I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills

Just as a brief aside, it is sometimes entertaining to be a libertarian without an affiliation to either the Coke or Pepsi party.  It's amazing, from the perspective of standing off to the side on a point of the political spectrum that most civics books don't even acknowledge exists**, how much of political discourse is team-loyalty politics rather than meaningful policy discussion.

The posts that happened to set me off down this path were a pair from Kevin Drum about poor Barney Frank having to meet rowdy protestors and a lament on the frustrations of cloture in the Senate, but I am not particularly singling him or the left out.  In fact, I read Drum because he is less bad on the team politics angle than others.  I force myself to read a couple of political blogs on the left and right to see what they are saying.  A few observations:

  • Both teams are absolutely convinced that they are occupying the high ground and it is the other side that is resulting to personal attacks, negative campaigning, astroturfing, whatever.  Seriously, its really hilarious -- I see exactly the same posts written about "our side is losing because we don't resort to the low tactics of the other side" written by bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum on the same day.
  • Both teams are absolutely convinced that the media does not give their side the coverage or respect they deserve.
  • Both teams are guilty of trying to block dissent through clever rhetorical games without having to actually answer policy critiques.  Team red did it with the Iraq war, saying it was wrong to criticize a President in wartime, a useful concept when it is combined with the theory that the President can declare any time to be wartime.   Team blue takes a different approach, by claiming any opposing argument on subjects like climate or health care are being raised as part of plots funded by nefarious interest groups, and so therefore don't deserve a response.
  • Both teams hold up wacky members of the opposing team's fringes and attempt to portray them as representative of the mainstream opposition.  (OK, I may have been guilty of this once or twice myself)
  • Both teams can be loud and strident where they are energized and ticked off (this is a good thing).  Both teams have recently compared the opposition president to Hitler.   Both teams have been "obstructionist" as the minority in Congress.  Both teams have dreamed of changing the filibuster rules in the Senate while in the majority.  Both teams have freaked at suggestions the filibuster rules in the Senate would be changed while in the minority.  Both teams have promised bipartisanship when they were in the majority and not delivered on it.  Both teams have members who are corrupt.  Both teams have members who have had affairs.
  • Both teams have supposed evil genius schemers in the background (Rahm Emanuel meet Karl Rove).  Both teams have found it convenient to make concerted personal attacks on individual opponents (Sarah Palin meet Bill Clinton).
  • Both teams have promised respect for the Constitution in the Executive office and not delivered on it.  Both teams have promised a less interventionist foreign policy and never delivered on it (people forget GWB first campaigned almost as an isolationist against Clinton's Kosovo interventions).  Both teams have Presidents who are addicted to signing statements.  Both teams have really gone after selected Supreme Court nominees.
  • Both teams have Congressmen who support ethanol subsidies, which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have Congressmen who support farm subsidies, which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have Congressmen who support trade interventions (e.g. sugar tariffs) which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have actively supported ratcheting up the war on drugs, which some thoughtful people may agree with but I think is stupid.  Both teams have voted in the last 15 years for major government interventions in medicine, education, and limitations on personal freedoms in the name of security.  When team blue was in power, it supported a law that was basically the Patriot Act, but had it voted down due to team red opposition.  When team red was in power, it forcefully pushed through the Patriot Act which it had previously opposed, this time against the opposition of team blue members who had previously supported it.

All this is not to say that libertarians are necessarily better people.  If we had a real team that wasn't a political joke, we'd probably engage in similar behaviors.  Of course, the difference is that we would be trying to lower the stakes of the political game rather than continue to raise them.

** Footnote: I don't know about you, but my civics textbooks in elementary school described a 2-dimensional political spectrum that ran from "fascism" on the political right to "communism" at the extreme of the left.  How does a libertarian even place himself on a spectrum that ranges from totalitarian statism to totalitarian statism?   I haven't seen such textbooks lately, so I don't know if this "heads statism wins, tails freedom loses" approach to the political spectrum still exists.

By the way, I have been reading a book called The Vampire Economy by Gunter Reimann, published in 1939.  It is a description of the economic policy of Nazi Germany, a subject that gets very little coverage because, frankly, later Nazi atrocities are such a magnet for attention.

I challenge anyone to read that book and find any substantial point of differentiatoin between Hitler's economy and a strongly socialist country.  And the section on strong-arming the banking industry for political goals was especially entertaining the context of the last 2 administrations.

Hitler approached his later war with Russia as an ideological war to the finish between polar opposites, but in fact it was really a feud between blood brothers.

