The Great Debaters

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I feel that I should say something about the presidential debates. I don’t want to do it. Probably you don’t want to read it. But it’s as inevitable as someone going to a wake and saying, “Doesn’t he look natural?”

“Natural,” of course, would not be the right word for our current debaters. Most of them look deranged, and their talk confirms the impression. I think one sample will suffice. It’s the now-famous outburst from Bernie Sanders, standing next to his alleged opponent, Hillary Clinton, and screaming, “"The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails. . . . Enough of the emails. Let's talk about the real issues facing America.”

Can’t you just hear the Witch of the West cackling, “Helping the little lady along, are you, my fine gentleman?” In this case, the cackling was supplied by the little lady herself, who shrieked a series of those demented sounds that pass with her for laughter. But why would anybody say what Sanders said? It’s not the kind of thing you say if you actually want to beat your opponent.

Media speculation holds that Bernie wants a high position in a Clinton administration, and one can imagine many posts for which he would be qualified. As someone who doesn’t realize that the arguments for socialism were completely discredited over a hundred years ago, he’s suited to be Undersecretary for Historic Preservation. Maybe he could rise as far as Executive Director of the Steam Locomotive Bureau.

In this case, the cackling was supplied by the little lady herself, who shrieked a series of those demented sounds that pass with her for laughter.

My own speculation is that Sanders simply hates Republicans so much that he is willing to do anything to express contempt for them. Because that’s what his statement was — a mere declaration of contempt. No reasoning about the evidence, no consideration of the many problems that Clinton’s “damn emails” have brought up, and of course no interest in the, after all, very interesting question of why he thinks he can speak for “the American people.” The same populace that he pictures as alternately vomiting over the email scandal and trying to sleep it off (“sick and tired”) is depicted by the polls as actively concerned with the issue and actively engaged in revising its opinion of Hillary Clinton — downward. Why wouldn’t Sanders use this as a campaign talking point, or at least leave it lay, unless he was mastered by his vindictive spirit? The reason his campaign got traction is that even Democrats consider Clinton a hateful, dishonest person. But with his carefully plotted debate outburst, Sanders showed that for him, nothing is worth so much as reviling the Republicans. This is ordinary for Democrats. The family that reviles together, stays together.

But to do Sanders the justice he is never willing to do other people, we need to consider his own explanation of his motive — his belief that discussion of Hillary’s “damn emails” crowds out discussion of “the real issues facing America.”

(I like quoting “damn emails,” because it’s such a dumb thing to say. “Damn” is the default term of abuse. It’s what people say when they can’t think of anything else. It’s exactly what a dumb, befuddled, obnoxious old coot would say about any problem in daily life. “Damn junk mail! Why do they send me the damn stuff? Damn toaster! Burns the bread every damn time! Damn kids! I’m sick of the damn kids in this neighborhood!”)

As someone who doesn’t realize that the arguments for socialism were completely discredited over a hundred years ago, Sanders is well suited to be Undersecretary for Historic Preservation.

So let’s consider his belief. The essential idea is one he shares with most of the other candidates, Democratic or Republican — the notion that there is a giant pile of issues out there, as tall as Mt. Everest and just as gnarly, and that America has to face those issues,and would be busy doing so if Americans could only see them. The candidate’s mission is to reveal the existence of those issues, now cleverly concealed behind the opponents’ lying contemptible hateful hate-filled propaganda. No one else is willing to undertake this mission.

If this is true, it’s surprising that political candidates almost never initiate a dialogue about the issues that is remotely similar to anything that normal people do when they have a real issue to discuss. Normal people try to find the facts, and if the facts turn out not to be alarming, they are happy not to argue about solving a problem that no one can find. But if there is a problem, and it’s apparent enough to be a subject of debate, they try to sharpen their arguments and communicate them clearly and concisely. They entertain objections and attend to plausible counterarguments. And they present a clear plan of action. They don’t go on and on about how the door needs to be fixed; they say, “Tomorrow morning, I’ll call up Dave the Fixit Guy and see what he’ll charge to take care of that door.”

Political candidates address the issues in a different way. They declare, usually out of the blue, that they have discovered an issue that must be faced. Then they invent facts to support their statements, denounce anyone who takes a more optimistic view of the situation, declare that the problem must be solved instantaneously, and exclude any possibility of solving it except by taking all the money out of other people’s bank accounts. This is not what you or I mean when we urge other people to face an issue. Still stranger is the fact that the political discussion, or national dialogue, never reaches the level of argument. It’s all declarations and demands.

Sanders is a convenient, and hilarious, example. When, during the Democrats’ debate, Anderson Cooper asked him whether he was electable, given his history — he supported the Sandinistas, honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and bills himself as a socialist — Sanders replied by saying that in the last election “63% of the American people didn’t vote, Anderson. 80% of young people didn’t vote.” He implied that these people would vote for him. Some discussion.

As for his positive program, consider this masterpiece of argumentation:

And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1% in this country own almost 90% — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57% of all new income is going to the top 1%.

That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we're not gonna separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have — we are gonna have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth.

Sanders has a remarkable ability to make things up — remarkable for a human being, that is, but not for a presidential candidate. Their custom is just to say things, convinced that their audience won’t even take the trouble to check with Wikipedia. Very well. When you do subject yourself to that enormous task and find the Wiki article “Wealth in the United States,” you will not discover that one one-thousandth of the American population owns “almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.” That’s just something that Sanders goes around saying, or yelling. He yells a lot.

But suppose you don’t care about piddling matters of fact. Suppose you care only about mighty matters of morality. What is the argument that allows Sanders to get from the existence of income inequality to the claim that income inequality is immoral? What is the argument that allows him to go, for instance, from the idea that people who receive $11,000 a year in Social Security benefits should be recompensed by taking 15% of incomes over $118,000 a year and giving it to them?

Moral lectures come strangely to the lips of a speaker who has no moral sense.

There is no argument. He never presents one. He just says things. To go back to the Wiki article, why shouldn’t Sanders demand that families headed by people between 65 and 74 years of age surrender huge amounts of money to households headed by people under 35 years of age? After all, the median net worth of the former is $232,100, and the median net worth of the latter is $10,460. And how about childless couples? They have a median net worth of $213,730, which is more than twice that of couples with children, and about 15 times that of single people with children, or single people under 55 years of age, without children. Shouldn’t these culprits, these viciously immoral childless couples, be compelled to give their wealth to those less fortunate?

Moral lectures come strangely to the lips of a speaker who has no moral sense. If he had any, wouldn’t he hesitate to tell one lie after another? Wouldn’t he hesitate to say, for instance, that “we are gonna have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth”? Ah, Haiti — famous for its medical and family paid leave. Burma — a paradise for early childcare. Is Sanders so stupid that he doesn’t know what life on earth is like, or is he so cynical that he figures he can say anything at all, and an audience will lap it up?

In either case, he shouldn’t be shouting about morality. Even if he does believe that his visible audience consists of mindless oysters, why should he assume that everyone else is? “When you have a baby, we're not gonna separate you from your newborn baby” — as if mothers with newborns were as unwitting as Sanders’ followers, and simply allowed their offspring to be snatched away from their passive arms.

Most voters have something like free will. So if liberty and prosperity are snatched from them by the likes of Bernie Sanders, it’s their own fault. In the last sentence I originally typed “liberty and responsibility,” but “responsibility” may be the problem — that word is apparently so detestable to some of our fellow citizens that they’d rather hear Bernie Sanders bleating away, like the guy in the restaurant whom you ask not to be seated next to, than take a few moments to fulfill the duty of reflective thought.

