Friday, September 17, 2010

If It Looks Like a Duck, Walks Like a Duck, and Quacks Like a Duck

... then it IS a duck.

Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Jan Brewer, and now Christine O'Donnell. And I could add a fair number of men to the list, too. But the sense of victimhood, unaccountabilty, religious fundamentalism, and disturbing social mores about the proper role of authority in dictating proper moral behavior that guides the whole elan vital of these right wing neo-populists is worrisome.

Some might say: show me where they constrain freedom in what they actually have done, and not what they say motivates how and what they will do. And I say: is it worth putting into office these folks who look, walk, and quack in a particularly troublesome way when it comes to imagining the application of their social con rhetoric to the creation and implementation of policy, simply because they haven't done anything so blatantly noticeable yet in the policy arena that would reflect the values they claim motivate their political orientation and then waiting to see if they actually are the ducks they seem like they are?

I don't think true freedom-lovers would look at these kinds of neo-populist right wing politicians with wacky social conservative agendas that are decidedly freedom crushing and think that it's worth the risk that they might not behave like ducks once in office.

The trend of these kinds of socially-conservative, morally judgmental, and accountability-avoiding victim-identity-politics playing power seekers winning Republican Party primaries has got to be disturbing to many fiscal conservatives who are socially libertarian. Really, they might spout off the standard small-government, fiscally conservative boiler-plate rhetoric, but when you look at what these candidates themselves seem to indicate is what truly underscores their conservatism (that is their social/moral/religious convictions), what do you think will win the day when statism in the promotion and defense of their conservative social agenda comes into conflict with their supposed commitment to small-government, fiscal conservatism? Do you really think Christine O'Donnell would vote against legislation that seeks to create a new government program to promote anti-masturbation campaigns on the basis of some small-government conservative rationale? All you need to know in seeking an answer to this question is to just look at the walk, talk, and quack of Christine O'Donnell, and then recognize it for what it is.


eric said...

You ask if it is worth the risk? I say yes. If the choice is between politicians, pundits, and citizens (both Dem and Republican) who have repeatedly expressed and enacted their willingness to tax and regulate even the most trivial details of our daily lives (for instance, a moderately liberal friend of mine made a straight-faced argument to me the other day for why it should be illegal to sell watermelons in January), versus people who are anti-tax and for a much smaller and less powerful federal government, who also happen to have strong religious beliefs but have never proposed enacting those beliefs into law, I'll risk the latter. I hope I'm not mistaken by doing so, and sure I'd like other options (and in some cases there are other options, Rand Paul is part of the same movement and much more up my alley than any of the women you mention above), but it isn't even really a tough choice.

And for the record, if any of the women you mention in your post ever vote in the federal legislature to make masturbation or sodomy illegal, I'll donate $100 to their primary opponents in the following election. That's a promise. As for your example, while I don't believe any of them would consider an anti-sodomy or anti-masturbation campaign to be the proper role of the federal government, if they did support such a program, but also managed to get Obamacare overturned, obstruct any cap-and-trade legislation, and prevent another half trillion dollars of stimulus money from being wasted, I'd take that trade in a heartbeat... because I can teach my kid that the government doesn't know what the hell its talking about when it comes to masturbation and homosexuality, but I am fairly powerless to escape the consequences of heavy handed regulatory burdens, social justice schemes, and endless federal defecits.

Andrew said...

I'm with Eric on this point but I would like to add something else.

A law only matters if it can be enforced. Extreme social conservatism is impossible to enforce because it is morally incompatible with a large percentage of the populace which will lead to civil disobedience.

This is without considering unsavory folk like myself who will leap at a chance to make money from circumventing said tyranny.

Huck said...

