Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Understanding your local europhile.

The local Europhiles--you know the sort: affluent social-democrats, the sort who advocate big-government while being educated enough to know it doesn't work--may be easier to understand due to Stuff White People Like.

Some of the information may also deepen your appreciation of overeducated snobs like me. Caveat lector!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Poll: Libertarian presidential hopefuls

At this point, were I someone who participated in prediction markets, I wouldn't put my money on the LP's presidential candidate getting more than 5% in the November general election. Yet, for reasons I can't understand, there are between eight and fifteen people seeking the Party's nomination.

Stephen Gordon of Third Party Watch is conducting a poll on the matter, including a rank-ordering of the candidates. My response is as follows:

  1. Bob Barr. Bob Barr isn't actually in the running, but if he were, he'd be the most qualified candidate. An eminently decent ex-Congressman and collaborator with the ACLU, Barr has drifted toward a (pragmatic) libertarian position since the LP targeted him, then a notorious drug warrior, as a demonstration of the spoiler effect.

    That isn't to say that his record in Congress wasn't, from a libertarian's perspective, respectable. While not as purely liberal as Ron Paul, Barr, who understands the meaning of compromise, accomplished a great deal more.

  2. George Phillies. George is un-charismatic, even for a physicist, and he and I disagree on several policy questions, most notably immigration, but I recognize and appreciate his thoughtful, cautious approach to most issues. Moreover, alone among the candidates, he seems to understand what it takes to conduct a campaign. Whether or not he wins the nomination, his privately-conducted polls will do the party good.

  3. Steve Kubby. Steve Kubby has a solid record as an activist and mounted respectable third-party candidacies in California. His ability to raise funds--like every candidate lower on the list--should be cause for embarassment. He's made up for it by calling in his connections in the libertarian movement and putting together a bit of a brain trust, including maverick Chicago School economist Joe Cobb.

    Kubby's endorsement of Ron Paul was a statement that, as the LP's candidate, he'd under certain circumstances commit a gross impropriety. Likewise, rolling around in the mud with born-again purist Christine Smith is not to his credit. With Paul out of the running, his respectability has been restored by events out of his control. I suspect that, on the issues, I am more in agreement with him than with Phillies, but Phillies so far has run a more solid campaign.

  4. Mary Ruwart. Ruwart is not actually seeking the nomination, although there are rumors that she will jump in, Jacob Hornberger-style, at the last minute. That's tawdry, but I'll forgive it, as, unlike Hornberger, and despite her role in driving my sort of libertarian out of the Party in the '80s (read up on the history of the Bergland nomination!) she is not a willful idiot worried about the effects of "compromise and concealment"--Hornberger's term for taking thoughtful positions on policy matters rather than always talking about the Best of All Possible Worlds--on her immortal soul.

    Ruwart has somewhat of a broad appeal in the libertarian movement, although in my 12 years as spectator and minor participant I can't say I've ever been a "fan". Said appeal stems largely from style, and it isn't the "macho flash" style which usually wins a libertarian street-cred. Her training as a biophysicist, even though most of her publications are about rat guts, wins additional points with this 'blogger.

    Like Phillies and Kubby, Ruwart would, despite her lack of political experience, be a respectable candidate and an asset to the Party. Too bad she's not running!

  5. Bob Jackson. Jackson's approach to the issues is solidly libertarian and solidly sane. His campaign, however, has not gotten off the ground and it's not clear that he even remotely understands what it takes to win the nomination, let alone be a player in the general election. Nobody without any experience in government really belongs in the race (sorry George, Steve, and Mary!), but Jackson is the only one of the three people listed so far actually seeking the nomination who seems to be running for dog-catcher.

  6. Wayne Allyn Root. Talk about opportunity lost! Root is a zillionaire and a minor celebrity. His libertarian credentials are a bit lacking--he emphasizes being an ex-Republican and a "conservative" more than anything else--but his policy views are broadly libertarian. However, his campaign has been about as serious as Bob Jackson's.

  7. Robert Milnes. Milnes is among the nobodys, or at least the "people nonexistent in the movement until they decided they could run for President. He proposes a Libertarian-Green alliance. Given the ideological climate of both groups, with Libertarians largely hostile to both environmentalism and soft-communitarianism and Greens having tolerance or even affection for market abolitionism, Parecon, and other totalitarian schemes, that'll happen soon after pigs learn to Use the Force. Not a bad idea, however, for reasons I may discuss some other time.