Is Sanders so stupid that he doesn’t know what life on earth is like, or is he so cynical that he figures he can say anything at all, and an audience will lap it up?

Nevertheless, I doubt that many voters are as fearful of their own free will as are the media that attempted to fry Ben Carson for his answer to a question about what he would do if he were attacked by a mass murderer. He said he would try to take the guy down. He suggested that the targeted victims should act together to do that. In response, this headline appeared, typical of many:

2016 Contender Ben Carson Defends Remarks Criticizing Victims of Oregon Shooting

The preposterous idea was that Carson had criticized the victims for not having attacked the maniac who was assaulting them. He did no such thing. It seems that the media will settle for nothing short of “Carson Commends All Americans Who Plan to Cower and Be Killed.” Certainly the media were pleased enough when other presidential candidates suggested that the only acceptable options are (A) shivering like a sheep before any lunatic with a gun, and (B) keeping guns out of the hands of sane people.

I hope that if I am ever targeted by a lunatic, I will follow Dr. Carson’s advice. I know that if Carson happens to be with me, I can trust him to lead the charge. But I can never stand up to another Bernie Sanders debate. I’d rather be shot.




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A Choice Not an Echo . . . Please

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I would be surprised if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became the nominees of the two major parties in 2016. Not shocked, mind you, but surprised. We’ve seen stranger things. Consider Jesse Ventura.

But the prospect of a “Trump v. Clinton” ballot makes me uneasy — in part, because they both seem so ideologically ambiguous. While I know they must differ ideologically, I’m not quite sure how.

It seems Trump prefers markets where he can put his thumb on the scales. Level playing fields are apparently for stupid people.

Mr. Trump, after all, has yet to release a lucid statement of his political and philosophical views. In all likelihood, he never will. We are left to infer them from his well-documented actions and inchoate utterances. Here are a few such inferences.

We know he doesn’t believe in free markets because he boasts of buying favors from politicians. It seems he prefers markets where he can put his thumb on the scales. Level playing fields are apparently for stupid people. Or perhaps to him, buying influence from politicians is simply part of a truly free market.

We know he isn’t for free trade because he brags that he will use every weapon at his disposal, including tariffs, to force America’s trading partners to their knees. While this proposal may have a certain appeal, it has the appearance of ignoring the lessons of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. (Anyone? Anyone?) Do we really want an international trade war?

So, if Mitt Romney is a free-market capitalist who supports free trade, what is Donald Trump?

Let’s just say that it’s not so easy figuring out which school of philosophy is Mr. Trump’s alma mater.

On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton was a Goldwater Girl in high school, campaigning for the Republican presidential candidate. By the time she finished at Wellesley, she had converted to radical activism, enamored of Saul Alinsky’s grassroots Marxism. Since then, she has written and spoken many, many words about her political and philosophical beliefs, all of which assure us that she is a woman of the progressive left. But what about her actions?

To my knowledge, she is the only progressive leftist to have served on the board of the Walmart Corporation. She did so for seven years. This line of her résumé is unappreciated by many on the Left.

Without a doubt, Clinton is the only progressive leftist to have raised tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street donors in the first three months of her presidential campaign.

It is probable that she is the only progressive leftist to have turned a $1,000 stake into almost $100,000 by trading cattle futures. At the time, she was supplementing her husband’s meager $35,000 salary as governor of Arkansas. It was her version of clipping grocery coupons.

Without a doubt, she is the only progressive leftist to have raised tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street donors in the first three months of her presidential campaign. It could be that no one has told them she is a progressive leftist.

I could go on, but just ask yourself this: if Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist, what the heck is Hillary Clinton?

Let’s face facts. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both acolytes of the same philosophical school. They are opportunists. They crave money, fame, and power. If either of them became president, the only thing we know for sure is this: the office would be used to seize more power.

They would view the system of checks and balances that limits the abuse of power as nothing more than an annoying restraint on the authority of the president. These safeguards would be seen as mere obstacles, narrowing the range of means available for achieving the noble ends of “making America great again” and “moving the country forward.”

How in the world would you choose between them?

On one side we have a rich, fat, old, white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, candidate with an unpleasant voice, an arrogant manner, and an authoritarian personality. On the other side we have Donald Trump. Apart from sex, they’re like two megalomaniacal peas in a pod.

What is a voter to do? Imagine a ballot with Benito Mussolini and Eva Perón. Choose one. Go ahead.

On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton was a Goldwater Girl in high school, campaigning for the Republican presidential candidate. By the time she finished at Wellesley, she had converted to radical activism, enamored of Saul Alinsky




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The Bears and the Bugs

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James Bowman is a good writer, and he wrote a very good article about the recent British elections for the June issue of The New Criterion, which is a good magazine. In that article there are a number of memorable observations, such as the idea that politics is usually and traditionally a matter of “the orderly management of the hatred between social factions.” I’m not sure that’s strictly true, but it’s certainly relevant to the current state of American political affairs. It’s also well phrased. I like reading Bowman’s stuff.

So it’s a sad indication of the state of our language that even such a good writer as James Bowman should refer, in the same article, to “the problem that eventually sunk the [British] Labour campaign.” Sunk? The past tense of “sink” is “sank.” “Sunk” is the past participle. Bowman doesn’t know that?

But oh, what a small thing! Why pick on that?

I’ll tell you why. Look at it this way. You go to a picnic, and just when everyone is having fun, a troop of bears comes out of the woods and eats ten of the children. It may be the first time it ever happened, but it shows that you have a bear problem. Neglecting all caution, you turn up at the next picnic, and there are no bears. But the mosquitoes drive everybody crazy. That shows you have a mosquito problem. It’s not as bad as a bear problem, but it’s bad nonetheless.

If you have kids, ask them whether they’ve ever learned the verb forms in school. You’ll find that they haven’t — and neither have the professional writers.

This column is usually occupied with bear problems. This time, let’s think for a moment about mosquito problems, such as the difficulty that many professional writers of English have in getting nouns to agree with verbs. It generally doesn’t keep you from understanding what they mean, but it’s . . . annoying. And unnecessary. Thus, on August 19, CNN finally raised its eyebrows about Mrs. Clinton and reported, “There have been a constant stream of stories about Clinton's emails for the better part of five months.” I’m glad CNN isn’t ignoring those stories (provided by other news organizations), but can’t it make its subjects and verbs agree? “There have been a stream”? There have also been blunders.

Another mosquito problem is the one I started out with — the inability of English speakers to remember what strong verbs are like. A strong verb is any that does not create its past and perfect forms with an -ed ending. Originally, Indo-European verbs were strong. Then the –ed form became influential (“productive,” as the linguists say), partly to assimilate borrowings of verbs from foreign languages. It was easier to use, so it spread to other verbs. But strong verbs still sound, well, stronger, and they are very useful in poetic and generally emotive language. It sounds better to say, “She strove to succeed” than “She strived to succeed.” It would have sounded still better if Tammy Bruce, one of America’s most cogent spokesmen for liberty, hadn’t told Fox News (August 15), “Carly Fiorina has weaved that fact into her presentations . . .” Tammy! I love you! But haven’t you heard of that word woven?

