Tag: andrew sullivan

Andrew Sullivan Has No Idea What He’s Talking about, but I Agree with His Conclusion

Even though he’s become more partisan in recent years, I still enjoy an occasional visit to Andrew Sullivan’s blog. But I was disappointed last night when I read one of his posts, in which he discussed whether government spending helps or hurts economic performance. He took the view that a bigger public sector stimulates growth, and criticized those who want to reduce the burden of government spending, snarkily observing that, “The notion that Herbert Hoover was right has become quite a dogged meme on the reality-challenged right.”

Since I’m one of those “reality-challenged” people who prefer smaller government, I obviously disagree with his analysis. But his reference to Hoover set off alarm bells. As I have noted before, Hoover increased the burden of government during his time in office.

But maybe my memory was wrong. So I went to the Historical Tables of the Budget and looked up the annual spending data. As you can see from the chart (click for larger image), it turns out that Hoover increased government spending by 47 percent in just four years. (If you adjust for falling prices, as Russ Roberts did at Cafe Hayek, it turns out that Hoover increased real government spending by more than 50 percent.)

I suppose I could make my own snarky comment about being “reality-challenged,” but Sullivan’s mistake is understandable. The historical analysis and understanding of the Great Depression is woefully inadequate, and millions of people genuinely believe that Hoover was an early version of Ronald Reagan.

I will say, however, that I agree with Sullivan’s conclusion. He closed by saying it would be “bonkers” to replicate Hoover’s policies today. I might have picked a different word, but I fully subscribe to the notion that making government bigger was a mistake then, and it’s a mistake now.

Is Newt Gingrich Drawing on Camus or Carl Schmitt?

Andrew Sullivan points us to this report that Newt Gingrich is going to tell an audience at AEI that the Obama administration is engaging in “willful blindness” and “self-deception” about the threat posed to the United States by Islam.  In the wake of his remarks urging the United States to emulate Saudi Arabian standards of religious freedom, Gingrich has promised to deploy “the lessons of Camus and Orwell” to illuminate our present predicament.

“Evading the confrontation with Evil may bring a second Holocaust. The mistakes made by the White House will exact a terrible price.”

What’s interesting is that this sort of thing is a long-standing trope in Gingrich’s rhetorical repertoire, although he has reserved it mostly for Israeli audiences.  In 2007, Gingrich went to Israel and informed a group gathered at the Herzliya Conference that Israel was facing the prospect of a “second Holocaust.”  Perhaps drawing on the lessons of Habermas, Gingrich explained that

We don’t have right language, goals, structure, or operating speed, to defeat our enemies. My hope is that being this candid and direct, I could open a dialogue that will force people to come to grips with how serious this is, how real it is, how much we are threatened. If that fails, at least we will be intellectually prepared for the correct results once we have lost one or more cities.

This year, Gingrich published a commentary in a right-wing Israeli tabloid owned by Sheldon Adelson repeating these arguments, with the paper promising readers that

The behavior of the Obama administration regarding Iran and terror is characterized by a complete disconnect from reality. Gingrich, a prominent Republican Party leader, warns that the Western Elites are evading a confrontation with Evil and that the flight from reality could bring a second Holocaust to the Jewish People. An alarm bell, before it’s too late.

Israel faces a range of important international security problems.  Israelis have much more reason to be concerned about their national security than do Americans.  And it’s entirely reasonable that people would disagree about the nature and breadth of the threats to Israel, let alone what to do about them.  But this sort of thing is absolutely irresponsible.  I find it striking that Gingrich has repeatedly lectured Israeli audiences and informed them–presumably based on his knowledge as a Washington insider–that his own government’s policy threatens a second Holocaust on the Jewish people.  Is this a view he really holds?  If so, I would think he would be much more alarmed than he is acting at present.

While Gingrich is claiming that his current proclamations are grounded in Orwell and Camus, it seems to me that his overall Friend-Enemy politics of late owe a good bit to Carl Schmitt.

Conservatism and Gay Rights

We had a spirited forum at Cato on Wednesday on the question “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?” Nick Herbert, who is likely to be part of the British Cabinet in another 100 days, gave a powerful and pathbreaking speech on the Tory Party’s new inclusiveness. In the video below you can find his remarks beginning at about the 3:00 mark, where he says, “I’m delighted to be here at Cato, the guardian of true liberalism.”

