The Fifth Democratic Debate

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Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was recalling how she bankrolled an earlier political campaign. “I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends,” she said.

There’s a lesson here, I thought: don’t get romanced by a politician. It’ll cost you money.

It was November 20, and I was subjecting myself to another three hours of Democrats. They did behave better this time, shutting down when their time ran out — thanks not to their inner goodness but to the rules, which cut into their time if they didn’t. Still, it was progress.

The latest entry into the melee to become the Democratic nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was not there, which was just as well. The candidates are still too many. I was thankful that some of the earlier ones were gone, including my state’s save-the-planet governor, Jay Inslee, and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who had irritated me with his bloviating progressivism. California Senator Kamala Harris was still there, but I was lifted up by a Washington Post piece saying she is on the verge of an exit. Harris was once California’s chief state prosecutor, a calling that seems to have defined the way she thinks.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said.

One of the notable moments of the three hours came when Harris turned her rhetorical Klieg lights on Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who promised to end regime-change wars, had recently been smeared by the Democratic Party’s previous nominee, Hillary Clinton, as a “favorite of the Russians.” Harris piled on, accusing Gabbard of having “buddied up” to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and of bad-mouthing the Obama administration on Fox News. Gabbard obliged Harris by bad-mouthing some more, saying that the Democratic Party “continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment represented by Hillary Clinton and others.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lit into Gabbard for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad in 2017. “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that,” he said. Gabbard, who was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, replied that Franklin Roosevelt had met with Stalin and Richard Nixon with Mao, and that she was willing to meet with whomever necessary.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said. And she was the only candidate who mentioned libertarians as part of her coalition. Not that she is one — she supported Bernie Sanders four years ago — but she mentioned us, anyway.

All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff.

Speaking of libertarian issues, several candidates — Gabbard, Senator Cory Booker, and even Joe Biden — called for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Another such issue, the draft, came up in an oblique way. Elizabeth Warren was asked whether she thought more people ought to be in the military. Warren said she thought there should be more ways of community service. She said she had a program for putting 10,000 young people to work in the National Forests and National Parks. She didn’t mention a draft, nor did any of the others.

Since former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz dropped out as a possible candidate, no one has made an issue of the budget deficit or the $21 trillion federal debt. All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promising Medicare for All, others promising Medicare for Lots More, Amy Klobuchar offering three months of paid family leave and Kamala Harris calling for six months’ paid leave. Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he would spend less on the military, and he dodged the question by saying he would spend more on artificial intelligence.

Always more. There was little talk about paying for any of it, though Cory Booker, in disagreeing with Warren’s wealth tax, was for raising the federal estate tax and taxing capital gains at the same rates as wages.

Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

At one point Booker said the candidates should “talk about how to grow wealth for all” rather than merely how to distribute it. Nobody else said anything like that. Andrew Yang, the former entrepreneur, declared that the advance of technology is “ripping the country apart.” Bernie Sanders, the anti-entrepreneur, asserted that 87 million Americans were without healthcare and that “the economy is rigged.” I have listened to Sanders’ redfaced rants more than I care to think about, and I can’t recall him ever saying anything favorable about the private sector. I read that Sanders was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party candidate back in 1980, and it does seem to be a salient fact about him. He never misses a chance to condemn the health insurers and the pharma companies, and during the debate he declared that the oil and gas industry is “probably criminally liable” for global warming and should be prosecuted.

When asked about the high cost of housing in California, Elizabeth Warren blamed it on the government building fewer units of public housing and private builders building too many “McMansions.” She also blamed it on racial redlining. Not a word about government land-use regulations.

As in the earlier debates, the candidates kept talking about how America was unfair and unequal, that people were struggling, democracy was dying, and the planet was doomed unless something was done right now. At the end of the gabfest, Joe Biden said, “I am so tired of everybody walking around with ‘woe is me,’ and ‘what are we going to do.’” I was tired of it, too. Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

They have been particularly good for one of the candidates, Tom Steyer, who was said to be so rich that he shoveled $300 million of his net worth into his quest for the presidency. Steyer is promising to get corporate money out of politics. When asked if this wasn’t a contradiction, he said it wasn’t: He’s been wanting to do it for years. They should have asked him if he had a history of making bad investments.




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News from Washington State

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A political milestone has been passed in the state of Washington: affirmative action has gone down. Voters have rejected Referendum 88, a measure to relegalize racial preferences in state employment, education, and contracting.

This is an issue that speaks directly to libertarians. We think in terms of individuals. In our view, justice requires that government treat individuals of different races by the same rules. To us, “affirmative action” is an Orwellian term for a policy of preferential treatment, which amounts to institutional racism.

Libertarians may disagree on a number of things, but I think we all agree on this.

In Washington, racial preferences in state and local government had been banned by law since November 1998. This is the way it happened. The state legislature, Republicans included, never would have passed the original law. They didn’t have the courage. But a couple of policy entrepreneurs, inspired in 1996 by California’s Proposition 209, started a signature drive to put the issue on the ballot. Their measure was called Initiative 200; it was opposed by all right-thinkers in government and the media, and in November 1998 it swept the state with 58% of the vote. Only King County, which contains Seattle, voted in favor of preferences.

To libertarians, “affirmative action” is an Orwellian term for a policy of preferential treatment, which amounts to institutional racism.

This time around, the defeat of racial preferences has been a much closer thing. The public vote was on Referendum 88, a measure to bring back affirmative action. As I write (November 12), 98% of the votes are in, and Referendum 88 is being rejected by 50.41% of voters. In only four of the state’s 39 counties are voters approving it. The highest percentages for approval are in King and San Juan counties — metro Seattle and the San Juan Islands — which are Washington’s two counties with the highest median personal income and the strongest propensity to vote left. (The third most leftwing county is Jefferson, which contains Port Townsend, the former home of Liberty. The magazine’s founder, Bill Bradford, would not be surprised that Jefferson County, 91% white, also supported racial preferences.)

Washington is a Democratic state. Our Democratic politicians believe deeply in the moral necessity of treating people of different races differently in the pursuit of equal results. They have wanted to bring back the practice for 20 years. For a long time they dared not do it, but in 2019 they slipped it through.

Apart from referendums (explained below), Washington has two kinds of voter-initiated ballot measures: initiatives to the people and initiatives to the legislature. Under the first kind, the people collect signatures to put a measure on the ballot, and if they pass it, it becomes law. Under the second kind, the people petition the legislature to adopt a law they propose. If they collect enough signatures, the legislature has three options. It can pass the measure into law, refuse to pass it and let it go to the ballot, or pass an alternative measure and let both of them go to the ballot.

The signature drive to bring back racial preferences, which was called Initiative 1000, was an initiative to the legislature. As a result of the “blue wave” of 2018, the Democrats hold both houses in Olympia. On the last day of the spring 2019 session legislators passed Initiative 1000 straight into law. All the Democrats except for one in each house voted for it, and all the Republicans voted against it. Initiative 1000 became law without a vote of the people.

Our Democratic politicians have wanted to bring back the practice for 20 years. For a long time they dared not do it, but in 2019 they slipped it through.

