Monday, August 14, 2006

The Worst Habit of Liberalism... Handing Karl Rove Every Advantage.

The political lamp is still lit...

Before we begin, if the situation in the Middle East is getting you down, you might try reading words from an adult. The fellow who would have been (and rightfully is) our Secretary of State in the parallel universe where George W. Bush did not get crony’d into his latest fantasy job.


Last time, I spoke despairingly about our chances of reclaiming the government of the United States for the people, for the Enlightenment, and for the sake of continuing our Great Experiment. Things are certainly not looking good, right now. For example, even with GOP support plunging to unprecedented lows, and a Republican led Congress even more universally despised than the Do Nothings of 1948, you still see very little fear on the right. (Not as if they really expect Congressional committees to resume work and start issuing subpoenas.)

Why is that? Because gerrymandering ensures that the kleptocrats still have a better than even chance of retaining both houses of the national legislature. Giving BushCo yet another 2 years to reinforce a culture of fear justified secrecy and unaccountability, helping gradually to establish a new feudal age.

Ah, but gerrymandering only provides a tool, one of many tactical innovations that they can use effectively only because others let them. Indeed, the majestic sweep of their strategic victory has arisen from something far more broad and general. That sweeping strategic success arose from the suicidal tendencies of modern liberalism. Tendencies that Karl Rove & ilk been able to use to their advantage, for 14 years.

Some of you have heard me mention this pattern before, but it so bears repeating.


Forget all of the policy issues for a moment. After all, polls show that the US public agrees with Democratic policies more than 80% of the time. Hence it has been vital for the neocons to veer attention away from actual, implementable policy initiatives, over to matters of “culture war”. An area where liberals have behaved positively addlebrained, letting Rove benefit from a dream situation, in which it’s impossible for him to lose.

For 14 years and more, Rove & allies have bent all efforts toward maintaining a Big Tent coalition, uniting a melange of contradictory groups. With the sole aim of achieving and holding actual political power, they managed to wed together:

- Xenophobic-isolationists... and interventionist-adventurers.
- Free-marketers... and big government contract-parasites.
- Lifestyle libertarians... with bedroom-voyeur fundamentalists.
- Deficit hawks... and spendthrift pork barrel hogs.
- Snooty Straussian neocon eggheads...and proudly anti-intellectual know-nothings.
- Small business owners... with megacorp monopolists.
- Nativist border worriers... and exploiters of cheap, undocumented labor...
... and so on.

A great... nay incredible... morass of contradictions! How on Earth did they manage that? There is one simple answer. By getting every last one of these forces to call themselves “conservative.”

* This Big Tent is THE SALIENT FACT about the neocon success story. Because they could never have achieved any power at all, without it.

Let me reiterate. Opinion polls show relentlessly that a majority of the American people prefer Democratic policies in general - not only the classic ones (protecting the environment, civil rights, compassion) but also as they were modified by Bill Clinton, to include prudent deficit-cutting, strengthening alliances, government efficiency, taking advice from serious science, reducing secrecy, and a generally positive attitude toward incremental progress in meeting human needs.

Given this Democratic advantage, it has been essential for Rove & Co. to welcome any and everybody into their “tent”-- any person who might remotely call him or herself “conservative,” for any reason! Any reason whatsoever.

Without this unifying umbrella, the stew of conflicts that I listed above could never have elected a dog catcher, let alone squeaked the entire Red America alliance into power, seizing control over every major U.S. institution. Above all, the Rovean Big Tent policy has held to one utterly pragmatic principle, implicit in every word spouted from Hannity and O’Reilly and the entire machine.

"If you hold EVEN ONE "conservative" opinion, that makes you a conservative."

In contrast, the reflex among liberals has been quite the opposite.

"If you fail to support EVEN ONE standard "liberal" opinion, that makes you a conservative."

Yes, yes. I can well imagine bile igniting behind the eyes of some who just read that. If you are a “standard liberal” you may deem what I said (above) to be insulting. Indeed, did my saying it cause me to be instantly dismissed as... well... a conservative?

Please, I am making this effort in hopes that liberalism will be more effective at retaking power away from a deadly foe of our entire civilization. A foe just as deadly to freedom and justice as Communism ever was. Hence, I offer these criticisms in good will. So will you please suspend judgement and come with me just a little way?

