Monday, December 27, 2010

The centrists last gasp

Preface: Prior to the 2008 presidential election, Republican strategist David Frum joined a small handful of Republicans in (to varying degrees) endorsing Obama's candidacy. They cited his election as a moment for Republicans to shed their anti-government persuasions and head to the political center, where the pork is. It was the only way to save the party, we were told.

Of course, Frum's brand of liberal Republicanism failed mightily at the polls, as a strong libertarian revolt drove very conservative Republicans to victory in moderate districts. And so Frum's followers are left Frumdering. Consider this nonsense, from Kenneth Silber, entitled Libertarian Revolution? Not Exactly. He begins with a quote from another piece, written by Christopher Beam:

Libertarians, of both left and right, haven’t been this close to power since 1776. But do we want to live in their world?

Upon seeing that subhead, I tweeted:

Libertarians, of both left and right, haven’t been this close to power since 1776.” So much wrong with this sentence.

So much wrong? Wow, that's a stirring indictment. What, pray tell, is wrong with this sentence?
Nobody used the political label “libertarian” in 1776.
Yep. He leads with that one. In related news, participants in the Boston Tea Party did not refer to themselves as the Tea Party Movement. Thanks for the aggressive banality, Kenneth.
The American founders were not exactly “close to power” in 1776, as they were waging a decidedly uphill struggle at that time against the British Empire.
Oh dear. Before I get started on this, I should note that I looked up "1776" on Wikipedia. It gives this definition:
Year 1776 (MDCCLXXVI) was a leap year starting on Monday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a leap year starting on Friday of the 11-day slower Julian calendar).
That is blithely point missing, not unlike Kenneth's commentary. Seriously, America (yes, THAT America) signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Throughout all of history, I cannot think of a better example of being "close to power" than that document.
There’s little consensus as to what constitutes libertarianism today... And some who call themselves libertarian are actually left-leaning like comedian Bill Maher.
Yes, idiots like the idea of calling themselves libertarian. They think it means "super-duper-liberal". Simply because Bill Maher decided to co-opt the term doesn't mean there is not consensus as to what the ideology stands for. It refers to an ideology that prefers as little government as possible, and for that government to be as de-centralized as possible.

That idea is certainly en vogue at the moment, much to the dismay of the idiots who doubled-down on the idea Americans were looking for a nanny state. Kenneth what's-his-face might be irrelevant, but good ideas are not.
Ron Paul gets considerable play in the New York article as an exemplar of libertarianism (and Reason has largely embraced him as such too, despite some past qualms). It is highly debatable whether Paul’s political prominence signifies a “libertarian moment” or rather just a tragedy whereby libertarianism becomes conflated with a particular strain of illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle.
This isn't an argument. Mostly, it's just adjectives. A more relevant argument might be that Paul supported the war in Afghanistan, and so rendered his alleged ideological purity w/r/t Iraq unfounded. That is an argument an intelligent person would make, but since he didn't make it...
I find most of what is written on the Frum Forum to be twaddle, but that has no bearing on whether it is influential. Kenneth's argument seems to be "I disagree, therefore everyone agrees with me."

Begs the question, suffices to say.
In sum, it is quite easy — and often lazy — for people to call themselves libertarian and to suggest the founding fathers were too.
In sum? He hasn't defended this thesis at all.

I'm no fan of liberals, but I have to say I hate moderates even more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right: the signing of the Declaration definitely signaled a move away from government, toward our own. Since then, the Union has dragged libertarians along for the ride: first with ditching AOC, then with 3/5 compromise, then with 14th amendment (a biggie), then with Civil Rights laws of the 60s.

Notice how the focus libertarians have in the abstract political philosophy often dovetails with not-super-philosophical racists and other powerful interests. While I respect libertarianism as a political philosophy, it's morally bankrupt when put into practice (I mean, that's why we have Dickens and the original Progressive movement of the 20s -- as reminders of why it failed so spectacularly).

The thing is: libertarians are often so focused on GOP talking points that they forget what it means to resist power, like they did back in 1776. Tea Partiers could very well join forces with those anti-Obama, far lefties at FireDogLake and be really, really effective at attacking wireless wiretapping, indefinite detentions, ongoing wars, the individual mandate, etc. Instead of worrying about executive force by government though, libertarians are obsessed about a welfare state that will never, ever go away. The votes aren't there. The constant ratchet-ing up of executive power absolutely requires that libertarians focus their attention there, but that takes work and that vulnerability creates the opportunity for failure. Better support tearing government down: it often fails and that cycle is very comforting.

GOP talking points make Tea Partiers care more about health care than their state acting with force against their fellow citizens. Combing the libertarian right with the far left was the goal of the "liberal-tarian" project a few years back, and although it failed, I wish the Tea Partiers would pick it up again and really try to accomplish some policy goals, rather than support the GOP in making government work more costly and less effectively.

4:40 PM  

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