Tag: Sarah Palin

Misunderstanding Nozick, Again

Someone called Stephen Metcalf writes at Slate of his horror at finding in “an otherwise quite groovy loft” in New York’s SoHo “not one but two copies of something called The Libertarian Reader.” Given that he manages to lump not just Paul Ryan and South Park but Sarah Palin into the libertarian basket, you can appreciate his dismay.

Metcalf puts Robert Nozick at the center of his argument, understandably enough. My colleague Tom Palmer says that academic critics almost always cite one chapter of one book, Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and declare that they have grappled with libertarian ideas. Still, it’s a good book and worth grappling with, and it did have an impact, as Metcalf notes:

I like to think that when Nozick published Anarchy, the levee broke, the polite Fabian consensus collapsed, and hence, in rapid succession: Hayek won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974, followed by Milton Friedman in ‘75 [1976], the same year Thatcher became Leader of the Opposition, followed by the California and Massachusetts tax revolts, culminating in the election of Reagan, and … well, where it stops, nobody knows.

I’ll leave it to my more learned colleagues to analyze how successfully Metcalf actually deals with Nozick’s arguments. I just want to note one thing here. Like many other critics of libertarianism, Metcalf triumphantly announces:

How could a thinker as brilliant as Nozick stay a party to this? The answer is: He didn’t. “The libertarian position I once propounded,” Nozick wrote in an essay published in the late ’80s, “now seems to me seriously inadequate.”

Yes, yes, yes. It gets repeated a lot: “Even Nozick renounced libertarianism.” If it were true, it’s not clear what it would mean. Libertarianism is true, or not, whether or not Paul Krugman or Russell Kirk believes it, and whether or not Robert Nozick believes it. The idea stands or falls on its own. But as it happens, Nozick did “stay a party” to the libertarian idea. Shortly before his death in 2002, young writer Julian Sanchez (now a Cato colleague) interviewed him and had this exchange:

JS: In The Examined Life, you reported that you had come to see the libertarian position that you’d advanced in Anarchy, State and Utopia as “seriously inadequate.” But there are several places in Invariances where you seem to suggest that you consider the view advanced there, broadly speaking, at least, a libertarian one. Would you now, again, self-apply the L-word?

RN: Yes. But I never stopped self-applying. What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the “Core Principle of Ethics.”

So Nozick did not “disavow” libertarianism. Indeed, Tom Palmer adds a point that

David Schmidtz told at a forum about Schmidtz’s book from Cambridge University Press, Robert Nozick, held October 21, 2002 at the Cato Institute. According to David, Nozick told him that his alleged “apostasy” was mainly about rejecting the idea that to have a right is necessarily to have the right to alienate it, a thesis that he had reconsidered, on the basis of which reconsideration he concluded that some rights had to be inalienable. That represents, not a movement away from libertarianism, but a shift toward the mainstream of libertarian thought.

Metcalf’s criticisms of libertarianism will have to stand on their own, as will libertarianism itself. He doesn’t have Nozick on his side. As for Metcalf’s final complaint that advocates of a more expansive state have been “hectored into silence” by the vast libertarian power structure, well, I am, if not hectored, at least stunned into silence.

P.S. Matt Welch notes that if Metcalf doesn’t have Nozick on his side, at least he has Ann Coulter.

Robert Gates Is Overrated

That’s the argument Ben Friedman and I made in our “Think Again” piece for Foreign Policy magazine. Our point there was that someone reading newspapers and watching television would think that Secretary Gates was some sort of transformational figure who took hold of a boneheaded grand strategy, two failing wars, and one broken bureaucracy and made them into successes. We argued that this description, which one finds almost everywhere one finds the secretary’s name, is wrong. (For responses to some of the critiques of our piece, Ben has a post up at The Skeptics.)

Dana Milbank, Defense Analyst

Over the weekend Dana Milbank authored a column demonstrating the tendency to represent Gates as something of a messiah. He does so by juxtaposing…Sarah Palin’s and Robert Gates’s current tours, which show a stark contrast in “hubris and humility,” respectively:

The week’s dueling tours of Gates and Palin show the best and worst in American public life. Both call themselves Republicans, but he comes from the best tradition of service while she is a study in selfishness. He’s self-effacing; she’s self-aggrandizing. He harmonized American foreign policy; she put bull’s-eyes on Democratic congressional districts and then howled about “blood libel.”

