“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
By Jere Krischel – For nearly half of all Americans, the presidential election results were a traumatic disappointment. After four years of a stagnating economy, more deaths of U.S. troops embroiled in military conflict abroad, with continued erosions of personal freedom under an administration hell bent on expanding the scope and power of government, it seemed inevitable that change was going to happen.
Pop quiz: Are we talking about 2004 or 2012?
Of course the answer could be either or both, and therein lies a sparkling opportunity to understand, in a visceral way, how the other side feels. If you’re a fan of Obama, and you’re crowing over his narrow victory and obvious second term mandate to address all of the special interests he ignored in his first term, realize that’s what Bush fans in 2004 felt. And if you’re a Romney fan, fearing for the future of the republic and wondering just how bad things can get, realize that’s whatKerry fans in 2004 felt. Whatever your personal partisan politics are, if you had any experience of the 2004 elections, you now know exactly how the other side feels.
So with this hindsight, what can we predict for Obama 2.0? If Democrats behave at all like Republicans of 2004, we’ll see a misguided push for partisan positions based on the faulty philosophy of “political capital” supposedly earned in the election. And if Republicans behave at all like Democrats of 2004, they’ll retrench and thwart Obama’s moves in any way they can, until the mid-term elections where they’ll trounce Democrats tarred with guilt by association with Obama. The symmetry is so compelling, it is almost impossible for it not to happen.
But let’s step back for a moment, and try to understand where this dynamic comes from – why would the victors, of either 2004 or 2012, tend to over-interpret their victory as a mandate for their partisan positions? The answer comes to us from over 150 years ago, when Frederic Bastiat, the French philosopher, wrote insightfully about the contradiction on how voters were thought of before, and after elections:
“When it is time to vote, apparently the voter is not to be asked for any guarantee of his wisdom. His will and capacity to choose wisely are taken for granted…”
“But when the legislator is finally elected — ah! then indeed does the tone of his speech undergo a radical change. The people are returned to passiveness, inertness, and unconsciousness; the legislator enters into omnipotence. Now it is for him to initiate, to direct, to propel, and to organize. Mankind has only to submit; the hour of despotism has struck. We now observe this fatal idea: The people who, during the election, were so wise, so moral, and so perfect, now have no tendencies whatever; or if they have any, they are tendencies that lead downward into degradation.”
So while the victorious parties in 2004 and 2012 were both fully convinced that the people showed unquestioned wisdom in voting for them, they were just as equally convinced that once they were in power, those same people, especially the almost half who opposed them, could no longer be trusted to think or act for themselves. Instead of understanding that a narrow victory is a call for reconciliation, partisans can only believe that a narrow victory is a mandate for partisan action. It is this peculiar dynamic that seems to lead to the cyclical nature of party dominance on the federal level.
As a philosophical libertarian, the answer to this conundrum is to place strict limits on the scope and power of government, a task which has eluded both Democrats and Republicans in my lifetime. If a philosophy of freedom is pursued, rather than one of government intervention, elections and elected officials become significantly less dangerous to the almost half of the electorate that votes for the losing candidate. To their credit, Democrats claim to champion social freedoms, and Republicans claim to champion fiscal freedoms, but we’re a long way from any particularly libertarian utopia. Unfortunately the worst freedom restricting impulses of either party seem to have the most success at gaining any traction.
I would argue that if we were able to finally put to rest the five most egregious freedom killing agendas of both parties, we might be able to truly move “forward”. Make no mistake, these are incredibly strong partisan constituencies in both parties, and the chances of them being marginalized are faint at best. But before any dream can come true, it must be dreamt, so I humbly present to you my five hopes for change for both major parties:
1) Democrats – Disbelieve climate change acolytes
In more primitive times, we would blame bad weather on evil spirits, or divine punishment, or on malicious practitioners of dark and magical arts. The idea that bad things can happen with no particular moral cause sticks in the collective craw of mankind, and we are moved by a sense of internal justice to try and attribute uncontrollable phenomena to something we may be able to control. In the most ironic role reversal since Vader threw Palpatine down a shaft to his death, we now live in a world where otherwise rational atheists have built a religious Cult of Global Warming, and some of the staunchest defenders of the scientific method are actually devout christian fundamentalists. Dogs and cats, living together, indeed.
