Lament for Republican Intellectuals

Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand

On January 13, 1978, notable Conservative intellectual and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley Jr. took on then Gov. Ronald Reagan about the pair of treaties that would divorce the United States from her control over the Panama Canal Zone. I have always been a fan of both Buckley and President Reagan (despite their faults), but I had never seen this particular debate until last night. Anyone familiar with either of them will no doubt be aware of how charming, amiable, and smart the two of them are, but Buckley stood out during the debate as the more erudite and the more intellectually rigorous.

This got me thinking about who among modern conservatives inherited Buckley’s mantle after his death in 2008. George Will is the obvious candidate. He is smart, largely impartial, and has a jovial style that reminds conservatives that it’s okay to take themselves less seriously. I also get the impression that Will see’s himself in this same light. But Will lacks the polysyllabic, ten-dollar-words Buckley is famous (or infamous) for. This is not a trite distinction.

But who else on the Right can claim Buckley’s intellectual inheritance? I don’t think anyone can. This has left the Right in a state of intellectual absence. There are few Republicans who can articulate positions and think through problems as clearly as Buckley, or even the much maligned Barry Goldwater. Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand.

The left doesn’t seem to have this problem. They have Gore Vidal, the late Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others. Despite the many sins of the intellectual left, the fact remains that even the most capable of Right-wing thinkers, including my love Rand Paul, can’t stand up to the rhetorical challenge alone posed by people like Chomsky and Vidal. Perhaps this situation can be best explained by the fact that the left seems to have conquered the Académie, but I think the bigger issue is that conservatives no longer want intellectualism- and, without demand, the supply has simply dried up.

Look at Ted Cruz. Many on the right call Sen. Cruz an conservative intellectual heavy-weight, but I often find myself wishing he would make more thorough arguments rather than spending time trying to make himself seem like an “every-man”. Trying to appeal to the audience’s emotional senses is not the mark of true intellectualism. When a conservative does try to elevate the conversation, they are often maligned. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was often the target of anti-intellectualism when he ran for Senate in 1976 (Moynihan’s Republican opponent, William F. Buckley’s older brother James,  often derisively referred to Moynihan as “Prof. Moynihan”). During the Republican primary race in 2007, Ron Paul was mocked for talking about the books he likes to read.

If sensible conservatives really want their party back from Trump’s vulgar populism, they have to start emulating Buckley and Will, not Bannon and Rush.

Where We Can Work with Trump

You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

As a good friend pointed out to me recently, we libertarians have to really take what we can get when it comes to federal politics. Gary Johnson’s lack luster performance during the last election means that over the next four years at least, we libertarians are going to have to make some strange ideological bedfellows. You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

Yesterday the President met with 12 of the nation’s most powerful CEO’s (including Elon Musk and Marillyn Hewson) to discuss his vision for the American economy. The whole opening speech he gives is worth a listen, but I’d like to zero in a several key points. First, I think it should be mentioned that meeting with corporations in this way smacks of corporate Fascism, but perhaps it’s not such a maniacal move. Many of these companies are more powerful than some nations, and so it makes sense in that context to meet with these CEO’s as the President might meet with foreign dignitaries.

There are two things the President said that really stroke my Capitalism boner. First he said that we are going to “cut taxes massively”. Of course libertarians jump at the opportunity to cut taxes but the obvious question that leaps to mind is “cut taxes for whom?” As long as he’s cutting taxes, I’m happy. But he stipulated that he wanted to cut taxes for the middle class as well as for business. If he can get the House to go along with him on this (and why wouldn’t they?), then I wholeheartedly welcome a major tax cut. Sure it will balloon the debt, but it’s unlikely that we were going anywhere on that front anyway.

Secondly, the President said that we were going to reduce the number of regulations “by 75%, maybe more.” And went on to say that if companies had their choice, they’d choose lower regulations over lower taxes every-time. He’s probably right on that account. We’ve seen a massive reduction in economic regulation before, during the Reagan administration, and it produced what is sometimes derisively called the “Reagan-Thatcher Economic Miracle”. I’m not saying that these policies were perfect then or will be perfect now, but what I am saying is that cutting regulations and taxes by as much as the President is promising is something that gives libertarians wet-dreams.

