The Case for None of The Above

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

It seems almost unfair that my fellow contributors should get such difficult assignments, while I get such an easy one. Not only do I get to write up the clear and obvious choice for liberty lovers, I also get the last word in our forum. So be it! But look back on them fondly, and remember that they did their best to scratch out a case from the most meager materials in anyone’s living memory.

On with it then: if you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president. Spend your November 8 working, or mowing the lawn, or reading poems, or just lazing about generally. If you are one of those with the pathological need to waste half of an otherwise enjoyable and productive day on a fool’s errand, then educate yourself on your state and local elections and vote in them, as your conscience leads. But when it comes to the top slot, you should vote None of the Above, or write in the fictional character of your choice.

The reason for this is simple. In our electoral system, a vote is a binary state. It’s either a 1 or a 0, a yes or a no. You may think you’re casting your vote for the lesser of two evils, but all the parties will see is that you approved of their candidate enough to bother voting for him or her. In this election, of all elections, to cast a vote for president — whether you opt for D, or R, or even L — is to assist in the euthanasia of contemporary libertarianism.

If you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president.

Judging from our reader feedback, people here don’t need much convincing that Hillary Clinton should not be president. The great tragedy of her life was being born into a society with a few barriers still in place against naked political ambition; under more amenable circumstances, she’d have made a superb tinpot dictator. Her core characteristic is an absolute certainty that she is, at all times, both right and good; her preeminent political skill is surrounding herself with others who attest, at all times, to her rightness and goodness.

The defining mark of her political career to date is incompetence. In her first big assignment, she not only failed to sell single-payer health care to a Congress controlled by her own party, she also (perhaps more so than any other single person) set in motion the 1994 Republican takeover. As the junior senator from New York, Clinton voted for the military action in Afghanistan that continues to this day, for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization, and for what is so far the single greatest blunder of the 21st-century, the Iraq War Resolution. Though she claims this last, at least, was a mistake, her time as Secretary of State showed she has learned precisely no lessons about the follies of nation-building and regime change in the Middle East: she continued to advocate ever greater Afghan commitments; she spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya; she strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, likely selling them the weapons they are using now to massacre Yemeni dissidents; and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — all in the name of humanitarian intervention.

Clinton’s plans for this country are no less enlightened and benevolent. She is the candidate of the entrenched, of the moneyed, of the would-be oligarchs and autocrats, and if you are not one of them, then you are already reprobate. In any normal election, she would have been kneecapped in the primary (and could well have, if not for an outrageous campaign of slander by the DNC against Bernie Sanders), or massacred in the general — but she has the immense good fortune of facing a bumptious, bigoted buffoon. Still, while a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against Donald Trump, it is also a vote for the status quo, for every condescension and indignity visited upon the demos by its appointed betters. It’s a vote for a system of bailouts, handouts, drones, and wars — a system hermetically sealed against outside thought.

Clinton spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya, strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Russia.

As for that buffoon: Donald Trump is a lifelong conman with a history of false dealing and shoddy investments. When individuals have stood in the way of his gaudy real estate projects, he has always turned to the power of the state to get his way. He is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him — something which happens alarmingly often for someone with designs on becoming Commander-in-Chief. Though it was fun to watch him rip into the puffy nobodies on the Republican primary stage, he embarrassed himself rising to Clinton’s bait every time out: one can only imagine how an actually capable world leader — Angela Merkel, for sure, but also Xi Jinping, or Putin himself, for that matter — would twist President Trump around their fingers.

It’s hard to know how Trump would govern domestically because, like his opponent, it appears his only constant belief is in his own abilities. Were he not the GOP standard bearer, he would likely be a Clinton donor — as he has been in the past. But in order to present himself as opposed to the milquetoast Northeast liberalism that enables failed sons like himself to play around with their parents’ money, Trump adopted the pose of a revanchist crusader, someone who could, by sheer dint of personality, restore the country to a greatness that never existed in anything like the visions he conjures.

You don’t have to take the word of Trump’s opponents to see how dangerous this is — just look at the list of those who have endorsed him: the head of the American Nazi Party; the publisher of the Daily Stormer, the central neo-Nazi newspaper; the founder of Stormfront, the largest white supremacist web community; the national organizer of the Klan-affiliated Knights Party; the founders of white nationalist websites American Renaissance, VDARE, and Occidental Dissent . . . the list goes on, and that’s before getting to more mainstream groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, whose national board has enthusiastically backed the man promising to ramp up police militarization and institute a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy. A vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary Clinton, yes, but it is also a vote for the sort of stupid, swaggering, strongman authority that is inimical to liberty — and for the conman exploiting that attitude to funnel money toward his personal brand. Trump has never in his life dealt in good faith; he isn’t doing so now, and he will not at any time in the future.

Trump is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him.

Gary Johnson is a different matter. Unlike the aforementioned, he doesn’t seem to be a horrible person. Certainly he is forthcoming about his own limitations, likely to a fault. He comes off as, and may well be, a bit of a dolt; the compensation for that should involve meticulous preparation and drilling, but all too often Johnson seems taken by surprise when the spotlight’s on him — this election has exposed a particular weakness in foreign policy, especially when he could not identify Aleppo, the city at the center of the Syrian civil war, and when he could not name a single foreign head of state, let alone one he admired.

Still, he would be manifestly the best president out of the three. I made the case for Johnson in 2012, believing that his nomination represented a rare chance for the Libertarian Party to make headway in an election between two fairly unpopular candidates. So what has changed to make me retract, in a year of greater opportunity? The short answer is “Bill Weld.” The longer answer is also “Bill Weld,” but with a complete loss of confidence in Johnson’s judgment.

I have no particular beef with Weld; he doesn’t seem to have been any worse a governor than most others, and his experience and cachet should have meant instant legitimacy for a party that has struggled for it in the past. Johnson, in fact, insisted on Weld’s importance to the ticket, pleading with the crowd at the party convention, “Please, please give me Weld. Please. Please!” Whatever success the LP gained, he said, would hinge on Weld’s connections and fundraising prowess. All fine and good — until Weld started using his media appearances to, essentially, endorse Clinton.

Libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure.

By that point, the campaign had already missed its stretch goal — to poll at 15% or higher, and thus get a space in the televised debates. But since late September, the polls have dipped from a consistent 7–9% to less than 5%; if those numbers hold, then the LP will miss out on perhaps its only chance at federal matching funds for a future cycle — in which case they might as well have stuck with a vice-presidential candidate who wouldn’t sell out the party or its message. Johnson didn’t lack for choices, several of which could have shored up support with a potential future voter base. Instead it’s Weld, who would surprise nobody by returning to the Republicans (or turning Democrat) by the time 2017 rolls around. How can you expect people to cast a protest vote for a ticket whose own VP doesn’t support it?

In isolation, it seems like yet another exploitation and betrayal of LP goodwill. But it also shines a harsher light on Johnson's campaign missteps. Take his “Aleppo moment” — never mind that the press members crowing over the gaffe would themselves have had no clue about the place even a month earlier: it was an obsession of the press that week, and someone connected to the campaign should have been aware of that. If there’s no one doing that job, all the Welds in the world aren’t going to make the LP succeed on center stage. Make no mistake: in today’s US, libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure. The American political system is hardwired for two parties, and this wiring is reinforced by the reflexive dismissal of anything outside that central, ersatz rivalry; just look at how Trump and Clinton surrogates try to convince third-party voters that they’re actually voting for the hated enemy. A vote for Johnson/Weld endorses a libertarianism that accepts the validity of this system, and its own perpetually subordinate place within.