Eric - Good points. But all this is again part of that interminable question we just have differing views on. I don't think we would disagree that government has some regulatory role. The question is a matter of scope, degree, and intensity. I, personally, don't feel as if the most trivial details of our lives are overregulated. Frankly, when I look at my average day, it is a real stretch for me to see how my liberty is actually constrained at all. This is what I don't get about the conservative hyperbole of government intrusion into 99.9% of people's actual lives. And to the degree that it does, conservatives are just as likely to have their own statist agendas as liberals are. Liberals would have no problems legalizing Marijuana (though we'd probably want to tax the hell out of it, thus making it an expensive choice, albeit still allowing the liberty of the choice). Yet conservatives seek the strong arm of the state to actually eliminate the liberty to choose this vice and would seek not only the punitive consequence of a hefty fine for getting caught with weed, but also some jail time, too. On such matters, many conservatives often don't seek to constrain freedom through regulation and taxation, but actually to eliminate freedom through the direct application of punitive force. Another example: immigration. Most liberals support a more laissez-faire attitude to the flow of labor across borders; and yet most conservatives (especially of the Palin, Angle, Brewer, O'Donnell type) want to crush liberty in this instance, actually even calling for solutions that harken directly to a police-state mentality. Your liberal friend who made an argument about banning watermelon in the winter is simply being silly. There are extremely few liberals who would support this radical position. The question, in a nutshell, is how much state is acceptable, and under what conditions; and people who are liberty-loving individuals can see this question differently. When I hear folks like these social con populists spout their rhetoric and couch their motivations for seeking legislative or executive positions of power in terms of such moral fundamentalism, I take them at their word. They are not just spouting this rhetoric as a reason for becoming a legislator or executive simply as an exercise in vote getting without actually believing that their views have some relevance for policymaking. And when I see local school boards in Texas actually implementing this agenda in the redesign of textbooks or in efforts to prevent the construction of a mosque in NYC near ground zero, I know that there are concrete outcomes of this rhetoric. You hope they are in essence just grandstanding about their social con agenda when it comes to policy; but I simply look at how they have lived their lives and what they have put on the table as of importance to society and what they actually say motivates them, and I just follow that line realistically to where it should eventually lead. And I'm not willing to take that risk.

Huck said...

Andrew - Two points. First, whether or not a law is enforceable has no bearing on whether or not a politician will seek to constrain individual freedom by passing such a law and then trying to enforce it in some way. Second, apply your argument to illegal immigration and what do you get? An unenforceable law.

Andrew said...

Doesn't our current situation with illegal immigration and its respective laws sound like the sort of mess that you have when you have a law that the majority are ambivalent to at best, and a group of individuals seeking profits through the subversion of said law.

The only solution to said problem is for all parties to nut up, swallow their prides and compromise on a comprehensive solution to alleviate said issue.

Simplistic single party thinking gets us into messes, complicated bipartisan approaches tend to get us out.

My approach to illegal immigration.
Pass the DREAM Act, heavily militarize the US-Mexico border, streamline the immigration process and reduce the fees, and start working with the Calderon administration to come up with solutions to the issues that drive hard working, intelligent human beings from his nation.

Left wing, right wing, and Wilsonian foreign policy all rolled into one.

eric said...

"I don't think we would disagree that government has some regulatory role. The question is a matter of scope, degree, and intensity."

Correct. My only point was that I believe Palin, Angle, O'Donnell (although I am admittedly more on the fence about O'Donnell, but would still take her over anyone who voted for Obamacare) , et al, are more likely to have views on that subject that are compatible with mine, or at least more compatible than the people they are running against, and that's why I support them in spite of our differing religious and social views.

And there are plenty of conservatives who support legalizing marijuana (and plenty of liberals who don't). The problem is that very few politicians of either party support it, because it doesn't fly well with the older set of Americans who are most likely to vote.

There is a strong argument in the conservative movement, especially amongst business owners and the Chamber of Commerce crowd, that we should have a high allowance for immigrants to come here and work, the question is how that process must work, and how to weigh it's effect on our social welfare programs. Even amongst conservatives who are anti-immigration, their argument is often based on the idea that you can't have open borders AND a welfare state at the same time. Whatever else it is, that argument is rooted in protecting liberty, not obstructing it.

"You hope they are in essence just grandstanding about their social con agenda when it comes to policy"

No, I hope they are being exceedingly honest about their social agenda when it comes to policy. The main point I hear from them socially is that the government is too often trying to do the church's job, and that it should stop. That is ultimately Glenn Beck's main argument that motivated hundreds of thousands of people to show up at his rally in DC, and it bothers me that liberals keep pretending like that message isn't out there (you can argue with it's validity, claim that people aren't serious about it, or say that it's doomed to be co-opted by people willing to use the government to promote the church... but at least acknowledge that's not what these people are saying they want to do). I very much hope they follow through on that agenda.

eric said...

"Simplistic single party thinking gets us into messes, complicated bipartisan approaches tend to get us out."

I've gotta disagree with you here, Andrew. In fact, I think that is the main and best message of the Tea Party, that the right needs to quit compromising. Peggy Noonan said it best last week:

" First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality—with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy—has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28."

I've read no better explanation that this for why the Tea Party exists and is doing well.

