Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making Peace

I have stated from the outset of this blog that my primary, and in fact sole, purpose is to advance the libertarian movement beyond its present state of permanent relegation to the fringe of American political discourse. I believe that the biggest impediment to this very reasonable goal is the bizarre self-destructive infighting that characterizes our movement. And I also believe that this infighting does greater harm to our movement than good, while missing the larger picture, to wit: libertarianism is, at the present, a politically non-viable entity in the United States. Unfortunately the infighting is also so deeply ingrained in a small number of certain individuals that reconciliation with them is practically impossible. By and large though, I do NOT see an irreconcilable rift between the two main factions of the present war - the Mises Institute/Rockwellites and the Catoite/Reasonoid/DC Crowd. To that end, I humbly submit the following advice to each.

TO THE MISES INSTITUTE:

1. The Koch Brothers are not evil incarnate. I realize you have past grievances with them, and I also realize that some of those complaints are probably legitimate. That said, talk of a "Kochtopus" conspiracy is counterproductive to our movement. Even if you have personal differences with the way they advance libertarianism, let it go. Because in the grander scheme of things there is a lot worse out there. Sure, the Kochs give a lot of money to the Republican Party - that is unfortunately what it takes to attain some semblance of electoral influence in this country. And sure, the foundations they fund are not always "pure" on the issues - they indisputably flirted with the warmongers over Iraq and Afghanistan, and they occasionally rub elbows with the Bernankes and Bushes of the world. But as far as eccentric politically active billionaires go, the Kochs are pretty damn good and pretty consistent at funding the libertarian side of the political spectrum even if it comes with some strings attached. Would you rather them be a Richard Mellon Sciafe who funds neoconservative statists and religious right wackos? Or a George Soros who subsidizes communism? Didn't think so. Nobody is making you associate with them, and by all means better your "product" of libertarianism by competing with them in the field of ideas. But also learn to live and let live with the Kochs, because even the worst of their endeavors tend to be a lot closer to you politically than anything else that's out there (and of course, the reciprocal is true - the Kochs should also live and let live with the Mises crowd).

2. Pete Boettke, Steven Horwitz, and other non-Mises Institute Austrians are not your enemy. So what if they want to call themselves by a new name, or if they follow other paths in the Austrian tradition. They still agree with you on a hell of a lot more than they disagree. And more importantly, these guys are, like you, serious and thoughtful scholars of the Austrian school who care just as much about exposing their students to Mises, Hayek, Menger, Kirzner, Schumpeter, and Rothbard as you do. They can indeed act childish at times (as can you), but take it in stride and hope that they will return the favor. They are NOT cast of the same mold as Tom Palmer, who exhibits genuine malice towards you. Nor should you treat them as such. In the end, academia needs all the Austrians it can get.

3. Cato, Reason, Mercatus/IHS, and the Independent Institute are not your enemies. Think of them as competitors offering a similar product - "libertarianism" - on an open market of ideas, but in a healthy way. Sometimes that product is truly inferior to your own (a fact that has been documented here and elsewhere many times). When they slip up and donate to neocons or support the Iraq war, take that opportunity to compete with them and offer a better product! Critique their shortcomings but also credit them where it is due, as these organizations do produce serious and quality work (For example, Reason's stuff on civil liberties abuses and the police state is superb). You should also not mistake the severe personal failings of some people in these organizations for every single person who affiliates with them. And encourage the better ones among them when you do agree.

TO THE CATOITE/REASONOID CROWD:

1. Drop the "cosmopolitan" hipster attitude. I know you like to plead ignorance of this term whenever it is called out, but deep down you know exactly what I mean. To many libertarians elsewhere in the country, you project a Beltway-centric attitude that comes across as dismissive, elitist, and off-putting. Whether it is shunning the Ron Paul campaign and other non-urbane libertarians because of their perceived "baggage," feeding the echo chamber of Beltway self-citation and blogosphere brown-nosing, name-dropping about the Bernankes and Bushes you just had lunch with, or adopting the collectivist mantras of the far left Southern Poverty Law Center against fellow libertarians who offend "Politically Correct" sensitivities, it does a genuine disservice to the libertarian movement and generally makes you look like a bunch of snobbish self-centered jerks. It speaks volumes that you would rather associate with a statist crypto-fascist like Jamie Kirchick than someone from the Paul camp who finds the Adams-Morgan neighborhood unappealing, especially when you do so with an air of pseudo-moralistic indignation . If you care more about gay rights than gun rights, fine! If you'd rather spend your energy opposing the drug war than the Iraq war, great! Just don't look down upon other libertarians who direct their industry to the latter two issues as if they were unsophisticated hayseeds. Because politically, they are a lot closer to you on practically every other issue than your facebook pals over at the New Republic will ever be.

