Wednesday, October 27, 2004


The Bodice Rippers

no means yes
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

The future make-up of American civic life will have to be something which actually works. Americans have always demanded that, and will continue to. Our politics will continue to become more and more of a cobbled-together modern admixture of what the country was meant to be about at its inception: libertarianism and liberalism; free markets AND social justice, individual freedom and creativity AND equal opportunity. Ideologues always forget that reality - in the form of passion & rationality & imagination & necessity - spawns theory, not the other way around. It's time to remind some of them of that.

The Editors of the more/less libertarian magazine Reason preface their presidential poll of 'policy wonks, journalists, thinkers, and other public figures' (from which most of the items below are drawn) as follows:

Voting for president is a lot like sex, and not just because it takes place every four years in the solitude of a semi-private booth. Both are intensely personal activities that nonetheless can have profound public consequences. We might add that both often involve drug-and-alcohol-fueled delusions and morning-after feelings of guilt, shame, and recrimination.

Ah, ha ha, they are so witty and sardonic, aren't they? Sex in a semi-private booth once every four years, mixed with shame, alcohol and other drugs. Hoo boy, those libertarians are a fun bunch, I bet. It's a safe, conventional thing to say that a presidential vote is 'intensely personal', but does it really make sense? Isn't that attitude a bit of a luxury in the komplex kluge of big-country politics, especially when the choice is so absurdly narrow ('either/or')? Are we choosing a politician or an avatar?

You will hear a lot of complaints about 'statism' below (especially from the economists!). As a fellow creative person, I have some sympathy with that critique. Without creative deviation from the norm, no net progress is possible. Without a hallowed individualism you will waste or squelch incalculable creative deviation along with its incalculable ramifications. But what our libertarian dreamers miss is the fact that - cliche though it is - politics is no more or less than the art of the possible. It's not intrinsically systematic, but rather terrifyingly intentional. Nauseatingly prosaic. It requires (gasp!) a sense of humor. Why, when 99% of the rest of life is decidedly alloyed, do they think politics can be 'pure'? Lenny Bruce noted that there is only 'what IS'. But, god! Dealing with 'what is' is so vulgar....

If you thought the 'Hollywood Liberals' were dewey-eyed, check out these 'angry old/young men: severe and hopeless Romantics when it comes to voting. Notwithstanding the tough bawdy-talk about sex-in-a-booth, what they seem to really want is immaculate conception. Too bad voting is so icky and not theoretical at all; it's something you have to affirmatively, physically DO. Ewwww! Pity the poor cynics, for of course they're disillusioned, betrayed idealists. Awwww.

You will notice that all of them are 'elite' in some way - have a lot of money and/or work on a university campus. They mostly can't bring themselves to vote effectively against probably the worst Leader Of The Free World in our history. So delicate! so romantic! such fine sensibilities! Most of the rest of us have to content ourselves with shuffling along, trying to simply pay our bills, hoping we or our children or their children get the chance to even dream of creatively deviating from the norm some day.

They have fetishized making the perfect the enemy of the good. They would rather nobly serve what is by definition a lost cause; they'd rather attempt to eat the recipie than the actual-but-flawed meal. How beautiful and fine and hopeless!

It doesn't require a whole lot of education, specialization and intellectual fire-power to be this stupid, but it helps.

Come, let's decant some of the most pungent American intellectual ferment of our time:

Drew Carey

Carey stars in Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, beginning October 7 on the WB.

2004 vote: Quit pretending that it matters, would you? Can you vote for all the nefarious cabals that really run the world? No. So fuck it.

2000 vote: I voted Libertarian, for all the good it did me.

Most embarrassing vote: Is it considered embarrassing to cast a vote out of principle for someone you know doesn't have a snowball's chance of winning? Oh, OK. Then they're all embarrassing.

Favorite president: Andrew Jackson, because he's what a lap dance costs (and because, ironically, he opposed having a National Bank).

Oh well, comedians are famously un-funny when they're not on stage. Drew is the wandering, solitary searcher, sojurning through the night looking for ways to blow his big bucks.

Richard Epstein

Epstein is a professor of law at the University of Chicago and author, most recently, of Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (University of Chicago).

2004 vote: I don't know who the Libertarian candidate is this time, but you can put me down as voting for him; anyone but the Big Two. As far as I can tell, the debate thus far has borne no relation to the important issues facing the nation...except Vietnam. It's just two members of the same statist party fighting over whose friends will get favors.

2000 vote: I can't remember.

Most embarrassing vote: Since I don't remember who I vote for from one election to the next, it's hard to say. I suppose Richard Nixon in '72, though that doesn't mean I'd want to have voted for George McGovern either.

Favorite president: I'm certainly a Calvin Coolidge fan; he made some mistakes, but he was a small-government guy.