Washington also has the right of referendum, which allows the people to petition to put a brand new law on the ballot. Another political entrepreneur did just that, by collecting signatures for Referendum 88, which offered the voters the chance to vote “Accepted” or “Rejected” on the words of Initiative 1000.

That particular troublemaker was Kan Qiu, an immigrant from China. There was a reason the fight against preferences was being led by an Asian. In the state universities, Asians, whether immigrants or native-born, are the group most obviously threatened by racial quotas. Asians make up 7.8% of the resident population of Washington but 24% of undergraduates at the University of Washington. And that’s not counting foreign students. If racial preferences were allowed, the student body would probably not mirror the population exactly, but it’s a sure bet that “overrepresented” Asians would have to jump a higher hurdle.

Kan Qiu and his supporters wanted the people to vote “Rejected” on Referendum 88. Their argument in the Voter’s Pamphlet is clear: “Referendum 88 allows the government to use different rules for different races . . . That’s wrong. And it divides us further apart.”

But the description of Referendum 88 in the Voter’s Pamphlet, which is supposed to be non-biased, painted a different picture. It called Referendum 88 a measure to “allow the state to remedy discrimination for certain groups and to implement affirmative action, without the use of quotas or preferential treatment (as defined), in public education, employment and contracting.”

If racial preferences were allowed, it’s a sure bet that “overrepresented” Asians would have to jump a higher hurdle.

The red-flag words are “as defined.” The original Initiative 1000, and Referendum 88, which restated it for the voters, defined preferential treatment as using race or group identity “as the sole qualifying factor to select a lesser qualified candidate over a more qualified candidate.” Race could be a factor, but not the sole qualifying factor. In other words, as long as the state could point to one other factor, it could discriminate by race.

This is defining “preferences” as a box so small that nothing will fit in it.

The opponents of preferences pointed out this tendentious definition every chance they could, but it was in the Voter’s Pamphlet, approved by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Democrat. The supporters of preferences made the most of the official words, claiming over and over that Referendum 88 would not allow preferences. Those supporters included Washington’s leading newspapers and three former governors, including Gary Locke, who is Chinese American — and also a Democrat.

In Washington we have never had to register as Democrats or Republicans, so I can’t say how many of each there are, but the people do mostly vote Democrat.

Most of the rest of the candidates blew through the $150,000 donation limit. So Democracy Vouchers didn’t actually limit anything.

Not this time. This was a Democratic measure, and it failed — barely.

And barely counts.

Unfortunately, the same applies to municipal elections.

I had hoped to report to Liberty readers that the voters of Seattle had finally tossed out their Trotskyite councilwoman, Kshama Sawant. But Sawant, first elected in 2013, has been reelected again, along with most of the progressive-left candidates to the Seattle City Council.

Money was a big issue. Seattle has won praise (from Andrew Yang, for example) for its Democracy Vouchers program, which was supposed to “take money out of politics.” The program gives each voter $100 in vouchers to give to candidates that stayed within donation limits. But Sawant never signed up for Democracy Vouchers, arguing that she was going to be targeted by the corporations and would have to raise all the money she could. And most of the rest of the candidates blew through the $150,000 donation limit. So Democracy Vouchers didn’t actually limit anything.

I threw my vouchers away.

Sawant was right in her predictions about money from business. In mid-October, Amazon, which is based in Seattle, dumped $1 million into the city council campaigns. The Left had its union money and Sawant had her socialist money from around the country, but it was Amazon’s money on the other side that became the talk of the town. Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders tweeted from afar:

Jeff Bezos and Amazon think they can buy elections. They spent $1 million to stop City Council candidates @d1forLisa, @TammyMoralesSEA, @VoteSawant and @ElectScott2019. Show Amazon that they can't buy our democracy and that their corporate greed won't stand. Get out and vote!

They did, and the Left took every seat it wanted except one. In that one, the Left’s candidate was another avowed socialist, but without the name, the panache, or the district Kshama Sawant had. And he got 47.6% of the vote.

“Our movement has won,” Sawant crowed, “and defended our socialist council seat for working people against the richest man in the world.” Her next goal will be citywide rent control (which would require a change in state law) and another tax on business. The Seattle Times’ photo of her victory rally shows her supporters raising clenched fists behind a huge banner that reads, “TAX AMAZON.”

In mid-October, Amazon dumped $1 million into the city council campaigns.

The fight had started with a tax on Amazon. In 2018 the Seattle City Council voted to impose a “head tax” — a flat tax per employee — on large for-profit employers, with the money to be spent on the homeless. The Left made a point of saying that the tax would hit only the top 3% of employers, which was supposed to show how reasonable it was. The tax would have cost the city’s largest private employer, Amazon, tens of millions of dollars a year. When Amazon and other companies began bankrolling a voter petition to put the tax on the ballot as a referendum, and a poll showed that the voters would kill it, all but one of the Democrats on the council quickly voted for repeal. Sawant, the lone Marxist, condemned them as cowardly, which they were. She also led a public demonstration in front of Amazon’s headquarters and condemned CEO Jeff Bezos as “the enemy.”

In 2018 it did seem that the voters of Seattle were ready to sweep Sawant and her allies off the council. And this year, when seven of the nine council members were up for reelection, several of them declined to run. The council member in my district was one of them — but, alas, he has been replaced by another much like him.

The candidate chosen to run in Kshama Sawant’s district was a political novice named Egan Orion, a man best known for organizing PrideFest, a gay celebration. By any national standard he was pretty far left himself, but this is Seattle and Sawant’s district is the leftiest part of it.

Sawant, the lone Marxist, condemned them as cowardly, which they were.

There were things a nonleftist might like about Orion. Being known for a celebration made him less of an irritant than someone known for screaming at Jeff Bezos, or for the $15 minimum wage. Sawant was for rent control — and on Orion’s web page was an article about how rent control would hurt small landlords. In the county’s Voter’s Pamphlet, which has statements from all the candidates, Orion said he wanted to “expand all types of housing,” which was a politically correct way of saying he was not against builders of market-rate housing, which the Left blames for displacing the poor. Orion also said he wanted the city government to help women, gays, and people of color to start businesses. Passing over the intersectionality stuff, I perceived that he was in favor of people starting businesses. He also promised to “focus on outcomes, not ideology,” which seemed to be a nice way of saying he was not a fan of Leon Trotsky.

The state of Washington runs elections by mail, so that election day is really start-counting-the-ballots day. On the first count, Orion was ahead, with Sawant polling only 45.6%. Though she had come from behind and won in an earlier election, her supporters were worried. Socialist Alternative, the national newspaper of Sawant’s party, wrote,

Seattle is experiencing its own local variant of the right-populist wave which elevated Trump to power. Middle-class anxiety in the face of growing economic insecurity and social decay is exploited by big business and the rich, who are waging a ferocious struggle against the rise of socialist ideas and movements demanding limits to their wealth and power.

The chief evidence of a “right-populist” wave in Seattle was a local TV documentary about homeless encampments called “Seattle Is Dying.” (It’s on YouTube.) There are some right-wingers in Seattle, but you’d have to hire a detective to find them. In 2016 Trump got 8% of the vote here. Bernie Sanders could take this city easily. If he does, he will have a comrade on the city council who has just been reelected.