The hitch is, you have to know what you’re doing. Imagine that! You actually have to know that a person not only strove to succeed, but having striven, he sang his heart out. These days, however, he will have strived, and it’s an even chance that he sung his heart out, while the hearts of his enemies sunk. It’s more than an even chance that he had fit himself for his role. Here is an opposite, though not an insuperable, problem. Fit is a normal weak verb; it’s fit-fitted-fitted. Strange but true. This doesn’t mean that last week somebody (in San Francisco, it would be hundreds of people) shit on the doorstep. Shit is still a strong verb; somebody shat on the doorstep last week — and isn’t that a more forceful way of describing it? People spat in the subway, too.

Experience has convinced me that at least seven of the Muses have left the university, and the other two have been beaten into nescience.

Why can’t people keep this in mind? Why can’t professional writers (distinguishing them, for the moment, from actual people) figure it out? Well, if you have kids, ask them whether they’ve ever learned the verb forms in school. You’ll find that they haven’t — and neither have the professional writers. If your kids are troublemakers, get them to ask the English teacher what the past tense of fit may be. Or shit. Then they can ask the teacher whether he has ever read the King James Bible. And if he hasn’t, they can ask him how he ever got to be an English teacher. Should be interesting.

Moving on from the inevitable after-school detention, oft visited on the overly articulate . . . You can tell that people aren’t reading anything, let alone the King James Bible, when their spelling reproduces what they hear, or think they hear, not what they’ve read. Witness the non-word alright. This has been with us for quite a while (which doesn’t make it good — remember the Dutch Elm Disease). It’s the product of people who have never seen all right in print, or if they have seen it, have never wondered whether those two mysterious words could possibly have the same meaning as the things you see on post-it notes: “Henderson party: parking in Alley alright tonite.” In this never-saw-that, never-noticed-that category you can also file all those people who write things like, “Invitees can signin for the conference now” and “To hookup/test software, turnoff browsers, then turnon.” I’m quoting the kind of communications I get in my academic email. Experience has convinced me that at least seven of the Muses have left the university, and the other two have been beaten into nescience.

Of course, reading is no longer a prerequisite for writing of any kind, even professional writing about professional writing. Consider an article in The Wrap (April 6) about the aftermath of (or “fallout” over) Rolling Stone’s smear story on a University of Virginia fraternity. The article cited an observation by Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren (whose own English is pretty good):

The Fox anchor invoked a former president’s infamous phrase to tie a bow on Rolling Stone’s missteps: “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust but verify,’” she told TheWrap.

If you read books, and you notice what you read, you know that infamous does not mean famous — no, not at all. And if you enjoy reading books, you usually have some interest in noticing how authors get their effects. A person rattling along in conversation may say, “Our first idea went flat, but that’s all water over the dam,” and this may have some effect. But it won’t work in print, because people who read actually have to take a moment to look at what they’re reading. If they’re conscious (which admittedly, many “readers” are not), and they see the word missteps, they probably picture steps, going the wrong way. They won’t worry about the picture of a magazine making missteps; they’ll accept that as a little imagistic oomph. But when you ask them to picture somebody tying a bow on missteps, they won’t do it, because they can’t do it. It isn’t colorful; it’s stupid. The best audience, the audience most likely to appreciate an effective use of language, will move on from trying to picture the bow to the easier task of picturing the author, smiling with self-satisfaction after having, shall we say, tied that metaphoricbow on his misstep.

Anyone familiar with letters written by average Americans a hundred and fifty years ago knows that they tied a lot of those bows. They also wrote alright, very frequently, and worse things, much worse things, all the time. And anyone who has read a typical sermon or political address from the same period can see how many lofty phrases could be expended on practically nothing. The difference between that period and ours is that back then, nobody mistook average, unmeditated English for anything you’d want to use when you really got serious. People expected serious writing to be literate. Literacy was something they not only appreciated but enjoyed. Perhaps they even overenjoyed it.

In 1850, President Zachary Taylor was held in contempt by other politicians for his lapses from standard grammar. Compare President Obama, who is lauded by the political class as a great public speaker, despite his refusal to master the like-as distinction, his success at filling sentences with uhs and ums (sometimes 30 to the minute), and his constant attempt to reach the sublime by talking about folks and dropping his final g’s.

It’s hard to say whether this year’s presidential candidates are better or worse with language than he is: are rotten apples worse than rotten oranges? Some are more literate, but is there one of them, any one of them, whose speeches you want to hear, as opposed to reading the one- or two-sentence news summary? Trump, I suppose — but that’s because it’s fun to hear him abusing the other candidates. The format of his speeches, if you want to call it that, is exactly the same as the others’: he makes a series of 50-word declarations, apparently unconnected with one another, “highlighting” the positions — or, more accurately, the slogans — he wants you to remember. In this sense, there’s not much difference between Trump and those two yammering old coots, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (who are just as abusive, but stupefyingly dull at it).

Compare President Obama, who is lauded by the political class as a great public speaker, despite his constant attempt to reach the sublime by talking about "folks" and dropping his final g’s.

Nor is this merely a problem of politics. When Clinton and her surrogates claim that Republicans are trying to block healthcare and are waging war on women’s health, when Sanders and his gang of Post Office retirees announce that, because the government takes no action, women are paid only 78% of what men are paid, there’s also a problem of language. If you saw that in a book, you’d be shouting at the page: “What do these words mean? Are Republican mobs blockading hospitals? Are all the statisticians lying? Are women paid $78,000 for the same jobs for which men are paid $100,000?” If the author didn’t explain his statements, you would dismiss the book as incomprehensible. You wouldn’t think, “Ah, that’s interesting — here’s the slogan these people are pushing today. Must be because of that poll about women going Republican.” You wouldn’t think, “Good move! Sanders is playing to the welfare crowd. He’s prying them away from Hillary.” You’d think, “This is a bad book,” and that would be the end of it.

This defines the difference between normal readers and members of the political class. One group is jealous of its intellectual health and safety; the other doesn’t mind going to a picnic and being bitten by mosquitoes or gnawed by bears. In fact, it prefers that kind of picnic.

On March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster gave a speech in the United States Senate. It was about an issue of great importance: the attempt to reach a compromise between Northern and Southern claims to power. But although people could have read a summary in the paper next day, and it was at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Senate chamber, the place was packed. Ladies stood for three hours to hear Webster’s remarks — because that was the length of his speech: three hours and 11 minutes. Webster closely reviewed the long history of legal provisions and political negotiations regarding the status of slavery. He analyzed the geography of the western United States, assessing the possibility that slavery might become a paying proposition there. He reviewed his own history of opposition to slavery. He then considered what would happen — indeed, what did happen — in the event of a Southern secession.

Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! The breaking up of the fountains of the great deep without ruffing the surface! Who is so foolish, I beg every body's pardon, as to expect to see any such thing? Sir, he who sees these States, now revolving in harmony around a common centre, and expects to see them quit their places and fly off without convulsion, may look the next hour to see heavenly bodies rush from their spheres, and jostle against each other in the realms of space, without causing the wreck of the universe. There can be no such thing as peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility. Is the great Constitution under which we live, covering this whole country, is it to be thawed and melted away by secession, as the snows on the mountain melt under the influence of a vernal sun, disappear almost unobserved, and run off? No, Sir! No, Sir! I will not state what might produce the disruption of the Union; but, Sir, I see as plainly as I see the sun in heaven what that disruption itself must produce; I see that it must produce war, and such a war as I will not describe . . .

Many people hated Webster’s speech. It earned him the scorn of powerful voters in his own state, agitators against compromise. Yet its words were continuously informative. They were continuously interesting. They were continuously entertaining. They were, by the end, exciting. They weren’t talking points. They weren’t spin. And they weren’t three hours and 11 minutes of subliterary, unorganized sounds.

