Why Roberts is Right

It is tempting for libertarians to join the echo chamber of conservatives by deriding the majority opinion in the recent Obamacare case. It would be emotionally satisfying, I suspect, to focus one’s outrage at Justice Roberts, and brand him a traitor to liberty; the one responsible for dropping his rifle and running in the face of liberty’s enemies. He capitulated to the statists and sold us all out. Feels good, doesn’t it? We do love our boogie men.

But if you think that, you do the cause of liberty a great disservice. To be sure, my first reaction was probably quite similar to that. The supreme court of the land had just sided with the people’s representatives in saying that, in what is marketed as the land of liberty– the beacon of freedom in the world–I, as a free man, can be compelled to buy things. Not just things, mind you. But things pleasing to the ruling party. I felt as if someone had just kicked me in the stomach.

So the first reaction is to blame Kagan. Any fair-minded person concludes she should have recused herself. Had she done the right thing…

Then, we blame Roberts. He’s no conservative. He sold us out. Etc.

And let’s not forget how we got here. The legislative shenanigans and outright fraud that stuck a thumb in the eye of legitimacy and walked over the Constitution to produce a 2400 (!!) page document so opaque and convoluted that it cannot be called a law. It’s similarity to law stops at the fact that my failure to comply with it ends me up in jail.

It should never have happened. Our system is designed to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening. Through checks, balances, federalism and elections (hello, Scott Brown?) somewhere along the circuitous path and Constitutional minefield that ultimately allows our system to produce a state powerful enough to compel me to surrender my life’s choices to a commissar, someone will do the right thing, won’t they? The truth is, we shouldn’t even be here. But here we are.

So, surely the Court will save us. If no one else will do the right thing, surely the Court will. The final backstop of liberty and Constitutionalism will make it right. But it didn’t. The system had failed.

And then I read the majority opinion. As I read, slowly, sadly I came to the unhappy–no, the infuriating–conclusion that Chief Justice Roberts is correct. And we should be ashamed.

Hopefully, you too have read the case, but if you have not, understand first that the so-called individual mandate was indeed struck down. The majority of the court held the obvious opinion that the commerce clause cannot be used to compel commercial activity. Roberts joined the majority in one very narrow thing– that, although the commerce clause cannot be used to compel activity, the Congress has a taxing authority which allows it to tax anything, and thereby arrive at pretty much the same place as a mandate. He reasoned that although Congress does not have the power to compel you to buy health insurance, it can tax you if you don’t. So, the government can’t make you eat your vegetables, but it can tax you if you don’t. It’s outrageous, that’s true. But Judge Roberts is not inventing a power. He is not making us serfs. He is merely explaining to us that we already are.

Consider. In the last century, we developed an enduring comfort with using the tax code to effect behavior. We do it all the time. We tax cigarettes because they are bad–so-called sin taxes. And no one bats an eye. We give mortgage deductions to people who buy homes, but not to renters. And we accept that. We give tax deductions to people with kids. We have a “gas guzzler tax” a “luxury tax” a progressive income tax, inheritance tax, Capitol gains tax…. In all these cases, we impose taxes to effect behavior, reward the groups and activities we like and penalize the ones we don’t. We have a volumunous tax code that employs a lucrative industry that has, as its stated purpose, the goal of shaping behavior to make it pleasing to the authorities. Oh, right…and we also use taxes to raise money to run the government. But that has become almost secondary.

We have allowed this to happen because at each step of the process both major political parties agree with the fundamental idea that the government is an appropriate vehicle for supplanting personal choice. The left and right only disagree over how to use it, not whether it should be used that way. To the conservative reader drawing breath to proclaim your love for freedom–you accepted the premise that the tax code is a good vehicle for social engineering when you accepted the child tax credit, the progressive income tax, the sin taxes (I could go on). Please spare us your lame protestations now. The right will never overcome the left’s march toward collectivism as long as it accepts the fundamental premise upon which it rests. And to the leftist reader–(if you are even still reading) you have long ago abandoned any pretense to the idea of personal liberty, so I won’t bore the reader with recounting your transgressions against the concepts of liberty and limited government. The Founding Fathers understood that the power of the state is the single most dangerous threat to the liberty of the individual. And yet both major political powers are willing to cede more and more power to the state to achieve their narrow political ends, all the while oblivious to the larger danger ahead. This case exposes the myth of the right/left dichotomy.

