Monday, October 10, 2011

The Invisible Man Cometh

I received a robo-call from the Gary Johnson campaign today and it led me to reflect on Bloomberg/CNN (purposefully) excluding him from the debates on the 11th and the 18th. Being a New Hampshire resident I get a lot of exposure to the Presidential candidates, and from my perspective I would like to throw these thoughts out there:

Rick Santorum is in the debate, even with the same poll numbers. Johnson has only been in two major debates. Santorum has been in all of them, and still polls that low. People have heard his message, and I would not be going out on a limb to say that short of gold doubloons magically shooting out of his ass to pay down the national debt, he has no chance of winning New Hampshire or the nomination. If he is in the debate you can not make an argument for keeping Johnson out. If Johnson is out then please, oh please, kick Santorum out so I don’t ever have to hear about napkins vs. paper towels.

Jon Huntsman is in the debate despite his poll numbers. I wouldn’t know Huntsman if he ran up and hit me in the head with a shovel. The media seems to want me to know him, but I can’t understand why. The man makes Romney look dynamic, so he really must be doing something wrong. He is a cookie cutter candidate seemingly molded by image consultants. If Jon Huntsman fell at the debate would anyone hear it? Serious, what can anyone say about the man? Once again, if he is in then you can’t keep Johnson out.

Has the media decided that one Libertarian oriented voice is enough this time around? We have more Social Conservatives than we could swing a dead cat at, why not another Libertarian? The media has already decided that Ron Paul can’t win, why not two who can’t win then? Are they worried that some sensible talk about ending the drug war or scaling back the military might resonate if it is coming from more than just crazy old Uncle Ron? Johnson has a record as Governor that Romney wishes he had, so he has the qualifications to be on the stage with the rest of them, even though he has never sold a pizza to anyone.

The debates are a useless waste of time to begin with given their inane, often vapid, questions and formats, but if you are going to have them, then all who qualify should be allowed on the stage. The object of the exercise is supposedly to give the people a chance to evaluate the candidates and decide for themselves who they want to support. Give Johnson the chance and the exposure you have been wasting giving to Santorum and Huntsman then his poll numbers may or may not start to shoot up, but at least we could call that fair. It isn’t the media’s job to pick the winners and losers, despite their over-inflated sense of self importance, that still falls to the people, give us the opportunity to decide for ourselves. LET GARY IN!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And God Said Let There Be Xenophobic, Ignorant Bigots…

I feel the need to expand on my earlier rant about Libertarians compromising with other elements of the Republican party but am not sure to what end any longer. After the Values Voters Conference, I am not sure Libertarians should be anywhere near the Republican Party. The headline coming away is that Ron Paul won the Straw Poll; I wish it had been, “Ron Paul and most of the other candidates ignore event populated by theocratic ignoramuses who should never be allowed near the halls of power.” Of course, in many of the Primaries, the Social Conservative is the activist voter who gets out there and casts a ballot, and there has to be talk of “values,” so the path to victory, at the moment, is to talk the talk, etc. But what exactly is the point? The conventional wisdom is that the Evangelicals will not support Romney due to his Mormon faith, and they have never really been the ones to support Ron Paul, except now he has refocused much of his campaign to play up his opinions on abortion. Will that satisfy people like Robert Jeffress?

