Oh, those bitter clingers!

News flash: Presidential candidate Barack Obama says I’m not going to take your guns away in front of a hand-picked crowd of Democratic supporters in Duryea, Pennsylvania — and they don’t believe him.

No, that was not a hook for an anti-Obama rant. Obama’s unbelievability on this issue is only partly his own individual fault. The infamous clanger he dropped last April in San Francisco (“And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”) didn’t help, but it wouldn’t have become one of the defining memes of the 2008 campaign without a broader context that is what I’m more interested in exploring.

After the 2004 elections I proposed that “[The Democrats] have serious problems. Ronald Reagan peeled away the (private-sector) union vote after 1980; today they’re losing the blacks over gay marriage and the Jews over Israel and the Terror War. Their voter base is increasingly limited to public-employee unions and brie-nibbling urban elites — they’re no longer the party of the common man but of the DMV, Hollywood and the Upper West Side.” On this model I made a prediction about county-by-county polling numbers which proved correct.

Four years later, one of the underreported facts about Obama’s campaign is how thin and lukewarm his support is among blacks. He’s got Reverend Wright’s angry, hating minority of a minority behind him, but suffers from the double whammy that his domestic-policy positions are too far left for most blacks and many perceive him as “too white”, an inauthentic mixed-race carpetbagger who knows too much about arugula and nothing about collard greens. The take-away is that the Democrats have been having unexpected difficulty delivering the black vote for a black candidate. This is right in line with my 2004 prediction that blacks might be the next group to wander out of the Democratic coalition.

That, in isolation, might not matter much for the Democrats; the black share of the U.S. electorate is only 12% and declining. But the steady erosion of Democratic credibility among blue-collar and rural whites since the Reagan years has hit them in the other 88%, and the effect is magnified in Presidential elections because the Electoral College over-weights rural and small-state voters. And Obama’s debacle in Duryea is a perfect paradigm for their troubles. A Democratic presidential candidate tells a picked crowd of small-town Democrats that he’s safe on firearms rights, and they disbelieve him to his face. How did this happen? What’s the matter with Duryea?

I live in Pennsylvania and I’ve got family roots in a little central-PA town not far from Duryea, and I think I know the answer to that question. Those folks looked at Obama on stage, equipped with his sharp suit and his Harvard Law polish, and saw yet another member of those brie-nibbling urban elites. And that, my friends, gave Obama exactly the credibility problem with them that his skin color hadn’t.

Blue-collar and small-town America believes, with considerable justification, that urban elites despise them. Firearms rights are emotively loaded for these people for many reasons, and not least among them is because they see “gun control” as a form of class and culture warfare waged against them by urban sophisticates. Obama’s “bitter, clinging to their guns” description six months ago hit about every wrong note possible to aggravate this feeling — elitism, smarmy condescension, and belittling ignorance in one neat brie-flavored package.

Note: these aren’t my reasons for being a firearms-rights advocate. I’m not a rural prole, I’m a city boy with an upper-middle-class background and an Ivy League education and a lot of childhood experience living overseas — rather like Obama, in fact. Even so, it would be difficult for me not to notice that the rural proles who read anti-firearms activism in that hostile class-loaded way have a point — gun-control boosters are very prone to caricaturing all gun owners as baccy-chewing hee-hawing rednecks in the obvious belief that each category discredits the other.

But let’s put Obama as an individual aside for the moment, because this rant isn’t about Obama. It’s about the political culture and the political party that produced him. The truth is that in 2008 that could have been just about any Democrat on stage in Duryea, white or black or polka-dotted, and if he’d said the same thing he’d have gotten the exact same reaction: We don’t believe you.

This comes as no surprise to me. As far back as 2003 I noted that the Democrats had developed negative credibility on gun rights. That is, when a Democratic politician says he supports gun rights — or even merely does not oppose them — firearms owners simply assume as a matter of course that he is lying to conceal a gun-grabbing agenda. Even if they’re Democrats themselves — and that’s what happened to Barack Obama in Duryea.

The larger context is that the Democrats are losing, or have already lost, their claim to represent a populist national coalition that includes blue-collar and rural whites as a matter of course. Gun rights are the canary in this coal mine. Bill Clinton understands this, and has repeatedly told the Democrats straight up that their kulturkampf against guns has been losing them national elections since 1994. The folks in Duryea — and Thomas Frank’s what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas — understand the larger disconnect at gut level. And the Democrats just confirmed it by rejecting Hillary Clinton, who at least faked her heartlander populism well enough to fool anyone who really wanted to be fooled by it, in favor of a candidate who is above even being bothered to pretend.

And that’s why, even with the media establishment shamelessly worshiping at the shrine of Obama, the McCain/Palin ticket is showing a four-point-lead in current polls. Sarah Palin successfully presents herself as everything to the folks in Duryea that Obama is not. But the deeper and longer-term problem for the Democrats has little to do with individuals like Obama or Palin and everything to do with the fact that, while the Democrats of forty years ago could find politicians with Palin’s star appeal to people outside the urban elites and the media, today’s can’t do it. Their politico-cultural base has become too narrow.

That, I think, is the real message from Duryea. And if the McCain/Palin ticket wins this election, that will be why.

UPDATE: Over at the Financial Times, Clive Crook makes essentially the same point.

UPDATE: 24 hours after I wrote this, the McCain/Palin ticket’s lead is increasing, with new polls finding large swings among independent voters and women. The Obama campaign is beginning to sound panicked.

72 thoughts on “Oh, those bitter clingers!

  1. I sorely want to see this on video. Obama’s Duryea speech and a piece of the Q&A session is on YouTube, but the 2nd amendment clip seems to be absent.

  2. This is of a piece with the scorn Obama and his supporters poured on Palin last week for having been the mayor of a small town.

  3. Of course you can’t believe Obama, or McCain, or, sadly, Sarah Palin. They’re politicians. Professional liars. Lying is their job.

  4. > Bill Clinton understands this, and has repeatedly told the Democrats straight up that their kulturkampf against guns has been losing them national elections since 1994.

    Clinton didn’t understand it when he pushed the assault weapons ban and the brady bill. He understood it when the Dems lost the House and Senate in the next election.

    However, he did win re-election after 94. And Congress is back in Dem hands and they could pick up a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

    Never underestimate the power of stupid party’s self-destructive impulses.

    In some sense, the surprising thing is that a third party hasn’t figured out how to break through. I think that the problem is the lack of of a charismatic figure or a huge issue.

  5. I can’t dispute any of your assertions, but I don’t think you get it. The larger picture. The MSM *_HAS_* to get Obama elected. They absolutely cannot fail again. They won’t make the same mistakes they made in 2004 by attempting to maintain even the appearance of objectivity. Even they know that ship has sailed, so why continue to pretend. And clearly, they are not.

    But they still consider themselves among the Fourth Estate. It’s their duty to bestow guidance and wisdom upon rest of us for the common good. The ends justify the means, and by all means, Obama must win. They’re doing noble work. They’re doing God’s work.