In this world we are surrounded and constantly manipulated by those who want to press-gang us into their schemes, as well as those who enable the press-gangers. Election Day offers one of the very rare chances to show our disgust with the entire charade. Tell them to go to hell! And make November 8 something truly worth celebrating: an average Tuesday, to do with as you like.



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The Case for Donald Trump

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

Donald Trump is not a libertarian. He’s not even a conservative. He’s an old-fashioned National Democrat, reminiscent in his politics of the Kennedy generation.

This is something that makes me swallow twice before recommending a vote for him. If you don’t believe in giving your support to anyone who doesn’t share all your views on the major issues, you probably won’t even vote for Gary Johnson. I’m sure you won’t see a Disney movie (think of what the Disney corporation stands for!) or use a Microsoft product. But if you see voting as one of the choices we typically make in life, a choice between the worst and something not the worst, you won’t vote for the worst. You won’t vote for Hillary Clinton. You will try to stop her.

The Clinton-Obama-Clinton dynasty has established a giant political machine, the most potent in American history. It is filled with people who salivate for power and are ruthless in using it.

If you see voting as one of the choices we typically make in life, a choice between the worst and something not the worst, you won’t vote for the worst.

These are the people who never saw a tax they didn’t like — or a crony capitalist, or a race hustler, or a PC censor, or a global-warming scammer, or a country-club Republican, or an international meddler, or a regulator of any shape or size.

These are the people who have fanatically withheld all information they could about the workings of the government, whether it related to the miserable tenure of Ms. Clinton as Secretary of State or to the dark deeds of the IRS, the FBI, the military brass, and the regulatory agencies.

These are the people whose “dream” is an America with “open borders” — as Mrs. Clinton said, and then claimed she was thinking about border-free electronic communication, not future voters for her friends.

These are the people who fight to the death against the idea that voters should have to identify themselves — I wonder why? Is it because the voters in question plan to vote Libertarian? I doubt it.

These are the people who claim that illegal immigrants receive no welfare — except, of course, for schools, roads, legal protection, affirmative action, college scholarships, and other benefits that the so-called liberals continually try to increase, to generate votes for their party. (Note to Libertarian Party members: this is exactly what all libertarian savants from Murray Rothbard to Milton Friedman meant when they said that you cannot have open immigration in a welfare state. And by supporting open immigration, you are signing your own death warrant as a party.)

These are the people who have used “free trade” to enrich their international cronies, caring nothing about an American working class that is fast becoming a chronic welfare class.

These are the people who view the deficit as an enormous slush fund, useful for rewarding their party’s friends, relying on a crony banking system to keep the scheme going by repressing interest rates.

These are the people who have used “free trade” to enrich their international cronies, caring nothing about an American working class that has lost jobs and income at a rate unmatched since the 1930s — a working class that is fast becoming a chronic welfare class.

These are the people who are prepared to stock the Supreme Court with partisan judges who will permanently institutionalize every power-grab of the political class.

These are the people who have a foreign policy as bellicose as that of the Bush Republicans, though with somewhat different targets, people who succeeded in destabilizing large areas of the Middle East and remain willing to destabilize any place to which their Messiah complex attracts them.

These are the people who take millions in Saudi money and kowtow to Iran, in the shadow of gay men swinging from Iranian gallows and women ground beneath the heel of the Clintons’ Arab donors.

These are the people who have succeeded in destabilizing large areas of the Middle East and remain willing to destabilize any place to which their Messiah complex attracts them.

These are the people who lie to you, who hold you in contempt, and who are now on the point of consolidating themselves in power.

Are you going to vote against them?

A vote for the Libertarian Party is not a vote. It is an expression of opinion, and as such, honorable. But a voteis a political, not an expressive, device. A vote is supposed to do something, or keep something from being done. The Clinton regime laughs at expressive votes. It hopes you will go ahead and express yourself by voting for anyone except a person who would check the Clintons’ power.

That person is Donald Trump.




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The Trash Pile

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I know it’s my duty to conduct a thorough review of language used in the 2016 presidential campaign, to assess the major features of this language, and to make appropriate recommendations for improvement. If I accepted that duty, I could answer all requests for information by saying, “I can’t comment; the review is ongoing” — until everybody forgot the whole thing. But I’m sorry: I can’t do it; I can’t conduct that review. The subject is too disgusting. Besides, it would take a book the size of Ulysses, and even more tedious, to sort this trash out.

As with most collections of garbage, however, one sees a few particularly large and unpleasant objects jutting out of the pile, and one feels one ought to notice them. A prominent feature of the current collection is that typical Donald Trump locution: “I gotta tell ya, it was definitely a catastrophe — definitely. Definitely a catastrophe, folks, one hundred percent — an unbelievable catastrophe. And we’re gonna fix it. Definitely. It will be fixed. This incredible catastrophe.” And who could fail to notice and abhor Hillary Clinton’s habitual tone (a grating noise, followed by shrieks) and facial language (the apotheosis of smug)? I was often sickened by Trump’s unbelievable ability to ignore the obvious arguments on his behalf, and Clinton’s chronic use of concept creep; e.g.: Trump makes fun of an idiot female TV personality; Clinton therefore denounces Trump as anti-woman; Trump responds to gross abuse directed at him by a Muslim father whose son was killed in the American armed services; Clinton therefore denounces Trump as opposed to all Muslims and gold-star families. It must have taken an army of Googlers just to resurrect that phrase.

Without such revelations, the Clinton machine would still be gliding across the landscape, covered both with filthy lucre and with the aura of progressive saintliness.

As with all reeking piles of trash, one tries to pass these things with averted gaze. But one knows that either Clinton or Trump will be everywhere during the next four years, emitting even more noxious fumes.

One also knows that, occasionally, something useful gets thrown in the trash. I hope that certain ways-with-words can be rescued from the catastrophe of this year’s campaign. One is Ben Carson’s warm but precise mode of speech, which is always that of a real person talking to other real persons. Another is Carly Fiorina’s way of getting rapidly to the point, and to the actual evidence, with a minimum amount of rhetorical nonsense. Yet another is Donald Trump’s (yes, Donald Trump’s) willingness to say openly what almost everybody understands privately.

My other hope is that detailed revelations of what has really been said or written in the caverns of power will continue to be made, as the result either of lawsuits or of direct action, as the communists used to call it. (By direct action I mean Wikileaks.) People now see this modern version of Laputa more or less for what it is, even if they plan to vote for it. That’s a big improvement, despite the votes. Almost no one thinks that any power Mrs. Clinton gets will be legitimate.

But shouldn’t I regret the thefts of information by which the secrets of this machine have been made known? Shouldn’t I discuss the great moral issue of prying into other people’s secrets?

I don’t think so. I suspect that few people come to this column expecting advice about morality. If they do, they had better go someplace else. I simply want to suggest that there is a difference between (A) publishing secret information that may, when exposed, subvert legitimate government or get innocent people killed, (B) publishing private information that is nobody’s business to learn, and (C) publishing the dark and immoral sayings that pass within such things as National Committees, Departments of State, Federal Bureaus of Investigation, and the armies of hacks that such grotesque entities as those employ to bamboozle the public. Revealing the dirty communications of Mrs. Clinton’s toadies (C) is very different from publishing the codes to atomic missiles (A), or hacking into the life of somebody who works the counter at the DMV (B). I don’t like the DMV. In fact, whenever I think of Hillary Clinton I think of the DMV, because that is her ideal of government. But I believe I can see a moral difference.

