I’ve Got the Cognitive Content Discontent — er, Blues
This year’s Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency, duly selected in their respective party “conventions,” make quite a pair. Both are desperation moves, signs of the times. That is, they both indicate the intellectual senescence of the two major parties.
After two-hundred forty years of abusing the Constitution, the most corrupt candidate in recent memory (Hillary) vies with the most corrupting candidate (The Donald). America, land of the depraved and the home of the freaks.
Hillary is there because of . . . inertia. That is, because she wants to be there, because she’s a woman and a Democrat, and because the vaguely Left of Center in America sports neither wit nor conscience. Just a pathetic, untrustworthy bleeding heart — and a spleen of self-righteousness.
Donald is there because . . . none of the other candidates could be trusted to shake things up like the non-Left/anti-Establishment demands things to be shaken up. And because he pisses off and scares the Establishment.
And so the Democrats chose to empty their intellectual storehouse and shovel the last of their human capital into the rat-hole of the crony-capitalist corporate state while the Republicans (and interloping Reagan Dems and independents who stormed the open primaries) chose to throw a bomb into the open wound of America.
Pretty much the same holes, actually.
But we cannot quite blame the voters. Or party members.
Why? I mean, why not?
This is an easy one. They have been played for years by the “journalists” of the now-rapidly decaying mainstream media.
Hillary and Bill Clinton became nothing less than the darlings of said major media, and the Democracy — or its closest continuer from Jacksonian times — little more than the favored in-group of the major media (and academic) intelligentsia.
And because these things are so, journalists have been covering for this corrupt, deeply sick couple for years, preventing any sensible judgment on the part of rank-and-file Democrats. And the entertainment industry, especially in the illustrious personages of Comedy Network news satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have poisoned public discourse by engaging in mostly vacuous (if occasionally trenchant) mockery. A very biased mockery. The American Left and Right now see each other as Evil and Stupid. And hardly anything more.
Meanwhile, the legitimate news media (so-called) pretends to be non-partisan. It’s a laugh. It’s a chuckle. It’s a snort of Coke through the nose. But these college-educated “journalists” aren’t idiots. They maintain plausible deniability by focusing relentlessly on the horse-race elements of elections.
This “horse race” fixation appears “fact-based” and not directly about issues (so offering up less occasion for revealing bias). It’s obviously “news,” if not often very important. And the relentless coverage has a barely hidden side-effect: it allows journalists to surreptitiously act as gate keepers of the election, by managing “winnability.” This has become the American version of the Mandate of Heaven, and the media is almost entirely responsible for this fixation, in the process even further narrowing the range of discourse in America.
The exact mechanism by which journalists act as gate keepers — precisely how endlessly asking candidates “how can you win?” and “how much money have you raised?” emphasizes the gate keeper function — is a tad complex, and I won’t get into it here. But followers of the news biz understand the process without elaborate flow charts. In a rather underhanded manner, while pretending to be non-partisan and “unbiased,” journalists favor certain candidates (and parties) over others.
Yes, yes, I know — they basically fell for the manipulations of Trump. They didn’t protest much, other than verbally. They gave him the coverage he needed, and their expressed demurrals fed the Trump phenomenon anyway, playing into his hands. But the whole reality TV show of it also played into theirs, because they really did not want the Republicans to select a candidate that Hillary Clinton might find difficult to beat in November 2016.
Trump, you see, was always “a story.” If something of a joke. The issues upon which the future of the republic rests? Those just get in the way of putting another corrupt Clinton into the White House.
Are journalists really this cynical?
Well, almost. As in cult leaders and politicians and the very best salesmen, the real dishonesty starts with oneself.
But the putatively pure souls of folks in the major media are not something I care to deal with at length. These paragons are mostly lazy, mostly incurious people who merely desired an easy way to feel good about themselves using the realm of politics as the foundation for their carefully nurtured self-righteousness.
Read about them in Mencken. They have only gotten worse since his time, after which the word biz was “professionalized” by collegiate credentialism.