    So between now and the election, the same basic messages will be parroted over and over again, until no one can escape the overwhelming “truth”. (Remember “Teflon-coated cop-killer bullets”? Usage of the term went on for years.)

    That’s how Obama will win, and for all the wrong reasons. Unless it all backfires. I’ll concede that could happen too. In which case, McCain will win for all the wrong reasons. And which end is justified by the means? Neither, of course.

  6. >Of course you can’t believe Obama, or McCain, or, sadly, Sarah Palin. They’re politicians. Professional liars. Lying is their job.

    True. The difference is, though, that if that had been a Republican saying “I won’t [try to] take away your guns”, the people in Duryea could have thought “Well, he might not be lying…”. With a Democrat, on this issue, that doubt doesn’t exist and he can’t get the benefit of it.

  7. On the issue of where black votes are heading, I would be amazed if what you say about their lack of support for Obama is true. Yes, they didn’t immediately come out in droves to support him exclusively. But that is probably because Bill Clinton was, as the cliche goes, the first black President. And Blacks definitely seem to have loved the Clintons (at least before South Carolina).

    And your analysis of Democratic party demographics from four years ago is exaggerated at best (of course, Democrats looked *particularly* pathetic at that time, so I don’t blame you). Jews still tend to be liberal (and I would be willing to bet that a large majority of Democratic congresspeople are *at least* moderately pro-Israel), Hispanics, with the exception of Cubans, trend way Democratic, and urban people (who make up the majority of America’s population, as I’m sure you know) generally support Democrats as well. Factoring in immigration and urbanization, it looks like the Republicans are going to have to make some major appeals to minorities (and quit with all of the “America’s Heartland” BS) in order to survive past the date when Caucasians are no longer the majority. Or hope that enough Hispanics and Blacks go evangelical that they can build their party platform on the sole plank of somewhat moderated, democratic Theocracy.

    But at the moment, Republicans consist of a small majority of middle class Whites, plus some amount of the very rich and a majority of the rural. Not desirable demographics *at all*.

  8. “Factoring in immigration and urbanization, it looks like the Republicans are going to have to make some major appeals to minorities (and quit with all of the “America’s Heartland” BS) in order to survive past the date when Caucasians are no longer the majority.”

    I’d think the danger, in the opposite direction, is more clear: democrats have abortions, republicans have kids. Factor that in from the inception of Roe vs Wade and the numbers get interesting. 2010 congressional seat changes based on current census data:

    Alabama -1
    Arizona +1
    California +1
    Florida +2
    Georgia +1
    Illinois -1
    Iowa -1
    Massachusetts -1
    Missouri -1
    Nevada +1
    New York -2
    Ohio -2
    Pennsylvania -1
    Texas +3
    Utah +1

    Demographics are not in fact working in favor of the democrats.

    Back on topic, Obama is from the Chicago machine. His stance on guns is clear. For those unaware of them, a review on Chicago’s gun laws and the Illinois FOID system would be instructive.

    Spot on Eric.

  9. What’s the matter with brie? I would love to hear an explanation of city-hating from such a perceptive practitioner as yourself.

    If the media is going easy on anyone, it’s McCain. The MSM has not pointed out McCain’s flip-flopping, nor his confusion about basic geography, nor his loses of temper such as the recent incident in Alaska. They haven’t pressed the fact that his tax plan calls for tax cuts for the rich. Or that he has surrounded himself with the same political operatives as the Bush administration.

    Palin will win McCain many votes, espeically among Evangelicals. And, I suppose, those who find her sportsmanship appealing. But this is only because the MSM won’t report the pertenent facts:

    Palin is such a far-out whackjob Christian that she would frighten even most Fundamentalists. She believes in a pre-rapture tribulation in which the world will burn. She prays for the hastening of the end-times — for the end of America in Armageddon. Who would entrust this country, and its arsenal, to someone who believes that most of her fellow citizens will burn at judgement day? She will swear to defend this country, but what if she decides that New York is on Satan’s side of the final battle?

    And in the mean-time, she’s also a Dominionist, so it’s Biblical law for us! You’re scared of being a dhimmi? Why, you’re already a witch! And while our enemies abroad can only dream of pulling off another 9/11, we’re about to this theocrat one heartbeat away from direct control of our government.

    She also supports shooting wolves from aircraft, above the objections of biologists! That’s not even sport!

    Will the MSM press this? No!

  10. >Palin is such a far-out whackjob Christian that she would frighten even most Fundamentalists. She believes in a pre-rapture tribulation in which the world will burn.

    While this might be true (and would disturb me if it were) I’ve seen no evidence for it other than blog rants in the lefty fever swamps – the same people who peddled all the baseless crap about Palin banning books. The Dominionism smear is certainly false; as the Volokh Conspiracy has noted, observers in Alaska say Palin ignored conservative “social issues” completely during her tenure. Palin has specifically (and apparently truthfully, on her record) denied any desire to turn her religious convictions into legislation.

    As for “shooting wolves from aircraft”, that’s how you thin the wolf population when your wildlife managers tell you it’s taking too many prey animals; Alaska did it before Palin’s tenure and will almost certainly have to do it again sometime. What, are we supposed to think Palin gets off on personally gunning down widdle furry wolf cubs from her float plane? Get a grip, dude…

    >Tax cuts for the rich.

    Since the entire lower half of the U.S.’s income distribution now pays taxes amounting to just 3% of Federal revenue, it has become impossible to cut taxes at all without having most of the benefit go to the putative “rich” (most of whom, actually, aren’t). Get over it.

    >Not desirable demographics *at all*.

    Think again. None of the Democrats’ core groups are increasing their share of the electorate. Blacks? Declining. Urban white liberals…um, their fertility rate isn’t just low, it’s probably in the “low-lowest” range that no culture or tribe has ever reversed before extinction (large parts of Europe are certainly there now). Their only real hope for Democratic demographics to turn around is Hispanics, who are busily losing any ethnic specialness about their politics just as the Italians (to quote the most recent historical example) did after WWII.

  11. Eric –

    The good folks from Dureya don’t believe Obama when he says he won’t take their guns.

    I don’t believe Palin when she says she won’t turn her religious convictions into legislation.

    Care to write a similar article to this one about how current Republicans have lost any credibility when they deny they’re in support of faith-based political interference in our lives? I suppose not, after all I’m being needlessly paranoid, while the blue-collars have considerable justification.

    For a libertarian, I think you’re somewhat selective of what individual rights you think are worthy fighting for.

  12. Rene: Why “believe” when you can observe?

    Observing trumps believing any day. It is a powerful political razor.

    Can you find any evidence that in her position of power as the governor of Alaska she turned religious convictions into legislation?

  13. > Urban white liberals…um, their fertility rate isn’t just low, it’s probably in the “low-lowest” range that no culture or tribe has ever reversed before extinction (large parts of Europe are certainly there now).

    Seemingly in large part because it’s come down with a really nasty meme causing them to believe that having kids is socially irresponsible because it contributes to exhausting Earth’s resources through overpopulation. Come to think of it, I’d be interesting in finding out the ancestry of this particular bit of unpleasantness. It’s even more suicidal than any of the Gramscian memes that you’re fond of enumerating.