  8. Michael Jingozian. Is Jingozian a Milnes clone, or vice-versa. From my perspective, the answer is "yes." Ranking these two was a toss-up, and done randomly.

  9. Daniel Williams. Demerits go to Williams for basing his whole website around video. If I wanted TV, I'd buy a TV. Video works at its own pace; creating a video means you expect the audience to sit and take as much time as you would have them take. Especially when you're a "nobody", that's unacceptable. Williams is ostensibly the author of The Naked Truth About Drugs and, like your humble narrator, a low-level LP activist. He's done very little to even let the community know where he stands on the issues, and hasn't been campaigning.

    Note that this implies that I'd take a libertarian who I don't know much about over the rest of the candidates!

  10. Jim Libertarian Burns. That's his real name, by the way; Burns's record of party activity goes back to the '70s. Of late--you can call it his retirement--he's taken to running for the Presidential nomination every four years, to tell us all that the LP candidate won't win so policy questions are irrelevant.

  11. Alden Link. Link is the inventor of the wheatgrass juicer, and one of the first candidates to declare. His campaign never picked up much steam, despite his having been taken under the wing of prominent New York-area activist Tom Stevens. Perhaps it has something to do with his cluelessness about the libertarian approach to the issues.

    Worth noting, however, is that Link stands as evidence that the rhetoric of liberty and prosperity can attract people to the movement who don't care the slightest about ideas.

  12. Mike Gravel. Gravel is in Gordon's poll due to a statement made during a campaign stop in Alaska about running on the Libertarian ticket, which came to nothing. He shows up at this point in my list as my way of saying, "I'd rather have Mike Gravel than any of the candidates ranked lower."

    Insert "Hillary Clinton"--who I'd rather have than Mike Gravel--and my point becomes more clear.

  13. Christine Smith. Smith was yet another newcomer to the movement who decided she could run for President. Unlike most in that mold, she brought a background as an organizer and raiser-of-money for humanitarian causes. Like Alden Link, she was a bit soft on Libertarian ideas, but seemed promising for quite a while.

    In the past few months, she's taken to opposing much-needed reform of the LP and has joined--with some wild, off-the-deep-end, Hornberger-esque releases--the "purist" camp. For those unfamiliar with the internal culture of the libertarian movement, a "purist" is not someone who believes the same thing the rest of us do but is just more honest about it. Rather, a "purist" is someone who believes in many ridiculous things, has trouble with prioritization and shades-of-gray, and insists that if others agree, they must be evil. The libertarian calling you a "socialist", a "central planner", or a "fascist" because you believe in cap-and-trade or school vouchers is a purist.

    Such a person clearly has no business running for President. If we needed any further confirmation of Smith's lack of suitability, her recent temper-tantrum shows her true colors. The Libertarian Leadership Forum, held in Las Vegas, charged candidates for the Presidential nomination $500 to participate in the debate. The debate cost money to put on (more on this later), moreover, with anywhere between eight and a dozen candidates in the running, there needed to be some way of filtering. To a respectable campaign, $500 is a peppercorn fee. To the bozos, it's steep. Smith refused to pay, then sent messages to every contact list she could find condemning the practice and confirming her place among the bozos.

    Even Jim L Burns paid the fee. Smith would rather have been a free-rider. She's new to the libertarian movement and her positions have been evolving. I wonder if she's heard or read the term "free rider" before. Most don't get that far.

  14. Barry Hess. Outwardly a perfectly respectable Hadacol salesman turned Jesus Junk salesman turned currency speculator, Hess is a profoundly vain man. As such, he has more in common with most Presidents than the other Libertarian contenders do--see what Greenspan had to say!--but I nonetheless maintain that he is of insufficiently sound moral character to carry the Party's standard.

    In Arizona, Hess is the man who Runs For Things. Not local offices, mind you, but the top. Always the top. He ran for Senate in 2000, coming in last behind an independent and a Green, and for Governor twice, receiving about 2% of the vote and coming in last each time. Reasons why are manifold. Hess has no background in government, nor in public policy. His credentials as a man-of-the-community are limited to his church. He comes off as not understanding the issues.

    Worse still, he's unmanageable, and doesn't know how to take advice or criticism in stride. He's told me, repeatedly, to "watch and learn"--insisting that the things winners do to win are all wrong--and and even had the gall to tell me I should admire him. Why should I learn about success from a repeat failure who's been an embarrassment to his Party and refuses to learn from his mistakes?

