Obamatarian

Reason did a piece, “Who’s Getting Your Vote?” in which they asked a bunch of sort-of-celebrities who they were voting for. It’s long and predictably full of pithy humor and yuck-yuck jabs at the candidates. It’s also chock full of anger and a omnipresent desire for vengeance; far, far, too many of the respondents answered that they’d be voting for Obama because they want to punish the Republican party.

The idea is that we should punish the Republicans for abetting the Bush administration. The Bush administration’s failures in this regard (there are many, so let’s be specific) are the militaristic foreign policy, the huge increase in entitlement spending, the rise of the deficit, the funding of sectarian religious organizations, and the erosion of individual liberty. All granted.

But in what universe does voting for Obama signal to anyone that those ideas are wrong? Obama has opposed the Iraq war, but he’s been surprisingly militant about Afghanistan, Iran and Darfur. Obama promises to expand existing entitlement programs and create new ones. He’s proposing tax increases and spending increases in the middle of a recession and seems unable to find a single government program that needs to be cut. He’s promised to maintain funding for faith-based programs. He promises to undermine property rights, is opposed to free trade, and his health plan is a disaster.

Voting for Obama signals to Republican party that you want more government and less individual liberty.

In a much more thoughtful piece at Reason, “Is There Any Hope For this Man?” Richard Epstein makes the point,

Unfortunately, on the full range of economic issues, both large and small, I fear that [Obama’s] policies, earnestly advanced, are a throwback to the worst of the Depression-era, big-government policies. Libertarians in general favor flat and low taxes, free trade, and unregulated labor markets. Obama is on the wrong side of all these issues. He adopts a warmed-over vision of the New Deal corporatist state with high taxation, major trade barriers, and massive interference in labor markets. He is also unrepentant in his support of farm subsidies and a vast expansion of the government role in health care. Each of these reforms, taken separately, expands the power of government over our lives. Their cumulative impact could be devastating.


Voting for Barr would send a message to the Republican party. Voting for Obama would not. (I think it would cost us far, far too much to deliver that message.)

Todd Zywicki has a good post at Volokh,

And from what I can tell none of those libertarians or conservatives who are Obama supporters are attracted to because of his positions (other than those who care strongly about the Iraq war and foreign policy), but rather because of who he is. Obama is a compelling personality. But in reading these encomiums to him, I haven’t seen any explanation as to how Obama’s policies on tax, trade, spending, or regulatory would be friendlier to individual liberty than what is likely to be McCain’s (as weak as those will be). As someone observed somewhere recently, this is about the first time in history that you have endorsements from people who endorse Obama on the hope that he won’t do what he says he’ll do rather than because of what he says he’ll do.

Now, if you agree with Obama, then by all means, vote for him! But there is no plausible universe in which anyone can coherently argue that a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for free-markets, free trade, property rights, or fiscal discipline.

Libertarian Loonies

In the wake of my Ron Paul posts, I received a message from from the George Phillies campaign. What? You haven’t heard of his campaign? Me either. Mr. Phillies is the Chair of the Libertarian Party in Massachusetts, and he’s running for the Libertarian Party Nomination. Of course… he’s not mentioned on the LP website as a candidate for the nomination. And that can’t be a good thing… especially when the bar appears to have been hung pretty low: Jim Burns is listed as a candidate for the nomination and the site proclaims that Jim has raised a grand total of $40 for his campaign. (This is the national site, mind you. Lp.org.)

My message was from Carolyn Marbry, and Carolyn has the best title ever for a campaign worker. She’s the “National Mobilization Facilitator for Electronic Operations.” Wow. I was almost prepared to support George based solely on his ability to hand out cool titles. Just think, instead of a poor, drab, Secretary of State we could have the National Master for Advice and Counsel in Matters Pertaining to the States, Various.

Cool titles aside, I checked out George’s website. (Did that mean I was being electronically facilitated? Maybe I was electronically mobilized….)