  14. >Think again. None of the Democrats’ core groups are increasing their share of the electorate. Blacks? Declining. Urban white liberals…um, their fertility rate isn’t just low, it’s probably in the “low-lowest” range that no culture or tribe has ever reversed before extinction (large parts of Europe are certainly there now). Their only real hope for Democratic demographics to turn around is Hispanics, who are busily losing any ethnic specialness about their politics just as the Italians (to quote the most recent historical example) did after WWII.

    A key point here: not just urban white liberals. Urban people. Urbanization is accelerating. And believe it or not, most people who live in cities do not eat brie. This right-wing hatred of the ‘urban’ is totally incomprehensible.

    In addition, Hispanics are, in only a slight oversimplification, united against Republican positions on immigration, as well as the general xenophobic vibe that Republicans emit whenever they want to take advantage of ethnic mistrust. IIRC, they began to trend a lot more Republican in 04, but in the last 3.5 years, we’ve had conservatives and protectionists blaring their horns about some kind of Invasion of Mexicans.

    Ah, I did recall correctly:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/05/obama-doing-better-among_n_105456.html

    Obama is doing better among Hispanics than Kerry, *despite* the fact that Hispanics were supposed to hate him (thank you, media!). And interestingly, despite the fact that McCain is a moderate on immigration.

    Republicans really need to prove that they do not hate minorities, in the same way Democrats need to prove that they don’t hate religion and guns.

  15. Over the objections of her professional biologists, I said.

    It’s not responsible to cut taxes at all when waging an expensive war.

    I’d like to see a cite for Palin not being a Dominionist. My cite is her speech at the AoG church.

  16. And my point is, if the MSM were really working in accord with Obama, they’d have brought these things up, and more, but they pretty much haven’t.

  17. Look, for full disclosure, I’m a liberal, and the only bias I detect in the MSM is the idiotic one. Hannity and Olbermann are the same creature.

    BBC, blogs, and factcheck.org FTW.

  18. David McCabe, which speech is this, and why does it worry you? Link please.

  19. Matt, I wouldn’t put too much trust in factcheck.org this election round – it’s the Annenberg Political Fact Check, so it certainly can’t be trusted when it comes to the issue of the Annenberg Challenge, but more generally should be treated with caution in an election where the AC’s former chairman is a candidate.

  20. Guys,

    I’m aware that Palin has been far less activist in social matters than one might expect. I was glad to read it that she even vettoed a piece of legislation that would have removed benefits for employees in same-sex relationships. But what she did in Alaska isn’t necessarily the same she’d do as VP of the USA.

    Palin is a smart woman. Alaskans have a tradition of not taking kindly to government interference in their personal lives. Maybe Palin was simply being smart and not antagonizing her Alaskan voters. But if Palin is elected under the auspices of the Religious Right, will she say no when some right-wing interest group tells her “We voted on you, we campaigned for you, now we want you to do X?”

    Palin may not be a hot-eyed fanatic, but since she is a smart woman and already a believer, she may very well do things to court the Religious Right aiming to one day becoming President herself. Is it such a crazy theory? Even John McCain is pandering to the Religious Right, and we all know he is not the Born Again Christian Palin and Bush are.

    Of course, I may be wrong. Maybe Palin as VP will be even more moderate socially than she was in Alaska. Maybe the brighter spotlight shining on her will make her ever more cautious. Who knows? I’m still distrustful.

  21. Milhouse: I didn’t know that, but hey, if they have any pro-Obama bias they cover it well. They thoroughly criticize the ads and speeches of both candidates. They’ve earned my trust.

  22. >I don’t believe Palin when she says she won’t turn her religious convictions into legislation.

    I do. She has an observable history of keeping that promise.

    >Care to write a similar article to this one about how current Republicans have lost any credibility when they deny they’re in support of faith-based political interference in our lives? I suppose not, after all I’m being needlessly paranoid, while the blue-collars have considerable justification.

    Actually, I don’t think you’re being needlessly paranoid about Republicans in general, just about Palin in particular. If she were from the Bible Belt I would indeed consider her credibility negative on this score. But her record and rhetoric types her as a Western conservative – more in the libertarian-leaning Reagan and Goldwater tradition, which never paid more than lip service to “dominionist” tendencies.

    One of the reasons Palin’s nomination was a game changer was that with it, McCain (another Western Republican, though pretty close to zero on libertarian tendencies himself) tapped another Western Republican. The implicit message was a hearty “fuck you” to the god-shouting, gay-bashing Southern faction of the GOP that you have good reason to be nervous about.

  23. If she were from the Bible Belt I would indeed consider her credibility negative on this score.

    Eric, isn’t that a bit, er, regionist? You’d mistrust her, not because of anything she’s said or done, or the party she chose to join and represent, but because of where she’s from?

  24. >Eric, isn’t that a bit, er, regionist?

    No. It’s the combination of “conservative Republican politician” and “from the Bible belt” that sets off my Elmer Gantry detectors. OK, I concede that not every specimen of this type is a god-shouting, gay-bashing demagogue who will pander to creationist idiots and eventually get caught trying to sodomize a Senate page if he isn’t nailed in a corruption scandal first — but I know which way the odds tell me to bet.

  25. >This right-wing hatred of the ‘urban’ is totally incomprehensible.

    It’s only incomprehensible if you haven’t bothered to understand how conservatives’ minds work (and by “conservative” I actually mean here something what lefties are driving at when they use the word “reactionary” as a curse). Margalit and Buruma are pretty enlightening about it in their book “Occidentalism”; hatred of the urban is part of an emotionally coherent worldview that rejects cosmopolitanism, markets, and sexual equality as the “whore of Babylon”, corruptors of religious and/or tribal purity.

    There’s a tie-in with anti-Semitism as well; to people in this world-view, the Jew tends to represent all of these things and be hated for it. For discussion and quotes from “Occidentalism”, see my post We are All Jews Now.

    The full-throated version of this syndrome is rare in the U.S., but (as with everywhere else in the world) weaker versions of it are part of the emotional/reflexive substratum of whatever local form cultural conservatism takes. This is one of the reasons I have never identified with conservatives nor considered myself one.

  26. >Demographics are not in fact working in favor of the democrats.

    SomeDude, whoever he is, is correct. I’m pro-choice, but I don’t avert my eyes from the consequence he’s describing; the political tendency that fought for unrestricted abortion rights is using that option to select itself right out of the gene pool and the electorate – and it’s happening with remarkable speed. The fertility differential doesn’t look significant if you look at it year by year, but it’s like compound interest; big effects sneak up on you after a while.

    Back during the early phase of the abortion debate in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I saw this coming, but I thought the effects would take centuries (perhaps millenia) to become noticeable. Instead, it’s taken mere decades. I also didn’t expect it to have a strong differential effect on the Democratic Party, but in retrospect that became inevitable after the platform was captured by the New Left and the party effectively told its conservatives and centrists to fuck off. (I was one of those centrists, before I became a libertarian around 1980.)

