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!
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.
My latest novel is out
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Before all else, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of Friday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. And, not just the French. The day before the Paris attacks, suicide bombers in Beirut killed more than 40 people. The same day, a bomb at a funeral in Baghdad killed 24. And every day, terrorists murder countless numbers in Nigeria and Yemen and Syria and Bangladesh and….
Next, I speak as an educated and reasonably well-read layman. I am not an expert on military or diplomatic strategy. These are not policy areas that I work on. But, like many Americans, I have thoughts and ideas that I wish to share. Take them for what they are worth.
Let me begin, then, by disposing of some silliness – no stupidity. 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:
So, if you are among the people on my Facebook feed saying that we should nuke Mecca or shut down all the mosques, you are teetering dangerously close to idiocy.
That said, the failure of the Obama administration, the Democratic candidates for president, and certain liberal media outlets to admit that the attackers were radical islamicists is absurd. ISIS may practice a twisted medieval version of Islam, but there is no doubt that their vision of Islam is what motivates them. You cannot wage an ideological and theological battle if you don’t know – or admit — what your opponent’s ideology and theology is. Truth should not be a casualty of this war.
Second, the big question is what to do next. Like almost everyone else, I agree that “ISIS must be destroyed.” But how? The Obama administrations approach could hardly be less effective. The very fact that French warplanes struck a command and control center in Raqqa last night raises an obvious question. Why, after more than a year of US bombing, was there still a command and control center in Raqqa? The administration’s approach seems to be doing just enough to make us a target, but not enough to accomplish anything.
But what are the alternatives. “Bomb the shit out of them,” as Donald Trump says? Are we really prepared for massive civilian casualties from that type of bombing campaign. What do you do with a city that has a few thousand ISIS fighters hidden amongst tens of thousands of civilians? Are the civilians we will kill less innocent than the victims in Paris? I know and accept there will always be collateral damage during war. Sometimes its necessary. But how much are we prepared for, and what will be the blowback? Will we lose allies? Radicalize more Muslims?
Others cavalierly suggest more American troops. How many? And, recall that Vietnam started with just a few advisors. How will Iraqis and Syrians react to Americans occupying their land? And, how long must we stay there? Decades? We can conquer if we are willing to accept consequences, but then what?
Still other hawks, including Hillary Clinton and various Republicans, are calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria. But as Rand Paul pointed out in the last debate, what happens if Russians fly in our no fly zone? Are we ready to shoot down Russian planes? And what if they retaliate by shooting down ours? Do we risk war with Russia? Or do we back down – again – and look pathetically weak.
That leaves our current policy of arming and supporting allies like the Kurds and a motley array of Syrian rebels. The Kurds have done well, and I think we should arm them, but there are limits to what they can do. Syrian (and even Iraqi) Arabs have no desire to be ruled by Kurds. Sunni Muslims don’t want to be ruled by Shiites. Shiites don’t trust Sunnis. The Alawites, Druze, and other insular minorities have their own histories of ethnic hatreds. So who are our allies – and for how long? Do we decide who runs the place – or do they just fight it out?
On the other hand, I actually do think that territory matters in this war. ISIS needs its image of invincibility. It says it has reestablished the caliphate. Take that away from them, and they will be a lot less attractive to the disillusioned young people now joining them. I don’t think military options should be taken off the table. But we should recognize that there are consequences to our actions. There are always consequences.
I don’t have any answers. I have no moral objection to fighting a war (properly declared) against ISIS. I’m open to ideas about how to do this. There are many people – including many of you reading this – who know more about it than me. But, so far, much of what I’m hearing is cathartic but facile.
From those running for president, both Democratic and Republican, we need and deserve something more thoughtful.
In Washington, the word “bipartisan” usually means “watch your wallet.” If anyone needs any further proof, just look to the bipartisan budget agreement announced yesterday.
Hailed in the name of “coming together” and “compromise” to “get things done,” the proposed deal is a dog’s breakfast of every bad budgetary idea to land on the table in recent months.