Won’t you try this little mental experiment yourself? Start by listing a dozen or so “standard liberal positions.” For example you expect a liberal to:

- oppose the Iraq War
- welcome immigrants
- support the undiluted right to abortion
- oppose Arctic or offshore drilling
- oppose nuclear power
- oppose tax cuts
- support gay marriage... and so on.

If you don’t like my list, write one of your own! Make your own list of positions you deem important. I’ll wait.

Now try this. Imagine a person who holds all of the correct views except one.
Suppose - on just that one issue - a person strongly takes the opposite view. Not quietly, but openly, and vigorously.
Now picture how that person would be received in most liberal gatherings.
What name would they be called?

If you are honest, you can immediately see my point.

* Please note: in raising this point, I am not arguing against ANY of those classic liberal views, listed above. This discussion is about tactics. It is about suicidal reflexes. And, at a tactical level, the worst, most self-defeating trait of liberalism today is NOT to be found in any of its policy positions, most of which are noble or at least supportable. Or at least legitimately arguable.

The calamity that has kept their entire movement out of power is a completely indefensible and utterly suicidal reflex. A smug tendency to apply litmus tests. To maintain a Small Tent.

To show intolerance and to drive away anyone who holds only a 90% score.

Consider the result! We are driving away people who agree with us 90% of the time! Because we call them "conservative"... and Karl Rove also gladly calls them "conservative"... is it any wonder that millions of people who hold just one conservative opinion thereupon use the word to describe themselves? Even when they agree with 90% of other liberal positions?

This is the real, self-inflicted catastrophe. It has nothing to do with policy fights, say, “left-vs-moderate" within the DP. Indeed, it is only tangentially related to the recent toppling of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, in his state’s Democratic Primary, since he clearly had taken the wrong side in the Culture War. In many ways. It is one thing to agree with a few conservative and moderate positions. It is quite another to sleep with the enemy.

Come on, folks. Stop giving the Roveans more credit than they deserved. They shouldn’t be winning ANY kind of power, right now. Not on the basis of policy comparisons. So why do they keep winning?

Because they have been relentlessly empowered by bad liberal tactics that decent American moderates and Barry Goldwater conservatives and even liberal-minded folk who hate litmus tests, making such people feel they only have one home. Despite all of the relentless evidence that we are being ruled by kleptocrats, hypocrites, neo-feudalists and outright morons, millions of decent Americans have nevertheless clustered inside a big tent that stinks to high heaven! A tent they despise. But where they sit in misery, because they are offered nowhere else to go!

"You must overnight become a Santa Monica liberal, on all issues, or else call yourself a conservative. Identify yourself that way. Stay loyal to that side. Even if it is one you inherently despise."

What all of this has to do with is nothing less than mean-minded dogmatism, resulting in suicide for the Democratic Party... and thus for the nation. Because this is exactly why enemies of the Enlightenment now hold all three branches of government, right now, turning the greatest nation in history into a world laughingstock.


Anonymous said...

but also as they were modified by Bill Clinton, to include prudent deficit-cutting

I know that's the popular belief - but the actual figures tell a different story. Taking the period from 1962 to 2001 (20 years of Democratic presidents and 20 years of Republican presidents), under the Democrats, average borrowing has been $36bn/year and under 20 years of Republicans, average borrowing has been $190/year. (Incidently, inflation here works against the Democratic party because the period in question doesn't take account of the Shrub, meaning that Clinton is the most recent). In that same 40 year period, Republicans increased the number of Federal employees by a total of 310,000 as opposed to 59,000 for Democratic presidents. And the average rate of increase of federal non-defence spending increase under Republicans was 10.08% - as opposed to 8.34% for Democratic increases.

I get very little traction when I say this, but as an observer of American politics, the party that keeps spending in line with income is, and always (well, since WWII) has been the Democratic party. The Republican party has increased spending more than the Democratic party and has never increased taxes to pay for it. The reason the Republicans have the reputation for keeping spending under control is because they tax less than the Democrats (and are better with stealth taxes) and therefore appear not to be spending as much.

What I want to know is why Democratic* Americans aren't trumpetting from the rooftops that they are and always have been the party of fiscal conservatism - as the numbers so aptly demonstrate.

Now picture how that person would be received in most liberal gatherings.
What name would they be called?