The ability to give literary interest to political words wasn’t confined to the greatest orators. Even Warren Harding, who is, perhaps unfairly, regarded as a mere politician, a nothing among statesmen, had that ability. On May 14, 1920, Harding outlined his political program:

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality. . . .

Out of the supreme tragedy [of the Great War] must come a new order and a higher order, and I gladly acclaim it. But war has not abolished work, has not established the processes of seizure or the rule of physical might. Nor has it provided a governmental panacea for human ills, or the magic touch that makes failure a success. Indeed, it has revealed no new reward for idleness, no substitute for the sweat of a man’s face in the contest for subsistence and acquirement.

For the past 95 years, Harding’s reference to “normalcy” has been panned by the intellectuals. A few dispute his use of that word instead of the normal “normality.” More, alas, sneer at his idea that war, revolution, and the ambitions of the progressive state should not be regarded as normal parts of the American condition. You can judge between Harding and his foes. My point is that Harding, known as one of the weakest of presidents, could deliver a speech that has approximately 100,000 times the word power of any contemporary political communication. He knew that big things come of small — that “dispassionate” is a valuable word, although you see it only in serious books, and that it presents an interesting contrast to “dramatic”; he knew that a sentence containing not one but eight sharp but serious conceptual distinctions can be a contribution to thought and argument, and certainly to literary interest.

You want a good meal? Here it is. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado. Ketchup and mustard on the side. Fries, fruit, cottage cheese . . . right there at the end of the table. Rather have the roast beef? We’ve brought that too. This is survival food. No bugs, no bears.

So, how do I get to that picnic? Easy — all you have to do is read.




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Now and Ever Shall Be

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The Battle of the Resumes

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Maureen Dowd’s new column about Hillary Clinton convinces me that I am not the only one who smells something peculiarly sick and rotten in presidential politics.

On one side, we have Hillary Clinton, who presents a resume for high office with these major bullet points:

  1. Partnership in a radically dysfunctional marriage with a discredited former president, specializing in cheating and sleazing.
  2. Female gender.
  3. A long string of jobs — partner in a provincial law firm, power behind a throne, United States senator, secretary of state — which she survived, innocent of credit for any specific accomplishment.
  4. Proven ability to cadge money from Near Eastern religious fanatics, one-dimensional feminists, crony capitalists, and other people with hands out for favors.
  5. Proven ability, acquired from her husband (see 1, above), to operate (with the help of 4, above) a political mafia.
  6. Proven ability to tell nothing but lies.
  7. Proven ability to deliver any desired quantity of self-righteous statements about other people’s duties.

On the opposite side, we have John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, whose resume emphasizes these points:

  1. Membership in a family that includes two abjectly unsuccessful presidents.
  2. Modest success as governor of Florida.
  3. Proven ability to cadge money from “moderate” (i.e., non) Republicans and crony capitalists devoted to cheap labor, open immigration, and votes for Dems.
  4. Proven ability to lose votes from anyone to the right of Anderson Cooper.
  5. Proven ability to look stupid on any public occasion.
  6. Proven ability to deliver any desired quantity of self-righteous statements about other people’s duties.

It’s remarkable that everyone who has any knowledge of politics has read these resumes, understands them, and talks about them as if they were plastic disks in a checkers game.

Well, almost everyone. Dowd, for all her leftist craziness, is a respectable person.

But let’s see . . . Who has the longer resume? Jeb or Hillary?

It’s Hillary! She wins!

Can it be that in today’s America, or any other country, this is how things happen?




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Brian Williams: The Political Effect

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Yesterday I had lunch with a friend whom I have known for a long time, and whom I would describe as an idolator of Hillary Clinton. My friend is an intelligent person, but Hillary is her blind spot. Every national election cycle has seen her proudly hailing Hillary’s political progress or bitterly regretting her failure with the electorate. Any attempt to suggest grounds for skepticism has been greeted with a swiftly rising cloud of anger.

Yesterday was different. When she pointedly brought up Brian Williams, I thought I would soon hear her favorite refrain about “people who lie — just like George Bush.” This time, however, the “just like” was Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s amazing lie about being shot at in Bosnia was recounted in detail, and with something approaching glee. My efforts to divert the discussion from such an unpleasant subject were unavailing. My friend now despises Clinton.

When people hate Brian Williams for lying, a little bell goes off in their heads, and a lot of them start hating Hillary Clinton for lying.

I suspect there are a lot of other people like her. I also know there are a lot of other problems with Hillary, besides the one that got to my friend. Hillary’s lies about not being rich. Her being rich, with money accrued during the political process. Her total lack of accomplishments. Her bizarre and ridiculous husband, and the bizarre and ridiculous things she has said about him. Her slick, repellent friends. Her friendship with crony capitalists. Her “what difference does it make?” speech about Benghazi. Her “business doesn’t create jobs” speech. Her “vast rightwing conspiracy” speech. Her apparent inability to give a speech that anybody actually likes. Her own complete lack of likability.

I was surprised to hear someone as savvy as Doug Schoen (speaking on Fox News on February 9), alleging that none of this matters to Hillary’s prospects. He pointed to the disarrangement of the Republicans, which supposedly makes people like Hillary more. I have another theory. I don’t know whether it’s true, but I’m trying it out. When people hate Brian Williams for lying, a little bell goes off in their heads, and a lot of them start hating Hillary Clinton for lying. Similarly, when people hate Clinton for being a nepotist, the little bell goes off again, and they hate Jeb Bush for the same reason. And when people hate President Obama for his babbling obfuscations, they remember the babbling obfuscations of most of the leading Republicans.

These reactions, which are normal and natural for normal people, may clear a lot of bad candidates out of the field. Hell, it worked with Romney.




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Six Reflections in Search of an Election

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1. So many wonderful entertainers perished on the stage this Tuesday! And I will miss them all. Mark Udall, who pushed women’s issues so hard in his campaign for senator from Colorado that respectable people called him Mark Uterus. Martha Coakley, who ran for governor of Massachusetts with but one purpose — to make everybody laugh — and fulfilled it brilliantly. The two successive Democratic candidates for Senate from the state of Montana — a retired Army officer whose response to his allegedly traumatic service in Iraq was a mad career as plagiarist, and a math teacher who doubled as a far-left video blogger, specializing in inane satires of people she disliked. And is Alison Lundergan Grimes, former Democratic candidate for US Senate from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, still bound by professional ethics not to reveal how she voted? Will we be forced to guess whether she voted for herself on Tuesday, or bolted to Mitch McConnell?

2. The Clintons lost 31 of the 48 races they campaigned in.

3. When Carl DeMaio, an openly gay candidate, campaigned for Congress in a notably non-gay district, the 52nd in California, he received no national attention — because he’s a Republican. The votes are still being counted, but he will probably win. As I write, the results of this election are still in doubt, the 52% of votes that were cast with absentee ballots not having been counted. You know how efficient the government is.

What kind of role would Barack Obama play in a political system that had no effective checks and balances? What internal checks would keep him from becoming a dictator?

4. All the political commentary preceding this election emphasized the extraordinarily large number of extremely close major races. Yet in most instances, Republicans won by margins ranging from the substantial to the stupefying. Are people lying to pollsters? If so, why? Are the polls weighted against the Republicans? Or is polling (perish the thought) not yet fully predictive, or even snapshot accurate?