It has been a sincere hope of mine that the real problems facing this country would have finally marginalized the “values voter” in this election cycle. How is it that in the times we are facing that gay marriage is even an issue? An amendment to the Constitution to define marriage is going to save us in some way? Will this address unemployment or a $14 Trillion debt? If that is the only issue motivating you to get out and vote this time around, then you have a serious issue. What does it say about us as a country, that a group of people believe that law should be enacted based on what is, in their opinion, sinful? In my home state of New Hampshire there is a push on some fronts to repeal gay marriage. There is one legislator that went so far to say, in discussing the fact that gay marriage has not hurt anybody: “I am not injury-free. The reason I am not injury-free is because of my religious beliefs.” Well that certainly puts things in perspective. We must make law and policy because it has offended some individual’s religious sensibilities? Nearly every single day of my life for the last 25 years (and let’s hope every day after this one) would have offended the religious doctrines of some group be they Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I will make no apologies for that. Freedom and liberty are the hallmark of this country; it is supposed to be the foundation of our society. What we hear from this quarter of course, is that America is a “Christian Nation” that needs to return to the principles of the Founders (if you have time, check out Chris Rodda’s site that refutes most of this better than I ever could). Many of our present candidates believe this to be true, and it is a truly scary notion. This man Jeffress has a history of talking about outlawing homosexuality and forcing Muslims to either convert or leave the country, and the headline from the summit is his calling Mormonism a cult. Are these the Christian values we are supposed to be striving towards? The Constitution and the 1st Amendment, despite the drivel coming from these people, enshrined the notion that an individual’s religion is their own business, a matter of personal conscience. Believe what you will, it will not disqualify you from living in this country, raising your family as you see fit, or serving in some capacity in the government. If you could look at it from a completely neutral perspective, doesn’t that seem to be a better design than to say: PROPERLY PRESCRIBED CHRISTIANS NEED ONLY APPLY? Who gets to decide in that case? Do we have a vote to decide which sects of Christianity will be included in this little club? According to Jeffers, Mormons are already excluded, who else then? Are Catholics allowed? Any Jehovah’s Witness or Amish is so pious as to make the Pope look like a pimp, are they put at the head of this movement? I do not see that happening. Do all candidates have to walk over hot coals or undergo a turn on a witch trial era dunk tank to test their faith? Isn’t better to leave religion out of the equation instead of heading down the road of who is the religious enough to lead this country, which, of course, was the actual intent of the founders?

Libertarians are courted to join with the Republicans because of certain intersecting principles, but the overriding principle is supposed to be limited government, and how does anyone see this theoretically centered movement as limiting government? What is the state apparatus that ensures no one is gay any longer, or that all pregnancies everywhere are carried to term regardless of condition? Do we force the Muslims to wear Red Crescent arm bands so we can keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t sneak Sharia law in on us? How far and how deep does this movement go exactly? Does the Federal government mandate that all schools teach the alternate theory that the world is 6,000 years old and man lived in some ridiculous Fred Flintstone-esque paradise with Dinosaurs? That should make us extremely competitive in the world marketplace, wouldn’t you say? If people like Jeffers and his ilk want to live in a “Christian” paradise with proper “moral” laws then let us set them up a little community right next door to the Amish where they can practice their theocracy in peace. What we should never allow is for these people and their bigoted, close-minded ignorance to be placed at the helm of the most powerful country on Earth. If Libertarians are going to compromise to be in the big tent, it should never be on these issues. Every candidate should have strongly come out and blasted Jeffress, called him out as the ignorant, dangerous, small-minded little man he has consistently shown himself to be. Candidates should be saying that if his opinions represent the Evangelical voter, then they don’t want their votes, because they do not represent what is best about America: One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (for those who do not know this is from the original 1892 Pledge of Allegiance, before “under god” was added in the 1950’s to distinguish us from the godless communists).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Can’t Cut That, It Would Be Immoral!

These are the things a decent society provides, it is the moral thing to do. That kind of short-circuits any discussion, wouldn’t you say? In the ongoing attempt to control the narrative in the upcoming elections, the Progressive set is starting to frame the debate as one of a moral crusade: The creation, growth and ever-continuing expansion of the American welfare state is but a natural, moral outgrowth of society. Elizabeth Warren references the “social contract” that we must all abide by. The President is always talking about what is “fair.” Robert Reich lists all the ills befalling the poor in this economy, lists out a bevy of taxes to rectify the problem, and says “But it's more than math. It's a matter of morality.” All over the web, print and television are pundits talking about “social justice” and empathy for the common man. Fair, justice and moral are all powerful words and they are being used for a powerful purpose - to stifle debate.