So here we are
The hierarchies of the two major parties are utterly corrupt, having betrayed their constituencies repeatedly. And the American voters know it. Their standard-bearers this year are utterly corrupt. And the American voters know it. The major media is not only corrupt, but also on the way out, with newspapers dying fast and the “three blind mice” of ABC, CBS, and NBC becoming less and less relevant year by year.
And the voters are . . . ?
Well, if not wholly corrupt, at least desperate. Which may be why CNN is holding multiple Libertarian and Green Party “town halls” — an astounding break from past practice. The norm had been, after all, to marginalize and shut out those on the margin. Mock them, condescend, laugh at their “wacky” proposals, and move on.
Perhaps the folks at CNN have realized how fragile the post-World War II political equilibrium now is. Perhaps they understand, belatedly, that they are partly responsible for the current mess, and are looking for intellectual cover.
Or perhaps they are just flailing about for extra viewers. Even grifters and con artists have been known to try honesty and virtue on the ignominious way down. At least, you might say, as a play for pity.
The moderates are coming!
The most droll irony of this election, however, has been brought to us by the Libertarian Party. The Libertarians sport the most radical platform in American politics, but of late have been nominating rather uncharacteristically non-radical candidates. Former Clinton scourge Rep. Bob Barr, for example. And former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.
Johnson was bequeathed the baton in 2012, and received more votes from American voters than had any other Libertarian in U.S. history. (Though, admittedly, the vote count was still disappointingly low, even under the percentage of the total vote that Ed Clark won in 1980.) This year he was once again elected to bear the Libertarian banner. And, immediately after receiving the honor, he begged the LP conventioneers to pair him up with his hero in governorship, former Massachusetts head honcho William Weld. After much anguish and in-fighting, the Libertarian conventioneers went in all the way. The two now often appear in front of interviewers and crowds together, P and VP for the LP ticket.
Much can be said about this dynamic duo, pro and con. I like the both of them — not as libertarians so much, but as moderate politicians with some common sense. Paul Jacob, the “This is Common Sense” citizens’ activist, dubs Johnson a “moderate libertarian” and Weld a “libertarian-leaning centrist.”* And Beltway libertarian/classical liberal Walter Olson explores the centrist element of these candidates at greater length:
In Europe liberal parties, often seen as the nearest analogue of libertarian, are often perceived in just this way as occupying centrist/middle positions between labor or revolutionary parties on the left and blood-and-soil or religious parties on the right. European liberal tendencies vary but often they’re secular, business oriented, pro-trade, modern, internationalist but not militarist, and interested in meliorist reform rather than street politics or national crusades. Sound familiar?
So on general principle we shouldn’t assume that if you squeeze the libertarians out of the GOP coalition, they’ll pop out on the far right. (Or far left.) They might pop out in the center instead, as Bill Weld clearly has and Gary Johnson shows signs of doing as well.
I think it is more fundamental than even this. Libertarianism, like classical liberalism, has never been a creature of the Left or the Right, not really. It has always provided a moderating principle.
Indeed, better than socialists and conservatives, the individualist liberals have consistently offered a more moderating, balancing principle for civilization. I have long looked at libertarian principles as refinements of practical, mediating mores that have been discovered in the course of civilization’s cycles of evolution and decline.
Liberty is a perennial principle for a reason, and more in line with the Aristotelian mean than other principles.
The “deal” of a civilized morality, as understood by individualists, is to balance the vast social cosmos of competing interests upon the Schelling Point of the non-initiation of force — of liberty — thus providing the mid-point equilibrium for humanity in constant potential conflict. We settle on liberty as the first principle of justice the better to avoid and resolve conflict. And, consequently, it provides that most amazing platform for mutual advance: voluntary coöperation. This is classical liberalism at core, libertarianism in its quiddity.
Libertarianism is not an extremism. It is a centrism.