  15. Ron Paul. I don't care what his ideological roots are, and I don't care what sort of mold his followers would like to fit him in. Ron Paul, of the candidates in Gordon's list, is the only one who would be antagonistic to liberty, were he elected, with his veto pen, with court nominations, and with administration-authored legislation.

    Paul talks a lot about the Constitution, but isn't properly a Constitutionalist. He believes strange things about said document, not supported by legal scholarship, and has introduced several bills--google the "We The People Act"--threatening to de-fund the courts if they deviate from his creative re-interpretation. The most insidiously Christian Dominionist and anti-gay member of Congress, Paul wouldn't actively oppress, rather, he'd remove Federal protections and nominate judges who would remove Federal protections, knowing that localities would establish religion or move to punish gays for being who they are.

    Paul's record in Congress is unimpressive. Being "Doctor No" has meant that the Doctor has not advanced his agenda, whatever it may be. I cannot think of another Congressman of Paul's seniority who has accomplished so little. Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn, only one of whom is libertarian, provide useful comparisons. Aside from Barr, Paul, who is not seeking the LP's nomination, is the most likely on Gordon's list to actually win the Presidency were he nominated. A man who does not understand how to compromise and prioritize cannot serve as President, and a man with Paul's absolutism may very well wreck the country to show us.

    No matter: George Phillies got this one right. Paul may be a small government man, but he's a homophobic bigot. He thus would not deserve the nomination of a party that represents a movement in which gays have played a role akin to that Jews played for socialism.

  16. Dave Hollist. There may be something profoundly wrong with Barry Hess, but the real nutcases begin here. Hollist doesn't want to be President, he wants to sell us "contract insurance". An interesting idea, straight out of Rothbard's book, but not the role of a President as defined in the Constitution. Hollist doesn't seem to understand why he runs for the nomination, every four years, since (at least) 1996, and I don't, either. If he wants to bring about the anarchists' Age of Aquarius, surely there's a way that at least begins to make sense. This is not it.

  17. Daniel Imperato. Imperato is certainly an interesting character, but the issues he cares about don't make it clear, any more than Hollist's, that he understands what the President does, why he is running, what the concerns of the day even are, or what the Libertarian Party is all about. Combine the information in the Wikipedia article with some of the emotional, nonsequitur-filled communications he's sent around, and you get the impression that Imperato is a certifiable nut, albeit a high-functioning one.

  18. John Finan. Speaking of nonsequiturs, have a look at Finan's website. Someone is off his meds.

Don't get the impression that I like to pick on the mentally ill. I have a couple of sad cases in the family, and I don't take the topic lightly. However, what is one to say when nutcases run for the US's highest office? Sometimes you have to call them as you see them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Buckley on Rothbard.

I'm too young for Bill Buckley to have been an acquaintance. The best I can say is that he was a friend of a friend of a friend. Such distance does not preclude admiration, at least not of a man's clear strengths.

Buckley, or at least the public Buckley, was at his best when looking for the faults of others. Consider his 1995 National Review obituary of Murray Rothbard, a balanced piece with two real zingers:

Murray couldn't handle moral priorities.

It was a great pity, but his problem ought not to be thought of as tracing to the seamless integrity of libertarian principles. In Murray's case, much of what drove him was a contrarian spirit, the deranging scrupulosity that caused him to disdain such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and--yes--Newt Gingrich, while huffing and puffing in the little cloister whose walls he labored so strenuously to contract, leaving him, in the end, not as the father of a swelling movement that "rous[ed] the masses from their slumber," as he once stated his ambition, but with about as many disciples as David Koresh had in his little redoubt in Waco. Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God.

One has trouble finding a more astute criticism of Rothbard-style libertarianism (not to be confused with Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism), this "purism" which consists of inventing bumper-sticker scruples, then throwing a fit when reality, sense, or ethics causes one to deviate from the last moment's invention by some tiny epsilon, or worse still, to reject the scruple but not the underlying values. Believe that pressing the "button" to get rid of all government overnight would be disastrous and even morally wrong? You're a socialist, no better than Hitler or Stalin: out you go! Believe that "self-ownership" is sophist's hooey? You're even worse. The guru's own weirdness, of course, gets a free pass.

This is the "libertarianism" of LP chair candidate Ernest Hancock, of presidential candidates Christine Smith and Barry Hess, and of numerous lumpen activists in the movement and the Party, including quite a few involved in the center of downmarket libertarianism down at Auburn. (Lincoln apologist? Must be a socialist!) To Hancock and the rest, Buckley's words still apply today.