It’s a deal so bad that even incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan says it “stinks” (although, it appears, he will still be voting for it). Still, current speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who hammered out the deal behind closed doors, can probably put together enough votes to push it through, with a united Democratic caucus and just enough pro-defense spending Republicans.
The deal essentially guts the spending limits in place under the 2011 Budget Control Act which brought about sequestration. It would increase spending by at least $80 billion over the next two years above current spending limits, split equally between domestic and defense spending. It would also increase funding for the military’s Overseas Contingency Operation slush fund by $32 billion, meaning the total spending hike would top $112 billion. More domestic spending for Democrats. More defense spending for Republicans. Everyone wins except the taxpayers.
But the deal is much worse than just the particular spending increases it contains. Sequestration may have been a blunt instrument but it has been one of the few successful restraints on federal spending in recent years. Without it and the caps in the Budget Control Act, federal spending would have been at least $200 billion higher since 2011.
This really would mark the second consecutive budget deal in which Congress agreed to ignore the caps. That’s a pretty clear signal that Congress plans to return to its wide open tax and spend past.
The deal would supposedly offset these increases through a rehashed collection of budget gimmicks such as selling some of the strategic petroleum oil reserves, auctioning telecommunications spectrum (again), and making changes to the crop insurance program. Been there. Done that. Still paying for the t-shirt.
In fact, this deal actually weakens long term entitlement reform. For example, it cancels coming increases in Medicare Part B premiums for the 30 percent of beneficiaries not already shielded from premium increases by a hold harmless provision. It would also allow Congress to avoid reforming the Social Security Disability Insurance program by shifting funds to it from Social Security’s retirement program. The move weakens Social Security’s overall financing, but props up the disability program for another six years.
So we will spend more on domestic discretionary programs, more on defense, and more on entitlements, while papering over the cost. Happy days all around.
The deal would also raise the debt ceiling by enough to last through March 2017. In fact, the deal doesn’t just raise the debt ceiling, it simply does away with it for a year and a half.
Of course, no one really expected Congress not to raise the debt ceiling eventually. But this deal surrenders even token Republican leverage.
We’ve been fortunate the last few years. A combination of renewed economic growth and sequestration-driven spending restraint has reduced our budget deficit to just (just!) $435 billion. But this is only a temporary respite. Within just a couple of years, deficits are expected to start growing once more. By 2025 we could again see $1 trillion deficits. Worse, our $18.2 trillion debt is scheduled to rise to $26.9 trillion over the same period. And all of this is before the big cost of entitlements really kicks in. By some measures, our real debt tops $80-90 trillion.
But at least we’ve found something everyone in Washington can agree on: screwing the taxpayer.
Cross-posted to Cato@Liberty
No matter what policy topic I write about lately, the comments section (and my in-box) quickly blows up with a discussion of immigration. And, judging from the otherwise inexplicable success of Donald Trump’s campaign, it appears that there are a lot of Americans who share a Trumpian opposition to immigration. It also appears that opposition to illegal opposition is increasingly slopping over into opposition toward all immigration, both illegal and legal.
I’m having a great deal of trouble understanding this, so maybe my readers can help me. I admit that, as a libertarian, I am pretty close to an open borders advocate. Yes, I believe that immigration needs to be orderly and that we need to be careful about terrorists or criminals slipping in. But in general, I feel that this country benefits from immigration. Besides, my political philosophy is essentially based on individual rights, and its hard for me to see whose rights immigrants are violating. And, certainly, it seems to me, that most anti-immigration policies would end up violating a lot of rights.
But, as I said, perhaps my friends on the other side of this debate could answer some of my questions:
How do you envision deportation working?
Those seeking to expel illegal immigrants currently living in this country, generally fall into one of two camps. The most radical group simply wants to round them up and ship them home. This would lead to thousands of Elian Gonzales-style raids, with SWAT teams kicking in doors of suspected illegals. Children being hauled out of classrooms. Then what? Boxcars? Is that really what we want to be as a country?
