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Moral Cowardice

There are times when simple moral decency requires one to rise above politics.

When Donald Trump implied that all Mexicans immigrants were rapists, Republicans rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse.

When Trump made misogynistic comments about women, Republicans soothed themselves with the possibility that he might make good Supreme Court appointments.

When he threatened to ban an entire religion from this country, Republicans talked about the failures of Barack Obama.

When Trump re-tweeted racist nonsense about black crime, Republicans talked about party unity.

As trump welcomed the Alt-Right and openly avowed racists and anti-Semites into the ranks of his campaign, Republicans endorsed him.

But Trump’s recent attacks on a federal judge for the offense of being “a Mexican” is as morally offensive as any action by a presidential candidate in modern history. Set aside the fact that Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, and is as American as you or me. Set aside the fact that Judge Curiel is a courageous man who was actually forced into hiding after taking on the Mexican drug cartels. Set aside, even, the impropriety of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a judge in a case where he is a litigant.

Set aside all that. Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel is plain and simply racist. The idea that Americans are defined by the ancestry and that people of certain ethnicity cannot be trusted to do their jobs, is the very heart of racism. It is wrong. More than wrong, it is morally repugnant.

So to my Republican friends, I say this is no longer about whether Trump might be slightly better than Hillary on this issue or that one. We would not have said, “well, David Duke had great views on the Second Amendment,” “I like George Wallace’s tax policy,” or “The Klan has a point about quotas.”

This is now about conscience. To continue to support Donald Trump is to acquiesce in the darkest impulses of mankind and stains the American soul. It is not about politics, it is about right and wrong.

I have known Paul Ryan since he was a legislative staffer. I know he is a fundamentally good and decent man. But in continuing to support Trump, he diminishes himself. The same is true for all those other Republicans, from Marco Rubio to John McCain to Bob Corker, who have sold their moral credibility for the sake of party unity or some other temporary political gain. It must stop.

When, someday in the future, your children or grandchildren ask you where you stood today, how will you answer them?

Tubman on the $20

In the era of Donald Trump, perhaps nothing should surprise me any more. Still, I admit I am genuinely perplexed by the amount of criticism I’ve seen of the decision to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with one of Harriet Tubman. Trump, himself, weighed in of course, calling the choice “pure political correctness.” But, he’s hardly the only one. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been deluged by people discovering a new found reverence for our seventh president.

Of course, the outcry is not really about Jackson, an important figure in American history, though deeply flawed and far from the status of, say, Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson. For some partisans, it is simply that if President Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. But for far too many of those writing, there seems to be a fundamental objection to replacing a white male Founding Father, with a black woman.

This is pure symbolism, I’m told. Well, duh! What else are portraits on our money but symbols? And, if that’s the case, in a nation as diverse as ours, why shouldn’t women and people of color participate in those symbols. Indeed, given our long history of repressing women, African-Americans, and others, isn’t it all the more important to include them as part of American symbology?

But, I’m told, Harriet Tubman did not personally have the impact on U.S. history and development as Jackson. True. And isn’t that part of the point? Women and people of color were denied the opportunity to help develop this country in the way that white men could. That is changing. And it is long past time to recognize it.

In her own way and in the context of the times – indeed, all the more so given the context of the times – Harriett Tubman was a great woman. Born a slave, frequently beaten and abused, she escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Not content with just her own freedom, she became a key organizer with the Underground Railroad, often risking death, imprisonment, or even re-enslavement to rescue other slaves. During the Civil wat she acted as a scout and spy, and later became the first woman to lead troops in a military engagement during the war, the raid on Combahee Ferry. After the war, she became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. A lifelong advocate for freedom and equality, who could better typify America and the American promise?

Political correctness – real political correctness – runs the gamut from dangerous to silly. No, eating a taco is not “cultural appropriation.” But every change that benefits women, African-Americans, Latinos, gays, or others who have long suffered as second class Americans, is not being politically correct. Sometimes, its simply overdue justice. And if putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill makes us a little more aware of our past, both the good and bad, I’m all for it.

#NeverTrump

As the choices for president become clearer, people ask me if there are any circumstances under which I could support Donald Trump. The answer is a clear and unequivocal no.

It’s not that I disagree with him on nearly every major issue, though I do. His specific refusal to reform entitlements, combined with his proposals to increase spending, threatens to bankrupt the nation. His anti-trade position would take us back to the days of Smoot-Hawley. He supports eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare. He backed TARP and the bank bailout. And I could go on and on. But as a libertarian, I don’t ever expect to find a candidate I agree with on everything. Hell, I didn’t agree with Rand Paul on everything. I certainly don’t agree with Hillary Clinton on, well, anything. For me, voting is almost always choosing the lesser of evils.

