All the News that’s Fit to Tweet

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It case you’ve missed out on this, President Trump keeps making his tweets a subject of national controversy. Friends defend his messages as his way of breaking through the mainstream media’s circle of lies; foes denounce the messages as vulgar and stupid. Both sides are right.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Trump. If you want to hurt your enemies while bringing attention to your programs (not to your anger, about which everyone is fully informed), why not tweet some facts that might advance your agenda? Why not tweet things like the following (they’d be news to most people)?

It’s strange to me that Trump and his staffers haven’t thought of this already. But if he wants a stack of stuff he can use whenever his fingers get that 3 AM itch, I’ll be pleased to send it to him. It wouldn’t take much work.




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What, Me Worry?

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“So, did your candidate win last night?”

It was 8 AM, Wednesday morning after the election. I was standing in line at the hardware store to buy paintbrushes. Prescott, Arizona — where I live — is a town and state that narrowly went for Trump. The guy behind me, a complete stranger and out of the blue, had decided to engage me.

“So you wasted your vote, eh?” The statement phrased as a question hung in the air like an olfactory assault.

Ignoring for one second the glib impertinence of the question, the implied familiarity in asking it, and the strong emotions most people invested in the election’s results, I was glad I hadn’t voted for either Clinton or Trump. A “wrong” answer might have opened a door into territory I didn’t want to explore with this hayseed. I answered, “I voted for Johnson and Weld.”

“So you wasted your vote, eh?” The statement phrased as a question hung in the air like an olfactory assault. As I mentally scrambled for an appropriate explanation (not that he deserved one) or at least a bon mot, he beat me to the punch: “I didn’t vote.”

Enough said.

* * *

I couldn’t believe the spring in my step that morning, the sunny disposition that overwhelmed my otherwise dry-verging-on-the-cynical humor, the optimism that still refuses to let go of me. Some of it was relief that it was over; but I know some of it was schadenfreude. Watching the supercilious, condescending Left eat crow is extremely gratifying — Obama’s “Men, get over your sexism and vote for Hillary” to the fore.

I’d hoped for divided government, with a narrow Clinton win and a Republican Congress, with a nod to Ted Cruz’s glimmer of hope for a reduced Supreme Court.

How do I hate thee, Donald? Let me count the ways: Trump’s nuclear triad of ignorance; his “If I get elected I’ll be richer than I’ve ever been” declaration; his “Trump discount,” whereby he withholds payment to his contractors unless they — after the fact — agree to a 10% reduction in their bill to avoid taking him to court; his treatment of Vera Coking (I’ll stop here) made him anathema to me.

Still, knowing my candidate would never win, I look for the silver lining: goodbye Obamacare, hello Supreme Court.

That night, Trump — of all people — added another tiny ray of hope. In the wee hours of that reality shifting morning, right after Hillary Clinton called to concede, Trump took to the stage to convey her concession. Approaching the podium with family in tow, I saw a side of him that I didn’t think existed, a side so out of character, so unguarded, even unbelievable, that I played it again: he and Melania were fighting back tears.

Watching the supercilious, condescending Left eat crow is extremely gratifying.

I don’t know what other folks made of this or even if they saw it. But to me it indicated a degree of humility that I couldn’t conceive in the man. He didn’t gloat, he didn’t smile — he was (dare I say it?), classy. I can’t but imagine that it was at this moment that the full realization that he’d become president of the United States sank in (though I also imagined him in a panic calling all his advisors and asking, what do we do now?).

But there’s one more glimmer of hope that I later discerned, and it came from President Rodrigo Duterte, the Filipino Trump — and, admittedly, it’s a stretch.

For the past four years Chinese ships have blocked Filipino fishermen from plying their trade near Scarborough Shoal, an incipient piece of land in the South China Sea that China claims as its own, in violation of international law. The Philippines, under President Benigno Aquino, took their case to The Hague, where an international tribunal ruled in the Philippines’ favor. China has ignored the ruling.

