October 21, 2008

The 86% Endorsement

I hadn't planned on making a candidate endorsement. But I think at this point, it's what's needed.

Now, bear in mind that I've been a pretty loyal Republican for most of my life. I've in the past held my nose and voted for social conservatives and religious extremists because they are the party's nominee. I voted for Bob Dole, for crying out loud (I liked his running mate very much and wished that he were the nominee).

But I didn't vote Republican in 2004. I voted libertarian. Not because I expected Badnarik to win; rather, I did it because I couldn't bring myself to vote for John Kerry and George W. Bush had completely lost my confidence. As I've argued many times, a President who proposes record-setting deficits, starts wars with other nations even if they're headed up by really nasty characters, makes only token tax cuts, enthusiastically expands social welfare programs, systematically and intentionally sets out to circumvent the Constitution, subsidizes religion, and treats the individual rights of American citizens as obstacles to pursuit of his desired policies is not a real conservative the way I had been brought up to understand the meaning of that term. One, maybe one and a half of those sins, I could forgive. But not the whole package. If a Democrat had been doing those things, I'd have been screaming bloody murder. So why should a Republican get a pass? Thus, I voted libertarian in 2004 to protest what seemed like a sell-out of most of the ideals for government that I held dear from the party that I had trusted to promote them.

And Bush has relentlessly promoted a cultural view of the world that blends religiosity, patriotism, and uncritical obedience to government. To criticize the government's abridgment is to intentionally weaken the country, at least in the Bush world view. To exclude religion from the public square is to advocate Islamic extremism. Our rights come from God and therefore it is our patriotic duty to abridge them in the name of God. This is all patent nonsense, but it has been to Bush's political profit to conflate these ideas and encourage people to thoughtlessly accept and indeed promote this sort of thing. I'm no longer sure if Bush actually believes it or not, and I'm certain that most of the Bushmen, up to and including Vice President Cheney, see it only as a political convenience that they do not personally buy into.

The result has been a culture, and in particular a Republican Party, in which intolerance and prejudice are exploited for short-term political gain, and when even the party's nominee for President calls for a very moderate amount of respect to be given to his counterpart, he must endure boos from the sorts of people who should be cheering and applauding his classiness. I do not want to see the Republicans become a party of born-again boors, bumpkins and bigots.

Bush is stepping down from power in ninety-two days. Not a moment too soon, and whatever way the election does go, it will be an improvement. But how should the election go?

One way one can approach a vote is to ask oneself, "If I knew in advance that the election would be an exact tie, and mine would be the deciding vote, what would I do?" My endorsement today is not made from that perspective.

My endorsement is made from the place of recognizing the political reality that Barack Obama is going to win this election, and by a healthy margin in the Electoral College. It is also made from the place of recognizing that the state in which I live, California, is going to vote for Obama in a decisive margin. And indeed, if you do not live in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, or Virginia, the chances of your vote mattering at all are infinitesimally small because forty-three of the fifty states are either solidly blue or solidly red. So my endorsement does not (necessarily) apply to citizens of those states.

My motivation for endorsing as I do is in order to make things better for the future. My endorsement is calculated to encourage a good dialogue about what policies the government should pursue and to encourage both parties to start crafting laws that are about more than political survival.

Now, Barack Obama inspires a lot of hope and will certainly try to push for changes in the way the government does business, in a way that John McCain will not. But we just plain can't afford the agenda that, even now, he still is relentlessly pushing on the campaign trail. We are ten trillion dollars in the hole, people, and that trend needs to reverse itself. Expanding healthcare, overfunding the Department of Education, and cutting taxes is not going to do that.

