Free Markets, Free People

Rand Paul

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 10 Mar 13

This week, Michael and Dale discuss the Rand Paul filibuster, The death of Hugo Chavez, and North Korea’s saber-rattling.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

CPAC day 2

The first day was spent sort of getting the lay of the land, meeting and greeting (new acquaintances and old friends), the Rumsfeld lunch and a few speeches.

Listened to Donald Trump talk – entertaining anyway – and heard him tell the Ron Paul crowd “your guy doesn’t have a chance”.  The way he did it was a true laugh-out-loud moment.  He’s right, but speaking of not having a chance, well I don’t think “the Donald” has much of one at all.  But it was entertaining to see him stir up the Paul crowd.

Speaking of Paul’s, I listened to Rand Paul’s speech and was pretty pleased with what he had to say.  He says the cuts the GOP is putting forward are insignificant and unacceptable.  He mentioned that the amount is what government spends in 5 days.  He also pointed out that both parties have budget projections that add more than three trillion to the debt.   He said that must be cut and cut drastically.  100 billion of it, he claimed, could come from shutting down the Dept. of Education and returning schooling to where it belongs – with the states and local school boards.

That’s been a dream of the right for decades, in fact since the inception of the DoE.  I have no idea if there’s the will or the stomach within Congress to address that, but Paul is right – cuts must be much more significant than those proposed.   But given that after promising 100 billion they came up with 32 billion in cuts, I’m not that hopeful.

He also said, in so many words, that the GOP and Democrats are going to have to grow a pair and address entitlements, to include increasing the   retirement age for both SS and Medicare.  He was mostly greeted with enthusiastic applause from the crowd.  How enthusiastic they’ll be when it comes time to cut spending and move the retirement age remains to be seen (in theory it’s all important and the “right thing to do”, but in reality, people have a tendency to back off – especially if it effects them).

Another bit of entertainment occurred during the award ceremony for former SecDef Rumsfeld.   One of the surprise presenters was Dick Cheney who received a standing O from the audience as he came on the stage (and after a while finally took the mic and said “thank you, thank you, now sit down and shut up” – brought the house down).   As things quieted down someone  – exercising his right to free speech – shouted out, “you’re a war criminal”.  The crowd then exercised its’ right to free speech and, chanting “USA, USA” essentially drown the fellow out as he was escorted from the floor.  Cheney’ reaction was something along the lines of “I’m glad to see we’re still having spirited debate”.  Some have claimed the shouter was a Ron Paul supporter – I have no idea who he was.

Last night I attended a Freedom Works function where The Atlas Society introduced the independent film production of “Atlas Shrugged”.   We were privy to the first public viewing of scenes from the movie.  I thought, “ok, indie film, mega challenging book, this might not end well”.

I was very impressed with the production values I saw in the clips we viewed.  The acting was well done and while not name actors, are all people you’ve seen before in various supporting roles in movies and TV.  And frankly, the word that kept coming to mind was “lush” as in a lush production – very pleasing to the eye and in the clips we saw, faithful to Rand’s book.  Got to speak to both the executive director of the Atlas Society, David Kelly and Harmon Kaslow, the producer of the film.  They were obviously interested in our reaction.  You can find info about the movie here.   It is actually a 2 part movie and this is part 1.  It looks like an excellent attempt to bring Rand’s most famous book to life on the screen and will, I think, give a new generation – a video generation – a chance to experience the lessons taught by Rand in “Atlas”.  And none too soon.

More to come from today.  I’m staying in Arlington and commuting so I probably won’t show up there until around 10 but won’t miss much.  Dressing for comfort today – hell, no one recognized me yesterday in a coat and tie.  As Stephan Kruiser said last night, we’re not social people and usually we do what we do in the privacy of our basements in various stages of undress.

~McQ

Big tent, little tent, both parties contend with tough changes

I‘m headed to CPAC this week. Just thought it would be a good idea – there’s going to be quite a libertarian contingent there. Doug Mataconis from Outside the Beltway, Jason Pye from United Liberty (and an occasional contributor to QandO), as well as members of CATO.

