Monday, April 19, 2010

Paul tied with Obama--and Palin

Since Drudge had the link, this shouldn't be new, but it's still intriguing:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of likely voters finds Obama with 42% support and Paul with 41% of the vote. Eleven percent (11%) prefer some other candidate, and six percent (6%) are undecided.

I don't want to oversell this; the chance that Paul becomes president is still slim. But this is still big news for at least two reasons. First, as Gary North points out:

Ron Paul's notoriety is based on his policy recommendations, not charisma. His ideas are mobilizing an audience, and his main ideas are these: (1) strict Constitutionalism and (2) end the FED. No other candidate has ever gained public attention on this pair of ideas.

On one hand, Paul is the most replaceable of the candidates, because anyone who shares his ideas could run his campaign. On the other hand, the paucity of Paulians in the beltway make him the only political figure who can defend the Constitution and demand and end to the Fed without looking like a cheap panderer. In this sense, his thirty-plus year record of limited government and sound money makes him indispensable.

Second, the Republican establishment isn't going to be able to pretend that Paul is unelectable anymore. When you're polling even with the current president and large numbers of people still don't know who you are, you have to be considered a viable candidate.

Now, I fully expect the Republicans to do anything they can to avoid allowing Paul win the nomination, but their task is not an easy one. The game may be rigged, but it has to appear to be fair. In addition, the GOP can't afford to lose all of the Paul people. Sure, some of them, like me, have never voted Republican in a major election, but many more of them are former GOP loyalists.

There is a growing backlash against government growth led by the tea partiers. I'm very receptive to criticisms that the tea party movement is hypocritical for not paying attention to the deficit until Bush left office. But this doesn't alter the fact that the State has gotten too big, and shows no indications of being able to live within its means. I'm not at all optimistic that anything can be done to stop the Leviathan, but I'm cautiously hopeful that enough of the tea party will be principled enough to push the GOP fiscally rightward.

On a related note, Politico came out with an interesting story about the tea party movement:

Tea party activists are divided roughly into two camps, according to a new POLITICO/TargetPoint poll: one that’s libertarian-minded and largely indifferent to hot-button values issues and another that’s culturally conservative and equally concerned about social and fiscal issues.

The results, however, suggest a distinct fault line that runs through the tea party activist base, characterized by two wings led by the politicians who ranked highest when respondents were asked who “best exemplifies the goals of the tea party movement” — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former GOP presidential candidate.

The tea parties have been a very mixed blessing for Republicans. They've certainly provided an outlet for the growing anti-Obama, anti-Government rhetoric. But this fault line will not necessarily repair easily.

The Democrats have managed to piece together electoral success with a contingent of disparate special interests. The Republic ideology has been, at times, more coherent, but in addition to the divide between fiscal conservatives--who can be appeased by tax cuts--and the social conservatives--who will gladly give obeisance for a nasty word about abortion now and again--the foreign policy issue is threatening to split the party.

This has not been Paul's doing entirely--the disastrous wars were the real impetus--but he's added fuel to the fire. There will always be a Palin wing that supports the military blindly for the "freedoms" it allegedly provides us; but there will also be those who wonder, if the State is truly the enemy, why we are to trust its employees if they wear the right uniforms. If the Post Office is inefficient, and a drain on free citizens, why is an empire deemed compatible with limited government?

There is a moral and an economic side to non-interventionism. As much as I'd like to think that the barbarity of bombing Afghani weddings would cause Americans to cease warring on everyone, the economic crisis may drive the point home more effectively. It makes no sense to lavish billions of dollars attempting to build a pair of countries in the Middle East when our own country is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. If enough of the Palin people figure this out, the tea party just might be a force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Hard choices can always be made later

One of the better observations Jonah Goldberg makes in Liberal Fascism is that centrist policies are often sold, not on the basis of taking a bit of good from each of the opposing policies, but by revealing that there is no actual conflict between them. We need not choose between guns and butter, or between economic growth and saving the environment; we may have both. We make our choice by not needing to choose at all.

In a recent column, Goldberg brings up this point in regards to Obama's health care bill:

We can give 32 million more people coverage, without preconditions, and save money. It’s already clear that this have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too pitch was bogus; big corporations are announcing that Obamacare will either cost them millions (if not billions) or force them to drop coverage.

This is a valid criticism. There is absolutely no way that costs can be reduced by circumventing what little remains of the free market in the health care industry. Whenever costs are borne by others, we provide a disincentive for consumers to minimize their usage of the good or service. This naturally pushes costs sharply upwards. The end result will not be death panels, but some form of rationing is, in the long run, inevitable.

But while Goldberg is right about health care, he ought to apply his criticism to the American democratic system as a whole, or at least to the two parties that run it. For the Republicans, too, used the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too pitch during the run up to the war in Iraq. The war would not prove costly, as Iraqi oil could defray war expenses.

The Iraq war was immoral and stupid, but it also served to demonstrate the extent to which Republicans, the ostensible party of restraint, hadn't the slightest inclination to provide responsible government. Rather than insist that the American people finance the war, Bush exacerbated the situation by cutting taxes. This was just as reckless and foolhardy as Obama's similar lack of fiscal restraint which conservatives now decry.

The fundamental problem which confronts our country is our massive debt. We continue to spend more money than we save; with the cost of entitlements rising, with no meaningful cuts to any government programs, and with tax revenues plummeting in a wobbly economy, the crisis threatens to become acute in short order.

But politicians of both parties continue to believe that there is no debt crisis. We can borrow as much as we like, and continue to spend on whatever we feel is desirable. This fallacy will be laid to rest when foreigners cease buying our debt, and we are forced, at last, to make a decision. Do we monetize the debt, and risk destruction of the currency through inflation? Or do we take our medicine and deal with a deflationary depression?

No inclinations can be discerned from the present government, which, like those before it, is content to let the problem build up for another administration to handle. So we wait.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dostoevski and the west

"To Dostoevski every object and every act is merely a symbol for some elusive spiritual truth. From this point of view comes an outlook which makes his characters almost incomprehensible to the average person in the Western tradition: if such a character obtains a fortune, he cries, "I am ruined!" If he is acquitted on a murder charge, or seems likely to be, he exclaims, "I am condemned," and seeks to incriminate himself in order to ensure the punishment which is so necessary for his own spiritual self-acquittal. If he deliberately misses his opponent in a duel, he has a guilty conscience, and says, "I should not have injured him thus; I should have killed him!" In each case the speaker cares nothing about property, punishment, or life. He cares only about spiritual values: asceticism, guilt, remorse, injury to one's self-respect." - Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope, p.104

Although his observations about Dostoevski are correct, I do not find his characters incomprehensible as Quigley does. Certainly, there are scenes--in The Idiot especially--in which the characters' reactions seem sentimental, if not slightly mad. But do we really blame Roskolinikov for the guilt he feels, or for the way in which he seeks redemption for the crime he has committed? Nor do I find Alyosha Karamazov's boasts of his own evil to be impossible to understand. For, granted that he is the most morally righteous character of the novel, Alyosha was aware of the potential for evil which resides in every human heart.

Quigley may be right that "Dostoevski was a precursor of the Bolsheviks." Still, I think one ought to read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov not merely in an attempt to catch a glimpse into the Russia soul, but as one would read any other great work of fiction.