(I offer this introductory note on December 1st, 2013: I wrote this in a rush of great anger, and have avoided revisiting it because I have no desire to re-experience that anger. I apologize for any issues of spelling or grammar that are extant due to lack of revision. I offer that apology, and no other.)
(Almost all supporting text and links, are done through footnotes, so a reader might quickly see the title of the article, as well as immediate supporting information, without having to hover or click on a link.)
A post prompted for a simple practical reason: over the next few months there will be a number of significant fights, the most important over gun regulation, and it will be valuable to perhaps give context to some intellectual partisans. I settle on Conor Friedersdorf first, because he is often perceived as someone outside of the traditional partisanship of left and right, a man devoted entirely to reason and honest discourse, and his opinions are often presented and re-circulated in this context, perhaps the most notable, “Why I Refuse To Vote For Barack Obama”, where his argument that his objection to the president’s abuse of executive power prevented him from further supporting the president, and why he was voting for Gary Johnson. He was perhaps the most high profile dissenter, that I know of, of voting for either major party this past election. No doubt, if he makes any pronouncements on any legislation on guns, or actions taken against the NRA, he’ll have equally lofty pronouncements, and they may well carry equivalent weight. For this post, I did my best to read everything written by him in The Atlantic from the past year and a half, with the purpose to both honestly inform, to provide a solid background of his work, as well as bluntly tactical: I do think providing such past context will demonstrate that Mr. Friedersdorf is clearly an ideological writer, cleaving first and foremost to libertarian priorities then the facts of any problem, and this will destroy some of the moral weight of his pronouncements. Further: I think the prominence of Friedersdorf as perhaps the only ideological radical in any centrist, mainstream publication, by which I mean a man who looks at every problem almost solely through the perspective of ideology, demonstrates something of the larger media context now, of what views are allowed to be radical, and what radical views a magazine might point to as a demonstration that it has a diversity of views.
I hesitated with writing this piece, as I am too often consumed with animus, and I do not think the world needs any more of it. The position of reader and a professional writer such as Mr. Friedersdorf, at this present time is one almost designed to generate this mutual feeling. The writer must produce endless content to satisfy the demand of perpetual, unending appetites. He is assailed in comments for reasons of ideology and technical flaws, which further distances the writer from the reader – rather than being able to imagine an ideal reader, they very clearly meet the unideal reader. The best, most convenient format for mass content is the authoritative think piece, an analysis or opinion on some current subject, and the attitude of such pieces, as opposed to journalism or fiction, ends up being a variation of “I will tell you what is the proper attitude according to my expert analysis”, and this itself creates an alienation between reader and writer, a teacher lecturing pupils. The reader expresses anger at the writer in the comments, and this further distances writer from reader, intensifies the feeling of isolation between the two, and reinforces the lecture posture, a well-behaved instructor telling the huddled masses what’s what. That one is lectured to on political issues only intensifies one sense of powerlessness – political institutions will not respond, and now you will be told how you are to blame, how your dissent is wrong, how you should all do with less by a writer who has a great deal more. I have been guilty of this as much as many, never issuing violent threats, but often replying angrily to the writer, out of the indignity of being lectured to, of being treated as a moral inferior, a less knowing creature – all these things. My most recent angry replies were to Mr. Friedersdorf’s blog post where he eulogized Ron Paul’s departure from Congress, and to one of his posts on the Newtown massacre. If I had greater strength of character, I would make some attempt at apology, but I lack it. I am to some degree a broken man: were I a landscape, I would be a frozen lake on which a broken rainbow casts its light, this prismatic line almost entirely an intense, bloody red, the other colors almost entirely greyed out. I wish simply to win certain fights, most notably on gun control – not for the purpose of humiliating anyone on the other side, including Mr. Friedersdorf, but for the material and social benefits of such fights. My post title is partly malign and partly not: I believe Mr. Friedersdorf to have relevance, but on a much more restricted, more partisan spectrum than assumed.
I will be very critical of Mr. Friedersdorf, so I will first praise him: as a journalist, he often conveys the attitude of a respectful and diligent listener. He did not observe #OWS from afar and cast judgement, but actively engaged with them1. When the legislative council handed down its points, he quoted them in full, gave each individual dissent, and did not just summarize them dismissively2. He spoke with equal respect to RNC delegates, treating them not as primal creatures who might be the source for quick caricatures, but simple folk, and by simple, I do not mean uncomplicated, but not as political ideas clothed in human skin3. He gave a thorough, diligent description of police brutality incidents that took place at #OWS, possibly the only thing of its kind in a centrist publication4. He gave equal attention to such incidents that took place at UC Davis5. His description of torture practices during the Bush administration and the effects of drone warfare are uncompromising and consistent, again one of the more radical, on-going critiques to appear in such a publication6 – Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, of course, writes on this subject as well, but less frequently, and more focused on journalism centered on specific instances, with Friedersdorf’s only equivalent in this regard Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Salon, now of The Guardian.
He describes as a libertarian, with his writing not devoted to any specific ideology7, but his concerns almost entirely map onto libertarian ones with regard to the coercive power and size of the state: an end to the drug war, gay marriage, the intrusive power of the NSA, the war on whistleblowers, the president not consulting congress for the libyan war, an end to federal subsidies for agriculture, greater sovereignty for individual states, the unconstitutionality of health care reform, entitlement reform and the debt burdens of greedy public sector unions.
At no point is an issue brought up that might not involve the libertarian concern for a smaller, less intrusive state. For instance, I would argue the most pressing issue of the last four years has been the level of unemployment and the amount of people who have dropped out of the workforce out of despair, and the poverty accompanying this lack of work. I think it is possible to write about this, raising the issues of why there is work lacking in that area, easily, in a manner that the impetus for writing on the problem is not a state or free market solution, but the urgency of the problem itself. One focuses on the issue not because there is a solution that your partisans could provide, there may be neither, but because the problem demands to be looked at. What is striking in Mr. Friedersdorf’s work, is that despite this long-term crisis, there is barely any mention of such poverty or unemployment, unless as it relates to size of the state issues. There are two pieces on how mandatory licensing keeps the unemployed from selling goods and services8, there is a post on how the drug war most directly affects the poor9, and a post on the possibility of financial compensation for organ donors10. There’s also a piece calling for an austerity budget, despite Paul Krugman calling such a move a disaster, and despite the horrific effects it would have on unemployment and the poor, for the simple reason that such budget cutting should not be put off11.
Were you to ask me in this past year the most pressing issues an american family would encounter over the next fifty years that overlap with state involvement (though this does not preclude private market involvement), I would put down energy projects and carbon taxes to deal with global warming; gun control; campaign finance regulation and reform; banking regulation and reform; runaway state legislatures passing xenophobic bills on self-deportation, gays, and muslims; runaway state legislatures passing bills restricting abortion and contraception; infrastructure repair and high speed rail; increased or more effectively targeted federal education subsidies; student debt relief; a rise in my state’s pollution and cutback in its services because of industry deregulation, a refusal to raise income taxes, along with low taxes and giveaways for any company that moved to the state. When Mr. Friederdorf gives an imaginary anecdotal list, they include your father being killed by a drone strike, getting beaten down by a cop, being deported after the NSA listens in on a phonecall, poor language skills due to low quality public sector teachers, and OSHA over-regulation of halal meat12.
There is, in fact, a hostile attitude towards relief of any kind in these difficult times, other than calling for an end to the war on drugs. Mr. Friedersdorf, a man who describes growing up in an upper-middle class Orange County neighbourhood, travelling to Europe and around the world, attending undergrad and grad school, does not quite speak from having known a life of need. He appears to mistake his life and those close to him for everyone else’s, writing of the possibility in “large parts of america” of being able, on a pure whim, to quit one’s job, borrow $100,000, and spend a year studying journalism13. His description of a typical grad student is someone who supports themselves at the Kennedy school of government by being a summertime yoga instructor14. The possibility of student debt relief is dismissed in his only post on the subject, “Pandering to a Privileged Class”: with the example of the Obamas cited as the only example. Here were two people at the top of their class, from excellent schools, who ended up at choice law firms. Yes, they had some difficulty paying their student bills starting out, but why should such people in such choice circumstances get relief? Aren’t most students with outstanding student loans like them? Money available for possible student relief should instead be spent on full scholarships15. To hand out money for student debt relief, according to Mr. Friedersdorf, in “a country with impoverished immigrants and struggling high school dropouts and hard-pressed single mothers” is perverse. This group, those in such need, are never addressed again by Mr. Friedersdorf. One can only assume they will be helped by the end of the drug war and being able to sell food on the streets.