    Maybe I should write a satirical novel in which abortion-on-demand was a cunning plot by conservatives to hand liberals the instrument of their self-destruction. I’d call it “Unintended Consequences”, but that title’s been taken.

  27. >It’s not responsible to cut taxes at all when waging an expensive war.

    Leaving out the political issues, this isn’t even true as a matter of value-free economics. Taxation suppresses market activity and drives it into unproductive shelters; therefore, cutting taxes can in some circumstances raise total government revenues, making it easier to buy more bullets.

    Furthermore, this is true under more different circumstances than you’d think, actually, unless you’ve studied the history of this issue fairly carefully.

    Specific cuts may be “responsible” or “irresponsible”, but that case has to be argued on the second-order effects of each cut. The blanket condemnation above is objectively flat wrong.

    I’ll go a little further than that and say that this is one of the issues on which conservative anti-tax biases tend to produce the revenue-maximizing answer more often than left-liberal pro-tax ones do.

  28. Earlier some responders expressed concern about Gov.Palin’s religion being an issue affecting her suitability for office. A search on YouTube for “Sarah Palin Church” yields about 207 results. I haven’t viewed all of them – and I don’t intend to; however, I believe that the most incendiary statements actually coming from the Governors mouth are variations of “let’s be sure our plan is God’s plan” or “let God’s will be our will.”

    The New York Times ran an article about Palin’s religiousity:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/us/politics/06church.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1220709641-Xl4jF/E5BZ6aNOpKDh641g

    I note that Palin left her previous church – the one her parents chose while she was a child – in 2002 because it had become too extreme. Barak Obama left the church he choose himself as an adult when? And for what reason?

    Anyone want to make predictions about the success of any future Democratic Party Evangelical outreach programs?

    Some further evidence of how all those scary Republicans are going to overturn the whole country if they get control of The Supreme Court, Rasmussen polled on Supreme Court issues:

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/pt_survey_toplines/september_2008/toplines_supreme_court_ratings_september_2_2008

    Question 2:
    Should the Supreme Court make decisions based on what’s written in the Constitution and legal precedents or should it be guided mostly by a sense of fairness and justice?

    60% What’s written in the constitution
    30% It should be guided by fairness and justice
    11% Not sure.

    from the companion article:

    While 82% of voters who support McCain believe the justices should rule on what is in the Constitution, just 29% of Barack Obama’s supporters agree. Just 11% of McCain supporters say judges should rule based on the judge’s sense of fairness, while nearly half (49%) of Obama supporters agree.

  29. I don’t see the Democratic Party withering away any time soon. It seems to me that what you have called “volk-Marxism” has superseded Christianity as the dominant de facto religion in the modern Western world. The Democrats will continue to rebound from every electoral setback until some new belief system comes along that can compete effectively with volk-Marxism.

    The problem the Democrats have now at the presidential level is the same as the Republicans have at the state level in California: the extremists have taken over, and keep nominating loser candidates. (Schwarzeneger only got in because he got an opportunity with Gray Davis’ recall to bypass the GOP nomination process.) Eventually, they will get tired of losing, will nominate relative moderates, and we will be back to alternating parties in power.

    Maurice Duverger wrote that every political party has two kinds of activists: those whose motto is “fight to win” and those whose motto is “fight to feel good about losing.” The ascendance of the latter among the Democrats is only temporary.

  30. Good article. What’s missing here is how do/will the anti-elitist small-town voters react to Biden. As his role on the stage is exactly the “credible working class guy” one – the question is how credible he actually is.

  31. esr: The folks in Duryea — and Thomas Frank’s what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas — understand the larger disconnect at gut level.

    How on earth did you get that from reading Thomas Frank? His central thesis in What’s the Matter with Kansas? is emphatically not that Democrats have a habit of looking down their noses at the rural folk which has caused their growing irrelevance there, but rather that the Democrats have abandoned the economic part of their platform, by chasing after corporate money, especially starting in the 1990s. By taking economics off the table, the only real difference between the parties became their positions on hot-button social issues, and the Republicans pandered way more adeptly there. In response, here you can see John Leo call Frank an out-of-touch liberal elitist, kind of like you’re doing with Obama here. Thomas Frank says a lot of things, but I don’t think any of them support your point here.

    Palin has specifically (and apparently truthfully, on her record) denied any desire to turn her religious convictions into legislation.

    Support for teaching creationism doesn’t count, now?

    Since the entire lower half of the U.S.’s income distribution now pays taxes amounting to just 3% of Federal revenue, it has become impossible to cut taxes at all without having most of the benefit go to the putative “rich” (most of whom, actually, aren’t). Get over it.

    This makes an impressive cycle. I’ll explain how it goes: first, cut taxes on the wealthy. They’ll acquire more wealth, and so, despite paying a smaller proportion of their income, will make up a larger proportion of total tax receipts. Then complain that the wealthy are paying too much in taxes, so you’ll cut their taxes again. More wealth flies to the top, and now, despite paying a lower tax rate than before, the wealthy make up an even greater proportion of income tax receipts. It’s delicious rhetorical magic, and it even works when you have a tiny landed gentry cowering in gated communities paying a token amount in taxes, surrounded by oceans living in dire poverty, while they grumble about what lucky duckies those on the outside are. Neofeudalism ahoy!

    It’s not possible to cut taxes without cutting them on the rich? Only if someone making over $200k per year isn’t rich. Do you consider someone making that much to not be particularly wealthy?

    I’ll go a little further than that and say that this is one of the issues on which conservative anti-tax biases tend to produce the revenue-maximizing answer more often than left-liberal pro-tax ones do.

    It certainly maximizes revenue for the people receiving the tax cuts.

    ESR notes: I have edited this at the request of the submitter.

  32. Andy Freeman,

    “In some sense, the surprising thing is that a third party hasn’t figured out how to break through. I think that the problem is the lack of of a charismatic figure or a huge issue.”

    That’s more or less hardcoded in the election system: when all you get to vote for is people, in both Houses, you tend to vote for the lesser evil because if you vote for a third one and the most evil wins, that sucks. As all votes spent on non-winning candidates are lost, you gotta make sure yours counts i.e. you vote on someone who actually has a chance of winning. Such election systems grossly misrepresent the actual popularity of political parties, the first two parties take all. F.e. there is a similar system in France and there were times when Le Pen had about 8-10% popularity and still could not get one representative into the house. (OK in this particular case it’s a good thing, but still, it’s quite unrepresentative.)

    The solution usually is to have a mixed election system: half of the House gets in by direct vote, and other half by voting on parties instead of people. So if your party got 5% of the votes, you get 5% of those half seats. The good thing is that in such cases no votes are lost, and ususally even small parties can get a few seats. The bad thing is that those people who get in on party lists do not represent a particular county or state, they represent a party, which turns them into voting machines who toe the party line.

