Squawk, Squawk!

I think the best dig at Reason Magazine I ever read was Virginia Postrel commenting on the Ron Paul racism controversy:

I do fault my friends at Reason, who are much cooler than I’ll ever be and who, scornful of the earnestness that takes politics seriously, apparently didn’t do their homework before embracing Paul as the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. For starters, they might have asked my old boss Bob Poole about Ron Paul; I remember a board member complaining about Paul’s newsletters back in the early ’90s. Besides, people as cosmopolitan as Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch should be able to detect something awry in Paul’s populist appeals. (Note that by “cosmopolitan” I do not mean “Jewish.” I mean cosmopolitan.)

I laughed out loud when I read that because it really hits home. One does often get the impression that Reason spends more time trying to be cool than right. For a case in point, have a look at their collection of Obama assessments and count the number of naive optimists.

Brink Lindsey:

Alas, when it comes to domestic policy, Obama’s inclinations on spending and regulatory issues are almost uniformly wrongheaded. My hope is that circumstances will constrain him from following those inclinations very far. But in foreign affairs, where the president has a much freer hand, he is the clearly superior alternative.

Bruce Bartlett:

I think it is more likely that Obama will restrain Congress’s worst instincts, as the Clinton administration often did on issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, than that McCain will be able to do so with nothing but a veto pen. On balance, I think there’s a better chance that an Obama presidency will end up being preferable to a McCain presidency from a libertarian point of view. To put it another way, I prefer another Bill Clinton to another Gerald Ford.

Jonathan Rauch:

The upside: his subtle mind, silver tongue, moderate temperament, cool deftness, and magnetic charisma. The last time we saw those traits combined was in John F. Kennedy, who I think was a good president. Kennedy gets dinged by liberals for not doing much, but that was a feature, not a bug: He was personally charismatic enough to make the country feel ably led but politically shrewd enough to avoid overreaching. If I read Obama right, he may offer a similar blend of charisma and caution. The election of a black president, opening a new chapter in America’s tormented racial history, only sweetens the deal.

Deidre N. McCloskey:

I’m praying (like Barack Hussein Obama II, I’m a churchgoing Christian) that he gets a bunch of Chicago School economists to advise him. And listens. That way he won’t “renegotiate” the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he might even (faint hope) try to get the Doha round restarted: You poor countries allow us to send you some stuff, and in exchange we’ll drop the farm programs. As I said, faint hope.

What the HELL are you people smoking? Bruce Bartlett’s is probably the most offensive: you don’t get to pick presidents and pair them. The 1976 election was between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter – not Bill Clinton. So stick to the present, please. Is there any reason to believe that McCain is Gerald Ford or that Obama is Bill Clinton? And if Obama is Bill Clinton, doesn’t it bother you at all that he’s the 1993 Bill Clinton and not the 1996 one? We’re looking at a Dem Senate landslide, in case you forgot. And then there’s Jonathan Rauch, who thinks that style implies lack of substance, and that blackness is a qualification for president. All told, it’s a collection of people kidding themselves. Identify some Obama weaknesses, and then wave the magic “hope” wand and make them go away. Brink Lindsey: “My hope is that circumstances will constrain him from following those inclinations very far.” Well, that’s OK then. You can hope, and St. Barack will deliver. What circumstances, one wonders, could POSSIBLY constrain a left-wing Democrat from his inclination to spend and regulate when he has a sympathetic Congress and celebrity status not just among followers here, but around the world? How does this combination POSSIBLY give you cause to hope that there’s not gonna be all that much spending and regulation?

ENOUGH! I’m sick to death of people making excuses for voting for Obama – especially when they’re Libertarians. There’s nothing about Obama that’s good. I get that he’s “hip.” But “hip” is exactly what we DON’T want. The whole bleeding point of being a Libertarian is that you want government to shrink and get out of everyone’s way. That’s the essence of it. We want freedom through self-determination. “Hipness” is about nothing more nor less than being the center of attention. Yeah, well, politicians get to be the center of attention by doing exactly what Obama is doing – promising people the world while going vague on specifics. It’s because people like you give them the benefit of the doubt that they never have to come clean about anything, say clearly what they really mean.