And, what if the authorities get it wrong? What if the arrested family is not really here illegally? Will they be allowed/given legal representation? Look at the drug war and all the innocent families hurt (and some people even killed) in mistaken raids. Such a policy will lead to a network of informants and tips, many of which will be mistaken and others malicious. (Of course many of those advocating this approach are unlikely to be mistaken for an illegal immigrant.)
More thoughtful immigration opponents simply call for enforcing exist laws, especially laws against hiring illegal immigrants. By denying employment to illegals, the hope is that they will self-deport (in Mitt Romney’s inelegant phrase).
The key to this approach is some variation of E-Verify, a government data base to check the employment status of workers applying for jobs. But do we really want to give government another way to track us? E-Verify might seem harmless now, but missions always creep and bureaucracies expand. E-Verify will be an attractive way to enforce hundreds of other employment laws and regulations. In the age of big data, the government can easily E-Verify age, union membership, education, employment history, and whether you’ve paid income taxes and signed up for health insurance. And while the government screens employee applications, it can also check on employers’ compliance with all sorts of regulations by looking at the job applications they submit for verification. That scares me more than illegal immigration.
Moreover, do they really expect that the government responsible for HealthCare.gov will suddenly develop the competence to manage such a massive database? The most recent audit of E-Verify found an error rate of between 0.3 and 0.7 percent. While that might sound small, if applied to the entire national workforce of 150 million people, it would yield somewhere between 450,000 and slightly more than one million errors. That would mean as many as a million American workers wrongly denied employment.
Beyond E-Verify, do we really want to open the door to a national ID system? Or become the type of country where police stop you on the street to “see your papers?”
Why do you oppose illegal (or increased legal) immigration?
On the illegal side of the ledger, the most commonly heard – and, frankly, the most convincing argument – is the rule of law. Those immigrants who come here illegally are, by definition, breaking the law. (Though it is actually an administrative violation, not a felony). At a time when the president seems to feel free to rewrite laws at will, regard for the “rule of law” is more important than ever.
If you feel this way, do you apply it equally to all violations of the law? For example, it seems utterly hypocritical to speak of the rule of law when talking about illegal immigration, but applaud Kim Davis’s refusal to obey the law regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples.
Besides, most immigration reform proposals do impose penalties on those who crossed the border illegally, fines, back taxes, they must go to the end of the line to apply for citizenship. If you think those penalties should be stronger, argue for that. But, unless you think that every violation of law – any law — is forever unpardonable, the rule of law doesn’t seem sufficient to oppose any reform that allows current illegals to stay.
The far weaker argument against immigration is the worry that immigrants – and here the anti-illegal immigration argument morphs into an overall anti-immigration argument – take jobs away from Americans and drive down wages.
For the most part, immigrants have different skills and job preferences than native-born workers. They typically take jobs at the high end and low end of the skill spectrum. Where there is competition, illegals are competing less with American workers than with automation. The demand by American workers to pick vegetables is, shall we say, underwhelming. The vast majority of immigrants should be considered complementary, making American workers more productive.
The CBO, projects that under comprehensive immigration reform average wages would be “0.5 percent higher in 2033” if the bill were passed. Even this undersells the positive overall effect immigration would have on wages, because a majority of new immigrants would have lower-paying jobs, bringing the average wage amount down, meaning wages for native workers would increase even more than 0.5 percent. And, a recent study looking at state legislation intended to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to work found that passage of such a bill had slightly negative effects on overall population and employment, and that this kind of legislation “not only has a negative effect on the undocumented population, but it also unintentionally harms a much broader segment of the population.”
There may indeed be some job loss or wage depression for the lowest skilled Americans, but those negative effects would be swamped by beneficial impact throughout the economy. For example, if some businesses are able to reduce labor costs, those savings can be passed on through lower prices or steered into greater investment elsewhere.
Indeed, the CBO estimates that comprehensive immigration reform would increase real gross domestic product by 3.3 percent over the next 10 years and by 5.4 percent by 2033. After all, economic growth depends on the growth and productivity of the labor force. An increase in immigration would help offset an ongoing decline in U.S. labor force participation.
