Domestic issues Election 2008 Obama Politics Post 9/11 Generation

The Disengagement with Power

All of these legacies have left the young feeling depressed, cynical and[digg-reddit-me] powerless. And yet our democracy needs them more than ever now. Young people are always in the vanguard of any movement to sustain or advance liberty. Students led the charge for freedom in Prague and Mexico City in 1968, in Chile in 1973, in Beijing and throughout Eastern Europe in 1989.

Naomi Wolf in the Washington Post on the disengagement with power of the Post 9/11 generation. I’ve posted about this before: excerpts from an interview with a former radical Weatherman, a meditation on the post 9/11 generation, and a similar, but much more extreme version of this disengagement and its effects in the islamist movement.

Domestic issues Election 2008 Political Philosophy

lib•er•tar•ian: Two roads diverged in a wood…

© kruggg6 @ flickr


n. 1. a person who believes in the doctrine of the freedom of the will;
2. a person who believes in full individual freedom of thought, expression and action;[digg-reddit-me]
3. a freewheeling rebel who hates wiretaps, loves Ron Paul and is redirecting politics.

From the Washington Post, an ideologically-muddled piece by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch (of Reason magazine) about Ron Paul and the libertarian phenomenon. I would guess the “muddle” is because Gillespie and Welch are still somewhat wedded to the idea of a conservative-libertarian political axis. The idea behind the piece was to explore the growing support for the libertarian philosophy in American politics – especially as demonstrated in the strength of Ron Paul’s campaign. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t fully explored – and it ended up distorting Ron Paul’s positions significantly and mainly ignoring the left-libertarian movement. But the article did bring up an important topic – and one that I haven’t seen covered by the mainstream press.

Even as consensus on base libertarian ideas is growing, the movement is diverging into two camps. Or, more apt, libertarian ideas are taking root in two different political movements. In broad terms, I’m going to call them Ron Paul Libertarians and Kos Libertarians.

Ron Paul Libertarians

Favorite films
Enemy of the State
, V for Vendetta, The Firm, The Conversation

Favorite websites,,,, (see footnote 1)

Favorite TV show
The X-Files, Family Guy

Favorite Conspiracy Theory
“9/11 was an inside job!” (See footnote 2); Honorable mentions: “Global warming is a hoax!” and “The Fed is evil.” (See footnote 3)

Geographic center
The Internet

Top proponents
Ron Paul, phenomenon

Number 1 boogeymen

Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, CIA, The Media, The Federal Reserve (See footnote 3)

Signature issues

  • opposition to Iraq war and most of American foreign policy since 1990;
  • opposition to wiretapping and increased national security measures;
  • support of marijuana decriminalization and ending the War on Drugs;
  • reducing taxes;
  • support of gun rights;
  • eliminating the social support network of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, etcetera.

Ron Paul supporters tend to fall into two categories: the old guard – the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican party – and a large contingent of newer members – who are suspicious of government, especially the military-intelligence-industrial complex that seems to be gaining more and more power. To speak in broad strokes: the older members are pretty old – and the main reason to include them is that Ron Paul himself is one of them. They have strong feelings about economic and social issues; and on these, they tend to be reactionary. The older guard want to reverse the New Deal and go back to simpler times.

The newer members care less about restoring the social and economic structures of pre-World War II America, and more about restoring – in their words – the Constitution. They want a new America where the government leaves them alone – with their guns, their hacking, their anarchist beliefs, their marijuana, their prostitution – whatever. (See footnote 2.) They are scared about the growing power of the government and feel we are approaching a police state, if we are not there already.

Ron Paul supporters, both old and new, tend to be contrarians, which makes them a cantakerous lot. But in a society, in a political debate, their views need airing.