All of this is exactly the wrong reaction. I want a country where political debates are really boring – where the two candidates simply make their case by laying out policy intentions. And I want the public so bored by the whole thing that only those people who know about policies bother to go vote. I want celebrities in Hollywood and on the pop charts where they belong – out of the White House. The president is not the nation’s spiritual advisor. It isn’t his job to give anyone hope, or jobs, or whatever else Obama is promising this week. The last people we want voting are those who are motivated to do so because will.i.am wrote a (crappy) pop song about one of the guys running!

But I think what’s really worrisome about Obama is how willing people are to fill in the gaps for him. He’s made a bunch of speeches hailed as brilliant that failed to say anything whatever. Which means that pretty much anyone can pick them up and see in them what they want to see – as all these Reason contributors are doing here. Deidre McCloskey ends her bit thus: “I wish I would grow up and stop expecting presidents to do good.” Yeah, I really wish you would too. And here’s the rub – you don’t get credit for just saying that until you actually do it.

Bill Clinton best summed up the emotional differences between Democrats and Republicans for me when he said that at convention time “Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love.” Nowhere has this been more visible than in the present election, and I’m so much more comfortable with the Republican approach I can’t begin to tell you. “Fall in line” is the better attitude. You take a pragmatic look at your (essentially two) choices for president and go with the one that represents the lesser of the evils. That’s a lot easier to stomach than the Democrat approach – which is to convince yourself that whoever ends up holding the bag is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The “fall in line” approach has its definite flaws, but it’s at least mature. “Fall in love” is so totally inappropriate it’s difficult to know where to start. And the runner-up for “worst approach to a presidential endorsement strategy” is the “hope for the best” crap that’s on display here at Reason.

It isn’t a pundit’s job to “hope for the best.” A pundit’s job is to point out where the political establishment is going wrong and suggest ways to fix it. So rather than Deidre McCloskey having “faint hope” that Obama will adopt some sensible economic policies, she needs to call it like it is say flat-out that it’s UNLIKELY that he will. It’s the spin that’s wrong, you see. The pundit’s job isn’t to say “you know, there’s an outside chance that politican X will come to his senses.” Rather, he should say “What politician X has been saying makes his trade policies sound pretty crappy. Not a peep of support from me until he straightens them out, and here are some suggestions how.” Likewise, no pundit should ever be in Brink Lindsey’s position of saying “gee, maybe some hugely implausible ‘circumstances’ I’ve not bothered to spell out will make the guy turn out OK after all!” NO! The pundit says “Barring some really unlikely chain of events, this guy is gonna blow, and here’s why.” What a pundit should never, ever, EVER say is Jonathan Rauch’s “well, at least he’s hip! And BLACK!” What the fuck kind of commentary is that?

The only person who keeps Reason from being totally useless is Jacob Sullum. Sullum is what a political commentator ought to be. He pulls no punches, and he doesn’t mind talking trash about his own side when they’re wrong. For a good example of how a proper libertarian pundit calls this particular election, see his column from yesterday, appropriately titled “You Choose, You Lose.” An even better example is Richard Epstein, whose October 21 column in Forbes – “The Obama I (don’t) Know” – lays out in detail exactly what’s wrong with Obama. These are appropriate libertarian positions on this election. No one who calls himself a Libertarian can think that Obama is a good thing, and no one who calls himself a Libertarian makes the kind of weasely excuses for him on display in the Reason pages today. I think an honest libertarian can look at Obama and McCain and conclude that Obama is the lesser risk – as Sullum subtly hints he does. I don’t mind saying that I’m not one of them – but I can see how a legitimate Libertarian with priorities ranked a little differently than mine might come to that conclusion. What no libetarian should be able to say is that things are looking up with Obama! The very best Obama can ever be to a Libertarian is ever-so-slightly better than McCain, and that’s not a basis for support. Even if that’s your opinion, you don’t do anything useful by saying tautological things like “Hey! There’s a non-zero chance that he could turn out OK on trade!” a la McCloskey. Yeah, the same holds true for any politician, you moron. So kindly say something useful or get another job. All of you.

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