not believe such a coalition will be permanent any more than the right-libertarian coalition is or was permanent. Political coalitions are constantly shifting; so the question isn't whether a coalition will be permanent or even particularly long-lasting, but rather whether it can exist in the foreseeable future.

2. The areas John identifies are most definitely areas where liberals are inclined to interfere with peoples' lives in a way that is quite unlibertarian. However, I don't think they are large enough issues to prevent some form of left-libertarian coalition, which would be primarily centered on civil liberties and foreign policy much as the Republican coalition that included libertarians was centered on anti-Communism (and, after the fall of Communism, on the Contract with America, which by its nature could only be a temporary unifier). In the Republican coalition, libertarians sacrificed quite a few values on secondary and tertiary issues in order to protect their then-primary issue of fighting socialism and central planning (broadly defined). As such, they were more willing to go along with foreign adventurism and social conservatism. Now that anti-Communism and the Contract with America no longer serve as very good umbrellas for protecting most libertarians' primary issues, those formerly secondary and tertiary issues (such as civil liberties and foreign policy) have moved or are moving to the forefront for many libertarians. Just as libertarians sacrificed some secondary and tertiary values to advance their then-primary values within the Republican coalition, they would inevitably sacrifice some secondary and tertiary values to advance their currently-primary values in the context of a liberal coalition. It may be that the issues John mentions would eventually destroy a left-libertarian coalition - but only if and when civil liberties and foreign policy ceased to be the unifying issue behind which libertarians and liberals could unite.

3. Despite point 2, above, I think the issues John mentions are issues on which Dems and liberals have been getting significantly better over time or which are likely to be non-issues in the long run.

On guns, the Heller ruling largely ends any fears that there would ever be a nationwide gun ban; moreover, the reaction amongst younger liberals to the Heller ruling was surprisingly calm, and as far as I could tell the majority of younger liberals were either ambivalent about the ruling or in many cases even supportive of it (older, dyed-in-the-wool liberal newspaper columnists were a different story).

On homeschooling and vouchers, I would point to David Friedman's support of Obama in part because he believes Obama is more sympathetic to those issues than previous liberals have been; I would also point to the debate I had this past winter with Kyle from Comments from Left Field, which shows that liberals are more flexible on the issue than perhaps they get credit for (this is not to say that they do or will soon support parochial vouchers, just that there is more flexibility on the issue than is widely perceived).

Sex education is not really a national issue. Moreover, once we accept that some sort of publicly mandated curriculum is going to exist no matter what we do, the exact strictures of that curriculum are not really a libertarian issue, though they may certainly be an issue for conservatives (for instance, most libertarians I know of think that abstinence education as an alternative to traditional sex ed is an awful idea).

Finally, on the issue of compelling government officials to preside over same-sex marriage or civil unions, I don't think the libertarian position is at all clear. To be sure, public officials do not give up their religion when they join the government. However, longstanding law (which no one has sought to overturn, and which is partly the result of liberal anti-discrimination laws) makes clear that government employees are entitled to "reasonable accommodation" of their religious beliefs. So, if someone else is available to perform a ceremony to which a government official is religiously opposed, the government official cannot be forced to perform the ceremony. However - and this is important - a government official's duty is to the law as it exists. If the official is so religiously opposed to the ceremony as to be unable to perform it, then he has no right to hold that position with the government if the result of his doing so is that a gay couple is unable to obtain their civil union. In refusing to perform the legal ceremony, the official - who, again, represents the government in his official capacity - is placing his religious viewpoint above the law, and is thereby violating basic church-state principles. Put another way - a government official, acting in an official, non-discretionary capacity, may not act in a way that favors his religious views over another's. But this is not an infringement of the government official's liberty, either: the official is still free to believe as he wishes; he is just not free to use his capacity as a government official to impose those beliefs to the detriment of others. Finally, I would add that a government official's presiding over a civil union cannot, in and of itself, violate that government official's religion, as civil unions and civil marriage are not religious institutions, but are rather legal contractual relationships.

4. There are still issues where liberals take a clear position in favor of government intrusiveness, and ultimately these issues may be areas that cause a split in any liberal-libertarian coalition. But these areas are not areas that are primary issues for most libertarians right now. The examples that come to mind first right now are the the War on Fat and smoking bans.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gods and Generals

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

Key 'graphs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(My emphasis)

Read the whole thing.

A Liberal for Barr?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Wing Political Correctness Strikes Again

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

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

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

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

More at memeorandum.

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

About that Leave Us Alone Coalition

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

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

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

As Congressman Frank wrote:

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

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

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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Songs of Freedom: The Return

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

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

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

A Liberal Case for Bob Barr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Also- John Schwenkler responds to this post, saying:

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