I grew up when the Most Respected dispenser of news was Walter Cronkite, a bubblehead with a good voice and presence.

I’m talking about the struggle for information between the people and the Establishment. The term “Establishment” became prominent in America during the agitation of the 1960s. It was in that agitation that the modern Democratic Party and its current standard-bearer acquired their remarkable hunger for power. The self-righteous, rich-kid, elitist “liberalism” of the 1960s and 1970s eventually solidified into the stone-faced statism of the 2010s. It solidified in the form not only of the Democratic Party leadership but of the immense crowd of government employees, crony capitalists, know-nothing academics, politicized “faith leaders,” do-gooders on the take, officials of teachers’ unions, college activists, professional ethnics, gender mongers, grand old men of journalism, persons interviewed on NPR, and all the other tools who get money and prestige from the modern liberal state and in return surrender their identity to its rulers. A prominent feature of our political era is the paucity of public dissent, the rarity of defection from the vast Establishment. Nobody gets fired, and nobody departs in protest. This is something very unusual, and very ominous in American history. And no one who still has a brain will deny that 90% of the media, the people whose careers are supposedly dedicated to the disinterested pursuit of truth, are violent advocates of the Establishment.

I grew up in the days of three government-licensed television networks and a full constellation of newspapers whose major moral purpose was to keep the populace anesthetized. I grew up when the Most Respected dispenser of news was Walter Cronkite, a bubblehead with a good voice and presence. Despite the credit he took (much later) for having somehow, in some subtle way, criticized the Vietnam War, I remember my childish revulsion when I turned on the family TV and heard the perfectly bloodless way in which Cronkite reported every move of the Johnson administration to “beef up our forces in Vietnam.”

Beef up. Even as a kid, I sensed there was something vile about that kind of language, and the inhumanly elitist state of mind it represented. Even I was bright enough to notice that the Establishment media, which were the media of the time, were interested in absolutely no criticism of, or even discussion about, the rightness of such minor matters as conscription, the confiscatory income tax, government schools, labor unions, Social Security, “urban renewal” (i.e., tearing the heart from cities in order to “improve” them), the war on recreational drugs, the imprisonment of gays . . . Need I go on?

President Kennedy womanized on a vast scale, and invited members of the press to participate (which they did), and no word leaked out. Quite the contrary; the media fawned on him as the greatest living embodiment of family values. His family was continuously presented as an Example to Us All. Only its absolutely inescapable sins were reported. When one of his brothers left a young woman to drown after a drunken auto accident, doing nothing except trying to cover up his own involvement, the matter was reported, but the approved assessment was that the poor kid (a member of the US Senate, aged 37) had already suffered enough.

Even as a kid, I sensed there was something vile about that kind of language, and the inhumanly elitist state of mind it represented.

I’m saying these things because I don’t want to lapse into the common illusion that there was once a golden age of American journalism. People who think there was are ordinarily so mired in the cultural Establishment that they confuse journalistic objectivity with journalists’ occasional crusades against an enemy of the Establishment (e.g., Senator Joseph McCarthy). But despite my firsthand knowledge of this history, I am still disgusted by the violent affection of the media for Hillary Clinton. I can see, very well, why people might not like Donald Trump, but it’s literally unimaginable to me that Mrs. Clinton should be liked by anyone, much less by journalists, whose ostensible mission is to discover truth and expose lies. Nothing is more obvious than the fact that when Hillary Clinton tells the truth, it’s an accident, and that she has surrounded herself with hundreds of people whose function is to mislead the public on every possible occasion. This has apparently escaped the attention of the classy media, but it has not escaped mine, and I know it has not escaped yours either.

What fascinates me is how anyone can distort the news with such singleminded absorption as we have seen in the current campaign — while still imagining that nobody can perceive what’s going on. I’m sure you’ve collected as many examples as I have. Perhaps you’ve found some of them in the media’s coverage of Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. At the beginning of his campaign, the LP appeared in the modern-liberal media, if it ever did appear, as a sad collection of weirdos. Then magically, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it became a respected protest against the vileness of the Right. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about the complete lack of concern among the media, which are religiously anti-war, about Clinton’s long record of going on the warpath — against Iraq, against Syria, against Libya, against Egypt, and now against Russia — and the ecstasy she has found in killing her enemies.

Maybe you’re thinking about a lot, and so am I. But at this moment, I’m reflecting on something comparatively minor. On the morning of October 8, the day after embarrassing revelations were made about both Trump and Clinton (the revelation of Trump’s remarks about propositioning women, and the first verbatim reports of Clinton’s secret Wall Street speeches), I looked at the six Top Stories on Google News. Four of the six — Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5 — were anti-Trump. Magically, as if there were some kind of conspiracy or coordinated action or obedience to Clinton’s daily talking points, they were all advertising the Establishment or Country Club Republicans who were trying to get Trump to leave the race. No. 4 was about Hurricane Matthew, then traveling up the East Coast — a matter of actual moment for ordinary people. No. 6 returned to Trump. That one was about the dog-bites-man topic of foreign financial bigwigs not liking restrictive trade policies, such as those advocated by him. Other anti-Trump stories appeared beneath the “Top” — plenty of them. You had to go down to No. 21 before finding a story about Clinton’s latest scandal.

Nothing is more obvious than the fact that when Hillary Clinton tells the truth, it’s an accident.

But here’s a pivot, as the media like to say. Let’s consider a campaign speech that President Obama made on October 14. Trying to make fun of anti-Establishment media, Obama said, “Look, if I watched Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me.”

This is one of the few really funny things that Obama, a man with a microscopic sense of humor, has ever said. But try it this way: “Look, if I read the New York Times, Iwould certainly vote for me.” It isn’t funny, is it? But why not?

Comedy requires surprise. It isn’t a surprise that people who read the NYT support Obama, and people who follow Fox do not. The surprise is the idea that Obama himself would be persuaded by Fox, if he ever deigned to watch it. He stipulated that he has “more diverse sources of information” (ranging, I believe, from Rolling Stone to Golf Digest), which prevent him from succumbing to the charms of Fox and similar media. But this is really a joke about Obama’s own gullibility, his willingness to be influenced — and the secondary surprise is that he appears to be too dumb to realize how his own joke works. What he thought he was joking about, as suggested by the rest of his speech, is the large proportion of the American people who are stupid enough to listen to Fox and other alternative media, instead of to himself. But if that’s his intended message, why does he think it’s funny?

As many people have noted, the Left, once rich in humor, often of an earthy kind, is now as dour and humorless as the pitchfork in “American Gothic.” Hence “political correctness” — the Left’s crusade for conformity, the crusade that everyone else has been laughing at for decades. The Establishment still can’t see the joke. That’s how stupid, how blankly stupid, it is. If you look at Google News or listen to “All Things Considered,” you know that alleged microaggressions, almost always committed against people with lawyers, will be the subject of constant and grave meditation, while the desperate condition of poor people’s lives and property in cities operated as monopolies of the modern-liberal party will rarely be mentioned — and when it is, responsibility will immediately be assigned to everyone except the modern-liberal party. For me, it’s hard to think of a contemporary rhetoric that is more inhuman — less motivated by actual human problems.

The surprise is the idea that Obama himself would be persuaded by Fox, if he ever deigned to watch it.