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Did He Say 21 Trillion Dollars?

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I notice that the federal deficit for fiscal 2019, ended September 30, hit nearly one trillion dollars. The deficit has doubled since its post-recession low in fiscal 2015, though the economy is running flat-out.

None of the would-be Democratic nominees is making an issue of this. Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence. As a businessman, he was a bankrupt; as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party he aims to “Make America Great,” and do it with borrowed funds. The Republicans once cared about deficits and the national debt, but really it was a long time ago. For years afterward, they talked as if they cared, but it was talk only. Now they don’t even talk. That would be disloyal.

Democrats occasionally would remind Republicans that the last budget surpluses were under Bill Clinton. This was true, but it was not important, and clearly it was never going to happen again.

Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence.

For a moment it sounded as if there might be one voice in 2020 for fiscal rectitude. Billionaire Howard Schultz, the former chairman of Starbucks, longtime Democrat and contributor to Hillary Clinton, created a stir back in January by floating the idea of running for president as an independent. His signature issue was the deficit, the debt, and the public credit — businessmen’s issues, to be sure, but important ones. That the federal debt had risen to $21 trillion, he said, represented “a reckless and immoral abandonment of leadership” by both parties. He was absolutely right. He was also for reform of the immigration law and the federal tax code, which he said had been held up by the hyper-partisanship in Congress. He was right about that, too.

Speaking January 30 on MSNBC, Schultz said he was no longer a Democrat, because, he said, “I do not believe what the Democratic Party stands for” — namely, a federal takeover of health insurance, free college for all, and a job for everyone, guaranteed by the government. All these things, he said, would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I don’t believe what Elizabeth Warren stands for,” he said. “I don’t believe the country should be heading toward socialism.”

“You think Elizabeth Warren is a socialist?” a panelist asked.

ll these things would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I think she believes in programs that will lead to a level of socialism in America,” Schultz replied.

The TV people got on Schultz’s case for being a rich guy. Schultz did not apologize.

“I’m self-made,” he said. “I grew up in the projects in New York. Elizabeth Warren wants to criticize me for being successful. No. It’s wrong.”

The Democrats in Shultz’s hometown, Seattle, told each other that Schultz was a “corporate candidate” who didn’t believe in anything. It was not true; he just didn’t believe what they did. In any case Schultz was persuaded not to run, and by now he is entirely forgotten. So, apparently, is his central issue, the federal government’s uncontrolled spending and borrowing.

I’m sad about that. Probably I would have voted for him.




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What’s in the Bag?

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Recently, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the monthly offerings of this column have been tightly organized around a central theme or cluster of ideas. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed that. I’ve tried, anyway. But, as we libertarians are fond of saying, TANSTAAFL: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You always have to pay for what you get. In the case of Word Watch, tight organization — or a pretense of it — is purchased at the price of ignoring a lot of things that somebody ought to mention.

I’ll put it in another way. Everyone who writes a column like this has something that we call, in our professional language, the Grab Bag. We collect samples of things that we may want to mention, and when it comes time to get serious and write the column, we go to the Grab Bag and pull stuff out. Sometimes we’re frustrated because the great thing that absolutely must be discussed this month is somehow not in the Bag after all, and since we can’t seem to remember what it was, we have no idea of where else to look for it. Occasionally we’re relieved to find that all the items we pulled out of the Bag seem to fit together like a watch. More often we’re disgusted to see that in trying to make it all fit, we failed to exploit our most interesting material.

So this month I’m going to grab items out of the bag with no concern for whether they fit together or not. At the end, we’ll see whether any sense of order has emerged.

As we libertarians are fond of saying, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Item 1. The acute becomes chronic. There’s a common, and plausible, idea that high-speed mass communication renders language unstable. In the age of the internet, words, phrases, and, bless my soul, memes are born, become known, become popular, become tyrannical, and just as rapidly wither and die, depriving all who had adopted them of the ability to communicate. Expressions that might have measured their lives by generations of human beings now measure it by generations of fruit flies.

Regrettably, this notion is true only of clever and useful expressions, the ones that provoke and enable thought. Nobody remembers those. But words that destroy both thought and the tools of thought — these have remarkable staying power. They not only remain; if they die, they are resurrected. Witness cool and dude, all-purpose signifiers of some kind of goodness and personhood, which were chewed to death by Boomers but miraculously revived by Millennials.

Meanwhile — oh, a mere 25 or 30 years ago — the first generation of computer geeks gave us input as the replacement term for advice, suggestions, responses, dialogue– real words with real meanings, meanings that prompt one to think, “What do I want from her? Her analysis? Her ideas? Her corrections? Her critique? What, exactly, do I want?” But it’s so much easier, dude, just to ask for her input. At the same time, somebody — perhaps a student of meteor trajectories — gave us impact as a way of killing all distinctions among affect, influence, damage, ruin, destroy, annihilate. And the bureaucrats gave us the Universal Slash, the little mark of punctuation that proclaims to us, “I don’t care enough about what I’m writing to choose the words I mean; I’ll just plop down a bunch of possibilities and put slashes between them.” And these means of avoiding thought have (to paraphrase William Faulkner’s comment about man himself) not only endured but prevailed. On the road from here to eternity, they are approaching the goal.

Words that destroy both thought and the tools of thought — these have remarkable staying power.

I feel that more needs to be said about the slash. Here are two examples from a single source (in the comments to which you will see many, many more examples):

That’s why the FBI, and later the Mueller team, were/are so strongly committed to, and defending, the formation of the Steele Dossier and its dubious content.

The CURRENT FBI wants to hide Ms. Kavalec’s warning/notification that Steele was delivering false information about Cohen traveling to Prague.

Tell me, great author, you who have so much to tell: was it a warning, or was it a notification? There’s a difference. Maybe it was both. Decide, and let me know. And were those investigators committed, or are they committed, or have they always been committed? This also makes a difference. So fill me in. Don’t pretend that you’re too busy, or that your keyboard won’t do or and and.

The US (Universal Slash) started as a little ignorant/dippy/sometimes-pretentious fad — but it remained. And multiplied. If you work for an organization, any organization, you’ll get it in your inbox a hundred times a day. But when you talk to people about it, they just look back at you.

2. Are we trying to be ugly, or not to be ugly? In other words, why do people insist on saying passed away and the still more cloying passed, when all they mean is died — yet they make no effort to avoid the desperately ugly nitpick, pick your brain, brown-nose, and suck?

If you work for an organization, any organization, you’ll get the Universal Slash in your inbox a hundred times a day.

3. Horton hears a where. The word where refers to places and spaces. Then why is it constantly used for things that are not places or spaces? “In the argument where she shows . . . ” “It was in the century where . . .” On October 19 I read: “Seats where in years prior the Republicans did not even bother fielding a candidate are being flipped, while Democratic gains in the suburbs are mostly in traditionally competitive swing seats. Historically, the midterm elections typically favor the party that is not in the White House, yet this was trumpeted as a historic turnaround.” By the way, what is the referent of this?