2. Put your money where your mouth is, and use a little discretion in your election activities. I realize that the highly faulty Republican Party is the only game in town that even pretends to give libertarianism the time of day. But you should use your energies to persuade them in a more libertarian direction, not sell out to their worst elements (Side note to the Mises crowd: instead of simply insulting them, you should respect Cato when it tries to pull imperfect members of Congress in the libertarian direction on key votes and issues). It's one thing to cut a campaign check to a libertarian-leaning Republican like Jeff Flake. It's even okay to cast a vote for George W. Bush as the lesser evil against Al Gore. But donating vast sums of money to Bush, John McCain, and Rudolph Giuliani? Or - worse - endorsing Barack Obama for president? Come on! Not only does it make you look bad and cause people to justifiably question your libertarian credentials, but it also undermines the one thing libertarians currently lack more than anything else in the United States: electoral viability. We need to recognize and support our own for public office, and you dropped the ball on Ron Paul. Even if he wasn't gonna win the nomination, he was the most visible libertarian to appear before the national electorate in several generations...and you did nothing to help them. Sometimes worse than nothing. If you can pinch your nose and vote for Bush or McCain, then you should be able to move past a 20+ year old internal controversy over the authorship of Ron Paul's newsletters. And if you fear association with Paul's "baggage" but have no qualms voting for the repulsively anti-libertarian and overtly communistic candidacy of Obama, then you probably need to have your head examined.

3. Tom Palmer is NOT a good spokesman for your cause. Philosophically, there is probably very little that I (or most other libertarians) disagree on with Palmer. But style matters, and this guy has a long track record of unbridled malice towards the Mises folks, or most anyone else who isn't part of his inner circle. In his more frenzied states this tendency displays outright derangement and paranoia. Just when there seems to be a little peace emerging between the libertarian factions, he pops up as a provocateur and intentionally fans the flames of his personal, increasingly petty feud with Rockwell. The libertarian movement - already small and lacking in mainstream political influence - cannot afford to have as its spokesman a man who devotes his energy to purging that movement of his personal enemies, thus making it even smaller and less influential. Beyond that, Palmer simply lacks the characteristics you should be looking for in a public face. Libertarianism needs a vibrant, engaging public persona who is both intellectually astute and accessible to mass audiences. Palmer is neither. His Curriculum Vitae is surprisingly light on actual scholarship, his feuds and other personal quirks are off-putting, and his "eloquence" is substantially overstated by those who fail to recognize the problem I highlighted in my first proposition for Cato. Please also note that in suggesting you search for another spokesman, I by no means wish to see Palmer driven away or "fired" from his job (as he recently and falsely accused a Mises scholar with a much better CV than his own of doing). Unlike Palmer, I am not in the business of trying to purge people I dislike from the libertarian movement. Insofar as he wishes to espouse libertarian ideals, may he find nothing but success. I simply ask that this "crazy uncle" of the libertarian movement be acknowledged for the stigma he has attached to himself through years of feuding and pent up malice.

TO ALL LIBERTARIANS:

I simply ask that you use a little common sense. Examined in the grander scheme of things, our movement cannot afford a king or a schism. Those who try to create either will only dilute our underrepresented message to the point that it ceases to influence at all. Our government contains a President with 23 cabinet level officials, 435 Congressmen, 100 Senators, over 1,200 federal judges, 50 state governors, and thousands of state officers and legislators. At any given time, the "small-l" libertarian representation in that field seldom exceeds two or three dozen, most of them in lower level offices. The number of libertarian-leaning members of Congress can be counted on a single hand, all on the peripheral fringe of the minority political party. Presently there are ZERO libertarians in the upper levels of the U.S. executive branch, ZERO libertarians on the Supreme Court, and only a small number of libertarians on the lower federal courts, most of them aging holdovers from the early Reagan years. If you think your political battle is with another libertarian faction that isn't as "pure" or "cosmopolitan" as you, that slighted you in the past by donating to your competitor, or that has more "baggage" than you perceive of yourself, you are looking in the wrong place. The real adversary isn't here. It's out there, and it currently controls our entire government.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Palmer Facebook Redux

