The Case for None of The Above

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

It seems almost unfair that my fellow contributors should get such difficult assignments, while I get such an easy one. Not only do I get to write up the clear and obvious choice for liberty lovers, I also get the last word in our forum. So be it! But look back on them fondly, and remember that they did their best to scratch out a case from the most meager materials in anyone’s living memory.

On with it then: if you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president. Spend your November 8 working, or mowing the lawn, or reading poems, or just lazing about generally. If you are one of those with the pathological need to waste half of an otherwise enjoyable and productive day on a fool’s errand, then educate yourself on your state and local elections and vote in them, as your conscience leads. But when it comes to the top slot, you should vote None of the Above, or write in the fictional character of your choice.

The reason for this is simple. In our electoral system, a vote is a binary state. It’s either a 1 or a 0, a yes or a no. You may think you’re casting your vote for the lesser of two evils, but all the parties will see is that you approved of their candidate enough to bother voting for him or her. In this election, of all elections, to cast a vote for president — whether you opt for D, or R, or even L — is to assist in the euthanasia of contemporary libertarianism.

If you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president.

Judging from our reader feedback, people here don’t need much convincing that Hillary Clinton should not be president. The great tragedy of her life was being born into a society with a few barriers still in place against naked political ambition; under more amenable circumstances, she’d have made a superb tinpot dictator. Her core characteristic is an absolute certainty that she is, at all times, both right and good; her preeminent political skill is surrounding herself with others who attest, at all times, to her rightness and goodness.

The defining mark of her political career to date is incompetence. In her first big assignment, she not only failed to sell single-payer health care to a Congress controlled by her own party, she also (perhaps more so than any other single person) set in motion the 1994 Republican takeover. As the junior senator from New York, Clinton voted for the military action in Afghanistan that continues to this day, for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization, and for what is so far the single greatest blunder of the 21st-century, the Iraq War Resolution. Though she claims this last, at least, was a mistake, her time as Secretary of State showed she has learned precisely no lessons about the follies of nation-building and regime change in the Middle East: she continued to advocate ever greater Afghan commitments; she spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya; she strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, likely selling them the weapons they are using now to massacre Yemeni dissidents; and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — all in the name of humanitarian intervention.

Clinton’s plans for this country are no less enlightened and benevolent. She is the candidate of the entrenched, of the moneyed, of the would-be oligarchs and autocrats, and if you are not one of them, then you are already reprobate. In any normal election, she would have been kneecapped in the primary (and could well have, if not for an outrageous campaign of slander by the DNC against Bernie Sanders), or massacred in the general — but she has the immense good fortune of facing a bumptious, bigoted buffoon. Still, while a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against Donald Trump, it is also a vote for the status quo, for every condescension and indignity visited upon the demos by its appointed betters. It’s a vote for a system of bailouts, handouts, drones, and wars — a system hermetically sealed against outside thought.

Clinton spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya, strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Russia.

As for that buffoon: Donald Trump is a lifelong conman with a history of false dealing and shoddy investments. When individuals have stood in the way of his gaudy real estate projects, he has always turned to the power of the state to get his way. He is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him — something which happens alarmingly often for someone with designs on becoming Commander-in-Chief. Though it was fun to watch him rip into the puffy nobodies on the Republican primary stage, he embarrassed himself rising to Clinton’s bait every time out: one can only imagine how an actually capable world leader — Angela Merkel, for sure, but also Xi Jinping, or Putin himself, for that matter — would twist President Trump around their fingers.

It’s hard to know how Trump would govern domestically because, like his opponent, it appears his only constant belief is in his own abilities. Were he not the GOP standard bearer, he would likely be a Clinton donor — as he has been in the past. But in order to present himself as opposed to the milquetoast Northeast liberalism that enables failed sons like himself to play around with their parents’ money, Trump adopted the pose of a revanchist crusader, someone who could, by sheer dint of personality, restore the country to a greatness that never existed in anything like the visions he conjures.