Human? But then few of my social gatherings are divided down those lines (in fact most of the larger ones have both self-proclaimed reactionaries and members of the International Solidarity Movement - but would probably term the overall gathering liberal).

But I am actually not disagreeing with you - again I (and my peers) have the benefit of being outsiders - and have been pretty horrified by how exclusionary the more millitant Americans have been. (And this is ignoring the conservative (think moderate libertarian) friend of mine who has always got on much better with liberals than with most conservatives until he went to study at Berkeley.)

* The name of the party is the Democratic party, not the Democrat party. IIRC, it was Strom Thurmond who started calling the party the Democrats because he realised when he crossed over that the word Democratic had more traction than the word Republican - but he could neuter this if he got them known as the Democrats.

Anonymous said...

This rant totally ignores Rove's historically effective tactic of smearing opponents for nothing having to do with policy issues:

* John McCain got smeared in the 2000 primaries. Rove's machine suggested he was mentally unstable. A man who had honorably served his country got dumped on

* John Kerry got smeared in the 2004 campaign . . . not for any campaign issue, but because he has a wealthy wife and goes windsurfing.

In other words, a candidate could be chock-full of good ideas and bend on all sorts of issues and still get smeared.

The "Big Tent" is a lot less inclusive than you depict: "Movement Conservatives" are every bit as intolerant as you picture liberals as being. They have effective ways of sidelining moderates and cracking the whip. They actively oppose Republicans who don't toe the line on every plank. They've even got a name for them: "Conservative In Name Only."

They may welcome a lot of people into the tent, but a lot of them find themselves standing in a corner, afraid to speak up.

David Brin said...

Stefan, I don't see where a thing you said is inconsistent with what I have said.

I never claimed that all of the "conservatives" inside the tent have been treated well or gotten a single thing they want.

All I said was that they are given the label "conservative" at the slightest excuse. They are given it by Rove. They are given it by liberals. They wind up using it on themselves.

And that label IS the tent! It winds up coloring their values, whether they watch Fox News... everything.

Stefan, how many names do I have to call the monsters, before I get credit for calling them monsters?

The point remains. If you try the litmus test experiment above, anybody who VIGOROUSLY holds ONE nonstandard view is perforce a conservative!

That is one hellovan advantage to give the other side.

Tony Fisk said...

The litmus test is kind of ironic, given the number of times you've pointed out how powerless the far left (ie idealist left) is at present. Seems they do have power after all (of a very indirect and destructive sort)

PS: Howard's dropped the immigration bill rather than have it defeated. (Never thought I'd cheer on an anti- choice/gay/evolution Family First senator!)

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of larval stage disputation, check out this More Perfect blog and website. They claim their approach avoids the problems wikipedia has with fundamentalist whiteanting attacks like the one you refer to, and the notorious 'elephant' joke. Whether this is so remains to be seen.

Andrew, care to add your find to the Earth prediction registry?

(current score is 46 predictions:
# 8 are confirmed
# 3 are likely
# 3 are open
# 32 are still to be assessed)

The only problem is that resurrection of extinct species has been bandied around since well before 'Earth' (eg Silverberg's 'Born With The Dead'). Does David rate a gong for this?

...speaking of disputation arenas (which also needs an update, making it 9 confirmed)

Xactiphyn said...


That's not a small tent, that is what the party of CITOKATE looks like from the outside. :-)

Serisously, Republicans do, in fact, force an ideology on their representatives as much or more more than the Democrats. For example, Grover Norquist has made a career of holding a gun to the head of each and every Republican with the threat of political execution if they ever contemplate a tax increase.

So while I agree completely that what you describe is what we see and hear about on TV, I'm not at all certain this reflects reality on the ground.

The Democratic Senate Minority Leader, for example, is pro-life. Most Democrats voted for the war. The list goes on and on.

I don't believe the difference is Republicans have a bigger tent, I think the difference is they have better party discipline. They stay on message, never criticize each other in public and can be counted on for the votes they need when they need it.

I think this is the advantage they have for being the authoritarian party. (And why, again, do so called libertarians keep voting for the authoritarians? I still don't get that.)

As the party of "Question Authority", Democrats don't keep in step nearly as nicely. We challenge each other, often, and do so publicly.

I'm not sure what the solution is, as in many ways this is the fundamental difference in our approach to life that led us here in the first place. If we were more authoritarian we'd be Republicans.

But I don't think the problem is what you described.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...


