Nick Gillespie’s Five Myths About Libertarians

Nick Gillespie of Reason had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday on Five Myths About Libertarians. Here’s my take on these alleged myths, which generally have some degree of truth but are not necessarily completely true:

1. Libertarians are a fringe band of “hippies of the right.”

The classic description that libertarians who have smoked marijuana is true (even if simplistic) about many but certainly not all. There are libertarians on the left and right, but this doesn’t have as much electoral significance as Gillespie suggests when writing:

Libertarians are found across the political spectrum and in both major parties. In September 2012, the Reason-Rupe Poll found that about one-quarter of Americans fall into the roughly libertarian category of wanting to reduce the government’s roles in economic and social affairs. That’s in the same ballpark as what other surveys have found and more than enough to swing an election.

Looking beyond the likelihood that a Reason poll might tilt the questions and definitions towards such a finding, there are vast differences between right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Sure, if there was a Democratic candidate who is terrible (as very many are) on civil liberties and social issues it is conceivable I might vote for a libertarian Republican for the Senate who might provide a strong voice for some issues I support. Of course this would not include someone like Rand Paul. Left-libertarians see the issues which impact individual liberty far differently from right-libertarians, many of whom don’t even support abortion rights. Left-libertarians disagree with right-libertarians as to the importance of some regulation of the economy, realizing that markets are human inventions which require regulation to function. Many of the left-libertarians who are not thrilled with ObamaCare prefer a single payer system which directly conflicts with the core values of right libertarians. There is simply a huge gap between different people who might be lumped together as libertarians in such a poll.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians are unlikely to join together to swing an election, but there is hope that the two could exert pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to change some of their policies in areas where the two groups agree.

2. Libertarians don’t care about minorities or the poor.

Few outside the libertarian movement really buy their claims that libertarianism helps the poor. Democratic economic policies may not be libertarian (nor are they socialist) but the historical fact remains that the economy does better under Democrats. As opposed to the right wing view of trickle-down economics, a rising tide under Democrats is more likely to raise all ships. Where this doesn’t work, the social safety-net which libertarians oppose remains necessary. On the other hand I do agree with Gillespie to a degree that there are areas where it would be beneficial to reduce regulations on small business. That said, I run a small business and do manage to survive with all the regulations in place.

Gillespie is right about the drug war, which is largely a war on poor minorities. What other result is possible after you imprison minorities for drug possession, and then release them from prison with a criminal record which makes it very difficult to ever get a  job?

3. Libertarianism is a boys’ club.

He is right here. There have been prominent libertarians among libertarian intellectual leaders. I have known female libertarians. They do exist.

4. Libertarians are pro-drug, pro-abortion and anti-religion.

As I mentioned above, it is a favorable characteristic that libertarians oppose the drug war (which is not the same as supporting drug use). Having thirty percent of libertarians opposing abortion rights is a negative.

Saying any political group is anti-religion is likely to be fallacious. Republicans have often claimed Democrats are anti-religion but the percentage of atheists among Democrats is fairly low (even if  higher than among Republicans). The difference is that liberals who are religious see religion far differently than conservatives, and do not have the desire to use government to impose their religious views upon others.

Some libertarians are quite hostile to religion. Ayn Rand (who didn’t actually consider herself part of the libertarian movement) has writings as  hostile towards religion as to socialism (which in her mind would include the views of Democrats). On the other hand, there are some called libertarians such as Ron Paul and Rand Paul who support many of the views of the religious right, and whose  philosophy is not one I would consider to be pro-freedom. I have discussed Ron Paul’s anti-freedom views at length here. People of the old right such as Ron Paul also carry much of their baggage including racism, creating further problems when considering libertarians and minorities.

5. Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party.

On the one hand Republicans do need a reboot in their ideas. It is a good sign when some Republicans join some Democrats on issues such as opposing violations of privacy rights from NSA surveillance programs. On the other hand, opposing all government activity regardless of importance just pulls Republicans further from mainstream views.

 

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Rand Paul Standing By His Controversial Aide

Rand Paul is standing by his aide who went by the name Southern Avenger in an interview with Howard Fineman:

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Sen. Rand Paul stoutly defended an aide who, as a radio shock jock in South Carolina, praised John Wilkes Booth, heaped scorn on Abraham Lincoln and wore a ski mask emblazoned with the stars and bars of the Confederate Battle Flag.