The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is brought up, and Mr. Friedersdorf explains why it’s reasonable for some to view it as unconstitutional16. He never otherwise brings up the issue of medical bills or what should be done about health costs. He states why he thinks women’s contraception should not be covered under the government plan: doing so would be unfair to those who don’t use such contraception, such as lesbians, or those who don’t use it as much as the sluttier sluts (yes, dear reader, those are my words, not his)17. He gives no mention of why women should be singled out for this exceptional treatment, nor of any of the wide variety of people who, through various lifestyle choices, may incur higher health care costs than others18. He is deeply critical of catholic institutions being coerced to purchase contraception against their values – though he writes of an obvious distinction between a catholic affiliated institution and others, he gives no basis for why such an institution should have a right not to distribute such contraception (even though its employees may want it), while a business run by a fervent catholic does not have such a right (“Federal Court Rules That Hobby Lobby Is Not Exempt From Obamacare’s Contraception Mandate”, by Amanda Peterson Beadle), or whether catholic hospitals with or without government funding, should be able to refuse to provide contraception to rape victims, as Linda McMahon advocated in her 2012 governor’s bid (“Linda McMahon: Catholic Hospitals Should Be Allowed To Deny Emergency Contraception To Rape Victims” by Aviva Shen)19. These points, that lesbians should have to pay for contraception, and that catholic institutions should have to buy it, are cited as examples of liberal intolerance for values different from their own, comparable to those who refuse to let gay couples get married20. That these might be examples of something else, an intolerance of women exerting certain rights is not considered. There was no war on women, he re-assures us. There are simply some politicians who are pro-life, and some who had sound economic reasons for not subsidizing women’s contraception, and the democratic party exploited women’s fears over this21.
The growing income gap, the other major story of the past two years, gets only incidental mention. That there are different classes is conceded, but it is not, despite what Charles Murray says, defined by the beer they drink – “sometimes [it’s] Charles Murrayesque elites who ought to step outside their self-imposed confines, other times it is the white working class that ought to do so”22. We are lectured on the folly that successful commerce builds on, or can be said to be dependent in any way with public projects, that, yes, an entrepreneur can claim to build something entirely apart from society, as the same public resources are available to everyone, the successful entrepreneur and everyone else23. When Mitt Romney says that he doesn’t care about poor people, Friedersdorf assures us that very rarely do politicians care about poor people. This is bad, and it would be good if it were different, but meanwhile, we should give Romney credit for speaking so honestly – “shouldn’t we prefer a political discourse where forthrightness of that kind isn’t treated as a fault?”24 The irrationality of the statements of the “47% tape” are addressed, but never how such callousness might influence Romney’s policies towards the poor and dependent25. We are also assured, without evidence, that Obama says equally contemptible things about his supporters behind closed doors – in a rather sloppy and dishonest misreading, this tape is described as equal to Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” speech26. This rather astonishing moment when the class divide waas laid bare, does not bring about any discussion of the divide or any remedies. In his piece, “Why I Refuse To Vote For Mitt Romney, his lack of fiscal conservatism is brought up, but the man’s policies towards the middle class and the less well off go entirely unmentioned27.
The only mention those in the working class and the service industry get is through pieces lamenting the expense and power of unions28. They are blamed entirely for the bankruptcy of California – that effects of Proposition 13 are never brought up, nor the loss of tax revenue through the loss of federal defense work29. I do not suggest that Proposition 13 would necessarily be the sole culprit, only that it is given no mention whatsoever. The difficulties of the middle class are never made the specific focus of a post either, though attempts to claw back revnues from the very wealthy, such as Eduardo Saverin, who give up their american citizenship to avoid paying taxes, are given two posts30. A related middle class issue, such as debt collection practices against those who got credit cards and now make onerous payments at post-teaser rates, is never given notice.
I make this lengthy overview to make clear that Mr. Friedersdorf’s perspective is not entirely our own. He is like a man who sees certain spectra of light very well, and is entirely blind to others. He notes immediately, and is outraged, by drone killings and illegal wiretapping; the hunger, the poverty, the desperation in his own country do not appear to exist. That his reader might have had a very different life, with student debt, hospital bills, great difficulty finding work, seems to go unnoticed as well – the assumption is that you are of the same social class as he. Discussing one of Charle Murray’s ideas, he says “the conceit is that America’s ruling class, including journalists like me and cosmopolitan readers like you, exist in a cultural bubble.” As if having a curiousity to read, for ideas, for argument, that would cause you to read The Atlantic could necessarily be linked to one social and economic class.
This affects his approach to his work on drone warfare and executive overreach, which is good, though also limited, I think, by viewing it in the context only in ideological terms. It is extraordinarily repetitive, and I think unnecessarily so. The key points – that the libyan war was unauthourized by congress, the secret kill list, the war on whistleblowers, wiretapping – are reiterated over and over again, an example of the hubris of Obama in his seizure of such great executive power31. Despite his stating that he is a jaded man, Mr. Friedersdorf presents this as a manichean issue. Obama was good when he ran for president, then he acted badly when he took over the executive, the implication that executive power itself corrupts. Mr. Friedersdorf never gives us any hint or insight as to what may have happened – executive powers simply corrupt32. That Obama may have attempted the surge in Afghanistan because of the possibility of providing some secure protection for Afghans from the taliban after american forces leave is never brought up. That Obama may have wanted to stay in Iraq longer so that there would be time for certain native institutions to develop allowing for the Sunni and Kurd minorities to have some possibility of safety is never said. I am not saying those reasons are necessarily valid, or that they couldn’t be countered – I am saying that they go entirely unmentioned. Mr. Friedersdorf says that he is against absolutist thinking, but his thinking here is absolutist – Obama said he would begin the pull-out from Afghanistan at a certain date and he didn’t – this is a broken promise. He makes this same approach in another area which I find troublesome – he condemns Obama for not closing Guantanamo, though it is well-known that the president did make such an effort, and that the congress, especially the republicans, immediately reacted to this, often in the most reactionary and hysteric terms. There is nothing wrong with Mr. Friedersdorf arguing for closure despite this factor, but, as far as I can tell, he does not ever mention congress’s part in this, ever33.
It is when Mr. Friedersdorf argues in favor of two political candidates, first Ron Paul, then Gary Johnson, in reaction to these policies that my ire rises. He considers Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the entire republican primary field except for Jon Huntsman and Johnson to be unacceptable, for reasons of fiscal policy and the war state. He considers the policies of Barack Obama utterly amoral, quite likely illegal, and questions the moral calibre of any person who accepts Obama given his policies in this area34. Leaving aside the racism of Ron Paul for the moment, an obvious, major obstacle that would keep many from supporting Ron Paul would be his utter destruction of the social safety net35. Mr. Friedersdorf never brings up issues of unemployment relief or medical bills in any part of his blog, and he doesn’t bring them up here – they simply do not exist. Where for many of his readers this would be a difficult balance – however much they want the drone program to end, can they afford to have the floor for their wages threatened? what if things suddenly go very wrong for their chronicly ill sister? would there be any medical relief whatsoever under a Paul administration? – these are of no concern to Mr. Friedersdorf, and he does not appear to expect such issues to be raised. After all, we are all cosmopolitans, members of America’s ruling class. Those anxious voters have nothing to fear, argues Mr. Friedersdorf – Paul will successfully end the drug war and overseas commitments, while his more extreme ideas related to gold and the fed will be stopped by congress36. Those who have seen how easily republicans eviscerate the social safety net, while affirming a strong defense and family values at home, may well believe that Mr. Friedersdorf has things very much the wrong way around. This one of the only times he touches on the extraordinary negative economic impact a Paul presidency might bring about – he usually prefers to repeat over and over the morality of Paul’s small state vision and the amorality of Obama’s security state. He has better things to think about than the evisceration of the safety net, and he does not expect his readers to think about it either.
A brief aside: this utter indifference to the social welfare of the most vulnerable of society is not exclusive to his enthusiasm for Ron Paul, but continues with his son, Rand Paul, as well. Rand is often celebrated in Mr. Friederdorf’s posts for his brave stands against the TSA, the surveillance state, and the war state37. Though Friederdorf extols “reason” and “civilized discourse”, he does not seem to make mention of when Rand compared the U.S. government to Nazi germany, when he compared the upholding of Obamacare to Dred Scot, or when he repeated claims about the National Weather Bureau stockpiling ammunition38. When Rand talks about how the Kentucky mining industry should be able to regulate itself, after he receives contributions from coal companies such as Murray Energy, which coerces its workers into donating to the company’s chosen candidates, and those same mines collapse and kill miners after numerous safety violations, don’t expect it to be mentioned39. When Rand blocks disaster relief, blocks relief for disabled and elderly refugees, or, most egregiously, Rand stops passage of a jobs for veterans bill because he didn’t get something he wanted, it will not be noted by Mr. Friederdorf40. A photo of a maimed veteran is useful as a show of anti-war piety, but when it comes to getting work for them, that has nothing to do with libertarianism, or the smaller state: they’re not cosmopolitans, they’re not part of america’s ruling class, and they can go fuck themselves.