Now, George is a smart guy. He’s a professor of Physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. According to the website, Professor Phillies, “has attained international recognition for his scientific studies of light scattering, soaps, and polymer solutions.” Cool. I like science. And I’m glad that we have smart, liberty minded people teaching 19 year olds how light scatters, what the heck polymers are, and why soap is important. But I’m not prepared to support Mr. Phillies in his presidential aspirations.

Let’s see where Dr. Phillies stands on the issues:

If elected, I will immediately end our occupation of Iraq. Our forces with their supplies and equipment will move as rapidly as possible through peaceful Kuwait to await shipment home.

Ahhhhh….. naturally! We’re tired, let’s go home. Oh… what? The Iraqi people? Screw ’em.

George has already lost me. George isn’t a career politician, so I’ll be kind enough to assume that this isn’t mere political pandering, but rather a deeply held belief. Of course that fact that an immediate withdrawal would be catastrophically stupid, would further destabilize an already unstable region, would stand as an engraved invitation for Iran to invade, would ignore our moral responsibility to support the Iraqi government that we created, and… oh to the hell with it. If Prof. Phillies doesn’t get this, then he’s confusing people with polymers. We’re not plastic and neither are the Iraqis.

But let’s move on:

George says,

Our only hope is a President who points at Federal program after Federal program, corporate welfare scheme after corporate welfare scheme, and says the same four words “We can’t afford that.” Those words got our grandparents though the Great Depression. Those are the words that will restore fiscal sanity to our Republic.

Well, I was hoping for a president who would do a little more than point and whine, but hey…. maybe it would work. You know, in the same way that FDR decided in the 1930’s that we just couldn’t afford to start any new government prog…. Wait, what the f**k is George talking about?

I will order all Executive branch employees to comply enthusiastically with all Congressional requests for documents and testimony.

Your smile isn’t wide enough, buddy. Wider! Be more enthusiastic!

Uncle Sam has no legitimate role in the abortion issue, and neither does your state government.

What? Then who does? I don’t care where you stand on the issue, pro-life or pro-choice, George’s position is just nuts. Unless George actually has an uncle named Sam, in which case… I still don’t get it. Either it’s a federal right or it’s not. If it’s not, then it’s up to the States. Sorry, George but the local zoning board doesn’t get a say.

At times, Professor Phillies is maddeningly vague. On energy and the environment, he’s long winded and says virtually nothing. When discussing health care he has this howler, “Cost transfers should be made illegal: Your insurance should only pay for your care.” Which, of course, would mean that it’s not insurance…. “cost transfer” is just a weird way of saying “spreading risk.” The problem isn’t that the insurance companies spread the risk around (what else would they do?) it’s that the government requires them to include extremely high risk populations in the pool, thus increasing the cost of everyone’s premiums.

When he starts in on immigration he’s just plain evasive (or horribly populist, take your pick):

All too often, we hear claims that we must import foreign workers because Americans won’t do those jobs. ‘Those jobs’ in question are hard, physically demanding, outdoor work that require constant, careful attention to detail. Those jobs should be receiving a wage premium, not be barely-minimum-wage sources of employment. There are jobs that Americans won’t do, notably in the sciences and engineering; we allow foreigners to come here to study, but then require them to leave. Mr. Bush’s foreign guest worker scheme is a corporate welfare deal at the expense of the American worker.

OK…. So… your solution is… what again? Is he saying that the government should impose a minimum-wage on farm work? How else are we to interpret “Those jobs should be receiving a wage premium” in this context? And what are those jobs in science and engineering that American’s won’t do? Really? Won’t?

To be fair, Prof. Phillies is correct on some issues, but like the major parties, his is a shotgun approach to policy. Some hits and some misses. There’s no consistent and principled line of argument here. It’s a hodge-podge of surrender, price controls, abdication, and populism. I think I’m most frightened by his call for a more enthusiastic bureaucracy….

