The Free Exchange (15-010)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


 

Rand’s Gambit

BJ writes:

I don’t know what to say about this guy. He’s got such mix of confusing values. As you listed, he seems and sounds libertarian just like his father. But he has many non-libertarian views as you articulated. We have discussed what we think of libertarianism in the past, especially involving that awful Brink Lindsey.

 

One observation that I would love to hear your comment on: it seems like many non-religious conservatives like to call themselves as libertarians. But when confronted with specific issues such as drug legalization, many fall on the traditional conservative side rather than the libertarian side. And so I have always thought of the so-called libertarians as frustrated conservatives who oppose the Iraq War and is OK with same-sex marriage. In other words, moderate Republicans. (Especially those who did not like President Bush the younger.) Most of us have a mix of view on issues. However I don’t think these people truly understand libertarianism as it is classically defined.

 

All of this is to agree with your point; I don’t see Rand Paul as any kind of serious candidate. A few questions for you though: do you see Rand Paul as just another younger version of his father Ron Paul? I find it funny that Ron Paul is not running although he’s been running for decades. Do you know if they disagree on anything?

 

Also what do you think of Rand Paul being aggressive with the liberal media but it backfiring when he’s labeled as sexist against women reporters since for whatever reason, he’s only been interviewed by women reporters since his announcement?

 

J Hunter:

 

Thank you for commenting BJ!

As usual, I think you’re spot on about libertarian frustration.

 

I highlight Nate Cohn’s piece in this article because I think that it best illustrates the state of libertarianism in the Republican Party today–small, insignificant, and only marginally interesting. Cohn explains that the swath of people who call themselves libertarian don’t truly hold libertarian views, and that the term has become a catchall for liberals and conservatives who want to have their cake and eat it too: fiscally responsible and pro-gay marriage, for example. In short, it’s becoming a shorthand for moderate–as you suggest.

 

That’s really a shame, in my opinion, because I think classical liberalism–libertarianism–has its place in political debate. There are instances in which I’d like to see a more Millian sense of liberty enacted, but Millian liberty offends liberals and conservatives alike. And that’s where I see libertarianism’s greatest shortcoming: liberalism and conservatism advocate for a sense of fairness and morality, whereas libertarianism does not.

 

Failed policies thrive because their defenders are motivated by their morals. People want to raise the minimum wage, for example, because they believe that it’s immoral for a company to make a profit while some workers live paycheck to paycheck. Arguments about the negative impact of raising the minimum wage don’t persuade these people. It sounds like white noise to them because they weren’t motivated by cold arguments in the first place. Moral pitches against raising the minimum wage would be more appropriate.

 

I say this because libertarians, to their detriment, market themselves as cold, policy wonks–economists concerned with auditing the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard and championing an abstract concept of liberty. Abstractions don’t resonate with people, and neither, therefore, does libertarianism. You and I know that liberty and morality sit on opposite ends of a spectrum: a theocracy obsesses over morality at the expense of liberty. Likewise, liberty can work against morality. So, libertarian obsession over liberty offends liberal and conservative notions of morality, and libertarians’ unwillingness (or inability) to make the moral case for their positions keeps them small, insignificant and only marginally interesting.

 

As it happens, I don’t see Rand Paul as a mirror of Ron Paul, but I think that Rand should do more to distance himself from his father. The biggest differences I see between the two is that Ron Paul is anti-American. Ron Paul pedals dangerous conspiracy theories and racist theories. To the best of my knowledge, Rand does not follow suit.

 

As for Rand’s treatment of female interviewers, I agree that Mr. Paul has behaved obnoxiously. Even if Republicans weren’t trying to change their fortunes with women, Paul’s “shushing” reporters should never have happened. It’s something I suspect his advisers have warned him to stop. I hope he listens.


Rubio in the Running

BJ writes:

Ah Rubio. This is my current man-crush of all the GOP candidates running right now. Like you, I vote based on ideas and party rather than the candidate. And so I am not wedded to Chris Christie or any one person. But of all the people running, Rubio is the man for me. In terms of values as well as excitement and charisma, I don’t see anyone better. Fiorina would be my second favorite.

 

I understand you take a more cautious approach which is fair enough. His inexperience and some financial potential mini-scandals that I’ve heard about back in Florida are concerning. The fact that he’s not been a governor is a minus but nothing fatal. Everyone talks about his flip on illegal immigration and Prager worries about his tax plan. Nonetheless, he seems to be the best out of all of them so far. But it is early and I am cautiously excited.

I would love to hear what specific reservations you have about him; not for me to refute but to see if there’s something about him that I’m not seeing. In terms of the various writers you quoted, none of what those people say concerns me. In fact, they sound more like bad sports broadcasters. What Bouie says about only 5.6% saying he is their top choice now is exactly that: now. Just because Rubio isn’t the clear front runner like Hillary, doesn’t mean he’s going to fail. That’s a lame criticism of Rubio or anyone. Any her continued criticism of oh-there-is-some-candidate-for-every-demographic is also ridiculous. Bush will not succeed since when it comes down to it, GOP voters won’t think that he can win due to his name. And so that won’t be a factor in taking away Rubio’s specialness of him being a Latino, as she is pathetically saying.