4. Nope, nobody said a word. “No allegations of impropriety have been made.” “There have been no accusations of misconduct.” “No charges have ever been lodged.” To cite Gilbert and Sullivan:

What, never?
No, never!

What, never?
Well, hardly ever!

These no, never phrases are now used in exact proportion to the prevalence of allegations, accusations, charges, opinions, and convictions that something grossly improper or illegal has in fact been done. I’ve been meaning to comment on this singular phenomenon since I noticed that it was routinely being reported that no accusations had ever been made against Jussie Smollett, at a time when everyone in the country was thinking, and many brave souls were writing, that he had faked a racist and anti-gay attack on himself. Long before that, “Hillary Clinton has never been accused of a crime” had become a permanent part of the media mantra, despite the existence of a long shelf of books and about a million news articles accusing her of a wide variety of crimes.

There have always been plenty of American businesses that would give Hunter Biden a job he isn’t qualified for.

By this standard, no one who hasn’t been formally arraigned in a US court has ever been accused of anything. And now Biden’s doing it. In his whole life he’s never been accused of wrongdoing — unlike Trump!

5. And you were silly enough to think the media were unbiased! CNN “anchor” (and never has there been an anchor more weighted with his own importance) Anderson Cooper was the host of the Democratic presidential candidates’ October 15 debate. In that capacity, he put the following question to Joseph (“Honest Joe”) Biden:

The impeachment inquiry is centered on President Trump's attempts to get political dirt from Ukraine on Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter. Mr. Vice President, President Trump has falsely accused your son of doing something wrong while serving on a company board in Ukraine. I want to point out there's no evidence of wrongdoing by either one of you.

Having said that, on Sunday, you announced that if you're president, no one in your family or associated with you will be involved in any foreign businesses. My question is, if it's not okay for a president's family to be involved in foreign businesses, why was it okay for your son when you were vice president?

Well thank you, Anderson. You’re right, of course. There have always been plenty of American businesses that would give Hunter a job he isn’t qualified for.

People like Cooper have apparently decided that they can say anything, anything at all, to their hapless victims in the nursing homes and airport waiting rooms, and still maintain their self-respect.

I don’t need to gloss Cooper’s wiffleball “question” (you can tell it’s a question because he says, “My question is”), which was obviously wafted at Biden as an excuse for proclaiming him and his son innocent and their antagonist guilty, prior to all questions. Political dirt. Falsely accused. No evidence of wrongdoing. Try about a million dollars a year of evidence about that Ukrainian company. But the question proves that Anderson’s still speakin’ truth to power.

In a rational world, the more CNN’s numbers dropped, the more it would strive to look nonpartisan. Exactly the opposite has taken place. People like Cooper have apparently decided that they can say anything, anything at all, to their hapless victims in the nursing homes and airport waiting rooms, and still maintain their self-respect. There’s no evidence that they’re doing something wrong.

6. Do you actually know what you’re saying? There’s lots of Mrs. Clinton stuff in the Grab Bag. Here is a recent utterance. She’s speaking, as usual, about how everyone let her down in 2016:

There was nothing. I had nothing. So from my perspective, I think we’ll be a little better off [in 2020] than we were back then. But we’re gonna be outgunned, outspent, out-lied.

I mean, we’re gonna have a lot of problems.

Literally, then, what “we” need is bigger guns, bigger spending, and bigger lies.

7. For the millionth time, what are teachers getting paid to teach? It isn’t words. If it were, we wouldn’t constantly be encountering authors, themselves fairly well paid, who write things such as “he needed to lay down” and “she was one of the most well informed persons in Washington” and “’Go west, young person,’ as Horatio Alger infamously said.” All right, I made that last one up, but it didn’t surprise you, did it? How about the wondrous literacy of this newsicle. “He then gets on top of a yellow Ford Thunderbird and laying on his side, posing on the car.” Period. That’s the end of the “sentence,” complete with laying. Almost everyone in my building has a college education, but I regularly get notices that “water will be shut-off at 8:00 a.m.” I also read in headlines that “Senator Rand Paul Calls-Out Chairman Lindsay Graham.” Somebody needs to turn-off these hyphens. Somebody also needs to turn-off the sex and gender education and turn-on the English class.

8. Real rhetoric: the absence and the presence. By real rhetoric I mean words intelligently organized for the greatest possible effect on intelligent people. How much of that do you hear or read? How much of it do you get from the biggest spouters of rhetoric, the politicians? Answer: little, and none. But just when I was arranging some rhetorical flowers for the funeral of rhetoric, Democratic presidential contestant Tulsi Gabbard stayed my hand and joyed my heart.

Even if you can separate the value of courage from the value of words (which you should), you can certainly admire Gabbard’s choice of words.

Gabbard was responding to a podcast produced by the aforesaid Hillary Clinton in which Clinton claimed that Gabbard, who questions military interventions abroad, was being “groomed” for the presidency by Russians. She was a Russian asset. Gabbard responded almost instantly:

Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign [in leading newspapers and elsewhere] to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.

One thing that’s real about those words is that they’re all true, and obviously true. But even if you’re so oblivious as to think that they aren’t obvious, you have to admire Gabbard’s courage in addressing them to the wealthiest and most influential and most terrifying person in her party. And even if you can separate the value of courage from the value of words (which you should), you can certainly admire Gabbard’s choice of words. Her words have cadence and emphasis; they are educated, yet accessible; the pictures they paint are immediately visible, yet she wastes not a word in painting them. She doesn’t pussyfoot up to her prey and try to nibble it to death; she doesn’t pretend to admire any imaginary good qualities of her victim; she doesn’t try to find a de-“gendered” term for “queen.” She is completely successful. It’s startling to realize that this is what, for three decades, has needed to be said, but wasn’t said by anyone on Gabbard’s side of the aisle, or said with compelling words by anyone on the other side. I think I disagree with almost everything in Gabbard’s own political program, but she sure knows how to write.

L’envoi:

Well, this has been fun. And it had a happy ending, too. I’m sure there’s no order to the thing (except for a certain obsession with Hillary Clinton), but why keep sacrificing wholesome fun to some impossible ideal of organization?

Enough is enough; goodbye for October.




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One of Them Got It Right

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Representative Tulsi Gabbard have both said they would get US troops out of Afghanistan, but their clash during the October 15 debate shows only one of them really means it.

Tulsi Gabbard.

Gabbard has been smeared as an “agent of Russia” for her call to bring American soldiers home. Buttigieg didn’t call her that, but he did say pulling out from Syria was a “betrayal.” He described a Kurdish woman with a dead child in her arms, implying it was America’s fault. The issue in Syria — and also in Afghanistan — he said, was “keeping our word.”

The bottom line, he said, was that withdrawal “undermines the honor of our soldiers.”

Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I recall reviewing a book in 2013 about Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941: Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.

In the fall of 1941, President Roosevelt gave Japan an ultimatum: remove your invasion troops from China or else. A few in Japan, fearing a war with the United States, were willing to consider it. But the argument against it, which prevailed, was that any withdrawal from China would dishonor the Japanese soldiers who died there. It would be a betrayal. Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were (as Japan’s generals were told by its war-college war gamers) that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I remember the don’t-betray-the-troops argument and the maintain-our-credibility argument during the war in Vietnam. These arguments did not prevent the loss of the war, but they did lengthen the casualty lists.

In Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win.

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, is right that getting out would mean the government’s breaking its word, and doing that would undermine its credibility. And no matter where US troops are committed for any length of time, they have helpers and allies, and pulling out would leave allies in the lurch. Is that dishonorable? Yes, it is. But in Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win. Why not accept dishonor now, before it grows any bigger? The cost of postponing defeat is more killing, wreckage, and debt.

Gabbard will not be elected president. She’s right, though.




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Thought Leaders and Living Legends

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“Conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News that The Times ‘has abandoned any pretext of journalistic integrity,’ and the revised Kavanaugh story is the latest example.” So says a Fox News report (September 16) on the New York Times’ publication of a scandalous claim about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual behavior in college.

That phrase — “sexual behavior in college” — may be sufficient to illustrate the puerility of the allegation and of its eager retailing by America’s “newspaper of record.” I don’t care much for Justice Kavanaugh, but since I left college myself I haven’t been able to work up much concern about anybody’s college nonsense. If this is one of the great issues of our time . . . But look at that phrase from critic of the Times, the conservative strategist (is that a real job?): “abandoned any pretext of journalistic integrity.” Pretext? It would be fun to think that Mr. Outraged consciously chose that word, which means a false account of one’s reasons for doing something, because then we’d be witnessing the spectacle of a newspaper being criticized for abandoning its falsehoods. But alas, the guy must have failed to distinguish pretext from pretense, intending to say that the Times no longer pretends to integrity.

When you see a smarmy title like that, you sense right away that you’re dealing with a boatload of obscurantism.

And there’s a problem even with this charitable interpretation of his remark. In fact, the New York Times continues to pretend. Here’s what happened. On September 14, the Times published the story in question, an account of Kavanaugh dangling his naked penis around at a party. Immediately conservative journalist Mollie Hemingway compared the Times account with the version that its authors simultaneously published in a book, and discovered that something crucial was missing from the newspaper story. On September 15, a suddenly embarrassed Times appended a humiliating note to it:

An earlier version of this article, which was adapted from a forthcoming book, did not include one element of the book's account regarding an assertion by a Yale classmate that friends of Brett Kavanaugh pushed his penis into the hand of a female student at a drunken dorm party. The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article.

That’s certainly a pretense to integrity, isn’t?

In the Fox News story we encountered two boon companions of modern journalism, ignorance and exaggeration (“abandoned any pretext”). We’ll meet them again. But let’s say howdy to a couple other good buddies who frequent the news saloon: pomposity and obscurantism.

The person behind the apparently false allegation was one Max Stier, whom the Times reporters call in their book a “respected thought leader.” “Oh!” you may be thinking, “I wish I could get that job!” But who is this respected leader of thought? He is one of the multitude of people, as numberless as the stars of heaven, who have labored in the vineyard of William Jefferson and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Stier worked as a lawyer for Bill when he (Bill) got into one of his adult sex scrapes. Nowadays, however, Stier is ritually identified in news stories as the head of a nonprofit organization. How nice that sounds! No profits! Nothing to deflect him from the pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way. The name of his org is The Partnership for Public Service.

Pompous? Oh, yes. And when you see a smarmy title like that, you sense right away that you’re dealing with a boatload of obscurantism. According to Wiki, the Partnership’s “mission is to inspire a new generation of civil servants and transform the way government works.” I gather that what this means is lobbying for higher pay and greater prestige for government employees, but you can struggle with the Wiki thing yourself.

Buttinskis, the most appropriate name for clerics involved in politics, is far too erudite to be known to journalists.

If you want a fuller experience of gobbledygook, you can go to the Partnership’s website. You can also visit another site, where you will find that someone — probably Stier — wants you to believe that “under his leadership, the Partnership has been widely praised as a first-class nonprofit organization and thought leader on federal government management issues.” Thought leader! A first-class thought leader! A widely praised first-class thought leader!

Stier was the first thought leader I’d ever heard of, but I soon discovered that I was behind the curve. The bizarre locution had been planting itself in our language for several years. As early as 2017 it was being analyzed and rejected, from several points of view. But let’s consider the basic issue: In what way could thought leader not be applied, with equal accuracy, to Martha Stewart, Joseph Stalin, Kamala Harris, Lisa Simpson, Smokey Bear, the Witch of the West? Everyone — well, everyone except journalists — has thoughts or influences thoughts. “But oh! That’s not what it means!” OK. Then what does it mean?

Surely it means even less than its repulsive first cousin, faith leader, the history of which I reviewed in the December 2018 edition of this column. Faith leader is what atheist journalists call ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams, on occasions when they’re doing something that atheists like. (When they’re not doing it, they’re rightwing preachers.) To call them religious leaders — supposing that they actually lead anybody — would be just too creepy, too religious, to appear in a news puff. Buttinskis, the most appropriate name for clerics involved in politics, is far too erudite to be known to journalists.

There are, however, expressions that mean still less than thought leader. The death of TV personality Cokie Roberts brought one up. The nation — or at least I — was astonished to learn that Roberts had been one of several people whom the Library of Congress assumed the authority to consecrate as living legends.

For many years Joe Biden has been a leading figure in the movement to create an illiterate America.

Do other countries have such beings? In America, of course, the precedent had been set by Elvis Presley. According to the inscription on his tomb, Elvis was “a living legend in his own time.” Omitting the redundancy (“in his own time”) still doesn’t make this sensible. A legend isn’t a person; a legend is a story, a mythic story. There are no myths of Cokie Roberts — a fact seemingly unknown to that embodiment of learning, that incubator of thought leaders, the Library of Congress.

Whether we have reason to demand literacy from the Presley family, or from Donald Trump, is another question. Surely we cannot expect it from former vice presidents now aspiring to the presidency. For many years Joe Biden has been a leading figure — if you will, a living legend — in the movement to create an illiterate America; and he is still capable of topping his earlier performances. Few illiterates could outdo his response, on or about September 13, to the question of how Americans can “repair the legacy of slavery.” Enslavement is not a legacy that anyone would want to see restored, refurbished, or repaired, but never mind; the illiterate question received an illiterate answer. “Well,” Biden said,

they have to deal with the . . . Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where—

Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the equal of . . . A raise of getting out of the $60,000 level.

No. 2, make sure that we bring in to the help with the stud— the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need . . . We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are required — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. [Where, in heaven?] They have every problem coming to them.

Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not day care, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t know what — They don’t know what quite what to do. Play the radio. Make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone — make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

He said more, but I’ll leave it at that. I used to think that Trump’s sentences were gruesome, but he’s James Madison compared to Biden.

Now that I’m making allusions to a glorious, perhaps legendary, past, I’ll take up another issue. In case you haven’t noticed it, this is a great age of verbal abuse. No one writes about presidential politics without abusing either Trump or his opponents. Sometimes I think that nobody writes about anybody without abusing somebody. But this is not the first age of abuse — far from it. The difference is that abuse was formerly a lot more literate. The genre is capable of much refinement, and during the course of history it had been improved so much by cultured users that it could be read with profit and delight by intelligent men and women, even when they disagreed with what they read.