Kos Libertarians

Favorite films
The Insider, An Inconvenient Truth, Fahrenheit 9/11, Thank You For Smoking

Favorite website

Favorite TV shows
The Wire, The Daily Show

Favorite Conspiracy Theory
“The Iraq war is part of an intricate plot to help Bush, Cheney, and the rich get hold of key resource before the coming near-apocalyptic events brought on by global warming.” Honorable mention: “9/11 was an inside job!”

Geographic center
The Mountain West/The Internet

Top proponents
Jon Tester, Markos Moulitsas

Number 1 boogeymen

George W. Bush, Oil companies, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Blackwater, Hillary Clinton

Signature issues

  • opposition to Iraq war;
  • opposition to illegal wiretapping and the aggressive pursuit of unchecked executive power;
  • support openness and transparency in every portion of the government;
  • support of marijuana decriminalization and ending the War on Drugs;
  • support of net neutrality;
  • support of gun rights;
  • support of using government as a check against corporate power;
  • support of a strong barrier between religion and the state;
  • support of social security programs such as Social Security, aid to the poor, and health care programs.

The era of Libertarian Democrats was inaugurated with a post on the Daily Kos by its founder, Markos Moulitsas. From Markos’s piece:

Traditional “libertarianism” holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad….

The problem with this form of libertarianism is that it assumes that only two forces can infringe on liberty – the government and other individuals.

The Libertarian Democrat understands that there is a third danger to personal liberty – the corporation. The Libertarian Dem understands that corporations, left unchecked, can be huge dangers to our personal liberties.

Libertarian Dems are not hostile to government like traditional libertarians. But unlike the liberal Democrats of old times (now all but extinct), the Libertarian Dem doesn’t believe government is the solution for everything. But it sure as heck is effective in checking the power of corporations.

Markos cites Jon Tester, Paul Hackett, and Jim Webb as models for this type of liberal libertarian politician, but the movement has yet to “take off”, even though 2006 proved a banner year. What is clear though is that this movement is growing in power and influence, and is likely to grow more. As the Republican party has become more authoritarian and the executive branch has become more powerful under Democratic and Republican stewardship, and as corporations have come to infringe more and more upon the rights of employees and customers, support for this point of view is growing.

Kos Libertarians believe do not need a government small enough to drown in a bathtub as Grover Norquist famously said. Rather, we need a government that is as small as possible, while still allowing it to act as a check against corporate power. In other words, Kos Libertarians believe we need a government that not only butts out of our life, but that protects our rights against others.

Domestic issues History Law Political Philosophy Politics The War on Terrorism

A Defense of Compromise and the American Experiment

In response to a blog post by lynx on natural rights, as well as comments made on my post[digg-reddit-me] about whether or not terrorists have rights, and another post of mine that discussed torture, comments made by Andrew K at, and in various reddit discussions:

A few definitions

freedom – the ability to act without restraint; referring to politics: the right of self-determination as an expression of the individual will. (see footnote 1)

society – a collection of individual beings who together form a community with a shared culture and a shared set of rules or laws.

a rule or law – a restriction on the freedom of an individual or institution.

radical – someone who rejects the way things are in favor of revolutionary change.

Absolute freedom

Based on these definitions, it is clear that any society is, by it’s nature, the result of the compromise of individual freedom. Absolute freedom is a state enjoyed only by tyrants. In a society of equals or near-equals, the freedom that is enjoyed is the result the compromise of each individual’s absolute freedom. These compromises are memorialized in laws, constitutions, rules, mores, ethical principles, and customs among other means. They are enforced through various methods – from social pressure to the courts of law.

As with every human endeavor, the system of compromises that allows society to exist is deeply flawed. Rules are unequally applied; mores are arbitrary; laws are broken. But even in the purest theoretical state, absolute individual freedom is impossible in a free society.

The American experiment

What we are left with then is disarmingly simple: we must try to figure out what is the best compromise of individual freedoms that will allow us to live together in a society. The dream of greater freedom, of a more free society, has motivated people throughout history: from Gandhi to Plato, from Che Guevera to Simon Bolivar, from Alexander Hamilton to James Madison, from Robespierre to Abraham Lincoln.

