Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Libertarians emerge as "spoilers"

My friend Bob Bidinotto comments here http://bidinotto.journalspace.com/
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.


  • At 10:35 AM, Blogger Velvet said…

    Apparently you've never had the Stupids after a night of smoking pot. Not that I have, of course...

    I don't think there are numbers to show how many potsmokers do nothing while high vs how many get things done. My friends tend to have intense and involved discussions on religion, philosophy, politics, sex, and science while high. Maybe they're not getting anything done, but they're engaging their minds, not just sitting around on Paul's couch, doing nothing. And then there's the friend that every potsmoker has who gets high and goes for a run or cleans the apartment/house or who's a high-powered real estate agent or stockbroker who just smokes up on the weekends.

    I think people take the lazy stoner stereotype the wrong way. Lazy kids who are going to sit around for 6 hours smoke up so it's not boring, or at least not as boring. That doesn't mean that pot causes laziness, but maybe it does mean that laziness + pot connection = potsmoker.

  • At 11:17 AM, Blogger Cindi said…

    Ok, you didn't see the Rush segment. Did you hear it? Or rather, them? because he discussed it for a few days and not once did he launch a personal attack on Michael J. Fox himself. He criticized his behavior, i.e. making the ad for a bill he didn't understand and for emphasizing the effects of the Parkinson by omitting the meds.

    Actually what he did say was pretty close to your example.

    I have been disappointed by Rush Limbaugh in the past; this is not one of those times.

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion on your blog, and at the risk of violating your hospitality, I'd point out that calling Rush a fat, deaf, junkie is in fact doing to him what you falsely accuse him of doing to Mr. Fox.


  • At 12:31 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Sarcasm Cindi. Using an example of the technique to show how odious it is. "Fat" is his own business, "deaf" his misfortune for which he is in no way responsible and "junkie" an example of hypocrisy on the Right - I believe in decriminalization but I don't think he does.

    On your first point, I suppose I should see it now, if they ever run it again. I suspected the same as you at first, but then took the word of people whose opinion I trust about the content - and perhaps I shouldn't have. But since you did, did he or did he not accuse Fox of "faking"?

    Don't worry about the hospitality, disagree is what free men do.

    Velvet, I also know lots of people who react differently to pot. One guy I knew used to smoke before going out to knock doors for political campaigns and did a prety good job at it. Another person who shall remain nameless liked to smoke before working out because it took the boredom out of exercise. There is some evidence that pot smokers do a better job at boring, repetitive, physically demanding work.

    As for intellectual endeavor, what a writer once said about alcohol goes for pot too. It's the friend of inspiration but the enemy of good narrative.

    There are those of us who can take it or leave it (whatever it is) but just can't do moderation. If the truth be told, I think the worst thing about pot is that horney, lonely guys find it an impediment to chasing after cute girls.

  • At 11:42 PM, Blogger Cindi said…

    Sorry Steve, didn't get the sarcasm. It seemed to be doing exactly what Rush didn't do.

    I didn't see the video cam segment either; I hadn't said I did and I didn't comment on it specifically because I hadn't. You did comment, so I asked. But Rush did speak on it again today and said the MSM is admitting that it 'looped' the segment, so that it appeared much longer and herky-jerkier than it was. Again, I haven't seen it.

    Rush said in his initial reaction to Mr. Fox's ad that he thought he was faking it OR he was off his meds; faking it as 'he's an actor, that's what he does'. (I'm paraphrasing to the best of my honest ability).

    In the next segment Rush said he believed it was a case of Mr. Fox being off the medication. Michael J. Fox admitted in his book that when he testified before Congress or appears in public on behalf of Parkinson's, he will either non-medicate or over-medicate; the results being similar.

    I'm glad you're not insulted by my disagreement. One never knows these days.....

    Let me repeat, I am not carrying water for Rush Limbaugh or anybody if I believe they're wrong. And he has been. Just not this time, in fact, the tremendous spin put on this by his detractors goes to prove his point about members of the 'victim class' being declared beyond reproach as decided by the appointees of victimhood.


  • At 11:48 AM, Blogger Velvet said…

    Cindi, the fact that you feel you have to say that you're not carrying water for anybody tells me you've had way too many arguments with people who prefer the personal attack to actual debate. If that's true, you have my sympathy :)

  • At 3:28 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    OK I checked with both Robert Bidinotto http://bidinotto.journalspace.com

    and Ilana Mercer http://www.ilanamercer.com/

    Bob has this to say:


    All the news reports – and the video clips I saw myself of Rush on TV – do NOT paint a nice portrait of his conduct. He began by questioning the seriousness and sincerity of Fox’s Parkinson’s tremors:

    "He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting." And: "This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."

    Only later in the show (after a commercial break), and on following days, after the storm of outrage erupted against him, did he change his tack:

    "Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial," Limbaugh said, according to a transcript on his Web site. "All right then, I stand corrected. . . . So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

    Then Limbaugh pivoted to a different critique: "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."


    Here is the segment transcript, which presents the remarks in full context:


    So it’s true: Limbaugh’s first impulse was not to attack the message, but to kill the messenger—in effect, engaging in an ad hominem attack against Fox in response to Fox’s own appeal to pity. Even Limbaugh’s initial apology was sarcastic and transparently insincere: “So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong…”

    In short, I don’t think Limbaugh’s creepy callousness was misrepresented. The public response to his challenge of Fox’s sincerity and the severity of his disease was justified.


    Ilana confirms.


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