Ms. Marbry emailed me to convince me I shouldn’t take Ron Paul as representative of mainstream libertarianism. But her implication is that Prof. Phillies is that representative. If that’s true, we’re no better off.

But is he representative?

I checked out Wayne Allyn Root’s website (he’s listed first on the LP homepage as he’s raised a whopping $14K).

First off I’m struck by this:

Libertarian Presidential hopeful Wayne Allyn Root will appear on many of Europe’s biggest TV and radio stations during his UK media tour this week.

OK… so…. Wait a minute, I’m still processing this. OK… I would have thought this would be obvious, but here goes: It’s helpful to campaign in this country if you want to win. I’m just saying….

As I begin scanning, Wayne seems OK on the issues, but that might be only because he’s not saying much at all. The devil is always in the details, and as soon as we get a detailed plan we get one of those odd, counter-productive reforms that so many libertarians are fond of:

I will ask Congress to give the Government Accountability Office real power by elevating its chief, the Comptroller General of the United States, to a cabinet-level executive branch officer, with oversight over all federal programs and agencies. Under my plan, the Comptroller would have the ability to take government agencies to court to compel their efficient performance and to forcibly remove waste and pork.

Separation of powers, checks and balances… they’re so antiquated. “…compel their efficient performance and to forcibly remove waste and pork,” sounds an awful lot like a line-item veto for the executive branch. This is nothing more than a disgusting power grab. He wants to take the independent and non-partisan GAO and make it part of his cabinet. Who needs oversight? Don’t you trust him? Come on… trust him! Trust him!

A few lines down we get the actual statement:

I support the Line Item Veto. I will push relentlessly and tirelessly to make this a crucial part of the President’s arsenal to fight the deficit, cut waste, and balance the budget.

So much for the Constitution.

I support Voting ballots in English-only. My goal is to reduce the cost of government. Therefore we must stop wasting taxpayer money by printing ballots and administering elections in multiple languages.

Federalism stinks! More power to the Federal government! This is one of those absolute howlers… elections aren’t run by the feds, Wayne. At some point, the Constitution should actually matter.

I will sign a pledge to NOT raise tax rates-PERIOD!

I support Internet Freedom. I support the legalization, regulation & taxation of Online Gaming (just like U.K.). Prohibition has been proven a failure. Let’s legalize, regulate and tax this growing industry- thereby bringing in billions of dollars in new tax revenues that we can use for deficit reduction, homeland security, or the war on terror.

He said he wouldn’t raise taxes. He didn’t say anything about new taxes. (He’s also clearly pretty fond of the U.K….)

It’s not flip-flopping. It’s nuanced. Like this:

I believe abortion is a matter of personal choice and not intended for federal government intervention. Let’s get the federal government out of a woman’s right to choose what to do with their own body- this will prevent the death of innocent women at the hands of butchers in back-alleys.
BUT I also support common sense limitations on abortion– no late term or partial birth abortion (unless a mother’s life is endangered)…no federal funding of abortion…and I support Parental Notification for underage girls.

Get the Feds out!Well, OK, not out so much as deeply involved. This kind of stuff drives me crazy. Just say what you mean. Saying things like this means that you think voters are stupid and gullible.

I am opposed to Yucca Mountain– I do not think nuclear waste should be transported across the country, thereby posing a greater security, accident or terrorist threat. I also believe the choice of a nuclear storage site near Las Vegas is completely irresponsible and reckless. Yucca Mountain was chosen at a time when Las Vegas was a small anonymous town. It is downright foolish, shortsighted and dangerous to risk a nuclear disaster near any booming metropolis.

Wow! Now that’s a new one! I haven’t seen any candidate talk about Yucca Mountain. I wonder what Phillies thinks about this, he’s a physicist after all. This is one of those issues where it would be really great to have an independent, non-partisan agency to do some fact checking. You know, like the GAO. Oh… right.