And John McCain is an unalloyed American hero. I would hope that in circumstances half as exigent as the ones he found himself in, I'd have half the stones he did. I admire at least the motives of his efforts to fight corruption in politics and his political history suggests that he would at least want to be a budget hawk. He is a true-blue expert on matters of military and foreign policy and America would be strong under his guidance. But he has not campaigned on those issues; his platform instead suggests that his priorities will be spending more money on war veterans (while not inherently a bad thing, it is still expensive) and despite being made of the right stuff, he has time and again failed to step up to take leadership of his party. There are also concerns I have that he is ill-tempered to the point that it obstructs his political effectiveness, and he would be our oldest President ever, and a cancer survivor, and actuarially has about a one in five chance of dying in office, leaving us with the worrisome possibility of a Palin Administration. This dude, for one, cannot abide.

That is why I am endorsing Bob Barr for President.

Now, of all the weirdness associated with libertarians -- a return to the gold standard, withdrawal from the United Nations, repeal of anti-discrimination laws -- the fundamental political philosophy underlying modern libertarian thought remains the bedrock of my principles about politics and government. We are obviously in a day and an age in which an Ayn Rand-style utopian anarchy is neither desirable nor achievable.

But the idea of a pared-down government is within our grasp, if only we are willing to pursue it. Social Security may be a permanent fixture of our governmental landscape, but that doesn't mean that we can't impose a means test on it or restructure eligibility rules, particularly for younger workers claiming physical disabilities in a society that employs two-thirds of its workers in white-collar jobs. We can't abdicate our role as a leading military and economic power in the world, but we can certainly adopt policies that encourage free trade and judicious restraint in the use of our military overseas -- and repudiate a policy that overtly arrogates to ourselves the right to conduct first strikes on other nations just because they creep us out. (I'm not suggesting that we don't actually reserve the right to do that, just that we labor more effectively at finding a pretext for launching a war when we need to do it.)

So I have to go a different way. I endorse Bob Barr, former Congressman from Georgia, and the libertarian candidate for President. He hasn't a prayer of a chance of winning, anywhere.

He understands the economy and the role of the government in it. And he doesn't want the government to inject itself any further into the gigantic clusterf--k that our economy has become:

This interview demonstrates that Barr understands the role of the government in regulating the economy and is not an off-his-rocker absolute free-marketer. He is, in other words, a realist libertarian. In that sense, he is like a bunch of other types, many of whom worked hard and with remarkable enthusiasm, who worked for Ron Paul in the primaries. He brings a Mitt Romney-like confidence and experience to domestic issues born of familiarity with them from his experiences in Congress -- without the plasticity of political belief structure that rendered Romney so toxic in my mind. And Barr demonstrates an intelligent humanity and empathy that made Mike Huckabee such a beguiling figure, without advocating the idea that early man hunted dinosaurs in the 2,000-year-old Earth.

The rest of the Barr platform is a palatable, realistic kind of libertarian view of what government should do. Barr proposes scaling back, rather than abolishing, social welfare programs that are expensive, wasteful, and ultimately do not provide much by way of the social welfare they are supposed to promote anyway. He takes civil rights seriously. And by that, I mean all of our civil rights. He would scale back foreign deployment of the military a little more than I would like, but no candidate is perfect

What I like best about Barr is that his service as a Republican Congressman has given him the ability to temper the always-go-to-the-extreme idealism of the Randies and other libertarians who insist on blunt, absolute ideals. What he proposes to do are things that are actually workable and would not cause social and economic chaos during the transaition, and would leave the fundamentally strong parts of the nation and its economy in place. And of course, he still would have a Congress of mostly Democrats and some social conservatives to work with. But he gets that.

Now, if you're in a battleground state, I'll still suggest you take a closer look at McCain despite his flaws and the horrors threatened by a Palin Presidency. As cool as Obama seems, and as much as you might want change, Obama promises Change We Can't Afford. But for most of you, I urge you to vote for a realist libertarian. Some of you in the battleground states may want to consider an "L" vote anyway, especially as things change.

What good will this do, given that 43 of the 50 states are heavily for either the Republican or the Democrat?

