Why Do Libertarians Tend to Be Republican?

Libertarian Party: Just Kidding, We're Republicans!You may remember last year, there was quite a bit of coverage of Jonathan Haidt and his theory of political differences, Moral Foundations Theory. What he did was look at five moral foundations that correlated strongly with liberals and conservatives in different ways. They are: harm, fairness, ingroup, authority, and purity. Liberals score very high on harm and fairness. Conservatives score high on everything. But conservatives score substantially lower than liberals on harm and fairness, substantially higher on ingroup and authority, overwhelmingly higher on purity.

I just came upon an article I’m pretty sure I read last year, The Science of Tea Party Wrath. I’m not really interested in getting into that subject today. I think we all understand that liberals and conservatives are fundamentally different kinds of people. I think it mostly comes down to empathy. That’s not to say that conservatives can’t care about the weak and unfortunate, but when they do so, I think they do so in a more paternal way. Of course, mostly they don’t care about the weak and unfortunate — at least that’s true of the extremist Tea Party Republicans.

What struck me in the article was the following graph because it included libertarians as well as liberals and conservatives:

Moral Foundations

Forget about the last two bars: “economic liberty” and “lifestyle liberty.” The whole “liberty” idea was just a “good candidate” for a moral foundation. Personally, I think it is a term that is too vague and ideologically charged.

The most obvious thing to notice here is that libertarians do score about as you would expect. They agree with liberals about ingroup, authority, and purity; they agree with conservatives about harm and fairness. But there is something that I think is more interesting: the general pattern for libertarians is the same as for liberals. Conservatives have more or less the same scores on all of the foundations. But libertarians have the same pattern as liberals: high for harm and fairness; medium for ingroup and authority; and low for purity. That’s very odd!

Based upon this, you would think that libertarians would tend more toward the Democratic Party than the the Republican Party. Indeed, I have argued this. Other than the issue of taxes, the Democratic Party is far more libertarian than the Republican Party. Yet libertarians tend toward the authoritarian party. I don’t just say this because Rand and Ron Paul are Republicans. They aren’t what drives this; they are a symptom of it.

My long history with the libertarian movement — and one of the main reasons I left it — was that it was easily made up of 90% disaffected Republicans. In fact, the Libertarian Party was founded by Republicans who were unhappy with Nixon. But they weren’t unhappy with Nixon because of Watergate. They were like everyone on the far right of the Republican Party: they just didn’t like Nixon, although they all had their different reasons for it. But let’s face it: on domestic issues, he was pretty liberal.

Jonathan HaidtWhat I find notable in the graph is that libertarians are even less concerned about “harm” than conservatives are. Based upon what I know about libertarians, I can’t really explain this other than to note that they tend to not care about practical outcomes. But I would be concerned if I were a libertarian. The foundation is defined thusly, “This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.” It is the foundation that is most associated with empathy.

I think this may have something to do with the great impact of Ayn Rand on libertarians. Her big message, above all others, was the virtue of selfishness. She argued not that altruism was bad but that it didn’t even exist. And so I think that libertarians tend to end up with a philosophy that says, “It is virtuous to only look out for myself.” And that goes along with their lower score on fairness.

But overall, I think this graph should make libertarians take a serious look at themselves. In a general sense, they believe the same way that liberals believe. But they vote the way that conservatives vote. You would either have to conclude that libertarians don’t understand what their actual interests are or that they don’t understand what the parties actually stand for. This goes along with my often noted observation that immigrants often become Republicans because of the rhetoric of the party, rather than its actual policies. So are libertarians just clueless? If not, you have to conclude that libertarians value lowering taxes on the rich more than anything else. And given that overall taxes in the United States are fairly flat already, the focus of the Republican Party’s tax “reform” ideas is to make the system less fair. If they ever got what they actually wanted — a flat income tax — overall taxes in America would be regressive. Is that what libertarians want?

My guess is that libertarians actually are completely clueless. That would also explain why they are libertarians at all.

Shepard Smith: Voice of Reason — Again

Shepard SmithIt has been widely speculated that Shepard Smith is gay. It was rumored that in his recent contract negotiations with Fox News, he tried to get approval to “come out.” Fox News said no — undoubtedly thinking that their audience of conservative senior citizens would freak out about this. But I don’t exactly give Smith a pass on this. He has an estimated net worth of $20 million. He could easily get another job on a different network, although probably not making his current $10 million per year.

Of course, Smith’s problems at Fox News are not only that he’s probably gay. There are also rumors that he is secretly something even worse: liberal. Over the years, he has made comments that show a kind of open-mindedness that isn’t typical of conservatives — certainly not of the type that one finds on Fox News. Regardless, it is clear that Shepard Smith is not of the fire-breathing variety of conservatives. While supposedly straight news anchor Bret Baier has created a brand for himself as a straight-talking reporter, his bias is quite clear. I have no doubt that he could dust himself off and take over Sean Hannity’s show. That just isn’t the case with Smith.