We can now transition to the period where Paul’s racist newsletters were re-discovered, the public made well aware of their contents. Even if Paul was in some way responsible for the vile content of these newsletters, Mr. Friedersdorf argued, his desire to end the war on drugs, drone warfare, and other executive excesses made him the morally superior choice to Barack Obama. There was a small intellectual game being played here – any person who took over the executive while the drug war was on-going, while the war in Afghanistan was going, etc. became less moral than any man outside who sought the presidency and claimed they wished to end those policies, as the executive’s hands immediately became stained with the blood of the dead41. This rather cheap intellectual game might be played by anyone – a member of the KKK, a rapist, a pedophile, Charles Manson – might all claim moral superiority to the president, according to this calculus, because they had not killed as many people with their bare hands as had died from drones or the Afghan war. It is a cheap game, and a simple-minded one. That such newsletters might indicate the pathology of a disturbed man, and such a figure should not be anywhere near the power of the presidency went unmentined – the machinery of government itself, its ability to inflict war and coerce, was seen as an unconscionable evil separate from those who might take charge. As before, the effect of Ron Paul’s policies on the safety net was never brought into the calculus.
After this debacle, Mr. Friedersdorf’s attention now shifted to the libertarian candidate in the general election, Gary Johnson. Again, the music was the same as before: those who supported Barack Obama were morally compromised because of his war state policies, as opposed to those who voted for Johnson, who, as Mr. Friedersdorf reiterated again and again, would end drone warfare, would close Guantanamo Bay, would finally stop the process of endless wars.
This is where we might look more in-depth at Gary Johnson, who is far less known to the general public than Ron Paul. Mr. Friedersdorf wrote an early profile of the man, “The Zen of Gary Johnson”, and I excerpt its essence here:
Gary Johnson, 58, served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, ousting an incumbent by a 10 point margin, and handily winning reelection four years later. In his first months in office, he vetoed outright almost half of all bills brought to his desk in order to cut spending. He announced his support for legalizing marijuana in his second term, becoming the highest ranking politician in the US government to take that controversial position.
We’ve got differences, but he’s a successful two-term governor, a fiscal hawk, and almost alone in advocating an end to America’s unaffordable wars (drugs, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya). He seemed like a younger Ron Paul with executive experience and without the gold obsession or racist newsletter baggage.
“You’ll never go wrong by telling the truth. Never. I told my cabinet, it’s going to be the truth. If any of you get yourselves in a situation, that we’ve made a mistake or whatever, I don’t want us to ever make the statement that we can’t comment because of legal restraint. We all need to comment. We all need to tell the truth all the time. And we’ll let the lawyers catch up with the truth.”
“Letting the lawyers catch up with the truth” may be the most radical anti-establishment position in contemporary American politics. Would a president who actually always told the truth be a fantastic success? A dangerous failure? Personally, it’s a gamble I’d like to take.
I don’t think this deviates from the overall tone of the full piece. No further details of his governorship of New Mexico are given. I should note here that several times Mr. Friedersdorf chastises others for the sycophantic or sentimental attitudes towards the current president42.
This, however, is not the only profile of Johnson that was written. A far fuller, more complex, more disturbing, and far, far better one was put together just before election day by Marc Ames, for the Not Safe For Work Corporation: “The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics”. Mr. Ames, along with his erstwhile associate Matt Taibbi, and the bete noir of The Atlantic, Moe Tkacik43, are to my mind, far truer radicals than Mr. Friedersdorf, critical of the president’s security state policies, as well as the disgusting abandonment of the worst off in society. They are of a very different sensibility than my own, but I greatly appreciate them for the same reason Lincoln praised Grant: they fight.
“Swindle” gives Johnson’s background fuller detail*: he cut taxes, cut social program spending, took a very hardline attitude towards crime, including drug related crimes, and promised to veto any bills that involved new spending for drug treatment centers. The major achievements cited by Johnson during his presidential run (none of the following are mentioned in the Friedersdorf profile) include cutting welfare spending by 30%, privatizing half the state prisons, and allowing non-union labor to be used in public construction. A notable public project was the widening of a New Mexico highway which ended up costing the state over $350 million dollars, requiring the governor to borrow the money through a federal bond. This project, again, goes entirely unmentioned in both “The Zen of Gary Johnson” or any subsequent writing by Mr. Friedersdorf on the man. The only specific legislative point mentioned is that, yes, in his second term, Johnson decided to legalize marijuana, though, again, unmentioned in Mr. Friedersdorf’s profile – he refused to give blanket pardons to anyone serving drug convictions in New Mexico jails.
More interesting than Johnson himself are the campaign associates this profile brings up. They include Maureen Otis, the woman heading “Our American Initiative”, the nonprofit backing Johnson, a figure with close ties to the hard-right anti-immigrant Minutemen movement, and who ran a company, “American Caging”, involved in minority vote suppression. Another associate, Jim Lacy, was involved in dirty tricks in California elections, sending mailers featuring pictures of liberal icons such as Robert Kennedy mixed in with conservative names so as to confuse democrats into voting republican. Lacy also backed minutemen groups, produced birther propaganda, and was involved in lawsuits to get Obama to release his birth certificate. There’s also Joe Hunter, a spokesman for anti-immigrant group “Utahns For Official English”, which managed to make english the only official language of the state. Rouding out the group behind Johnson was Roger Stone, a dirty trickster who started out with Nixon, and has helped various republican presidential candidates in the murkier, dirtier parts of a campaign. One achievement was his organization in 2000, of the Brooks brother riot, which disrupted the presidential vote count in Miami44.
More significantly, in 1980, he was involved in getting Roger Anderson, that year’s third party candidate on the ballot in New York, thereby splitting the democrat vote between Anderson and Carter, handing the state’s electoral votes to Carter. A similar strategy may have been planned in 2012 as well, with the democratic vote split between Obama and the pot-friendly Johnson, handing vital state votes to Romney. Though this story is well-sourced, none of this is mentioned, even simply to refute it, in Mr. Friedersdorf’s writing on Johnson.
This leads to other relevant details that I found through this excellent piece by Mr. Ames, none of which get mention by Mr. Friedersdorf in his writing on Johnson. Remember: he stresses again and again that the reason he can vote for a clean conscience for the libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is for his record on drones, closing Guantanamo, and an end to belligerence overseas. He cites the use of drones in Pakistan as his top dealbreaker in “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama”.
I quote his endorsement of Johnson from that piece:
There is a candidate on the ballot in at least 47 states, and probably in all 50, who regularly speaks out against that post-9/11 trend, and all the individual policies that compose it. His name is Gary Johnson, and he won’t win. [the link goes to a short profile of Johnson by The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball – it also contains none of the details of the Ames piece] I am supporting him because he ought to. Liberals and progressives care so little about having critiques of the aforementioned policies aired that vanishingly few will even urge that he be included in the upcoming presidential debates.
The following clips that I use here were all available, on the web, easily available for everyone to examine and make mention of.
Here is Johnson in an interview on Fox News with Andrew Napolitano. It deals with Guantanamo Bay.
NAPOLITANO: Governor, should we close Guantanamo Bay? Should they be either tried in federal district courts, or returned to their countries, or should we keep it open, and leave them uncharged for the rest of their lives?
JOHNSON: Well, when president Obama didn’t close Guantanamo Bay, and that was one of his promises, I really looked into the issue, and I had a lot of prominent libertarians tell me, if it weren’t for Guantanamo that we would have to create that situation somewhere else. So, I’ve kinda been sold on the notion that this is something we have to have whether it’s…if it’s not Guantanamo, it’s going to be somewhere else…that these are enemy combatants, and not U.S. citizens, I’ve been wooed over to the side that there’s a reason for keeping it open.
Now, Johnson in an interview with Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller,“Gary Johnson’s strange foreign policy”, on Afghanistan policy, drone strikes, and some very confused thinking on Iran:
Libertarian Party presidential contender Gary Johnson has been portrayed as an anti-war candidate, but that isn’t quite so clear.
Johnson sat down with reporters and editors from The Daily Caller last week, generously providing his time to answer any and all questions, no matter how difficult or ludicrous.
But when pressed on foreign policy topics throughout the interview, Johnson gave answers that didn’t always seem to add up and were often, at best, unorthodox positions for a man who has been painted as a non-interventionist.
