Thursday, October 21, 2004

Affinity of the Forbesians, or, am I a trimmer? 

Mitch notes something that I've thought for some time.
...genuine conservatism is more progressive than the movements that have co-opted the term "progressive" in recent years.
Part of NARN's appeal is that there's substantial diversity of opinion within us, even though none of us would call ourselves "progressive" in the current use of the word. Mitch and I both supported Forbes in 2000, and I admit to not lifting a finger to help Bush in 2000. (I did vote for him, but it was more an anti-Gore vote in a state where I knew the outcome to be in some doubt -- were it not, I would have done what I had often done in the past and voted Libertarian.)

Mitch runs through Doug Bandow and by implication the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, with dispatch.
Bush has a record in Iraq - imperfect, but at least an empirical record. Bush's detractors are still operating from the purely hypothetical - and mostly doing it badly.
My readers here know I occasionally post at Liberty and Power, but will note I haven't in a while. That's for a reason: The discussion of the war there and on most other libertarian sites has been really, really bad -- though for the last couple of days they've been having a good discussion of the wage gap to which I might contribute. But I simply did not wish to get in the way of their complaining about Bush. There were days I simply deleted the entries in my sitefeed.

Bandow, Cato, and the other libertarians are all drawn, I believe, to a thought expressed well by Leonard Read when he said "never vote for a trimmer!" A trimmer "is one who changes his opinions and policies to suit the occasion." In other words, John Kerry. I accept that, but my question is, on what basis does one call GWB a trimmer? Indeed, the criticism of Bush as "arrogant", "stubborn", "a man of conviction, but the wrong ones", is exactly the criticism that you can't work with GWB because he isn't a trimmer. As if trimming is a character desirable of presidents. And yet the very libertarians who would praise Read can't seem to support Bush (though at least one is understanding the moral contradictions of the Kerry campaign.)

As I've quoted before from Milton Friedman, there is no midpoint between right and wrong. I will have no truck with candidates who "embody the spirit of compromise."

Read's point is that voting for the lesser of two evils will encourage only bad candidates to run. If libertarians believe Bush does not represent their values, what is their responsibility? To Read, it's to abstain, but that is a strategy with long-run benefits -- better candidates more consistent in support of liberty would come forward only over time as the size of the disaffected, principled group grew larger. As Mitch points out, we have a short-run problem:
A gridlocked government is a good thing when there are no more pressing concerns. But we have those concerns today. The sooner we deal with them, the sooner we can return to a time and place where noodling about with abstractions like induced gridlock are tenable again.
We may believe, as many libertarians do, and with some merit, that U.S. foreign policy in the past has created useful recruiting propaganda for terrorists. But the antidote to that, when others are trying to kill you, is not to put the safety on your own weapon.
If they believe that the purpose of my life is to serve them, let them try to enforce their creed. If they believe that my mind is their property -- let them come and get it. -- Ragnar Danneskjold, in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
UPDATE: Jon Henke has similar thoughts and decides to vote for None of the Above. I disagree, but it's a principled choice.