Souring the situation further, the US has signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines and regularly plies the South China Sea in an effort to uphold the right of free passage through what all but China consider international waters. Enter Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking, loose cannon successor president to Aquino.

I question how creative Duterte or Trump actually are, or how consciously aware of their tactics. Can either think that many steps ahead?

The Philippines hold no cards to, er, trump Chinese power, so Duterte has changed tactics from confrontational to affable. Verbally distancing himself from the US and vividly insulting President Obama (“son of a whore”), he has extended a hand of friendship to China. Last week Filipino fishermen were back fishing at Scarborough Shoal. Mind you, it has all been talk — there have been no substantive changes in Filipino-American or Filipino-Chinese relations.

Donald Trump’s sweet talk about Russia and Putin might be an analogous tactic: sweet foreplay for a more productive engagement, possibly leading to favorable results. I don’t know, and I question how creative Duterte or Trump actually are, or how consciously aware of their tactics. Can either think that many steps ahead?

And: a buffoon in charge of the Philippines is one thing; a buffoon in charge of the US, an entirely different proposition.




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The Case for None of The Above

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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The Case for Donald Trump

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you going to vote against them?

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

That person is Donald Trump.




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The Case for Gary Johnson

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

* * *

I’ve always associated the name Gary with a regular guy. Perhaps that’s because one of my favorite old-time movie stars is Gary Cooper — the epitome of a regular guy. My favorite among his many roles was Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. Even as an extraordinary guy, Gary Cooper still managed to be regular.

Gary Johnson also manages — with breezy ease — to be both regular and extraordinary. Any man who contends for the presidency must be extraordinary in some sense. Yet Governor Johnson has always remained one of the common folks. He isn’t the type who inspires the Beatlemania that still possesses fans of John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. He has a way of quietly inspiring trust.

If we still control who gets elected, then the power still resides with us. The potentates behind the scenes have not yet succeeded in stealing our country.

Young people’s devotion to Ron Paul did reach the level of Beatlemania. But Governor Johnson is certainly catching on with millennials. They’re young enough, and fresh enough, to recognize the mentality of “I can’t vote for somebody who can’t win” for the brain fungus that it really is. All — and I mean literally all — it would take for Gary Johnson to be elected would be for that delusion to end and the many millions it has infected to come to their senses and recognize that absolutely nothing stops them from voting for him, and that if they do vote for him, he will win.

We know that government can’t really change much — at least not for the better — no matter who holds office. But if we still control who gets elected, then the power still resides with us. The potentates behind the scenes have not yet succeeded in stealing our country. Gary keeps telling us that we can vote for whomever we want — and that if enough of us do that, we can foil the plans of our would-be rulers. In 21st-century America, that in itself is a revolutionary message.

The growing support for Gary Johnson’s candidacy is a sign that we’re flexing our muscles. That we recognize — however flabby we’ve gotten — that we haven’t lost them. And that if we fail to use those muscles, we will lose everything that matters to us.

In an unprecedentedly blatant way, our self-appointed betters are telling us simply to like it or lump it. We are coming to the realization that we want to do neither, that a choice between them is no real choice at all.

Johnson is helping us to see that running the country is our job — and his job is to get out of our way so that we can do it.

The American Revolution led not only to a change in who would run our lives but to a shift in our perspective. However unpleasant this election year may be, it gives us that same potential. It has existed all along, but we needed to recognize it anew. Like Rip Van Winkle, or the characters in some episode of The Twilight Zone, we are awakening to the reality of what surrounds us.

Gary Johnson’s candidacy reminds us that we do have a real choice, even in an election year as distasteful as this one. He isn’t going to lead us out of all our troubles, but he alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t claim that he will. He’s telling us, in fact, that no candidate for public office can do for us what we need to do for ourselves. He understands his role as helping us to see that running the country is our job — and as getting out of our way so that we can do it.

