A Nice Surprise

 | 

Unnoticed by the mainstream media in the flurry of election coverage was a quiet victory in Arizona. There voters approved Proposition 107, which bans racial quotas and other preferences by state government, Arizona thus becomes the fifth state to do so (after California, Michigan, Nebraska, and Washington).

And the vote wasn’t even close — Prop. 107 got nearly 60% of the vote.

I would have hoped that by now every state would have outlawed reverse discrimination (more appropriately characterized as “revenge quotas”). But I try to savor victories as they come.




Share This


A Libertarian Election

 | 

In emails sent on election day to prospective Democratic voters, President Obama said, “Today, the country will make a choice about the direction we take in the years ahead. " We’ll see now whether he respects that choice. I predict he won’t. Yet the Republicans have won an enormous victory.

Of the 435 seats in Congress, two-thirds are safe preserves for Democrats or Republicans. During this election, the Republicans put two-thirds of the rest of them in play. And of those seats, they won about two-thirds. If America operated with a European parliamentary system, Obama would not be president today. He lost the confidence of the majority of parliamentary districts.

Libertarians should be happy, though perhaps not ecstatic, about the Republican victory.

Why?

Because the Republicans are, on the national level, the only effective barrier to the enormous expansion of government personified by Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi.

Stereotypes? Yes. Amusing targets of ridicule? Right again. Yet until now, these ridiculous figures have been potent encroachers on the freedom of every American.

Despite the gross imperfections of the Republican Party, we have to recognize that it is a party that could not exist without essential libertarian ideas. Just as Obama’s most potent ideas come from European socialism, so the Republicans’ most potent ideas come from American concepts of individual liberty. I refer to default notions of limited government, private property, freedom from unnecessary taxation, ownership of self-protective devices (guns), and unabridged freedom of speech and association. Without these ideas, a libertarian society is impossible. Never mind the rest of it: at this moment, the Republicans are friends of these ideas; the Democrats are not — although even Obama was constrained, in his post-election press conference on Wednesday afternoon, to pay tribute to free enterprise and entrepreneurship as the source of American prosperity.

If America operated with a European parliamentary system, Obama would not be president today.

“Across the country,” says David Harsanyi of the Denver Post, “the electorate laid down a resounding angry vote against activist government. And, mind you, no one had to wrestle with any ambiguity about the objectives of the Republicans. Democrats helpfully hammered home all the finer points of libertarianism, and Republicans typically embraced them. Exit polls showed that this election was a rejection of the progressive agenda of ‘stimulus,’ of Obamacare, of cap and trade. Exit polls show that there was great anger with government — not government that didn't work, or government that didn't do enough, but government that didn't know its place.”

Yet the election wasn’t just about ideas; it was about what can be done with ideas in the electoral marketplace. With this in mind, let’s try to put the events of Nov. 2 into some kind of libertarian perspective.

Many people, such as Neil King, Jr., writing for the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 1, wonder about the volatility of American elections, about the electorate’s movement between, for instance, the 2008 and the 2010 elections. How, King wonders, can the country “solve its long-term problems . . . when voters seem so uncertain which party should lead the charge.” I agree with King’s list of specific problems — deficits, Social Security, healthcare costs: yes, those are real issues. But I disagree with his analysis of the situation.

Even Obama was constrained, in his post-election press conference on Wednesday afternoon, to pay tribute to free enterprise and entrepreneurship as the source of American prosperity.

For one thing, “voters” are not quite “so uncertain.” In American politics, huge results can follow from the shift of only 4.6% of the voters, which was the difference between the returns for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and the returns for the same party’s nominee in 2008. As I’ve often pointed out in Liberty, the two big American parties live by getting as many marginal votes as they can, wherever they can get them. If one party falls beneath its normal margin, it will try to find a group of issues that will allow it to annex some new group of voters, or bring some new inspiration to the formerly faithful. That’s why the Republicans (or the Democrats) can stand for one thing in certain years, and nearly the opposite in others, and why individual candidates within each party can stand for both at the same time.

This year, the Republicans put new life into their dormant libertarian principles, and they won decisively. It is not inconceivable that the Democrats will create some simulacrum to those principles, for use in the next election. But the important thing is to reduce the power of politics to “solve” our problems.

When government is perceived as the source of solutions, the problems ordinarily get worse — because, as many voters saw this year, the fundamental problem isn’t the deficit or healthcare or old-fashioned entitlements programs. The fundamental problem is the reach of government. The libertarian idea — originally, the American idea — is to conserve the power of the individual to decide what his indebtedness shall be, what his investments shall be, and what steps he should take to provide for himself in sickness and old age. The problems that King enumerates would not be political if the friends of government hadn’t “led the chargeto extend government’s power and purview.