Immigrants positively impact both the demand and supply sides of the economic equation. Obviously, immigrants are consumers, providing additional demand for goods and services in the areas where they reside. At the same time, immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. Immigrants now account for almost 30 percent of new entrepreneurs, more than double their share in 1996. In addition, the US is by far the most popular destination for migrant inventors. Roughly 57 percent of the world’s inventors who live outside their home country, reside in the U.S. There are 15 times as many immigrant inventors in the US as there are US inventors residing abroad.
More importantly, for my conservative and libertarian friends, why do you believe it is the government’s job to keep wages higher than they would otherwise be in a free market? What other government interventions do you favor in order to prop up wages? Minimum wage laws? Protectionist trade barriers? Public works programs? Mandatory union membership?
There is also the welfare question. Yes, increased immigration, under current laws, is likely to mean more people receiving welfare benefits. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, immigrants tend to use most social welfare programs at a slightly lower rate than native-born Americans with comparable incomes. But because they tend to be poorer than the average American, they use welfare at a higher overall rate. This is a real problem, but would seem to argue more for walling off the welfare state than for walling off America? Would my friends who oppose immigration be willing to accept a compromise where there is increased immigration, but immigrants are ineligible for welfare?
This leaves the question of culture. There seems to be a fear that increased immigration will change our culture. Of course it will. But why is that a bad thing? America’s culture has been changed by immigration at least since Benjamin Franklin complained about all those Germans living in Pennsylvania. And we are wonderfully better for it, richer, more diverse, more interesting. Like the Brad Paisley country & western song puts it:
Shes got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car
Listen to the Beatles singing back in the USSR
Yeah shes goin around the world tonight
But she ain’t leavin here
Shes just going to meet her boyfriend down at the street fair
It’s a french kiss, italian ice
Spanish moss in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night
There’s a big toga party tonight down at Delta Chi
They’ve got Canadian bacon on their pizza pie
They’ve got a cooler full of cold Coronas and Amstel light
It’s like were all livin’ in a big ol’ cup
Just fire up the blender, mix it all up
You know everywhere has somethin’ they’re known for
Although usually it washes up on our shores
Little Italy, Chinatown, sittin’ there side by side…
Frankly, the only thing that seems different about these immigrants is that they are brown skinned. While I know my friends have more substantive, policy-oriented reasons for their immigration concerns, many of those commenting on message boards after my columns, and many of those applauding Trump, seem to flirt with racism and xenophobia.
As I said, I have many friends and people I respect on the other side of this debate. Perhaps I’m missing something. If so, I hope you will enlighten me. On the other hand, maybe more facts and less emotion might make you reconsider, what I think is a wrong-headed and even dangerous policy turn.
For anyone who believes in a smaller, less costly, and less intrusive government, last night’s GOP debate was truly dispiriting. For anyone who believes in a serious discussion of the important issues, it was even worse. But at least it was grand political theater.
My thoughts on how the candidates did (roughly in order of performance grade):
Carly Fiorina. Carly was the hands down winner on debate points. There is no doubt that she is smart, prepared, and thinks quickly on her feet. She sounds, well, presidential. I can imagine her in the Oval Office, and we probably could do worse. That said, she seemed anxious to inherit Lindsey Graham’s “Dr Strangelove” mantle of strident militarism. And, while her personal tragedy makes it understandable, her stand in the drug war is lamentable. On abortion, I’m pro-choice, so I clearly disagree with her, but I thought her answer on planned parenthood was formidable. Expect to see a big rise in the polls next week.
Marco Rubio: Rubio often seems to be campaigning for last non-Trump standing, low-key, acceptable to nearly all conservative factions. He debates well, even if he seldom scores any real “moments.” Most viewers will come away with a good impression. Alas, he is another uber-hawk, but he appears more sober and stable than some of the others. I think he helped himself long-term, though it might not show yet.