And it’s not his fundamental dishonesty, both as a candidate and a businessman. If I’ve learned one thing in Washington, it’s that politicians lie. Besides, Hillary Clinton has turned lying into a high art form. She lies even when the truth is perfectly fine — just for practice. Compared to her, Trump is an amateur liar.

It’s not even his temperament, though I find his bullying and name calling to be absurdly juvenile. He is thin skinned, and tolerates no dissent. His trademarks are braggadocio and loud shouting. He thinks that leadership is jumping in front of the mob and giving them whatever they want. That’s not exactly the sort of person I want with the nuclear codes. But to speak of an egotistical thin skinned politician is practically redundant. And, while Hillary may be more cold-blooded, she is no less wedded to her own lust for power. And vengeance? Thy name is Clinton.

Rather, I oppose Trump because I believe he is truly dangerous for the American experiment. This is a man who casually promises to commit war crimes. This is a man who wants to rewrite libel laws so he can sue journalists who write negative stories about him. This is a man who has tolerated if not encouraged violence by his followers. After a protester was beaten up at his event, he said that “maybe he should have been roughed up. What he was doing was disgusting.” He said of another protester, “I want to punch him in the face.” He praised Putin and said the Chinese “almost blew it” in Tienanmen Square, but finally “showed strength.” Scary stuff.

Most importantly, the man has consistently tolerated and encouraged outright bigotry. In fairness, politicians cannot be held responsible for every action of their followers. And politics often means associating with unsavory characters. Ted Cruz shared a stage with a preacher who says gays should be put to death. Barack Obama hung out with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. But Trump goes far beyond the usual necessities of politics.

He could barely bring himself to denounce David Duke and the KKK. (Aside from his wink and nod with Jake Tapper, consider his routine “I repudiate” of the Klan, with the 15 minutes he spends trashing, say, Vicente Fox.) He routinely re-tweets memes from white nationalist groups, and has tolerated their presence in his campaign. His misogynistic comments about women are legend. He mocks and denigrates Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, and others. This is not about not being politically correct; this is about playing with evil.

In some ways the left is suffering from too often crying wolf. Almost any opposition to President Obama has been denounced as racist. We live in an era of “microaggressions.” But this time the wolf is here.

To support Trump is to give voice and legitimacy to the darkest and most repressive forces in America. That can never be allowed. For that reason, I say #NeverTrump.

SMOD 2016

Students of politics will recall that the 1991 runoff for governor of Louisiana featured an unappetizing choice between the openly racist Republican David Duke and the three term incumbent Edwin Edwards who had twice been tried, though acquitted on corruption and racketeering charges. (Edwards would eventually be convicted following his third trial in 2000. The dismal options in that election spawned the famous pro-Edwards bumper sticker; “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”

As I ponder the growing possibility of a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, I begin to understand how those Louisianans must have felt.

On the one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, a woman with whom I profoundly disagree on nearly every issue. She would almost certainly wreck the economy, burdening our children with another layer of debt and drowning us in new taxes and regulations. And, the thought of Hillary Clinton appointing a Supreme Court justice fills me with dread. Worse, unlike most Democrats she doesn’t even have the virtue of being good on issues of war and peace. She is every bit as interventionist as the most hawkish Republican neoconservative. And whatever current commitment she makes to civil liberties, gay rights, and such, they ring more of opportunistic political conversion than genuine conviction. And on top of all that, I believe Hillary is fundamentally dishonest, a woman who simply could not tell the truth if her life depended on it. I would rather eat ground glass than vote for her.

On the other hand, we have Donald Trump. Even if you assume that he’s telling the truth about his ever evolving views, it is hard to find anything that I can agree with him on. OK, he would cut taxes (though his actual plan is economic nonsense) and protect Second Amendment rights, but that’s about it. His positions, when not simply incoherent, are dreadful on issues ranging from entitlement reform to health care, from eminent domain to corporate welfare. He has a terrible record on civil liberties, even worse than Hillary. His opposition to free trade is antithetical to economic growth as well as liberty. And, of course, there is his ignorant, xenophobic, and frankly racist position on immigration. Indeed, throughout his campaign, Trump flirts with racism and racists, from his casual retweeting of “white power” memes to his toleration of anti-Semitic and white nationalist elements within his campaign. He also has tolerated, and sometimes seemed to encourage violence by his followers. He exhibits utter contempt for constitutional norms, even if he understands them. At bottom, he scares the hell out of me.