There’s a reason I think it is important to go and that’s to see what is in store on the conservative side of things for the promise of smaller government and less spending. I’d like to join other libertarians in influencing that move toward both smaller (and less intrusive) government and much less spending.

But I’m certainly not going to line up very well with the social conservatives. Such is life – my bet is we can find common ground on the fiscal and governmental side of things. And, if you’re familiar with the neo-libertarian strategy, it is to try to work within the existing system to influence and change those things we can by pushing for change that enhances basic liberty. Call it a bit of putting my money where my mouth is.

That’s also what I characterize as "the pragmatic approach". The system we have is what we have – I can stand outside and throw rocks at it, or I can work inside and try to change it. And no, working inside certainly doesn’t mean I "accept" the system as the end product or am "validating" it by working within it. I’m simply pointing out that the most effective way, in my opinion, of changing things is to work with those of a like mind and create a synergy that finally makes that change. I see CPAC as a valuable forum for such action. Lots of those who are actually involved at a national level in doing such things will be there (Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance, and Sen. Rand Paul).

It’s also an opportunity to network with a lot of bloggers I’ve known peripherally- mostly through email – for years (and some I’ve met and know personally as well).

All that to say there’s a bit of a debate going on about CPAC and who should or shouldn’t be attending. I’ll let you fill yourself in here. And here.

All that said I don’t feel "unwelcome". This is a struggle that goes on in every party. Don’t believe me? Check out the Democrats – especially in the South. They’re going through some major problems as many Democrats at a state level are switching parties in the wake of the November drubbing. The complaint? The Democratic party (national) has become too liberal and doesn’t reflect the values of the more conservative among them. Zell Miller, who made it clear he felt that way, was apparently only in the vanguard of the movement away from liberal Democrats. And those Blue Dogs left in Congress, now that they’re not needed by the majority, have all but been cut off from the Congressional Democratic leadership. They’re simply too conservative for the Pelosi crowd.

Anyway, this week should be interesting. CPAC is undergoing a bit of a controversy concerning the group GOProud being allowed at the table (it’s a gay Conservative group – well according to fiscal cons, social cons don’t buy that because of GOProud’s stance on gay marriage) and a new controversy which claims that the board of ACU, which puts on CPAC, has been infiltrated by Muslims.

And then there are the usual controversies.

*Sigh*

Like I say, should be interesting. As the old saying goes, may the dragon you find be well fed.

~McQ

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Rand Paul back-peddling on “no-pork” pledge?

One of the unstated questions many of us who have observed the Tea Party ask is how long before it become co-opted by one of the major parties. Because it is mostly a leaderless movement, that may end up being a very unlikely thing. But what about the candidates it backed? We’re told that 5 Senators and about 30 or so representatives were backed by local and regional Tea Parties and won their elections.

One of those was Rand Paul who, as the son of Ron Paul, came off as particularly libertarian in his approach to his job as a Senator from Kentucky. In fact, during his campaign, he made what his campaign web site labeled "Rand’s no-pork pledge":

Rand Paul appreciates Republican Senator Jim DeMint introducing today a one-year ban on earmark spending and a balanced-budget amendment. Rand strongly supports both initiatives and has made them centerpieces of his campaign for limited government, including his signing of the Citizens Against Government Waste “No pork pledge.”

“The Tea Party movement is an effort to get government under control,” Rand said. “I’m running to represent Kentuckians and to dismantle the culture of professional politicians in Washington. Leadership isn’t photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks. That kind of thinking is bankrupting our nation. Senator DeMint understands that and has taken action to stop it.”

It was that pledge along with other such promises that saw Paul ride a wave to electoral victory.

However, and it seems in politics today, there’s always a "however", it seems that even before taking office, Paul is having second thoughts about his pledge. Veronique de Rugy at the Corner points us to a quote in a Wall Street Journal article about Rand Paul which is, well, disappointing, to be kind about it:

In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad “symbol” of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it’s doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests,” he says.

Of course there are plenty of ways to "advocate for Kentucky’s interests" without breaking a pledge. That, of course, requires a politician with imagination and the courage of his convictions.