Johnson said that while he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily stop drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, even though he believes they create more enemies than they kill.
“I would want leave all options on the table,” Johnson said.
But if Johnson plans on leaving Afghanistan, how does he plan to leave the option of a drone campaign against al-Qaida elements in Pakistan on the table?
“So now you have the U.S. bases that exist in those areas, do we shut down those military bases? Perhaps not,” he suggested, taking an odd position for a supposed anti-war candidate.
“I would completely withdraw our military presence,” he further expounded. “Does withdrawing our military presence from Afghanistan mean that we would still have a base open in Afghanistan if they allowed us to keep a base open? Perhaps.”
On Iran, Johnson said that if “Iran launches a nuclear warhead they can be assured that they will no longer exist.”
“None of their country will be left to stand and that will be from Israel,” he said, confident that the threat of nuclear retaliation would prevent the Islamic Republic from using any nuclear weapon it obtained.
Johnson went on to say that he doesn’t think Iran has seriously been engaged diplomatically. So what would Johnson say that hasn’t been said to get Iran to reconsider developing a nuclear weapon?
“Look, ‘Don’t develop a nuclear weapon,’” he proffered.
You don’t think that’s been said, TheDC asked?
“’So if we open up trade with you all, we’d like to be a trading partner,’” he added.
Seriously, you don’t think that has been put on the table in negotiations, TheDC asked?
Johnson then pivoted and suggested that there wasn’t any evidence that Iran was developing, or ever wanted, a nuclear weapon.
“Am I not correct in saying that Iran has never voiced that they are developing a nuclear weapon, nor do they have any intention of using a nuclear weapon against the United States?” he asked.
“That’s never actually been voiced. I don’t know where that has come from, but it hasn’t been from Iran.”
So if he doesn’t believe Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or has any intention of developing a nuclear weapon, why is he even suggesting negotiations? Shouldn’t we just open up trade with Iran without asking for anything in return in that case?
“I would be in that camp,” he conceded.
Finally, with regard to ending wars overseas, here is Johnson on a Fox News panel shows, outflanking Obama on the right, arguing for a strike team to go into Uganda to kill Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. He argues this is different from Libya, because Kony is committing genocide. Like Charles Krauthammer, a guest on the panel, I am unable to understand the distinction between the Libyan rebels being wiped out and what’s taking place in Uganda. I should emphasize that these are simple interviews, and that Mr. Friedersdorf felt that Paul Ryan made clear that he was not qualified to be president based on his performance at a VP debate: “The VP Debate Cinches It: Paul Ryan Is Unqualified to Step In as POTUS”. Ask yourself while reading this, in terms of coherence and focus, how different this is from anything Herman Cain has ever said:
FOX NEWS GAL: So the president’s said that he’s sending a hundred troops to Central Africa, to combat the LRA, Joseph Kony. Would you support this if you were president? Is this something you would do?
JOHNSON: You know, in thinking about this, he signed legislation…Congress authorized that this is what needed to take place…he signed that legislation as president. If I were president, and I signed that legislation, I would have had an action plan ready to go immediately. From all appearances, this really does seem to be genocide. I mean, this really seems to be…these are really bad actors, a finite number of fighters…whatever that number is, I don’t know if I’d be sending advisers there, as immediately as after signing the legislation, sent a strike force to wipe them out.
KRAUTHAMMER: That’s very non-libertarian of you.
JOHNSON: Well, I’ve always said that genocide is something that none of us want to stand by and watch happen. From everything I can ascertain from this situaiton, this does qualify for genocide.
KRAUTHAMMER: What about the Qaddafi threat, when he was winning the war against the rebels at the beginning…to wipe out the people, his opponents in Benghazi. Would you have sent the army to go and prevent that?
JOHNSON: No, I would not have. I did not see a military threat from Libya. That’s another issue here with the Lord’s Resistance Army, is that this is their nation. We’re talking about a foreign dictator here. I don’t think there’s anything in the constitution that says because we don’t like a foreign leader we should go in and topple that foreign leader.
KRAUTHAMMER: But I’m not sure if I understand. Clearly the Liberation Army in Uganda is not a threat, to the United States. Yet you would say you would send a strike force. You can argue equally, whether Qaddafi is the leader of a country or not, he was a threat to the people of Benghazi, and you would not. I’m not sure I understand the logic.
JOHNSON: Well, uh, these are the questions that I…another thing I would do as president of the United States, I would be really transparent. Look, I’m signing this legislation authourizing wiping out the Lord’s Resistance Army, authourizing that legislation, on the other hand, going into Libya, I heard the transparency…I just didn’t see the military threat. And I did not see a military threat from the Lord’s Resistance Army. I do not see that as a threat to national security at all.
FOX NEWS GUY: There’s a lot of nuance.
JOHNSON: There’s a lot of nuance as president of the United States.
So, whereas those of us who vote for Obama vote for a man who was unable to close Guantanamo, engages in drone warfare, and has waged war overseas, Mr. Friedersdorf has cleaner hands, because he votes for Gary Johnson, the candidate who wants to keep Guantanamo open, has no problem with drone warfare, has no problem with Iran being wiped off the map if they develop a nuclear weapon, though he’s uncertain if they’ve even started working on one (hint: yes), and is willing to commit a Tom Clancy type strike team to Africa, where they’ll destroy an army of children, in a conflict that does not threaten in any way the United States. There are times when I would read Mr. Friedersdorf’s work and I would ask myself the question, and I ask it openly now: is there a hidden genius to this, is this writer plain ignorant, or is he a hypocritical opportunist? Here is a man has been steadily arguing that people should not vote for Obama because of his amoral, criminal policies, and who encourages them to instead vote for a candidate backed by noxious racists and con-men, whose policies violate the same principles which Mr. Friedersdorf ostentatiously waves like a proud flag.
I mentioned before that Mr. Friedersdorf’s perspective on politics is very manichean, with a bad Bush, a bad Obama, a good Johnson. His perspective on the country’s recent history is prelapsarian. He makes no criticism of any foreign policy after the Viet Nam war other than drug policy, after which the government was plunged into darkness by the two wars, indefinite detention, and the unwarranted surveillance of the Bush years, with the worst of such executive privileges continuing on under Obama.
He makes no criticsm of Reagan, who he cites as one of the only moments, other than Goldwater, that a movement conservative achieved success45. Reagan, of course, worked as an undercover agent while in Hollywood, reporting on communist activity to the FBI; then while president, placed troops in harm’s way in the Lebanese civil war; fought a war in Grenada; ran bombing raids without congressional authorization over Libya, killing one of Qadaffi’s infant children; mined the harbors of Nicaragua without congressional authorization or even notification; trained militias in Honduras and backed a government in El Salvador which certainly committed war crimes as well as mass murder46; and traded arms for hostages with Iran, violating congressional statutes, and which could well have led to his impeachment were it not for the grievous hurt such an action would inflict on the country fifteen years after Nixon’s dismissal. His successor, George H.W. Bush, who won via one of the most disgusting race-baiting ads in the age of TV election advertising, who Friedersdorf would have voted for if this man from 1988 had run in 201247, knew of the arms for hostages deal, and launched a war without congressional authorization in Panama.
So, let’s again re-iterate this case: Mr. Friedersdorf finds it unconscionable to vote for a man who wages drone warface and failed to close Guantanamo, instead voting for a candidate who has no problem with drone warfare, keeping Guantanamo open, and waging war in whatever random part of the earth he feels evil is done; furthermore, though he has deep, moral issues with Obama waging war without congressional authorization, he has no problem with Reagan engaging in several such wars without authorization, backing militias that engaged in war crimes, or selling weapons to enemies of the United States without congressional approval, nor does he have an issue with George H.W. Bush participating in such actions, or waging war without authorization himself – he, in fact, really really wishes such a man was running this year so he could vote for him. Again: genius, ignoramus, or opportunist?
As I’ve said before, I think Mr. Friedersdorf is of small relevance, rather than of no relevance, to a small spectrum of ideology. He has no appeal to republians right now, as they are entirely animated by tribal feeling, with a strong military remaining a sacred relic, a mark of america’s greatness. He has no appeal to the left, for they can find more in-depth investigations into the war state’s excesses in Jane Mayer, Seymour Hersh, countless marquee and fringe writers. His moral calls are utterly empty of appeal to any liberal who sees that his candidates are either a callous white supremacist or some right-wing loon who has no idea if Iran is building a bomb and wants to continue, or go further on many of the same policies that he calls “dealbreakers” – no progressive of some knowledge will concede to this pathetic bullying. There is only one group that might find some appeal in Friederdorf’s writing, and in this, he is the ideal radical of our time. In an era of a massive growing income gap, where the bonds of society are disappearing, Mr. Friedersdorf’s writing serves as useful affirmation to those libertarians at the top that not only is their credo more intellectual than those animals on the right, but they are more moral than those on the left, because they are for candidates who are against the surveillance and war state. That the candidates which Mr. Friedersdorf supports, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, are men who would do such damage to the safety net that only the wealthy could safely vote for such men with impunity, is not a liability but a virtue; Mr. Friedersdorf makes those in the top tier the most moral of men and women: because they are rich they can vote for those who tear apart the system for everyone but the rich, but because they are against the security state, they are the only moral ones who opt for the most virtuous choice. In this, Mr. Friedersdorf is the perfect radical of our dystopian culture, now, and his writing a helpful compass for an anthropologist of the future.