Chris Christie. Debates fit Christie’s style, and he performed last night. He was the only candidate to talk sense about entitlements, but spent way too much time on his law and order shtick. You get the feeling he would rather be running for sheriff. And his 9-11 talk was emotional but over the top. Probably helped himself, but that’s a pretty low bar.
Ben Carson. Carson was Carson, low key, not terribly well informed, but extraordinarily likable. I honestly can’t recall what he said about any issue, other than schooling Trump on autism and vaccines. He didn’t have a big moment like his brain surgery line in the last debate, and I doubt he helped himself much – but he didn’t hurt himself either. Besides, his strength comes from meeting him, especially with evangelicals. Unless he blows up in one of these debates, they won’t have big impact.
Rand Paul. There were glimpses last night of what a Rand Paul candidacy could have been. His answers on war in Middle East and the drug war were terrific. But he showed little spark most of the night and wandered off into vaccine La-La Land with Trump. Good Rand/Bad Rand
Ted Cruz. I thought Cruz had an off night. Normally, I find him a compelling speaker, even if I disagree with him on substance. Last night, I found him canned. He delivered mini campaign speeches rather than answered questions – and in an odd, overly dramatic voice. He probably didn’t hurt himself with his fans, and is positioning himself to pick up Trump supporters, but his rush to the right is disconcerting. Earlier in his Senate career, he flashed occasional libertarian streaks. Those are long gone now.
Jen Bush. Well, he showed more energy, and pretty much anything would have been an improvement over his last debate performance. But he still provides absolutely no rationale for his candidacy. Why, exactly, does he want to be president, other than that it is the family business. And, he did nothing to distance himself from his brother. His performance wasn’t terrible, but certainly won’t rescue his flailing campaign.
John Kasich. Kasich started strong, playing the adult in the room, but then all but disappeared. A solid conservative in Congress, he insists on running to the Left, as if the GOP is desperate for the return of Jon Huntsman. That might be good enough for second or third in New Hampshire. But, after that, what?
Donald Trump. I’m sure his fans loved his performance. But I would hope the combination of juvenile insults and lack of policy specifics will run thin eventually. And his answer on autism and vaccines wasn’t just ignorant, it was dangerous. Trump is pretty much impossible to critique – he is what he is. Sadly. His performance won’t hurt him (his fans don’t care), but it may help cement his ceiling in place.
Mike Huckabee. Huckabee gave an impassioned plea to become chief theologian in the emerging sharia regime (echoing Jindal and Santorum from the first debate), and delivered an over the top call to defend Western Civilization, but otherwise had little visibility.
Scott Walker. Walker really needed a home run to revive his fading campaign. At best, he delivered a bunt single. Aside from his “taking on the unions” schtick, which is a bit stale, does anyone remember what he said? Does anyone remember that he was there?
This was supposed to be the best GOP field in decades. So far, it’s been a tremendous disappointment.
Given some of the ill-informed opinions being expressed on my Facebook feed and elsewhere (including by several Republican presidential candidates), let me go on the record with absolute clarity: There is no excuse for Kim Davis – none, zero, not any – to refuse to do her job and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I say this as someone who a) supports gay marriage, but b) believes that business owners, such as bakers, photographers, and musicians, have the right to refuse to participate in gay weddings. Religious liberty, indeed liberty generally, should protect people from being compelled to take part in activities that violate their conscience. In other words, bigots have the right to be bigots. The only exception to this should be cases when such discrimination is so wide spread, and normal social sanctions so ineffective, as to make it impossible for those discriminated against to participate in normal society, such as the Jim Crow south).
Davis, however, is a public official. She is being paid by taxpayers, including gay taxpayers, specifically to perform certain duties. Those duties include issuing marriage licenses. She can choose to exercise her religious beliefs and resign, or she can perform her legally required duties. She cannot continue to pretend to be a county clerk – and be paid as such – and refuse to perform the duties of a county clerk. Moreover, she is not merely refusing to sign marriage licenses herself, which would be of dubious legality itself, she is preventing any of her junior clerks from doing so, making it effectively impossible for gays to obtain a marriage license in her county.