  33. Also, I’d be much obliged if anyone going on and on about how guns have lost Democrats their coalition could provide some evidence to that effect. I’ve already done so; the facts appear to show that guns aren’t really all that vital. Everyone likes to think that their pet issue is the most important thing in politics, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

  34. esr: SomeDude, whoever he is, is correct. I’m pro-choice, but I don’t avert my eyes from the consequence he’s describing; the political tendency that fought for unrestricted abortion rights is using that option to select itself right out of the gene pool and the electorate – and it’s happening with remarkable speed. The fertility differential doesn’t look significant if you look at it year by year, but it’s like compound interest; big effects sneak up on you after a while.

    I’d find that train of thought far more convincing if the sentiments “other women should not have abortions” and “I should not have an abortion” correlated better. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule.Illustrative anecdotes are available, as well.

    Is there something backing up these claims apart from hand-waving, thoughts of feminism hoist by its own petard and thus returning women to a comfortably subservient state and hopes that the liberal movement will start enforcing pregnancy among women?

  35. “I’d find that train of thought far more convincing if the sentiments “other women should not have abortions” and “I should not have an abortion” correlated better. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule.Illustrative anecdotes are available, as well.”

    Articles from think tanks? On “sentiments?” Why not overlay the red states/blue states with effective abortion rate percentages? Seems like it would be more fruitful (pardon the pun):

    http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?cat=10&ind=465

    Control for population, yes, but the map is pretty clear. Of the states in the lowest 1/4 which are blue? Wisconsin doesn’t count, it’s not as blue as some would think. A check of the 2004 results is instructive, especially coupled with results of voting irregularities in Milwaukee.

  36. ESR,

    “This is one of the reasons I have never identified with conservatives nor considered myself one.”

    But this has nothing to do with Conservativism in the intellectual sense. There difference is about the same as the difference between the guy who designs nuclear reactors for civilian purposes and the other one who is a terrorist making a dirty bomb in a backyard. Yeah, both have something to do with radioactive stuff but that’s as far as the similarities go. Confusing the obnoxious type with Conservatives would be the same error as confusing a psychopath who simply does not think the rights or interests of other should limit his freedom to shoot his gun at whatever and whoever he feels like doing with Libertarians: yeah, both have something to do with freedom but that’s as far as the similarity goes.

    It’s one of the most common mistakes and you seem to be prone to do it: comparing the best of something with the worst of something. Like comparing OpenOffice with MS Notepad instead of MS Office, or comparing luxury car with a low-end boat instead of a high-end yacht, or comparing good rock music with shitty techno instead of good techno (another mistake a lot of people make), or comparing a Catholic theologian with a simple random rabbi instead of someone like Maimonides… you get it, I hope. I’m a bit tired of recommending books no one reads, so this time I’ll just recommend City Journal. http://www.city-journal.org/html/cj_adv_search.html
    Theodore Dalrymple, John Kekes… that’s about the high-end.

  37. Grendelkhan,

    “This makes an impressive cycle.”

    Wait. Time for some economics here. How is wealth usually acquired? There are two ways. One, creating it, two, taking away from someone else who created it. The second one is bad, it is for example sweetheart deals with governments, financed by tax money and so on. This can be a big problem, both morally and practically as this is exactly what leads to neo-feudalism… but this is to be discussed separately. For now let’s see the other kind which is hopefully still more common: creating it. Again, there are two ways to create it. One, putting is some personal effort like entrepreneurship or innovation. In such a case the way to acquire wealth is to create something of value for others, something they like and are willing to pay for it. This is a good thing and should not be disincentived by excessive taxes. A second way is savings and investments. To put a long story short, investments tend to raise the marginal productivity of labour which, in turn, makes everybody better off, in fact this exactly the way progress was made in history and civilization was built, from railroads to industrial machinery: some of the products of labour were invested into capital goods instead of consumer goods. This is usually driven by monetary savings and investments. This is again a very good thing which should not disincentived.

    Obviously, creating wealth does not lead to neo-feudalism as differences in wealth are in itself not oppressive or restrictive at all, if they were earned by either some personal effort or by savings. Taking it away from other does lead to it but that’s an entirely different kind of problem.

    I find this term, neo-feudalism very loaded, because it brings back memories of ius primae noctis and public whippings and shit like that. (OK it brings back some memories about chivalry and so on too but I guess it wasn’t meant to.) Again, a difference in wealth is no way oppressive, restrictive or otherwise immoral or wrong. Not even impractical – the Gini index says nothing about economic success, if you look at the actual coloured map and not just the trendline.

    On a more philosophical sense, there are two kinds of equality, as define by Aristotle, one, simple numerical equality, and the other is equlity in proportion to something: for example, merit, virtue, doing something that’s useful for others and things like that. Of these two kinds, the second is the meaningful one. Progressive egalitarianism rests on numerical equality and this is simply a completely groundless concept, based on crazy ideas like Rawls story of bodiless souls or Dworkins horrible idea of making envy a guideline for justice instead of what it is, namely, a vice, a character flaw. And this egalitarianism is why socialistic economic goals tend to go hand in hand with liberalistic social goals: you see, the point in the later one is not to be tolerant about other lifestyles, after all, that’s always been one of the characteristic marks of a gentleman. The point is rather to consider every lifestyle equal to each other, which is completely groundless. After all if you generate two random numbers, getting them equal is about the least likely outcome.

    Anyway, to get to the point, terms like “rich” or “poor” are completely meaningless as long as you don’t look into each and every case and decide whether it was deserved or not. Let’s help the hard-working poor and fuck with the type of rich who got rich on sweetheart deals with governments, and in the meantime let’s not help the drinking poor and not fuck with the intelligent, inventive entrepreneurs or the savers and investors. How would you do that? All I can think of it is to leave it to the private sphere but I’m open to suggestions. I’m not really a hardcore anti-statist, but I just don’t see any ways that true justice, not “social justice” (i.e. injustice from a merit point of view) can be practically administered “from above” when it comes to things like income or wealth.

  38. > It’s not responsible to cut taxes at all when waging an expensive war.

    Taxes weren’t cut, tax RATES were cut. Revenues actually increased.

    However, so did spending. Feel free to point out how the Dems have been trying to cut spending? Heck – let’s set a low bar – show that they’ve been trying to increase spending less than Repubs.

    What? They’re not willing to cut spending during war time?

    It’s interesting that the Dem solution to every problem is higher tax rates.

  39. >the facts appear to show that guns aren’t really all that vital.

    What, you base this on one poll? And a class of poll with even more fuzzy and manipulable results than most? It is to laugh.

    For all that Bill Clinton is a sociopath and perjurer and all-around slimeball, his grasp on practical politics is unrivalled in this generation. His unsupported say-so alone would be better evidence than you’ve presented. But it’s not unsupported; in 2003 pollster Mark Penn presented research to the DLC showing that gun issues move 21% of swing voters. And that certainly understated the actual effect, since (as with abortion) one side has stronger convictions and a higher propensity to actually turn out in close races than the other.

  40. >But this has nothing to do with Conservativism in the intellectual sense.

    Doesn’t it? Then you don’t think the theories people erect are influenced at all by their emotional fixations? Um, I’m afraid I have bad news for you… :-)

  41. >Is there something backing up these claims apart from hand-waving, thoughts of feminism hoist by its own petard and thus returning women to a comfortably subservient state and hopes that the liberal movement will start enforcing pregnancy among women?