Milbank then offers the usual laundry list of Gates’s accomplishments. He

set a new standard for honesty when, at his confirmation hearing in 2006, he admitted that the United States was not winning in Iraq. At the Pentagon, he brought new openness: He ended the gag order banning coverage of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base. He hired a journalist, Geoff Morrell, to repair press relations. He penned personal notes to families of fallen soldiers and attended funerals.

Gates brought new accountability, firing top officials over the outrages at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the mishandling of nuclear weapons. He fought with Congress and the military bureaucracy to redirect funds toward troop protection. His championing of mine-resistant vehicles saved countless lives, and his push for better Medevac in Afghanistan cut the average time-to-hospital for wounded soldiers to 40 minutes from 100.

His unusual frankness continued right into his farewell tour. During his trip, he affirmed that “everything is on the table” for defense spending cuts, spoke in detail about disputes with China, discussed shortcomings in Afghanistan and acknowledged his disagreement with Obama’s decision to attack Libya.

Ben and I examine almost every one of those plaudits in our article, and even granting that many of them were indeed successes, we argue that Gates’s legacy far outstrips his actual accomplishments.

For our take on Gates’ tenure as secretary of defense, go here. Also, Chris Preble had an op-ed in today’s Defense News on Gates’s record, available here.

Why I’m Boycotting PolitiFact

Reporters at PolitiFact.com have used me as a resource half a dozen times or so when fact-checking something someone said about health care reform. Sometimes we disagree about where the truth lies, but I’ve always been happy to help. That changed recently, and I should let PolitiFact’s reporters know why.

At the end of each year, PolitiFact sifts through the many claims its reporters have deemed untrue and selects one to be their Lie of the Year. The Lie of the Year award is easily PolitiFact’s biggest publicity-generator. In 2009, they picked Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim. In 2010, they picked the claim that the new health care law is a “government takeover” of health care.

Looking at those two Lies of the Year together brought a couple of things home for me.

The first is not so much that each of those statements is actually factually true; it is rather that they are true for reasons that PolitiFact failed to consider. PolitiFact’s “death panels” fact-check never considered whether President Obama’s contemporaneous “IMAC” proposal would, under standard principles of administrative law, enable the federal government to ration care as Palin claimed. (In an August 2009 oped for the Detroit Free Press, I explain how the IMAC proposal would do just that.) PolitiFact’s “government takeover” fact-check hung its conclusion on the distinction between “public” vs. “private” health care, without considering whether that distinction might be illusory. (In a January 2011 column for Kaiser Health News, I cite well-respected, non-partisan sources – and even one of President Obama’s own health care advisors – to demonstrate that this distinction is illusory.) Aside from whether they arrived at the truth, each of these fact-checks was woefully incomplete.

Second, PolitiFact’s decision to go further by declaring those statements lies highlights a logical flaw in their Lie of the Year award. For a statement to be a lie, the speaker must know or believe it to be false. In neither the case of “death panels” nor “government takeover” has PolitiFact offered any evidence that the speakers knew or believed their statements to be false. Until PolitiFact offers such evidence, it has no factual basis for calling either statement a lie. Moreover, if PolitiFact’s reporters believe that Sarah Palin et alia believe that what they said was true – and I would be willing to bet good money that they do – then PolitiFact’s reporters know that their past two Lies of the Year aren’t really lies.

I have concluded that the errors in those two fact-checks, plus the fundamental (and rather ironic) error at the heart of PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award, are serious enough that until PolitiFact addresses them I can no longer serve as a resource for PolitiFact in good conscience. Since January, I have declined maybe four requests for help from PolitiFact reporters, and will politely continue to do so until they address these errors.

Some conservatives think PolitiFact is a left-wing outfit. I don’t think that’s true, and I have defended PolitiFact against that charge. I believe that PolitiFact’s reporters are earnestly doing their best to get at the truth. But there’s a tension between that belief and these errors. Whether PolitiFact recognizes and addresses that tension will tell us a lot about PolitiFact.

How Dare Conservatives Stand athwart ObamaCare Yelling, Stop!

In a column for Kaiser Health News, Michael L. Millenson, President of Health Quality Advisors LLC, laments that conservatives in the U.S. House are approaching ObamaCare like, well, conservatives.  He cites comments by unnamed House GOP staffers at a recent conference:

The Innovation Center at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services? “An innovation center at CMS is an oxymoron,” responded a  Republican aide…”Though it’s great for PhDs who come to Washington on the government tab.”