Let’s show our true colors by requesting that the Iraqi people vote on America’s role in Iraq. We are supporters of Democracy. We went to Iraq to build a Democracy. Let’s support an Iraqi national vote on whether the Iraqi people want U.S. troops to stay or go. If they vote “Go” we should leave. PERIOD.
If the Iraqi people vote for U.S. troops to stay, we should still make plans to get out of Iraq as soon as possible– but first make sure our friends and allies in the Iraq government can defend their young Democracy. We cannot punish our Iraqi partners and allies who took our word and stood by us- or America’s word will mean nothing in the future to our allies.

Wayne manages to squeeze a little waffling in on this issue too. I think Wayne’s just trying to cover his bases. I mean, cover his cricket wickets… sorry old chap.

Wayne is a candidate who takes a lot of hard, line-in-the-sand positions. Well, you know…. sort of.

Next I went to Michael Jingozian’s website. Clarity isn’t his strong suit. “Reset America” is his campaign slogan. It’s catchy and it’s hip. It conjures images of a violent and catastrophic change, a sudden loss of work, a painful period while we wait for the system to reboot…. Oy.

“Do over!” is not an inspiring political message.

Mike doesn’t seem to take any clear stand on the issues but he’s big on five year plans and prosecuting political opponents for war crimes. That’s not usually a good combination.

Oh… he also likes “integrity” and “sustainable” political practices. And there’s a picture of him thinking deep thoughts. You know he’s thinking deep thoughts because he’s rubbing his chin. Or maybe he has a pimple. Either way, he has a bunch of charts. Like this. Enough said.

Next up, Bob Jackson. I start out liking Bob. Bob’s a family man. Bob’s an Eagle Scout. Bob was an engineer. Bob knows how “things” work. (More on “things” later.) He has this to say on energy policy:

The most important scientific advancement facing us is the development of totally pollution free Fusion reactors. This requires the development of room temperature electrical super conductive materials to make the powerful magnets needed to harness the fusion process.

Oh great.Again, I find myself wishing Prof. Phillies were around…. Bob goes on,

The country needs a president with an energy plan, environmental concern and personal ethics of an Eagle Scout. Bob is the only candidate with such credentials and plan.

Bob’s an Eagle Scout. Not just a cub, or a bear, or any other piddling kid-stuff scout. We’re talking eagle. Bob has the chops. He knows all about fusion. He’s prepared. Bob will get those scientists in line. (You listening George? We’re talking to you!) Maybe he’s going for the fusion merit badge.

Bob’s Iraq plan looks better than some of the other candidates. But only in comparison. Bob’s a fan of the three-state plan. I can see it’s attraction, but I think it’s probably too late in the game to scrap the current Iraqi government and try to start over with three separate ones. (This raises a question…. Saying “I told you so” isn’t a helpful political position. Does Bob actually think this is a workable policy? Can you imagine the meeting with the Joint Chiefs? “OK… So here’s the plan. We’re calling it, Operation Do-Over. Mike Jingozian here will fill you in on the rest.”)

Bob’s also big on sealing the U.S. border. Most of the candidates are. When did this become mainstream libertarianism? I’m just asking…. Did I miss the memo on xenophobia?

Bob’s pro life and wants to devolve abortion to the States and he’s consistent about it. None of this, you get to decide, so long as you decide the way I want you to stuff. Points for sticking to principle, Bob.

So far, I like Bob the best. He seems the least off-kilter of the candidates I’ve checked out. Of course, Bob’s a libertarian, so there’s this:

Our standard of living is based literally on two factors, emotions and a multitude of “things”. Emotions (thoughts, love, hate, greed, values, religion, etc) are actually free. All humans since caveman days have all, and sometimes more, emotions that can be handle rationally. All “things” that form our physical standard of living must be produced and that requires energy.

I like “things.” Religion is an emotion? What about the Boy Scouts? Are they an emotion? And what about that knock on our paleolithic ancestors? Did they not have emotions? I know they didn’t have the Boy Scouts, but I think they probably had some emotional life. But maybe not. Maybe they were different. Maybe their standard of living was based figuratively on stuff.