 

Wright’s comments reek of time-filler for these pundits who are biased and are trying to say something profound but comes off as someone who is looking at politics as some kind of sports game. You dismantled her words much better than I. It is too early and I am not wedded to Rubio. But I loved him when he ran for the Senate in 2010. And I am a little surprised that he’s running now. I thought he may wait since he is so young. But I’m glad he’s running since I do believe that he’s the best so far of all the people that’s running. As you said, we shall see.

 

J Hunter:

Well, BJ, I am leaning hard in the Rubio direction. I even donated to his campaign. I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Rubio’s for years for many of the reasons that people are discovering about him right now: he’s an excellent communicator and a problem solver. He’s a political man-crush of mine as well.

 

As for my piece, I agree that the arguments against Rubio are pretty flaccid. I only added them to keep from writing a gushing piece. The truth of the matter is, if he continues to be as nimble, positive and substantive throughout the campaign as he has been so far, I think we could nominate him and make history.

 

Rubio is mainstream; he appeals to the many different factions of the Republican Party; he’s young, energetic, Spanish-speaking, and inspiring. I ask myself when choosing a candidate for the nomination race: “What does this candidate bring that’s lacking?” When I ask that question, I rule out people like Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. What they bring, we either don’t need or another candidate does it better. For this reason, I hope that Jeb Bush does not enter the race (though I suspect that he will). While I like and respect Mr. Bush, I don’t think he adds much to the field.
On the other hand, I think Mr. Rubio would make a fine president, and he’s at the top of my list of 2016 GOP candidates.

Thanks for reading and commenting, BJ!


 

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Rand’s Gambit

Another Dash of Salt?


Rand Paul’s campaign announcement, while not a surprise, has appropriately electrified the media and the Republican Party. This Paul campaign promises real change for American politics and for the GOP, in part, because Rand, unlike his father, stands a chance to win Republican delegates. Pegged as a libertarian, Paul fancies himself a different kind of Republican–one who aims to broaden the Party by moving it toward classical liberalism and one focused on welcoming newcomers. This hope relies on two assumptions: one–a large libertarian political block lies dormant, awaiting a candidate who speaks to their values. Two–Mr. Paul epitomizes the libertarian savior.

Libertarians argue that the reason conservative and liberal claims of an untapped electorate favorable to their views never seems to materialize, indicates that the unmotivated voters actually hold libertarian views. David Boaz, the Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, makes the case:

“Events of the past few years have pushed voters in a libertarian direction, causing some observers to talk about a ‘libertarian moment’ in American politics…A 2006 Zogby poll for the Cato Institute asked respondents, ‘Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?’ Fully 59 percent said yes…That’s a huge untapped market for a candidate who can cut across red-blue barriers.”

This rosy assessment belies too many other indicators to hold water. For example, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul ran libertarian campaigns that never gained traction. Johnson failed to attract enough support to participate in most of the GOP nomination debates. Furthermore, if the Zogby poll supports Mr. Boaz’ assertion, then with 59% of all voters holding libertarian views, some of them would be in the Democrat Party pushing it rightward on economic matters.One may ask, then, where are those libertarians in the Democrat Party calling for more conservative fiscal policy–like a balanced budget amendment?

To be gracious, let us assume that 58% of those libertarian voters find their home in the GOP, while the remaining 1% struggles to get a word in edgewise in the DNC. That could argue that a sizeable number of Republican voters are libertarians. New York Times writer, Nate Cohn, offers the best refutation of that myth by way of empirical evidence:

“In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian…If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that [Rand Paul] emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.”

As for the second assumption of the Paul campaign, that he personifies the libertarian savior (for the small number of libertarians existing in peril)–perhaps a second look is warranted.

For starters, Paul never referred to himself as a libertarian, but rather as libertarian-ish. Boaz points out that Paul breaks from libertarians on gay marriage (he opposes it), abortion (he opposes it), and drone strikes against ISIS (he supports them). These positions Boaz believes work to “nudge the GOP in a libertarian direction” and make libertarianism more palatable.

On the topic of palate, the best analogy I know regarding libertarianism comes from a Northwestern professor of mine, Jeffrey Rice. Rice said to me, “libertarianism is like salt: a little bit can be good. Too much can spoil the meal.”
It’s impossible to say how well Rand Paul will fare in the GOP primary. Paul’s intelligence, passion, and courage should go a long way to endear him to many voters inside and outside of the Republican Party. Of the many challenges he faces, though, he must reconcile his appeal and his philosophy. A move to the Party’s mainstream represents a safe bet at the risk of altering his rogue image. A gamble for a large libertarian contingent, that may not exist, could ultimately spell humiliating defeat.