Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Reading

This was the week that Libertarianism got its baptism of fire. It’s not just the election of Rand Paul in the Kentucky primary; it’s the premise of the insurgent teabaggers that their way is the only way to achieve the American dream. Except purity of thought and ambition has a funny way of being disrupted by the reality of human nature.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

To libertarians, there are only two choices: either the Civil Rights Act eliminated all racism whatsoever or it accomplished absolutely nothing. There’s no possible middle ground, no chance that it could be part of a process of reversing appalling legal and cultural wrongs, something that’s done a great deal of good, even if it hasn’t wiped out all racism in America forever.

To libertarians, the thinking on this law must be absolute because libertarian thinking on government and private property is absolute. Government is always purely evil. The marketplace, by contrast, is absolutely perfect — it heals all wounds and corrects all flaws, even flaws it creates, even flaws as brutal as the forceful repression of one race by another. Left to its own devices, the libertarians say, the marketplace absolutely could have eliminated racism — all racism, or certainly all racism in the private sphere.

But keep in mind that this kind of absolutism isn’t limited to a small group of cranks, one of whom happens to have made his way into the political big time in an unusual election cycle. This thinking is now mainstream Republican — it’s teabag rhetoric.

When teabaggers say that a few government interventions in the marketplace that leave the vast majority of capitalism alone are “socialism,” full stop, when they invoke Mao and Stalin to discuss this mix (which is a far less interventionist mix than we were accustomed to under, say, that great commie Dwight Eisenhower), they’re engaging in the same sort of all-or-nothing thinking. Capitalism can’t withstand any government modification; if it isn’t kept pure, it’s so delicate it must cease to exist. It’s either pure or it’s destroyed, they tell us. (This is absurd, of course, as long as we have Medicare and the interstate highway system and corporate tax subsidies and the like, but never mind.)

This rhetoric is nuts when longtime believers make the arguments and it’s nuts when a guy in a tricorn hat holding an Obama-as-Joker sign makes them. Nevertheless, this thinking is powerful enough to be driving our politics right now.

Continued below the fold.

David Weigel at the Washington Post‘s blog Right Now musters a defense for Mr. Paul and his philosophy.

He does not believe that the Constitution allows the government to force businesses, landlords, etc. to change how they do business and who they do business with. And he fears that doing so in the name of positive social change puts us on a slippery slope to extra-Constitutional measures in the service of negative social change — taking away guns, putting people in camps. You can disagree, but that’s where he’s coming from.

Now, if you disagree, can you prove him wrong? I think you can. As Errol Louis pointed out yesterday during our appearance on “Hardball,” while many libertarians believe that America is more or less colorblind, around 500 discrimination cases are filed each week.

Paul’s answer to this would be similar to his explanation of why it would have been better for the U.S. economy to have completely crashed than for taxpayers and the Federal Reserve to have temporarily bailed out banks. We should have endured the crash, stuck by our principles and rebuilt. If a man in a wheelchair can’t get into a restaurant, he can raise a fuss, his neighbors can join him, and the restaurant can build a ramp in order to get more business.

It’s essential to put Paul’s belief in the context of 2010 instead of the context of 1964. He sees less of a need now for the government to intervene against discrimination in private business because there is less discrimination now. And go and try to prove him wrong on that.

I think Mr. Weigel is being a bit naive to think that we have grown up in the last forty-five years and that there is less discrimination now. Did he miss the tea-party rallies with the racist caricatures of President Obama and the attacks on the African-American congressmen during the healthcare debate? Does he count the fact that five states now allow some form of marriage equality — with multiple court challenges to those laws still in court — as less discrimination against gays and lesbians? That’s pretty thin gruel for progress, and perhaps he needs to remember that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects more than just the black population; it is meant to end discrimination against all people, and that’s not done yet. Besides, even if it was, that doesn’t mean we should repeal the law. Human nature has a very funny way of reverting.

Frank Rich sees an enthusiasm gap between the Paulbots and the Democrats.

It’s far-fetched to Democrats that Tea Party populists could possibly believe that the party of McConnell and Romney and Murdoch will in the end be moved to side with the little guy against the penthouse powers that are the G.O.P.’s traditional constituency and financial underwriter. Some Democrats also find it far-fetched that Paul could repeat his victory this fall, given how extreme his views are even for a state as reliably red as Kentucky.

But the enthusiasm gap remains real. Tea Partiers will turn up at the polls, and not just in Kentucky. Democrats are less energized in part because even now the president has not fully persuaded many liberal populists in his own party that he is on their side. The suspicion lingers that a Wall Street recovery, not job creation, was his highest economic priority upon arriving at a White House staffed with Goldman alumni. No matter how hard the administration tries to sell health care reform and financial reform as part of the nation’s economic recovery, these signal achievements remain thin gruel for those out of work.

The unemployment numbers, unlikely to change drastically by November, will have more to say than any of Tuesday’s results about what happens on Election Day this year. Yes, the Tea Party is radical, its membership is not enormous, and its race problem is real and troubling. But you can’t fight an impassioned opposition merely with legislative actions that may bear fruit in the semi-distant future. If the Democrats can’t muster their own compelling response to the populist rage out there, “Randslide” may reside in our political vocabulary long after “Arlen Specter” is leaving “Jeopardy” contestants stumped.

Carl Hiaasen wants Big Guv’ment off our backs… but not yet.

Government is totally inept, wasteful and useless, with the possible exceptions of Medicare, the FDIC, FDA and USDA. We might as well add the Coast Guard, which rescued hundreds of people during Katrina and is now scrambling to contain the BP oil spill.

Come to think of it, now would also be a foolish time to chop up the TSA, CIA, NSA, FBI or any of our national security agencies. There are too many terrorists hell-bent on killing Americans, and — no offense — most local police departments aren’t geared up to screen airline mainfests or track al Qaeda’s cell phone signals.

Oh heck, I just thought of another federal bureaucracy that seems to work pretty well: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Without NOAA, we wouldn’t know how large a hurricane was or where it was heading, which is fairly useful information here in Florida.

With the storm season starting next month and the Gulf of Mexico turning black with crude, let’s add NOAA to the not-so-worthless list along with Medicare, FDIC, FDA, USDA, the Coast Guard, FBI and so on.

As for the rest of Big Guv’ment, get your shiftless boot off our hard-working necks and let us be — at least until we’re old enough for Social Security.

Then we’ll tell you where to send the checks.

Doonesbury: rebranding.