If the present campaign showed nothing else, it showed the true size and shape of the Establishment, from such geniuses of the GOP as John McCain, James Comey, and Mitt Romney to such guardians of one-speak as the NYT and the Washington Post. Even Geraldo Rivera, who blustered for a while about having tapes of Donald Trump saying worse things than he said to Billy Bush, finally showed that he can tell a hawk from a handsaw. On October 14, Geraldo commented: “I have never — and I’ve been around a long time — ever, ever seen the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times or the Washington Post — be so partisan in terms of their involvement.”

Ainsley Earhardt, Rivera’s collocutor on that morning’s Fox News conversation, added that “on Thursday night, ABC, NBC, and CBS all devoted a significant amount of time to the allegations [of Trump’s sexual misconduct] — up to nine minutes on ABC and NBC and five minutes on CBS, while only devoting seconds — 30 on ABC, 26 on CBS and none on NBC — to Wikileaks’ leaked Clinton emails.” Rivera continued: “Did you see the New York Times this morning? There was no mention of Wikileaks that I could find in the whole first, in the whole A section.”

When it comes to words, this is the big news: no mention. But I have a feeling that, no matter which bizarre presidential candidate wins this election, no mention will not be a permanently viable option during the next four years.




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What if I “Identify” as Me?

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There’s been plenty of talk, lately, about how people “identify.” You identify as male; I identify as female. You’re straight; I’m gay. You like Pepsi; I like Coke. You say “tomato,” and I say “to-mah-to.”

This can very quickly get silly. You might identify as a tomato. I think it might be loads of fun to identify as Wonder Woman. But if I start skipping around my neighborhood in a tiara, star-spangly bra, and go-go boots and proclaiming that I’m a superheroine, they’ll come and take me away. No “ha-ha” about it.

The problem with all this identifying is that none of the people so adamant about doing it seem to identify as individual selves. They’re all picking a team. I could wear a lot of different labels if I chose, but I identify simply as me. These days, that makes me a weirdo.

If we can be whipped into a frenzy by the exhortations of any politician, we’ve got identity-mania. And bad.

Of course there are a few genuine weirdos busy at that game. A young woman in Norway has publicly declared that she identifies as a cat. Occasionally we run across a story about some adult who’s chosen to identify as an infant and crawl around the house in a diaper, gnawing on a pacifier. We shake our heads, and maybe we very sadly laugh. Cases like these are so extreme that we might be tempted to forget just how common identify-mania really is.

Many people fail to realize that they’ve caught the disease. But here’s a handy diagnostic tool. If we can be whipped into a frenzy by the exhortations of any politician, we’ve got it. And bad.

Conservative pundits have coined their own term for it. They call it “identity politics.” Of course those they accuse of this failing all land neatly on the other side of the political divide. But as the runaway-train presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump clearly illustrates, the contagion has spread to the right.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with advocating our own best interests. Nor do I mean to imply that everyone who votes for Trump is an angry white male of middle age or older, or will necessarily be driven by pure emotion. But as a libertarian, I can find nothing to like about his authoritarian, big-government-is-magic positions. It would be irresponsible for me to cast my ballot for him just because I think he’s been ill-treated by the media, or because I detest the people who detest him.

My attitude toward my fellow Americans is that they’re OK with me as long as they don’t push me around or steal from me.

It certainly is tempting, however, to root for a candidate as obsessively vilified as Donald Trump. I’m tired of being told how outraged I’m supposed to be every time he opens his mouth. His critics in the media are a ghastly gallery of horror-movie clowns. Their instructions to us about our civic duties are a sick joke. And their fawning over Hillary Clinton makes me want to vomit.

My attitude toward my fellow Americans — regardless of the demographic group to which they belong — is that they’re OK with me as long as they don’t push me around or steal from me. I don’t believe that my best interests are at odds with other people’s nearly as often as the demagogues claim. I think that claim is a divide-and-conquer tactic, designed to keep us at odds with one another. I also believe that the political hustlers who commonly make it are the scum of the earth. No matter what party they happen to represent, they’re unworthy of my vote.

The only time when they want to make us feel (as opposed to think) is when they are trying to put something over on us — which, in my opinion, is nearly all the time. Whenever politicians attempt to manipulate my emotions, I assume they’re trying to bamboozle me. Experience has shown me that I am seldom wrong.

The notion that because I can be lumped into a particular demographic group, I owe my vote to a candidate who transparently tries to play me like a fiddle, is just plain weird. It’s as strange as a young woman who’s decided she’s a cat, or a middle-aged man who spends all day in a giant crib. It’s pathetic weird. It’s deranged weird. It is, very frankly, unworthy-of-being-an-American weird.

If we are peace-loving people, and habitually mind our own business, we need be at odds with no one except those who would push us around or steal from us. They are the enemies of anyone who wants to live a happy life. If we think Donald Trump is the best candidate, then by all means we should vote for him. My thinking has led me to support Gary Johnson. Though if she were running, I’d certainly go for Wonder Woman.




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Is It the Cover-Up, or the Crime?

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On October 8 appeared a tape of Donald Trump’s indecent remarks about how to deal with attractive women — a tape justifying Democratic attacks on the crudeness of his character. At virtually the same hour emerged partial transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s secret remarks to Wall Street about her dream of “open borders” and her possession of two “positions,” one public and one private — transcripts justifying Republican assertions about her habit of lying to the public.

These revelations will be a test of the purported wisdom, repeated ad nauseam by political professionals, that what counts is “not the crime but the cover-up.” Trump would certainly have wanted to cover up the tape, but he may not have known it existed. Clinton labored mightily to cover up her private speeches, thereby creating a long-running campaign issue against herself, but the cover-up was palpably less important than what she actually said.

We’ll see whether real people, as opposed to pundits and spin artists (is there a difference?), see it this way. Simultaneously we can test the truth of an even more drearily repeated slogan, “All politics is local” — because in no way are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton “local.” They live on Mars, not in Springfield, USA.

There’s a third cliché that’s interesting. Will the American people continue to “suffer fools gladly”?




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The Great Debate

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Only my devotion to journalism made me watch the Clinton-Trump debate. It’s not my idea of fun to observe the collision of two giant gasbags somewhere above Long Island. And, as many people have pointed out, the meaning of such events, if any, ordinarily emerges not from what actually happened but from what was spun out of it, later.

So color me bored and irritated, before the thing even started.

The following is what your bored and irritated correspondent thought he observed. I’ll make it snappy, since you probably observed the damn debate yourself and have just as much right to an opinion as I have.

  1. In response to the introductory question about creation of jobs, Clinton revealed her conviction that you can do it by funding daycare, paying students’ way through college, and “making the rich pay their fair share.” Trump asserted that foreign countries are “stealing our jobs,” but Clinton returned to the idea of taxing the rich. She accused Trump of having “started [in business] with $14 million he received from his father.” She claimed that the economic collapse of 2008 had been created by a low-tax policy. She then began a long rant about government-sponsored “clean energy” creating millions of jobs.
     
  2. Responding to Trump’s verbal jabs about her failure to do anything good about the economy during her long career, Clinton smirked in a way I have often seen from schoolteachers who aren’t very bright. She then uncorked one of the most superior laughs I have ever seen, thus confirming one’s worst impressions of her character. She kept this up throughout the debate. She also continued her chronic habit of nodding her head while hearing things she disagrees with but cannot figure out how to respond to — for instance, Trump’s accusation that she had invented, or popularized, the term “’super-predator,” as applied to “black youths.”
     