As often as these experiments have been tried, they have failed. In the name of freedom, Robespierre instituted a Reign of Terror; Plato banished poetry and democracy; James Madison protected slavery; Abraham Lincoln waged a bloody civil war; Che Guevera fought for a dictatorship. This is what men have done in the name of freedom.

Despite these flawed individuals and their flawed conceptions of a free society, advances have been made in the past few centuries. (See footnote 2.) The American Revolution established the principle that the consent of the governed is required in a free society, and that certain rights are inherent, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The subsequent Constitution and Bill or Rights established a government that for the first time, attempted to balance power sufficient to maintain a stable society with numerous checks and restrictions to limit abuses of this power. The 14th Amendment committed the federal government to guarding and preserving the rights inherent in the founding documents. Finally, the New Deal and subsequent programs made the state responsible for providing basic economic opportunities to its citizens and for protecting them from the excesses of capitalism.

The most important liberties in any free society are those which are essential to allow for the effective consent of the governed in creating and maintaining the policies and laws of the government. There has been much debate about what is needed, but on the whole, most agree that this list encompasses the basics:

  • an independent judiciary;
  • fair and transparent elections;
  • a free press;
  • a military subordinate to civilian authority;
  • habeas corpus;
  • freedom of speech;
  • freedom of assembly.

Without these, a government is not able to gain the free consent of it’s people.

At the time of the American revolution, individual liberty and the right to pursue one’s happiness beyond these basic rights were acknowledged in theory, but violated in practice – especially at the state level. Since then, as the government has become more powerful, regulations have been created to restrain the government more. But government power has outstripped regulation and especially since the New Deal, these non-basic liberties have been eroding. (See footnote 3.)

Our society is still substantially free – even today. There are growing defects apparent in our institutions of government; there are many attempts – some successful – to undermine the freedom of the press, habeas corpus, the independent judiciary, and the civilian authority over the military. Yet despite these attacks on basic liberties, and the glaring exceptions that are generally gathered together under the heading of consensual crimes, individuals in contemporary American society still have substantial freedom to pursue their happiness as long as their desires do not conflict with the rights of others.


There is the rub. In a society, the rights of one individual is often pitted against the rights of another. Does the absolute freedom of speech mean I can lie about a product I am selling; or endanger others by inciting violence; or slander the reputation of my neighbor? How does the absolute freedom of religion deal with religions that seek to impose their views of ethics on all others? Does the freedom to assemble mean that I can gather together with 500 of my closest friends in your backyard?

Compromise is the basis of our system of government, and the basis of our society. A significant part of the effectiveness of terrorism is that it exploits the liberties inherent in a free society. Terrorism is the price we pay for freedom. But upon due consideration, and with the goal of preserving our way of life and with the consent of the people, compromises may be made in order to reduce the dangers of terrorism. Our compromises should be in proportion to the problem: suspending habeas corpus during an insurrection is one thing; suspending it indefinitely as a result of possible future plots is quite another.

We must zealously guard the aforementioned pillars of a free society: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etcetera. But we must guard them not because they are ideals which are perfect; but because they are the pillars of a free society. If we begin to focus on the absolute ideals and lose focus on the society in which we live, we risk going down the path of Robespierre, who in the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality became a tyrant.

Every society is the result of a particular set of compromises and is delicately balanced between anarchy and tyranny. The problem with radicalism is that it has no patience for balance – instead, seeking to create society anew. The desire to start again, to erase all the evils of the world with a new social compact, is a compelling idea that has seduced many. Inevitably, it has led to tyranny as the delicate balance holding society together is disturbed.

Perhaps more than anything this was the miracle of the American Revolution – the fact that is was a non-radical revolution that never sought to remake its society.