Huck said...

"The main point I hear from them socially is that the government is too often trying to do the church's job, and that it should stop."

And yet most of the social conservatives that I know support adding a Federal Marriage Amendment to the US Constitution. It seems clear to me that many social conservatives think the whole idea of a separation of church and state is bogus and think that a proper role of government is to enforce a kind of proper morality -- i.e. ban certain books from schools, keep sodomy laws on the books, ramp up the severity of anti-marijuana laws, spend tax dollars on sexual abstinence programs. When it comes to defending and promoting their fundamentalist Christian agendas, social conservatives very much embrace the use of the heavy hand of the state.

And, Eric, as for the Noonan explanation on compromise, all one needs to do is throw Medicare and Social Security on the table to see how pure the Tea Party really is on that point. My beef with Noonan's argument is her premise of the what the extremes of the scale are. She seems to be arguing that the mid-point of the scale is really in the liberal quadrant; but that makes no sense. Government has gotten bigger because our population continues to grow. When one looks at the percentage of our federal budget relative to our national GDP, there have been moments in our history when government actually was much bigger than it is now.

eric said...

"When it comes to defending and promoting their fundamentalist Christian agendas, social conservatives very much embrace the use of the heavy hand of the state."

I'm sure some do. In my experience though, most don't... even at a social-con bastion like RWN I've never heard a single plea to re-instate sodomy laws, or ban books. Social conservatism is part and parcel of Alaska politics, yet Alaska has the most liberal marijuana laws in the nation. And the argument I've heard from social conservatives time and time again (and one where I agree with them) is that they'd prefer public schools NOT get involved in teaching about sexuality beyond the nuts-and-bolts required for a biology curriculum, but if they ARE going to talk to kids about it in terms of personal application, then abstinence should have a prominent place in that discussion.

But my main point was that while some social conservatives may favor heavy-handed government solutions, many social conservatives do not, and the Tea Party candidates you are constantly posting about come from a movement that is rooted in criticism of such measures. So if you want to convince me they are dangerous, you won't do it by exposing their socially conservative views, but by proving they are worse hypocrites than they people they're trying to replace.

"Government has gotten bigger because our population continues to grow."

Yes, but that's hardly the whole story. At the federal level it continually seeps out from Washington and saturates into our lives. From education to healthcare to social "insurance" to defense spending to what food and drugs you can ingest to what kind of products you can use to get rid of wasps in your back yard to what kind of light bulbs you are allowed to screw into a socket... the progression marches steadily towards more regulation and interference in your life, and it almost never relents. You often express confusion as to how libertarians and thoughtful conservatives can support some of the more controversial Tea Party candidates, and I am simply offering up an explanation for you. If you don't see what I'm talking about, or don't think it is an important issue, then the Tea Party is never going to make much sense. Claiming it to be a figment of their imaginations is not going make them go away.

Huck said...

Excellent points, Eric. They make a great deal of sense to me. I can (and will) give some examples below of the kind of social con statism creep that I see coming down the road. And you are generally right that these Tea Party candidates come out of a tradition that supports limited government. But we haven't had much in the way of actual policy records upon which to base how the moralism of their socially conservative agenda, which they say figures prominently in who they are and what they think is important for society (and I believe them!), will translate into policy. Just like you have noticed a seeping and saturation in our lives of the federal government (though I don't see my life constrained nearly as much as you and others seem to make it out to be), I see a creeping moral orthodoxy among the socially conservative Tea Party rightwing that is making its way into campaign promises and policy recommendations. For instance, the Tea Party candidate for New York Governor, Carl Paladino (and an upset winner over Rick Lazio for the GOP nomination), ran a serious campaign TV ad in which he stated explicitly: "As Governor, I will use the power of eminent domain to stop the [ground zero] mosque."
{Here's the actual ad:} And in 2006 on the O'Reilly Factor, Christine O'Donnell had this to say: “What freak dancing is isn’t just like the safety of mosh pitting. This is sexually explicit activity for minors. We [And here I presume she means government when she says "we."] do limit the expression of minors. There are drinking laws. There are — you have to be 18 to smoke. You can’t go to school in a bikini. On one hand you have people saying this is squelching their freedom. And then you scratch your head and say, ‘Look over here. Date rape is such an epidemic.’ There’s a connection. And if people realize there’s a connection, then they’ll realize that these limitations and restrictions exist for a very valid reason.” [Emphasis is mine.] Notice here that O'Donnell explicitly notes the liberty argument against her position, but seems to dismiss it when it comes to applying her moral code against freak dancing. Sounds like a reprise of Footloose to me! And then there's the Sharron Angle story of her leading a fight to pressure a local school board to deny a school's football team from wearing Black football jerseys because of the color black represented some kind of demonic evil in her mind. And this is stuff coming out of the mouths of the GOP nominee for governor to one of our largest states and two candidates to our federal Senate!