Some of the stuff he’s been saying doesn’t sound very libertarian. He wants the US to remain in the UN (and I think it’s imperative to our survival as a sovereign nation that we leave it). Far from making it more likely that I’ll vote for him because he thinks anti-gay bakers should be required by law to make my wedding cake, such pandering actually insults me. I vehemently disagree with him that Planned Parenthood should receive any taxpayer-funding. And disarming people with mental health issues — people who are far more likely to be the victims of violence than its perpetrators — is a notion I find not only bigoted but disgusting.

Can I live with a president who says such things? As long as he is just a president, and not an emperor or a king, then the answer is yes. He alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t aspire to reign over us like medieval royalty. We don’t need to worry that every dumb notion that pops into his head will automatically be forced upon the rest of us. Given the other candidates’ statist ambitions, their stupid ideas would almost certainly end up being not only their problem, but ours.

Even libertarians can get fooled into looking at an election through a statist lens. It’s not about power: about who gets elected, or even about what he or she promises to do. It’s about us. We get fixated, along with everyone else, on how much money a candidate has in the “war chest” — as if that is what determines the outcome — but nothing has changed the fact that we are still the ones who mark our ballots for the candidate of our choice. The power is still vested in us.

Gary Johnson alone, of all the candidates, doesn’t aspire to reign over us like medieval royalty.

“Yes sir,” declared Gary Cooper in another of his movies, Meet John Doe, “we’ve been in there dodging left hooks since before History began to walk. In our struggle for freedom, we’ve hit the canvas many a time, but we always bounced back because we’re the people — and we’re tough.”

Gary Johnson is beckoning us up from the canvas once again. I, for one, fully intend to rise, take my stand, and fight.




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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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Executive Privilege

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Obama Reveals Sudden Emergence of Racism

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To someone from the New Yorker, President Obama has now repeated what his allies have said many times before: his popularity suffers because of his race: “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.”

The president’s sentiment is even more pathetic than his grammar and diction (“there’s folks”), and it reflects as poorly as anything could reflect on his analytical power and knowledge of history — even, in this case, his own political history.

According to the Rasmussen poll (to cite just one of many concurring polls), on inauguration day, 2009, 67% of Americans approved of the president whom they had recently elected, and 32% disapproved. Only 16% “strongly” disapproved. According to the same outfit, five years later, on Jan. 20, 2014, 49% approved and 50% disapproved, four-fifths of them heartily disapproving.

At what point did the president’s race change?




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Paul Versus Christie

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Kentucky senator Rand Paul and New Jersey governor Chris Christie had words recently over their differing views of the federal government’s warrantless surveillance program. Paul is critical of the snooping; Christie supports it. While each man is undoubtedly sincere in his beliefs, politics is at the heart of the argument. Both men would like to be president. Each sees the other as a major obstacle to his presidential ambitions. An interesting question, to me at least, is whether Christie actually believes that he can become his party’s nominee for president. I see no chance of this happening, certainly not in 2016. On the other hand, the second spot on the ticket could be his under certain circumstances. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back for a moment to the Rand-Christie split over domestic surveillance.

In late July, Christie fired the opening salvo in the surveillance debate with remarks made during an Aspen Institute panel discussion featuring four Republican governors (Christie, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Mike Pence of Indiana). He assailed the “strain of libertarianism” running through the two major parties with respect to both foreign policy and the War on Terror, calling it “very dangerous” for the country. “President Obama has done nothing to change the policies of the Bush administration in the War on Terror,” he continued. “And you know why? ’Cause they work.” He went on to criticize Senator Paul by name, for engaging in “esoteric, intellectual debates” on the subject. “I want them [i.e., Paul and those who support his views] to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans [of 9/11 victims] and have that conversation. And they won’t, ’cause that’s a tougher conversation to have.”

Paul responded to Christie’s remarks in an interview with Sean Hannity:

You know, I think it’s not very smart . . . I would remind him [i.e., Christie] that I think what is dangerous in our country is to forget that we have a Bill of Rights, to forget about privacy, to give up on all of our liberty, to say “oh we’re going to catch terrorists, but you have to live in a police state” . . .