You don’t have to take the word of Trump’s opponents to see how dangerous this is — just look at the list of those who have endorsed him: the head of the American Nazi Party; the publisher of the Daily Stormer, the central neo-Nazi newspaper; the founder of Stormfront, the largest white supremacist web community; the national organizer of the Klan-affiliated Knights Party; the founders of white nationalist websites American Renaissance, VDARE, and Occidental Dissent . . . the list goes on, and that’s before getting to more mainstream groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, whose national board has enthusiastically backed the man promising to ramp up police militarization and institute a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy. A vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary Clinton, yes, but it is also a vote for the sort of stupid, swaggering, strongman authority that is inimical to liberty — and for the conman exploiting that attitude to funnel money toward his personal brand. Trump has never in his life dealt in good faith; he isn’t doing so now, and he will not at any time in the future.

Trump is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him.

Gary Johnson is a different matter. Unlike the aforementioned, he doesn’t seem to be a horrible person. Certainly he is forthcoming about his own limitations, likely to a fault. He comes off as, and may well be, a bit of a dolt; the compensation for that should involve meticulous preparation and drilling, but all too often Johnson seems taken by surprise when the spotlight’s on him — this election has exposed a particular weakness in foreign policy, especially when he could not identify Aleppo, the city at the center of the Syrian civil war, and when he could not name a single foreign head of state, let alone one he admired.

Still, he would be manifestly the best president out of the three. I made the case for Johnson in 2012, believing that his nomination represented a rare chance for the Libertarian Party to make headway in an election between two fairly unpopular candidates. So what has changed to make me retract, in a year of greater opportunity? The short answer is “Bill Weld.” The longer answer is also “Bill Weld,” but with a complete loss of confidence in Johnson’s judgment.

I have no particular beef with Weld; he doesn’t seem to have been any worse a governor than most others, and his experience and cachet should have meant instant legitimacy for a party that has struggled for it in the past. Johnson, in fact, insisted on Weld’s importance to the ticket, pleading with the crowd at the party convention, “Please, please give me Weld. Please. Please!” Whatever success the LP gained, he said, would hinge on Weld’s connections and fundraising prowess. All fine and good — until Weld started using his media appearances to, essentially, endorse Clinton.

Libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure.

By that point, the campaign had already missed its stretch goal — to poll at 15% or higher, and thus get a space in the televised debates. But since late September, the polls have dipped from a consistent 7–9% to less than 5%; if those numbers hold, then the LP will miss out on perhaps its only chance at federal matching funds for a future cycle — in which case they might as well have stuck with a vice-presidential candidate who wouldn’t sell out the party or its message. Johnson didn’t lack for choices, several of which could have shored up support with a potential future voter base. Instead it’s Weld, who would surprise nobody by returning to the Republicans (or turning Democrat) by the time 2017 rolls around. How can you expect people to cast a protest vote for a ticket whose own VP doesn’t support it?

In isolation, it seems like yet another exploitation and betrayal of LP goodwill. But it also shines a harsher light on Johnson's campaign missteps. Take his “Aleppo moment” — never mind that the press members crowing over the gaffe would themselves have had no clue about the place even a month earlier: it was an obsession of the press that week, and someone connected to the campaign should have been aware of that. If there’s no one doing that job, all the Welds in the world aren’t going to make the LP succeed on center stage. Make no mistake: in today’s US, libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure. The American political system is hardwired for two parties, and this wiring is reinforced by the reflexive dismissal of anything outside that central, ersatz rivalry; just look at how Trump and Clinton surrogates try to convince third-party voters that they’re actually voting for the hated enemy. A vote for Johnson/Weld endorses a libertarianism that accepts the validity of this system, and its own perpetually subordinate place within.

In this world we are surrounded and constantly manipulated by those who want to press-gang us into their schemes, as well as those who enable the press-gangers. Election Day offers one of the very rare chances to show our disgust with the entire charade. Tell them to go to hell! And make November 8 something truly worth celebrating: an average Tuesday, to do with as you like.



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It’s Not Hard

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"It’s not hard to get some of these assholes to pop off,” said Scott Foval, national field director for the Democrat organization Americans United for Change. Foval was referring to Trump supporters who, he believes, will "pop off" in front of TV cameras if sufficiently provoked. The provokers are members of labor unions and homeless communities, including mentally ill individuals, whom Foval has recruited, trained, and paid to make trouble at Donald Trump campaign rallies — every instance of which has been incessantly covered and condemned by the mainstream media as trouble made by Trump himself.