The trick to recognizing the religious nature of “climate change” is to ruthlessly apply the scientific method without prejudice. When we start the scientific method, we identify what is called a “falsifiable hypothesis”. Without the quality of falsifiability, no matter how accurate any predictions we make may be, we simply aren’t doing science. Karl Popper put it this way:
“A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.”
To this date, no climate scientist in the world has ever identified any observation of CO2 and temperature, over any time scale, that they would accept as a falsification of the hypothesis that human CO2 emissions are the predominant cause of climate change that will prove to be catastrophic to humanity and the biosphere. Every “miss” of any predictions the proponents of AGW make is responded to with an ad hoc special pleading, and every “hit” of any prediction is touted as the final proof that the “science is settled”.
The most damaging part about the Cult of Global Warming, however, is how it is undermining our ability to teach our children how to think scientifically. Climate change alarmists heedlessly attack skeptics on the basis of authority, rather than on the merits of any given argument. When we insist to the next generation that we cannot possibly think for ourselves, and must accede to the higher wisdom of experts who know more than us, we hamper their ability to understand and adapt to the world around them.
We once lived in a world where the forces of free thinking fought to instill skepticism into the minds of the next generation, much to the chagrin of the powers that were. Today that skepticism is under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, albeit on different subject matters. Much of that can be attributed to the corrupting nature of power – when academia was a conservative bastion, liberals fought to undermine authority, and now that academia is a liberal bastion, liberals now fight to buttress authority.
In the end, the fanciful idea that humans control the weather through the emission of plant food measured in parts per million in the atmosphere has no basis in science – but the fact that some of our best representatives of science champion that idea will have grave consequences for scientific progress in the future.
2) Republicans – Ditch the anti-gay fundamentalists
One of the most frightening scenarios for social liberals is a return to anti-gay hatred, harassment and violence that we once suffered in the past. This visceral fear is often enough to overcome all other reservations about voting Democrat, and it’s unfortunately an issue that Republicans tend to use as a evangelical base energizing strategy. The fact of the matter is that the clock will never turn back, and a return to an anti-gay era is as likely as a return to laws outlawing interracial marriage.
Being gay isn’t a choice – it’s simply how you were born. In the spirit of my critique of the Cult of Global Warming, I’ll dutifully present a falsifiable hypothesis for any right-wing social conservative to test:
- Start with a straight, right-wing social conservative (male or female).
- Have that person choose to be gay for 6 weeks. They should have daily gay sex, and they really have to enjoy it. They should also be completely repulsed by the idea of straight sex.
- Have that person choose to become straight again, switching their repulsion/attraction once more.
Once you accept that being gay isn’t a choice, the question then turns to what choices we do have – like say for example, monogamy, fidelity and commitment. If there was any particular societal interest in the sex lives of people, it would be the promotion of stable partner relationships, although one might suspect that is primarily a social conservative position, rather than a liberal “free love” philosophy. As far fetched as it sounds, social conservatives should be promoting gay marriage as a way to fight against the loose liberal mores of promiscuity, infidelity and irresponsibility.
The whole idea that you can “defend” marriage by denying it to homosexual partners is silly and misguided. The coming generation simply doesn’t see homosexuality as a choice, or an immoral act, and although devout christians may fight tooth and nail to deny it, they cannot stop the tide of history. While I count Obama as an abject failure both domestically and internationally, his repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was both long overdue and inevitable.
Of course, the real problem Republicans face is that primaries are often won by the most socially conservative, and until large swaths of fiscally conservative Democrats switch parties to change the dynamics of GOP primaries, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Republican party platform change.
3) Democrats – End affirmative reverse racism
While perhaps not surprising from the party that founded the KKK, the concept of disparate treatment for people depending on the arbitrary designation of race needs to end once and for all. It is supremely insulting that Obama is considered “black” or even “bi-racial”, when like everyone else, he is simplyhuman. When his arbitrarily designated “white” mother is where he traces his lineage to the first “black” slave in the United States, we’ve truly reached the limits of the utility of racial categorization.
After the birth of my daughter, I was asked to fill out paper work regarding what race she was. When I entered “human”, the nurse informed me that I wasn’t allowed to do that. Bristling, I demanded to speak to her manager, and insisted that she show me the regulation that precluded me from claiming my daughter’s humanity. To my great disappointment, in their large procedure book, it specifically claimed that when declaring “race” you could not state anything “facetious”, such as “human”.