I would also be remiss if I did not note that Tom Palmer's most recent fit spilled over onto his uber-cosmopolitan Facebook account, with some very humorous results. Since it is unlikely to appear on any of Palmer's self-created Facebook Fan pages, Stephen Kinsella of the Rockwellite faction has ensured this incident will be perpetually documented.

Irony, irony...it's better than macaroni!

Cato's erstwhile Vice President of Junketeering has inadvertently sprinkled his blog with an irony that remains unrealized among his circle of imagined acolytes. The incident came in a deranged tirade against Lew Rockwell for the "offense" of mocking Cato President Ed Crane's reminiscing about the time he rubbed elbows with Ben Bernanke. Rockwell's verbal jab was not entirely unprovoked, mind you, as Crane used the same anecdote to needlessly insert a backhanded insult against his "friend" Ron Paul for "hang[ing] with folks he shouldn’t," i.e. Rockwell, while feigning praise for the libertarian-leaning congressman's new book, End the Fed.

Thus began Tom's little blog dropping. Rockwell, he announced, was being "deceitful and malicious" in "smearing" Crane - a move that was "obviously deliberate" and full of unadulterated malice. Oh, and Rockwell is "racist" too. What, mind you, could induce Palmer to such a frenzied state of verbal menstruation? As with most matters in Palmertopia, a land of such extreme narcissism that its proprietor feels the need to make titular third-person references to his non-career, the occasion for taking offense was embarrassingly trivial.

Crane's comment had described Bernanke as a "Nice guy," which Rockwell transposed in an admitted paraphrase of another speaker, into "Great guy." To the sensible reader the difference is minor - and minor enough to be virtually inconsequential to the larger point being made. Not so with Palmer:

[begin lisping snarl]


Native speakers of English know that “nice guy” means pleasant and affable, but not ([fill in the blank] wise, foresighted, hard-working, libertarian, smart, whatever), whereas “Great guy” means a “great guy,” i.e., [fill in the blank] wonderful, reliable, good to work with, on target, real libertarian, whatever. “Nice guy” and “Great guy” mean very, very different things.


[end lisping snarl]

That, dear reader, was the "provocation" of his Keith Olbermann-esque outburst. And it would be deliciously absurd in its own right. But Palmer opted to give us more, hence the aforementioned irony.

Only a day prior Palmer deposited another delusional rant against Rockwellite blogger Thomas DiLorenzo, denounced as a "thick" "dullard" for finding repulsion in David Boaz's excessively jocular affinity for the Clinton Years. Since Boaz's publicly documented political history consists of little more than his campaign support for Clinton's would-be plenipotentiary in Mexico City, it might be understandable why any reasonable libertarian would take pause at his longing for the days of Bubba. But such is neither here nor there really where Palmer is concerned. Instead, he launched into his favorite back-up grievance against DiLorenzo (and one that has left him thoroughly embarrassed many times over): DiLorenzo's supposedly insensitive (and thus implicitly "racist") chiding of Boaz's Politically Correct capitulation to those who seek the removal of confederate imagery from the Mississippi state flag against the overwhelming wishes of the voters of Mississippi. The ever-deranged Palmer defended Boaz by suggesting his position had been misrepresented:

DiLorenzo accused him of “calling for the eradication of the Confederate battle flag from public places,” which was, of course, simply false. David encouraged voters to remove it from the the state flag, not from “all public places,” an equivocal term that may mean “all places open to the public.”


The problem (and I will state this v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y for the inevitable circumstance that one of Palmer's daily vanity searches leads him to this missive): DiLorenzo never used the phrase "all public places." He said simply "public places," of which the Mississippi state flag is indisputably a prime example.

As any native speaker of English knows, "public places" and "all public places" mean very, very different things.

It would seem, then, that Mr. Palmer has some shirts to irony. And probably a few sweater-vests.