    Yes, actually. My most recent source for statistics on this effect is Levitt’s book “Freakonomics”. And if you think either Levitt or I has any desire to return women to a “comfortably subservient state”, you need to put down that crack pipe and back away slowly.

  42. I find it intriguing how many people consider arguing demography as just another sort of arguing about politics. As if accusing somebody of wanting “return[] women to a comfortably subservient state” will add or subtract one baby from existence!

    Demography may be about politics, but it is not politics. A child not born in 1990 is a child not voting in 2008, or any future election. Period. Combined with the fact that people who believe abortions are morally acceptable are more likely to have them, and the probability that someone will keep the ideology they are raised with, the resulting logic is purely mathematical, and no amount of political hand-waving will change it one iota.

  43. >How on earth did you get that from reading Thomas Frank? His central thesis in What’s the Matter with Kansas? is emphatically not that Democrats have a habit of looking down their noses at the rural folk which has caused their growing irrelevance there, but rather that the Democrats have abandoned the economic part of their platform, by chasing after corporate money, especially starting in the 1990s.

    Thomas Frank is an idiot who spent his entire book gazing at his own navel – “I’m a redistributionist, so of course my party is screwing up by backing away from redistributionism”. Republicans should pray hard that the Democrats are stupid enough to swallow his thesis; they could hardly design a better recipe for generations of electoral failure. (I don’t actually think the Democrats are quite that stupid, but they keep achieving new lows and might manage it yet.)

    Thomas Frank is an idiot for many other reasons as well, and one of them is his inability to see how powerfully the inhabitants of flyover country resent limousine-liberal condescension like his. Yes, this trumps “pocketbook issues”. Of course it trumps pocketbook issues; what other outcome would you expect when SES differences in consumption patterns have come so close to vanishing that “poor” people don’t just have have cars and refrigerators but cell phones and computers as well?

    Hm. I think I need to blog about this.

  44. To be fair to the original article, though:
    “So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns.’’”
    It is not said whether or not this convinced the crowd.

  45. ESR,

    “Then you don’t think the theories people erect are influenced at all by their emotional fixations?”

    No, that’s not what I meant. Do I have to spell it out to or what? You are putting two completely different type of people under a Conservative label, who have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Or, rather, are two ends of a bloody wide spectrum. Everything has a deranged version too, even those things dear to you (I gave two examples).

  46. >To be fair to the original article, though:

    I quote: “But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.”

    What Obama doesn’t get is that his “I don’t have the votes” doesn’t help him. It’s not just that people in towns like Duryea fear actual confiscation, it’s that they dislike and resent urban liberals like Obama for whom they believe confiscation would be a goal if the power to do it could be summoned up. Firearms are not just instrumentally significant, they are what a semioticist would call signifiers; Obama’s instrumental counterargument doesn’t address that level at all.

    To trust him, that audience in Duryea would have to believe not merely that he won’t confiscate their guns, and not even merely that he doesn’t want to, but that he feels respect rather than contempt for the way of life and the value system in which their firearms are embedded. But Barack Obama will fly to the moon by flapping his arms sooner than that happens, and they know it.

    (I can speak objectively here, because I’m not on either side. My opinions of country food, country music, and especially country religious fixations are not printable.)

    I live here. I think Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, is going to go Republican this fall. The above should constitute sufficient explanation.

  47. >You are putting two completely different type of people under a Conservative label, who have absolutely nothing to do with each other

    Yeah, sure, you’re talking about the divide between cultural conservatives and classical liberals. I’m well aware of that; I’ve written about it before. Your case unpacks to this: classical liberals are the good guys, cultural conservatives are the bad guys, they have nothing to do with each other. It’s therefore unfair to speak of all self-described “conservatives”, including the classical liberals, as though they’re tainted by Margalit and Buruma’s “ancient religious rage”.

    Bullshit. Pure, unadulterated, 100% bullshit.

    Not only isn’t this true, it can be nothing but willful self-delusion on your part.

    There’s a word for classical liberals who have rejected that ancient religious rage. It’s “libertarian”. Those who persist in calling themselves “conservatives” are doing so precisely to close ranks with the kind of reactionary you claim they have nothing to do with. There is no other reason to keep that label!

  48. Eric, your quote of “But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.” comes _before_ my quote, and is in fact the reason of it.

    I’ll post in fullness: ““If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it,’’ Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

    So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns.’’”

  49. >What’s missing here is how do/will the anti-elitist small-town voters react to Biden. As his role on the stage is exactly the “credible working class guy” one – the question is how credible he actually is.

    Heh. Credible? You can use “credible” and “Joe Biden” in the same sentence and keep a straight face?

    Remember, this is the guy who is best known for plagiarizing Neil Kinnock’s speeches. Oh, and snotty remarks about how he’s the brightest guy in the room. Those’ll go over real well in Duryea, you betcha.

    Joseph R. Biden, that bloviating professional pol, has about as much small-town and “working class” cred as his hairplugs do. Choosing him was astonishingly tone-deaf, even for Democrats. I marvel; it’s like they hunger to lose.

  50. >So he tried again.

    I’m sure he did. I’ve also been to places like Duryea, and you haven’t (it’s just 115 easy highway miles from my home). If you think for a nanosecond that Obama convinced them with that second try — never mind that, if you’re gullible enough to seriously entertain the possibility that he convinced them… well, then, I’ve got some prime Florida beachfront property you should snap up this minute. And a bridge in New York, too.

  51. Jeremy,

    “the probability that someone will keep the ideology they are raised with” – is that sure? The liberal kid rebelling against conservative parents is a common phenomenon and it happens exactly the other way around too. (This second one sort of describes me too…) Though it is entirely possible that it’s a characteristic of our not-of-this-world intellectual type to tend to be always critical about whatever one knows of personal experience, and might be not so typical about others :-)

  52. “Your case unpacks to this: classical liberals are the good guys, cultural conservatives are the bad guys, they have nothing to do with each other. ”

    Excuse me but now you sound like you have no idea what you are talking about. Did you actually read Eric Voegelin, Edmund Burke (not just the Reflections!), Michael Oakeshott, John Kekes, Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Hobbes, Thomas Sowell, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Theodore Dalrymple, or to go back further in time, Thomas Aquinas, Cicero, Aristotle, Plato? Publications like the City Journal? The very term “cultural conservative” is telling me that you are talking about some sort of a third-degree insignificant journalist like the Michelle Malkins of National Review and not the really interesting thinkers. What do you mean by classical liberals, by the way? I hope you don’t mean J.S. Mill neither Jeremy Bentham neither any other kind of utilitarianism or post-utilitarianism. John Locke? He was all right but everything we wrote bears the characteristic of a postscriptum: he summarized the already existing political tradition of his age instead of creating a new ideology. Do you have any idea, for example, where did individualism come from? From the Nominalist school of medieval scholastics. It’s not the Conservative thinkers who borrowed things from the Classical Liberal tradition, rather it were Classical Liberals who took some pieces out of the existing political tradition and turned them into an ideology. For example Burke defended free markets in the Thoughts and Details on Scarcity way before Classical Liberalism emerged as a force to be reckoned with. And even before him, the scholastics in Salamanca.