The two big American parties live by getting as many marginal votes as they can, wherever they can get them.

That’s why the victory of the Republicans is important and interesting, even exciting. In 2010, the Republicans responded to the repudiation of Bush in 2008 by seeking voters everywhere outside the Democratic base. They largely abandoned their appeals to “social issues,” which hadn’t been getting them any crucial amounts of votes, and they appealed instead to the people’s resentment of the Obama regime as arrogant, spendthrift, anti-property, and anti-individual — in short, fanatically expansive and power-seeking. They saw the Democratic regime as the American phalanx of the European nanny state, now in retreat even in Europe.

After World War II, the two big American parties studied the complex art of gerrymandering. In most states, they perfected it. They learned how to ensure that whoever had a seat in Congress would be able to keep it. To maintain their hold on “minority” (i.e., especially, African-American) voters, the Democrats created “urban” districts in which voters would never have a real choice of parties. But often the Republicans cooperated with the Democrats in the great effort to preserve legislators’ individual seats. In this year, however, some of the most gerrymandered districts in the union changed hands: look at the map of Illinois congressional district 17, and notice what happened there, and you’ll see what I mean. The appeal of an essentially libertarian platform inundated many of the carefully fenced-off legislative fiefdoms, and swept their lords away.

Walter Shapiro of AOL’s “Politics Daily” describes the current situation clearly: “At a time when the percentage of voters who call themselves liberal (about 20 percent) has remained constant, the number of self-identified conservatives among voters has risen from 32 percent (2006) to 34 percent (2008) to a whopping 41 percent (2010). In fact, conservatives outnumbered moderates (39 percent) among 2010 voters. Since such ideological markers normally move at a glacial pace, the dramatic increase in conservatives may be the most lasting legacy of the 2010 election.”

The fundamental problem isn’t the deficit or healthcare or old-fashioned entitlements programs. The fundamental problem is the reach of government.

Consider now that conservative “social issues” were not a factor in the current contest, hence did not increase voters’ self-identification as “conservatives.” The new “conservatives” were attracted to that label largely by the libertarian idea of limited government.

In this way, the Republicans found their voters. On the scale in which elections are won and lost in America, they found them in enormous numbers. And this discovery will have enormous effects — if people who believe in the American ideal of individual liberty continue to demonstrate that they will settle for nothing less.




Share This


The Lonely Lunch Bucket

 | 

Usually when one side in politics loses big, its defenders will deny that the people rejected their ideas.

Republicans said so in 2008 and partisans of the Democrats began saying so even before the election of 2010.

Here is Michael Lind, writing in Salon (November 2). He notes that the Democrats have joined other center-left parties in Germany, Italy, France, and Britain in electoral banishment.

The reason, he argues, is that all these parties “abandoned their traditional working-class constituents in order to woo bankers and professionals.” Instead of pushing for more social benefits and a higher minimum wage, they have embraced the market and refocused their progressivism on “non-economic causes like renewable energy, mass transit, the new urbanism, gay marriage, identity politics and promotion of amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

The Democrats have hardly given up on social benefits — see Obama’s health-insurance law — but they did go for renewable energy, gay marriage, etc., as Lind says. They do have pals on Wall Street — and more of them perhaps than they traditionally had (though even FDR had his Bernard Baruch). But imagine if the Democrats had defined themselves exclusively as a pro-union, lunch-bucket Hubert-Humphrey-and-Walter-Mondale party. They would have been even deeper in the woods than they already are.

The gist of Lind’s argument is that the Democrats are losing because they don’t have the courage and wisdom to agree with Michael Lind. That argument allows Lind to make the further claim that the people do agree with him. And some do. I know them — and they are feeling politically very lonely.




Share This


Measure By Measure

 | 

Ballot measures, most of them in the initiative-friendly western states, reflected a mostly conservative electorate on November 2. Here are some issues of interest to classical liberals and libertarians.

Marijuana was the big policy issue of 2010 — and it did not light the fires of approval.

In California, voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized closet-sized cannabis grows and the possession of one ounce of marijuana by any adult. More important, it would have offered a local option for communities to legalize and tax cannabis much further. But the Obama administration, which has left alone the numerous medical cannabis dispensaries in California and the other medical-marijuana states, said it would not tolerate dispensaries for general use, nor open grows.