Why I’m angry

It is because I believe our society is not entirely corrupt and because I believe it allows genuine freedom for most of its citizens that I am so angry at the current administration. As I have written previously and will again: I believe that the Bush administration has been fighting a war against our theoretical rights and liberties, against the system of checks and balances, and against the Constitution in the name of expanding executive power. They refer to it as allowing greater freedom for the president to execute policy and protect national security.

A challenge to those who disagree

  • define freedom (if you disagree with the definition given)
  • define society (same as above)
  • explain why compromise is not necessary (if you believe so)

A Wedding to Remember

A couple makes their first dance as man and wife special.

Election 2008 History Obama Politics

Experience : Judgment :: Clinton : Obama (or Paul or Kucinich)

An issue that has been raised repeatedly in the Democratic primary is that of “experience”.[digg-reddit-me] Hillary Clinton is claiming she is the most experienced candidate and has repeatedly criticized her opponents – specifically Barack Obama – for not having enough experience. This was my initial reaction after I first heard Obama was running earlier this year as well. But as the campaign wore on, Obama won me over. I think similar arguments could be made for Paul, Kucinich, or others as well. If you trust their judgment, then their experience is less important.

There are three main points that were made to change my mind.

  1. History has shown that experience does not lead to better job performance in presidential politics.
  2. Experience can be a proxy for good judgment, but it isn’t always.
  3. No one is prepared to be president, and anyone who claims to be prepared is lying.

1. History has shown that experience does not lead to better job performance in presidential politics.

I published this earlier, but have adapted it a bit for this post.

Richard Nixon was one of the most experienced people to assume the presidency. JFK had less experience than almost anyone. Yet he beat Richard Nixon in the middle of the Cold War while the president was responsible for overseeing a possible nuclear war. JFK’s inexperience led to the Bay of Pigs disaster, but he learned valuable lessons from this, accepted responsibility for the failure, and managed the Cuban missile crisis expertly. Richard Nixon was experienced, one of the most experienced men to have assumed the presidency having served eight years as vice president in addition to his significant legislative experience – he knew how to work the levers of power; but his personality led him to be secretive and paranoid, to try to bully and intimidate those who disagreed with him, etc. JFK was able to remedy his inexperience while Nixon was not able to remedy his character flaws.

If you want to look to a more recent example of the price of experience, just look at Donald Rumsfeld – who was one of the single most experienced bureaucrats in Washington – having worked in the military-industrial complex for the past three decades. He had already been Secretary of Defense during Ford’s tenure, and was chief of staff to the president before that. Despite – and in a way, because of – his experience, his time as Secretary of Defense was an absolute disaster for the military. We could talk about Cheney too if you wanted.

When you think about it, some of our greatest presidents have had little or no national experience before they became president during some of the toughest times in our history – Abraham Lincoln, who had no national or managerial experience, Harry Truman, who was isolated by FDR and did not even know that the atom bomb was in development, and Bill Clinton, whose previous experience had been governing one of the less important states in the union. Yet each of them rose to the challenges they faced, overcame their lack of experience, and mastered the job.

2. Experience can be a proxy for good judgment, but it isn’t always.

Obama in an interview with the Washington Post:

“They want to project Senator Clinton as the seasoned, experienced hand. I don’t fault them for that. That’s the strategy they’re pursuing, and my response is that what the American people need and what the Oval Office needs right now is good judgment. Experience can be a proxy for good judgment, but it isn’t always.

[Obama] then repeated what he said during a debate in Chicago last week: “All the people who were on that stage in Chicago talking about their experience and criticizing me for the lack of it were the same people who went along and displayed incredibly poor judgment in going along with a war that I think has been a disaster.” [my emphasis]

3. No one is prepared to be president, and anyone who claims to be prepared is lying.

Chris Dodd to voters in Iowa:

“Anybody who stands before you and says, ‘I’m ready to do the job on Day 1’ ought to be disqualified. This is unique, this job. [When] you can sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, you can be better prepared and I believe I am. But you can’t be totally prepared for this.” In an interview afterward, Dodd suggested the proper attitude for anyone who inherits the White House in 2009: “They ought to be nervous.”