Unfortunately for Foval, these and other remarks were caught on videotape by "guerrilla" filmmaker James O’Keefe. Posing as donors to the Hillary Clinton campaign, members of O’Keefe's group, Project Veritas Action, recorded a two-part, undercover video, entitledRigging the Election. Part I deals with violence at Trump rallies; Part II deals with mass voter fraud.

Also caught on the video was Bob Creamer, of Democrat consulting firm Democracy Partners. Said Creamer, “Wherever Trump and Pence are going to be, we have events and we have a whole team across the country that does that, both consultants and people from the Democratic Party.” He referred to "the Democratic Party apparatus and the people from the campaign, the Clinton campaign. . . . My role with the campaign is to manage all that.” Part of “all that” has been a process called "bird dogging," by which agitators are strategically placed at Trump events to create the greatest possible havoc.

In reality, Clinton found Trump guilty of her own crimes.

Much of the credit for the famous Chicago protest last March, which caused the Trump rally to be shut down before Trump arrived, has been given to Creamer, his subordinate Zulema Rodriguez, and an operative known as Aaron Black. Said Rodriguez, “So, [Aaron Black] and I did the Chicago Trump event where we shut down like all the yeah.” According to Federal Election Commission records, Rodriguez, who also took credit for the protest that shut down a highway outside a Trump rally in Arizona, was paid by the Clinton campaign shortly before she disrupted the Chicago rally.

Clinton's campaign seems to have approved of the Foval and Creamer tactics. According to Foval, “The [Clinton] campaign pays DNC, DNC pays Democracy Partners, Democracy Partners pays the Foval Group, The Foval Group goes and executes the shit on the ground.”

Foval was fired on Monday, October 17, the day the first video was released. Creamer stepped down from his post the next day. These nearly instantaneous dismissals, performed without any attempt at information gathering, indicate that the Clinton campaign was well aware of the scurrilous activities of their supporters.

On Wednesday, October 19, the day of the third and final presidential debate, Clinton, who deplores half of all Trump supporters (whom she has called a "basket of deplorables," including racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes), stated that she also deplores the violence at Trump rallies. Trump, she said, "incites violence" and "applauds people who are pushing and pulling and punching at his rallies." She added: "That is not who America is." In reality, Clinton found Trump guilty of her own crimes. The original people doing the pushing, pulling, and punching were Clinton's bird-doggers. That is who Clinton's America is.

During the debate, Trump indicated that if he lost the November election, he might not accept the result. He has questioned the legitimacy of a process that he believes to be rigged. Trump is convinced that the media are against him and that the White House influenced the DOJ and the FBI to give Mrs. Clinton a pass on numerous allegations of criminal activity at the State Department and at the Clinton Foundation. The Republican establishment, along with many Republican primary candidates who pledged to support him, is campaigning against him. In addition, Trump is no doubt troubled by anti-Trump immigration groups, whose goal is to register one million eligible immigrants to vote against him.

These nearly instantaneous dismissals indicate that the Clinton campaign was well aware of the scurrilous activities of their supporters.

The entire mainstream media (including Fox News) was aghast at Trump's equivocation, furiously expending days of debate coverage fretting over little else. Its unfavorable treatment of Trump was roughly in inverse proportion to the percent of total mainstream media donations showered over Mrs. Clinton, which, according to the Center for Public Integrity, was more than 96%. Less than 4% of their contributions was drizzled over Mr. Trump, and his low opinion of mainstream objectivity.

Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama reveled in Trump's paranoia. Trump's suggestion of "rigging or fraud without a shred of evidence," exclaimed Obama, was "not a joking matter.” Yet Obama had nothing to say about the serious matter of Bob Creamer, who had visited the White House 342 times since 2009, meeting with him (the president) 47 of those times, most recently in June of this year.