Well, Shepard Smith is at it again! Yesterday on Shepard Smith Reporting, he took on the Ebola hysteria being promoted by the media. He said, “We do not have an outbreak of Ebola in the United States.” Of course, he didn’t state the obvious: that it is primarily right-wing media that is pushing all this hysteria. Check out Amanda Marcotte’s Salon article, Why Ebola Triggers Massive Right-Wing Hysteria. But he did call the coverage “irresponsible,” and I don’t think anyone can really question who he has in mind.

It is an amazing bit of television and and it speaks well of Shepard Smith for doing it. And it might actually have an effect on coverage. Since he was very careful not to call anyone out specifically, it may cause people to feel secretly ashamed and to at least ease up on the rhetoric. Or it may cause some people to double down. Smith did seem to be attacking Sean Hannity implicitly. Last week, on his radio program, Hannity said he wasn’t covering the CDC’s press conference on Ebola because, “I don’t trust them.” Yesterday, Smith said, “Suggestions have been made publicly that leaders and medical professionals may be lying to us. Those suggestions are completely without basis in fact.”

Smith also recommended getting a flu shot. He said, “Best advice for you and your family at this moment: get a flu shot. Unlike Ebola, flu is easily transmitted. Flu, along with resulting pneumonia, killed 52,000 Americans last year.” This is interesting because both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh has argued that people shouldn’t get flu shots and that they are a kind of government conspiracy. My father’s girlfriend died believing that flu shots were a conspiracy and my father still is highly skeptical of them.

In his five minute talk, Shepard Smith slayed a number of conservative dragons. And I wonder if he isn’t putting his job in jeopardy. He continues, in his quiet way, to push against so much of what Fox News stands for. But he’s probably safe. For one thing, I suspect the executives at Fox News may realize that they’ve gone too far on Ebola and that it isn’t even good from a political or ratings standpoint. It is also true that being reasonable is a big part of Smith’s brand. Just check out this video, Seven Times Shep Smith Was Fox News‘ Voice Of Reason:

No one is perfect, of course; but you gotta love this guy!

Strange Bedfellows of America’s New Imperialism

Empire's WorkshopIt was Central America, and Latin America more broadly, where an insurgent New Right first coalesced, as conservative activists used the region to respond to the crisis of the 1970s, a crisis provoked not only by America’s defeat in Vietnam but by a deep economic recession and a culture of skeptical antimilitarism and political dissent that spread in the war’s wake. Indeed, Reagan’s Central American wars can best be understood as a dress rehearsal for what is going on now in the Middle East. It was in these wars where the coalition made up of neoconservatives, Christian evangelicals, free marrketers, and nationalists that today stands behind George W Bush’s expansive foreign policy first came together. There they had near free rein to bring the full power of the United States against a much weaker enemy in order to exorcise the ghost of Vietnam — and, in so doing, begin the transformation of America’s foreign policy and domestic culture.

A critical element of that transformation entailed shifting the rationale of American diplomacy away from containment to rollback, from one primarily justified in terms of national defense to one charged with advancing what Bush likes to call a “global democratic revolution.” The domestic fight over how to respond to revolutionary nationalism in Central America allowed conservative ideologues to remoralize both American diplomacy and capitalism, to counteract the cynicism that had seeped into both popular culture and the political establishment regarding the deployment of US power in the world. Thus they pushed the Republican Party away from its foreign policy pragmatism to the idealism that now defines the “war on terror” as a world crusade of free-market nation building.

At the same time, the conflicts in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala allowed New Right militarists to find ways to bypass the restrictions enacted by Congress and the courts in the wake of Vietnam that limited the executive branch’s ability to fight wars, conduct covert operations, and carry out domestic surveillance of political activists. The Reagan White House perfected new techniques to manipulate the media, Congress, and public opinion while at the same time reempowering domestic law enforcement agencies to monitor and harass political dissidents. These techniques, as we shall see, prefigured initiatives now found in the PR campaign to build support for the war in Iraq and in the Patriot Act, reinvigorating the national security state in ways that resonate to this day. The Central American wars also provided the New Christian Right its first extensive experience in foreign affairs, as the White House mobilized evengelical activists in order to neutralize domestic opponents of a belligerent foreign policy. It was here where New Right Christian theologians first joined with secular nationalists to elaborate the ethical justification for a rejuvenated militarism.

In other words, it was in Central America where the Republican Party first combined the three elements that give today’s imperialism its moral force: punitive idealism, free-market absolutism, and right-wing Christian mobilization. The first justified a belligerent diplomacy not just for the sake of national security but to advance “freedom.” The second sancified property rights and the unemcumbered free market as the moral core of the freedom it was America’s duty to export. The third backed up these ideals with social power, as the Republican Party learned how to channel the passions of its evangelical base into the international arena.

To focus, therefore, exclusively on neoconservative intellectuals, as much of the commentary attempting to identify the origins of the new imperialism does, deflects attention away from the long history of American expansion. The intellectual architects of the Bush Doctrine are but part of a larger resurgence of nationalist militarism, serving as the ideologues of an American revanchism fired by a lethal combination of humiliation in Vietnam and vindication in the Cold War, of which Central America was the tragic endgame.

