Libertarians emerge as "spoilers"
about why the Democrats took over the House and Senate by a razor-thin margin, attributing it in part to Rush Limbaugh's disgraceful mocking of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms and in part to the Libertarian Party siphoning off votes from the Republican candidate in Montana. Bob "congratulates" the Libertarians with a pen dripping in sarcastic vitriol, a style I mightily admire.
A couple of observations:
Rush: I didn't see it, but from what I've heard Rush certainly acted like a mean-spirited a**hole. Now here's the irony, the day before this happened we were watching a biography of Michael J. Fox on TV, and they showed how Fox testified before congress for funding Parkinson's research and allowing the embryo cell research which may or may not offer some promise. They pointed out, approvingly, how Fox, to dramatize his appeal, deliberately refrained from taking the medication that controls his tremors so that congresscriturs could see the effects of the disease.
Rush could have pointed out that, though brilliant from a PR point of view, this is a classic example of the logical fallacy called the Appeal to Pity. That is to say, he could have appealed to the intelligence of his listeners rather than their emotions. But no-o-o-o-o, he had to engage in a personal attack on a brave man dealing with a devastating disease with dignity and grace.
Hey Rush, you're a fat, deaf junkie - but I'll keep any disagreements I have with you to the issues involved, thank you very much.
Libertarians: Bob assumes that Libertarians would have voted for the Republican candidate in Montana if they weren't running one of their own. I don't know, maybe. That rests on the assumption that Libertarians feel closer to Conservatives than Liberals. But then on the other hand maybe they would have stayed home out of general disgust. And recently I've noticed that there are a fair number of Libertarians who share the Left's visceral hatred of George Bush and the Right that seems to have little to do with specific issues, like how he betrayed his Conservative base and took the government out for a shopping spree and maxed out the credit cards to an extent not seen since LBJ.
The Libertarian Party remains miniscule, but some surveys put the number of what I call "unaffiliated Libertarians" at about 13% of the electorate. I know a number of folks like this, people who are live-and-let-live, economically-Conservative-socially-Liberal types who won't join a Libertarian organization for a number of reasons. Some just aren't joiners. Some are embarrassed to be seen with the more far-out nutty types one runs into there. Some don't like the America-bashing elements you find there and some are just more interested in the practical nuts-and-bolts of how you're going to get from here to the kind of country you'd like to live in. Something Libertarians tend to ignore in favor of painting pretty pictures of what it'll be like once we're there.
Interestingly, Libertarians seem to have done pretty well - by Libertarian standards, in quite a few local races. Pretty well in this context means as well as 25% of the vote in some races. This is pretty poor by the standards of a professional pol, but would seem to indicate that if someone did that well in a race for city council, school board or state legislature, they must have had something worthwhile to say about practical, as opposed to utopian, politics.
More importantly, it means that a Libertarian candidate in a race can swing the election one way or the other. Now they have to be taken more seriously and the media are going to be hard pressed to justify ignoring them.
So I have a suggestion for the would-be pols among Libertarians - ask for something. You can't expect to be taken into a Parliamentary coalition, because that's not how we do politics in America. But you can ask the major parties to make some concessions on issues that might once been considered too risky.
There are a number of possibilities. One I suggest is, decriminalizing pot.
I can't believe that in the Year of Our Lord 2006 we are still throwing people in jail for smoking weed. And many people are made miserable or d-e-a-d dead because they can't smoke pot to alleviate the nausea caused by chemotherapy. If you'd asked me back in 1970 if we'd still be doing that in thirty-six years, I'd have thought you were nuts.
I am flat not interested in the alcohol-tobacco-and-tranquilizers-are-more-harmful argument*. I am only mildly interested in what kind of paper, cloth etc you can make from hemp. I'm not going to get involved in alleged "benefits" of pot smoking. And I'm going to defer the natural rights argument based on the ancient legal principle of "no victim, no crime".
It's just too damn costly to enforce this prohibition. A huge number of Americans smoke pot or have tried it. And you wouldn't believe how many Yellow-dog Republicans I've met who admitted to doing so. (I remember how shocked I was when the yellowist YDR pillar-of-the-community in town looked me in the eye and said, "I've tried everything. Heroin is wonderful.")
Up till now, all of the really gross invasions of privacy and violations of traditional due process (wire taps, no knock warrants etc) have been motivated by the drug war. Now we're in a war against people who are interested in killing us by stealth, not sneaking off to indulge a forbidden vice. We may need some of those extraordinary measures, but a lot of folks out there are rightly concerned that if we grant the government even limited powers in this regard, it's going to come around and bite us in the ass. If the FBI wanted to search your place for a bomb-making kit based on faulty intelligence or a crank tip it would be livable with if you weren't worried about what they'd find out about your secret life. (And yes, I realize that this applies to all illegal drug use, but 1) pot is commonly used, the other illegal chemical recreations are the passtime of a much smaller minority, and 2) the issue of decriminalizing more dangerous drugs is not going to fly at this point in time. Let's keep it real.)
This applies to a lot of other things, but there are a heck of a lot more people smoking pot than cheating on their wives, embezzling from their boss etc. And might I point out that at a time when patriotism must be more than a quaint anachronism, it doesn't help a thing when the Attorney-general calls you a supporter of terrorists.
* OK, just this once. My personal opinion is that yes, pot is less harmful than alcohol. But... the good thing about alcohol is that it lets you know what it's doing to you. When you wake up with a hangover, you can't avoid recognizing that you are abusing your body. The primary symptom of pot abuse is a complete lack of ambition. You get high and don't get the chores done, don't get that interesting book read and that dead-end job you're in doesn't suck so much when you're high.