Of course, none of this is going to make me go out and buy a bunch of MAGA gear, and it’s also not going to soften my attitude towards the White Nationalist movement, but I’m personally reserving a lot of my criticisms of the administration until I’m convinced none of the above is actually going to happen. We’ll see. But I’m hopeful.

The Alt-Reich Within

“…as much as the alt-right has risen like a snake from within the GOP, occasionally that same snake has risen its head within “America’s Third Party…”

Despite what some media outlets would have you believe, libertarians, and the Libertarian Party, have very little to nothing in common with the “Alt-Right” phenomenon. The Libertarian Party has been at the forefront of Gay Rights and Civil Rights since the party’s founding in 1971. Most of my liberal friends understand this, but let me be clear. The Libertarian Party stands for equality, justice, and freedom- what was once called “the liberal ethic”. We just have a different perspective on how society goes about achieving those ends. However, it’s not as if the alt-right has no showing among libertarians. Indeed, as much as the alt-right has risen like a snake from within the GOP, occasionally that same snake has risen its head within “America’s Third Party”.

It seems like every time there is a major terrorist disaster carried out by Muslim extremists, there are calls from both sides of the aisle for the Muslim community to strongly condemn these acts. Perhaps its unfair to ask them to do so, but nevertheless, it’s time libertarians belly up to the bar and renounce the alt-right in the same way. There are figures associated with libertarianism that make most mainstream libertarians rather uncomfortable. Chief among these must be Lew Rockwell. For those of you unfamiliar, Lew Rockwell was, and has been for some time, an icon in the libertarian movement. Author of many books on liberal (small “l”) philosophy and government, and former Chief of Staff to Congressman Ron Paul, Lew is the person responsible (I’m almost certain) for Ron Paul’s racist and homophobic newsletters. Some of Lew’s whoppers include:

  • “…Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal…”
  • “…even in my little town of Lake Jackson, Texas, I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense[…] for the animals are coming…”
  • “…Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day…”

I say that I’m almost certain that these were Lew’s words because he ran Congressman Paul’s newsletters in those days. No one has ever heard Dr. Paul say anything like that and everyone knows (in a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ kind of way) that Lew Rockwell has harbored more in common with neo-nazi George Lincoln Rockwell than anyone within the libertarian movement would like to admit. Well, I’ll admit it. I reject Lew Rockwell and his ilk.

I’m also not the first to do so. Libertarian blogger Jeremy Kolassa had this to say about Lew back in 2012.

Wait, that’s not true. He has done something [for the movement]: damaged it. I’m out here, trying to tell people about liberty and freedom, and all the time something comes up about how Ron Paul is a racist or that libertarians believe in crazy stuff or whatever. It hurts. It makes it difficult to spread the message of freedom to the country. And that’s what we have to do, you know: we have to convince others to join us, to educate them that it’s okay to hold onto their money and to have a small government (or no government at all, in some cases.) But how can I do that when I got Lew Rockwell sitting over my shoulder muttering something about how the Confederacy was the greatest thing on Earth, and how because I don’t have a paleo diet I’m not really a libertarian and thus nobody should be listening to me?

Come on.

Lew isn’t alone in the libertarian world, but if enough of us raise our voices in opposition to this peculiar form of Randian psychopathy, maybe we can double our vote counts again like we did this past election cycle.

This is the End of the West as We Know It?

I don’t feel fine.

The Independent reported yesterday that Marine Le Pen has taken a sizable lead over former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the run up to the French general election next year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Le Pen, she is the leader of France’s Front National, a far-right political party founded in part by former Nazi collaborator Roland Gaucher. Among other things, Ms Le Pen promises to end immigration, strengthen French prestige and international influence, and pursue a slew of “France First” economic and social policies. If the margin of victory is strong enough, Le Pen is poised to deal another serious blow to European and global integration schemes such as the EU, the WTO, and others.

She is not currently projected to win the election, but those are the same sources which predicted that the Brits wouldn’t Brexit and that the Donald hadn’t a prayer of seizing the Oval Office. However, the French are far more liberal than the Brits or the Yanks, and polling data has Le Pen losing the race in the second round by more than 10 points. Still. The polls have been wrong about these things before. The rising tide of European nationalism and American populism has made many people (myself included) worried about the future of Western Liberal Democracy. Some have even gone so far as to lament that this is the beginning of the end for the West.