Nor did Obama have anything to say about his administration's use of tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money distributed by the Homeland Security agency, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to help the anti-Trump immigration groups. An email obtained by Senate Republicans revealed that USCIS "demanded volunteers to work weekends, hoping to get as many people onto the citizenship rolls as possible before the end of September — which would give them enough time to register to vote in November" — certainly not a joking matter to Mr. Trump.

And not as big of a joke as a recent government audit "that found more than 800 illegal immigrants from terrorism-connected regions of the globe who’d been ordered kicked out of the country, but who were instead approved for citizenship because USCIS didn’t properly check their fingerprints." Instead, and with a straight face, Obama taunted Trump to stop “whining before the game is even over.”

Obama had nothing to say about the serious matter of Bob Creamer, who had visited the White House 342 times since 2009, meeting with the president 47 of those times.

Following Obama's lead, Creamer has tried to turn the tables on Trump, issuing an unabashed statement that his firm “has recently been the victim of a well-funded, systematic spy operation that is the modern day equivalent of the Watergate burglars.”

For Hillary Clinton's part, she too was horrified. And brashly ridiculed Trump's unwillingness to accept election results as a conspiracy theory that he has concocted — this while claiming that WikiLeaks and Vladimir Putin, under Trump's direction, conspire to defeat her.

So, who are the assholes that are popping off?




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The Hallowe’en Horror

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I remember driving through a little town, someplace in mid-America, that had a sign at its border: “Smithtown [or whatever it was]: Population, 1104 Friendly People, and 1 Ol’ Grouch.”

Lately I’ve been feeling like that ol’ grouch. The cause is Hallowe’en.

Is it just my misanthropy, or has this thing gone too far? I know there’s nothing wrong about turning what used to be a one-night opportunity for kids to pretend to be scared, or to be scary, into a months-long costume party for adults. I know that people like to have an excuse for parties, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have no wish, I really don’t, to lecture other people about how to have fun. And, to tell you the truth, I can’t quite identify the reason for my increasing grouchiness over Hallowe’en.

Irrationally or not, I put Hallowe’en in the same box with Hump Day, a day in honor of hating one’s job.

But: isn’t there something weird about walking into a store a week before Labor Day, and seeing it decked out with Hallowe’en goods? Isn’t there something weird about walking into a bank and handing your money to a teller dressed like a pirate? Isn’t there something weird about adults celebrating scariness by dressing as French maids or cowboys or Harry Potter? If they dressed as Hillary Clinton, I might understand. Nevertheless . . .

I admit it: my last visit to a Hallowe’en party may have soured me a bit. Since the host and guests were all antiwar liberals, I showed up in some old Army fatigues. Maybe that would scare them, I thought. Granted, it was also my way of not spending time or money, but I thought I deserved a more sympathetic response than, “So what? That’s the kind of stuff you normally wear.” The prize went to a nice lady who dressed as Dennis Rodman. Isn’t there something wrong about a holiday that celebrates Dennis Rodman?

All right, many of my objections would apply to Thanksgiving and Christmas too — at least to what has happened to them. They go on forever, and celebration of them is thought to be obligatory — a sure sign that there’s something wrong. Come to think of it, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day went in that direction long ago. At least Hallowe’en is not an occasion for family guilt. People don’t say, “I wish I’d been kinder to my mom on Hallowe’en,” or “I wish I’d thanked my brother for dressing me up like a corpse.” Not yet they don’t.

Isn’t there something weird about adults celebrating scariness by dressing as French maids or cowboys or Harry Potter?

Maybe one’s feeling about Hallowe’en depends on the category one puts it in. If the category is “let’s have a party,” the feeling is benign. But, irrationally or not, I put Hallowe’en in a different class. I put it in the same box with Hump Day, a day in honor of hating one’s job. That’s the box that also houses hundred-thousand-dollar weddings in Thailand, Christmases honoring children who furnish lists of the presents they want to get, and the relentless multiplication of national observances (9/11, Martin Luther King, Stonewall Riot, the moronic “thank you for your service” workups to Veterans Day). And it seems that no one in America can mark any occasion without overemphasis.