Paul (R-Ky.) stressed that he opposed such views, many of which have been recanted by the Senate aide, Jack Hunter, who co-wrote Paul’s first book in 2010 and who is now his social media adviser in Washington.

“I’m not a fan of secession,” Paul said. “I think the things he said about John Wilkes Booth are absolutely stupid. I think Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. Do I think Lincoln was wrong is taking away the freedom of the press and the right of habeas corpus? Yeah.

“There were great people who were for emancipation. Lincoln came to his greatness. One Republican congressman described it as ‘on borrowed plumage.’ I love the description, because there were some great fighters [for emancipation] and Lincoln had to be pushed. But I’m not an enemy of Lincoln, like some who think he was an awful person.”

Paul said that Hunter had never acted in a discriminatory way, and that his earlier work in South Carolina was a form of youthful political showmanship.

“People are calling him a white supremacist,” Paul told me in his Senate office. “If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately. If I thought he would treat anybody on the color of their skin different than others, I’d fire him immediately.

“All I can say is, we have a zero tolerance policy for anybody who displays discriminatory behavior or belief in discriminating against people based on the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, anything like that,” Paul told me. “We won’t tolerate any of that, and I’ve seen no evidence of that.

The Hill summarized the controversy:

Paul’s comments follow a report from the conservative Washington Free Beacon about Hunter, who joined Paul’s office as social media director in 2012. Hunter worked with Paul on the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

In his 20s, Hunter was the chairman of the League of the South, a group that “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern State from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic,” according to the Free Beacon report.

Anti-Defamation League Investigative Research Director Mark Pitcavage called the group “implicitly racist.”

During his radio career, Hunter also discussed “racial pride” and expressed his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, according to the Free Beacon. In 2004, Hunter wrote that the Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth’s heart was “in the right place.”

During his time as a radio host, Hunter would also make public appearances wearing a mask with the Confederate flag printed on it. Paul brushed off the mask when asked about it.

White supremacists have always been a major part of Ron Paul’s support. Rand Paul has attempted to position himself as a more mainstream Republican while still capitalizing on his father’s supporters. Failing to distance himself from someone such as Hunter will make it more difficult for Paul to maintain mainstream support beyond the south.

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Rand Paul Staffer Has History Of Racist Views Reminiscent Of Ron Paul’s Views

Ron and Rand Paul both have a tremendous number of supporters who agree with them on one or a small number of issues but typically have little knowledge of the full spectrum of their beliefs. This commonly stems from their views on foreign policy or drugs. Their opposition to the drug war as well as the Iraq War did make them stand out, but their extreme states’ rights view should not be confused with libertarianism. Their supporters range from libertarians to neo-Nazi groups, and in many ways it is the neo-Nazis who understand their views the best. Their opposition to government action is generally restricted to the federal government. This, along with opposition to the checks and balances in our system, sets up a situation which would make tyranny on a state or local level far easier to achieve.

Ron Paul has always been a creature of the extreme end of the old right, supporting their views ranging from isolationism to racism. Some libertarians still accept Paul’s denials of involvement in his own racist publications, while many other libertarians did distance themselves from Paul when his denials were debunked. Whether Rand Paul can avoid being tainted by his father’s racism might have a major influence on the trajectory of his political career. The Washington Free-Beacon raises questions as to whether Rand Paul has a similar background to his father’s:

A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

“The League of the South is an implicitly racist group in that the idealized version of the South that they promote is one which, to use their ideology, is dominated by ‘Anglo-Celtic’ culture, which is their code word for ‘white’,” said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the ADL. The ADL said it does not necessarily classify it as a hate group.

There is far more about Hunter in the linked article. Rand Paul’s office released a statement saying “Sen. Paul holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception.”

I doubt that the views of a single staffer will seriously taint Rand Paul, but being the son of a prominent racist politician does place his career at risk, at least on a national level,  if further reasons to question Rand Paul regarding racism should be uncovered.