    “cultural” conservativism is bullshit, it’s a shallow modern ideology similar to the progressive ideologies, a similarly magical kind of wishful thinking that says the destruction of family life can be restored by banning a few things. It has very little to do with Conservativism as an intellectual tradition. Why don’t you do a bit of reading? You could start here: http://www.deepleafproductions.com/utopialibrary/text/kekes-conservatism.html

  53. ESR,

    just one more note. If you apply Classical Liberalism only as a theory of government I don’t have much against it. Other than it sort of hangs in the air, because C.L. is a distillation of ideology out of the existing tradition of thinking and leaving the other parts out. It’s not that it’s bad, it isn’t, it’s simply not grounded in a worldview that can consistently explain other phenomena about the world too. For example, I wrote a paper as a postgrad coursework applying the ideas of Michael Oakeshott to the question why does management consulting often fail so miserably. This is published here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ahb2hddjffjv_15fsvpmrrg

    Here I apply the core points of his theory, the difference between rational and practical knowledge, the practical drawbacks of excessive rationalism etc. Though you might call it a C.L. theory but I think it would be a stretching of the term.

  54. >Did you actually read Eric Voegelin, Edmund Burke (not just the Reflections!), Michael Oakeshott, John Kekes, Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Hobbes, Thomas Sowell, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Theodore Dalrymple, or to go back further in time, Thomas Aquinas, Cicero, Aristotle, Plato?

    I’ve read Oakeshott, Montaigne, Pascal, Hobbes, Sowell, and Dalyrymple, yes. Aquinas, Cicero, Plato, and Aristotle likewise. I’ve read Burke’s “Reflections” but nothing else. Voegelin, Kekes, and Himmelfarb, no (I only vaguely know who Himmelfarb is and have never heard of the other two). I’ve also read Russell Kirk, who I’d say is at least as important as any you’ve named. And I think you have your history confused and largely wrong.

    Cultural conservatism is in no way a shallow modern development. It is what the classical liberals of the 1700-1900 period, the thinkers and activists behind free trade and the abolition of slavery, defined themselves against (a movement that included some utilitarians but wasn’t directed by them). In your list, Sowell is the purest classical-liberal (that is, in modern terms, libertarian) thinker. Hobbes, the apologist for the divine right of kings, is on the other hand motivated by exactly the sorts of anxieties, fear of disorder, and authoritarian leanings that you’ll see in a Wahhabist these days.

    Burke prefigures modern conservatism in his uneasy mixture of libertarian and reactionary sentiments. Your error is to believe that the gloomy tribal chauvinism and toxic authoritarianism that was all of Hobbes and half of Burke. and the ancient religious rage that goes with it, has departed conservative thinking. To which I say not just no, but hell no. Do you live in a vat somewhere? Do you truly have no concept of the way actual conservatives actually behave?

    Why else do you suppose that having read so much of the intellectual foundations of conservatism. I reject it utterly? It’s certainly not that I have any love for the Left…

  55. Daniel Franke said:
    > Seemingly in large part because it’s come down with a really nasty meme
    > causing them to believe that having kids is socially irresponsible because
    > it contributes to exhausting Earth’s resources through overpopulation. Come
    > to think of it, I’d be interesting in finding out the ancestry of this particular bit
    > of unpleasantness. It’s even more suicidal than any of the Gramscian memes
    > that you’re fond of enumerating.

    I think one of the more well reasoned arguments along this line can be found here:

    http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/The_New_Renaissance.shtml

  56. Come to think of it, I’d be interesting in finding out the ancestry of this particular bit of unpleasantness. It’s even more suicidal than any of the Gramscian memes that you’re fond of enumerating.

    Only as suicidal as chemotherapy. It could kill the whole organism, or only kill the cancerous destructive excrescence, leaving the remainder weakened but able to survive. Since the organism is in the process of dying anyway, the risk is well worht taking.

  57. > Only as suicidal as chemotherapy. It could kill the whole organism, or only kill the cancerous destructive excrescence, leaving the remainder weakened but able to survive. Since the organism is in the process of dying anyway, the risk is well worht taking.

    Utter bullshit. All that the cultures that subscribe to this nonsense will accomplish is to be outcompeted and replaced by those with more sense. People have been screaming about imminent exhaustion of natural resources since the 18th century. The reason they’re wrong is always the same: new technology changes which resources are valuable or allows us to use present ones with greater efficiency; the green revolution and the work of Norman Borlaug being the most recent dramatic example. At such time as that stops working — and this point is a very long way away — we expand into space.

    Someone now will inevitably bring up the Accelerando argument that the ultimate reductio of this line of reasoning is the eventual exhaustion of the universe. To which I say, “so what?”. We should be so lucky.

  58. >People have been screaming about imminent exhaustion of natural resources since the 18th century. The reason they’re wrong is always the same: new technology changes which resources are valuable or allows us to use present ones with greater efficiency;

    And the agenda behind the screaming is always the same: control of peoples’ choices. For their own good. Of course. Tyranny, thinly disguised as therapy.

  59. > And the agenda behind the screaming is always the same: control of peoples’ choices. For their own good. Of course. Tyranny, thinly disguised as therapy.

    Actually, it’s more an aesthetic urge. Have you seen what those people will wear and do when left to their own devices?

    We can’t kill them, but we can surely make them less embarassing.

  60. Andy: heh :-)

    Actually, I saw a nice summary over on Reddit, which I now can’t find: “Socialism is the realization that there but for the grace of God go I”.

  61. Adriano:

    > I’ll post in fullness: ““If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it,’’ Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see >skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

    > So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason
    > not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away >your guns.’’”

    Obama doesn’t need a single congressional vote to take away guns. He can use an Executive Order. Just like Clinton did to outlaw firearms in National Parks. As Clinton’s hatchet man Paul Begala said: “Stroke of a pen. Law of the land.”

    Obama could outlaw semi-automatics, outlaw sales of ammunition, demand folks turn in .50 caliber rifles, outlaw concealed carry anywhere, etc. All with Executive Orders. I don’t think those in the gun banning set haven’t already thought of this…

    Biden was the chief sponsor of the egregious 1994 Assault Weapon ban. With him as VP it’s quite clear an Obama/Biden administration will do their best to carve the 2nd right out of the Constitution. By any means necessary.

    They have zero credibility on not taking away 2nd Amendment rights.

  62. While it’s true that would be usurpers of rights have screamed about exhaustion of the Earth’s resources for more than a century now, one would do well to recall that the boy who cried wolf was in fact eaten by a wolf, shortly after people of good will stopped listening to him.

    Have you ever taken a look at a graph of homo sapiens estimated population over the entire couple hundred thousand years or so the species has existed? To claim that nothing unusual is going on right now would be a mathematical falsehood.

    Geology proves something unusual is going on right now as well. Have you ever heard of the Holocene extinction event? The planet is in the midst of a mass extinction larger than the one that killed off the dinosaurs. It’s a cold, hard, “inconvenient” fact.