There is some evidence that Judge Roberts was in a slim majority that was ready to strike down the entire law. Whether or not that’s true, Roberts’ was presented the question “am I a serf” and he replied, “yes, and don’t look to me to remedy it, for this was your political choice.” Tough love. Hating him for that is akin to a child hating a parent who won’t pay his credit card bill. This is not Roberts’ doing. At the end of it all, this is not even Obama’s doing. This is our doing. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have allowed the political discussion in this country to slip so far that explaining the concept of limited government and personal freedom to fellow citizens is like explaining it to someone from the 12th century. Even now the response from those professing to love freedom ignores firsts principles and frames the whole affair as a political struggle against “the left”. “Obama lied and the economy died” might feel good and will undoubted raise money for the political classes, but such cliches are vacuous…and largely beside the point.

And while Romney might help for a while, he won’t change that. He’s fighting a political brush fire; this is an epochal, planetary war.

The truth is, a country as great as the United States should never have found itself here. We have accepted the premise of collectivism and allowed our legal and political systems to view the individual as a means to the ends of the politically powerful. We have given dictatorial powers to our government through the tax code, and made the IRS the President’s internal army. The only thing Judge Roberts did is make us own up to it. The question is not “how could Roberts have defected to the left and allowed the government to have such power ?”. The question is “how could we have allowed the government to have such power?”.

Justice Roberts may well go down in history as the dad who refused to be our enabler and allow us to escape the consequences of our bad decisions. He forced us to confront the enemy. And the enemy is us.

We have a lot of work to do.


Are all Libertarians ugly?

20120508-213900.jpg OK. I’m going full bitchy on this one.

There’s always been something that’s bothered me about the Libertarian party. As an ad man, I used to just chalk up my discomfort to the party’s amateurish marketing. Those emails, that logo and those shoes…

This vague discomfort persists whenever I look at this year’s presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, who is far and away the best candidate the party has ever fielded. I like him. I believe in him. I’m going to vote for him. But there’s something…

Then, after watching – what could surely become Saturday Night Live parody fodder – this collection of amateur videos from the national Libertarian convention, I was overcome by a crushing realization.

We Libertarians are not too sexy for our shirts.

I don’t mean that we’re bad people. Sure, our spokespeople might get arrested for trying to kiss babies. We might make Dennis Kucinich look like George Clooney. I mean, we’re so ugly that when we walk down the street people say, holy crap, does it hurt? But we’re not bad people.

But in the world of image and politics, is being good on the inside enough?

Yes, yes, I know I’m being juvenile, petty and an overall asshole for saying it. But I can’t help but wonder if there is a kernel of truth here.

We live in an image-conscious world. Does the Libertarian Party have enough pretty people to sell its ideas to the TMZ masses?

Full disclosure: the ugly truck backed over me. Twice. And being photogenic is no measure of a human being. But if we learned anything from John Kennedy, it’s that, fair or not, looks matter in politics.

Why things are looking up thanks to Ron Paul

Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.

— Dandamis, sage (4c BCE)

Kairos is an aspect of argument. It means “time,” but not as in time on a clock. It means time as in perfect timing, or an idea that’s time has come.

In America, it feels as if the time has come (again) for an old idea: classical liberalism, or as we know it today, Libertarianism. Love it or hate it, people can’t ignore it, appealing to the fiery idealist and weathered pragmatist alike.

As memes go, Libertarian principles are straightforward, clearly formed and easily conveyed from one mind to the next. The premises are based on simple truths we learned as children. Don’t start fights. Don’t tell other people what to do. Might doesn’t mean right. And don’t take what doesn’t belong to you (especially the rights of others).