What then should a lover of liberty and a believer in limited government do? The crook or the bigot?

My friend Jonah Goldberg suggests that the only real option remaining may be SMOD (the sweet meteor of death). https://twitter.com/smod2016?lang=en

Yes, SMOD would likely mean the end of all life on earth. But after looking at the way this current election is headed, wouldn’t we deserve it? Count me in SMOD2016!

The End of Rand Paul’s Campaign

Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign, and the postmortem begins.

Paul was once celebrated as the avatar of a burgeoning “libertarian moment.”  Now, the failure of his campaign is being taken as evidence, somewhat gleefully by big-government social conservatives like National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru (http://bit.ly/1JYgrHr), more mournfully by libertarian pessimists like Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center (http://fxn.ws/1GpBpYg).   The truth as I see it is, not surprisingly, more complex.

A political campaign was always a flawed and limited vehicle for the larger libertarian goal of a freer, more tolerant, more peaceful society.  Candidates must inevitably operate within the constraints of the existing political system, one that requires compromises, waters down principles, and reveals flaws.  Ultimately voters are looking at candidates and positions on particular issues of specific priority to each of them, rather than broad political philosophies.

And, to be blunt, we libertarians need to admit that we are still a minority of the electorate.  Some estimates suggest that only about 11 percent of voters self-identify as libertarian.  That number may be artificially low due to unfamiliarity with the term, but even if you use the broadest libertarian definition, being economically conservative and socially liberal, the numbers remain uncomfortably low.  Using other criteria, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that slightly less than a quarter of the electorate leans broadly libertarian.   And, even those who might be considered libertarian may hold views on specific issues that are not libertarian, and/or may not vote in a libertarian manner.  Remember those signs during the Obamacare saying “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”

That’s not quite as bad as it looks though.  We need to remember that most Americans are simply not ideological at all.  The numbers of Americans who can be classified as conservative or liberal does not greatly exceed the number of libertarians.  A committed minority can move elections.   Still, libertarians should not indulge the fantasy that this is a libertarian country.

Rand, himself, attempted to walk a fine line in this regard.  His strategy was to start with the base of libertarian voters who supported his father, and then expand that base by attracting more traditional conservatives.  This sometimes led him to take non-libertarian positions, emphasizing his social conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage.  He struggled early in trying to define his positions on foreign policy in the face of ISIS and the fear of terrorism, veering from traditionally libertarian skepticism about interventionism and regime change to more mainstream conservative positions on the IRAN deal and limiting the admission of refugees.  He championed his opposition to NSA spying, but seldom talked about cutting taxes or spending.  He was too often neither fish nor foul.   Paul himself called it “libertarinish.” As a result, he often alienated libertarians, without attracting conservatives.

On top of that, Rand’s position as “the outsider” who challenges the establishment was usurped by the rise of Trump.  When compared to The Donald, he looked increasingly conventional.  He was no longer “the most interesting man in politics,” as Time magazine once christened him.

Could a better strategy or a better candidate have performed better?  Perhaps, but most likely not in this environment at this time.

Still, we are better off because he tried.  All too often, Rand was the lone voice of reason on the GOP debate stage, warning about the dangers of military adventurism and calling for greater concern about the poor and minorities.  In a GOP field that is fighting over which country to invade next or which group to demonize the most, it was worthwhile simply to have a voice for the truth.  The other candidates obviously have not paid attention to him, but maybe – just maybe – some Americans did.  If so, that’s fewer Americans headed down the road to Trumpism.

Progress is almost always incremental.  America is a conservative country in the sense that it instinctively resists great political upheavals or radical changes in direction.  Change, in whatever direction, is almost always incremental.   If we want to change things, we must offer real world, incremental solutions that move us in the right direction.

And, we should remember that Rand was a candidate, not the libertarian moment or the libertarian movement.   He lost, the fight goes on.