5. Ask yourself what kind of role Barack Obama would play in a political system that had no effective checks and balances. What internal checks would keep him from becoming a dictator? None; none at all. We know that whenever he has been able to wield dictatorial power, he has wielded it; and he has proudly promised to do even more of that after the election. You can ask yourself the same thing about many of the people who have surrounded him as advisors, and about such elected leaders as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

If nothing else, this election served the fundamental purpose of denying absolute power and apparent legitimacy to such people as that. You may feel intellectual contempt for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner — everybody does! But they notably lack the dictatorial temperament. And even if they didn’t, the victory of their party at both state and national levels means that dictatorial power has received a mighty check.

6. Albert Jay Nock, who is commonly regarded as a founder of libertarianism, wrote an autobiography entitled Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Could today’s libertarians write similar accounts of our own lives?Certainly not. Libertarian ideas are everywhere in American society. They set much of the agenda of the two major parties, from legalization of drugs to reduction of taxes. The problem, of course, is that the ideas are inadequately distributed, that each of the parties has only half the libertarian agenda — Democrats, generally, the civil libertarian side, and Republicans, generally, the financial libertarian side — and that each of them fills the missing, nonlibertarian side with ideas so bizarre that one can only greet them with laughter (on one’s way to jail, perhaps).

Libertarians who throw elections to the more aggressively statist of the two major parties, which at the moment is the Democratic Party, are voting for that aggressive statism.

So we libertarians are no superfluous people. But if the Libertarian Party were to write its autobiography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Org might now be an appropriate title.

In this election, most LP candidates drew, as usual, very small numbers of votes. In a handful of states, however, their performance was notable. As I write, Robert Sarvis, LP candidate for Senate in Virginia, holds (with 2.5% of the counted votes) the balance between the Republican and the Democratic candidates, who are separated by 0.5%. If you believe survey results (see above), Sarvis drew more from the Republican than from the Democratic side, and may, when all votes are counted, have cost the Republicans the election. Certainly this was what the Democrats in Alaska thought, when they helped out the LP candidate in an attempt to deflect Republican voters. Yet the polling about Sarvis and about Sean Haugh, LP Senate candidate in North Carolina, indicates a grab-bag of voters, holding views on virtually every side of every issue.

As readers of these pages know, I am a dedicated proponent of voting for the lesser of the two evils. If you don’t vote for the lesser evil, you increase the chances of the greater evil. So Libertarians who throw elections to the more aggressively statist of the two major parties, which at the moment is the Democratic Party, are voting for that aggressive statism. According to me. But everyone can see the fallacy of the idea, constantly urged, that the Libertarian Party wages “educational” campaigns. Throwing an election to a party you loath is not educational, and if you don’t even get enough votes to throw an election, how educational have you been?

By the way, I am a registered Libertarian.




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Election 2014: The Ballot Measures

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Libertarians should take encouragement from some of the ballot measures in the Nov. 4 election:

Medical freedom

Arizona voters passed Proposition 303, which seeks to allow patients with terminal illnesses to buy drugs that have passed Phase 1 (basic safety) trials but are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

To libertarians, this is an old and familiar cause and one in which it is easy to find allies if people are paying attention, which most times they are not. The movie Dallas Buyers Club provided an opening, and this year legislatures in Colorado, Missouri and Louisiana passed what are now called “Dallas Buyers Club” laws. In Arizona, the cause was promoted by the Goldwater Institute.

Opponents have said that such laws will give many terminal patients false hope, which is surely true. But it is better to give 90% false hope if 10% (or some other small share) obtain real benefit, if the alternative is an egalitarian world of no hope for all. And it ought to be the patient’s decision anyway.

What the FDA will do about the “Dallas Buyers Club” laws is a question; as with marijuana, the matter is covered by a federal law, if one of questionable constitutionality. At the very least the Arizona vote, a whopping 78% yes, should give other states, and eventually Congress, a political shove in favor of freedom.

Marijuana

Legalization measures were first passed in 2012 by the voters of Colorado and Washington (the two states that had the Libertarian Party on the ballot in 1972). They have been followed this year by the voters of Alaska, which passed Measure 2 with 52%; Oregon, which passed Measure 91 with 55%; and the District of Columbia, which passed a decriminalization measure, Initiative 71, with 65% yes.

Alaska and Oregon were early supporters of marijuana for medical patients, as were Colorado and Washington. When the opponents say medical marijuana is a stalking horse for full legalization, they are right. It is — which means that more states will join Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.

On Nov. 4 Florida rejected medical marijuana, but only because it required a 60% yes vote. Florida Amendment 2 had nearly 58%.

Taxes

In Massachusetts, which several decades ago was labeled “taxachusetts,” voters approved Question 1, which repeals the automatic increases of the gas tax pegged to the Consumer Price Index.

In Tennessee, Amendment 3, forbidding the legislature from taxing most personal income, passed with a 66% yes vote. Tennessee is one of the nine states with no general income tax, though it does have a 6% tax on interest and dividends, which will continue.

In Nevada, 79% of voters rejected Question 3, to create a 2% tax on adjusted business revenue above $1 million. Proponents called it “The Education Initiative” because the money was to be spent on public schools; opponents called it “The Margin Tax Initiative.” The measure was put on the ballot with the help of the Nevada branch of the AFL-CIO, which then changed its mind and opposed it. Good for them; most people and organizations in politics never admit of making a mistake.

Debt

In Oregon, Measure 86 would have created a fund for scholarship grants through the sale of state bonds. The measure was put on the ballot by Oregon’s Democratic legislature and supported by the education lobby. It was opposed by the founder of the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute and by the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian, because of the likely increase in public debt. It also would have allowed the legislature to dip into the fund for general spending if the governor declared an emergency. In this “blue” state, the measure failed: 59% no.

Regulation

In Massachusetts, which has had mandatory bottle deposits on carbonated beverages since 1982, voters rejected Question 2, an initiative to extend the bottle law to sports drinks, juices, tea and bottled water (but not juice boxes). The vote was a landslide: 73% no.

Abortion

Libertarians are divided on abortion, depending on whether they consider a fetus to be a person. Voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 67, which would have defined an embryo or fetus as a “person” or “child” under state criminal law. The vote was 64% no.

In North Dakota, a “right to life” amendment the state legislature put on the ballot as Measure 1 was rejected, also 64% no.

In Tennessee, voters approved Amendment 1, which asserts state control over abortion but would leave to the legislature what sort of control it would be. Opponents called it the “Tennessee Taliban Amendment.” It got 53% of the vote.

All of these measures are probably symbolic only, because the question has been coopted by the U.S. Supreme Court under Roe v. Wade and later decisions. Still, symbolism can matter.

Alcohol

In Arkansas, where about half the counties are dry, Issue 4 would have opened the entire state to alcohol sales. It failed, with 57% voting no. That’s a loss for freedom if a gain for federalism.

Guns

Washington voters passed Initiative 594 to require background checks for sales of guns by non-dealers. The measure was bankrolled by Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and a liberal Seattle venture capitalist and given an emotional push by shootings at a nearby high school. Washington remains a concealed-carry state.

Minimum wage

Politically, this is a lost issue for libertarians. On Nov. 4, Arkansas voted to raise its minimum from $7.25 (the federal minimum) to $8.50 by 2017; Alaska, to raise its minimum from $7.75 to $9.75 by 2016, and index it to inflation; Nebraska, to raise it from $7.25 to $9 by 2016, and South Dakota, to raise it from $7.25 to $8.50 by 2015, then index it. These measures passed by 65% in Arkansas, 69% in Alaska, 59% in Nebraska and 54% in South Dakota.