Andrew Sullivan (24:00) gave a moving and eloquent defense of a conservatism that has a place for gay people, declaring himself “to the right of Nick, a Thatcherite rather than a ‘One Nation’ Tory.” And Maggie Gallagher (39:15) did an admirable job of presenting her own views to an audience she knew was very skeptical.

Then the fireworks began (51:50). Andrew denounced my question – reflecting many complaints I’d received before the reform – about whether he can really be considered a conservative at this point. “Preposterous,” he declared. There followed sharp exchanges on hate crimes, marriage, adoption, religious liberty, and the state of conservatism today.

Watch it all here:

Or listen to a podcast of Nick Herbert’s speech. Subscribe to Cato’s podcasts on iTunes here.

President Palin?

“Take Sarah Palin seriously,” David Broder writes in the Washington Post. ”In the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty – and potentially, to Obama as well.” Palin’s own Captain Ahab, Andrew Sullivan, wrings his hands that she’s the “leader of the opposition” and a real threat to be president. Time’s Joe Klein goes even further: “Is Sarah Palin the favorite to win the Republican nomination and therefore someone to be taken absolutely seriously? You betcha.”

Yes, well, I’m old enough to remember that Newsweek prepared six covers for the week of the 1968 election (I was very precocious), and one of them proclaimed “President-elect George Wallace.” Wasn’t gonna happen. Nor is this. As for those who compare Palin to Ronald Reagan, yes, there are some similarities. They both lived in the West, they’re both “conservative” in some sense, and they were both dismissed by effete East Coast intellectuals. But I see just a few differences:

  1. Reagan served eight years as governor of a very large state; he didn’t quit after half a term.
  2. Reagan had spent a long time developing a real political philosophy, one that had changed a great deal during his adult life. In his time as president of the actors’ union, 1947-52, he was known as a liberal, anti-communist Democrat. A long life of watching the world, paying taxes, and reading moved him to the libertarian right. Palin couldn’t name any newspapers she reads. Reagan told Rowland Evans in an interview, “I’ve always been a voracious reader – I have read the economic views of von Mises and Hayek, and … Bastiat…. I know about Cobden and Bright in England – and the elimination of the corn laws and so forth, the great burst of economy or prosperity for England that followed.” Reagan thought a lot about what he believed, and his deep understanding of a set of political principles was perhaps his most notable characteristic when he emerged on the political stage.
  3. Reagan was smart and could articulate his views on public policy. One of the standard defenses of Palin is “liberals said Reagan was dumb.” Yes, they did, even after he out-debated Bobby Kennedy in an internationally televised debate just months after he became governor. Democratic mandarin Clark Clifford, who didn’t realize that the bank he chaired was run by actual criminals, famously called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” But now that Reagan’s hand-written radio commentary scripts have been published, no one really makes this claim any more. Read Reagan in His Own Hand, read the commentaries he wrote on yellow pads while being driven from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and ask yourself: Could Sarah Palin do that?

Sarah Palin can be a dazzling performer. But she’s still capable of saying that Obama could improve his chances for reelection if he ”played the war card … decided to declare war on Iran.” Her articulation of political ideas remains remarkably thin. The Republican bench may be weak, but I don’t think it’s that weak.

Credit Card Dementia and Boundary Cases

credit cardsThe most interesting libertarian-related conversation I’ve read today comes from Rortybomb, by way of Andrew Sullivan, with commentary by Megan McArdle. Here’s a challenge to libertarians from Rortybomb, aka Mike Konczal:

I want to pitch to the credit card and financial industry a new innovative online survey. It is targeted for older, more mature long-time users of our services. We’ll give a $10 credit for anyone who completes it. Here is a sense of what the questions will look like:

- 1) What is your age?
- 2) What day of the week are you taking this survey?
- 3) Many rewards offered are for people with more active lifestyles: vacations, flights, hotels, rental cars. Do you find that your rewards programs aren’t well suited for your lifestyle?
- 4) What is the current season where you live? Are any seasons harder for you in getting to a branch or ATM machine?
- 5) Would rewards that could be given as gifts to others, especially younger people, be helpful for what you’d like to do with your benefits?
- 6) Would replacing your rewards program with a savings account redeemable for education for your grandchildren be something you’d be interested in?
- 7) Write a sentence you’d like us to hear about anything, good or bad!
- 8 ) How worried are you you’ll leave legal and financial problems for your next-of-kin after your passing?

