Majestic Equality of Law

Anatole FranceThe law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.Anatole France

This is a great quote that cuts to the heart of conservative thought. This is exactly the thinking behind the flat tax. It is also why conservatives think of themselves as, well, “fair and balanced.” And when you think like that, you need a lot of balance!

While looking for the exact quote, I came upon another: “Remember: It’s Only Class Warfare When the Poor Fight Back.” It comes from a blog called The Angry Bureaucrat. The guy tends to be a bit wordy, but he has a lot to say, and—in great Frankly Curious fashion—on a lot of different subjects. Check him out.

Wake the Fuck Up

I hear this is from the same people who brought you the great Sarah Silverman Let My People Vote 2012 video. This time we get Samuel L. Jackson, who happens to say “Mother fucker!” better than anyone on the planet. I don’t have much to say other than that this is also a fucking great video:

Also: the little girl is adorable.

Update (28 September 2012 9:24 am)

I found the non-bleeped version:

I saw in comments that some people were asking, “What good will this do?” They seem to think it is an ad aimed at Romney voters or something. Just to be clear: it is part of a long history ads designed not to convince but to excite the already convinced. And it succeeds brilliantly.

Ayn Rand and Indians

Ayn RandThe first year I was in graduate school up in Oregon, I drove back and forth to the Bay Area a large number of times. One of the things I remember was hearing conservative talk radio. It was surprising to me just how often people would mention John Galt.

For those of you who have not read the novels of Ayn Rand (I don’t recommend it), John Galt is the hero of Atlas Shrugged. He’s an unapologetic capitalist who is rich because he is morally superior to the little (read: poor) people. And because the society is not licking his boots enough, he’s going to take his toys and go home. It really is that ridiculous, but if you want to see the hero rape the heroine, you’ll have to read Rand’s other opus, The Fountainhead (’cause chicks just love that).

I bring this up, because Ayn Rand’s presence in conservative politics has grown from the freaks on the fringe to the mainstream of the Republican Party. Who is John Galt? Mitt Romney is John Galt! (Paul Ryan just thinks he’s John Galt.)

Because I was once forced to marry a woman who was an Ayn Rand fan, I’ve read pretty much everything she’s ever written—at least in book form. And I think people miss the true horror show that is Ayn Rand when they focus just on her pseudo-free market beliefs. As bad as these are, there are even worse things

Let’s Play “Ayn Rand and Indians”!

In her Address to West Point in 1974, Ayn Rand had the following to say about the theft of Native American lands:

They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.

Okay, okay: this is vile. And it is racist. But that’s not even what I want to talk about here. This undercuts Rand’s basic philosophy in two ways.

First, this goes against Rand’s often stated claim that she was against violence. She often talked about the need for a “revolution of thought.” But here she is making a clear “might makes right” argument. “We don’t like what you’re doing with the land so we’re taking it.” Second, she is claiming that some outside authority knows better than a land owner what his land should be used for. Her thinking could as easily be used to justify the Nazi confiscation of Jewish property. You are either for the rule of law or you are not. Rand was not.

The End of History

What most strikes me in the quote above are the scare quotes around the word “right.” This is necessary for her to make her argument: our rights are real and their “rights” are illusory. But what kind of future does that provide for her philosophy? After all, aren’t other people going to come who don’t accept our “right” to exploit the land as we do?

The subtext of this is that we have reached the end of history. No better system of government could possibly be created than the one that Rand now sees. And this goes to something I often talk about: the libertarian (or conservative, more generally) belief that their preferred system is “natural.” The truth is that it is not. Humans naturally exhibit individualistic and communal tendencies and these are constantly jockeying for prominence. But even if the cut throat libertarian ideal were natural, is that good? Murder is natural. Rape is natural. But I wouldn’t want to base a society on them.

Rand, however, does want to base a society on them. She explicitly put rape as a positive act in one novel and one play. And murder by other means (e.g. starving the “moochers”) is found throughout her writing. But as we see in the case of the Native Americans, she was also for murder in a more explicit way.

And now some horrible combination of Ayn Rand and Old Time Religion are the core of the Republican Party.

The Wily Undecided Voter

Undecided VoterThere’s been a bit of push back against the deification of undecided voters. For election cycle after election cycle, I’ve been wondering who these people are who can’t decide. After all, these are people who are supposedly in the middle. I can understand that a socialist would have a hard time deciding between the Democrat and Republican; but they wouldn’t; they’d just decide Peace & Freedom. I can understand that a fascist would have a hard time… Wait, no they wouldn’t; they’d just vote Republican. But who are these centrist voters who can’t tell whether Obama’s jobs program is better than Romney’s? After all, Obama’s jobs program will create 1.1 million jobs and Romney’s will create 87,000 jobs. Who could say which is better?

In 2004, This American Life did an episode on supposed swing voters. It was very good, but one part of it really bugged me. Ira Glass had a number of conversations with a Cincinnati doctor named James Hackett. Hackett was unhappy with Bush. But regardless of the arguments that he himself found compelling, he ended up voting for Bush. This I think is one of the two kinds of “undecided” voters: not undecided. In Hackett’s case, he was always going to vote for Bush, but he wanted to seem reasonable and open minded. This is increasingly true of Republicans. A good example of this is the Tea Party movement which is as red as can be but insists that they are independent.

The other kind of undecided voter is the low information voter. Last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, in his “New Rules” segment, Maher said, “If you’re one of the 5% of American voters who are undecided on who to vote for, it’s okay to admit: you don’t really give a shit.” Here’s the whole thing, which is funny and insightful:

Saturday Night Live gets straight to the heart of it:

Over the years, what I’ve noticed is that the undecided voters tend to break exactly as the decided voters. So if the polls indicate that Obama is beating Romney 50% to 40%, the undecideds will break the same and the final results will be Obama over Romney 56% to 44%. Regardless, the undecided votes will go roughly half and half. There have been many elections where I’ve wished it were otherwise, but that’s just the way it goes.

Ezra Klein has a good article this morning on WonkBook, Undecided voters probably won’t decide the election. He talks about some work by UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck that shows roughly this (and other interesting stuff). Klein sums up:

There’s little reason to believe that undecided voters in this campaign will break sharply toward one candidate. The votes of the undecideds seem to be roughly evenly split, and if any big news happens between now and the election, they’re likely to be the last to know about it, and the least interested in following up on it. If Obama is going to turn this into a rout, or if Romney is to salvage a win, it will probably require changing minds that are already made up, or increasing (or suppressing) turnout among base voters.

Which is what we already know. Now if we can just convince the networks, maybe we won’t have to keep hearing about the undecided voters. And the undecided voters will be happier too. I know it would really annoy me if people kept asking me for my opinions on Jersey Shore.