Even the most radical-seeming notion of modern libertarianism, the so-called “anarcho-capitalism” of Murray Rothbard and David D. Friedman — which is, by the way, mostly just a repackaging of Gustave de Molinari’s 19th century proposal of “competitive government,” and of Benjamin R. Tucker’s “plumb-line” anarchism, individualist anarchism sans crank economics — was once, back in the 1970s, designated “middle of the road” by one of its more sophisticated enthusiasts. (Or at least so goes my memory of the book, which is subtitled “A Right Wing Alternative,” after all. So, caveats.)
Libertarians may seem radical, even to themselves. But, at heart, the libertarian idea is not to scare everybody off with a complete remaking of society, but to moderate the rough edges of political governance with that non-radical idea of non-aggression.
So, in selecting two moderates, more “libertarianish” than strictly libertarian, this year’s Libertarians have given America a way out of the current debacle.
Graph it and go
In previous installments (such as my May 3 post, “Realignments”) of the Matter of 2016, I have suggested that the Trump phenomenon must be seen, in part, as a takeover of the GOP by authoritarian-leaning independents.
On the famed “Nolan Chart,” I mapped the realignment as follows, reading left graph to right graph:
To make this clearer, let me (hastily) redraw this, distinguishing the Trump center (brown-orange) from the Johnson-Weld center (green):
No matter where Trump really belongs on this familiar ideological map, the new people he has pulled in to support him come not from “the right” as such, but from the statist, authoritarian part of the population. The new center navigated by Johnson-Weld borders the libertarian sector, but it does remain moderate, neither very far left nor right.
Just like libertarians. And totalitarians. Neither left nor right, but extremes on the moderate axis.†
What if the Electoral College flunks out?
While Libertarians have offered a slate that can appeal to moderates, and thus shake up the political landscape, the sheer inertia of the two-party system almost guarantees the success of Clinton, if not Trump. Of course, a startling-to-the-masses revelation about one or both of the candidates — like, say, Clinton being very ill and not in her right mind, as many now speculate, or Trump revealing that his whole candidacy was a lark, a whimsical stunt — could place a lot of votes in Johnson’s tip jar.
And were Gary Johnson included in the presidential debates, he might so far outshine his competition that he could snatch victory away from Hillary to . . . well, could he really win a popular vote? It seems unlikely.‡
More likely, if Johnson-Weld capture a state like Utah (which in Rep. Mia Love’s district has them at 26 percent), and the Johnson and Stein campaigns take enough votes from the Democratic candidate, now in the lead, the Electoral College could offer up to Congress no majority winner.
At that point, it goes to the House to vote for the President, and to the Senate to vote for the VP. The Twelfth Amendment instructs the House to immediately, after the official presentation before Congress of a stalemate (majority-free) Electoral College vote, select a President from the Top Three, which would, one would think, include the R, D, and L party candidates. (Jill Stein seems a non-starter, as she will not be on all ballots.)
In that scenario, the next president of the United States might be the one most qualified by experience, and least disqualified by flagrant abuse of power and privilege. Yes, there is a possibility that the Republican majority House will make Gary Johnson the next Commander in Chief. The House is not in any way bound to select the plurality winner in either the popular vote or the Electoral selection.
House members would not hesitate at all, I think, were William Weld on the top of the LP ticket. But reason might prevail, even in the case when Gary “I used to smoke pot regularly” Johnson is in play . . . and a moderate, rather than a Clinton or Trump wild card, might be selected.
In modern life, the best option is often the long shot.
* Jacob also calls Hillary Clinton a spokesperson for “the neo-con left,” which is about a perfect characterization, I’d say.
† Alas, a better graphic demonstration of my moderating vision of liberty will have to wait for another day.
‡ Hillary having to step down before the election, leaving her weak flower running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, to take her place — that could throw everything into chaos. And Mrs. Clinton does have two looming issues: legal on many fronts, and medical. For all I know, she being the recipient of so much telepathic hatred, her head could explode on stage, Scanners style.