In Massachusetts, voters approved Question 4, mandating paid sick days in private business. The yes vote was 59%.

Governance

In Oregon, voters rejected the sort of “top two” election system operating in neighboring Washington. In that system, anyone can file in the primary and declare their party allegiance, and the top two vote-getters, irrespective of party, advance to the November election, which becomes a run-off. California has a similar system. Little parties like the Libertarian Party hate it, because it keeps them off the November ballot except in some one-party districts.

Oregon voters were offered a top-two system in 2008 and voted 66% against it. This time, for Measure 90, they voted 68% against it.




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New Hope for the LP?

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In advance of Election Day, Liberty managing editor Andrew Ferguson spoke with new Libertarian Party chair Nicholas Sarwark about the state of the party, the prospects for 2014, and what can be done to fight for a future more free.

Liberty: How did you come to the Libertarian Party?

Nicholas Sarwark: I came to the LP, my father was actually an active libertarian in Phoenix when I was growing up, so I've been around libertarians and LP meetings since I was 10 or 12 in Maricopa County, and then I got active in the organized party in ’99 or 2000 in Maryland, was state chair there for a while. Started going to national conventions in 2000, moved out to Colorado in ’08, and fairly quickly ended up vice chair of the Colorado Party.

Liberty: And you all were pretty active there in the pot legalization campaign.

Sarwark: We were right in the thick of it. The proponents of the amendment came and talked to our executive board, we formally endorsed Amendment 64 — no other state political party did that — and then it won overwhelmingly. It got more votes than Obama did in Colorado.

That’s sort of the model for where I’d like to position the party going forward into 2016, where there are these issues that the voters have moved to a certain position, and the LP is at the position or has been at that position since the founding, and the older parties just won’t go there. They’re ignoring their base. Neither the Republicans or Democrats would come out in favor of marijuana legalization; up until Joe Biden’s conversion, even the Democrats wouldn’t come out in favor of marriage equality, even though the LP has been there since 1971. So we need to more aggressively position ourselves on these issues where you have us and the voters on one side, and the old party politicians who are stuck with failed policy positions on the other side.

The Drug War is a perfect issue where, while the old parties may have different tones, they both have a lot of sunk cost with the prison-industrial complex and the police unions and the whole infrastructure built around punishing people for what they put in their own bodies. And it’s just nuts. For too long the LP has played defense on issues like the Drug War, had internal movements that said, “Hey, let’s back off of this, it’s too extreme.” We need to tell people we hate extremism — we hate the extreme position that it’s OK to kick down somebody’s door and shoot their dog and burn their baby in the crib to try and stop them from putting something in their own body. That’s extreme.

I want to take a bit more pugnacious position for the party and make sure that going into the next election cycle, with Rand Paul gaining some traction, that it’s the LP who’s defining what libertarian means, not the Washington Post and Sen. Paul.

Liberty: Looking back at your acceptance statement after the party chair election, you said, If you were a member of the party and left in frustration at something we did or didn’t do, this is your home — sort of a homecoming announcement. What sort of that frustration have you seen or heard about in talking with people?

Sarwark: The biggest frustration that I received and ended up having was I was calling around to state chairs and delegates and people I knew and saying, “I’m going to run for chair, will you support me,” and a disconcertingly large number of them would say, “I think it’s great you’re running, but national hasn’t really done anything to speak of, and I don’t see any reason for me to engage with the national party.” That’s something I’ve heard, that a lot of state parties don’t feel that national provides any kind of added value. National exists to have a biannual convention, nominate presidential candidates, and help those states where the laws are draconian to get ballot access for president; they publish a newsletter, send membership cards, have a website, that’s all they do.

We need to tell people we hate extremism — we hate the extreme position that it’s OK to kick down somebody’s door and shoot their dog and burn their baby in the crib to stop them from putting something in their own body.

A lot of people have been very frustrated that the national party has been, not quite shrinking, but stagnant. And when you contrast that with states like Ohio or Indiana or Georgia or Texas or Colorado, states where there’s a lot of dynamism, and more and more candidates running, and a higher caliber of candidates running, earning more votes each time out, they look at that kind of activity and it’s been kind of a no-brainer to ignore national — it’s there, but who cares?

Liberty: How are you looking at the role of the chair — what are you hoping to do with it, and how might that be different from what your predecessors have done with the role?

Sarwark: The chair, in years past, has not really set a direction or had much vision. If you go back over the last 10 years, there haven’t been that many big initiatives, with the exception of establishing a permanent headquarters — five or six years ago Mark Hinkle started scouting out buildings and raising a building fund, and Geoff Neale picked up that torch, and we had our grand opening back in September, so now we’re one of only three parties who own their own headquarters. And if you go back to the founding, to David Nolan in the living room in Colorado Springs, he would talk about, we’ll never really elect anybody but what we can do is send a message, and maybe push public policy in our direction. We’re past that. We’re not going anywhere, we’re here to stay, we’ve got a mortgage, we’ve got an office, and generally speaking, within the state affiliates, the enthusiasm is in our favor.

But while the states are growing and active, the national party has had flat revenues, and flat membership numbers for about ten years. And it’s during a time when the next generation of voters is, according to polling, pretty much explicitly libertarian, and the state parties are moving forward. So for national to stay flat in that environment is actually a decline.

Liberty: I get the sense of a more libertarian sensibility in the generation that’s coming up now, but that to a lot of them the actual word “libertarian” carries some sort of a taint, or it’s been caricatured so successfully that many wouldn’t identify themselves as libertarian even if it matches their own conscience.

Sarwark: Right. And that’s one of the reasons why we have to rebuild. The idea that we’re either fringe or just some sort of weird branch of the Republican Party who votes along with them, we have to break that. And the only way to do it is to have strong messaging that differentiates us, that relentlessly focuses on what we will do and what we care bout and how it is different.

I draw a lot of my inspiration from the abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, and the idea that human freedom is the overarching principle that is above all others. Our cause is not only just, but of sufficient import that we need to be passionate, we need to be aggressive, we need to be respectful, but also make it clear that we’re not comfortable with leftovers, or only being an option if there’s no one else on the ballot. We’re definitely not comfortable allowing Republicans or non-libertarians to define what “libertarian” means, which happens on the right and the left: you have Rand Paul being referred to as a libertarian while he’s still supporting foreign intervention and a number of other things, but you also have the New York Times or Washington Post writing about this liberal-libertarian cooperation in Congress, but all the supposed cooperation are on completely anti-libertarian policies.

For the national party to stay flat when the next generation of voters is pretty explicitly libertarian is actually a decline.

So it’s a word that we don’t own anymore and we need to show people that we’re serious about showing up for elections and presenting options and a message that is both distinctive and, frankly, sensible. We’ve bought into the bullshit that the major parites have hit us with for so long that we’re somehow the extremists. Anyone who wants to control your life is the extremist. We’re the ones who want you to control your own life. And we need to hit them with that.

Liberty: So in terms of actually reaching out to generations of college students or other young voters who have affinities with libertarian ideals, what sort of outreach will reach them?

Sarwark: We have to lead by example. We are a party for a newer generation — I’m not quite 35 yet, and I’m the national chair. If you look at our candidates, we skew younger. So we show them that if you want a party that is not mean or bigoted, but also isn’t going to try and take your money and give it to old people, then the LP is for you.