The last website is for Daniel Imperato. Things get weird here. Dan’s not real big on the whole “individual” part of individual liberty, he likes “we the people.” Apparently as in, “We, the people, know better than you. Get stuffed.”

He wants to restrict your charitable donations (so you can give more to Social Security).

I propose a new charity system, where the only charity that can receive unlimited contributions is the Social Security 501(c)3 Charitable Fund. That way, wealthy Americans, who wish to have the largest tax deductions through charitable donations, will donate back to the American people and the Social Security Charitable Fund that will be run by we the people.

And then,

I propose an approval fee on all FDA approved drugs to be contributed by the drug companies to the US healthcare system. In addition, a percentage will be added to the wholesale costs of the drugs that are sold around the world that will be contributed back to the healthcare system.

Hmmm…. what’s his party affiliation? Libertarian? This can’t be right. Hey, wait! He has more new government programs!

One of my major initiatives will be a US online education system, which I have already began to develop, with an education platform that will be supported by a shared computer portal of educational courses and content. It will be provided by a large number of universities, one program at a time. These programs and classes will be installed on our educational portal, and it will represent a gesture of moral and social responsibility by and between all universities. This will collectively create the greatest online free education system in the world, for the people who can’t afford education run by
we the people.

It will be provided for by a large number of universities (not all, just a “large number”). It will be great. It will “represent a gesture.” What does that mean? Could anything be more vague? Which gesture is he thinking of? I know which gesture I’m thinking of….

I propose joint manufacturing programs, expansion of labor unions and organized labor into Latin America. This will help the people, teach the people, and organize the people, to compete around the world for a Better Americas.

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Dan is starting to look a lot like a fascist.

My strategy for Iraq is to implement an immediate cease fire, strengthen our troop base, and join with the Arab states for a long-term peace solution.

You know, because we’ve been refusing so many requests for a cease fire. Day after day we have terrorists coming to us with reasonable and rational pleas for a cease fire. Let’s just stop all the shooting already! Can’t we all just get along? We can join hands with Saudi Arabia and Iran and the Sudan and sing songs of solidarity.

Dan wants to, “bring back his country — The United States of America — to the straight and narrow.” What with Wayne off campaigning in Britain, Dan seems to think we need to reminded about which country is his. There’s no indication that he means “straight and narrow” as a stand for family values… his website crashed so I couldn’t delve any deeper. But I saw enough, Dan’s not an advocate of individual liberty. He’s not even close.

The problem, of course, is that they all claim to be libertarians. Because being a libertarian can mean anything. More subsidy, less subsidy. Raise taxes, lower taxes. No nukes, more nukes. Open the borders, close the borders. Out of Iraq, stay in Iraq. More freedom, less freedom.

It’s a mess and it’s absurd. Of all these candidates, I liked Bob Jackson, Eagle Scout the best. But that’s only because Bob doesn’t really say that much. Bob’s also the only one who didn’t seem to descend into rank populism (although none were as bad as Imperato).

These are the people that represent libertarianism. But they don’t represent me.

The Radical Whigs

A friend of mine cautioned me against using the term “radical” in my new political moniker. I think he has a point, but I also think that any political party that takes individual liberty, autonomy, and responsibility seriously is–at heart–a radical party. Furthermore, I am increasingly convinced that contemporary political culture is so overwhelmingly and systemically corrupt that only radicals have any hope at effecting change.

To those who urge restraint, that we don’t need yet another term, yet another movement, yet another political party…. I must disagree.

It is true of those in this broad movement that we are all, generally speaking, classical liberals. But the term “liberal” has been so degraded as to be effectively meaningless. A catalog of the errors and policy atrocities of so-called liberals in the 20th century would fill the remainder of this post, and as much fun as it might be to beat a dead donkey, I simply don’t have the time. It should be readily apparent that the term “liberal” has been irretrievably lost.