  3. Trump frequently interrupted Clinton with little sarcastic remarks, to which the sworn-to-silence audience frequently made a favorable response. But I was wondering how, when Clinton brought up Trump’s failure to reveal his tax returns, he didn’t ask her why she hasn’t revealed the texts of the speeches she gave to Wall Street crony capitalists in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Didn’t he listen to Bernie Sanders’ successful attacks on her about that? Accused of initially supporting the Iraq war, Trump failed to mention the fact that Hillary voted for the war. He failed to mention, a propos the job-creation issue, that she bragged about her intention of putting coal miners out of their jobs. At other times, however, he provided facts (mainly about his own economic proposals) that were much more specific than hers.
     
  4. Clinton tried to popularize a catchphrase for Trump’s economic plan. The phrase seems to have been her idea of the one thing the audience should take home with them. The phrase was “Trumped-up trickle-down.” I rate that a failure.
     
  5. “Moderator” Lester Holt’s questions were filled with attempted zingers against Trump — such as a reiterated question about his birtherism — but none that I perceived against Clinton. In the second half of the event, Holt began to do “no, you’re wrong” “fact checking” against Trump, as advocated by the Clinton forces. I did not perceive him doing that against Clinton. To use a Trumpian word, Holt was a disaster. At many junctures, he seemed to be channeling Clinton.
     
  6. Trump made a clever transition from a question about internet security to a reminder that the hacking of the DNC revealed Clinton’s mistreatment of Sanders. Why, I wondered, didn’t he ask her why she, of all people, had been commenting with assurance about the security of electronic communications?
     
  7. Trump cleverly obscured his lack of thoughtfulness about nuclear war by discussing it in terms that no one could interpret.
     
  8. Hillary not so cleverly asserted — almost at the end, as if she thought that nothing else had worked — that Trump regards women as “pigs and dogs.”

The Summing Up:

Trump used the words disaster and unbelievable a lot, but most of his favorite verbal tics were absent, showing a degree of self-control that must have been heroic. He didn’t make a fool of himself, although he came close when he went off on a tangent about his “winning temperament,” as opposed to Clinton’s bad temperament, as witnessed in her remarkable “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” speech. He didn’t clearly identify the speech, so the uninformed were left to wonder, “What the hell is he talking about?” Hillary didn’t shriek like a maniac, which makes me wonder who on her staff had the unenviable job of telling her that she usually shrieks like a maniac.

I’ll agree with Charles Krauthammer’s instant analysis and call the thing a draw, although I’m not quite sure what I mean by that. Neither of them did demonstrably better than the other, although the media immediately started chattering about Clinton being on the offensive and Trump on the defensive. Each showed the ability to confirm the preexisting opinions of supporters. Since Trump was the underdog, he probably got a marginal advantage from his almost patient endurance of Clinton’s enormous sense of superiority. For me, the most memorable part of the debate was his comment, “She’s got experience, but it’s bad experience.” That doesn’t go far to compensate me for an hour and a half lost from what otherwise would have been a richer and fuller life.




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Low-Hanging Fruit

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This season abounds in low-hanging fruit, linguistic atrocities that are easy to spot, at least for people like us. Let’s grab a few.

On September 8, I gazed into the depths of my cellphone and discovered this headline from the New York Daily News: “Mont. Senator’s nephew found brutally slayed at home.” That’s a brutal dispatch of “slain,” anyway.

A week or so before, I’d discovered that Chris Brown, the singer, claimed he was being “unfairly demonized” because of a scrape with police. As bad a talker as Brown is — and that’s about as bad as you can get — this doesn’t appear to be what he himself said. It’s what the Los Angeles Times said (August 31). But maybe people are fairly demonized every day, and it just doesn’t get reported.

Two days before that, the other Times, the one in New York, reported the following about the fun couple, Anthony Weiner, former congressman and campaigner for the mayoralty of New York, and Huma Abedin, Chelsea Clinton’s shadow:

A documentary, “Weiner,” released in May, traced the disastrous campaign and the effects on Ms. Abedin, who is shown near tears after the revelations were publicly revealed. (August 29)

And no wonder — revelations are bad enough, but it’s terrible when they get revealed.

Hitting the Huma trail on the same day, CNN Politics supplied this information:

Abedin is Clinton’s most well known aide. While Clinton works the ropeline after events, Abedin is always close behind and Clinton supporters regularly ask the aide for selfies with her, much like they do with the candidate. (August 29)

Few of our otherwise omniscient news providers are aware of the fact that the superlative of “well” is “best”; hence, the phrase in the first sentence of the passage just quoted should be best known, and never most well known, which is exactly what a third-grader would come up with. Similarly, third-graders usually do not realize that “like” is a preposition, not a conjunction, and therefore cannot introduce a clause (“they do”). Adults, particularly adults in the word business, ought to know better, but we see that they don’t.

Maybe people are fairly demonized every day, and it just doesn’t get reported.

Many sad events, or sad reports, seem to have happened in late August. Here’s a report originally dated August 25 and attributed variously to the Associated Press and Reuters. It’s about a Bolivian politician, Rodolfo Illanes, who . . . well, see for yourself: the report says that Illanes went

to Panduro, 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of the La Paz, where the strikers [miners rebelling against the government’s refusal to allow them to work for private companies] have blockaded a highway since Monday, to open a dialogue.

When I was in the eighth grade, more or less, I desperately wanted to move to Bolivia. I’d been reading books about Incas and such. Somehow I discovered that you could write to the State Department for “advisories” about living conditions in other countries, and I acquired the advisory for Bolivia. My lazy heart leaped when I found that on the Altiplano one could hire a maid for $20 a month, but it sank at the news that the maid would need to hang the food from the ceiling, to keep non-human fauna from devouring it. That ended my dreams of Bolivia, but it did not end my knowledge that the seat of government (though not the constitutional capital) of Bolivia is La Paz, that “Paz” means “peace,” and that “la” means “the.” So my heart sank again when I saw the place being called, by someone more ignorant than I was in the eighth grade, “the La Paz.”

So, maybe it’s a typo. Maybe. Strangely, however, the typo remained when I checked the report four days later. By then it had been reproduced by the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Seattle Times, the Chicago Tribune, and, of course, the New York Times. All of their texts remained unchanged after four days. Either no one had reported the error, because no one actually reads these papers, or people had reported it, but the papers paid no heed. Obviously, they’ll print (and keep) any damned thing their wire services send them.

Adults, particularly adults in the word business, ought to know better, but we see that they don’t.

I take this as significant evidence of the intellectual nullity of the American press. Confirmation is provided by the inanity of the report itself. Sr. Illanes was seized by the protestors and beaten to death, perhaps also tortured before he died. That’s a hell of a reward for an attempt to “open a dialogue.” But can it be that as the agent of a crazed Castroite president, Illanes had actually shown up to deliver orders and threats? The report might, conceivably, have addressed that question. But certainly the guy wasn’t there to administer hugs and say, “I’m OK; you’re OK; let’s dialogue!” I seem to remember that when the nuts took over Bolivia, American journalists were very interested in this great new attempt to construct a socialist state. Now that the attempt has resulted in nothing but the further impoverishment of the country, journalistic curiosity has dissipated. What was the government agent doing? Oh, probably he was trying to open a dialogue.

Here’s news that’s closer to home. On September 10, and running all day, the following contribution to public knowledge was made by CNN. It’s one of the network’s many attempts to recontextualize Mrs. Clinton’s nauseating “basket of deplorables” statement, thereby rescuing her from the charge of lunacy. “Clinton’s comments,” said the CNN authors,

amounted to startlingly blunt talk for a candidate who is usually measured in her assessment of the Republican nominee.