Election 2008 Giuliani Politics

Mister 9/11

Giuliani: Mister 9/11

The New York Post ran this below the fold on page one yesterday evening. The Post had this comment in the body of the article:

A group of 9/11 families and firefighters who oppose Giuliani’s candidacy were outraged.

“Giuliani is running on 9/11 and portraying himself as a hero. It’s disgusting. It’s horrible,” FDNY Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches said.

“This guy will do anything to get elected.”

The little man in search of a balcony appears to be doing his best to try to live up to satirists’ expectations.

Here’s hoping Giuliani has finally overplayed the 9/11 card.

Breaking news:

The Weekly Standard reports that Rudy’s “achievements in New York – not, as is so widely claimed, his leadership on September 11, 2001 – serve as the touchstone of his presidential candidacy.”  It looks like Rudy’s campaign didn’t get the message (scanned from the Post.)

Election 2008 History Obama

The Historical Obama

David Greenberg over at Slate has a piece about Barack Obama as Adlai Stevenson. (That is a bit of an unfair summary of Greenberg’s point – but he places Obama in the same political camp as the Mugwumps and Adlai.) Just a few weeks ago, Shaun Mullen, proprietor of the Kiko’s House blog “Is Barack Obama the New Gene McCarthy?” and answers, on the whole, yes. Some time before that Ted Sorenson, among others, began to compare Obama to JFK.

There’s always a bit of this going around – with Hillary and Giuliani both being compared to Nixon; Fred Thompson to Reagan; and Mitt Romney to JFK. But it is my sense that pundits are having a harder time placing Obama than any other candidate in the race. The comparisons to Nixon are based on the shared paranoia mainly; those of Fred Thompson have to do with his TV style; Mitt Romney because of the religious issue. The Obama analogies are different. Rather than attempting to make a historical comparison on a single point, they attempt to place his entire political presence.

I think the reason is that it is clear to most pundits where Hillary comes from – what tradition she is part of; the same is true of every other candidate. Obama represents a break. He represents a point of view that does not come out of nowhere, but is new to the political scene. He represents a new synthesis.

This is why everyone is struggling to explain him away with interesting (and insightful) historical analogies. And this is also why everyone so far has failed.

Domestic issues Election 2008 Politics



Top 10 Pranks on Dwight from “The Office”

Foreign Policy Pakistan Politics The War on Terrorism

Staving off disaster in Pakistan

Buried within the Washington Post piece by Michael Abramowitz explaining how Musharraf’s close ties to Bush pose problems in the administration’s response to the current situation is this prescription for how to stave off disaster when Musharraf inevitably falls:

Wendy J. Chamberlin, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the critical months after Sept. 11, 2001, said the administration may have been justified in standing by Musharraf – but not after his recent seizure of emergency powers. “We have to make clear that our relationship is with the people of Pakistan and not with one man, and that he is not indispensable,” said Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based policy group.

The Pakistan situation is revealing the high costs of pursuing the kind of personal diplomacy that Bush has reveled in without building relationships across the board and between allied societies. Bush based his relationship with Great Britain on Tony Blair and with Russia on Vladmir Putin and with Pakistan on Musharraf. The British relationship remains strong despite some tensions at the top because of the many levels of our countries relations. The same cannot be said of either relations with Russia or Pakistan. Our influence on Pakistan does not quite end with Musharraf – we do have a prominent relationship with former Prime Minister Bhutto and Musharraf’s main moderate opponent (who was removed from office in 1996 on corruption charges). But aside from connections with these two leaders, our influence on Pakistan is extremely weak. This is incredible considering Pakistan’s importance in the region and in the Bush administration’s supposed generational “War on Terror”.

Our flawed Pakistan policy is yet another example of the Bush administration’s prioritizing of transient tactical advantage over longer-term strategic planning.