Full Quote Referenced in the Title from Zoolander: "The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this?  I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

  • Link

    We were founded as a libertarian country. We'll either become one again or turn some degree of fascist.

    In 2009 and 2010 we will run shockingly large deficits. We could raise taxes to 100% on incomes over $200,000 and not close the long-term structural spending gap we already have. Do that, however and you'll kill growth. Without 3.5% long-term growth all our assumptions fail. It's an inevitable train wreck.

    At least some Democrats see this -- which is why Obama & Co are having trouble Rahming their programs through.

    I thought the difference between fascism and communism was that fascism worked with and then subverted existing institutions -- communism just overthrew them -- but that they often got to the same totalitarian end.

    "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

  • http://evilredscandi.blogspot.com Evil Red Scandi

    Great post, and bonus for the Zoolander reference (anyone who's hung out with enough models will realize that the movie is almost a documentary).

  • http://www.ilovebenefits.wordpress.com ilovebenefits

    Exactly, know your enemy well, so you will be like him.

  • RJP

    Be sure to also read Jonah Goldberg's 'Liberal Fascism' to get a detailed account of the similarities between Communism and Fascism (they were, as you note, blood brothers) and how much in common those ideologies have with what today are considered liberal viewpoints.

    BTW, which Supreme Court nominee has the red team gone after with anywhere near the intensity the blue team went after, for example, Bork, Thomas, Alito or Roberts? Most certainly not Sotomayor.

    RJP

  • ElamBend

    Another great book is the Tooze's "Wages of Destruction"
    http://www.amazon.com/Wages-Destruction-Making-Breaking-Economy/dp/0713995661

    It's an economic history of the Nazi regime that details all the different moves the regime made, from a psuedo-land reform to co-opting industry. It also makes the case that it wasn't just Hitler, but the whole regime that was gearing up for war and that the ultimate goal was conquest and that the economy was being geared for that.

  • Fred from Canuckistan . . .

    Somehow the policies of the National Socialist German Worker's Party are not seen as Socialist, just Fascist. Adolf & Joe Stalin had a lot in common.

    In some respects WW2 started as an inside the ball Socialist/Communist/Fascist civil war and then got way outta hand.

  • artemis

    I'm right there with you. 90% of dicussions I get into start with "xyz is wrong" followed by the other person saying "yeah, but Bush did ABC".

    I've cut my reply to those people down to "So Obama is the valedictorian of summer school. Good Job"

  • http://yargb.blogspot.com Knucklehead2

    Under facism everything, including the people, is the property of the state. An all-powerful elite that is beyond the reach of the people makes decisions on behalf of the state. Those decisions are then enforced on the people by whatever means necessary.

    Under communism the state is the property of the people. An all-powerful elite that is beyond the reach of the people makes decisions on behalf of the people. Those decisions are then enforced on the people by whatever means necessary.

    To the people the net effect is identical. To the elite the difference is a very important one discussed endlessly at official functions, dinner parties, weekend retreats and vacations at their dachas, etc.

    The political spectrum is not a line. It is a circle with statism - be it facism or communism - on one side and anarchy on the other. To live decent life We The People need to build and maintain a system that is somewhere between statism and anarchy. Libertarians would have that system leaning toward the anarchy side, and socialists, at least the garden variety bleeding heart sort, would have that system leaning toward the statism side.

  • http://farsouthofi-10.blogspot.com/ joe

    Jerry pournelle wrote a column on the problem of political spectra:

    http://www.baen.com/chapters/axes.htm

    with his solution to the problem from his phd thesis, two axes instead of just a single axis left-right.

  • Link

    I posted a version of this here a few days ago, but thought it worth re-posting as it fits here.

    The real political split anymore isn’t traditional left vs right. It’s between those who want “big government” vs the rest of us. Both political parties have been co-opted by Big Government Statists — the Democrats more obviously so as that has always been their mission; the Republicans more cynically and subtly so.

    Here’s a poll that measures the political map “up and down” as well as “left vs right”: http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html There are other similar polls out there, but this one has the benefit of being very short. Like the other polls, you have four quadrants. I’m firmly in the libertarian camp — as I’m for individual economic and personal liberty. I’d have plenty of company with our Founding Fathers.