I used to think that Trump’s sentences were gruesome, but he’s James Madison compared to Biden.

Whoever characterized the Middle West as “a vast parking lot for human Fords” was a literate person who knew what to do with his literacy. H.L. Mencken’s obituary of William Jennings Bryan was often unfair but always literate — and incomparably vivid. Speaking of Bryan’s last days, he wrote:

It was plain to everyone that the old Berseker Bryan was gone — that all that remained of him was a pair of glaring and horrible eyes.

But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment's notice.

That was written almost a hundred years ago. Now I come to now.

Unlike many other people, I do not regard “social media” as portents of a new Dark Age. The ability to express oneself spontaneously and seek one’s own audience has allowed millions of people, many of them obscure and uneducated, to develop real though previously latent literary skills. I wrote about this when the internet was relatively new (“The Truth vs. the Truth,” Liberty, September-October 2003), and I’d say the same thing today. But electronic media have also made it easy for would-be thought leaders to display their sheer contempt for skill, reflection, freshness, humor, pathos, real intensity — any literary virtue. This is particularly notable when one considers the once-stimulating genre of political abuse.

Everyone can think of instances; they never stop. Some were recently discovered in the online oeuvre of Gordon (“Max”) Heyworth, former aide to freshman Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). Heyworth apparently helped Spanberger craft the kind of moderate image that might get a Democrat elected in what has been called a Republican district. Among his duties were writing her speeches and “developing communications,” whatever that means. But then the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealed some of Heyworth’s own communications, and Spanberger (a follower of Heyworth’s Twitter account) had to issue a statement bearing the dreaded “d” word: disappointed. She said she was “deeply disappointed to learn about [his] tweets.” Poor lady! You feel sorry for her, don’t you?

Even libertarians engage in stuff like this, imagining that it turns them into H.L. Mencken. But they are not H.L. Mencken.

But the tweets show that Heyworth himself was disappointed, and chronically so. He was especially saddened by Republicans who called for productive work across party lines. And he gave voice to his disappointment. He called one of those discouraging people "a mindless cretin without any sense of service to [his] country. the worst type of American, a sniveling, brain-dead propagandist and a f--- dullard. . . . A guy who publicly fellates a mean-spirited brute like Trump . . . can take his pleas for kindness and shove them all the way up his tiny little a-- ." Another such person, a college kid, got shorter shrift. He was “a f--- p--." As for "all remaining Trump supporters,” they were “racist white supremacists. Every last one of them. No exceptions."

Nothing is easier, or more illiterate, than to memorize a list of insults and drop them into your sentences, pretty much at random. Anyone can do that, all day long. The odd thing is that so many of these people are, like Mr. Heyworth, thought leaders. Even libertarian thought leaders engage in stuff like this, imagining that it turns them into H.L. Mencken. But they are not H.L. Mencken. Mencken didn’t write under another name and then delete his courageous utterances, once his identity was discovered (that’s what Heyworth did), and he didn’t respond to criticism by lashing out even more self-righteously at his critics (which is often the so-called libertarian way). When Mencken was attacked, he published a book — Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon — reprinting the attacks; he wanted readers to have a convenient collection of the clumsy, mean-spirited words that had been flung at him.

I picked up mean-spirited from Heyworth’s list of insults, and it’s another key to the difference between ignorant insulters and writers who, like Mencken, make insults into art. Mencken had many faults, but they were not the faults of which he accused other people. He was not a job-seeker, a bawler, or a time-server. And he was not dull. But today’s verbal abusers project themselves — infallibly, as if they were the bearers of a gypsy curse — as precisely the mean-spirited dullards, mindless cretins, and brain-dead propagandists they deplore. Although I refuse to employ their own favorite word and call them racists, they are at least race-obsessed; and although they are not white supremacists, they are usually white, and their tone insistently proclaims their assumption of supremacy: “no exceptions.”

For the benefit of future generations I need to stipulate that the two people mentioned in this headline are presently candidates for the presidency.

One exception to the misuse-of-abuse syndrome was presented this month by an unexpected source: President Trump. His tweeted critique of the-world-is-ending climate-change fanatic Greta Thunberg departed from his ordinary manner, and from the manner of the like-minded people who accused Miss Thunberg’s minders of “child abuse” for letting her or inducing her to go on in the way she does. Trump tweeted: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”

But let’s abandon thought leaders to their supreme thoughts, and have a really healthy laugh. This month there was a funny headline on Fox News; lots of them are funny, but I found one of them particularly so. For the benefit of future generations I need to stipulate that the two people mentioned in this headline are presently candidates for the presidency. So here it is: “Buttigieg, Klobuchar seated behind each other on plane ahead of Dem presidential debate.” Picture that, willya?

This headline was published on September 10. It took Fox News two days to change it to its current form: “Buttigieg, Klobuchar seated near each other on plane ahead of Dem presidential debate.” Somebody finally read the thing.




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Did Anyone Ask for an Encore?

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July 30. Another debate among ten Democrats: more of the same, piled higher and deeper.

Bernie Sanders, the white-haired Vermont Castro, was at it again, promising to save the exploited Americans. If Elizabeth Warren was for canceling 95% of student debt, Bernie was for canceling all of it. Bernie’s “Medicare for all” was really for all, whether they wanted it or not. And when challenged by Representative Tim Ryan on whether he could assure union members in Michigan that their government benefits would be as good as the private ones they have now, Bernie said his plan would cover medical, dental, and vision benefits with no copays, no deductibles, and no premiums.

Free medicine!

“You don’t know that,” Ryan said.

Sanders’ big idea was government. Every reference he made to private corporations was unfavorable.

“I wrote the bill,” Sanders said snippily. Later he grumbled, “I get a little bit tired of Democrats who are afraid of big ideas.”

Sanders’ big idea was government. Every reference he made to private corporations was unfavorable. The oil companies, he said, were criminal. When asked about his socialism, he dodged the question, but if you listened to his words you could hear it. He declared, “For 45 years the working class has been decimated.” He said he would “take on the greed and corruption of the ruling class.”

Working class. Ruling class.

Closest to him was Elizabeth Warren. Asked to explain why she insists she is a “capitalist,” she dodged the question as slickly as Sanders dodged the one about socialism. Instead, she bragged about taking on the giant banks. She promised “big structural change.”

Warren said her “green industrial policy” would provide $2 trillion for “green research.” She said this would “create 1.2 million industrial jobs,” many of them right there in Michigan and Ohio. Industrial jobs. Nobody jumped on her for this.

Asked to explain why she insists she is a “capitalist,” Warren dodged the question as slickly as Sanders dodged the one about socialism.

Warren argued that US trade policy had been written “by and for” the multinational corporations. “We’re going to negotiate our deals with farmers, union people, and human rights advocates at the table.” Of foreign countries, she said, “Let’s make ’em raise their standards before they come to us and want to sell their products.”

I recall Bill Clinton breezing into the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999 and insisting on putting labor and environment into trade agreements. I remember the reaction of the Pakistani delegates. They didn’t want it. They resented it. They thought of it as a rich country making impossible demands of them in order to placate rich, overfed workers. Later Obama did get some labor and environmental stuff into trade agreements, but the critics said they didn’t amount to much. I never investigated this, but was inclined to believe it because the only standards other countries would be likely to accept would be ones that didn’t amount to much.