We fought the American Revolution over the fact that we didn’t want a warrant to apply to millions of people. The Fourth Amendment says it has to be a specific person, a place, and you have to name the items and you have to go to a judge and you have to say there’s probable cause. . . . And so people like the governor, who are, I guess, flippant about the Fourth Amendment and flippant about the Bill of Rights, they do an injustice to our soldiers, our soldiers who are laying their lives on the line for the Bill of Rights.

Bravo, Rand! After harpooning his whale, Paul tried to make peace, inviting the governor down to Washington for a beer at a pub near the Senate. But Christie rebuffed the offer, claiming he had too much to do in New Jersey. Paul said that he wanted to dial back the rhetoric on both sides, lest the Republicans descend into internecine warfare that can only help the Democrats. He told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he would support Christie if the latter became the Republican nominee in 2016. Christie responded by calling Paul’s initial remarks “out of whack” and “childish.”

The Kings and McCains of the world cannot conceive of an America disinterested in the Middle East: they are bound by mindsets and constituencies that demand our involvement there.

There’s no question that the “strain of libertarianism” Paul represents has establishment Republicans in a tizzy. John McCain, the senator who’s never seen a war he wouldn’t like to get into, has called Paul a “crazybird.” New York Congressman Peter King, a fervent supporter of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq, told CNN that Paul “wants us to isolate ourselves, go back to a fortress America.” These men are indulging in scare tactics, comparing Paul and his supporters to the America First movement of the 1930s. They are wrong on two counts.

First, Paul has never advocated retreating into a fortress America. See for example his Feb. 6, 2013 speech to the Heritage Foundation. Second, of course, is the fact that no existential threat comparable to Nazism or Communism exists in the world today. The present bogeyman, radical Islam, is a danger only so long as we continue to meddle in the affairs of Islamic lands; absent that interference it would confine itself to infighting across the Ummah. It has no serious pretensions to world conquest (despite the nonsense put out by people such as William Federer); more importantly, it does not have the means to reach a position in the world comparable to that of Nazi Germany in 1940, or Soviet Russia in 1950.

The war with radical Islam is in reality a war of choice for us, though few Americans recognize this. The Kings and McCains of the world cannot conceive of an America disinterested in the Middle East: they are bound by mindsets and constituencies that demand our involvement there. The Paulistas face an uphill battle — actually, an impossible one, given the biases of the politicians, the national security apparatchiks, and the media — in persuading the nation that radical Islam’s war on America is largely of our own making. In the current environment it’s fairly easy for the interventionists to convince the citizenry, or a majority at least, that living in a proto-police state is the only alternative to devastating attacks like 9/11. The Paulistas are caught in a Catch-22. If they tell the truth to the American people, they will be smeared as isolationists. If they go along with the idea that radical Islam is determined to make war on us no matter what our policy in the Middle East may be, then it is all but impossible to attack the Patriot Act and programs such as the NSA’s blanket surveillance of Americans’ telephone and email communications. Only a fool would argue that lowering our guard against those who seek to kill us is a sound policy. Yet to persuade Americans that their country, through its actions both past and present, has played a major role in creating terrorism is a daunting task.

Only if we are stupid enough to launch a war of our own in the region — in Syria, or on Israel’s behalf in Iran — will radical Islam remain preoccupied with us.

My own view is that the Muslim world will become more and more involved in its own internal struggles — Sunni vs. Sunni as in Egypt, Shia vs. Sunni as in Bahrain, perhaps Shia vs. Shia at some point in Iran. Some of these struggles may erupt into actual warfare, as in the sectarian conflict (Sunni vs. Shia) now occurring in Syria (and extending into Lebanon and Iraq as well). The War on Terror will wither away eventually, as the Muslim world descends into chaos. Only if we are stupid enough to launch a war of our own in the region — in Syria, or on Israel’s behalf in Iran — will radical Islam remain preoccupied with us. The Muslim world should be left to work out its own destiny. Only be interfering do we endanger ourselves.