    Intellect alone will not save the day if overpopulation does eventually prove a genuine threat to human survival. Humans will have to find the seeds of their destruction sewn deep within the fabric of their modern culture, and ruthlessly root them out. That kind of work requires not only intellect, but also wisdom and courage.

  63. Re:

    “Maybe I should write a satirical novel in which abortion-on-demand was a cunning plot by conservatives to hand liberals the instrument of their self-destruction. I’d call it “Unintended Consequences”, but that title’s been taken.”

    Hmmm … how about calling the novel “They Asked For It”?

  64. ESR,

    the strange thing is that sometimes it seems we are talking about the same things and sometimes it seems we are talking about something entirely different… I’ll make one last attempt and then drop the subject.

    1. The most important thing is to understand causality in everything – you do X, Y happens.

    2. Classical Liberalism/Libertarianism is I think 80% OK. They correctly identify causality in economic transactions and in human behaviour in general, therefore they correctly identify why does political action usually fail (i.e. because political action tends to just to legislate a desirable goal into existance instead of building up the causes in could arise from). But there are few things missing from it.

    3. The 20% that’s missing form Classical Liberalism comes from the fact that CL’s tend to have the same inhibitions as the Progressive Liberals against judging the actions of others as long as they are in the private sphere and do not directly affect others. The problem with it is that there are clear and obvious causal links between how people live their private lives and what they do with others & how the society functions in general. Example: a shallow, hedonistic approach to sexuality -> single motherhood -> growing up without a male role model -> choosing the wrong role models -> becoming a criminal.

    4. There are other cases where there is no direct causal link between these two categories of action, but there is a correlation. And there are two common idiotic views regarding correlation. One of them is the assumption that if A and B are correlated, then either A causes B or B causes A. The other common idiotic view is to scream “Correlation does not mean causation!” and then consider the issue settled. It is, usually, not. In reality, if A and B are correlated, the most likely explanation is that there is a common cause, C, behind both of them. Therefore in such a case A isn’t the cause of B but it’s a signal, a “messenger” that B might be there too.

    And the common, typical cause behind living a respectable lifestyle and behaving ethically with others is a low time preference (a disciplined willingness to take pains in the present in exchange for future benefits), and the common, typical cause behind a reprehensible lifestyle and behaving unethically with others is a high time preference (being a slave of our own whims, instincts and emotions, a craving for instant gratification etc.). High time preference is something we are born with: this is what small children, animals and some savages have. Low time preference is learned. The point is: it _must_ be learned, if we want to keep having a civilization around. (Low time preference is usually called “bourgois values” by Conservatives.)

    These above thoughts are bit outside of the Classical Liberal realm, they point towards a way of thinking that’s not really Liberal even in the Classical sense.

    5. There is indeed much wrong with mainstream Conservativism. They are laughably naive to think that by banning gay marriage or abortion families will magically fix themselves. This exactly the same kind of magical thinking the Left does in economics: trying to legislate the effects into existence without trying to build up the causes. (Bot the Left and the Mainstream Right is a form of Gnostic thinking.) Abortion is not the cause of disappearing family life, high time preferences are the cause of both of them. Abortion is merely a sign of it, therefore, they are just shooting the messenger. Et cetera, et cetera, same stuff for most socially conservative laws. Obviously they don’t fix anything. Perhaps the only way to fix these problems is the Libertarian way: let people bear the consequences of their own choices, but don’t actively try to prevent them doing stupid things. Perhaps there is no fix at all. In fact that’s very likely.

    But the point is, to correctly identify the cause of problems, we have to talk about more things that just liberty and sometimes we must call something wrong even if it’s in the private sphere, we sometimes must be judgemental, and use words like “decent” or “respectable” which aren’t quite value-free, and that’s, I think, not really Liberal, not even in a Classical sense. “One very simple principle” is just not enough, because there are casual links between how we think, how we live and what we do with others.

  65. >The 20% that’s missing form Classical Liberalism comes from the fact that CL’s tend to have the same inhibitions as the Progressive Liberals against judging the actions of others as long as they are in the private sphere and do not directly affect others.

    This is incorrect. Libertarians have no problem judging and condemning bad behavior in the private sphere; we just reject the notion that law or government can properly be involved in that condemnation. So, for example, a libertarian can publicly condemn racial hate speech, or even (if he is of a conservative sort) obscenity on the radio, but rejects speech restrictions in law to prevent it.

    I agree with you that low time preference underlies a lot of self-destructive and antisocial behavior. What makes you suppose libertarians cannot notice and act on this insight? We cannot use the law to do it, but statists can’t use the law to inculcate high time preference either. In fact, you yourself recognize that socially conservative laws don’t fix anything, so why slam libertarians for being unwilling on principle to enact them?

    Your error is in supposing that libertarians only have one simple principle. This is not true, or at least is true only about the use of force. The rest of the time, we have a wide range of concerns that bear on our ethical reasoning. Many of them coincide with yours.

  66. > Geology proves something unusual is going on right now as well. Have you ever heard of the Holocene extinction event? The planet is in the midst of a mass extinction larger than the one that killed off the dinosaurs. It’s a cold, hard, “inconvenient” fact.

    Actually, the scientific evidence here is rather flimsy. Estimates regarding the total number of recent extinctions vary by two orders of magnitude. The number of actual, specific, documented extinctions is only in the hundreds. There’s little doubt that large quadruped mammals have been dying off since the Pleistocene and that habitat loss due to human expansion has accelerated this somewhat, but geologically speaking that’s not even a blip on the radar. Anyway, I don’t understand your proposed link between this and resource depletion.

  67. >Anyway, I don’t understand your proposed link between this and resource depletion.

    Daniel, I’ll lay it out for you: in the left-wing world-view, extinctions have to be at an all-time high because that proves capitalism is evil. Oil and stuff have to be running out because that proves capitalism is evil. Capitalism is evil, therefore both things that prove capitalism is evil must be true. Flawless logic!

    Oh, yeah, and global warming has to be real and anthropogenic. Same proof.

  68. 1) I’m mostly libertarian and a fan of capitalism. But in general this only means that I don’t favor legislation as a means to fix certain classes of problems. It doesn’t mean I can’t admit that those problems exist. Nor does it mean I can’t critically examine capitalism in general, or the way that U.S. culture has warped it in particular. It doesn’t bother me to question even the most basic assumptions inherent in capitalism. My world view is not so fragile.

    2) You guys need to check your sources about the extinction rate. Allow me:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/98/10/5389.abstract
    http://www.amnh.org/museum/press/feature/biofact.html

    3) I’m not trying to link the extinction rate to anything in particular. I’m simply pointing out that Rush Limbaugh ditto-head types who want you to believe that “nothing unusual is going on” with the planet are demonstrably wrong. But conservatives have to believe that nothing unusual is going on, because otherwise they may have to admit that some form of collectivism may end up being necessary in a world where humanity is threatened with extinction. Collectivism is evil, therefore nothing unusual is going on. How’s that for flawless logic?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>