That’s what the Pew study and the Reason study have shown about millennials: they’re definitely liberal with regard to social issues like marriage equality or marijuana legalization or racial issues, but when they are polled and asked about government and welfare programs, they turn into super fiscal conservatives. They’re behind the Democrats on being nice to people, but not on redistributing wealth or any of the Great Society programs. And they’re behind the Republicans on a relatively free market and lower taxation, but they just think they’re mean, and so they won’t associate with them. We’re going into a generation where, no matter how good your policy prescriptions are, if you don’t come across as caring and sensitive, you will not win. We can seize on that and — not to take anything away from 2014 and 2016 as elections we will contest, and contest more strongly than we have before — but we can look at ten years out, where we become the second party in a number of states where things are lopsided and one of the old parties has become moribund, and we’re on the ballot in all 50 states and people want our presidential nomination, instead of us having to hunt for people.

Liberty: It’s been fun watching Hillary Clinton try to reposition herself as a real human being who actually cares and is sensitive to anything whatsoever.

Sarwark: Right.

Liberty: So you’re recruiting candidates then, not only for the executive role but also for the downticket elections, who can come off as contribute some media savvy to their candidacy?

Sarwark: We can set the tone from the top, what our priorities are and what kind of message we send, about what libertarians are and what they do. I’m not trying to do any kind of purity purge, or kick candidates out because they’re heterodox on certain issues, but it will be clear over the next couple of years what the libertarian position is on issues. And if there are candidates who deviate, then they will explain how they are different from the rest of the party. The party will not compromise our positions in order to make the candidates more comfortable.

It’s going to be easier and better for candidates who are able to present that kind, caring, compassionate yet completely devoted to freedom message than in the past, we had libertarians who had taken extreme positions for philosophy’s stake, without being able to communicate the human element to those policies. And that’s not what we’re going to do.

The fiscal issues are not winners for us as a party. The Republicans will lie about cutting taxes all day long, and the people who are going to believe those lies are going to pull the lever for Republicans.

We’ve been coming up into this term focused on the idea that human progress comes from cooperation and the free exchange of ideas, and it’s government that holds us back. So our candidates are focused on making concrete proposals where they can say, “If elected, I will cut these programs and thereby increase your freedom.” Whether it’s reducing military spending by 60% or sponsoring legislation to eliminate the Department of Education, we’ll be making testable campaign promises. This flips on its head the approach of old-party candidates who are always afraid there’ll be a hot mic at a fundraiser, and they’ll get caught out saying they’ll do something and then not do it. We’re very purposefully going out and publicly saying, “If elected I will do this thing,” and then going to the old-party candidates and saying, what’s he promising you? Nothing, just empty platitudes. And that’s where we show the voters that if they want something done to actually make their life better, then they need to vote Libertarian.

Liberty: I’ve seen this sort of playbook for dismissing libertarians, there comes a point where — we had the election in Virginia last year, where Robert Sarvis actually made some inroads against the most loathsome pair of candidates you’re likely to run across . . .

Sarwark: Are you’re saying there’s negatives to Cuccinelli and McAuliffe? To an election between a party hack and a bigot?

Liberty: There was this weird moment where all of a sudden, there was this campaign to somehow debunk Sarvis by showing him up as inadequately schooled in Austrian economic theory or other relative obscurities, and all these people came out of the woodwork to say, actually Cuccinelli is the better candidate for libertarians. They respected libertarianism for the amount of time it took to steal it back again.

Sarwark: There’s nothing new under the sun. This is straight out of Rothbard — the whole idea that you can get in bed with the social conservatives because if you have enough money, it doesn’t matter what kind of laws they try to have about what you can do in your social life. And the idea that somehow libertarians are going to turn into such savvy political players that we’ll be able to cut deals right and left in order to hold the Republicans hostage and get something from them.

If you think that yelling at children to make a political point is effective, there’s a really cool picture I have for you from the civil rights era. You’re just an asshole.

That’s been tried and it hasn’t worked. It wouldn’t have worked in Virginia, even with a very bright, photogenic traditional nuclear family candidate who is able to talk to people as people, be smart on policy, and be articulate about those areas in which he deviated from orthodox libertarianism. At the end of the day, he did very well, and he put the lie to this idea that we only steal from Republicans. It was 2-to-1 McAuliffe voters who were voting for Sarvis versus ones for Cuccinelli. No one wants to believe that data because it goes against the notions that they’ve had for decades, but the truth is that where we are positioned in this political climate, we will probably end up taking more voters who would have leaned Democrat because of our support for social issues.

And frankly, the fiscal issues are not winners for us as a party. The Republicans will lie about cutting taxes all day long, and the people who are going to believe those lies are going to pull the lever for Republicans. While we are in fact more committed to fiscal conservatism than any Republican I’ve seen in my lifetime, we don’t need to lead with that. We need to lead with stuff that distinguishes us and creates that unique selling proposition for who libertarians are, and how we are different. We really support freedom, all the time; all your freedoms, all the time, and we don’t make you pick what is important to you. One of the things that has worked well for activists in Massachusetts is marching in the Pride Parade with a big banner that says “Freedom to Marry and Freedom to Carry Since 1971” — we don’t make you pick between your guns and who you love, or between keeping more of your paycheck and whether or not you want to smoke weed at the end of the day. These are not choices you have to make. And the old parties have been saying you have to pick which ones are more important to you? They’re lying.

Liberty: In terms of reaching out to groups with some affinities to the libertarian platform, and then some obvious very strong opposition as well, is it possible to reach out to them? To build issue-based partnerships with, for instance, the Tea Party people in border states, or socialist-leaning Drug War abolitionists in other states?

Sarwark: Drug war abolitionists, yes. Tea Party people in border states, probably not, because frankly they have been infected with this nativist mentality: shut ’em all down, deport ’em, let’s go yell at little kids on school buses. I’m not trying to recruit people like that. If you think that yelling at children to make a political point is effective, there’s a really cool picture I have for you from the civil rights era. You’re just an asshole.

So those are not my voters. But organizations like Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, privacy orgs to stop NSA surveillance — we were the only political party to sign onto the coalition letter calling on President Obama to veto the FISA Amendments Act. No other political party has the stones to say it’s not OK for your government to spy on you, because they’re all tied up into the status quo. That’s who lobbies them, that’s who pays their bills. It’ll be a lot easier to move forward on the personal liberties.

The fiscal side gets real tricky, because probably the biggest piece of corporate welfare to come down the pike, the Export-Import Bank, Republicans are all over that. They don’t care to be the party of capitalism, they care to be the party of doling out favors and sweetheart deals, and having a revolving door whereby the regulators become the lobbyists and you can’t tell your players without a program. The places that we’re going to have difficulty making inroads are Chambers of Commerce, and any sort of lefty-leaning group that depends on wealth transfer programs or high taxation for its continued existence.

What I’m looking at is — not to use the term in its historical sense, but in the root definition — a more populist libertarianism. We’re focused on people, normal people, letting them pursue happiness in whatever way they want to, getting the government out of the way.

Demographically, the Republicans are dead. They’re like a gutshot guy just walking around, thinking they’ll be OK, but they’re going to bleed out, and it won’t be that long.

I think there are opportunities to build up more bridges, produce more cooperation, and over these next two years I’ll seek those out, up to and including repairing that bridge that got burnt down between the LP and Cato in 1984. I was 5 years old at the time, so whatever problem they had at that point, that’s done. I have some optimism for that endeavor, given that Ed Crane’s PAC helped out Sarvis’ campaign. So it’s not like they’re philosophically opposed to supporting Libertarians, it’s just that the national Libertarian Party had a trust deficit with its members and supporters, whereby they don’t believe that we do anything or that we have any use. There are a lot of people who are not going to send me any checks unless or until I can show them results, and that’s what I aim to do.