Did you catch it? Questions 1,2,4,7 are taken from the ‘Mini-mental State Examination’ which is a quick test given by medical professionals to see if a patient is suffering from dementia. (It’s a little blunt, but we can always hire some psychologist and marketers for the final version. They’re cheap to hire.) We can use this test to subtly increase limits, and break out the best automated tricks and traps mechanisms, on those whose dementia lights up in our surveys. Anyone who flags all four can get a giant increase in balance and get their due dates moved to holidays where the Post Office is slowest! We’d have to be very subtle about it, because there are many nanny-staters out there who’d want to coddle citizens here…

I smell money – it’s like walking down a sidewalk and turning a corner and then there is suddenly money all over the sidewalk. One problem with hitting up sick people, single mothers, college kids who didn’t plan well and the cash-constrained poor with fees and traps is that they’re poor. Hitting up people with a lifetime of savings suffering from dementia is some real, serious money we can tap as a revenue source.

Clearly, only an evil person (or a libertarian!) would allow a scam like this one. Megan responds, I think rightly:

I’m not sure why this is supposed to be a hard question for libertarians. I mean, I might argue that preventing people from ripping off the marginally mentally impaired would, in practice, be too difficult. Crafting a rule that prevented companies from identifying people who are marginally impaired might well be impossible – I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to, I could devise subtler tests than “What day of the week is it?” And while the seniors lobby is probably in favor of not ripping off seniors, they’re resolutely against making it harder for seniors to do things like drive or get credit, which is the result that any sufficiently strong rule would probably have.

But it’s pretty much standard libertarian theory that you shouldn’t take advantage of people who do not have the cognitive ability to make contracts. Marginal cases are hard not because we think it’s okay, but because there is disagreement over what constitutes impairment, and the more forcefully you act to protect marginal cases, the more you start treating perfectly able-minded adults like children.

The elderly are a challenge precisely because there’s no obvious point at which you can say: now this previously able adult should be treated like a child. Either you let some people get ripped off, or you infringe the liberty, and the dignity, of people who are still capable of making their own decisions.

I’d add two responses of my own.

First, I can’t believe there’s all that much money to be had here. Anyone who wanders into Tiffany’s and back out again without remembering what they bought is, generally speaking, a bad credit risk. Mildly irresponsible people – those who slightly overspend, then have to make it up later – those are probably great for creditors. Lesson learned: If you’re not demented, don’t be irresponsible. (If you are demented, you’re not going to follow my advice anyway.)

Second, I am always amazed at how border cases are dragged out, again and again, as if they proved something against libertarianism. Border cases – How old before you can vote? How demented before a contract doesn’t bind? – are a problem in all political systems, because all systems start with a presumed community of citizens and/or subjects. We always have to draw boundaries between the in-group and the outliers before we have a polity in the first place.

What makes the classical liberal/libertarian approach so valuable is in fact that it draws so few boundaries. Where other systems depend on class boundaries, race boundaries, religious boundaries, and so forth – with annoying boundary issues at every stop along the way – libertarians make it as simple as I think it can be. We presume that all mentally competent adults are worthy of liberty until they prove themselves otherwise.

The boundary cases are still there, but they are fewer and more tractable. Konczal just wandered into one of them. It proves much less than he thinks.

Rick Santorum and Limited Government?

santorumScary news today from Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker: despite losing his reelection bid in 2006, former senator Rick Santorum is still thinking about running for president. He tells Parker that he represents the Ronald Reagan issue trinity: the economy, national security and social conservatism. And he’s the limited-government guy:

Both pro-life and pro-traditional family, Santorum is an irritant to many. But he insists that such labels oversimplify. Being pro-life and pro-family ultimately mean being pro-limited government.

When you have strong families and respect for life, he says, “the requirements of government are less. You can have lower taxes and limited government.”

But Santorum is no Reaganite when it comes to freedom and limited government. He told NPR in 2005:

One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. You know, the left has gone so far left and the right in some respects has gone so far right that they touch each other. They come around in the circle. This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

He declared himself against individualism, against libertarianism, against “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.” Andrew Sullivan directed our attention to a television interview in which the senator from the home state of Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson denounced America’s Founding idea of “the pursuit of happiness.” If you watch the video, you can hear these classic hits: “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness … and it is harming America.”

Parker says that Santorum is “sometimes referred to as the conscience of Senate Republicans.” Really? By whom? Surely not by Reaganites, or by people who believe in limited government.