Essentially, Warren was proposing to put people in trade negotiations who were interested in other causes — to subordinate the trade between A and B to the political demands of C. This is not a proposal of someone who cares about trade or the rights of people to engage in it.

When several of the candidates denounced tariffs as taxes, Warren said that modern trade agreements are not mostly about tariffs, but about corporate claims to profits. She didn’t say “intellectual property,” but that’s what she was talking about: movies, music, software, biotechnology. She spoke as if ownership of these things were a concern to corporate bosses only, and not to the Americans who created them. She made her position clear: She was not going to protect any of this stuff.

Buttigieg said “Systemic racism touches everything in America,” but then he’s a white mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which has had some difficulties.

Another issue was reparations for slavery — an idea I believe would be as deeply unpopular as busing. Only a handful of the Democratic contenders were for them — no surprise there — but no one denounced them. For that matter, no candidate dared denounce any “progressive” idea about race. Sanders was asked why he opposed paying reparations in cash. His answer wasn’t too clear — he was not comfortable with the issue — but it seemed that he wanted any such money to be spent by the government rather than by private citizens.

Marianne Williamson, the candidate of “deep truth telling,” was asked how she decided $500 billion was the morally correct amount of racial reparations. Her answer was that it was the politically possible amount; the morally correct amount was larger.

Others made bows to the Left without embracing the particular idea. Pete Buttigieg made a point of saying, “Systemic racism touches everything in America,” and I wanted to ask, “everything?” but then he’s a white mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which has had some difficulties. Beto O’Rourke insisted that America’s wealth was built on the backs of slaves, but he’s another white guy, and from an old Confederate state. It is obvious to me that race relations have improved a whole lot in my lifetime, but nobody said that.

In the June debates, O’Rourke had annoyed me more than any of the others because he kept dodging the moderators’ questions. Answering the question you want asked rather than the one asked is an old trick, and in this forum it was obvious when they were doing it. On July 30 O’Rourke did it again. He also said “in this country” a lot. I had never taken notice of that phrase before Liberty editor Stephen Cox groused about it in a column last year; but since then it has been a fly in the ear. In his closing statement, O’Rourke said “in this country” at least three times. He also used the word “winning” over and over in describing a political campaign in Texas, which he lost.

Answering the question you want asked rather than the one asked is an old trick, and in this forum it was obvious when they were doing it.

O’Rourke is a no-hoper, which pleases me a lot, as does the coming exit of the touchy-feely Marianne Williamson. Some of the other no-hopers I liked a little better. John Delaney said he would get America to “zero carbon” by 2050 — an imaginable time, at least — through technical innovation, creating a “market for carbon capture,” and “investing in people and entrepreneurs.” It was grandiose stuff, but even using the word “entrepreneurs” was notable in this crowd. Another no-hoper, Hickenlooper, said again that he had no interest in a “Green New Deal” that would offer everyone a government job — and I noted that none of the others came to the defense of guaranteed government jobs. Amy Klobuchar said again that she had no interest in handing out free college tuition to rich kids. But these are all no-hopers, and soon will be gone, along with Tim Ryan and Scott Bullock.

Of this group we will have Sanders and Warren, and maybe Buttigieg for a while.

* * *

July 31. Two and a half more hours. Since June, nine hours of Democrats.

It was some relief that the final group spent less time declaring how terrible things are in America. Joe Biden, no doubt mouthing a line prepared by his consultants, said of America and Donald Trump, “We love it, we’re not leaving it, we’re here to stay and we’re certainly not leaving it with you.”

Biden and Kamala Harris resumed their fight. In June Harris attacked Biden for having opposed forced busing sometime in the last century. Perhaps realizing that moving school children around like pieces of furniture is not a popular idea, Harris opposes it now. Yet, she said, “The vice president has still failed to acknowledge that he was wrong to take that position at that time.” And why was busing a better idea then? She didn’t say, and Biden, having had a whole month to defend his opposition to busing, didn’t dare. Instead he said Harris had been attorney general of California for eight years and had had done nothing about the “segregated” schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The final group spent less time declaring how terrible things are in America.

On medical insurance, Biden hammered Harris because her plan would allow private coverage for only 10 years, and then ban it. Harris hammered Biden because his plan would leave out 10 million Americans. That’s 3% of the population — and which 3% is it? The poor? Medicaid covers the poor. The old? Medicare covers them. Who, then? Criminals? Rich people? People between jobs? Illegal immigrants? No one explained this.

I didn’t like Kamala Harris. She seemed to have an aura of weariness and bitterness about her. I liked it when the Girl Scoutish Tulsi Gabbard accused Harris, former attorney general of California, of putting “1,500 people in jail for marijuana offenses.” Harris was quick to tell other candidates that they had their facts wrong, but she didn’t contradict Gabbard. Of course Harris is for marijuana legalization now; she is as progressive as she needs to be.

Regarding immigration, Biden was asked about the 800,000 illegals who were deported in the first two years of the Obama-Biden administration. If you cross over illegally, he said, “you should be able to be sent back.”

Most of the candidates were not for sending illegals back. Bill DeBlasio asked Biden whether he had used his power as vice president to try and stop the deportations — a question that opened up a pit to fall in on either a yes or a no. Biden was careful not to answer yes or no. One of his responses was, “If you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to the people around the world standing in line?” That’s a reference to people around the world who have filed the papers to immigrate to America and are waiting their turn under their country quota. I know people who waited 10 years, and they have no sympathy for “queue jumpers” who climb over the wall and insist on being admitted immediately.

Kamala Harris seemed to have an aura of weariness and bitterness about her.

Andrew Yang, the man with no necktie, was still pushing his nutty idea of giving everyone $1,000 a month. I recalled a documentary about open heroin use in Vancouver, B.C., where the drug addicts all line up on Welfare Wednesday to get their checks from the Canadian government. (It’s on YouTube.) Other than that, I rather liked Andrew Yang. He’s upbeat, and he’s from the private sector. He argued that tying medical insurance to employment makes it harder to start companies, harder to hire, and harder to switch jobs. Decouple insurance from work, he said, “and watch entrepreneurship recover and bloom.” At least this man knows and cares about the process of creating real work, which so many of the other Democrats do not.

Yang also said the most sensible thing that evening about climate change. Jay Inslee had insisted, “We have to act now. We have to get off coal in ten years,” and the other candidates promised this, that, and the other. But Yang pointed out that carbon dioxide is a global problem, and that America is only 15% of it. Every politician offering a big plan assumes his big plan will work. Yang’s unpolitical answer was, “Start moving our people to higher ground.”

If Biden had said this, it would have been a sensation. When Yang said it, nobody cared.

Well, Yang will be gone soon enough, as will the windbag de Blasio, who bellowed twice that he would “tax the hell out of the wealthy,” and Cory Booker, who enunciates as if he’s talking to someone partially deaf, and Kirsten Gillibrand, whose every statement was about women, and Julian Castro, who can’t make up his mind whether he lives in the land of opportunity or the land of “Americans who are hurting.”