California pioneered medical marijuana in 1996 and remains the most liberal state regarding cannabis. A new law passed by the legislature takes effect January 1, making possession of less than an ounce a mere civil infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

In Oregon, which also has medical marijuana, the people voted no on Measure 74, which would have created a system of private, nonprofit dispensaries and licensed farmers.

At press time, the count was split 50-50 on Arizona’s Proposition 203, which would have legalized medical cannabis and allowed dispensaries.

Voters in South Dakota rejected Measure 13, a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

The bottom line: cannabis remains legal for certain medical purposes in the District of Columbia and 14 states, but for general use is legal nowhere in the United States.

Liquor. In Washington state, one of the 19 “control states” in which the sale of liquor is a state monopoly, voters appear to have saved the state liquor stores from Initiative 1100, which would have disbanded them. The measure, which was put on the ballot by Costco and supported by Safeway and Wal-Mart, would also have repealed the state law that forbids beer and wine wholesalers from offering quantity discounts.

Beer distributors provided the money for a campaign to tar market liberalization as a threat to public sobriety and health. There was also a competing measure, Initiative 1105, which would have privatized liquor but kept the restrictive beer and wine rules, and the measure divided the anti-state vote. That vote was close, but at press time the state liquor stores appear to have been saved.

Smoking. South Dakota passed Referred Law 12, which bans smoking in bars and casinos, by a vote of almost two-thirds.

Affirmative action. Arizonavoters passed Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Amendment, by a strong yes vote. Like measures that passed California in 1996, Washington in 1998, Michigan in 2006, and Nebraska in 2008, it bans racial preferences in state and local employment, education, and contracting. Unlike earlier measures, it did not get much national attention.

Abortion. In Colorado, voters rejected by more than two-thirds Amendment 62 to establish “fetal personhood.” This had been on the ballot before, and had failed before.

Property rights. By a vote of about 2 to 1, Nevada voters rejected Question 4, a measure to create exceptions to the law passed in 2008 forbidding the taking of private property for sale to a private owner. Question 4 was put on the ballot by the legislature at the request of government officials. It would have allowed government to take private property and transfer it to a private owner who “uses the property primarily to benefit a public service.”

Labor organizing. There was an effort in four right-to-work states to sandbag the proposed “Employee Free Choice Act,” also known as card-check union organizing. Card-check didn’t go anywhere in 2010 or 2009 either, and with a Republican House of Representatives it is dead now. But opponents didn’t know that, and they proposed measures at the state level to guarantee citizens the right of secret ballot in union representation elections.

As attempts to nullify federal law, these proposals are of doubtful legality, but they do highlight public opinion if they pass — and these did.

In Arizona, unions sued to keep the measure off the ballot. They won a ruling to that effect, but Governor Jan Brewer countered them by calling a special session of the legislature, which rewrote the measure and put it on the ballot. As Proposition 113, it passed with 61% of the vote.

In South Dakota, unions sued to keep it off the ballot, and they lost. There it was called Amendment K, and it passed with 79% of the vote.

In Utah it was called Amendment A, and passed with 60% of the vote.

In South Carolina it was called Amendment 2 and passed with 86% of the vote.

Health insurance was another issue in which state ballot propositions were used to send a political message about a federal law — in this case, a bill Congress had passed and President Obama had signed. These measures were of doubtful legality, assuming the new law itself passed constitutional muster (it is in several courts). Think of these state measures not as law but as a political demonstration.

They were measures forbidding government from requiring citizens to buy health insurance or to pay for health services out of their own pockets.

In Missouri, a measure like this, Proposition C, had passed in August with a 71% vote.

On Nov. 2, it passed in Oklahoma as Question 756, the Health Care Freedom Amendment. Despite opposition from The Oklahoman newspaper, it passed with 65% of the vote.

In Arizona, as Proposition 106, it passed with about 55% of the vote, though it was opposed by the largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic.

In Colorado, as Amendment 63, sponsored by the Independence Institute, it was opposed by the largest paper there, the Denver Post, and narrowly failed.

Taxes. California voters passed Proposition 26, an initiated constitutional amendment that requires a supermajority for the legislature to raise taxes. Voters also passed Proposition 25, which repealed the requirement that the legislature have a supermajority to pass a budget. The supermajority rule had led to deadlock over the budget, and a state funding crisis.

Washington voters passed Initiative 1053, which also requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or a vote of the people, for the state to raise taxes. Washington does not have initiated constitutional amendments; the two-thirds rule is merely a statute. It will stand for two years before the legislature can vote by simple majority to suspend it — which is what the Legislature did earlier in 2010 to an identical measure passed by voters in 2007.