In the post WWII era, quality of life for most people around the globe has gone up. This is due primarily to the benefits of international free trade, and the democratic institutions which encourage entrepreneurship, creativity, and efficiency. But, despite the easily observable growth in living standards, many in the west favor globalization much less so than their former colonies and protectorates (see graph). It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this is, but some have opined that the growth of so-called 3rd world economies has left the working class in the West feeling like they’re being left behind. This is demonstrably false. Larger and larger slices of pie are going to the developing world, but the pie as a whole is also getting much larger. Everyone’s slice is bigger. That doesn’t seem to matter though. For the former great Empires, seeing a Cambodian prosper must mean that that has come at the expense of their own prosperity because, for hundreds of years, it was true the other way around.

During the age of the great European Empires, the economic principle of Mercantilism (that world wealth is fixed, and in order to have more wealth, one must take it from someone else), guided the policies of the British, French, Germans, Austrians etc. But Mercantilism was never the guiding economic policy of the United States. Instead, America pursued a system of (mostly/usually) free enterprise- the Smithian system. Freedom and liberalization is what leads to broad-based economic prosperity. The West can be saved if we keep that in mind.

Mike Pence, they were waiting in the wings for you.

Mike Pence had to know he was going into the belly of the beast.

Mike Pence hates gay people.  He has never been afraid to say so. Mike Pence believes that it’s both efficacious and morally appropriate to electrocute gay men and women into being straight. He opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and supported legislation that would have made it legal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. Some have suggested that this is because he is secretly super gay, but on that point I remain reticent.

The theatre loves gay people. From my own experience, I can tell you the theatre is the only place I’ve ever been where my heterosexuality is sometimes a professional liability in much the same way as being gay is in other industries. I think the theatre’s “gayness” largely has to do with with how both homosexual people and actors have been treated in the past. They were both marginalized groups and considered unfit to participate in polite society. The marginalized tend to coalesce together. Plus there’s like feather boas and shit.

The dichotomy between Mike Pence’s beliefs and the culture of the American theatre, as at-odds as it appears, is why I am so perplexed by what happened at the (now infamous) Hamilton performance last week. Vice President Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the wildly popular and revolutionary “Hamilton: An American Musical” on Broadway. Shortly after entering the theatre he was met with widespread boos from the crowd and after the curtain call, a member of the cast broke with certain protocols and read a prepared statement to the VEEP explaining the LGBT (and other minority group’s) concerns with the Trump/Pence administration. You can watch the video here. 

Many have derided the Hamilton cast for doing so, but Pence had to know that he was going into the belly of the beast. The theatre has long been the territory of the liberal/gay left, or, as Neil Patrick Harris put it some years ago, the theatre is the home of “liberal intellectuals, jews, and visiting relatives from out of town”. Despite this, the theatre welcomes anyone willing to buy a ticket. National tours do just as well in Red States as they do in Blue, and well-to-do suburbanites (who mostly vote Republican) form the backbone of many of the private endowments that fund regional theatre. It’s no sin, therefore, that Pence attended a night of theatre, but for a man so outspoken against the community represented on the stage, a certain amount of pushback wouldn’t have been out of the question that night, especially at a show like Hamilton which champions not only representative democracy, but also diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.

For his part, Pence seems to be taking this all pretty well- much better than some of his supporters who have started a twitter campaign laughably titled #boycottHamilton. For those out there who want to boycott the show, I will gladly take your tickets. I would have loved to have been there that night. Or any night for that matter.

Dammit, Janet

I think as many of us have experienced, sex is a great liberating and transformative force upon the person, but it mustn’t, as it has for Frank, consume the person.

For the last month or so, I’ve been preparing my newest show at the Stray Dog Theatre. The Rocky Horror Show opens this Thursday and plays until the 28th of October. As is customary at the Stray Dog, I’m playing a dual role- this time as Eddie/Dr. Scott. Anyone who is familiar with the show will also understand what I mean when I say that I’m doing another Stray Dog requirement when I end up center stage covered in blood. The show also features some of the best songs in the musical theatre. “Science Fiction Double Feature” and “Over at the Frankenstein Place” are some of my favorite songs in the world.