I near the end of this piece in the place where, a few days ago, something Mr. Friedersdorf wrote incited my anger. When he writes of the dead killed by a drone strike, they are an issue of moral outrage. When they are the dead of a mass shooting, and we are outraged, we are lectured that those angry over this constitute an elite, disconnected from the ordinary unrepresented gun owner (though I’ve heard of a gun lobby that does have some media connections), and those who are upset are the persecutors48:
There isn’t anything wrong with gun-control advocates lamenting what, by their lights, is a public that’s reaching wrongheaded conclusions on the subject and is trending in the wrong direction.
But too many pieces I’ve read make a mockery of robust debate in a pluralistic society by ignoring the fact that current policy is largely (though not entirely) a reflection of the U.S. public disagreeing with gun reformers. The average American is far more likely than the average journalist or academic to identify with gun culture, to insist that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms, to exercise that right, and to support various state concealed-carry laws. Perhaps persuasion can move the citizenry to favor a different status quo. That’s always a hurdle to clear in a democracy. Yet the ability to engage and persuade fellow citizens is undermined when public discourse obscures rather than confronts the relevant disagreements.
Opponents of gun control have been widely vilified in the past week. Very few attempts have been made to understand what motivates them — and given that they’re a subset of Americans with little representation in the national media, attempts at understanding would likely do a lot to inform the rest of the American public. For the most part, these people aren’t in fact motivated by selfishness, as so many critics have stated or implied in the last few days, and almost without exception, gun-control opponents are as horrified by the events in Newtown as anyone calling for a new assault-weapons ban or better background checks or a ban on ammunition.
The point isn’t whether they’re being treated fairly or not. It’s that a gun debate can only be productive in a country as pro-gun as this one when the folks on either side at least understand the deeply held disagreements at issue. So far, too many newly vocal reformers are operating under the conceit that if only America “finally” had a conversation about gun violence, everyone would immediately see the wisdom of the position reformers have advocated all along. One need only to reflect on the state of public opinion after decades of debating the issue to conclude that the conversational outcome many reformers presume isn’t at all certain.
If death and suffering is caused through state actions, it is an issue of public urgency. If it is the result of state neglect, there is sudden caution that we not do anything too drastic. A veteran in miserable condition is noteworthy as a reminder of the war state, and his condition should be given loud voice. That same veteran in utter misery because Rand Paul killed a veterans jobs bill is an inconvenience. We must be very careful, said Mr. Friedersdorf, that we do not infringe on the rights of gun-owners. Yes, just as the freedom of lesbians is curbed when heterosexual women are able to get contraception as part of their health plan, the freedom of people shooting an AK-47 everywhere they want is curbed when public space is set aside in which children shouldn’t be killed. I do not doubt that gun-owners have some rights to some weapons and their use; I do note that this is one of the only times that those affected by a political policy are brought up, whereas the needs of the poor, vulnerable, and elderly are never mentioned when discussing austerity or a candidate junking the social safety net.
Though Mr. Friedersdorf never brings up the context of a terrorist threat when discussing drone strikes, he brings up a bogeyman when there is a massacre: yes, there may well be the possibility that some legislation should pass, but he’s not sure he can trust gun legislation in the hands of Obama, a man who had such a penchant for uncontrolled executive power49:
Interpreted narrowly, I have no problem with Obama marshaling his power “to engage” his fellow citizens. I’d only add that this is a president whose general notion of presidential power extends beyond engagement to indefinite detention and secretly assassinating American citizens without due process. So if Obama ever tweaks his formulation slightly and promises to use “whatever power” his office has “to stop gun violence,” you’ll understand why I’ll shudder. I’ve seen what it means for American presidents to do “everything” in their power to stop U.S. children from dying in terrorist attacks: It has meant torture, dead innocents abroad, and attacks on due process. I’ve also seen presidents do “everything” in their power to keep drugs away from our children. What I wouldn’t give for a politician who promised to do “only the prudent things, and no more.”
Yes, it’s too bad Gary Johnson, a man who has no problem with drone strikes and who gets his foreign policy from a rejected Expendables screenplay isn’t in charge. So there is the inconvenience that these deaths were caused by state neglect, rather than state weapons, and there was an inconvenience that several members of the dreaded public services union had died valiantly trying to save children. This last also made me think of a post by an Atlantic colleague of Mr. Friedersdorf, Jordan Weismann, a man of our time as much as Mr. Friedersdorf, who wrote a recent post about “A Very Mean (but Maybe Brilliant) Way to Pay Teachers: A Freakonomics author and a ‘Genius Grant’ winner suggest that giving teachers bonuses, then threatening to yank them away, might be the key to classroom success.” Mr. Weissman, I can only those teachers of last Friday performed up to your standards. It’s too damn bad you weren’t able to make them do any better with any dirty tricks to play on them.
This piece ends here: a while back, Mr. Friedersdorf shifted his focus to the gunwalking scandal of “Fast and Furious”. He pointed to this issue as evidence of another of Obama’s duplicities, another example of his managerial incompetence50. He egged on the committee headed by Darryl Issa that was to go after Eric Holder, despite the partisan opportunism is always there, shrugged Mr. Friedersdorf51. Of course, Fortune magazine pointed out that there was no gunwalking scandal, that it had all been set off by some disgruntled employees52. Mr. Friedersdorf later compared the attention focused on the “Furious” scandal to the casualties of the mexican drug war, bemoaning the lack of leadership that would end this folly, and put an end to the violence53. In the Fortune piece, it is made clear the incredible ease with which you could buy a gun, and that drug gangs were buying them in Arizona, then transporting them easily over to Mexico, with the death rate in Mexico fueled just as much by the easy access to guns north of the border as it is by the demand for drugs54. It seems rather simple that all Mr. Friedersdorf needs to do to care as much about whether a pile of death is to be indifferent to whether it is the result of the drug war or gun sale deregulation. He often mentions how disappointed he is that president Obama didn’t take on the big lobbies that control Washington. Well, the president will soon be taking on a very big lobby in a few months over some dead children in a school. Perhaps, somehow, Mr. Friedersdorf can find some way to support, if not the president, that cause in the fight. This man likes to damn progressives in all sorts of ways, and so I return the favor in kind: if he cannot do even this because his ideology restrains him, then I think it’s quite clear he’s an utterly callous partisan hack. That is an incivility, but what does it matter? Those words cannot have been written, this piece cannot have been written, because it was written by someone from outside the cosmopolitans, outside the american ruling class, part of a group of people that do not exist to Mr. Friedersdorf, and therefore, they do not exist, and so this piece was never written, it was never written by a nothing man, by no one.
* I first heard of this story from a reddit link, “More evidence Gary Johnson was a scam” which focused on whether his ad spending indicated there was something ersatz about his candidacy; I did not focus on this and was uncertain of whether this claim was substantial enough. Many in the thread dismiss it, and they also argue about the “sketchiness” of the source publication in which the “Swindle” story originally appeared. However, all the claims made in the story appear to be solidly backed by linked material from other publications: an analysis of Johnson’s filing document, and the document themselves, listing Maureen Otis as the filer can be found at “Gary Johnson’s documents reveal puzzling trail” by Peter St. Cyr; his hardline stance on crime, and refusal to grant amnesty to those arrested on drug charges was first published in the Albequerque Journal; that Johnson brought private prison firms to New Mexico and received campaign funds from them is written about in the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Prison firms donate thousands to Richardson” by Steve Terrell; the expensive widening of U.S. 550, which had none of the intended impact on reducing accidents, is described in the Claims Journal, “Widening of U.S. 550 in New Mexico Didn’t Improve Safety, Economy”; some of James Lacy’s unsavory work is described in “Slate Nailer: Conservative James Lacy plays turncoat to sway elections” by Nick Schou, in the Orange County Weekly; the process of vote caging is described in “Vote Caging: What is Vote Caging and Why Should We Care?” by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate; Roger Stone’s account of getting Anderson on the ballot in New York state is given by Stone himself in “Roger Stone, Political Animal” by Matt Labash; the history of nasty tricks Stone has been involved in are described in the profile, “The Dirty Trickster”, by Jeffry Toobin, Rick Perlstein’s essential Nixonland and the definitive Roger Stone chronicler, Wayne Barrett, in such articles as “Sleeping With the GOP”, “Carl Paladino: The Dirty Details in His Campaign Filings”, and “The (Roger) Stone Around Carl Paladino’s Neck”;Johnson’s achievements, including the movement of state medicare cases to managed care, were on his old, now expired site, Johnson for America 2012 – they can still be found in his listing at the State Policy Network, a consortium of free market / libertarian think tanks. A supplemental note, Maureen Otis’s Twitter account (motislaw) lists her as treasurer of Restore America’s Voice PAC, listed at the Sunlight Foundation as having spent over a million and a half in expenditures opposing Barack Obama in the 2012 election. This PAC spent its money exclusively in opposition to Obama, and shows no expenditures in favor of Johnson.