Washington voters rejected Initiative 1098, which would have created a state income tax for high earners only. The preliminary count was nearly 2-to-1 against.

Campaign finance. Floridavoters gave a majority to Amendment 1, to repeal the state’s system of public finance for statewide political candidates who agree to spending limits. It was a constitutional amendment, however, and failed to receive the required 60% approval to pass.

Guns. Kansas voters passed Constitutional Amendment Question 1 with an 88 % approval. This replaced a provision in the state constitution guaranteeing “the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state” with a measure guaranteeing gun rights “for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.”

Several other states passed measures establishing a citizen’s right to hunt.

Weird stuff. Three things this year.

The first is Oklahoma State Question 755, a constitutional amendment put on the ballot through the efforts of Rep. Rex Duncan, Republican of Sand Springs. Rep. Duncan is worried about Islamic Sharia law coming to Oklahoma, and wrote the measure, which forbids Oklahoma courts from considering or using Sharia law or international law. His proposal to protect Oklahomans from the strictures of Islam won 70% approval.

In Michigan, where former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been disgraced, convicted, and put in prison, voters approved by 3-to-1 Proposal 2. It bars any officeholder convicted of a felony involving deceit and fraud from holding public office for 20 years — a much longer time than Kilpatrick is likely to spend in the clink.

And in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — that is its full name — 78% of voters rejected a proposal to reduce its official name to “Rhode Island,” which is what the rest of us thought it was.




Share This


Stump Speech

 | 

It’s sad to realize that the most entertaining use of language during the 2010 election campaign involved the shrieks of a computer-generated pig.

I’m referring, of course, to the Geico Insurance ad that shows a man asking portentously, “Can Geico save you 15% or more on car insurance?”, then answering, “Did the little piggy go ‘wee, wee, wee’ all the way home?” Following that, we see the piggy in question. He’s leaning out a car window, waving a party twirler in each, uh, hand, and squealing delightedly, “Wee, wee, wee! Wee, wee, wee! Wee, wee, wee!”, etc., until the driver, a suburban soccer mom, stops the car and snaps, “Max! Maxwell! You’re home!” “Uh, thanks Mrs. A,” Maxwell the piggy replies, and leaves the car, never realizing how rudely he’s behaved.

It’s hard to explain why this ad is funny. (A lot of people think it’s not.) Part of the explanation must be that it takes something that makes no sense (the “this little piggy went to market” nursery rhyme) and converts it into something that looks like a slice of American reality — the pain-in-the-ass teenager, unconsciously exploiting the harassed middle-class mom. This is whimsy, the form of humor that Monty Python generated by imagining middle-class English people reacting with courteous acquiescence to palpably absurd situations.

Unfortunately, the political campaign that formed the background to the Little Pig ad was going in the opposite direction. The combatants took a serious event, a climactic election, and converted it into a stupefyingly unamusing absurdity.

Paul’s reply was exactly right. “How ridiculous are you?” he asked.

There were few exceptions to this pattern. One of them was the internet ad attacking Senator Boxer of California, who in 2009 made a fool of herself at a congressional hearing by demanding that a soldier call her “Senator” instead of “Ma’am”: she had worked hard to become a senator, she insisted, and therefore deserved every inch of her title. The anti-Boxer ad was filled with characters — generals, judges, policemen, Boy Scouts, nuns, Indian chiefs — who also demanded that they be accorded the highest possible honorific, because they had worked for it. Don’t call me “Sister”; call me “Mother Superior.”

One other amusing episode was the penultimate debate between the two senatorial candidates from Kentucky. The Democrat, Jack Conway, demanded that the libertarian Republican, Rand Paul, tell him whether he thought it was a good idea to worship “a false idol” named “Aqua Buddha.” Conway was trying to take seriously, indeed solemnly, an alleged episode of sacrilege from Paul’s life as a bumptious undergraduate, many years before. Paul’s reply was exactly right. “How ridiculous are you?” he asked.

But few participants in the great electoral process followed his example by ridiculing the ridiculous. When the Democrats dug up a former servant of the Republican candidate for governor of California and held press conferences in which the woman bewailed the fact that her employer had believed her when she furnished a bad Social Security number, no one said, “How ridiculous are you?” or started to laugh.

No, this was an election conducted in high seriousness, an election in which the Obama forces ran TV ads showing the American electorate’s purse being stolen in a darkened parking structure by thugs paid with stacks of Mao Tse-tung notes — and nobody laughed. Ceaselessly campaigning against the Supreme Court’s decision to respect the first amendment, the president kept arguing that by purportedly spending money to express their opinions, his opponents were supporting dictatorship: “This isn't a threat to the Democrats, it's a threat to our democracy." Again, nobody laughed.