This isn’t my first time doing Rocky, but reading the script for the second time in a decade, I was really struck by how out of this world the show is. I mean, what the fuck is this show about? It’s sort of an homage to 50’s Hollywood Sci-Fi films and sort of a sexual revolution diatribe. Also there’s Meatloaf. Oh, and everyone cross dresses. But I must admit, the show Toucha-Toucha-Touches me.

I’m no expert in script analysis (I was once told by a director to “start acting whenever [I] feel like it”). But in taking a hard look at the script, it seems to me that one word continues to stick out. “Trans”. It’s everywhere. Frank is a “sweet transvestite”, he and his crew are from transsexual Transylvania, and Dr. Scott (great scott!) is obsessed with the “audiovibratory physiomolecular transport device” known as the sonic transducer. Even the basic premise of the show, that Brad and Janet leave their waspy shells at the door of Castle Frankenstein and metamorphose into sex crazed perverts, is about the transition of sexual attitudes that had been happening in western countries throughout the 60’s and 70’s when the show was written.

The show is also a cautionary tale. While the audience can delight in the bedroom scene, in which Frank seduces both Brad and Janet into their first sexual experiences, Frank ultimately ends up a corpse, and it’s unclear whether Brad or Janet are better off for their time with him. Frank is undone by a subordinate because of his egregious authoritarianism and actions which, considered in a modern light, are sexual assault. Even my own characters, Eddie and Dr. Scott, seem more scarred (Eddie very literally) by the experience of being at Castle Frankenstein than they are liberated by it.

So here it is. The show is best seen within the context of when it was originally written- at the height of the sexual revolution. I think as many of us have experienced, sex is a great liberating and transformative force upon the person, but it mustn’t, as it has for Frank, consume the person. However, there is merit in giving yourself “over to absolute pleasure”, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when getting your rocks off.

Gonzo Libertarianism

Despite our differences, we Libertarians managed to get along quite well with everyone- even the “March for $15” people who were taking up the whole gosh-darned street. I wanted to share some of my observations and thoughts with you.

Last night I went to my very first protest. It was exciting. There were so many people! Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, Greens, and, of course, the Gary Johnson crew. Libertarians from as far away as Florida came together to help draw attention to a debate system that is rigged in favor of the two major parties. Despite our differences, we Libertarians managed to get along quite well with everyone- even the “March for $15” people who were taking up the whole gosh-darned street. I wanted to share some of my observations and thoughts with you.

Admittedly there weren’t very many Gary Johnson people there, but there were fewer Greens, and our side seemed the most energized. As the night wore on, the ratio of Libertarians to everyone else increased dramatically, and eventually ended with a friend of mine in prime position to hold up “Johnson/Weld” signs behind Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Despite our lack of manpower, our demonstrations was organized, clean, respectful, we didn’t litter (I’m looking at you Green party), and our slogans were choice. My favorite of the night was, “Vote Johnson. The most consistent anti-sexual assault candidate”.

I got to hear Cisse Spragins, libertarian candidate for Missouri governor, give a speech on the state of her campaign and on libertarian identity and  values. She was tremendous. The applause line of the night was when she observed that our Republic must be in a bad state if the party that advocates non-violence and voluntary interaction is labeled “fringe” or “crazy”. She had a good point. But Dr. Spragins’s speech was confined to the “free speech area”, a section of the softball fields fenced off and far away from Brookings Hall where the debate took place. Metal detectors, dogs, and 20 or so police made sure the Libertarians didn’t do anything crazy like reduce taxes or suspend unconstitutional regulations. “The whole damn country is a free speech zone” I reminded them, but the police were as helpless as I to change the situation.

What struck me most was the police presence. The entire campus was closed to anyone without a student or faculty ID and VIPs. Hundreds of police officers from various jurisdictions blocked off residential streets (for miles in some cases) while the candidates were present. Most were cordial and helpful with directions, but some were obviously there getting their rocks off on authority. They were more interested in making sure we didn’t try to get on campus than they were with the heaps of trash left by Hillary and Stein supporters, and those same supporter’s blatant disregard for private property.

I have to admit, I wish I had become more politically active much younger. I felt a real rush and sense of patriotic duty last night at Wash U, and I think, had I felt that earlier in my life, I would have made very different choices. A deep sense of camaraderie kept me warm in that chilly air, and I’m very much looking forward to the next time.