Although Clinton has accused Trump of racism before, she has never explicitly called him a racist. Last month, she delivered a major speech in which she accused Trump of aligning himself with far-right extremists and saying he "built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia."

"He's taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party," Clinton said in Reno, Nevada. "His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous."

Thank God her assessments are usually measured. But I continue to wonder what language CNN thinks it’s using. In what dialect of English can you accuse someone of racism without calling him a racist? Oh, that’s not “explicit”? Try accusing someone of committing murder and then fending off a lawsuit by claiming that you didn’t explicitly call him a murderer.

Where would Hillary Clinton be if she hadn’t attracted (flies to ointment, fools to money) enormous swarms of sophists to protect her and harry her opponents? Living in a senior facility in Altoona, I suppose. But couldn’t she attract better forms of sophism?

On August 30, someone named Krystal Ball, a Democratic politician and sometime TV commentator, appeared on Fox News to claim that “there’s no evidence” Clinton lied about the emails, and that “there’s just no evidence” Clinton practiced pay-for-play when she was working for the State Department. But evidence is Clinton’s problem; that’s why we’re all talking about these things. There’s plentiful evidence of wrongdoing. Everybody heard her lie, repeatedly, about her emails. That’s not just evidence; it’s proof. As for pay-for-play, we can argue about proof, but evidence abounds. If it didn’t, Ms. Ball wouldn’t be discussing it on Fox. And there’s no difference between politicians with bizarre names and Clinton’s institutional propaganda machine, perpetually emitting statements that there’s “not a shred of evidence” that she ever did anything wrong.

Where would Hillary Clinton be if she hadn’t attracted enormous swarms of sophists to protect her and harry her opponents?

Kirsten Powers, an intelligent commentator who sometimes provides actual commentary, as opposed to propaganda, wrote an article for USA Today (September 12) with the engaging title, “What else is Clinton hiding?” But the answer turned out to be “nothing as far as I can see.” Powers noted the “feverish” claims of Donald Trump and his friends that there might be something wrong with Hillary Clinton’s health — claims that by September 12 didn’t sound feverish to anyone except feverish Clinton apologists. On September 10, Clinton had been videoed as she was dumped into a vehicle and carted away, after collapsing at a public event. Bizarrely, Powers continued to emphasize that “these accusations were made in the absence of any actual incident involving Clinton’s health.”

Isn’t it strange that people who comment on the news don’t seem to read it themselves? Clinton’s health problems had been no secret. There had been plenty of incidents, and despite the mainstream media’s attempts to ignore them, the evidence was well known. It had, indeed, been discussed not only “feverishly” but ad nauseam. Here’s a fair summary.

Even more bizarrely — or should I say feverishly? — Powers went for evidence for her own position to . . . can you imagine whom? She went to Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert. Ohhhh Kaaaayyyy . . . And what wisdom did she derive from him? The idea that evidence doesn’t count!

According to Adams,

You have to understand that people don’t use rational thought to make decisions. We rationalize after we make a decision. It’s all about making accusations and associating people with bad feelings.

Strangely, on this foundation of radical skepticism about the influence of fact and reason — a skepticism that, oddly enough, occasions no doubts regarding Adams’ own conclusions — he suggests that, factually, there is nothing wrong with Clinton. So she collapsed on the street? So she had a four-minute coughing fit? So all these other things happened to her?

“If you look at the health claims against Clinton one by one, they don’t mean anything,” Adams told me. “Clinton’s coughing wouldn’t mean anything if (her health) hadn’t already been raised.”

No, of course not. I lie to you once. I lie to you twice. I lie to you 25 times. By then, questions about my veracity are raised. Then I lie to you the 26th time, and you fly into a rage for no reason at all. Somehow, you are now convinced that I am a liar! As Adams says, “Forget about data, logic, facts. The visual [of Clinton’s small, very small, very rare total collapse on a New York street] is so strong” that people actually believe she’s sick.

A pretzel has better logic than this — but it’s only one example of the twists that Clinton’s apologists seem determined to put themselves through. If, to save Hillary Clinton, you need to abandon all pretense to disinterested reflection, that’s a small price to pay, isn’t it? The truly shocking thing is the arrogance with which the alleged intellectuals press their claims. They appear to believe that they are entitled to say anything, anything at all, no matter how silly it is, and still be accepted as authorities about life and truth.

Imagine! Being judged, not by your degree from Harvard, but by your degree of success!

I’m seldom impressed by the sagacity of political commentators, Left or Right. But I was impressed by a recent series of observations made by Pat Caddell, an ostensibly Democratic electoral expert. In an informal interview conducted on September 14, Caddell discussed the existence of

a political class which continues to think that they were the supreme and that they were self-perpetuating, picking and choosing only people who would be like them and think like them, and imposing on the American people what they wanted, which benefited them, but not the people, and never being held to any standards of success or failure.

This, as he said, is the Establishment, “the entire governing establishment of America.”

In the current social and rhetorical environment, the comment about “never being held to any standards of success or failure” is nothing short of shocking. Imagine! Being judged, not by your degree from Harvard, but by your degree of success! That standard is for guys working the line at Ford.

Pick your issue: when do you hear a member of the Establishment advocating some policy and stating the standard by which anyone could tell whether it was a success or failure? I’ll pick education. The Establishment, which consists in large part of professors and their clones, always advocates more (tax) money for “the schools.” Now it is advocating various schemes to make college education “free.” But when does anyone specify the measure by which we might judge the success of these schemes?

This is one of many ways in which the Establishment distances itself from normal people. Normal people allocate a few hundred dollars — of their own money — so they can take a plane to New York on Thursday. If the plane doesn’t get them to New York on Thursday, they reckon that as a failure. They have a standard of judgment. But how many trillions of dollars of other people’s money has the Establishment spent, with great self-congratulation, on ending poverty, ending drug abuse, abolishing racial antagonism, securing peace, etc., and what have we got to show for it? Only an Establishment that keeps getting bigger and fiercer as it hires and indoctrinates new cadres to fight these losing battles. Where are the organs of self-criticism that are supposed to ask the question, “Are you succeeding?”

Trump happens to be a maniacal big-government Planner like all the rest of them. But that is never the source of the criticism, or the hate.

You will not find them in the ordinary media. In Caddell’s view, the alleged critics are now the most vicious parts of the Establishment they are paid to monitor. The media “is [sic] no longer . . . devoted to fact, it is an outrider, it’s the assassination squad of the governing elite.”

When I open my computer, the first thing that comes up is Google News. I’m fascinated by Google’s single-minded devotion to the Establishment cause. On many days, four or five of the first ten stories are attacks, frequently weird and unbalanced attacks, on Donald Trump. Now, this Trump happens to be a maniacal big-government Planner like all the rest of them. But that is never the source of the criticism, or the hate. He is hated because he has made the mistake of revealing that the other emperors have no clothes. Thus the thousands of attempted “assassinations.”

But what about us? You and me. Libertarians.

Right now, both the Republicans and the Democrats think they can benefit from libertarian votes. So you may have forgotten that you — you personally, as a libertarian — are ordinarily a more inviting target for the Establishment’s verbal assassins than even Donald Trump. Just look at the things you believe, the positions you take, and you’ll see that you are.