If the quote is accurate, then I have no doubt that Rand Paul will rationalize and justify his way into becoming just another establishment Republican Senator who sells out (in this case, almost immediately) to the “system” in DC.  Another in a long line of  “go-along-to get-along-old-boy-network” that is within virtual inches of destroying this country.

I have to wonder how the Tea Party movement, which spent so much time, effort and money to get this guy elected feels about this quote?  I’ll be interested to hear Paul’s explanation concerning what the WSJ says he said.

But frankly, and assuming he wasn’t misquoted,  it’s another indication that much of our political class is a collection of opportunists whose only real quest is the accumulation of personal power.  They’ll say whatever it takes to win with no intention of sticking with the principles they claim.   While, as Paul says, earmarks are indeed more symbolic that significant, they were significant enough when he was seeking office to take a pledge not to seek them.  A pledge voluntarily taken by someone who, as usual, styled himself as “different” and an “outsider” who was going to change the way we do business.

Instead, at the first opportunity, he back-peddles and attempts to rationalize breaking his pledge to “advocate for Kentucky’s interests”.

I hope it’s not true but in reality it appears to be business as usual.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 May 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Rand Paul, this week’s elections, and the stock market.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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Misunderstanding Freedom

Rand Paul managed to raise quite a ruckus by honestly stating his views in response to a loaded (and irrelevant) question. In the process, the left and those who pose an intellectual moderates have seized the opportunity to tee off on libertarianism and the Tea Party movement. Dale capably dismantled one such effort by the New York Times editorial board. Today, a more subtle, concern-trollish effort graces the NYT in a piece from Sam Tanenhaus:

On the surface Mr. Paul’s contradictory statements [i.e. that he dislikes the federal government intrusion into private business affairs, abhors racism, and would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- ed. - which aren't necessarily contradictory] might seem another instance of the trouble candidates get into when ideological consistency meets the demands of practical politics. This was the point Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, made when he said, in mild rebuke of Mr. Paul, “I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here.”

But Mr. Paul’s position is complicated. He has emerged as the politician most closely identified with the Tea Party movement. Its adherents are drawn to him because he has come forward as a kind of libertarian originalist, unbending in his anti-government stance. The farther he retreats from ideological purity, the more he resembles other, less attractive politicians.

In this sense, Mr. Paul’s quandary reflects the position of the Tea Partiers, whose antipathy to government, rooted in populist impatience with the major parties, implies a repudiation of politics and its capacity to effect meaningful change.

Although Tanenhaus provides a fairly non-judgmental opinion here, he is also quite clearly trying to imply a racist undertone to the Tea Party movement. At best, he is suggesting that Rand, and thus Tea Partiers, are smugly indifferent to the vagaries of racial prejudice, and all too ready to sacrifice the well-being of those who suffer most from such discrimination on the altar of libertarian purism. While it’s true that libertarians can be just as prone to fits of utopianism as any good Marxist, Tanenhaus’ conjecture relies on at least two fundamental misunderstandings: (1) that adherence to principles of liberty can only be maintained from a standpoint of ideological purity; and (2) that distrust of government intrusion equals “anti-government.”