Of all of the statements I’ve ever made on any government form, declaring my daughter as “human” was easily the most sincere. The thought that government racial tabulators would consider a self-identification of “human” as “facetious” was mind-boggling. In the end, the only choice I could exercise without compromising my principles was “decline to state”, but to this day it makes me feel violated and wronged.
Now I understand that many Democrats are legitimately concerned about racism, and feel they need to apply reverse racism to level the playing field. But the whole concept of “race” is a flawed one, and in order to transcend it we need to go beyond it. If we’re worried about poor black children not getting an opportunity for college, why don’t we base our support on need, rather than skin color? How just is it to have a “part-white” Malia and Sasha Obama get the benefit of affirmative action, while poor “all-white” folk raised in trailer parks get excluded? Yes, if we apply color-blind financial aid based on need, you’ll be helping “whites” and “asians” as well as “blacks” – but isn’t that a good thing?
Any discrimination based on the arbitrary and illegitimate concept of “race” is wrong, period. While the Democrat party has long benefitted from race baiting and identity politics, that kind of poisonous and pernicious thinking has to end.
4) Republicans – Embrace “Safe, Legal, and Rare”
While opposition to Roe v. Wade still resonates with a certain percentage of the population, when we reconcile the freedom of women to choose with the freedom of fetuses to survive, the adult has to win. Yes, abortion is murder, yes, life begins at conception – but sometimes murder is necessary, and sometimes one life is more important than another. These are difficult truths to accept, and we may rage at the thought of innocent prenatal life paying the price for the actions of adults, but it is true nonetheless.
I think many anti-abortion activists believe that if only others shared their premises (life begins at conception, abortion is murder), that they would also share their conclusions (abortion should be outlawed). But this is a topic where even if people agree on the basics, they can disagree on the solution. Even worse, many Republicans exhibit a peculiar hypocrisy when frowning on abortion, but supporting the death penalty.
Pro-life activists have a license plate I’ve seen that states, “Choose Life”, and if taken literally, is the best way to reconcile a belief in the sanctity of life, and the reality of a woman’s choice. Yes, advocating to pregnant women who are thinking about aborting their pregnancy to choose to give birth and put the child up for adoption is perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, telling women that they have no option other than taking a pregnancy to full term is not.
5) Democrats – Stop Keynesian socialism
“[Socialists] always run out of other people’s money.”
Anyone who has spent any time studying economics has heard of John Maynard Keynes, but few people truly understand the nature of his contribution to economic theory. His greatest triumph was the realization that sticky pricing that wouldn’t go down quickly enough was the core cause of recessions. His greatest failure was the assumption that government intervention was the proper prescription to combat recession.
On the surface, it seems rational to believe that in times of financial crisis, the government should step in to “smooth” the recovery process. However, much like overprotective parents, such coddling only makes the eventual facing of reality harder to deal with. Government intervention comes not only with a high price tag that adds to our debt, it creates perverse incentives that reward those with political connections, rather than those with beneficial products. As it stands, it will take decades to undo the destructive policies of Obama’s first term, and it’s likely that the next four years will only kick that can down the road further.
Much like the Cult of Global Warming, the Keynesians have an ad hoc special pleading for any refutation of their economic theory. For example, although the post-World War II drawdown was the biggest cut in government spending in the shortest amount of time ever, instead of driving the economy into recession as predicted by Keynesians, we experienced thelargest economic boom in history. The Keynesians try to claim that this was due to the return of women to the home, or the massive use of the G.I. bill driving people into school rather than into the workforce. But what the Keynesians really missed was understanding that whenever the government spends money, it is taking a choice away from individuals, which destroys economic progress.
This critical Keynesian misunderstanding is exemplified by“The Broken Window Fallacy”. Yes, forcing the baker to spend money to fix his broken window triggers economic activity – but if that window hadn’t been broken, the baker could have decided to buy a new suit, or any other good or service. When the baker has a choice, his choices would have stimulated the economy without destroying anything.
Simply put, government spending of any type is destructive to choice, and while sometimes this is necessary, just like abortion, we’d like it to be rare.