Does the Republican Party in Congress reflect that big tent you discuss? Of course not. And look what happened to the "moderate" Republican who lost his primary to a right winger--for not holding the "right wing" opinion on illegal immigration.

Moderates were pushed out of the Republican Party around 1980 and throughout the last 25 years--and the Republicans won it all, and even made Clinton govern as the best Republican of the 20th Century.

I'd rather be anti-corporate trade, push for tariffs, rebuild the nation from within economically, and support unions--and then I'd get half the lunch bucket Republicans back into the Democratic Party--and frankly, the DLC'ers have nowhere else to go. So, Dem majority in the House, Senate and White House. And stuff gets they say in some film I can't recall the name of right now...

Tony Fisk said...

Mark, that CITOKATE party tent wouldn't be blue with a flashing light, would it?

Andrew, go to the login page and look at the prompt (leave the elephants at the door ;-)

Mitchell, we're talking about *tactics*, not *policies*. Just because the GOP have everyone covered by a bloated tent doesn't mean they let the rubes have a go at being ringmaster.

Kelsey Gower said...

@ David Brin

I remember when you made this argument at the beginning of the year. At the time I mostly agreed wih you, but now I think the tides are turning. By November this sentence ,"If you fail to support EVEN ONE standard "liberal" opinion, that makes you a conservative.", will be completely untrue. What can I say, elections have the habit of turning generally accepted truths into untruths overnight, and vice-versa.

Something strange is happening in the neocon party. They've seemed to have thrown out their previous Big Tent philosophy. Right now, anyone who wants a timetable for getting troops out of Iraq, anyone who wants our children's futures to be secure, and/or anyone who wants to see our government have some ****ing accountability, is a radical.

Perhaps I should rephrase that: Anyone who is a moderate, is a radical.

And I'm pretty sure I know which party these "radicals" should support this November. It's the one Karl Rove has painted as the most extreme and out-of-touch party for the last 14 years.

I think that Big Tent just switched sides.

Anonymous said...

I think you should read this and start asking questions.

Anonymous said...

I would respectfully disagree with this analysis. Democrats, even those "evil lefty bloggers," are supporting moderate--even conservative--Democrats for the 2006 midterms.

Look at Harold Ford in Tennessee or Jim Webb in Virginia. Jim Webb is a former Republican, was Reagan's Naval Secretary, and he's a progressive Netroots candidate!

David Brin said...

Clearly I am benefiting from CITOKATE. Evidently I should have striven more earnestly to make one thing clear.

The Roveans do not ACTUALLY GIVE ANYTHING to the teeming masses under their big tent. Only three of the many "conservative" groups int he Red America coalition have received anything more than lip service from the real masters of the movement.

* Radical Straussian transcendentalist neocons were given their New Crusade in the Middle East. Driven by a utopianism fully as romantic, militant and intolerant as the first Crusades, this coterie of overcompensating, frenetically snooty-intellectual draft dodgers were given toy soldiers (our military) to play with... as part of the neo-feudalists' grander agenda.

* Anti-future fundamentalists are given mostly lip service, but occasional sops of real policy. Millions of tax dollars for their foundations. Hundreds of appointments of young zealots to our military academies.

* The Klepto-feudalists are the real masters. "nuff said about that (except that their topmost tier is not American, or even western... and its agenda is more destructive than anyone is yet willing to imagine).

Except for these groups, none of the "conservatives" gathered under Rove's Big Tent are getting a damned thing they wanted.

Nativists are seeing LESS control over our borders... yet they stay mostly loyal.

Small businessmen are raped by a government that favors top-level cronies... yet they stay loyal.

Deficit hawks should, by any rights, yearn for Bill Clinton... yet they stay loyal to people who betray their every desire.

Both lifestyle and economic libertarians get nothing, yet continue to call the GOP a "lesser of evils."

All because of a single word: "conservative" -- which has no discernable meaning other than as a label to paste over a myriad issues and give Rove an excuse to say "you are one of us. So you MUST be loyal and overcome all of your sense of betrayal. You must support us for one reason only. Because of the sense of identification that comes from a label."

Face it. We have lost the war of labels. The "L" word is a stigma, despite its association with every great American endeavor in a hundred years. And "conservative" is self-applied by far more people than really ought to, if policy were the real consideration.

This is a situation that countless liberals have aided and abetted and WE HAVE TO STOP.