Taking the second point first, there has been a concerted effort by the left to portray libertarians in general, and Tea Partiers specifically, as some sort of “anti-government” force. Tanenhaus attempts to support this myopic view by equating Rand’s skepticism regarding certain portions of the ’64 Act with an unbending aversion to government in toto. In turn, all those in favor of limited government, and especially those opposed to the unnecessary and unwanted expansion of federal powers witnessed in the past couple of years, are labeled as anti-government ideologues, who mistake the theoretical for the practical. Yet, in truth, the views of libertarians and the Tea Party crowd are not terribly different from those of this nation’s founders in that regard. Distrust of government, after all, was what led to the formation of a constitution that limited its powers and explicitly placed the source of all such power in the hands of the people. That is not an anti-government stance, but a pro-limited-government and pro-liberty view. Tanenhaus’ misapprehension of that fact leads to a portrayal of Rand et al. as some sort of anarchist radicals bent on destroying government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Turning to Rand’s comments on the ’64 Act, we should all have a problem with government intrusion into our private affairs. A good argument can be made that without such intrusion the invidious racist practices targeted by the ’64 Act would have continued for quite a while, but that is simply an end-justifies-the-means argument that misses the most important reason to be skeptical of such intrusions: once government has such power it rarely, if ever, gives it up, but instead extends its reach into other areas as well. Yes, that is a “slippery slope” argument, but one that in this case is well founded in fact. Indeed, the ’64 Act itself, based on Congress’ Commerce Clause powers, serves as the perfect illustration of why the slippery slope should be minded. Since the end of the Lochner era, and the concurrent expansion of Commerce Clause power, the federal government has arrogated to itself the ability to control almost every level of your business and personal activity, right down to what you may or may not ingest, and how you can can receive health care when you get sick. Again, whether some of these results are “good” is beside the point that the means of obtaining them requires a suppression of liberty and an expansion of centralize government power. For that reason, and that reason alone, Rand is right to question the necessity of certain provisions of the ’64 Act, even if eventually he would have voted in favor of it (and leaving aside the cogent, and certainly correct, arguments that federal government had the requisite power to enact those provisions through the 13th Amendment). And, again, none of that stance make he or anyone who supports him some sort of “anti-government” radical.

In the same way, questioning invasive government powers in defense of liberty does not make one an impractical ideologue. For starters, freedom isn’t just an idea or some sort of construct; government is. Like pure oxygen, it’s rare to find in the natural order of things, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In contrast, government had to be invented from the ideas of man. Accordingly, it is not ideological to take the view that, as Justice Scalia once noted, individual liberty is the default position and government control over it must be constitutionally and specifically justified, not the other way around. Our very country was founded on this basic principle. Yet, the critics of Rand Paul, libertarians and Tea Partiers get this exactly backwards.

Moreover, just because something is practical, doesn’t warrant an eradication of individual liberty. Perhaps it is true that de facto Jim Crow would have lingered in the absence of those ’64 Act provisions preventing private discrimination. If so, then the practical application of those laws would seem to trump the individual liberty of the racists who tried to perpetuate that era. Yet, can it truly be said that the ’64 Act was responsible for bringing an end to discrimination, or since we know it still exists, its retardation? Isn’t there a much better argument to be made that Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and all those civil rights activists of the 50’s and 60’s who lent their blood, sweat and tears — and sometimes their very lives — to the cause had a much greater impact than the 88th Congress? In this sense, while the ’64 Act may have been practical in regards to expediency, was it really necessary especially in consideration of the cost to personal freedom? Even if the answer to that last question is a fully justified “Yes” (and maybe it is), raising it does not make one an ideologue impervious to the realities of life. It simply makes one a principled defender of liberty, which one can be without being a mindless utopian.

Looking at this whole issue from a broader perspective, the real problem here is a basic misunderstanding of freedom. One can love liberty and still support government. From a libertarian point of view, government is simply an ordered, less brutal means of securing to ourselves the ability to pursue freedom by donating limited powers to the governing organization. Instead of defending all property with the barrel of a gun, we look to the judicial system. Rather than depend on the will and wherewithal of individuals to defend our society from its enemies, we support a national defense. As opposed to having each and every transaction among people be subject to individual contract, we recognize the ability of legislatures to set certain standards for the conduct of society. We may disagree as to where the limits should be set on each of these governmental powers, but libertarians are fully cognizant of the fact that having some sort of governmental structure is more desirable than having none. And yet, we also unapologetically and jealously guard our freedom, ever mindful that liberty lost is rarely regained without serious strife and deadly consequences.

In short, although we may question authority, we do not seek to abolish it. While we may defend the liberty of even the most odious of individuals, that does not mean we support their anti-social behaviors. Libertarians, and all lovers of freedom, have firm, historical reasons for challenging intrusions into their lives. We do not need to be ideologues to do so, and the practical effects of that suspicion of power has led directly to the greatest expansion of wealth and prosperity for the largest number of people in history. Freedom, at times, may be ugly up close, but it is still the most beautiful thing that has ever existed, bar none. Defense thereof requires an adherence to reality, not flights of fancy.