Of course, even if the War on Terror does end at some point, there’s no assurance that the US government will dismantle the domestic spying empire it has created. Certainly it’s unlikely that we will see a radical change in the War on Terror or the structure of the surveillance state by 2016. The US is not going to withdraw from the Middle East. Massive surveillance of US citizens’ communications will continue. The situation both here and in the Middle East will probably differ little from that which prevails today. Some cosmetic reforms of the surveillance state may be enacted. Bloodshed in the Middle East may increase. But fundamentally we will be stuck in the same mud.

There is no doubt that Rand Paul’s views on foreign entanglements resonate today with an electorate weary of spending its blood and treasure in far-off lands. According to the polls, over 60% of Americans are opposed to US intervention in Syria; over 70% want to keep hands off Egypt. But as we near the time for casting votes, a drumbeat of criticism will resound in the media and the halls of Congress, characterizing Paul’s views as out of the mainstream and dangerous. We will be told that the safety of the American people will be put at risk if these views prevail, and the volume will be turned up to whatever level is necessary to scare the voters. With Iraq and Afghanistan receding from the public memory, the concept of “better safe than sorry” will come increasingly to the fore. Paul will find himself opposed from left, right, and center when he tries to articulate his foreign policy views.

For it is certain, I believe, that he will run. Personally, I wish him well, despite the differences I have with him on some issues. But I fear that his effort to reach the presidency will be a quixotic one, perhaps even harming the cause he seeks to further.

What are Paul’s chances of winning the Republican nomination? First, let’s look at the competition. The names most bandied about, besides Paul’s, are those of Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and of course Governor Christie. To this I would add Rick Santorum, who after all finished second to Romney in the battle for the 2012 Republican nomination. Neither Marco Rubio nor Ted Cruz will run, in my opinion. Neither is seasoned enough to be a serious presidential candidate (neither, though, was Barack Obama). Rubio would face opposition from the anti-immigration reform constituency, an important bloc of Republican voters. Some governors other than Christie may enter the race, but none can mount more than what would in effect be a favorite son candidacy.

If Rand is the standard bearer in 2016, the Goldwater experience will be repeated. Better to let Jeb and the Republican establishment take the hit.

Should both Ryan and Santorum enter the race, they will be competing for the same voters, mainly social conservatives, which would help Paul. But if only one of them chooses to run, then it becomes more difficult for a libertarian to win primaries and caucuses in a party that teems with social conservative activists. Paul can never get to the right of Ryan or Santorum on social issues.

The party establishment dreads the idea of either Paul or Santorum at the head of the ticket. It doesn’t believe Ryan can actually win. Are establishment thoughts then turning Chris Christie’s way?

You’d think so if you pay attention to the mainstream media, which loves the outspoken New Jersey governor. Reporters and analysts ensconced in offices from New York to California (but nowhere in between) seem to think Christie is a serious contender. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s Republican Party is not about to nominate a Northeasterner who slobbered over Barack Obama at the height of the 2012 campaign. Christie can win Republican primaries in the Northeast, and perhaps on the West Coast, but in the heartland he would find little support. If he runs he will come to the convention with a bloc of delegates, but one too small to give him the nomination.

Many in the Republican establishment — the leadership in Congress, big donors, globalists and national security honchos — would like Jeb Bush to run. Many Republicans believe that he alone can unite the party in 2016, and give them a reasonable chance of beating the Democrat nominee. And they’re almost certainly correct in their belief. Christie slots in as their choice for vice president. With Christie in the second spot it might be possible to pick off New Jersey and New Hampshire, states otherwise reliably blue in presidential years. That Christie would take the second spot, with Jeb at the head of the ticket, is certain. It’s his only real hope of becoming president some day.