So too has conservative. The fiscal profligacy of this administration should shame the Republican party. I am troubled by the terror that homosexuality seems to instill in the Republican party. Why the party of Lincoln should so oppose the enforcement of the 14th amendment is a mystery to me. Furthermore, I am deeply dismayed by the extent to which the Republican party has worked to erode the fourth and fifth amendments. If the Democrats ignore the Second Amendment, the Republicans give short shift to the Fourth. The Bill of Rights is not a buffet.

I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat. The process of Congress has been compared to sausage making, and that’s apt. But the pork has gone rancid and is spilling from its casing. Despite the growing stench, both parties are still busily feeding the grinding chute. There’s too much pork to process and our legislators are wallowing in the fat–and both parties stink. The simple truth is that just as the sheer scale of Congressional spending defeats any attempt at fiscal reform, so too does the sheer scale of vested interest defeat any attempt at reforming the major parties.

Neither am I a libertarian. The concern over the candidacy of Ron Paul is simply the latest in a long series of problems that have plagued both the libertarian movement and the Libertarian party. If you wish to hang to the term libertarian, you may. But I will have no more of it. I am tired of patiently explaining why teaching evolution matters, why terrorism should be opposed, and why although marijuana use should be legal, it should probably not be encouraged. I am tired of suffering the pretentious pomposity and bigotry of men who intone on the evils of the Civil War and I have grown weary of discussing the merits of using ancient druidical rituals in modern political campaigns. As a political force, the Libertarian Party is a mess.

But don’t misunderstand me. Hidden among the crazies and the loons, there are men and women of integrity, principle, intelligence, and worth. There are Democrats who would delight in sound fiscal policy–and there are a few Republicans who would as well, I’m sure of it. There are Republicans who are tolerant and respectful–and I’m sure there are a few Democrats who are as well. There are libertarians who believe that not all that should be legal must be condoned, there are Democrats who believe that not all that should be condoned must be mandatory, and there are Republicans who believe that not all that should be opposed must be be illegal. There are; I’m sure of it.

If you agree, let me know. Post a comment. If you don’t, let me know that too. If you like the name “Radical Whigs” Let me know. If you hate it, let me know that as well.

A Radical Whig

In the search for a moniker to claim as my own, I’m seriously considering “Radical Whig.” As this comes on the heels of a discussion I just had with a friend who claims to be a Tory Individualist, I thought I might elaborate a little.

In centuries past, the Whigs opposed the Tories for control of the British parliament. In general terms, the Tories favored a stronger monarchy, while the Whigs favored a stronger parliament. The Whigs favored free trade and the abolition of slavery. The Tories favored… well, they favored Anglicanism and the king. Eventually, the Tory project failed and the party was destroyed by scandal and allegations of treason.

Then, with George III and the American Revolution, everything gets sort of… fuzzy. The Whigs split into two camps: those who supported the king, and those who did not. Edmund Burke (who is many ways the father of modern conservative thought) was a Whig, and then a Liberal. There were some Whigs who were independent Whigs, but they were the New Tories and opposed the Whigs who were the old Whigs, but weren’t the Radical Whigs who had supported the Whigs in America. The American founders were Whigs, styled after the British Radical Whigs that supported the ideals they were fighting for. And yes, there were the American Whigs in the 19th Century, who supported a stronger Congress… Lincoln was a Whig until the Whigs backed slavery, then he became a Republican.

Eventually everything settled into a two-party system. What were the New British Whigs became the Liberal Party. The New British Tories (who were actually Old Whigs) became the Conservative Party. The Old American Whigs became the Federalists, then the New American Whigs, and then the Republicans. The Liberal Party was more “libertarian,” until it became the Social Democrats and is now the Liberal Democrats (and bears no real resemblance to a party of individual liberty).

So where were we? Oh yes… why I like Whig better than Tory when the Tories were Whigs and the Whigs became the Liberal Democrats. Well, it’s mostly a matter of association. The Conservative Party in Britain is still commonly referred to as the “Tory” party, and I want something that doesn’t bear the weight of that association. And both the British Conservative Party and the American Republican Party were formed by factions of Whigs who–at least originally–favored more individual liberty. And remember, the Radical Whigs were very influential with the American colonists and played a role win the American Revolution.