My grandmother told me that when she was a girl, rowdy boys observed Hallowe’en by putting a cow on somebody’s roof. The neighbors enjoyed the spectacle, and the boys were soon identified and “persuaded” to take the cow down. There must have been pretty good roofs in those days, and pretty understanding cows. But Christmas took only a day or two, weddings were accomplished without years of planning, the optimal Hallowe’en decoration was a hand-carved pumpkin — and I doubt that any joy was lost.




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What if I “Identify” as Me?

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There’s been plenty of talk, lately, about how people “identify.” You identify as male; I identify as female. You’re straight; I’m gay. You like Pepsi; I like Coke. You say “tomato,” and I say “to-mah-to.”

This can very quickly get silly. You might identify as a tomato. I think it might be loads of fun to identify as Wonder Woman. But if I start skipping around my neighborhood in a tiara, star-spangly bra, and go-go boots and proclaiming that I’m a superheroine, they’ll come and take me away. No “ha-ha” about it.

The problem with all this identifying is that none of the people so adamant about doing it seem to identify as individual selves. They’re all picking a team. I could wear a lot of different labels if I chose, but I identify simply as me. These days, that makes me a weirdo.

If we can be whipped into a frenzy by the exhortations of any politician, we’ve got identity-mania. And bad.

Of course there are a few genuine weirdos busy at that game. A young woman in Norway has publicly declared that she identifies as a cat. Occasionally we run across a story about some adult who’s chosen to identify as an infant and crawl around the house in a diaper, gnawing on a pacifier. We shake our heads, and maybe we very sadly laugh. Cases like these are so extreme that we might be tempted to forget just how common identify-mania really is.

Many people fail to realize that they’ve caught the disease. But here’s a handy diagnostic tool. If we can be whipped into a frenzy by the exhortations of any politician, we’ve got it. And bad.

Conservative pundits have coined their own term for it. They call it “identity politics.” Of course those they accuse of this failing all land neatly on the other side of the political divide. But as the runaway-train presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump clearly illustrates, the contagion has spread to the right.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with advocating our own best interests. Nor do I mean to imply that everyone who votes for Trump is an angry white male of middle age or older, or will necessarily be driven by pure emotion. But as a libertarian, I can find nothing to like about his authoritarian, big-government-is-magic positions. It would be irresponsible for me to cast my ballot for him just because I think he’s been ill-treated by the media, or because I detest the people who detest him.

My attitude toward my fellow Americans is that they’re OK with me as long as they don’t push me around or steal from me.

It certainly is tempting, however, to root for a candidate as obsessively vilified as Donald Trump. I’m tired of being told how outraged I’m supposed to be every time he opens his mouth. His critics in the media are a ghastly gallery of horror-movie clowns. Their instructions to us about our civic duties are a sick joke. And their fawning over Hillary Clinton makes me want to vomit.

My attitude toward my fellow Americans — regardless of the demographic group to which they belong — is that they’re OK with me as long as they don’t push me around or steal from me. I don’t believe that my best interests are at odds with other people’s nearly as often as the demagogues claim. I think that claim is a divide-and-conquer tactic, designed to keep us at odds with one another. I also believe that the political hustlers who commonly make it are the scum of the earth. No matter what party they happen to represent, they’re unworthy of my vote.

The only time when they want to make us feel (as opposed to think) is when they are trying to put something over on us — which, in my opinion, is nearly all the time. Whenever politicians attempt to manipulate my emotions, I assume they’re trying to bamboozle me. Experience has shown me that I am seldom wrong.

The notion that because I can be lumped into a particular demographic group, I owe my vote to a candidate who transparently tries to play me like a fiddle, is just plain weird. It’s as strange as a young woman who’s decided she’s a cat, or a middle-aged man who spends all day in a giant crib. It’s pathetic weird. It’s deranged weird. It is, very frankly, unworthy-of-being-an-American weird.

If we are peace-loving people, and habitually mind our own business, we need be at odds with no one except those who would push us around or steal from us. They are the enemies of anyone who wants to live a happy life. If we think Donald Trump is the best candidate, then by all means we should vote for him. My thinking has led me to support Gary Johnson. Though if she were running, I’d certainly go for Wonder Woman.




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Is It the Cover-Up, or the Crime?