Liberty: We talked about Sarvis — are there any other up-and-comers to keep an eye on in other states?

Sarwark: There’s a lot of really good people running right now. John Buckley’s running for Senate in West Virginia, formerly elected to state house as a Republican, openly gay, very articulate. Our candidate for governor in Iowa, Dr. Lee Hieb, she’s an orthopedic surgeon running a very professional campaign. There’s some really good candidates coming out of Ohio. Julie Fox is running for comptroller in Illinois against some pretty bad odds.

Liberty: They could use some auditing there, not sure if they’re willing to follow through on it though.

Sarwark: She does have to drum on that in her campaign — you could elect an auditor who’s actually a CPA — but clearly their government runs so well without having actual financial people at the helm.

We’ve got a really strong candidate here at the congressional level in my district in Colorado, Jess Loban: a wounded Air Force vet, four kids, salt-of-the-earth guy, frightened the Republicans sufficiently that they sent former gubernatorial candidates to try to convince him to drop out of the race in exchange for a Republican nomination in 2016 — which has just energized him. We are at that tipping point as a party where we’re past ridicule, and we’re moving into fear and fighting. The Republicans in Ohio are passing laws specifically to prevent us from being on the ballot, Republicans in Colorado are either surreptitiously asking over lunch for our candidates to drop out, or in the case of one state house race, a sitting state house member came to ask us not to run a Libertarian candidate in his district and convince us of how libertarian he was, really. They’re reaching out to us now. And they’re desperate. Because the truth is, demographically, the Republicans are dead. They’re like a gutshot guy just walking around, thinking they’ll be OK, but they’re going to bleed out, and it won’t be that long. And they’re desperately afraid of us showing just how bankrupt their policy positions have been when they’re given the keys of government.

What I’m looking at is — not to use the term in its historical sense, but in the root definition — a more populist libertarianism.

The other candidate I should mention — Florida is running an incredibly strong ticket, the gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie went and dared people to arrest him at debates, driving around without a license to fight REAL ID laws, and taking stuff to court. Then over in Pinellas County, Lucas Overby is running a very strong campaign in a two-way race against a sitting Republican, David Jolly, who became just the eighth sitting Republican congressman to come out in favor of marriage equality, a flip-flop that happened less than 90 days into the race. The frustration is then that the media doesn’t acknowledge that the only reason he came out in favor of marriage equality is because he was running against a strong libertarian, who’s another photogenic, kind, compassionate, blue-collar guy who is just going out and showing people that we care more about them than the old parties do, and we want them to live their lives. That’s a message that’s resonating sufficiently that they’re fighting us now.

So I don’t know where the next up-and-comer will emerge, but we’re getting a much better crop of candidates — and with guys like Dan Feliciano in the governor’s race in Vermont, we’re seeing more diversity as well. The states are where the action is, and that’s what I said when I was seeking the nomination for chair: “I want you to elect me to be the least important member of the Libertarian Party.” Because all the action is the candidates running in the local elections, and the state officials who are building up the grassroots. National should set a tone and direction, but without strong state affiliates then there’s nothing.

Liberty: Looking to 2016, do you think we’ll see Gary Johnson or another candidate like him running again, or would you look more to someone who would be a purer LP flag-carrier?

Sarwark: From what I saw of the delegates in 2012 in Vegas, I don’t think the appetite is there for a pure flag-carrier so long as there’s someone with more traditional candidate qualities in the field. Now, a lot can change between now and Orlando in 2016, so I hate to predict. I see Gary Johnson potentially running for the nomination — [note: Johnson has since confirmed that he will seek the LP nomination in 2016] — but I’m heartened by the fact that we’re beginning to see something we’ve never seen in the Party, ever: candidates capable of rising up from inside the Libertarian farm team to seek that nomination. We had Harry Browne before who came out of publishing, we’ve had local elected officials seek the nomination, we’ve had famous activists seek the nomination, we’ve had former Republicans seek it (and maybe forget they had changed party). But we haven’t had a traditional homegrown candidate, with the advantages of being both a hardcore libertarian and having the experience of running a large-scale national campaign.

Liberty: Orlando is an interesting site for 2016. Is it possible to go into a bulwark red state, at least in recent years, and into a city that is one of the more Republican in America, and dig into that base there?

Sarwark: It’s not as hard as it could be, because they’re terrible. So I think Florida is going to be a great place. The party is energized there, and I think the Republicans have taken it for granted for so long that locally I think we’ll do well. Floridians are just tired of that state control.

Liberty: Where would you like to see things as of that 2016 Convention? What would be a really solid couple years of work heading into that?

Sarwark: Where we’re getting frequent media mentions, where they’re coming to us for comment, when they’re not studiously avoiding mentioning our candidates’ names, where millennials with fiscally conservative and socially liberal ideals identify as libertarian. When it becomes the brand, and we position ourselves as clearly different from Sen. Paul — we show people this is where we’re the same, this is where we’re different; he’s a very good Republican, but he is still a Republican, and that carries baggage. And positioning ourselves to get those voters if and when Sen. Paul is beaten back by the Republican machine, much like his father was. The idea that you can fix the GOP from the inside is akin to suggesting that a few good cashiers and line cooks could, with enough motivation, turn McDonald’s into a vegan restaurant. Not going to happen. So if we have significant more name recognition and strong state affiliates who are running good candidates then we’re kind of actively engaged in politics in a way we haven’t been, and that will set us up for 2016 and a well-attended convention launching into a better campaign than we’ve run in the past.

Liberty: Thanks very much for your time, and good luck in the coming elections!



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This election year has been full of odd little funny things. It’s like a buffet loaded with wilted salads and overcooked chicken — but down near the end of the table they’ve laid out some tiny, tasty desserts.

One of these delicious offerings was the response of someone named Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic nominee for Senate from Kentucky, when she was asked, in an editorial conference at the Louisville Courier-Journal, whether she had voted for the much-detested-in-Kentucky Barack Obama. Over and over, she refused to provide an answer, blathering instead about what the election is really about, slamming her opponent, and saying that she “respect[s] the sanctity of the ballot box” (an odd way of indicating that although you want to go to the Senate and vote all the time, you won’t say how you voted for president). In this case, the hardcore partisan decided (and it was a decision, because her response was immediate and well-rehearsed) that hiding from her own party allegiance was worth the price of looking like a clown. Either that, or she’s so stupid she didn’t realize that she’d look like a clown. Anyway, it was a hilarious performance.

A few days before, Republican activists had secretly recorded conversations with activists in the Grimes campaign, including a major donor. They then shared these conversations with the national audience — chiefly comments about how Grimes was lying all the time about her support for the state’s leading industry, coal. Her reason? Otherwise, you dope, she would never get elected!

Who can withstand the force of arguments like that? Who can resist the comedy of people working in a moralistic cause while espousing a philosophy of amoralism?

Even funnier was an editorial statement that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, in which the paper’s politics writer explains why it wouldn’t publish anything about the Republicans’ conversational adventures. You can read the statement for yourself and assess the reasons. But the first thing you’ll notice is that in explaining why the paper won’t run the story, the writer goes ahead and recites the whole thing!

As the waiters say: here’s your dessert — enjoy!




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