So, I think I’m a Radical Whig. I know it’s confusing. But I don’t think it’s any less confusing than claiming I’m a Conservative or a Republican or a Liberal (now there’s a loaded term) or a Libertarian or anything else.

Of course, no sooner do I adopt my new moniker than I find a blog by “A Radical Whig in Chattanooga” who endorses Ron Paul.

(Sound of head smacking repeatedly on the desk.)

Liberal, Conservative…

Shawn has another good post up libertarianism.

Shawn concurs with Brink Lindsey ; he’s a liberal libertarian. He says, “I’ve always been uncomfortable with the cozy relationship libertarianism seemed to have with conservatism. I am not a conservative.”

Brink lays his position out very succinctly,

Here’s why. I’m a libertarian because I’m a liberal. In other words, I support small-government, free-market policies because I believe they provide the institutional framework best suited to advancing the liberal values of individual autonomy, tolerance, and open-mindedness. Liberalism is my bottom line; libertarianism is a means to promoting that end.

Shawn goes further,

I like the label “market liberal”: it denotes that I am a liberal who views the problems of social and political life as best left to free individuals to resolve. Free markets and limited government are important political goals because they are the means by which individuals can best live free and flourish.

Conservatism, by contrast, seems more to be about limited government as means towards more social control. In order for the family, local community, and/or religious institutions to exert their power over the individual, the government needed to be limited.

I know where Shawn and Brink are coming from, and I sympathize. If Ron Paul counts as a libertarian, then we all need to be clear about what a libertarian is — and what a libertarian isn’t. (And I submit that if the term is big enough to accommodate both Paul and Lindsey, then the term has lost all meaning and needs to be discarded.)

The problem is that the values that we care about: individual autonomy, tolerance, responsibility, liberty — all require advanced and developed social and cultural frameworks. There is certainly no place in a principled advocacy of liberty for Ron Paul’s kind of xenophobia, racism, or conspiracy theories. But there should be a place for family, community and religion. It might be trite to say that no man is an island, but it’s no less true for being trite. Even radical individualists raise families, go to church, and volunteer at their local school. just as a commitment to liberal ideas need not require a commitment to socialized health care, a commitment to conservative ideas need not require the establishment of a state religion, or the criminalization of homosexuality.

I may be jumping at shadows, but I think it’s important to recognize that there is enormous value in enduring social order. If conservatism is a healthy respect for the accumulated wisdom of the ages, then we ignore that counsel at our own peril. And I would argue that one of the great achievements of the American Experiment was the successful marriage of progress with tradition, liberalization with conservatism. Both the American Revolution and the Civil War brought enormous political change. In both cases, great liberty was won by violent means — and yet despite the violence of those wars, the extant legal, social, and cultural traditions continued and thrived. Contrast the American experience with the French Revolution. In France, liberalization was total — everything was upended, and everything went to pot.

Indeed, that point is driven home most forcefully by the noted conservative Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France. Wikipedia summarizes Burke’s argument very well:

Burke argued that the French Revolution would end in disaster because it was founded on abstract notions that purported to be rational but in fact ignored the complexities of human nature and society. Burke held an essentially pragmatic view of politics and viewed with contempt the vision of French EnlightenmentMarquis de Condorcet, that politics could be reduced to a rigorous deductive system akin to mathematics.

As a Protestant and a Whig, Burke expressly repudiated the notion that the authority of monarchs was divinely instituted or that the people had no right to depose an oppressive government. On the other hand, he believed in the central roles of private property, tradition, and “prejudice” (by which he meant the popular adherence to values that lack a conscious rational justification) in giving citizens an interest in the well-being of their country and in maintaining social order. Burke argued for gradual, constitutional reform over revolutionary upheaval, in all but the most qualified of cases. Burke also emphasized that a political doctrine founded on abstract notions about “liberty” and the “rights of man” could easily be used by those in power to justify tyrannical measures. Instead, he called for the constitutional enactment of specific, concrete rights and liberties as a bulwark against oppression by the government.