Update: It appears this isn’t the first time a staffer has been tied to racist views:

And the worst part for Paul-land is that it’s hardly the first time something like this has come up. In late 2009, Rand Paul’s campaign spokesperson was forced to resign after Kentucky blogger Joe Sonka discovered the MySpace page for Chris Hightower’s heavy metal band, which was a fan of KKK gear and wishing people a “HAPPY N***ER DAY!!!” on Martin Luther King Day (that post was accompanied by a photo of a lynching). There was also, of course, Paul’s momentary opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Rand Paul Making Sense On Civil Liberties–But Where Libertarians Go Wrong

Sometimes Rand Paul makes a lot of sense, such as when saying that the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing should be tried in civilian as opposed to military courts (which many other Republicans have been advocating):

“You know, I want to congratulate law enforcement for getting and capturing these terrorists, first of all, but what we do with them, I think we can still preserve the Bill of Rights, I see no reason why our Constitution is not strong enough to convict this young man with a jury trial, with the Bill of Rights,” Paul (R-Ky.) said on “Cavuto” on Fox Business Network. “We do it to horrible people all of the time: Rapists and murderers, they get lawyers, they get trials with juries. We seem to do a pretty good job of justice. So I think we can do it with our court system.”

If only Rand Paul and other libertarians would stick more to civil liberties issues. Then they would sound much more rational and we would have more in common with them.

I think that one reason Rand Paul and many other libertarians come across as crackpots is the company they keep. The close affiliation between libertarianism and the conservative movement has been disastrous for libertarianism. You can’t mix a pro-freedom philosophy with the views of the authoritarian right and remain consistently pro-freedom (or make much sense).

The Rand (and Ron) Paul form of libertarianism has many of the negative attributes of the far right. In the case of Ron Paul this has included racism, but this isn’t universal to all libertarians who became influenced by conservative views. This also includes support for states’ rights, which opposes excessive government power at the national level but often allows for far more restrictions on liberty at the state level (frequently at the expense of minorities.)

Many libertarians ignore religious liberty while promoting what they would describe as economic liberty. In some cases they are right to oppose unfair restrictions on business and counter-productive regulations. Far too often this really translates into opposing the types of regulation which are necessary for a free economy to work. They believe that markets are something arising from nature which must be left without restrictions, failing to realize that markets are creations of man which only work with a certain amount of regulation. This must come from government, not always Adam Smith’s invisible hand. In the worst cases, libertarianism is used to justify lack of activity against powerful business interests who exploit the pubic or harm the environment. They universally support business over government. While government is not always right in such disputes, when the system is working government provides a means for the public to work in unison against special interests which are too powerful for individuals to take on.

Many libertarians aligned with the conservative movement  have adopted views of the religious right, failing to realize that mixing religion with government is one of the greatest threats to freedom we face.

Libertarians would be much more consistent supporters of individual liberty (as opposed to being opponents of government action on a national level) if they continued their support of civil liberties but also  recognized the importance of separation of church and state, while giving up racism, state’s rights, and a knee-jerk opposition to economic regulation where it is needed. Of course those who hold this viewpoint are better known as liberals.

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Rand Paul vs. Drones and Black Helicopters

In looking at the threats to civil liberties which we face, I cannot disagree with Rand Paul in opposing the use of drones to kill Americans who are not engaged in combat against the United States (criteria which is somewhat vague). It was good to see an someone actually speaking during a filibuster, even if at times it sounded like a paranoid rant about black helicopters and Tea Party fantasy. We saw more grandstanding than actual defense of civil liberties, with Rand Paul (like his father)  having a rather mixed record in this area. There are other more pressing matters of civil liberties which actually impact the lives of Americans, such as the right wing’s use of government to restrict reproductive rights. I will present an example of a victory on civil liberties which is far more significant than Rand Paul’s filibuster in the next post.

The irresponsibility of the Republican leadership in both Houses of Congress, more concerned with opposing Obama than either governing or even providing a responsible opposition, has created a situation where even a clown like Rand Paul provides a mixed moment of hope. Paul’s actual effort was a failure (as discussed in more detail in the several links in the paragraph above) but it at least did include an attempt to discuss an actual issue. A more through discussion of the use of drones, rather than obsessing about the quite rare cases of targeting Americans, would provide a more meaningful example of needed Congressional oversight. Regardless of the degree of support for Barack Obama, it is unrealistic to expect restrictions on the Executive branch to come from the President.

