The Good and the Bad of this Election

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In an effort to purge myself of this horrible election, I will try to state some ideas that seem obvious (to me). Like other obvious ideas, they may not be true, but here they are. Some of them are sadder than others. One of them doesn’t seem sad at all. I’ll start with that one.

Hillary Clinton is now much less likely to become president. Four years from now, the Democratic nominee will have four more years of abject failures to defend, and Clinton has managed to stick herself so firmly to those failures that I don’t think she can ever get herself unstuck.

But isn’t it likely that the economy will improve by then? Not if Obama can prevent it. It’s true, of course, that money wants to be invested, and that some of it may escape being forcibly invested in government and be willing to rear its head in Obamaland and actually buy (and pay for) a house, or start a business. So the economy may “tick up” slightly. But Obama and his friends will keep doing their best to keep the rich rich and everyone else on permanent “assistance.” There will be more welfare, more food stamps, more bailouts, more government employees with more government pensions, more “green” industries that somehow go bankrupt, only to be replaced by others, funded in the same way. Obama’s goal is to make all this permanent, and he is succeeding very well. That’s not good for the economy.

Even in this election, most voters appeared to realize that. Many voted for Obama anyway, because he is black, because their parents were Democrats, because they are Irish Catholics, because they were educated to hate all Republicans, and so forth. But a few more voters on the margin would have turned him out of office.

The Republican Party will be back. This was not a good year for Republican candidates — by which I mean that many of them just weren’t very good. Romney was no one’s first choice, and the first choices of various Republican constituencies (including Newt Gingrich’s constituency of one) were much worse. Twice (2010 and now 2012) the GOP has thrown away an open invitation to take the Senate. It managed to miss some of the easiest targets imaginable — Nevada, Missouri, Indiana. I doubt that even the Republicans will make the same kind of mistakes a third time. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the two major parties are not organizations of principle or even of geography. They may seem so at any given moment, but actually they are enormous vacuum cleaners, roving the landscape in quest of any available vote. Despite their errors, the Republicans of 2012 operated a vacuum cleaner with impressive power. They’ll do better after four more years of the most incompetent president since John Tyler.

The Libertarian Party will also be back, and in exactly the same way it always comes back. At the moment, national totals are unavailable, but the vote here in California demonstrates the chronic weakness of the LP. California is a state with a ton of libertarians, the party had an attractive presidential nominee, and Obama was bound to carry the state, thus eliminating the “why waste your vote on the Libertarians?” argument. Nevertheless, the LP got only 1% of the vote.

The strength of the Democrats is also their weakness, and it is tremendous, in both ways. You can see this in my own state and city. The state, in which all branches of government are firmly controlled by Democrats, who are in turn firmly controlled by labor unions, is (not surprisingly) broke. It is broke because of the money it pays its employees and “invests” in their projects. It is also one of the highest-tax states in the nation. In this election, the major issue on the ballot was a giant “temporary” increase in taxes “for the schools” — actually for the teachers’ pension fund. Even the proponents of this measure expected it to fail. It passed, fairly easily, because of its support by the teachers’ union. In my city, one of the most conservative large cities in the country, a Democratic former congressman who is detested by everyone who ever met him edged out an attractive fiscal conservative and social liberal in a bitter campaign for the mayoralty. Unions again. Very easily passed, even in these times of serious depression in the state and city, was a ridiculous proposal for the local school district to borrow $2.8 billion to perform the kind of repairs that any sane person would have included in the normal budget. Unions a third time.In the immediate vicinity of my town, two veteran Republican congressmen appear to have been defeated by Democratic competitors. Unions a fourth time. Public employee unions. Statewide, a referendum to curtail unions’ ability to spend workers’ money on politics was easily defeated. But the drunker you are — and these people are, indeed, drunk with power — the sooner you’re going to end up in the ditch. Or, to vary the metaphor, the larger the parasite, the sooner it will devour its host. In this case, one has reason to hope, it will devour only the host’s wallet, leaving the host free to shake the parasite off.