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On October 8 appeared a tape of Donald Trump’s indecent remarks about how to deal with attractive women — a tape justifying Democratic attacks on the crudeness of his character. At virtually the same hour emerged partial transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s secret remarks to Wall Street about her dream of “open borders” and her possession of two “positions,” one public and one private — transcripts justifying Republican assertions about her habit of lying to the public.

These revelations will be a test of the purported wisdom, repeated ad nauseam by political professionals, that what counts is “not the crime but the cover-up.” Trump would certainly have wanted to cover up the tape, but he may not have known it existed. Clinton labored mightily to cover up her private speeches, thereby creating a long-running campaign issue against herself, but the cover-up was palpably less important than what she actually said.

We’ll see whether real people, as opposed to pundits and spin artists (is there a difference?), see it this way. Simultaneously we can test the truth of an even more drearily repeated slogan, “All politics is local” — because in no way are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton “local.” They live on Mars, not in Springfield, USA.

There’s a third cliché that’s interesting. Will the American people continue to “suffer fools gladly”?




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Weld’s High-Minded Politics

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A couple of weeks ago I saw Bob Woodward on TV, all a-twitter about how the Libertarian ticket should drop out of the race immediately and back Clinton for the presidency. I thought this was one of the most ridiculous displays of establishmentarianism I’d ever seen. It was as if one of the elite parties were a magnet to which all worthless metal filings must be drawn.

But now, if reports are true, LP vice-presidential candidate William Weld is following Woodward’s advice. Although the former Republican governor of Massachusetts swore to be a Libertarian for life, he’s now saying that, uh, er, he guesses he won’t “drop them” (emphasis added) until the campaign is over, while suggesting that as far as he’s concerned it’s over now.

Weld indicated that it would be “fun” to be one of the wizards who worked, post-election, to put the Republican Party back together again.

Weld indicated that he planned to spend all his time from now on attacking Donald Trump, because of his foreign policy ideas. But despite the fact that this year the LP has waged a vigorous and effective advertising war against both Republicans and Democrats, and polling shows that the LP is taking more votes from Clinton than from Trump, Weld seems to have no plans to continue the critique of Clinton. Quite the contrary. Of the Platonic form of establishment politics, Weld now says he’s “not sure anybody is more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States.”

I can think of a few that are more qualified. Start with all the Disney characters.

And remember that Weld got the platform from which he says such things out of libertarian money and libertarian zeal.

But speaking of establishmentarians, Weld indicated that it would be “fun” to be one of the wizards who worked, post-election, to put the Republican Party back together again, ruling the Grand Old Party in concert with (guess who?) Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.

William Weld, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour . . . “O brave new world, that has such people in it.”




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The Great Debate

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Only my devotion to journalism made me watch the Clinton-Trump debate. It’s not my idea of fun to observe the collision of two giant gasbags somewhere above Long Island. And, as many people have pointed out, the meaning of such events, if any, ordinarily emerges not from what actually happened but from what was spun out of it, later.

So color me bored and irritated, before the thing even started.

The following is what your bored and irritated correspondent thought he observed. I’ll make it snappy, since you probably observed the damn debate yourself and have just as much right to an opinion as I have.

  1. In response to the introductory question about creation of jobs, Clinton revealed her conviction that you can do it by funding daycare, paying students’ way through college, and “making the rich pay their fair share.” Trump asserted that foreign countries are “stealing our jobs,” but Clinton returned to the idea of taxing the rich. She accused Trump of having “started [in business] with $14 million he received from his father.” She claimed that the economic collapse of 2008 had been created by a low-tax policy. She then began a long rant about government-sponsored “clean energy” creating millions of jobs.
     
  2. Responding to Trump’s verbal jabs about her failure to do anything good about the economy during her long career, Clinton smirked in a way I have often seen from schoolteachers who aren’t very bright. She then uncorked one of the most superior laughs I have ever seen, thus confirming one’s worst impressions of her character. She kept this up throughout the debate. She also continued her chronic habit of nodding her head while hearing things she disagrees with but cannot figure out how to respond to — for instance, Trump’s accusation that she had invented, or popularized, the term “’super-predator,” as applied to “black youths.”
     