I do not agree with the all-out criticism of drones, seeing advantages to their use as opposed to putting Americans in direct harm. Question as to their use first depend upon whether the military action is justified, regardless if by troops on the ground or by drones. Use against Americans, while definitely something which must be watched, has been a rare event in unusual circumstances. Collateral damage is a consequence of war regardless of technique and criticisms of drones based upon deaths of innocent civilians is not a sufficient argument against their use.

The ability to target individuals with drones does create new concerns, and requires check and balances which are now absent. I have supported oversight analogous to the FISA Court, as others have also proposed, and the Obama administration is considering. This would provide some degree of judicial oversight, ending the idea that any individual (regardless of whether an American citizen) could be targeted for execution by drones with no oversight whatsoever. In addition, this would ensure that there is a record of the justification for the use of drones which could be reviewed by Congressional committees which might uncover any pattern of abuse. Ultimately such information should be declassified so presidents would know that their conduct would be judged by history. Unfortunately Rand Paul’s filibuster on targeted killings of Americans on American soil pandered to the paranoia of the black helicopter crowd as opposed to serious consideration of the issue.

Besides, if Rand Paul really thought that Obama would use drones against American citizens he wouldn’t have stood in one place for thirteen hours while criticizing Obama.

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Libertarians Might Keep Mitt Romney Out Of The White House

Libertarian candidates might create some problems for Mitt Romney. Three Republican electors who support Ron Paul are saying they might not cast their electoral votes for Mitt Romney. If Romney should win by a very narrow margin, this could throw the election to the House. The vote in the House is based upon state delegations and, as GOP support is spread over a larger number of small states, Romney would still win the presidency in such a scenario. However if Democrats retain control of the Senate, they could re-elect Joe Biden as Vice President. If the Paul supporters are mad enough over the way Romney has treated them, perhaps they might even vote for Obama in the electoral collage.

At present it doesn’t look like Romney is likely to wind up close enough to Obama for this to matter. On top of all the problems leading to Romney falling behind Obama in the polls, another Libertarian might make it even difficult for Romney to win in some of the swing states. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who was formerly a Republican, is now on the ballot in 47 states. Currently Johnson is polling at 4 percent nationally, but his support is significantly higher in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada. In a close race, he could take enough votes from Romney to keep him from winning some swing states.

 

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GOP Convention Day Four: Lies, Damn Lies, and Romney-Ryan

Mitt Romney continues to campaign against the imaginary version of Barack Obama he created rather than the real Barack Obama. The only way he can keep from being humiliated in the debates is if he can speak to an empty chair like Clint Eastwood did. Unless the goal was to have someone come on to make Romney look good by comparison, the Clint Eastwood appearance was very odd. If they wanted to put on an old crackpot, why didn’t they just go with Ron Paul?

Romney came out by walking through the convention–the first candidate to do this since Michael Dukakis. Romney’s speech started out with his biography. When he got to his father, George Romney, why didn’t he point out how many years of tax returns his father released? He moved on to attack fictional Obama, such as repeating his false claims about Medicare, attacking Obama for an “apology tour” which only occurred in Romney’s mind. He attacked  Obama for raising taxes on small business and the middle class when Obama actually decreased them while Romney’s tax plan will increase taxes on the middle class. It was just bizarre to complain about jobs going to China from the man who was an out-sourcing pioneer. Romney announced a plan to create 12 million new jobs which reminds me of Richard Nixon’s secret war to end the Viet Nam war. Where’s the beef? His talk about Iran was scary, raising fears that he will get us into another war (while failing to pay for it).

Romney’s failure to address the big issues of the day can be seen in his outrageously ignorant attack: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” As Craig Crawford tweeted: “Mitt not worried about rising seas , he’s got a car elevator.”

Paul Ryan’s speech has been called the most dishonest convention speech ever. Romney did have fewer lies in his speech, but only because it was so devoid of content. The Romney-Ryan ticket is shaping up as the most dishonest in history.

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GOP Convention Day One: The Party Which Was Not There

The first day of the Republican convention was cancelled due to Tropical Storm Isaac. You know what one less day of the convention means–twenty-five percent fewer lies.  It also means there is no longer enough time to fit in John Galt’s speech. Mitt Romney is really upset that he doesn’t have an opportunity to remind everyone once again that he is the white candidate. Rush Limbaugh sees this all as an evil plot hatched by the Muslim socialist Barack Obama of Kenya. On the other hand, the Christian Broadcasting Network wonders if prayer moved the storm away from Tampa to protect the Republicans. Would this make Republican prayers responsible for whatever happens in New Orleans or where ever the storm does hit?