Standard bearer Ron Paul is the most visible libertarian-leaning voice. But what distinguishes this “3rd way” from both Republicans and Democrats is that the ideas are bigger than the bringers of the ideas. Ask most any libertarian candidate about their ambitions and they’ll tell you, “I’m just a messenger. It’s all about the message.”

Perhaps glimmers of hope shine brightest in the dark. It certainly got dark in America for a moment. Post 9/11 brought out the best and worst in us. For a time it seemed that dems and GOPers were going to successfully replace America with a darker version of itself. But the legacy of Ron Paul may signal a new dawn.

The Paullites have pierced the veil of the two-party system. They’ve shown us that, as Dandimas may have spoken to Alexander, when we considered only Democrats and Republicans, we were stuck with both sides being wrong.

However it turns out for Dr. Paul, America will eternally be in his debt for giving us – dare I say it – real hope. Perhaps not everyone has bought into the victim mentality of the Left and the police state mentality of the Right.

Now, in addition to left or right, we have up.

If Ron Paul met Carl Sagan…

One of the basic premises of libertarian thought is the belief in the fundamental sovereignty, or independent authority, of the individual – something many have thought to be the natural condition that arises from our “self-evident” equality. But, aside from the yays and nays of philosophy grad students, do the physical sciences have anything to say about this belief?

Are individuals really at the center of their own universes?

If you ask a physicist or an astronomer where the center of the universe is, you’re likely to get one of two responses. Either, the center is everywhere or there is no center.

Let’s consider the implications of both responses.

If the real answer is “there is no center,” then no hierarchy exists. My center cannot be more center than your center because there is no center. If the answer is “everything’s in the center” then there’s still no hierarchy. My center cannot be more center than your center because we are all in the center simultaneously.

Two conclusions seem to come out of these two answers: one, if all things are equal in their centrality, no one can claim a “higher ground” than another; or two, nothing is sovereign. And if nothing is sovereign, then no person or collection of people has the “natural” authority to force another to act (even with popular vote) because 0 + 0 = 0.

Should this make all cosmologists libertarians? (Heck, even string theory levels out the playing field even further.)

I sure wish I could ask Carl Sagan that question. Or better yet, I wish Ron Paul could have. (I suspect Dr. Paul would have an easier time gaining an audience with Dr. Sagan.)

Of course, there’s always Dr. Tyson…

Why atheists tend to act like creationists in politics

Homer Simpson

So we should base our political model on centralized power? It all makes sense now!

Few biologists give much credence to the idea of a 6,000-year-old universe that was intelligently designed by a personified deity. (When I say “few” I mean practically none.) But a funny thing happens to people on the long road from a metaphysical position to a political one. They tend to forget everything along the way.

Many atheists accept that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for biological diversity on our planet. The earth’s flora and fauna is, biologically speaking, the net result of natural selection over billions of years. Species that exhibited traits that would help them thrive, did so. Groups within each species that exhibited traits that would help them thrive, did so. And so on and so on….

The entire idea of intelligent design – of a centralized source guiding every process – is discarded as naive at best. And yet, and I promise to not take this out of context, let’s look at what bioethicist Richard Dawkins said about politics and ethics:

“Let’s intelligently design our morality rather than trying to read what’s right and wrong in a 3,000-year-old book.” (Richard Dawkins, 4/1/12, addressing a group at Newport High School.)

Now, I completely understand how Dawkins is using this phrase. He is having a bit of fun with it and trying to re-purpose it for the sake of his ethical and political beliefs. In that, I grant him great leeway due to poetic license.

But I wonder if this comment reveals a deeper contradiction in the minds of many atheists?

“It’s a reprehensible and deplorable fact that many people buy into the preposterous idea that you actually need religion in order to be good,” Dawkins went on to say.

Dawkins was, of course, speaking to the metaphysical aspects of religion. Religious fables do poorly in ring matches with sciences on the physical universe. This is why the Catholic Church long threw in the towel on the whole age of the universe/evolution thing. There was simply too much evidence to resist.