  3. Trump frequently interrupted Clinton with little sarcastic remarks, to which the sworn-to-silence audience frequently made a favorable response. But I was wondering how, when Clinton brought up Trump’s failure to reveal his tax returns, he didn’t ask her why she hasn’t revealed the texts of the speeches she gave to Wall Street crony capitalists in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Didn’t he listen to Bernie Sanders’ successful attacks on her about that? Accused of initially supporting the Iraq war, Trump failed to mention the fact that Hillary voted for the war. He failed to mention, a propos the job-creation issue, that she bragged about her intention of putting coal miners out of their jobs. At other times, however, he provided facts (mainly about his own economic proposals) that were much more specific than hers.
     
  4. Clinton tried to popularize a catchphrase for Trump’s economic plan. The phrase seems to have been her idea of the one thing the audience should take home with them. The phrase was “Trumped-up trickle-down.” I rate that a failure.
     
  5. “Moderator” Lester Holt’s questions were filled with attempted zingers against Trump — such as a reiterated question about his birtherism — but none that I perceived against Clinton. In the second half of the event, Holt began to do “no, you’re wrong” “fact checking” against Trump, as advocated by the Clinton forces. I did not perceive him doing that against Clinton. To use a Trumpian word, Holt was a disaster. At many junctures, he seemed to be channeling Clinton.
     
  6. Trump made a clever transition from a question about internet security to a reminder that the hacking of the DNC revealed Clinton’s mistreatment of Sanders. Why, I wondered, didn’t he ask her why she, of all people, had been commenting with assurance about the security of electronic communications?
     
  7. Trump cleverly obscured his lack of thoughtfulness about nuclear war by discussing it in terms that no one could interpret.
     
  8. Hillary not so cleverly asserted — almost at the end, as if she thought that nothing else had worked — that Trump regards women as “pigs and dogs.”

The Summing Up:

Trump used the words disaster and unbelievable a lot, but most of his favorite verbal tics were absent, showing a degree of self-control that must have been heroic. He didn’t make a fool of himself, although he came close when he went off on a tangent about his “winning temperament,” as opposed to Clinton’s bad temperament, as witnessed in her remarkable “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” speech. He didn’t clearly identify the speech, so the uninformed were left to wonder, “What the hell is he talking about?” Hillary didn’t shriek like a maniac, which makes me wonder who on her staff had the unenviable job of telling her that she usually shrieks like a maniac.

I’ll agree with Charles Krauthammer’s instant analysis and call the thing a draw, although I’m not quite sure what I mean by that. Neither of them did demonstrably better than the other, although the media immediately started chattering about Clinton being on the offensive and Trump on the defensive. Each showed the ability to confirm the preexisting opinions of supporters. Since Trump was the underdog, he probably got a marginal advantage from his almost patient endurance of Clinton’s enormous sense of superiority. For me, the most memorable part of the debate was his comment, “She’s got experience, but it’s bad experience.” That doesn’t go far to compensate me for an hour and a half lost from what otherwise would have been a richer and fuller life.




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Investigation of a Citizen Above Justice

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I’m not sure why Hillary Clinton does anything she does, but I know she has a way of reminding me of old movies. Gangster movies, of course — though not the Godfather kind, in which you’re supposed to sympathize with the profound psychological and metaphysical conflicts of the leading characters. No one actually sympathizes with Hillary Clinton. I’m reminded more of the primitive gangster films, which teach you that some guys just want to be king of the world and will do anything to reach the peak, or preserve the illusion.

Those aren’t the only movies I associate with her. She often makes me think of His Girl Friday, where Earl Williams, the goofy gunman, is involved in so many ridiculous and, as Donald Trump would say, unbelievable incidents that a newspaper reporter says, “I’m pretending there ain’t any Earl Williams.”It’s a relief to pretend that there ain’t any Hillary Clinton.

Clinton violated the law, grossly, repeatedly, and ridiculously. She then told a long string of gross and ridiculous lies.

But the strongest cinematic parallel I can find to the Clinton story is a once-famous Italian movie that is called in English Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). In it, a ranking police officer commits a crime and then gets the idea of establishing his superiority to normal people by submitting to an investigation that shows he is guilty — obviously guilty — yet does not lead to his arrest.