(Following its initial posting, two major edits were made: a change was made to address catholic institutions as employers, rather than catholic hospitals accepting federal funds, regarding contraception and the universal mandate; the source links for the NSFW Corporation’s story on Johnson were added. These changes were made christmas day 2012.)
6 There are too many to mention all here. They include “The U.S. Constitution Is Worthless When John Yoo Interprets It”, “My Debate With John Yoo, Who Misunderstands the Constitution”, “The Terrifying Background of the Man Who Ran a CIA Assassination Unit”, “How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American”, and “Expanding CIA Drone Strikes Will Likely Mean More Dead Innocents”, “We’re Killing Alleged Militants Too Quickly to Reliably Determine Guilt”, “CNN’s Bogus Drone-Deaths Graphic”, “The Pentagon’s Vision: Drones Everywhere”, etc.
In concurrence with the creed of The Atlantic, I consider myself to be “of no party or clique,” and the best insight I can offer into my work is its premise: that a writer’s job is to strive for the truth, and to remember that he’ll sometimes be wrong. As a result, I am reticent to characterize myself politically on occasions when I’m really being asked, “Whose side are you on?” The answer to that question should never be “the liberal side” or “the conservative side,” unless the person being questioned is naive enough to think that one ideology or the other has a monopoly on truth.
In some ways, this childhood sounds a lot like my own. My parents are decent, hardworking people who tend to vote Republican. Raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood – far less ritzy than Brentwood, but no less safe or comfortable – I always had everything that I needed.
When I was twenty I spent a summer studying in Paris. I’d somehow persuaded Florida State University to let me tag along on their summer abroad program. I ate little but baguettes and pasta so that I could afford a weekend trip down to Nice and Monte Carlo with some classmates.
Think of it this way. In large parts of America, a college graduate can inform his parents or peers or a woman he meets via Ok Cupid that he is about to quit his job in public relations, borrow $100,000, and spend it on a year studying journalism at Columbia University before returning home. Few people are likely to tell him that this is irresponsible.
For guilty young people intent on pleasing a certain kind of parent, grad school is one of the only socially permissible vehicles for work-life balance or opting out of the high status economy. Parents who’d be horrified by a child who was a yoga instructor think its romantic so long as it’s done during a summer between years at the Kennedy School of Government.
“If we think it more important to spend this dough on education,” says Will Wilkinson, “then we should hand out the $6 billion in the form of scholarships to deserving prospective collegians of modest means, to help them earn their degrees without having to take out any loans at all.”
Obama earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. His wife, Michelle, graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. Once you’ve done that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve borrowed. You’re in the one percent. The Obamas ought to have been writing those checks every month, because to subsidize couples with four graduate degrees from Ivy League schools between them — in a country with impoverished immigrants and struggling high school dropouts and hard-pressed single mothers — is perverse. That Obama offered up his own story in that way is a testament to our collective loss of perspective on this.
Of course, most people with student loan debt don’t have Ivy League degrees. They’re still generally better off than people without diplomas. And while decreasing the cost of college for those who’ve yet to attend ought to be a public policy goal, especially since educational subsidies have been structured in a way that helped to drive up costs to begin with, there is no good reason to subsidize not just hard up folks with student debt, but folks with student debt generally.
16 “Is Voting to Strike Down Obamacare Illegitimate?” and “Movement Liberals Cannot Credibly Demand Judicial Restraint”. It’s very likely both pieces can be refuted, but I’ll leave that to another time.
Including birth control (as distinct from contraceptives used for other purposes) in universally mandated health-care coverage has its own unique redistributive effect, one that seems more problematic in a pluralistic society than funneling resources from the healthy to the sick or malfunctioning. Mandating participation in an insurance risk pool that covers birth control redistributes resources based partly on lifestyle choices, values, and conceptions of what is fulfilling. For example, gays and lesbians have no use for birth control, but are being made to participate in risk pools that cover it, effectively leaving them with fewer resources as a result of their status as a cultural minority group, rather than a part of the majority that desires birth control.
Once birth control for the poor is covered, I wonder why so many on the left either don’t recognize or don’t object to the redistributive consequences of pooling contraceptive costs among everyone else, even people who could afford them on their own. Compared to a system that just took care of the poor (or even to a system that included only the cheapest kind of birth control), here is a more detailed but by no means complete look at the winners and losers:
– Those who are sexually active, especially over long periods, benefit at the expense of those who aren’t, whether by choice or for lack of opportunity. This sure seems non-materially regressive.
– Straight people, who benefit at the expense of gays and lesbians, who have no use for birth control.
But this series of legislative, judicial, and bureaucratic decisions, many of them defensible or even desirable on narrow grounds, add up to a health-care system that is unjust, for it needlessly privileges cultural majorities at the expense of cultural minorities, and obscures redistributive consequences that are sometimes regressive, especially compared to the alternative I suggest: subsidizing contraception only for the poor who can’t afford it. Individuals ought to decide what they find fun or meaningful enough to spend their money on. As progressives argue with social conservatives, whose positions on sex and contraception I too find wrongheaded, the progressives are unwittingly saying that subsidized birth control is desirable even when it involves forcing into the same insurance risk pools people who want little or no contraception with people who want a lot of it. Some claim that’s the only way our health-care system can avoid discriminating against women.
Originally, the footnoted sentence dealt exclusively with catholic hospitals distributing contraception – “while never mentioning the possiiblity that such institutions might do what they want by refusing federal funds”, and that such hospitals without federal funds would have greater leeway. The edited sentence deals with the broader issue of an institution refusing contraception for its employees.
There is no bright-line test for what is “reasonable,” or how burdensome an accommodation must be before government should no longer be bound to make it. But this contraception example seems easy. There are very few institutions in America with longstanding, obviously credible moral objections to contraception. Permitting these institutions to purchase health insurance for employees that doesn’t include contraception isn’t going to meaningfully interfere with the government’s ability to shape a functional health-care system. There are, additionally, the consequences for actual employees of institutions like the Catholic Church. Many share the position of their faith: they’re morally uncomfortable paying into a health-insurance system that doles out contraception.
This is but one example of my general discomfort with the attitude that both conservatives and progressives take toward minority groups and diversity. Both groups sometimes seek to impose their notions of what society ought to be like on everyone, and cite majority norms or expediency when doing so.
What I’d encourage is constant awareness that people have different values, morals, priorities, preferences, and approaches to pursuing happiness — an attitude that leads folks to happily accommodate diversity when possible, and to be regretful and limit the magnitude of coercion when it is necessary.
A straightforward bill to subsidize birth control for the poor might not pass Congress (even though I would support it). In order to avoid taking their chances on legislation of that kind, the Obama Administration pursued the path of least resistance: order employers to add this to their plans, even if doing so violates their conscience. This approach permitted them to hide the cost of providing birth control by bundling it into insurance premiums, mask the nature of who is being subsidized by whom, and build political support by offering a universal subsidy rather than one targeted at the poor.
What today’s compromise showed is that it there was never a need to choose between religious and contraceptive freedom. What was actually at odds was religious freedom and the ability of progressives to advance contraceptive freedom through the means they found most expedient. There were always lots of different approaches that would achieve the same ends. If the Obama Administration and its progressive allies were less casual about coercing people, they’d have discovered the current compromise — which they deserve credit for adopting — a lot sooner.
It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize the Blunt-Rubio bill and to set forth reasons why its passage would be bad for women. What’s objectionable is 1) the implication that the Republicans who voted for this bill are motivated by antagonism toward women and engaged in an aggressive campaign to war on them (the truthful motivation is some mix of concern for protecting religious liberty and pandering to religious conservatives and opponents of sweeping health-care mandates). 2) The sly invocation of the phrase “access to contraception,” as if what’s at issue here is the ability to buy condoms or birth control as opposed to a debate about who covers their cost.