But then think about what Dawkins does suggest with his playful use of the word “intelligent design” when it comes to developing ethics (and, by natural consequence, a political system). Is he not guilty of ignoring the model of the natural world – of natural selection – when it comes to being “good?”

He is saying, for billions of years, the earth developed according to random, natural selection, thus producing the rich, healthy, evolved biodiversity we see today. Based on this, is he suggesting for us to go ahead and ignore these principles and act like a theistic god and “intelligently design” our political systems?

What happened to natural selection?

Some people use the term “social Darwinism” as way to poison the well before this question can even be seriously considered. The presumption is that the process of natural selection, applied to ethics and politics, is barbaric. But this logical fallacy is simply an exaggeration of a position. Political groups, such as early Democrats who championed classical liberalism, had a far different take on social Darwinism (though they never would call it that).

Early Democrats believed in a political process that far more resembled Darwin than Dawkins. These classical liberals believed in the wisdom of the universe and applied that to democratic principles. They fought against the elitist view that only a select, few wise people should run the affairs of a nation. Rather, we should – in as much as we can – trust the natural dynamic of group interaction, keeping power in the hands of individuals, not a centralized state controlled by a small number of sages (or one) who intelligently designed its systems and policies.

I'll do whatever POTUS says

One early Democrat was John L. O’Sullivan, the man responsible for the phrase, “The best government is that which governs least.” This wasn’t an anarchist’s position. This was someone who believed in liberal (liberty) democracy. His model wasn’t intelligent design. It was nature itself.

Democrats have changed a lot since the days of Grover Cleveland and John L. O’Sullivan. Today, Libertarians are closest to what Democrats used to be (maximum social freedoms and limited centralized government).

If Richard Dawkins, or any atheist for that matter, really wants to build consensus around their metaphysical viewpoints on the nature of reality, perhaps they should strive toward more consistency. Maybe intelligent design should be ejected from both the science classroom and the civics one.

Why McDonald’s might pay for Obamacare

Do fries come in menthol?

Munching on some French fries, it occured to me that this stuff should come with a warning label. Absurd you say? Maybe.

Let’s consider what happened to the tobacco companies. The courts found that the tobacoo companies were ultimately partially responsible for the deaths of their customers. Further, the plaintiff provided evidence that suggested that the tobacco companies 1) knew how dangerous tobacco was and 2) conspired to hide this information from the public.

Now let’s consider McDonald’s and the background first principles behind Obamacare.

Most liberatrian-minded people readily acknowledge that we need a government to safeguard our liberties. If a foreign enemy comes at us, we need a military to defend us. If we are going to have an infrastructure to support the movement of military and commerce, we need an interstate highway system. Now, proponents of Obamacare take the position that healthcare has now become on par with foreign invasion and interstate commerce, requiring the subsidized action of government to respond.

Here is where I diverge, and where McDonald’s could be in for a doozy of a pay out.

My take on libertarianism is that it acknowledges forces outside of the control of the individual. We need police because other individuals often attempt to violate the liberties of others. The same thing cannot be said for (all) healthcare-related issues. 

For example, consider cancer. We don’t know exactly what gives people cancer, but we have a few ideas of what doesn’t. We don’t get it from door knobs. But we probably get it from a combination of genetics, environment and lifestyle. If your genes or the your diet prior to 18 are to blame,  then it’s your parents who have the fiduciary responsibility to take care of your cancer. If it’s your genes and your diet after your 18th birthday, it’s you and your parents.

But what if the people responsible for supplying your dietary options 1)knew of the health consequences of the diet and 2) knowingly withheld, even through ommission, the likely health impact?

The body of evidence linking bad food to chronic health conditions is strong. Even so, we are tempted to put 100% of the blame on dietary content on the consumer. But we didn’t put 100% of blame on consumers of tobacco, did we?

One day, a jury might just make the same conclusion.