6) Republicans – Zionism is racism
While certainly the Jewish Holocaust was real, and terrible, and horrible, the establishment of a racial homeland for Jews was never going to be a fix for anything, and the past 60+ years of middle east violence is a testament to just how bad of a mistake the establishment of the race-based State of Israel was. Even if you had put Israel in Germany (since the Germans were the ones that slaughtered them), or in Culver City (since they’d have friendlier neighbors than Egypt and Syria), the idea of separating out a group of people for special positivetreatment based on their ancestry is just as wrong as separating them out for special negative treatment.
While Zionists try to defend the disparate treatment of Arab Israelis by pointing out the anti-Semitic policies of Islamic countries, the comparison isn’t flattering for either side. Racism in Tel Aviv isn’t justified by racism in Baghdad. Jewish privilege in Jerusalem isn’t justified by Islamic privilege in Tehran. At the end of the day, emulating the bad examples of religious intolerance around the world only makes the world a worse off place.
If we could force the next generation of Israeli men to marry Arab women, and force the next generation of Arab men to marry Israeli women, one might think we could fix this problem within the next 30 years (unsurprisingly, there are actually laws in Israel against intermarriage). The sad thing is that for the most part, Arabs and Israelis already share a common ancestry, and this is completely obscured by their contemporary identity politics. One might think it’s only about religion, but even secular Jews and Arabs are at each other’s throats.
The only way to address this problem is with policies that adhere to a universal philosophy of identification. The question must be asked, “if everyone was considered racially/ethnically/religiously qualified for this policy, would it be a good one?” Only if the policy makes sense when we assume everyone qualifies, should we be willing to accept it as just.
Would we permit settlements in the occupied territories if Arab settlers were included? Would we subsidize ultra-Orthodox Christians as well as ultra-Orthodox Jews? Would we have a racial “right of return”, if all of humanity was considered the proper “race”?
Our national support of Israel needs to be predicated on American values of equal treatment under the law, and while we certainly have our own problems here at home with various race-based programs for “indigenous” peoples, and affirmative reverse racism, we must aspire to the higher goal of a common humanity.
7) Democrats – Dump the government union thugs
Unions have played an important role in the history of the United States. Many workers today can thank union activism of the past for many of the workplace protections they now enjoy. However, there is a huge difference between a union which represents its members against an independent company management, and a union of government employees which has no such check and balance.
When management and labor unions negotiate, they each have a particular point of view they’re advocating for. Management is looking towards the bottom line, profit. Labor unions are looking towards the maximum pay and benefit possible for their members, which is also profit, albeit on a bit more personal level. Through the give and take of negotiations, the company as a whole is protected from going completely bankrupt acceding to the demands of labor, or from exploiting their workforce unjustly.
Government unions don’t have any checks and balances. They “negotiate” with management of their choosing, while the taxpayer remains without a seat at the table to advocate for fiscal responsibility. As a consequence, pay and benefits go out of control, and huge debt burden is passed on to future generations. In the worst case scenario, the promises made to government union employees are broken, and the faith and credit of government is undermined.
Democrats have historically been huge beneficiaries of government union politicking, and have repaid this patronage with out of control spending and fiscal mismanagement time and time again. If we’re going to have any hope of avoiding a complete government economic collapse like Greece, we need to abolish the government employee unions that are gaming the collective bargaining system by voting in “management” that is beholden to them.
8) Republicans – Just say “no” to the War on Drugs
I’ve had enough relationships ruined by substance abuse to understand why people want to regulate certain substances. There are indeed some people who cannot handle their highs, and that can cause not only relationship harm, but can very easily lead to the physical harm of both users and other innocent bystanders. But at the end of the day, the militarization of our police force, and the treatment of our own citizenry as enemy combatants makes the “War on Drugs” both immoral and undesirable.
In the Cato whitepaper, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, Radley Balko shares a frightening picture of a country where civilians aren’t safe from arbitrary and excessive use of force. Time and time again, SWAT teams that were originally meant for only the most extremely violent criminal situations are used to serve drug warrants, often with lethal force. Law abiding home owners, mis-identified by confidential informants, are confronted with half a dozen armed men in the middle of the night. When gun owners mistake the SWAT teams for armed burglars, and take positions to defend themselves and their families, they’re coldly shot down.
There are dangerous drugs out there. People get hurt by them. But we are doing more damage to our lives and liberty by criminalizing drug use.
9) Democrats – Keep your hands off my guns
Although the Supreme Court finally affirmed that the right to bear arms is an individual right, it’s still going to take a while before clearly unconstitutional gun laws are finally struck from the books. While guns can be scary, especially if you’ve never learned how to properly handle one, and especially if you know someone who was hurt by gun violence, criminalizing gun ownership simply means that the criminalsalways outgun the victims.
