Friday, November 7, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Via John and Mona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Joe Must Go! Joe Must Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at memeorandum.

The (Slow) Rise of the Left-Libertarian Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

More at memeorandum.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Right's Busted Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

Via memeorandum.

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Odd Thought of the Night

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

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

Ron Paul Jumps The Shark

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

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

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

How I voted.

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

President: Bob Barr (Libertarian)

Senate: William Redpath (Libertarian)

House: Myself (libertarian)

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

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

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

Vote. Or don't.

Democrats Can Play Dirty, Too!

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

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

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

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

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