    Interestingly, Bush-Cheney and Obama are actually both in the Big Government Statist quadrant … firmly so if you scored them on what they do, not what they say … they’re almost fellow travelers. Bush-Cheney were for “corporate welfare” and barriers to free trade, when it helped their friends. Bush-Cheney didn't really believe in slashing federal taxes — you’d need to have a plan to slash federal expenditures to go with it.

    Obama’s not really a social liberal — not in the 1960s flower power sense. Obama doesn’t believe in a free press — he wants Pravda. I suspect Obama doesn’t care about gays … happy now, David Geffen? Are we getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan any faster with Obama … happy now, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann?

    In practice Bill Clinton — after being schooled by Gingrich & Co in 1994 — was actually a moderate liberal centrist and closer to my beliefs than either Obama and Bush-Cheney. Clinton ended welfare and pushed NAFTA through. He had no stupid international frolics. He even balanced budgets.

    Cynical me believes that Karl Rove packaged Bush to look like he was from the traditional Conservative quadrant and worked the Religious Right on social issues — but once in power Bush & Co acted as Statist Big Government. Cynical me believes that David Axelrod packaged Obama to be the anti-Bush — but once in power Obama & Co are all about Statist Big Government to the max.

    I don't equate Bush-Cheney with Obama -- Obama has the potential to be far worse. But the prescription drug benefit was actually an even bigger boondoggle than Stimulus, all to win the senior vote in critical Ohio in 2004.

    Either party professes that Big Government can do big things — like turn the Mideast democratic, or run our auto, mortgage and healthcare industries. It’s really about seizing power and looting the public purse. Developing …

  • Link

    I forgot to include an important point -- those that want big government often get checks from big government. Retirees and GE CEO Jeff Immelt have a lot in common.

  • hanmeng

    Good one. I'm seeing double.

  • http://www.lewis42.com Warren Lewis

    If Libertarians had a "real team that wasn't a political joke", I promise you they would be claiming to lower the stakes and the size of the government whilst enthusiastically doing exactly the opposite. Sorry to pop your bubble.

  • Dr. T

    I'm still trying to figure out how fascism is right-wing. In fascism, the government controls the private economy; in socialism the government eliminates the private economy. Fascism is nominally better, because it still allows private ownership and shareholder ownership of businesses. If you overthrow a fascist government, the people will still own businesses. If you overthrow a socialist government, the revolutionaries own the country.

    Since left-right spectrums don't work, I created my own scheme.

    My political diagram (with economic systems):

    Minimal Government Group (can have capitalism or barter):

    Anarchy

  • TakeFive

    I'd be curious to know what blogs you read on the Left and Right. I've found lefty blogs to be essentially unreadable, just a Air America was unlistenable.

    Josh Marshall used to be pretty good - until he became lost to the fever swamp of Valerie Plame. Same with Sullivan, until gay marriage, toruture and Sarah Palin's fertility blocked out any rational thoughts.

    Daily Kos, Pandagon, Fire Dog Lake, etc - just absolute nuttery. Contrast that with The Corner at National Review, or this blog which I would consider right leaning.

    So let me know where the ratinal lefties are. I'd love to have a look.

  • nom de guerre

    only maybe the most underrated motion picture of the *millenium* is all 'zoolander' was. some website out there - i forget which, and don't care enough to go look - is listing the "15 greatest films of the new millenium" for us undereducated rubes. eye-glazing dull-bombs such as "mulholland drive", "gone baby gone" and (of course) the laughably inauthentic "no country for old men". (hell, i was born & raised in texas, and *I* couldn't make out what they were saying half the time. the scene in which t.l. jones tries to out-accent barry corbin talkin' 'bout great-aunt myrtle who done had to burry ol' uncle cletus when them damn ol' injuns done shot him back in nineteen-and-oh-five makes 'deliverance' sound like a shakespearean sonnet)(not to mention the heapin' helpin' of BS closing scene in which jones mumbles about the dream back in olden tahms whar heeis daiddy wuz goan own up ahaid en mayke a fahr aind he'd be a-waitin' own imm)

    gimme zoolander every time. humor, clear speech, gasoline fights, break-dance fighting, crazy pills.....now *that's* funny, i don't care who you are.

  • Dr. T

    I cannot understand how fascism is considered to be right-wing. It's actually less bothersome than socialism. In socialism the government IS almost the entire economy, and its 'benevolent' nannystate leaders decide how to distribute the wealth. In fascism, the government exerts tight control over the private economy. The effects may be worse than socialism, but at least most properties and businesses are in private hands.

    Since a left-wing, right-wing political classification system doesn't work, I developed my own.