And at least seven of them said “in this country” at least once. Buzz, buzz, buzz.




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“I Actually Believe This”

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In politics, if you can’t get attention by saying something sober and judicious, say something bold, even fanciful. I give as an example Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s statement on July 13 that if elected president he would ask soccer player Megan Rapinoe to be his secretary of state.

When some at the Netroots Nation conference laughed, Inslee said, “I actually believe this.”

Really? Secretary of state is a post that has been held by Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz, and before that by John Foster Dulles, Elihu Root, James Madison, and even Thomas Jefferson. All of these folks had some qualifications for the job. Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had been first lady and a senator from New York.

This got Inslee noticed, but I don’t think it’s going to do him much good.

But a soccer player? What’s next — Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as secretary of defense?

Poor Jay Inslee. He’s stuck at 1% in the polls, and he’s trying to get noticed. This got him noticed, but I don’t think it’s going to do him much good. It merely confirms that he does not have the judgment necessary to be president of the United States.




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Will the LP Be Destroyed by Victories?

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The thesis of this reflection is simple: if the Republicans move to the right on economic issues, trying to attract fiscal-Right voters, and stay with the Right on guns, while the Democrats move to their social left by supporting legalization of recreational cannabis, sex workers, and gambling, then every Libertarian Party issue will be championed by either Democrats or Republicans who will have a better chance of winning elections. At that point, the LP will have no reason to exist.

The GOP recently passed tax cuts, and the current White House is aggressively deregulating. The LP can do little that the GOP is not already doing. The GOP is also extremely strong on gun rights and opposition to gun control, and, like the Democrats’, its foreign policy is veering toward military disengagement abroad.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations.

Meanwhile, state and local Democratic parties are increasingly willing to reform criminal laws to legalize recreational cannabis. Right now it is also a vanguard or vogue position among far-left Democrats to support legalizing prostitution (a position that has long been championed by gay rights groups on the far left). There are whispers in New York that the Democrats in the state legislature intend to legalize both recreational cannabis and sex workers, a path that other state Democratic Parties are also treading.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations. But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about? Nothing. There may be nothing more for the LP to do. But do not worry. I have a solution to this problem.

The one thing liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans cannot do is create a social space uniquely for libertarians. The Libertarian Party should essentially reimagine itself as a social club for liberty where running candidates is a hobby but the real purpose is building a community. The LP can organize meetings, sponsor online events, build forums for communication, assist the authorship and distribution of ideological content, and fund academic scholarships. The LP will probably never win elections even if it tries, so it has nothing to lose by moving in this direction.

But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about?

An organized movement built from LP grassroots community activism could then trickle down into the mass of mainstream voters, keeping the GOP on the far Right and forcing Democrats to defend the social Left. Other than providing services uniquely to libertarians, there may be nothing the LP can do that Republicans or Democrats could not do better in today's political climate.




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Should Libertarians Run for President?

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Who would be the ideal Libertarian presidential candidate for 2020? Does he (or she) exist? Will we get anyone like this person, or will it be business as usual?

We’ll find out soon enough.

One of the reasons we keep getting candidates many of us don’t want is that we can’t all agree on what the Libertarian Party nominee ought to do. Should he educate the public about what libertarians believe? Should he play the spoiler and trip up big-government Republicans? Would it be best for him to rack up the biggest possible numbers on election day? Or should he really, honest-to-gosh try to win the election?

Power is the only language the political universe understands. Spoiler power is all we can expect, at present, to have.

I think we can all agree that we want a country where the Libertarian choice would prevail. But we’re not terribly close to having it. In the meantime, I fail to see where “swinging for the fence” is going to get us.

Even if we dislike political necessity, because it goes against our convictions, we must understand it if we are to increase our influence. The only way our candidates can educate the public is by getting coverage in the media. To achieve this, we must make the media sit up and take notice. We do that by creating a disturbance in their universe.

A spoiler can have that effect. If candidates seriously threaten to take votes away from the media’s anointed contenders, they begin to attract attention. The threatened party will, sooner than later, begin to court potential spoiler votes.

Power is the only language the political universe understands. Spoiler power is all we can expect, at present, to have. We need to quit apologizing for this potential and embrace it instead.

We can all agree that we want a country where the Libertarian choice would prevail. But we’re not terribly close to having it.

The candidacy of Ron Paul demonstrated that a Republican can run as a spoiler and exert considerable influence on the public. If a Libertarian Party candidate could grab a share of the vote only as large as Paul’s, he or she would be in an excellent position to educate — as Rep. Paul has.

Candidates who want to be taken seriously won’t come out and admit they don’t expect to win all the marbles. But if they truly believe they will win as Libertarians, then they’ve lost whatever marbles they ever had. They’re better off simply stating — if they want to enjoy the success possible for them — what will be the truth: that they offer an alternative to Republican or Democratic options. In other words, to move the cumbersome machinery of the election to a different place.

Voters want to believe that casting their ballot will have some effect. If they know a candidate isn’t going to win the election, they at least hope to influence its outcome as strongly as possible. Libertarian ideas are popular with many people who don’t consider themselves libertarians. A candidate who stops pandering to established interests and stands for our values has a good chance of siphoning away a contender’s votes. The greater effect that has on the outcome of the election, the more likely Republican (and to a far lesser degree, Democratic) candidates may be to adopt pro-liberty positions.

Candidates who want to be taken seriously won’t come out and admit they don’t expect to win all the marbles. But if they truly believe they will win as Libertarians, then they’ve lost whatever marbles they ever had.

The next president who is in any shape or form libertarian will be a Republican. Again, we’re perfectly free to dislike this. That doesn’t change the fact that if one of our own is elected, it will be from the GOP ticket. The threat of voting for spoiler Libertarian Party candidates can provide the leverage to move a Rand Paul or a Justin Amash into winning the GOP nomination. Once nominated, in the general election that person would stand an excellent chance.

We’re not going to love everything about a Republican candidate. I have serious issues with Paul because I suspect he’s something of a closet social conservative. But though he says things rightwing culture warriors like, thus far his record shows him to be reliably libertarian. I’m not overly worried that, if he were elected president, he would turn into Jerry Falwell.

Money spent on the presidential race could instead be used to fund down-ballot races, especially locally, where LP candidates have a real shot at winning.

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian. The few bones he’s thrown us were certainly not motivated by any fear that a more liberty-loving challenger would defeat him in the 2020 primary. But if one does indeed run next time, we need to look long and hard at the possibility of registering Republican long enough to vote for him or her in the primary.

Libertarians should run for president only if they can change the outcome of the race. That’s the only way they’ll be noticed by the media, which is the only way they can educate the public. Any other candidacy for the highest office in the land is a waste of time. The money spent could instead be used to fund down-ballot races, especially locally, where LP candidates have a real shot at winning.

I have no idea, yet, whom I’ll vote for next year. But I will only vote for the Libertarian option if I feel that he or she is serious about being a presence in the election. I owe no one my vote, and I won’t be taken for granted. I want my vote to count. That will only happen if the candidate I vote for counts, too.




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