As stated, the politically savvy see through the hyperbole and subtly inaccurate language. The true victims aren’t GOP political operatives, who engage in distortions of their own, but the class of women who don’t pay close attention to politics, hear these talking points, and erroneously conclude that if the GOP candidate wins the election birth control may disappear from commerce.
The so-called “war on women,” which largely concerns abortion policy, isn’t an area of politics that is particularly driven by political donations. It is a wedge issue that appeals to Republicans because a large part of its socially conservative base feels very strongly that abortion is murder.
Do rich entrepreneurs owe their success to their own efforts or the commonweal? James Joyner has a good answer. “Of course nobody got rich totally on their own,” he writes. “Of course the fabled ‘job creators’ rely on the infrastructure we built collectively, whether it be roads and bridges, an educated workforce, relative safety from crime, a reasonably functional judicial system and what have you. But those building blocks were in place for those who didn’t get rich, too, so of course those who did deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the fruits of their labor.”
That sounds more sensible to me than what President Obama said, and I’m presuming the charitable interpretation of his remarks. Consider an enterprise like this one.
It should perhaps make us uncomfortable that our government is mostly focused on relatively privileged citizens, and that we think little about the very poor aside from providing a safety net. But it’s true of every viable presidential candidate from both major political parties, and the vast majority of pundits too. All Romney can be faulted for in this instance is saying he’ll behave as everyone else does without acknowledging it openly.
Shouldn’t we prefer a political discourse where forthrightness of that kind isn’t treated as a fault? Romney’s statement may hurt him with voters. But it shouldn’t.
It is truly amazing what a different view of politics the donor class gets. Obama plays to rooms like this too. This cycle, he’s managed to keep his words from leaking (or perhaps, after his experience in the last cycle, he’s more careful about what he says). As such, expect the Obama campaign to start using footage from the hidden video to start attacking Romney any day now. And know that if you could hear what Team Obama says when they think no one is listening, it would likely be every bit as off-putting (if substantively different).
Josh Barro predicts that this will cost Mitt Romney the election. It certainly plays into the criticism that he doesn’t care about poor people and will govern on behalf of wealthier Americans.
But it also reminds me of Barack Obama’s infamous statement during the 2008 election that rural voters “get bitter, they cling to their guns or religion.” Those words were also said to donors at a private event, and broadcast only when a secret recording was made public. Rural voters aren’t 47 percent of the electorate, but folks who like guns or religion are a rather large demographic.
These sorts of remarks do double damage.
They needlessly insult some people whose votes the candidate would like to win. And beyond the particulars of what is said, they remind voters that candidate’s public persona is phony and affected.
Four years ago a lot of people felt they got a glimpse of “the real Obama.” They certainly saw a side of him that he hid when speaking to general audiences, as opposed to urban liberal supporters.
William Saletan, who I often disagree with, gives a precise explanation for why this analysis is wrong in “Half-Hearted Mitt: Romney says he’s ignoring 47 percent of America. Obama said rural voters cling to guns and religion. Which is worse?”.
“Here’s what it is: In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by government, that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, there’s a part of them that just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by—it is true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama, then that adds another layer of skepticism. (Audience laughs.)
“But—so the questions you’re most likely to get are going to be: ‘Well, you know, what’s this guy going to do for me? What’s the concrete thing?’ And what they want to hear is—you know, so we’ll give you talking points about what we’re proposing: to close tax loopholes and roll back, you know, the top—the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama’s going to give tax breaks to middle-class folks, and we’re going to provide health care for every American. You know, we’ll have a series of talking points.
“But the truth is that our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s no evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio—like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. And each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate. And they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations.
“Now, these are in some communities. You know, I think what you’ll find is that people of every background—there are going to be a mix of people. You can go in the toughest neighborhood, you know, working-class lunch-pail folks, and you’ll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you’d think that I’d be very strong, and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Conservatives find Obama’s line about guns, religion, and immigration patronizing. They’re right. The recording exposes Obama’s assumption that blue-collar conservatism on these issues should be taken not at face value but as a psychological symptom or rationalization.
But notice what else the recording shows. Obama tells his audience not to write off any group. He recommends humility and openness. Even in the most unlikely neighborhoods, among “people of every background,” he tells his volunteers they’ll find supporters.
He also advises the volunteers not to write off every voter who seems unreceptive. The tough reception, he suggests, might be just a “layer of skepticism,” a “part of them that just doesn’t buy it.” Beneath that layer, the whole voter is more complicated.
In particular, Obama rejects the caricature of hostile white voters as racists. Instead of assuming that they just ”don’t want to vote for the black guy,” he asks his volunteers to focus on these voters’ economic concerns. He counsels empathy. “They feel so betrayed,” he says.
The whole thrust of Obama’s answer is persuasion. He calls guns-and-religion precincts “the places where we are going to have to do the most work.” He says “our challenge is to get people persuaded” in those neighborhoods. “The important thing,” he concludes, “is that you show up” and make the case, based on tax and health care policy.
The centerpiece of Romney’s campaign?
A domestic agenda that he obviously cannot enact. As Romney tells it, he’ll cut tax rates 20 percent, repeal the estate tax, refrain from raising taxes on the middle class, refrain from cuts to Medicare, spend more on the military, possibly wage a war against Iran, and reduce the deficit. Doing all he’s promised is mathematically impossible. And the conservative wonks who say otherwise could be forgiven for their flawed analysis if it weren’t for the fact that every last one knows damned well that Romney is never in a million years going to keep all of those promises. If elected, he’ll most likely succeed in cutting taxes and fail at addressing the federal deficit. But it’s impossible to know for sure which promises he’ll break, only that it’ll be some of them.
33 Perhaps the best single article on congressional opposition to the closure of Guantanamo Bay is “Guantanamo Bay: Why Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to close the facility” by Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornblut.
34 Again, there are many examples, including “The Hubris of Barack W. Obama”, “Okay, Progressives, What’s Your Alternative to Ron Paul?”, “Obama vs. Romney: Choose Your Own Disaster”, “Liberals Need to Start Holding Obama Responsible for His Policies”, “What the Obamaphile Press Omitted From Its Endorsements”, Why I Refuse To Vote For Barack Obama”, and “The Responses to ‘Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama'”.
Ever wonder what Ron Paul’s America would look like? Then read the budget outline that Paul released as part of his 2012 presidential bid. It promises to cut $1 trillion during his first year in office, balance the budget by 2015, withdraw us from all foreign wars and eliminate five Cabinet-level agencies in the process. Economists across the political spectrum say the impact of such drastic government spending cuts would be majorly disruptive and harmful to the economy in the short term.
By reducing the deficit from more than $1 trillion to $300 billion in just a year, Paul’s plan would upend the economy at a time when it’s already fragile, says Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics for Moody’s Analytics. “That much deficit reduction in one year is going to be a huge drag on the economy . . . the reduction in spending is much greater than cuts in taxes,” says Faucher. “We’re seeing that impact in Europe right now, where severe fiscal austerity has caused big problems for the European economy.” While long-term deficit reduction is important, legislators need to make sure that the economy is strong before major cuts take effect, he adds, calling Paul’s plan “much more ambitious” than other Republican proposals to date. By comparison, the Congressional supercommittee is required to cut $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period—a feat Paul wants to accomplish in a little more than one year.
Liberal economists were even more dire in their assessments of the Paul budget. “This is almost having the economy fall off a cliff,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, estimating that cutting $1 trillion in 2013 would prompt the unemployment rate to jump by 3 percentage points. Even if the $1 trillion in cuts were done over two or three years’ time, there would still be double-digit employment, Baker concludes. “This will make it extremely hard to balance the budget, since if the unemployment rate goes to 11 or 12 percent, then the budget picture will look much worse. If his response is still more cuts, then who knows how high he can get the unemployment rate.”
Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the Center for American Progress, said Paul’s cuts would destroy the social safety net, as the plan would turn Medicaid and other low-income entitlement programs into block-granted programs that would depend on discretionary appropriations. “Your kids would be out of school, working or begging,” he concludes.
The program would also turn Social Security, veterans’ benefits and Medicare into voluntary programs that would allow younger workers to opt out of the entitlements, while fulfilling promises to present-day seniors and veterans. Both liberals and conservatives such as Baker say such changes could destabilize Social Security. “We will likely see a substantial number of young people take that option, especially if he scares them enough that it won’t be there,” says Baker. What’s more, “you will have high-income earners who opt out, and the people you have left are going to be low-income, which could cause problems” in terms of financing, explains Faucher, of Moody’s. All this could complicate Social Security’s long-term fiscal health, as it could end up losing a lot of revenue.