Now look at the national scene. How was Obama “dragged across the finish line,” as Charles Krauthammer put it? Part of it was successful appeals to African American voters to support one of their own — nothing surprising. Part of it was the use of amnesty for illegal immigrants to appeal to Mexican American voters — again, nothing surprising. A much larger part was demagoguery based on issues of race and class and even religion, a campaign of lies against Romney and all Republicans that was almost too vile to contemplate but that apparently had some effect. A still larger part was simple bribes: Ohio and Michigan bribed by the bailout of the auto industry, old people bribed by pension promises, working people bribed by virtually-no-interest housing loans, and virtually everyone bribed by national borrowing without paying back. Because these are bribes and not investments, they gather everyone except members of government labor unions and certain politically connected rich people into the same economic spiral — and the spiral points relentlessly to the drain. Money is finite. Even the ability to borrow money is finite. Support for the Democratic Party’s current program will also prove to be finite.

Where exactly the program and the coalition of the bribed will break down, when exactly Peter will angrily decline to keep paying for Paul, and Paul will angrily demand that he keep doing so — that can’t be predicted. But I believe the breakdown is coming soon. I also believe that under these conditions,

It is easier than ever before to argue for reason and liberty. I suggest we now continue with that engaging and delightful task.




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The Palin Perplex

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During the recent brouhaha about Sarah Palin's description of Paul Revere's ride, economist Walter Williams commented:

"There are a lot of things, large and small, that irk me. One of them is our tendency to evaluate a presidential candidate based on his intelligence or academic credentials. When Obama threw his hat in the ring, people thought he was articulate and smart and hailed his intellectual credentials. Just recently, when Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy, people hailed his intellectual credentials and smartness as well.

"By contrast, the intellectual elite and mainstream media people see Sarah Palin as stupid, a loose cannon and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal. There was another presidential candidate who was also held to be stupid and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal who ultimately became president — Ronald Reagan. I don't put much stock into whether a political leader is smart or not because, as George Orwell explained, 'Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.'"

First, let me say this: Dan Quayle was no John F. Kennedy, and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a philosophy that guided all his decisions. He did not have to ponder the short-term ramifications of specific small decisions, because he knew and trusted the long-term effects of adhering to laissez-faire principles. He could sleep well at night, knowing he was being true to his philosophy. We need leaders who are willing to suffer short-term pain in exchange for long-term success.

Now, as to Williams' specific point: Sarah Palin may indeed be very intelligent. Yale and Harvard are not the only academic choices of intelligent people, and I would be criticizing myself if I criticized her for starting and stopping and restarting her college career at institutions that aren't considered "the best." Lots of us make unconventional choices. So I won't criticize her choice of Boise State as her alma mater.

I worry, however, about the fact that she considers "What did you learn from your visit?" and "What newspapers do you read?" to be "Gotcha questions," as she calls them. Those are pretty simple "getting to know you" questions, to which she gave surprising answers.

I worry more about the fact that she often spins her stories — such as the ones about the executive plane and the bridge to nowhere, which she had to "adjust" after she became John McCain's running mate.

I also cringe at her delivery — the way she says so many things with a knowing wink, expecting us to "get" her by what she doesn't say, more than by what she does say. Lots of people like her style and consider it folksy. It just puts me off. Simply put: she may be perfectly intelligent, but I, personally, have no confidence in her. Maybe that feeling will change at some point. I'm not burning any bridges. Or building them to nowhere. So maybe I'll make a U-turn at some point and join her big bright bus.

But not while she's still winking at me with that knowing, gotcha smile.




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The Significance of Ron Paul

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Rep. Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, is once again running for president.

No member of the House of Representatives has run for president and won since James A. Garfield in 1880 (and Garfield had been elected to the Senate just before his election as president). No one as old as Paul has been elected president. He would be 77 when he took the oath of office. Ronald Reagan was 69.

Most of all, no one as radical as Paul has been elected president during the modern era.

There are hopes that this time around, Paul will break through to mainstream America because his argument against foreign war, for a sound currency, and for large cuts in spending will catch fire. It will with some voters, but political ideas acceptable to the American public don’t change that fast.