The parallel with Clinton is evident. In the emails episode alone, Clinton violated the law, grossly, repeatedly, and ridiculously. She then told a long string of gross and ridiculous lies, all of them conflicting preposterously with common sense, and with one another. The FBI, led by the vaunted Mr. Comey, spent thousands of hoursinvestigating her, located (without any difficulty) the incriminating facts, listened to many additional ridiculous lies, and discovered that Citizen Clinton could not be prosecuted because there was no evidence she intended to violate any of the laws she schemed to violate.

That’s basically how the Italian movie turns out. The power structure can never conceive of indicting one of its own. The bad guy wins — in two ways, one of them more important to him (and to me) than the other. He doesn’t get indicted; that’s the relatively unimportant win. The more important one is his demonstration that people like him are above the law. Members of the elite are never punished; they are immune. Their immunity is the proof of their status, the validation of their identity, and the source of their joy. That’s the vital thing. If you wonder what Mrs. Clinton does with the time she doesn’t spend on fundraising (and, of course, lying), I think I have an answer. She spends most of her time laughing at honest people who have a job.




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Education or Fantasy?

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When asked, “Why a third party, when it has no chance of winning?”, supporters of the Libertarian Party and other Thirds usually say, “We’re running an educational campaign.” That makes sense. It would be several steps beyond sense to spend your time figuring out ways in which you might actually win. But that’s what Gary Johnson, presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, seems to be doing, with some help from the media.

Interviewed on August 28 by Chris Wallace of Fox News, Johnson said that, given the “polarization” of the two major-party candidates, his party “might actually run the table” — this year’s cliché for “winning big.”

This logic defies analysis: how would Democrat vs. Republican polarization induce voters to go for a polarization of Libertarians vs. Democrats and Republicans?

I don’t know whether it’s more likely for Johnson to win outright than to win in a House election, since there is no chance of either.

Wallace, who should know better, tried to save the situation by projecting a future in which Johnson could get a majority in enough states to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where he could emerge victorious. Johnson has encouraged that idea in the past. But this time he said, “The object is to win outright.”

I don’t know whether it’s more likely for him to win outright than to win in a House election, since there is no chance of either. If you think it would be more of a feat to gain a majority in the Electoral College than to be elected after throwing the election into the House, consider the fact that voting in the House would take place by state, and the Republicans have a majority in most state delegations.

What these fantasies have to do with an educational campaign, besides discrediting it, I don’t know. Maybe, in some way, they Keep Hope Alive. But that wasn’t Johnson’s concern when he agreed that, if he doesn’t get into the presidential candidates’ debate, “It’s game over.”

I would like to see Johnson in the debate. His presence would make it possible for me to watch the affair without having a physician at my side, ready to administer emergency aid. But if he doesn’t get in, is he just going to sit out the rest of the campaign?




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The Unmentionables

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I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. Virtually no one I know is willing to start a conversation about the current election campaign.

As an academic with many academic acquaintances, I grew used to hearing people inject George Bush into every possible conversation, always in a derisive manner. But this year, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of mentions my colleagues have made of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The same pattern holds with groups or individuals who I am certain will vote for Trump. No one wants to mention the campaign or the personalities.

This is a welcome relief, but why is it happening? I have several guesses.

  1. People are aware that this election is even more divisive than the past few elections, and they’re unwilling to start a fight.
  2. Many people who are expected by their friends to vote for Clinton will actually vote for Trump, and vice versa, and they don’t want to give themselves away.
  3. Everybody’s just sick of the damned thing.

These ideas may go far toward explaining the matter. But there’s at least one other possibility. Many people are discouraged about the presidency itself. They regard it cynically, as just one more object on a growing pile of political rubbish.

I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that people feel that way. The imperial presidency lost almost all of its glamor with the abject failure of Obama (whom, by the way, hardly anybody ever mentions either). That’s certainly good, and maybe it’s permanent. I’m not sure, however, that complete political cynicism is a good long-run strategy for the pursuit and capture of individual freedom.




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