An opt-out option for Medicare would present similar problems, AEI’s Hassett says. He agrees that Medicare reform is critical to achieving long-term deficit reduction but thinks that an opt-out would destabilize the program. “The system taxes young people to pay for benefits for old people. If young people opt out, who will pay for the benefits?” Hassett says.
What’s the worst that Ron Paul could do? Try to get America back on the gold standard, only to find that he doesn’t have the votes in Congress to do it? I am not just being funny. Though Paul has some radical domestic policy ideas, I just don’t see any of them getting passed into law. And in foreign policy and national security matters, the areas where he would exercise the most unchecked discretion, he is the candidate you’d least expect to unwisely provoke or launch a war.
The piece “The Progressive Critique of Ron Paul: He Isn’t Libertarian Enough” makes no mention of the impact of Paul’s policies on the social safety net.
37 Again, there are many, but some are: “America’s Most Important Anti-War Politician Is a Senate Republican”, “Rand Paul Launches a Preemptive Strike Against Domestic Drone Use”, and “Rand Paul Plays It Safe in His RNC Speech”.
38 “Rand Paul Compares U.S. Government To ‘Nazi Germany’” by Ian Millhiser:
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) compared the federal government’s decision to reclaim some of its own property to Nazi Germany’s confiscations of Jewish-owned art.
A Rand Paul editorial, quoted in “Sen. Rand Paul Compares SCOTUS Decision Upholding Obamacare To Pro-Slavery Dred Scott Decision” by Ian Millhiser:
In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision, can you still argue that the Constitution does not support ObamaCare? The liberal blogosphere apparently thinks the constitutional debate is over. I wonder whether they would have had that opinion the day after the Dred Scott decision.
Think of how our country would look now had the Supreme Court not changed its view of what is constitutional. Think of 1857, when the court handed down the outrageous Dred Scott decision, which said African Americans were not citizens. Think of the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, which the court later repudiated in Brown v. Board of Education.
“Senator Rand Paul Touts False Claim From ’9/11 Truth’ Conspiracy Site” by Zack Beauchamp, reports that Rand Paul relayed that the National Weather Service was stockpiling ammunition.
39 The definitve story on Murrary Energy is “Coal Miner’s Donor” by Alec MacGillis. “Coal Workers Say Murray Energy ‘Coerces’ Them To Make GOP Donations: ‘If You Don’t Contribute, Your Job’s At Stake’” lists Rand Paul as a recipient of the co-erced funds. “Latest Disaster In A Dangerous Mine Kills Two Kentucky Miners After 15 Safety Violations Since 2010” reports on the collapse of an Armstrong coal mine which killed two people, and gives a quote of Rand Paul’s speech:
“The bottom line is: I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules,” Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April’s deadly mining explosion in West Virginia…“You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.”
40 From Senate Resoundingly Defeats Rand Paul Plan, Passes Disaster Relief Package on ThinkProgress:
In a surprising show of bipartisanship, 78 Senators voted against Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) plan to offset disaster aid relief and FEMA funding with cuts to foreign aid. Only 20 senators voted for it. The stand-alone funding bill will provide $6.9 billion in emergency relief funds for fiscal year 2012. Paul demanded that the Senate use funds “from the coffers of our numerous nation-building programs overseas” rather than by “borrowing on the backs of our children and grandchildren.” The Senate proceeded to pass the relief package 62 to 37.
Politico is reporting that Paul is single-handedly holding up $36 million in benefits for elderly and disabled refugees.
Funding for the refugees ran out on Friday, but Paul refuses to lift his hold out of a professed concern that the money could be used to aid terrorists:
In a statement to POLITICO on Tuesday, Paul confirmed he was blocking the bill over concerns the money could be used to aid domestic terrorists. Two alleged terrorists, who came to the U.S. through a refugee program and were receiving welfare benefits, were arrested this year in Paul’s hometown of Bowling Green, Ky.
“This incident alone raises serious questions about the system through which they came to the United States, and I am insisting on a full investigation on our practice of providing welfare to refugees,” Paul said. […]
The bill would extend funding for one year for about 5,600 elderly and disabled refugees from war-torn regions of the world, including Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are victims of human-trafficking or torture.
From “Senate Republicans Kill Veterans’ Jobs Bill” by Ben Armbruster:
Senate Republicans prevented a veterans’ jobs bill from coming to a vote today by forcing a budget point of order vote. Democrats came up 2 votes short of the 60 needed to defeat the GOP’s budget measure.
The Veterans Jobs Corps bill — which is part of President Obama’s push to secure jobs for veterans — would have provided $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 young veterans for public lands jobs and prioritize vets for first responder jobs such as police, firefighter, or EMT. The measure would have also provided young vets access to the infrastructure with which to assist in job searches, such as access to computers, internet and career services advisers.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a vets group that supported the legislation, called the GOP move “a huge disappointment,” adding, “Today, politics won over helping vets.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said on the Senate floor today that “this bill is fully paid for and does not violate pay-go rules.” (The New York Times said Murray’s aides say “say the program will be paid for by recovering more money from tax-delinquent Medicare providers and forcing big tax deadbeats to pay up before receiving passports.”)
Murray even tried to include most of the provisions of a competing Republican bill but Democrats still ran into opposition. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he would block the measure until the Pakistani doctor that aided the CIA in looking for Osama bin Laden was freed.
46 Perhaps the best starting point for those curious about this bloody part of history would be Stephen Kinzer’s profile of U.S. ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte. An indicator of the continuum running from Reagan foreign policy to George W. Bush policy is the appointment by Bush of Negroponte, after a long period of diplomatic exile, as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. A piece connecting the death squads of El Salvador with early investors in Bain Capital is “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads “.
On the eve of the Republican primary, before the field of candidates was established, I found myself hoping that the eventual nominee would be someone whose bid for higher office I could support. President Obama’s transgressions against civil liberties and expansion of executive power were dealbreakers. I wouldn’t back him as I had in 2008. Nor would I vote for a Fox News Republican like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann. But a deficit hawk with a steady hand on foreign policy, like George H.W. Bush?
The Obama Administration’s efforts to create “green jobs” have fallen far short of what was promised, as Reuters reports in a detailed analysis that casts Solyndra as just one instance of failure. The Fast and the Furious scandal is surely going to come up in the course of the general election.
My thirst for answers is even more powerful than my aversion to partisan politics. I’d suggest anyone who feels otherwise is not in fact “a believer in sunshine and disclosure,” because there has never been a Congressional investigation in which the participants weren’t angling to score political points in one way or another. That’s just how the system works.
Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. [Darryl “Arson”] Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that [Dave] Voth [head of an ATF group charged with stopping the smuggling of guns] and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.
How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today.
Said Texas Governor Rick Perry, “We’ve had over 300 Mexican nationals killed directly attributable to this Fast and Furious operation, where they brought those guns into Mexico. A former Marine and a Border Patrol agent by the name of Brian Terry lost his life. With Watergate you had a second-rate burglary.”
There has been enough commentary of that kind that political satirists are starting to notice. Said Bill Maher on his HBO show, “First of all, let me just say, Republicans don’t care about dead Mexicans.” His comments spurred outraged posts in the conservative blogosphere. But the problem isn’t that he was wrong, so much as that his biting remark ought to have been broader. Democrats don’t care about dead Mexicans either assuming a reasonable definition of “care.”
Abstractly, do they regret it when foreigners die?
Sure. So do Republicans.
Does either party put forth any effort to change the American policy that results in more dead Mexicans than any other?
They talk about how tragic it is that 300 Mexican nationals were killed by Fast and Furious. But they keep right on supporting the war on drugs.
Some call it the “parade of ants”; others the “river of iron.” The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking within the U.S., so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF’s congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.
[Dave] Voth’s [head of an ATF unit set up to stop gun smuggling in the southwest] mandate was to stop gun traffickers in Arizona, the state ranked by the gun-control advocacy group Legal Community Against Violence as having the nation’s “weakest gun violence prevention laws.” Just 200 miles from Mexico, which prohibits gun sales, the Phoenix area is home to 853 federally licensed firearms dealers. Billboards advertise volume discounts for multiple purchases.
Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they’re 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns. “In Arizona,” says Voth, “someone buying three guns is like someone buying a sandwich.”
By 2009 the Sinaloa drug cartel had made Phoenix its gun supermarket and recruited young Americans as its designated shoppers or straw purchasers. Voth and his agents began investigating a group of buyers, some not even old enough to buy beer, whose members were plunking down as much as $20,000 in cash to purchase up to 20 semiautomatics at a time, and then delivering the weapons to others.