This afternoon I received an email from the Romney campaign saying it is my last chance to enter to join Romney in Tampa for the Convention. While this is comparable to the type of fund raiser Obama is also holding, it does seem to be in poor taste to offer to bring people to Tampa at the moment.

One might think that keeping the Republican convention from convening would spare them a day of embarrassment, but it didn’t work out that way. Mitt Romney gave delegates a copy of his book No Apology. His views flip-flopped between the hard cover and paperback editions, and delegates were given the hard cover with his former view that his Massachusetts health care plan could be a model for the nation–a view removed from the paperback.

The Republicans now claim that social issues are a distraction. They are not a distraction–they are fundamental issues of individual liberty. Mitt Romney, who has refused to answer questions about abortion the last few days, would prefer the issue did not come up. Unfortunately for Romney, another Republican candidate accidentally revealed how Republicans think of rape and abortion rights. Tom Smith, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, compared rape to out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  Quick, call Todd Akin. If sex outside of marriage is comparable to rape in the GOP world, does this mean that women have a way to shut down pregnancies from sex outside of marriage as they do for legitimate rape?

Can we shut down these ignorant Republicans?

Romney’s convention speech might be his best chance to portray himself as an acceptable candidate as Ronald Reagan once did. While I am skeptical as to how many will actually read the platform, a Pew Research Center survey found that more people are interested in the platforms than candidate speeches. This could be really bad news for the Republicans. As might be expected, the hard line platform opposes abortion and gay rights while adopting crackpot economic ideas from Ron Paul and the deceptively-named Tea Party. The platform goes beyond previous platforms which opposed child porn by also targeting adult pornography. How will this play in the red states, which consumes more porn than the blue states?

I imagine that tomorrow we might hear Mitt Romney blame those in the path of the storm for their suffering. In Romney’s mind they should have borrowed money from their parents to build mansions in safer areas.

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Romney’s Travel Troubles Continue

Romney’s international travels gave Jon Stewart a lot of material (video above). Things weren’t as bad for Romney in Poland as they were in London and Israel. He did receive the endorsement of Lech Walesa, but Solidarity distanced themselves, criticizing Romney because he “supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.” Romney was also greeted with chants for Obama and even ran into supporters of Ron Paul while in Poland.

The trip provided another example of Romney’s dishonesty. He denied making the controversial comments which he did make about Palestinian culture in Israel. Greg Sargent found that Romney made the same fallacious argument in his book, No Apology.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak undermined the Republican argument against Obama on Israel in this interview with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: You’ve studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?

BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.

BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?

BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.

Steve Benen debunked another anti-Obama talking from the Romney campaign on Israel:

Beth Myers, a top Romney aide, also told reporters recently that it’s “pretty amazing” Obama hasn’t visited Israel.

The attack at least has the benefit of being partially accurate — Obama visited Israel as a candidate, but has not been back during his first term. If Republicans choose to find that outrageous, their complaints are grounded in fact.

The problem, however, is the selective nature of their disgust. George W. Bush didn’t visit Israel at any point during his first term, and neither did Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush didn’t travel to Israel during their respective terms in office at all.

Many journalists have questioned whether Romney’s gaffes will harm him in the campaign. Chris Cillizza downplayed the damage:

It’s hard to imagine that Romney did himself any favors in answering lingering questions about his foreign policy acumen during this trip.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that nothing — literally, nothing — other than the economy at home matters to undecided voters. And that goes double for foreign policy, which is a bottom-of-mind issue (is that a thing?) for most voters.

In a late May Washington Post-ABC News poll, 1 — yes, one — percent of people said that foreign policy was the most important issue of the 2012 campaign. One!

Of course this might be the case when voters think that either candidate is capable of handling foreign policy. This could change as voters see that Romney is as inept as George Bush.

 

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Quote of the Day

“Ron Paul’s son is a senator from Kentucky, and he’s now endorsing Mitt Romney. I know how that feels. My son watches Jay.” –David Letterman

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