I said this two weeks ago in a talk to my state’s conservative activists — an audience that included Paul supporters. I said I agreed with Paul on some important things, but that he could not win. One came up to me afterward and said, “You know, every time you say that, you hurt his movement. He got as far as he did last time because thousands of people thought he could win.”

And they were mistaken. But he changed some minds. He made arguments that nobody else would have made — and some of those arguments look better four years later.

In 2007, no Republican candidates were arguing against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan except Paul. Now the Politico website reports a rise of war weariness and even “isolationism” among the Republicans in Congress. They are far from a majority, but they are a faction. And there is another libertarian candidate in the race, former governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who also calls for getting out of the foreign wars immediately.

Four years ago, no Republican candidates other than Paul were talking about protecting the value of the dollar. I still haven’t heard them doing it — but gold is above $1,500 an ounce, and the US dollar is below the Canadian and Australian dollars. The topic ripens.

Four years ago, there was no quasi-libertarian Tea Party movement, and Ron Paul’s quasi-libertarian son Rand Paul was not in the US Senate.

The ground has changed.

Still, it has not changed enough to elect Ron Paul as president. There is no point collecting dandelion seeds, such as the CNN/Opinion Research poll last week, which showed Paul running stronger against President Obama than any other Republican candidate. I have heard that poll cited several times, never mentioning that the split was Obama, 52%, Paul, 45%. Anyway, it was a poll taken 15 months before the election, which means it was a poll of a public not paying attention. Paul, in particular, had not been seriously attacked.

A few days later, he was. Conservative columnist Michael Gerson of the Washington Post ripped into him for his answer to a reporter’s question. The question was whether Paul favored the legalization of heroin.

There is a purpose in questions like that. It is to see whether the reporter can catch the candidate saying something crazy — not crazy, maybe, to a social scientist or a philosopher, but crazy to a political operative, or Joe Sixpack.

The role of the radical candidate is to take the taboo stands, fight valiantly, lose, and change the political ground.

In his answer, Paul compared freedom to use drugs to freedom of religion. Here is how Gerson paraphrased it: “If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart.” This, Gerson sneered, is the essence of libertarianism.

But Paul had said more than that. Wrote Gerson: “Paul concluded his answer by doing a jeering rendition of an addict’s voice: ‘Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws.’ Paul is not content to condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction; he must mock them in their decline.”

Gerson concluded that any candidate who supports “the legalization of heroin while mocking addicts” is marginal and unserious. His column was a way of looking at the Republican list and scratching out the name of Ron Paul.

Libertarians can rail against Gerson as biased, which of course he is. He is an opinion columnist. Bias is part of his job description. But if your candidate is taken seriously, which Paul was not in 2008, this is the kind of attention he is going to get — and here it is attention from a conservative. If Paul became the Republican frontrunner, the pundits of the Left would go after him with machetes and crowbars.

They haven’t, because they delight in schism on the Right. But if he becomes the frontrunner, they will. And Paul has said plenty of things they can use to make a bogeyman out of him. Legalize heroin. Imagine what they could do with that.

Here is the reality. Certain political stands are safe, others are daring, and some are taboo. The role of the radical candidate is to take the taboo stands, fight valiantly, lose, and change the political ground. It is a valuable role to play: it is changing the field so that other good candidates, later on, can win.

What other candidate? Maybe Rand Paul in 2016 or 2020. Maybe Gary Johnson. One can imagine a Mitch Daniels-Gary Johnson ticket in 2012, with Johnson running in the top position later. Once a libertarian faction has been established in the Republican Party and is built into a substantial faction, room is made for other candidates, ones aiming more directly at winning, to have a go.

On the day that Paul announced, I had lunch with his 2008 campaign manager, Lew Moore. The timing was accidental; I had met Moore among the conservative activists two weeks before, and I hadn’t seen him in years. I asked him: when Paul ran in 2008, did the congressman seriously think he could win, or was it mostly to change the debate?

Without denying that Paul had had some chance of winning, Moore said the campaign was mostly about changing the debate. He said, “That is what his whole life has been about.”

And, at 75, Paul is not done. You have to admire the man. A lone congressman from Texas, never enjoying the support of his party’s establishment, has changed the political ground within the Republican Party.

And maybe he will change it some more.




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