What it will do is demonstrate that a sizeable number of people are, like me, upset with the way things are going and the choices they have been offered. It will demonstrate that they want to see the government stick to its knitting of providing for our common defense and providing a baseline for justice and individual rights enforcement, and not take ever-larger chunks of money from us in taxes to be spent on interest for debt incurred back in the days when Elvis was alive.

This is what third parties do in America. They float ideas and demonstrate the popularity of them. Then, one or the other party figures out how to co-opt those ideas and the third party pretty much goes away. A significant number of libertarian votes will incent political leaders in the two major parties to figure out what it is that attracted people to vote for Barr and tailor their future platforms to bring them into the fold. In particular, the Republicans need to do this.

It will remind the social conservatives that they can't do it on their own. They have the willing volunteers and plenty of money, but not enough numbers to win votes -- which are in the end what matter -- without reaching out to other groups of people with different agendas and finding a common cause with them.

In the future, we will observe that John McCain's problem was not that he wasn't socially conservative enough. He's been pro-life all his political career. He's anti-gay marriage. He attends an evangelical Baptist church. He's a lifetime member of the NRA. He's in favor of school vouchers. He promises to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court like John Roberts and Samuel Alito. He picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. He did and said all the right things to make common cause with social conservatives, and after the Palin selection, they embraced him.

No, the real problem with McCain, we will say, was that he never had a clue about the economy. He got hit with a perfect storm of the most massive economic crisis in two, maybe three generations, having to follow in the footsteps of a Republican President who raised the deficit to unprecedented and alarming levels pursuing ill-concieved foreign adventures, and serving as a Republican in a Congress that made itself famous for doling out more pork than Democrats under Tip O'Neill would have been willing to admit even existed (and, I might add, failing to exhibit enough leadership within that body to restrain his colleagues from their porcine gluttony at this expensive trough). If McCain really understood what to do about the economy, if he had stood up to the bailout and opposed the stimulus packages, he could have garnered a lot of political support and maybe even pulled out a win against a remarkably skilled opponent.

No Republican in any credible position to move into power over the next cycle can respond to this without making overtures to the libertarian, small-government, balanced-budget, sorts of Republicans who care about the economy first and all that stupid social shit far lower on the priority list. Indeed, most the likely candidates for leadership coalescence in the future -- Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal -- are all novices, at best, on economic issues. Mitt Romney might be in a position of some credibility on the issue of economic management skill, but he has no credibility on anything else and, let's face it, he doesn't need the hassle and the humiliation of running again.

That's why I say, vote Libertarian in 2008. Even though Barr has a silly thin mustache. It will make for a better Republican Party, and a better America, in 2012.


zzi said...

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Michael Reynolds said...

I like Barr and I generally like the more rational variants of the LP. As you implied, they can be loopy sometimes, and we both know they aren't going anywhere this year, but I respect libertarians. There's a sense of honor and a certain sweetness in them. I'm a sucker for genuine idealists, even when they're hopelessly naive as a lot of libertarians are.

As for Jack Kemp, if Kemp was the GOP there's a good chance I'd be voting with them. Kemp's an actual, honest to God conservative. One of the real good guys in politics. Give me a GOP of guys like Kemp, Howard Baker, Richard Lugar and we could talk.

Of course my fantasy race: Kemp vs. Howard Dean. Both men have enormous necks and we could say the race was "neck and neck" and then giggle.

DaveBuck said...

Nice post. I voted for Barr today.

I don't know how much attention the % libertarian vote will get for president. My hope is it gets some. I'm really hoping, though, that libertarian senators, congressmen/women and local libertarians get an even bigger chunk of the vote.

If any are opting not to vote for Barr because he won't win, at least vote for the other libertarian candidates. Find who they are online, write their names down and take that paper to the polls.

Pamela said...

I think that its admirable that you are supporting a candidate that you really believe in rather than feeling pressured into choosing based on who is more likely to be elected. If more people stuck to their guns (as you are), our two party system might eventually branch out and represent (more accurately) the views of Americans. I applaud you TPL!

Salsola said...

Well, he will get at least two votes.