—Greg Grandin
Empire’s Workshop

Bush the Younger Has Not Been Exonerated

Bush Sad ClownWhen I saw the headline, I knew we were in trouble, The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons. Many conservatives have grabbed onto this headline and said, “See: Bush was right; there were weapons of mass destruction!” That’s not what the story is about. In fact, it is kind of the opposite. And if you think about it for a couple of seconds you will realize this. At least, you will unless your brain is so caught in a partisan haze that thinking is impossible.

As C J Chivers wrote in the article, “From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.” If that proved that Bush the Younger’s Excellent Mesopotamian Adventure was right, why did his administration hide this information? Because it didn’t prove that. Finding these old stores of chemical weapons was an embarrassment.

You may remember that Saddam Hussein used to be one of our guys. He was fighting Iran and we hate Iran because our foreign policy is run like a high school cheerleading clique. And what did we do for our “mother from another brother for a day”? We provided him with chemical weapons. Chivers expained, “In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.”

Let’s remember back to 2002 and all the rhetoric used to sell the war. Remember: the idea for the war was not popular before the six-month advertising campaign for it. Max Fisher over at Vox provided a couple of good quotes from the time:

Bush was explicit in claiming that Saddam had an active weapons program: “Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons, and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.” (Bizarrely, a number of conservatives today insist that Bush never made any such claim.)

The Bush administration hit this argument repeatedly. Then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice claimed that Saddam was running a clandestine nuclear program that was only “six months from a crude nuclear device.” She argued that this program was so imminent, and so clearly designed to target the United States, that a US invasion was the only option: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Of course, even at the time, it was clear that the WMD claim was a smokescreen. For one thing, the definition of WMDs is vague and broad. I was shocked when Hussein didn’t have some kind of program that the administration could use to claim vindication. But I guess when you go around talking about nuclear weapons within six months, you need something more than big cannons. Even still, I never saw any person in the administration talk about this stuff without thinking they were lying.

I especially remember people using a rhetorical tap dance about how those who didn’t know were talking while those who did know weren’t. The implication is, “I’m not giving you any information and that’s why you know you can trust me.” It was madness and yet it was accepted. There was also Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns” comment. But it included a very telling bit, “Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist.” Technically true. This is the point of Russell’s teapot. But no one seriously thinks we should start looking for a teapot orbiting the sun just because we don’t have evidence of it.

The WMD lie was a big part of selling the Iraq War. But the arguement made by the administrtation was never, “Saddam Hussein has WMDs we sold him and they are stockpiled someplace he probably doesn’t even know about.” It was, “Iraq has an active WMD program.” In fact, it was even more than this with talk of nuclear arms and the intent to strike the United States. The new reporting in The New York Times is more evidence that this was not the case.

Get Happy With Eugene O’Neill!

Eugene O'NeillOn this day in 1888, the great American playwright Eugene O’Neill was born. When I was young, I loved his work. I liked his dark realism and thought it was much better than Tennessee Williams, whose romanticism I didn’t understand, and therefore didn’t like. But in my 20s and 30s, I turned against O’Neill. His work just seemed so unrelentingly pessimistic. I suspect this reaction came from my efforts to suppress my own unrelenting pessimism. Now his plays just seem very realistic to me.

O’Neill’s supposed masterpiece is Long Day’s Journey Into Night. It is about the effect of a mother’s morphine addiction on the other members of the family. The play is largely autobiographical. O’Neill’s mother was addicted to morphine for roughly two decades. And she gets the best line in the play, which in many ways sums up O’Neill’s entire oeuvre, “Something I need terribly. I remember when I had it I was never lonely nor afraid. I can’t have lost it forever, I would die if I thought that. Because then there would be no hope.” Although I think it is a great play, I am not especially fond of it, and it is not what I most admire of his work.

My favorite is the four hour treatise on despair and hopelessness, The Iceman Cometh. It doesn’t tell any particular story — it just shows the lives of a group of people who drink their lives away at a Greenwich Village boarding house and bar. Everyone is excited because the semi-regular visit from Hickey — a very charismatic traveling salesman. (To give you some idea of the character’s charisma: James Earl Jones played the part on Broadway in 1973.) Much happens during the play, but ultimately, nothing happens. The characters go back to their old lives of drink and fantasies about what they will do “tomorrow.” Reread the line above from Long Day’s Journey Into Night again. There it referred to morphine, but in The Iceman Cometh, it refers to, well, everything and anything.

I don’t think that O’Neill was a very nice man. He had three wives, all of which he abandoned. Out of these marriages came three children. Both of the boys committed suicide in adulthood. (Interestingly, one of them did it the same way Don Parritt does in The Iceman Cometh.) And his daughter married the 54 year old Charlie Chaplin when she was 18. She appears to have been the most stable member of the family. But it is hard to read any of O’Neill’s work and come to any conclusion but that he was a miserable bastard. The work is still great.

Happy birthday Eugene O’Neill!