    A four-group political classification scheme (with economic systems):

    Minimal Government Group (can have capitalism or barter):

    Anarchy

  • http://that-xmas.livejournal.com Xmas

    It's a walk-off!

    I, too, an not an ambi-turner.

  • Steve Jean

    "a 2-dimensional political spectrum that ran from “fascism” on the political right to “communism” at the extreme of the left."

    Mathematically. that's only 1 dimension. In other words, one single number describes the position.

    A 2-dimensional grid would have left-right and up-down. That is far better, though any time you try to represent complex political ideas with two numbers, you're losing information.

  • Loweeel
  • Joe R.

    TakeFive: I find Jeralyn Merritt (TalkLeft) to generally be the most sane.

  • Seerak

    The political spectrum is not a line. It is a circle with statism - be it facism or communism - on one side and anarchy on the other.

    You can call it a circle. I call it a trap. How much more bloody obvious can the brokenness of the "spectrum" become than this, and yet people still act as if it had value or meaning?

    Anarchy cannot be on any political spectrum, as anarchy is not a political theory any more than amoralism is a form of ethical theory. It's just a negation thereof.

    How does a libertarian even place himself on a spectrum that ranges from totalitarian statism to totalitarian statism?

    That is how the trap works; the mainstream mind can't get there (liberty) from here. Liberty isn't on the spectrum, anywhere -- by design. See the pincer?

    A spectrum is a single-variable continuum. What is the variable? This is how the trap is set, by arbitrarily defining two fundamentally similar ideologies as opposites. The result is confusion, intellectual paralysis, endless wanderings down blind alleys (such as those stupid two-axis approaches), and finally, frustrated cynicism and surrender (Warren Lewis, I mean YOU). It confuses and frustrates anyone who attempts to make sense of things political, while facilitating the task of those whose goals require obfuscation and fog.

    It's like defining the food spectrum between vanilla and chocolate ice cream; imagine what that sort of "spectrum" would do to the science of nutrition. Where do vegetables or beef go on that? If your goal is to eat healthy, you'll get nowhere -- but if you want to pass off sugar as good nutrition, it's perfect!

    Has anyone ever tried to isolate what the single variable is on the conventional "spectrum"? I've never seen that done, but everyone, including the two-axis types, acts as if there were one, on faith... even though it plainly conveys nothing more fundamental about political ideas than the color of a team jersey conveys about how that team plays the game.

  • http://www.newclarion.com Seerak

    I almost forgot one other key function of the conventional spectrum: to foster distrust of consistent political theories grounded in principles, in favor of the muddled middle, where lies the cult of compromise. This is where the fetish of "moderation" and "balance", and their flip side -- the demonization of "extremism" -- find their origins. This is what leads to this sort of nonsense:

    To live decent life We The People need to build and maintain a system that is somewhere between statism and anarchy

    No. That something is "moderate", "extreme" or "in between" tells you nothing about whether it is right. Some things should be in moderation (like alcohol); some things should be "extreme" (like being healthy). Even moderation should be taken in moderation ;)

  • Jon

    I was with Link on his evaluation of recent Presidents until this point:
    "In practice Bill Clinton — after being schooled by Gingrich & Co in 1994 — was actually a moderate liberal centrist and closer to my beliefs than either Obama and Bush-Cheney. Clinton ended welfare and pushed NAFTA through. He had no stupid international frolics."

    I'd quibble with the "no stupid international frolics", because in my opinion he did more to destabilize Middle East politics than most other Presidents. Clinton giving legitimacy to Arafat was a bad move. His legal mechanics/reliance on the UN in the WoT instead of action, set bad multi-year bad precedents, and took years of work to try to correct.

    I'd probably match either Clinton on domestic policy, but the CiC role is still part of the President's job title.

  • ArtD0dger

    Well, yes, Seerak, but I do think an axis intuitively resembling "left/right" really would come up near the top of a hypothetical, idealized principle component analysis of political positions in a massively higher space. There may also be a major axis for "libertarian/statist," but it is the shape of the distribution that determines whether political advantage can be had by partitioning across that dimension, not the presence of the axis per se. The problem with those 2D political scales (with, say, left/right on the horizontal axis and libertarian/statist on the vertical axis) is that they tacitly cede the point that extant left and right parties are neutral with respect to statism. They are not. This is proven by the fact that government has grown at virtually all times under both parties -- if the parties were neutral, then the size of government would be in equilibrium. We get what we vote for, good and hard.

    Another great post.