Do you have an isolationist or an America-first foreign policy? Do you favor homeschooling? Are you opposed to the welfare state? Are you a devotee of the original Constitution, unamended by the sophistry of lawyers? Are you opposed to racial preferences? Do you assert your rights under the Second Amendment? Are you opposed to the mixture of religion with politics, by either Christians or Muslims? Are you opposed to political correctness? Do you believe that free speech means free speech, no matter whom it disturbs, offends, or outrages?

If so, then you are the person whom Donald Trump is accused of being. And you are in line for assassination whenever the media remembers who you are.

Sorry; this fruit is pretty sour.




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The Unmentionables

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I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. Virtually no one I know is willing to start a conversation about the current election campaign.

As an academic with many academic acquaintances, I grew used to hearing people inject George Bush into every possible conversation, always in a derisive manner. But this year, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of mentions my colleagues have made of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The same pattern holds with groups or individuals who I am certain will vote for Trump. No one wants to mention the campaign or the personalities.

This is a welcome relief, but why is it happening? I have several guesses.

  1. People are aware that this election is even more divisive than the past few elections, and they’re unwilling to start a fight.
  2. Many people who are expected by their friends to vote for Clinton will actually vote for Trump, and vice versa, and they don’t want to give themselves away.
  3. Everybody’s just sick of the damned thing.

These ideas may go far toward explaining the matter. But there’s at least one other possibility. Many people are discouraged about the presidency itself. They regard it cynically, as just one more object on a growing pile of political rubbish.

I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that people feel that way. The imperial presidency lost almost all of its glamor with the abject failure of Obama (whom, by the way, hardly anybody ever mentions either). That’s certainly good, and maybe it’s permanent. I’m not sure, however, that complete political cynicism is a good long-run strategy for the pursuit and capture of individual freedom.




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Type B, Meet Type B

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R.W. Bradford, the founder of this journal, was an acute political analyst, thoroughly familiar with American history and American life in all its forms. I’ve read a lot of professional commentators on American politics, but Bill Bradford’s chance observations showed more knowledge and intuition than 90% of the commentators show in a lifetime.

Every four years I recur to something Bill said to me one day, almost by chance. He said that there have been two types of presidential candidates: (A) those who had a perennial constituency — in Bill’s words, those “who always had a lot of people who wanted them to be president” — and (B) those who didn’t, those whom “nobody ever wanted to run.”

Crowds of people loved them, honored them, backed them in every attempt at the highest office.

It wasn’t a difference between people with good ideas and people with bad ones, although Bill said that he’d always had a weakness for the old maxim that “the job should seek the man,” not the other way around. The difference had to do with the psychology of the candidates and of their willing or unwilling supporters. Because of that difference, there might also be a difference in the candidates’ campaigns and their performance in office, if they managed to get into office.

I think there’s a good deal of truth in Bill’s idea. I think it provides an interesting perspective on how things work. And I think it’s sadly appropriate to what we see this year.

Think about it. Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, Ulysses S. Grant, William Jennings Bryan, Robert LaFollette, Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan . . . Crowds of people loved them, honored them, backed them in every attempt at the highest office. These people cheered their victories, mourned their defeats, and convinced themselves that the defeats were victories. Such followers enhance their favorites’ stature. More importantly, they enhance the candidates’ experience of their country and their countrymen. They give them a connection, if they want to use it, to real knowledge of America. And most of those favorites did use that connection.

Now think of Franklin Pierce, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the two George Bushes, Barack Obama . . . No constituency ever spontaneously decided that these men were inspiring figures, and therefore insisted that they run for office. When they ran, it was because of their own insensate and insatiable ambition (Wilson, Nixon, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama), or because they thought it was somehow an appropriate thing to do (Taft), or because a deadlocked party invigorated a lurking idea that yes, maybe they could make it (Pierce, Harding), or because of some reason I cannot fathom (the Bushes).

Who clamored for Ted Cruz to run for president? What irresistible mob of supporters demanded that Marco Rubio take the field?

In each group, A and B, there are people whom I happen to like or admire, and there are people whom I happen to dislike or despise, usually because of their political philosophy. And there are people whose group assignment we can debate. But it would be hard to say that the Group B folk had the personal stature of the Group A folk, or their connection with the American experience. People in the second group have been candidates of themselves and some political coterie; their experience hasn’t needed to be broader, and sometimes it has been remarkably narrow. Those among them who have been motivated merely by their ambition, or the ambition of their friends and family, have tended to be either twisted souls or kids perpetually too late for the party.

The alarming thing about 2016, from this perspective, is the absence of any candidates from Group A.

Who clamored for Ted Cruz to run for president? What irresistible mob of supporters demanded that Marco Rubio take the field? John Kasich — the subject of what adoration? Jeb Bush — the cynosure of what eyes? None, of course, except those of the Chamber of Commerce and the diaspora of former Bush political employees.

I guess it goes without saying that nobody ever wanted Hillary Clinton to be president, and nobody wants it now. What her supporters desire is somebody who will favor their chosen policies, make the appointments they want to the Supreme Court, give them government grants and favors, employ them (or their relatives) and give them wealth and power. If Krazy Kat had figured out a way to collect gigantic bribes without overtly violating a law, and therefore had a ton of money to throw around, those people would be cheering for Krazy Kat. Who, come to think of it, would be a much better choice than Hillary Clinton, who is zanier than any comic strip character, though without the fun.

Ah, but Donald Trump and Bernard Sanders, what of them?

This is not a puzzling question. Think back to a year or two ago. Do you remember anybody ever saying, “There’s just one person I want to be president, and that’s the senator from Vermont”? No, you don’t. Sanders was and is a nonentity. It was the prospect of Mrs. Clinton’s coronation that made him a public hero. Any other plausible receptacle for leftist nonsense would have done as well, or better.

Of Donald Trump, we may ask a similar question, and find much the same answer. He wasn’t a nonentity, but no broad masses (to use the Marxist phrase) ever begged him to run for public office. He just got up one morning and decided to do it. So he has become the plausible receptacle for most of the justifiable or unjustifiable anti-establishment sentiment in the country. The fact that he has certain curious skills, skills that have made him more successful than Sanders in the political arena, doesn’t mean that anyone ever wanted him to be president.

I guess it goes without saying that nobody ever wanted Hillary Clinton to be president, and nobody wants it now.

I don’t know what Bill Bradford would say about this, but when I look at the major-party presidential contests of this republic, if we can keep it, I find very few examples of a year in which both candidates were in Group B. One example is the Harding-Cox election of 1920. Another is the melancholy contest of 1976 between Gerald Ford (nice guy, but an accidental president) and Jimmy Carter (distinctly not a nice guy, or a guy with any known constituency or capacity for office — a man elected to the seat of Washington by the fact that he was a Southern Democrat).

There have been other contests of B vs. B. But the current election is spectacular for the prominence of two inmates of Group B who are obnoxiously assertive personalities. To paraphrase the words of an advertising man who helped to elect Richard Nixon, “They wake up in the morning with their suits all rumpled and start running around shouting, ‘I want to be president! I want to be president!’”

One of these Type B people will win. The voter’s job is to decide which one is less weird and dangerous. This isn’t Harding vs. Cox. Both were capable men, and the victor, Harding, turned out to be a good president. (Forget the adverse propaganda; read the great book on the subject, Robert Ferrell’s The Strange Deaths of President Harding.) This time, the chances are much greater of getting a president devoted wholly to his or her self-generated ambitions.

Yes, in a republic, private ambition can sometimes benefit the public. Sometimes.




