Friday, June 28, 2019

Overextensions And Corrective Mechanisms, Part 2

     The most immediate and compelling of all corrective mechanisms is physical pain. He who suffers pain as a traceable consequence of his actions – assuming he labors under no defect of the intellect – will review those actions and make corrections, if possible. It’s the scheme nature has built into us for learning what we must know to survive and flourish.

     That mechanism – suffering as a consequence of bad decisions, followed by corrective action – is replicated at every level of human existence.

     The overextension of the principle of individual freedom, the core idea of libertarian thought, led far too many libertarians to embrace such notions as military downsizing and denuclearization, open borders, the rejection of mental or juvenile incapacity as reasons to restrict their rights, and an absolute right to an abortion. This had several consequences for the previously swelling libertarian movement. The one with the largest practical effect first manifested itself with the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan.

     Reagan was a pro-freedom conservative in the mold of Barry Goldwater. On at least one occasion, an interview with Reason magazine, he styled himself a “small-l libertarian.” He proved popular with many whom might otherwise have supported the Libertarian Party’s 1980 presidential candidate, Ed Clark. In large measure, his ability to win libertarians’ votes arose from his embrace of government downsizing and free-market economics, postures in which he’d been encouraged by David Stockman.

     Reagan’s libertarian streak, and his unexpectedly broad popularity among persons who habitually voted for Democrats, taught the GOP’s strategists something: Americans had become unhappy about the tide of government intrusion and government spending. They were willing to support a Republican who promises to curb those things over a Democrat who holds out promises of “free stuff.” The LP’s more extreme positions were of no interest to Reagan voters; indeed, his advocacy of a revitalized military may have been as important to his ascension as his other policy positions.

     The LP didn’t learn much from the setbacks it suffered in the Reagan era. In terms of positions, today it’s not far from where it stood in 1980. Unfortunately, the Republican Party’s strategists did even worse for a while: they drew the wrong lesson from Reagan’s electoral triumphs. They “learned” that promises to curb the federal government’s expansion and rapacity were what mattered, but that actual performance didn’t. The two Bush presidencies and the Dole, McCain, and Romney debacles were the consequences. It’s a study in the power of wishful thinking when married to institutional inertia.

     The ascendancy of Donald Trump dealt a large shock to the GOP’s power structure. As David Friedman has put it, every political party is a “vote-maximizing machine.” Its entire reason for existence is to get its candidates elected. No matter how deeply entrenched, an inner circle that’s seen to fail at that core mission cannot retain its primacy forever.

     The McCain and Romney failures were a blow between the eyes with a two-by-four for the GOP elephant. The swift rise of Trump to the top of the polls in 2015 completed the lesson: Right-leaning voters were tired of unfulfilled promises from “insiders” whose records gave the lie to their words. They were willing to go outside the existing ranks in search of a better alternative.

     The Democrats had learned nothing from the disastrous Obama presidency. Though those eight years had ruined America’s international standing and had plunged our economy into the Slough of Despond, the Dems’ strategists could not escape their bondage to the existing machines. Obama had promised Hillary Clinton that in 2016 the Democrat presidential nomination would be hers, and he and his loyalists delivered it. Clinton strode forth expecting to make history. In a sense, one could say that her expectation was fulfilled.

     The Republican Party’s strategists bent to an unopposable electoral reality. If they made any attempts to oppose Trump’s rise from within, the attempts were feeble, possibly token gestures. Trump was elected, has made good on more than half of his campaign-season pledges, and has achieved what he sought to achieve with those policies. The question of the moment is whether the lesson will “stick,” or whether the GOP’s power brokers will return to “old-boy” politics once the Trump Administration is no more. To this point the portents are mixed.

     The most recent sufferer from political intransigence is the Congressional Republican caucus. They disdained to support President Trump’s agenda in 2017 and 2018, and in consequence lost control of the House of Representatives. A few commentators have suggested that that loss might have been halfway deliberate – that it provided the GOP with a serviceable excuse for not supporting the Trump program. However, if those losses, coupled to Trump’s demonstrated successes and swelling popularity, don’t drive the lesson home, Republicans’ losses in 2020 will be larger still. They might include the Senate, where the most senior “old-boy” Republicans are ensconced. Given the pygmy stature of Trump’s announced Democrat challengers, they’re unlikely to include the White House – another two-by-four between the eyes for the GOP elephant.

     Whether there will be further suffering, and increased learning, from the events of November 2020 remains to be seen.


Col. B. Bunny said...

A great essay. The Libertarians are snakes in the grass in my opinion. The advocate stupid stuff along the lines of "If one cheeseburger is good, ten must be better" or "Why shouldn't I use heroin if it suits me?" As I never tire of saying, they'll say stuff that sounds great but, sooner or later, as night follows day, the guy in the jock strap will jump up on the stage and dance.

When they're not advocating mindless license, the Libertarians can be counted on to field a spoiler candidate when there's a close race between an R and a D to ensure that the margin of victory is in favor of, wait for it, the candidate least interested in individual liberty and most in favor of government control.

Rick C said...

Col Bunny, if Rando Reagan the Libertarian wants to use heroin, let him, as far as I am concerned. But: I don't want to drive--or ride in--a car he designed or built, and I don't want to go over a bridge he designed or built, nor be on a road he's driving on, etc., etc. Also, if he turns to crime to support a drug habit, well, that's a different matter.

Col. B. Bunny said...

That's an acceptable position on the surface but I think it basically signals a failing culture. The Japanese throw heroin addicts in jail where cold turkey is their fate. I don't know what else they do with addicts. Singapore administers corporal punishment for drug users and the death penalty for dealers.

You're right about not wanting to have drug users occupy responsible positions but I've reached the end of my rope on the "let it slide" option. Not that I'm trying to mischaracterize your position. Maybe it's the "nothing matters" option. We've tried that in spades and it wasn't even a choice. It's just indicative of the collapse of our civilization. As with drug use, so with public order. We don't even care to crucify AntiFa scum who victimize law-abiding people with impunity.

At the heart of my views is the belief that where any kind of drugs are involved there you will find second-rate ideas, values, and conduct. I'm reluctant to be phlegmatic about it.