Ah yes, the great Coolidge. Such a contrast to the two statist candidates who simply want to give their friends (in Kerry's case, that includes poor people who clean Epstein's house and don't have basic health insurance) 'favors'.

Nat Hentoff

Hentoff, a nationally syndicated columnist, writes regularly for both the Village Voice and The Washington Times. An expanded paperback edition of his book The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance (Seven Stories Press) will be released this fall.

2004 vote: I'm not voting for anyone at the top of the ticket. I can't vote for Bush, who supports Ashcroft's various "revisions" to the Bill of Rights, since our liberties are what we're supposed to be fighting for. As for Kerry, I think he's an empty suit: How much time did he give his years in the Senate in his convention speech, about 40 seconds?

Thanks Nat. Penetrating! One candidate wants to dismantle the Bill of Rights and the other is just as bad because....he's an 'empty suit'. Gotcha. Keep up the Good Whine, Nat.

Penn Jillette

Jillette is the larger, louder half of the comedy/magic team Penn & Teller and star of Showtime's Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

2004 vote: I'm undecided (always the stupidest position). I might do the moral thing and not vote at all, or do the sensible thing and vote Libertarian (Badnarik, right?), or I might make 100 bucks from my buddy Tony and vote for Bush. (I told Tony that Bush and Kerry were exactly the same, and he bet me 100 bucks that I didn't believe that enough to really truly vote for Bush.) But if you want to be pragmatic, I'm in Nevada, so who cares?

Yes, Penn. Since it won't affect YOU, both candidates are exactly the same. Why not make the hundred bucks? At least that IS about you.

John McClaughry

Contributing Editor McClaughry, a senior policy adviser in the early Reagan White House, is president of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont.

2004 vote: George W. Bush. Unlike his opponents, he at least understands that only America can defeat militant Islam by a combination of military force and the ideology of freedom. At home, his recent advocacy for "a new era of ownership" promises the only way out of statist stagnation.

2000 vote: Bush.

Yes, John. The 'ideology of freedom' and a recent 'advocacy for a new era of ownership' will save the day. Isn't it great that simply getting your speechwriters to write something up and then saying it makes you a leader? It's a slam dunk! Wanna buy a bridge into the 19th century?

Charles Murray

Murray is W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author, most recently, of Human Accomplishment (HarperCollins).

2004 vote: Reluctantly -- very reluctantly -- George Bush. I find the Democrats so extremely obnoxious that I have to vote against them, and I can't do that voting Libertarian.

Right. Bush in inept and dangerous. But not 'obnoxious'. I'M sold!

P.J. O'Rourke

O'Rourke is H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and author, most recently, of Peace Kills (Atlantic Monthly Press).

2004 vote: George W. Bush, because I don't want Johnnie Cochran on the Supreme Court.

2000 vote: George W. Bush. (I always vote Republican because Republicans have fewer ideas. Although, in the case of George W., not fewer enough.)

Yes, PJ, I'm worried about Jonnie Cochran getting on the SCOTUS, too. And I would emphatically agree that Bush doesn't have 'fewer enough' ideas, but...there's the Jonnie Cochran thing...

John J. Pitney Jr.

Contributing Editor Pitney is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of The Art of Political Warfare (University of Oklahoma Press).

2004 vote: I'm voting for Bush. He cut taxes. Kerry would raise them.

2000 vote: Bush. Former reason Editor Virginia Postrel put it well: "Bush is a mixed bag. But I think Al Gore is the devil."

The Business of America is..... John J. Pitney Jr.'s tax bracket.

The stuff about 'Gore is the devil' is not the obvious stupid hyperbole it seems to be. It is a more involved, subtle stupid hyperbole. The 'stateism' thing again. Interesting that Ashcroft/PATRIOT 2 doesn't seem to bother most of these people...

Robert Higgs

Higgs is a senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and author, most recently, of Against Leviathan (Independent Institute).

2004 vote: I never vote. I don't wish to soil my hands.

2000 vote: Had I been forced to cast a ballot for president in the 2000 election, I might have died of septicemic disgust.

'Septicemic disgust'?

Mickey Kaus, Contributor: Kerry

I'm voting for Kerry, mainly because I think Bush is prosecuting the fight against terrorism in a way that will make us dramatically less safe unless we have a conspicuous change at the top. Even if you supported the war in Iraq, now is the time to a) try to preserve our gains in that country and Afghanistan while we b) let the world calm down so that fewer people hate us (and hence fewer people try to come and kill us).

I don't expect Kerry to be a successful president in any other respect. It doesn't matter.

Ah, uber-smart-guy Mickey Kaus gets the (almost) last word: It doesn't matter!! PPS: If I seemed to think that anything but Iraq did matter, then I might be thought of as a chump and not a smartguy!!! PPPPPSSSS: Aren't I a wag?!!

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