If Bush seeks the nomination, and the field includes several candidates, he probably wins, just as Romney did in 2012. His conservative bona fides, though imperfect, are certainly better than the Mittster’s. At the same time he’s probably the one candidate with broad enough support to give the Republicans a shot at winning the presidency.

Paulistas should also remember that federal disaster relief is quite popular with the great majority of voters. So are other federal programs that many Republicans of the Tea Party variety would like to do away with.

What if, however, it’s a two-man race for the Republican nomination? Say Ryan and Santorum decide not to run. Say Christie cuts a deal with Bush to be his veep. Say Rand Paul is the one candidate out there competing with Bush for Republican votes. In such a scenario I can see the possibility of an insurgent Paul beating the establishment candidate. If Paul found himself battling Christie instead of Bush, his victory would be even likelier (to my mind, certain). Mind you, Paul needs to ratchet up his game. In the recent Paul-Christie debate, Paul made some rather foolish missteps, such as taking Christie to task for his “gimme gimme gimme” attitude toward federal dollars. Unfortunately for Rand, New Jersey sends more money to Washington than it gets in return, while in Rand’s home state of Kentucky the situation is the reverse. Paulistas should also remember that federal disaster relief is quite popular with the great majority of voters. So are other federal programs that many Republicans of the Tea Party variety would like to do away with.

Rand Paul is the most interesting politician in the country. He is intellectually superior to the next most interesting pol, Chris Christie. Christie’s views, however, are more easily understood by, and more palatable to, the majority of the electorate. If Paul runs for president in 2016, as I believe he will, he will enliven the debate to a far greater degree than his father did in 2012. He is a better speaker than his father, and better grounded in political realities. He could, under certain circumstances, sweep the Republicans off their feet and gain their nomination for president. But as interesting as that would be, I hope it doesn’t happen. If Rand is the standard bearer in 2016, the Goldwater experience will be repeated. Better to let Jeb and the Republican establishment take the hit. If healthy, Hillary Clinton will run, and she will defeat anyRepublican, be it Bush, Christie, or Paul. Sad to say, but Paul would fare worst of the three in a race against Hillary. The Paul agenda, if it is to advance, must do so incrementally. A resounding defeat in the 2016 presidential election can only hinder the progress of libertarian ideas.




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The Carnival at Dallas

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The spectacle of five presidents — Carter, Bush, Clinton, the other Bush, Obama — meeting to compliment one another at the opening of the second Bush’s presidential library reminded me irresistibly of chapter 26 of Candide, the Symposium of Monarchs. In that episode, Voltaire satirizes authority by arranging for six kings to discover that they are staying at the same inn at Venice. Their conversation reveals their inanity and (as Voltaire would have it) the inanity of human life. Whatever you think of Voltaire’s ideas, it’s a very funny chapter.

So here we have our own Symposium of Monarchs, a meeting of men who have wielded infinitely more power than any king of the Old Regime. Who are these people?

None of them had any qualification whatever for the office once assumed by Washington. In fact, it’s hard to think of anyone, among all the varied occupants of the presidential chair, who was less qualified than they were. Maybe John Tyler. In fact, none of them was impelled to the position by anything other than ambition for office.

Two of them — the Bushes — are agreeable human beings, and the elder Bush was a war hero, a real war hero. Unfortunately, neither father nor son had any intellectual qualifications. The younger Bush reads history but is incapable of profiting from his studies. The elder Bush showed himself incapable of understanding even his own emphatic promise not to raise taxes. He folded as soon as the opposing party offered to sell him a bridge in Brooklyn. He bought the bridge, and lost the presidency. The younger Bush was unable to understand even the rudimentary principles of limited government. But you could say that about all of them. None of them showed even the faintest understanding of his oath of office.

Carter is a mean, twisted, little man, a disgusting specimen of self-righteousness and vindictiveness. My goal in life is to stay as far away as possible from things like that.