There was also no reason the government should pay for “so-called comparative effectiveness research,” another said.

“Everything’s on the chopping block,” said yet another.

No government-funded comparative-effectiveness research?  The horror!  For my money, those staffers (and whoever hired them) should get a medal.

Millenson thinks conservative Republicans have just become a bunch of cynics and longs for the days when Republicans would go along with the left-wing impulse to have the federal government micromanage health care:

After all, the McCain-Palin health policy platform in the 2008 presidential election called for coordinated care, greater use of health information technology and a focus on Medicare payment for value, not volume. Once-and-future Republican presidential candidates such as former governors Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), as well as ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, have long promoted disease prevention, a more innovative federal government and increased use of information technology. Indeed, federal health IT “meaningful use” requirements can even be seen as a direct consequence of Gingrich’s popularization of the phrase, “Paper kills.”

He even invokes the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, as if Buckley would disapprove of conservatives standing athwart ObamaCare yelling, Stop!

Millenson’s tell comes toward the end of the column, when he writes:

traditional GOP conservatives… [have] eschewed ideas in favor of ideological declarations.

Eschewed ideas in favor of…ideas?  My guess is that what’s really troubling Millenson is that congressional Republicans are eschewing left-wing health care ideas in favor of freedom.

Better late than never.  Now if only GOP governors would do the same.

Just Call Me ‘Liar of the Year’

It would appear that I am the Liar of the Year.

The fact-checking journalists at PolitiFact.com gave their 2010 Lie of the Year award to the notion that ObamaCare is “a government takeover of health care,” and in 2009 gave the same award to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim.  But as I explain in my latest column for Kaiser Health News, the fact-checkers left out a few facts.  Read the column to find out what PolitiFact missed.  Here’s my conclusion:

From my vantage point, the evidence shows that ObamaCare is a government takeover of health care, and Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim was essentially true. If that makes me Liar of the Year, so be it.

But another way to look at it is this: PolitiFact has now misappropriated this award for two years in a row.  Not only is each of these “lies” factually true, but – and this is more important – the people who made those statements believe them to be true, which means they fall short of the dictionary definition of a lie: “An assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive.“ There is simply no factual basis – and no excuse – for calling them lies.

PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award has proven as  conducive to civil discourse as Rep. Joe Wilson’s, R- S.C., dyspeptic “You lie!” outburst during one of President Obama’s previous addresses to Congress. Rather than continue to poison the well by dispensing another award this year, PolitiFact should just let it lie.

PolitiFact should also revisit its evaluations of those two claims.

Behind the Political Rhetoric Are Profound Differences

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Post-Tucson will campaign trail rhetoric change in any discernible way? Should it change? What phrases or words should be considered out of bounds? Or is that approach a way of silencing legitimate criticism of political candidates?

My response:

Post-Tucson campaign trail rhetoric won’t change because, as Charles Krauthammer put it brilliantly in yesterday’s Washington Post, fighting and warfare are routine political metaphors for obvious reasons: “Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power – military conquest. That’s why the language persists,” why we speak of “battleground states” or “targeting” opponents.

That doesn’t mean that no charge is “out of bounds.” It’s perfectly all right for Sarah Palin to “target” 20 potential swing districts – Democrats do the same. And her use yesterday of “blood libel,” as Alan Dershowitz explains, is entirely acceptable too. What is out of bounds is the kind of scurrilous charges we’ve seen from The New York Times, the Paul Krugmans, E.J. Dionnes, Jonathan Alters, and their ilk, that the Tea Party and the political discourse around it contributed to the Arizona shooting – when there isn’t a shred of evidence to support that, and every indication that a lone mentally disturbed individual was responsible.

But far deeper issues are at play here, and they’re brought out in a penetrating piece by Daniel Henninger in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “Why the Left Lost It.” He points first to the devastating, potentially sea-changing midterm elections – “Republicans now control more state legislative seats than any time since 1928” – which “came atop the birth of a genuine reform movement, the tea parties.” And the debt crises, state and federal, that animate the Tea Party pose a mortal threat to a liberal agenda that stretches back at least to Goldwater.

As Henninger writes, the divide between today’s left and its conservative opponents “is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the ‘intensity’ that exists now between these two competing camps.” Read it.

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