In that sense, I think we might more accurately describe a principled defense of liberty as the very essence of conservatism.

But that would be silly. None of the people who have repudiated Ron Paul, Shawn, Brink, Timothy Sandefur, myself, or the countless others are conservatives. Really, in comparison to the current political climate, we’re radicals. (Radicals with a respect for history and tradition, I hope.)

The problem is that all the words we use to describe political discourse in this country are hopelessly corrupted. “Liberal” has come to mean the worst aspects of “leftist” ideology. It’s statist, progressive, victimized, new-age, anti-reason, amoral, libertine populism. “Conservative” has come to mean the worst aspects of the ideology of the “right.” It’s statist, reactionary, bigoted, fundamentalist, anti-reason, moralistic populism. “Libertarian” has come to mean the worst aspects of both. It’s progressive, reactionary, bigoted, victimized, new-age, fundamentalist, anti-reason, moralistic, libertine populism.

If those of us who love liberty, who cherish autonomy and personal responsibility continue to define our beliefs and allegiances with terms that lost their coherent meaning years ago, we’re dooming ourselves to irrelevance.

I’m not a liberal libertarian or a conservative constitutionalist.

We need a new name. We need a new party. Suggestions?

Ron Paul and Libertarianism

Shawn has a good post up about libertarianism. Spurred by Ron Paul fiasco, Shawn cautions his readers to, “Beware the label libertarian. It has come to be a meaningless term that doesn’t tell you anything useful about the beliefs of an individual.”

While I wish that Shawn was correct, I’m afraid that may no longer be true. I used to call myself a libertarian. I was a member of the party. I ran for office as a Libertarian. I believe in liberty, reason, and responsibility. I wanted to believe that my compatriots felt the same way. I learned the hard way that far, far too many of them do not.

The movement — like the party with the same name — has long been a big tent group. In an effort to grow their political influence, the party and the movement grew to include the single-issue pot heads, the radical greens, petty socialists, moral relativists, conspiracy theorists, and, of course, all manner of racists and bigots. So saying libertarian didn’t mean very much.

The problem is that, like the massive, field-covering awnings that charismatic preachers use in their traveling revivals, the tent is too big. There are too many people in the back who can’t hear the ravings of the man up front, and too many up front who are complicit in the farce. As it stands now, if you enter the libertarian tent you’ll just be fleeced. The man up front is a bigot, a huckster, and a joke; there’s no real healing in that tent, only the worst kind of sham.

If you don’t know that the man in a white suit who sells empty promises in a fallow field is a liar, a crook and a thief, well… you’re a fool.

But it’s not just the man up front, it’s the armies of the complicit and ignorant who feed him money and power and credibility. It’s the magazines that sell out principles and deep thinking for market share and hot invitations. It’s the political party that turns its back on history and buries its head in the sand. It’s the populist pandering that blames mysterious secret organizations, demands special favors, and condemns immigration. It’s the moral relativist who decries age-of-consent laws, the tyrant that seeks escape from the constraints of the 14th amendment, and it’s the racists and the bigots who seek power at the expense of others.

As Timothy Sandefur says,

I think we must face the fact that the libertarian community does include many racists and other unsavory characters who see in our message of limited government an opportunity to act on their creepy impulses—people whose own hostility to the state is rooted not in a love of individual freedom and human initiative as ours is, but in an opposition to modernity, secularism, equality, urban life and bourgeois values. We must make it clear that they aren’t welcome in our big tent.

(emphasis in the original)

It’s not our tent anymore. It might once have been our farm, but we gave it to the craven and the crazed for their revival, and they’re not leaving.

By all means, beware the label libertarian; everyone in the tent is suspect.

Me? I’m getting out now.