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The 2016 Election by the Numbers

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In a previous essay I predicted the electoral demise of Donald Trump. Election Day is more than three months away, and a lot can happen in that amount of time. All human activity is fraught with uncertainty; no one can predict with absolute assurance what will happen tomorrow, much less who will be elected president in November. That said, I offer the reader my analysis of the Trump-Clinton race, with a state-by-state breakdown that I strongly believe reflects what will happen in November.

States that are almost certain to vote Republican

Any Republican, even Trump, should carry the following 23 states:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

These 23 states have 191 electoral votes, 79 short of the 270 needed for victory.

States that are almost certain to vote Democrat

The Democratic nominee will definitely carry the District of Columbia with its 3 electoral votes. She is all but certain to carry the following 20 states as well:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

These 20 states, plus DC, have 246 electoral votes, only 24 short of the total needed for victory. It’s possible but not likely that Michigan and Wisconsin will be competitive, given Trump’s appeal to blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt. Virginia could well have been a tossup state but for the selection of Tim Kaine as Hillary’s running mate. The popular senator and former governor has never lost an election in Virginia, and he’s not going to start this year.

The Tossup States (with electoral votes in parentheses)

  • Colorado (9)
  • Florida (29)
  • Iowa (6)
  • New Hampshire (4)
  • North Carolina (15)
  • Ohio (18)
  • Pennsylvania (20)

It really does come down to these seven states. Let’s leave the big three — Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida — for last.

COLORADO. A purple state that’s been trending Democratic. As in most other states, Democrats do well in the urban centers, and Republicans in rural areas. The Hispanic vote is significant, and it will tip the state to Clinton. Victory in Colorado brings her up to 255 electoral votes.

IOWA. Appears to be leaning toward Trump. Had Hillary picked former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, the current Secretary of Agriculture, for VP, she probably would’ve gotten Iowa’s six electoral votes in November. Vilsack appears to have been the runner-up to Senator Kaine in the Veepstakes. Virginia has 13 electoral votes, so Clinton’s choice was perhaps foreordained. Put Iowa’s six electoral votes in the Trump column. That gives him 197.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. Many mavens are calling the Granite State a tossup, but this New Englander believes it will go for Hillary. Almost any Republican but Trump would carry the state. Add four electoral votes to Hillary’s total, giving her 259.

NORTH CAROLINA. Barack Obama barely carried North Carolina in 2008; he lost the state to Romney in 2012. It’s a tossup state, but I think conservative white enthusiasm (yes, that’s something of a euphemism) will carry Trump to victory here. Give him NC’s 15 electoral votes, bringing him up to 212.

There will be voters who get off the couch on their own because they love the Donald, but perhaps as many (more?) who will do so because they loathe him.

OHIO. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Polls show the two candidates neck and neck, with Trump perhaps having a slight edge, thanks to his fulminations against free trade. At this point the state is simply too close to call.

PENNSYLVANIA. As in Ohio, polls show the two candidates separated within the margin of error. It’s a battle of the urban areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh versus everything in between — the in-between being, politically and socially, something like North Carolina. Turnout will be crucial. Most experts give the state to Hillary (it’s voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections), but this analyst, at this point, can only say it’s too close to call.

And so we come to the big enchilada — or grapefruit, I should say: Florida.

FLORIDA. The fourth largest prize with 29 electoral votes. A purple state which Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. But have the Democrats worn out their welcome here? This analyst sees the Hispanic vote as key to predicting who will carry the state.

Florida has about 12.3 million registered voters. About 1.8 million of them are Hispanics. Of these Hispanic voters approximately 30% are Cuban, and they traditionally vote Republican. But current polling shows Trump only up by about nine points among Cuban voters, while he’s very unpopular with other segments of the Hispanic community. Trump will win the non-Hispanic white vote, lose big among African-Americans, and do less well than a Republican should with Florida’s Hispanics. The Hispanic vote will give Hillary a narrow margin of victory in the state, making her the next president with a total of at least 288 electoral votes. Release the balloons.

It seems pretty certain that 288 electoral votes is the minimum number Hillary will get. I just wrote that Ohio and Pennsylvania are too close to call, and in a normal campaign that would be true, for the numbers in both states are within the margin of error. But one of the grave weaknesses of the Trump campaign is its lack of organization, of a “ground game” that can identify its voters and turn them out on Election Day. This weakness may be obviated, to an extent, by the passion the Trump candidacy has aroused; but passion in this election is a double-edged sword. There will be voters who get off the couch on their own because they love the Donald, but perhaps as many (more?) who will do so because they loathe him. At the same time, the less motivated part of the electorate will turn out in greater numbers for Hillary, simply because of her superior organization. In theory, Hillary should lose at least Ohio, but in practice both the Buckeye State and the Keystone State are likely to enter her column. That would give her 326 electoral votes, a victory comparable to Obama’s in 2012.

Two states, Nebraska and Maine, assign electoral votes on the basis of who wins in each congressional district, rather than following the winner-take-all rule. Trump could conceivably win an electoral vote in Maine, and Clinton one in Nebraska. But I don't believe the election will be close enough for these possibilities to matter.

Any major swing in the vote outside the numbers I’ve predicted here will almost certainly go against Trump. The potential always exists for Trump to say or do something so outrageous as to cause a backlash that would give the Democrat victory in some otherwise solid Republican states. Trump could turn a loss into a landslide defeat with his mouth alone. Should the Donald implode, Clinton could win 360 or more electoral votes.

If the Libertarian Party defies expectations and maintains its high single-digit support right through Election Day, Trump would suffer as a result. The LP would take considerably more votes away from Trump than Clinton. On the other hand, a strong LP vote would help the Republicans hold the Senate, since most Libertarian voters would support downballot Republican candidates. But my expectation is that the LP vote will dwindle to about 2% on Election Day.

The Green Party will take votes away from Clinton exclusively, but I doubt its candidate will receive more than 1% of the vote. Voters on the left remember 2000, and they certainly fear Trump more than they did George W. Bush. With Bernie on her side Clinton will be able to prevent any mass defection by the earthy-crunchy crowd.

If the Libertarian Party defies expectations and maintains its high single-digit support right through Election Day, Trump would suffer as a result.

The real wild card in this election may be the health and wellbeing of the two candidates. Trump is 70 years old; Clinton is 69. Although perhaps not likely, it would not be terribly surprising if one of them dropped dead or developed a disabling health problem during the campaign. In such an event the party national committee would select a new presidential candidate according to its own particular rules and procedures. However, if a candidate died or became disabled very late in the campaign — too late to print new ballots, for example — confusion and uncertainty would reign. What might happen then is anybody’s guess. At the very least Congress would have to pass special legislation delaying the election by weeks or even longer.

We also have to face the fact that in this election year passions have been aroused to an extent rarely seen in recent history. Many Americans not only perceive the nation as being in crisis, but literally hate one or the other of the presidential candidates, or both. We tend to avoid thinking about how violence has affected our politics since 1963. But in addition to the assassinations of the 1960s, George Wallace was shot and almost killed while campaigning in 1972, potshots were twice taken at President Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan was of course nearly killed by John Hinckley in 1981. The White House came under attack during both the Clinton and the Obama presidencies. It would not surprise me at all if some person or group tried to kill one of the candidates. And if would-be assassins try to kill a candidate, there’s always the chance they will succeed.

Let’s hope it’s a peaceful election. If it is, then Hillary’s your next president. What that may bring is cause enough for disquiet.




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