Public officials cannot choose which laws to carry out. How would her defenders feel about a Quaker clerk who refused to issue firearms licenses or a Muslim who would not issue liquor licenses? In fact, the Davis case provides a field day for hypocrisy. How often have we been lectured by conservatives about the sanctity of obeying the law. Illegal immigrants should be deported because “we are a nation of laws.” Young black men who have been killed by police officers, should just “obey the police.” (Liberals have their own brand of hypocrisy. The defense of the rule of law is now coming from defenders of President Obama’s executive overreach and Hillary Clinton’s blatant disregard for legal niceties.)
Davis defenders don’t truly believe in the rule of law, they see the law as a bludgeon for enforcing their moral beliefs. That’s not how it works in this country.
According to polls the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is “liar.” Her number one challenger is a 73 year-old self-described socialist. After that, there’s what? Martin O’Malley? If there was ever an election when Republicans should feel that they have a good shot at winning the White House, it’s this one.
So why are Republican candidates collectively acting like someone slipped LSD into the drinking water at the RNC?
I’m not talking about the three-ring circus that is the Trump campaign. By now we should be used to The Donald saying outrageous or bizarre things. Most recently, he suggested that he would fight ISIS by invading Iraq and Syria and “taking their oil.” But, mainstream – supposedly more responsible – candidates are now saying the craziest things.
Start with Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator recently explained that his support for sugar subsidies is a matter of national security. If you are wondering why ISIS has been quivering in fear at the prospect of higher US candy prices, Rubio has an explanation for his stance – sort of. According to Rubio, without agricultural subsidies, including those for sugar, US farmers will stop farming and sell their land to real estate developers, who will pave over their land and put up condos. Then, once, all our farm land is gone forever, foreign food suppliers will cut us off. America starves. Makes sense, right?
Meanwhile, Scott Walker says that he is open to building a wall along the US Canada border. Walker, who cannot quite decide whether the 14th Amendment means what it says, is apparently frightened by the sudden influx of illegal Canadians flooding across our northern border. It has become Republican orthodoxy to advocate a wall along the 1954 mile border with Mexico, at a cost of at least $42 billion. Now Walker wants to build another one along the 5,525 mile Canadian border, including, I guess, the Great Lakes. But why stop there. Walls can be climbed over or tunneled under. What this country really needs is to be sealed inside a hermetically-sealed glass dome ala Stephen King.
Chris Christie used an appearance last weekend on Fox News to declare war on…marijuana. Christie says he plans to send federal agents into Colorado and Washington to arrest pot smokers, despite the fact that marijuana is legal in those states (under state law). Neither federalism nor the manifest failure of the War on drugs seems to matter to Christie who says “when I’m president of the United States, and we won’t have people getting high on marijuana in Colorado and Washington if the federal law says you shouldn’t.” Of course. Because arresting 8.2 million people for the possession or sale of marijuana every year has done such a good job so far.
And, Rand Paul, who should know better, defended the Kentucky county clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that states cannot bar same sex marriages. Paul described the clerk’s defiance as “part of the American way.” Um, no its not. Civil disobedience is all well and good, but elected officials (and btw the clerk was elected as a Democrat) should obey the law and do the jobs that taxpayers – including gay taxpayers – are paying them to do. If their conscience won’t let them conduct those duties, they should resign. This is very different from those cases involving private businesses such as bakers and florists who do not want to participate in gay weddings.
Paul may be pandering to the Religious Right, but he is a piker compared to Mike Huckabee, who continues to suggest that he will send federal troops to close down abortion clinics. Huckabee insists that, as president, he would not be bound by little things like Supreme Court decisions.
And on and on it goes. Lindsey Graham wants to use drones to kill any American citizen who thinks of supporting ISIS. Jeb Bush still hasn’t come up with an answer about whether his brother was right to invade Iraq. Ben Carson wonders whether prison rape can turn people gay. It is as if the rise of Donald Trump has lobotomized the entire field.
It looks like it is going to be a very, very long campaign. Sigh.