It’s important to notice that the word “our” was used far too much in this campaign, by both political parties. Aren’t you tired of the attempt to smuggle togetherness into every political conception? But I’m much more tired of sheer pomposity — and in that category, President Obama won the election, hands down. Now that Senator Byrd is dead, no one can possibly be more pompous than Obama. Note to Republicans: I know your own long training in pomposity, but don’t even consider relying on it in 2012. You’ll never beat the president, once he really cranks it up.

Think about the campaign speeches he delivered, month after month — speeches mercilessly reiterating a single metaphor: the Republicans had been “driving” the nation’s economic “car,” they had “run it into a ditch,” and now they were “asking for the keys back.” That was something, but it wasn’t much, and it shouldn’t have lasted long; because the longer Obama pontificated in that way, the more likely people were to remember that it had actually been Barney Frank in the driver’s seat, with President Bush riding shotgun. Obama appeared to sense the dullness of his ruling metaphor, because he kept adding things to it — images of himself working in the ditch, sweating in the ditch, rappelling into the ditch, and so on, all to fix the car that the Republicans had disabled. You were supposed to picture him as a combination of Errol Flynn and a working-class hero with “Barry” on the tag over his left pocket. Pompous? You bet.

One measure of a nation’s culture is its ability to identify pomposity, and conquer it with laughter.

And think about his long and deep meditations on human psychology, as vouchsafed to a coven of donors in West Newton, MA during the last stages of the campaign. This is the speech in which he attributed dissatisfaction with his policies to the backwardness of voters, especially working-class voters. "Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now,” he opined, “and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country's scared."

For a long time I’ve been saying that if you think the president is good with words, you should read his words. Look at that first sentence. Did you think it would ever end? Now look at his subject-verb agreement, or lack thereof: “facts and science and argument does . . . ” (This is a frequent problem with him.) Look at his use of that most clichéd of all current clichés, “hardwired”: “we,” meaning you and me, not him, have no more volition or reflection than a computer; we just can’t help committing thought crimes. Finally (because I have to stop somewhere), look at the bizarre assumption that we don’t agree with him because we’re deaf to “facts and science and argument.” Science? Does he want the Nobel Prize in Physics now?

That other great scientist, David Axelrod, did even better than his boss at turning normal discourse into absurdity. One of the scenes in Citizen Kane that always make people laugh is the one in which someone points out to Kane, the scaremongering newspaper publisher, that “there’s not the slightest proof” that a Spanish armada is preparing to attack the United States (“GALLEONS OF SPAIN OFF JERSEY COAST!” ); and Kane replies, “Can you prove it isn’t?” That’s exactly what David Axelrod said to Bob Schieffer of CBS News, when, on October 10, Schieffer asked him for proof that the foreign money the Chamber of Commerce was allegedly using to fund anti-Democratic campaigns was “anything other than peanuts.“ “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not?” said Axelrod. Unfortunately, Schieffer didn’t laugh.

It must have been hard to keep from doing that. I know I find it hard not to laugh when I hear partisan utterances of any kind. That’s true even when I’m dealing with a respectable political authority, such as Sean Trende. Trende is Senior Elections Analyst for RealClearPolitics (I’m sorry to say that this is the way they spell it). On October 18, Trende wrote an intelligent article for the RealClear site, comparing the election of 2010 with that of 1994. But the pomposity of politics infected even Mr.Trende, its analyst. His essay included the following passage: “This is a different kind of election than 1994, entirely. When my lay friends ask about this election, I explain that it is like seeing Haley's Comet; you'll usually only get to see it once in your lifetime.”

Trende may be right about the election, but what a thing to say! Maybe it’s Trende’s editor, not Trende himself, who mistakes the common mispronunciation (“Haley” instead of “Halley”) for the comet’s actual name; I’ll let that one go. I’ll also give Trende a pass on the common but nonsensical “different than.” But what’s this nonsense about “lay” people? The only distinction that I recognize between “lay” people and other people is the distinction between laymen and clergy. Are political analysts now administering the sacraments? How pompous can you get? And notice how easily that term rolled off Mr. Trende’s keyboard: no suggestion of irony, just the naive conversion of an honorable title — journalist — into a pompous absurdity.

One measure of a nation’s culture is its ability to identify pomposity, and conquer it with laughter. The next time Obama or any other of the new class of priests and “scientific” analysts stands up to pontificate, I hope there’s a chorus of laughter. That will solve most of our problems.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2017 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.