A Non-Political Post: My New Novel is Out

My latest novel is outbook cover 4

 

An exciting tale of love, intrigue, and dark magic, set against a backdrop of religious and ethnic strife in 13th Century Europe. The story began with Days Dark as Night and continued with Nights Lit by Fire. Now in the thrilling conclusion, Simon and Joet have survived the siege of Cardester Castle, but their hold on Adama’s throne may be more perilous than ever. Caught between a wounded but still powerful papal army and the growing ambitions of Haakon, King of Norway, they must now confront an ancient evil rising once more in their midst. Priests and kings, peasants and sorcerers, all will play their part, as the fate of nations hangs in the balance. And this time, neither Simon’s strength at arms nor Joet’s arcane powers may be enough to save them.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1519436009?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=od_aui_detailpages00

Note: This is the paperback edition. The kindle version will be released on December 28.

Or start at the beginning:

Days Dark as Night is the story of Joet, a young peasant girl with magical abilities, who survives the massacre of her village to become the leader of her people. It is also the story of Simon, a disillusioned young knight, who must stand for what he believes is right—even if it means taking arms against his king and his own father. Caught up in a conflict that sweeps from the beginnings of the Inquisition to the founding of Amsterdam, from the bloody battlefields of Northern Europe to the papal palaces of Rome, these two young people will find themselves facing enemies far more dangerous than mere flesh and blood. Together, Simon and Joet will have to cast off a legacy of superstition and ethnic hatred, or see everything they hold dear consumed by the fires of war.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004KAAXUI?keywords=days%20dark%20as%20night&qid=1449498206&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

Simon and Joet have fought their way to Adama’s throne, but now they face new enemies both within and without. As civil war threatens to tear the kingdom apart and a papal army prepares to invade, a new threat arises—one that may be a match even for Joet’s arcane powers. As the action sweeps from the glittering palaces of Rome to the mead halls of Norway, Simon and Joet will find their lives and love tested by war, treachery, and the fires of dark magic.
http://www.amazon.com/Nights-Lit-Fire-Ellen-Maidman-Tanner-ebook/dp/B004MME64I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449498245&sr=8-1&keywords=nights+lit+by+fire

On Terrorism

Every weekday, I get in my car and drive into Washington, DC to work.  At other times, I eat in restaurants, go the theater and concerts, or visit museums in the city. I live less than a mile from the DC line. So, yes, I find it a bit disconcerting when ISIS releases a video promising a Paris-style attack on the city.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/isis-threatens-attack-dc-video/story?id=35242900

Do you know what I’m going to do about it?  Absolutely nothing.  And, that’s a good thing.  The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.  That’s why we call it terrorism. I refuse to be terrorized. I refuse to change my life or spend my days looking over my shoulder. I refuse to stop doing what I did before.

The same should be true for our government and our society.  I don’t want to give up our civil liberties in order to purchase a little added safety.  Should we be vigilant?  Of course. Should we track down and arrest or kill the terrorists? Absolutely. But in an open, liberal democracy, there is no such thing as perfect safety.

I fully expect that, sooner or later, terrorists will strike again in the United States.  Americans will die.  That is terrible and tragic. But, last year, more than 35,000 Americans died in auto accidents. The reality is that I’m more at risk from driving my car to work than I am from terrorists. If all we cared about was preventing deaths, we would ban cars. That we don’t, shows a proper sense of perspective.

I want a similar sense of proportion when it comes to terrorism. I don’t want the government monitoring my communications, detaining people without trial, closing mosques, or otherwise violating our civil liberties in order to fight terrorism.  We can be reasonably safe – not perfectly safe, but reasonably – without making America something less than America.

http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Ghosts-The-Policing-Terrorism/dp/0190237317

Similarly, I am disturbed by the hysteria surrounding resettlement of Syrian refugees.  Is it possible that a terrorist might slip in amidst the widows and orphans (only about 2 percent of Syrian refugees coming to the US are military-age men without families)? I suppose so, although there are certainly easier ways for a would-be terrorist to get here.  But is that very small risk worth denying America’s heritage as a refuge for people fleeing tyranny?

Nor should the fear of terrorism become an excuse for religious bigotry.  As I wrote the other day, the attack in Paris was carried out by a cult of radical islamicists.   That does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or evil, or that Islam itself is a threat.  As one Facebook meme put it very well: There are 1.2 billion Muslims. If they were all terrorists, we would all be dead by now. In fact, consider that those Kurds we are all cheering for their pro-Americanism – and for retaking ISIS-claimed territory in Iraq and Syria – are Sunni Muslims.  And, lest you say that moderate Muslims are not condemning these attacks – yes they are:

http://www.isisnotinmyname.com/

ISIS is not going to conquer the United States. It is dangerous, indeed barbarous, but it is not an existential threat. But it can make us change our way of like.  It can make us different than the country that I love. If they do, they will have won.