Huck said...

(continued from above ...)

But, I digress ... It's examples like these that lead me to think that the creeping anti-liberty agenda of many of the Tea Party favorites among these candidates for prominent political office is worrisome. And even more worrisome that reasonable folk like you think this kind of anti-liberty creep is less troublesome than a progressive income tax or making sure companies don't dump poison into our drinking water or that blowout preventers on deep water oil rigs actually work.

Yes, these candidates are rooted in a tradition that supposedly despises "tyranny" but yet seems to think that there are exceptions to this rule when it comes to social conservative moral/theological orthodoxies. And it is this willingness to trust that just because they come out of this conservative strain of the "liberty" tradition (because we liberals come out of a liberty-loving tradition, too), that their explicit threats to liberty are treated so cavalierly or unseriously by you that really worries me.

One final comment/clarification:
You wrote: "So if you want to convince me they are dangerous, you won't do it by exposing their socially conservative views, but by proving they are worse hypocrites than they people they're trying to replace." Are liberals hypocrites? Have we ever denied our belief in the value of a greater role for the state in regulation and progressive taxation and in universal healthcare? Where's the hypocrisy in anything Obama has accomplished in his term of office? This is why your social conservative populist demagogues are dangerous: they preach anti-government out one side of their mouth, and give indications that they'll use the strong arm of the state to preserve their own preferred moral/social agendas out of the other side. You might not like us liberal statists for being statist, but at least we're honest about it.

eric said...

I see your point in the scenarios you mention, but I would be quick to point out that for the most part, even among extreme social conservatives those views go hand-in-hand with the concept of federalism and community, i.e., if a school wants to say freak dancing is inapropriate and won't be allowed at school dances, that is a decision for the people in that community. Likewise, if a citizen has a problem with the color of the football jerseys at their school, however silly that concern might be to me, they are free to address it in their community. Sure, the libertarian in me prefers less government intrusion even at the local level, but at the end of the day I have very little to worry about from even the most vehement social consevative on Capital HIll if they are steeped in the concept of federalism as it is commonly preached in the conservative movement.

For instance, take Paladino. You give a great example there and it would be hard for me to support him if I was in New York, but if my choice is between a guy who wants to keep a few hundred Muslims from building and enjoying a Mosque at one particular site in NYC vs. a candidate who believes the government is justified in making it illegal to breathe in America if you haven't first purchased a health insurance policy... then my condolences would go to the Muslims but my vote would go to Paladino, because the damage he is doing to liberty seems small by comparison. And that works both ways: liberals could gain my support more often if they didn't so readily take the "if it's good for the goose it's good for the gander" approach to social change. I might support a Democrat for the state legislature who wants to re-alocate spending to increase teacher pay in our state (and I suspect Oklahoma is about to elect another Democrat for Governor on those very grounds), but if that same candidate makes the same argument on the national stage, I'm going to fight them every time, because I'm not willing to force that agenda on someone as far removed from our situation as, say, Delaware, who might benefit more from a similar portion of taxes being re-allocated towards a completely different issue.

"Are liberals hypocrites?"

Actually, when I was talking about hypocrites I meant the moderate conservatives they are replaceing in the primary battles. That's another thing Noonan points out that I think gets missed about the Tea Party: "So far, the tea party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it." This voting block was never seriously in play for the Democrats, even to less a degree than minorities are in play for the Republicans. These are people who have spent a decade chosing between not voting at all or voting for some hapless third party. The only thing that changed is Rick Santelli waved a flag in the air and they all rallied around it en force and managed to get some political traction. I identify with the Tea Party and think they will help overtake the House and give the Senate a new ideological flavor... but I don't think they represent a wholesale shift in American politics anymore than Obama's election did. Electorally, we are a nation of political reactionaries, not ideolouges, and will likely remain so until we are forced by diminishing options to chose sides and mean it.

Eric said...

Also, from an old Ron Paul campaign manager, it appears that Christine O'Donnell thinks drug policy should be set at the state level. If true, this would put her to the left of Obama on the issue.