Intellectual qualifications . . . unlike virtually all former presidents, none of the five, with the possible exception of Carter, is able to speak in his own voice for even one minute without committing a gross grammatical error. None of them, including the current president, himself reputedly the author of a book, is capable of an accurate allusion to anybody else’s book. Most of them don’t even try. Listen to Obama’s speeches; notice what or whom he mentions. It’s always “a teacher in Montana” or “a little girl in New Jersey.” Acton? Madison? Webster? Whitman? Churchill? Cather? Twain? And here they are at the dedication of a library.

Experience? Carter and Clinton were goofball governors of Southern states. The Bushes were rich people. Obama was a black student who was elected, for unknown but surmisable reasons, editor of a college law review, then a hack politician employed by the Chicago political machine.

Personal qualifications? Great personalities? Commanding leadership? Eccentric and interesting insights? Inspiring examples of morality? All these people, except the elder Bush, who was a professional promiser and non-fulfiller, can properly be called professional liars. Some lied with an exuberance appropriate to men who really enjoy the sport. On Carter, see Robert Novak’s autobiography; you’ll be entertained. On Clinton, consult your memories. On Obama, just listen to the man. On the younger Bush . . . I’m not referring to his theories about Iraq, on which he appears to have been sincerely deluded. On such issues as censorship (freedom of speech is sacred, but take all this sex off the internet), big government (I’m against it, but raise high the roofbeams, carpenters!), and immigration (open the gates, but pretend to be building walls), he lied with abandon.

Which one of these people would you like to serve with on a condo board? A department committee? A working group of any kind? Chorus of “None!” Carter would automatically attack as “racist” anyone who disagreed with him. Obama, a good casting choice for Creon in Antigone, would insist on lecturing everyone like a high school principal. The Bushes would never finish a sentence. Clinton would be looking for a deal that would enrich himself and promote the career of his banshee wife. And which one of them would you like to have a beer with? Which one — to return to the Candide analogy — would you like to encounter at the Carnival of Venice?

My answer used to be, “All of them but Carter.” Carter is a mean, twisted, little man, a disgusting specimen of self-righteousness and vindictiveness. My goal in life is to stay as far away as possible from things like that. But I used to say that if I lived next door to Obama or one of the other recent presidents, I would enjoy talking to him. I used to say that I imagined he would be a good neighbor. A couple of years ago, I got in trouble at a libertarian conference by saying these things.

If these men had remained private citizens, if they had never, accidentally, been elevated to the presidency, would I have wanted to schmooze with them?

But now I’m not so sure. I guess it’s still true about the good neighbor part. None of the non-Carter presidents fits the profile of a bad neighbor, if only because none of them cares very much about who waters the lawn. (Some underling will do it.) On Centre Street in San Diego, this noble disengagement would be a relief. It’s a long way, however, from qualifying someone for political power. I don’t think that Obama, Clinton, or the Bushes would start baying at the moon, or building houses for po’ folk in my back yard. But do I want to have a beer with one of these presidents? Maybe not.

True, I’d like to hear them discuss their political experiences. I wouldn’t object; I’d just listen. I’d buy a whole saloonful of beers, just to be able to do that . . . except . . . except for this vagrant thought: if these men had remained private citizens, if they had never, accidentally, been elevated to the presidency, would I have wanted to schmooze with them? Would I have thought they merited a change in my schedule?

The obvious answer is: Hell no! Are you kidding?

If Obama were a high school principal, or even a congressman, who would want to talk with him? There is nothing, nothing whatever, that is interesting about the man, except the weird political processes that elected him — on which he himself is unlikely to be an authority. Ditto Clinton — of no interest unless you’re one of those old-timey guys who liked to hang with the whores and the cops and collect their observations. The Bushes? Sorry. Life is short. As Gertrude Stein opined, “There’s no there, there.”

When, in Voltaire’s novel, Candide meets his useless monarchs, and so many of them at once, he is at first convinced that he is “witnessing a masquerade.” Then he says, “Gentlemen, this is an odd joke. Why are you all kings?”

He never gets an answer.




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