It was bad enough when the pundit class was labeling those who questioned Big Government as blithering idiots who just did not understand the need for big, bold centrally planned action, but now we are going to drag morality into it as well? Who wants to be labeled as immoral after all? After we have dictated that this program, agency, or entitlement is the only “moral” thing to do, what next? How do we have a debate on the merits after that? It is the same as the use of “fair” in the tax debate. “I only want what is fair.” Well, how do you argue with fair? Who will support being unfair? Almost seems un-American to be against what is fair and moral. But the real question should be how do we decide what is fair and moral? Do the rest of us not have any input in this discussion? To simply say that these things that we like and support are untouchable because they are fair and moral, then you have removed any chance for substantive debate. You have placed the other side in the position of either proving that these things are not moral and fair, or that morality and fairness should not be part of the discussion.

When talking about fairness, we should be observing the larger picture. The President says he wants the rich, who have prospered while everyone else has suffered, to pay more in taxes. “I am only asking them to pay what is fair?” is repeated over and over, a return to the Clinton Era tax rates when all was wonderful. The problem is this notion of “fair.” Taxes have gone up and down throughout our history, and while the President presently says that the Clinton Rates are fair (more from me here), what happens when we are still well over $1 Trillion overdrawn next year even with those tax increases? Will a new “fair” be established? The government, by its own admission (see any number of GAO reports) wastes an incredible amount of money. Remember last week’s story about $600 million in payments to dead people? I will assume I do not have many super-rich reading this, so let us ask the average individual about fairness: Would you consider it “fair” to have to pay more of your income to make up the budget deficit so long as the government does things like this on a regular basis? Medicare, the Defense Department, agriculture subsides, we could go on and on with the inane, inept, fraudulent and duplicitous payments the government doles out every year, and the talk is about what is “fair” in terms of extracting more money to support this system. How exactly is that fair? Would it not be fair, if you are one of the rich, to demand that at least some of the system be reformed before any more money is extracted? Fair is a bad enough word, what is worse in that sentence is “asking.” To ask implies an ability to refuse, and when it comes to taxes who has a right to say: “Umm, not today, check back next week?” The President is not asking, for if he was, he would take to heart what would be the very reasonable response we see from many quarters: Cut first, then ask. Real cuts, not just cuts from next year’s budget increases, need to be laid out and then there can, and should, be a revenue discussion. “Asking” someone to pay more into a system that wastes money with reckless abandon, without addressing that waste, is neither fair nor reasonable.

When it comes to morality, we need not attack the idea of some particular program being “moral” or not. Appealing to morality is an attempt to take things off the table, to not have a reasoned discussion. The conversation should be about utility and efficacy. Just because a program is moral does not mean it works. It should seem plainly obvious that if a program, no matter how well intentioned, does not do what it is supposed to and does not effectively serve its constituency then it should at the very least be reformed if not abolished. Anti-poverty and the Social Safety Net are usually encompassed in this call to morality. From a moral standpoint, looking at the system as it is presently constructed, I would agree that a wasteful Defense Department program should be cut before an anti-poverty program. Discussions like that are fine, and politicians should be put on the spot to explain their resistance or reticence on such issues. The old bumper sticker about the Air Force and bake sales is not a proper policy discussion though. When someone says they will protect a program or entitlement, no matter the cost or efficacy, because it is moral, they are pandering, not governing. “Vote for me and I will protect your program!” is the shorthand version. If the outcomes of Medicaid are measurably poorer than having no health insurance at all, why is it we can’t talk about changing the program? Would it not be a “morally” superior position to advocate a different system? If year after year anti-poverty programs, even in the boom years, do nothing to alleviate poverty in this country, wouldn’t it be better to come up with a different or more refined approach? Is the object of the exercise to assist people so they can get themselves out of poverty, or to make poverty more comfortable? The former is a moral intention, the latter is an attempt to create reliable votes.

Morality and fairness are fine intentions, but there has to be a discussion about the definitions. You cannot simply say that the Progressive prescription is the only moral and fair one. That is a playground tactic, not governing. To label the opposition as immoral, or amoral as the case often is with Libertarians, is an attempt to stop meaningful debate. With trillions in debt, continuing unemployment and structural deficiencies in our economy we need to have real discussions (and compromise) about what is needed, what works and what doesn’t, and what do we really need this government to be doing going forward into the future. That would be the only fair and moral thing to do for ourselves and our posterity, if we expect to have one that calls itself Americans.