While it may be interesting to contemplate say, a fully armed theatre crowd watching “The Dark Knight”, reacting heroically (or disastrously) to James Holmes’ attack, the real power of the right to bear arms is that it serves as a disincentive for criminals even if most people don’t bother to carry a piece.When there is a real possibility that your victim can fight back with effective lethal force, that changes the entire equation in the criminal mind.
Gun ownership is also an important women’s issue that could be championed by Democrats – given the general disparity in physical strength between men and women, often times the only way a woman can effectively defend herself is with a firearm. Julianne Versnel of the Second Amendment Foundation said it well when she stated at the U.N., “if women have the right to be protected against violence, then they have the right to protect themselves against violence.” One could imagine how different life would be in Afghanistan today if the United States had bothered to arm and train Afghan women to defend themselves against male violence. Heck, even the classic feminist icon Eleanor Roosevelt packed heat.
Another Democrats argument against gun ownership is the insistence that guns are dangerous in the hands of civilians, and need to be limited solely to officers of the law. But truth be told, police training isn’t any guarantee of civilian safety, as clearly illustrated by the police response to the Empire State Building shooter in 2012. At a range of less than 10 feet, the officers unloaded a total of 16 rounds shooting at Jeffrey Johnson, and ended up wounding nine bystanders. In a life and death situation, this kind of panic shooting isn’t the exception, it’s the rule, and can’t reasonably be used as a rationale for restricting gun ownership unless you’re also suggesting we should take guns away from the police.
10) Republicans – Intelligent design isn’t intelligent
As a final bookend, this particular issue complements the “climate change acolytes” critique at the top of the list. Closely tied to the whole integration of church and state (school prayer, Ten Commandments in courtrooms, “under God” in the pledge), is the push for “intelligent design” curriculum in schools. Now I understand that part of this is a counter push to the religious curriculum Democrats push in schools (see the Cult of Global Warming above), but this kind of support of pseudo-science only serves to give credibility to the pseudo-science pushers on the other side. While it may be that religious faith, particularly fundamental religious faith, might be threatened by actual falsifiable science like natural selection, believers need to find ways to defend themselves beyond attacking curriculum.
Just like the whole “climate change” religion of the democrats, “intelligent design” comes across as fairly reasonable – there is certainly plenty of evidence that is “consistent with” the idea that humans are causing climate changes on a global scale, just as there is plenty of evidence that is “consistent with” the idea that life, particularly human life, was engineered by something more intelligent than random chance. But just because we can weave cherry picked observations into a consistent narrative, as say an astrologist might do regarding Scorpios and their compatibility with Leos, doesn’t mean we’re actually playing the science game. When we play science, what matters is being able to specify what observations we could look for that coulddisprove our hypothesis.
“Intelligent design” has no falsification. A sufficiently advanced intelligent designer, say with the powers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, could literally fabricate any physical evidence we could possibly observe. Find a missing link in the evolutionary chain? Put there by the intelligent designer to keep us sharp. See micro-evolution occur in the lab? Obviously a mechanism designed by the intelligent designer to further their goals. Much like the “droughtflood” and “warmcool” promised by the Cult of Global Warming, “intelligent design”, while an interesting bit of fiction, does not meet the basic criteria of the scientific method.
Now again, the safe bet is that these particularly fatal flaws for each party are never going to be reconciled, and it could very well be that that is by design. With an electorate split close to 50/50, the political machine (campaigns, pundits, media, activist groups) maximizes economic potential, because when it’s that close, people are willing to dig deep in hopes they can make a difference. When you’ve got one-party rule, and a huge margin of victory for incumbents, it’s harder to get energized and excited.
But do we really want exciting politics? Do we really want the never-ending campaigns? If we put the government in its proper place (the strict defense of private property and negative rights), it definitely becomes more boring, but wouldn’t it be nice to focus on what we can do with our freedoms, rather than fighting to restore and defend them?
It could be that there are indeed to polar opposite philosophies here, one of greater government, and one of greater freedom, and that the pendulum will sway eternally between the two. But if the party of Lincoln can become the champion of States Rights, and the party of the KKK can win 90% of the black vote, then there has to be hope out there somewhere for real change.