Next time I will talk a bit about how.

Xactiphyn said...

Ah, now this I agree with. The Liberal label needs a serious PR job. Back when I wrote my own blog a year or so ago I tried to promote the use of the word Liberal with the tag-line quote:

"As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality." -- George Washington

Imagine brief commercials each night with someone reading quotes like this. I'd love to see an actual advertising budget for this type of campaign! (Man, it sure is easy to spend Soro's money, isn't it?)

I still get angry at Dukakis for running away from the word Liberal instead of embracing it, defending it and showing the moderate side.

Oh, and my other tag-lines (since one isn't enough): "Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty" and "Because even rednecks deserve tolerance."

Ex Utero said...

I have given up on the liberal label. I've been an independent for four presidential elections and I think "moderate" is the right label to build a party under. Why can't we build a viable three party system in this coutry?

Anonymous said...

I apologize for the off-topic post here, but this is truly shocking.

Keith Olbermann had his staff look into the relationships between politically sensitive news and official DHS elevated threat-level warnings. What they found is stunning. In almost every case an elevated threat alert was preceded by some piece of politically damaging or unfavorable piece of news for the White House, often unrelated to security matters.

Now, obviously, correlation in time does not *necessarily* indicate causality, but as Kieth says, nor does it exclude it. This looks very bad. I’ll put money on another big national threat breaking just before the November elections.

Find the clip here:


Xactiphyn said...

Just bumped into this post by Andrew Sullivan and thought it apropos to our conversation:

It may be that turning conservatism into a religiously-centered Southern-based, big-government movement makes electoral sense. I doubt it. But my objection to it is not that it hinders Republican dominance, but that I disagree with it. I believe in a separation of church and state, balanced budgets, low taxes, law that is as neutral as possible between competing moral and religious claims, and a "leave-me-alone" presumption when it comes to government power. And I'm sick of being told that excludes me from being conservative any more. I venture to suggest I'm not the only one.

Other than the realization that there are some good things government can do at a large scale: social security, minimum wage, etc., I fail to see how he isn't describing Liberalism.

Ken said...

Opinion polls show relentlessly that a majority of the American people prefer Democratic policies in general - not only the classic ones (protecting the environment, civil rights, compassion) but also as they were modified by Bill Clinton, to include prudent deficit-cutting, strengthening alliances, government efficiency, taking advice from serious science, reducing secrecy, and a generally positive attitude toward incremental progress in meeting human needs.

To date the American Democratic Party has been unable to generate a simple message with broad appeal that sums up your paragraph above.

The founders of our country were Liberals -- capital "L" Liberals. They were able to sell their radical ideas to the public through one unifying message: "Honest, hardworking Americans are getting the shaft."

This is pretty much the opposite of Rove's Big Tent strategy: "If you believe in any of our 'Conservative' ideals, then you are a Conservative and should look the other way while we screw people."

Anonymous said...

David I think you are overstating your case. Of your first three examples

- oppose the Iraq War
- welcome immigrants
- support the undiluted right to abortion

I personaly know “liberals” who hold to these views yet are still accepted “tent” of the community.

Plus if you look at effctive liberals in the past such as ‘King Gahndi, and Chavez, they were very intolerent of those who thought that violence was a aceptable stratgy. Yet they accomlished exponentaly more than the lukewarm liberals of today.

The progresives have been too acomidating accepting millitant people like Ward Chuchal and certan violent anti-globalists as authenitc liberals when in fact they follow a deeply conservitive impluse to take back what used to be theirs. That is the antipithy of the definition of liberal. If he were realy generous he whould give up claims to tribal lands and give them to other poor and needy people. The anti-

D R Wilson said...

I have spent much time trying to figure the tent that would hold my views. Spent much time reading TruthOut, MoveOn, etc...agree with many of the viewpoints...but have some 'conservative'(read moderate) views that do not mesh well with the assigned liberal outlook as perscribed in these blogs. Though this does not force me to look in the other does make me suspect.

Have been reading this blog for some time now and find it to be more in line with my political views than either TruthOut or MoveOn. Agree to your theory of addiction to righteous indignation...and to the fact that both Dems and Gops are dangerously addicted to it.

Thanks for shining your light on this darkness that has befallen us.

Tony Fisk said...

- priMal
What correlation is there between damaging politics and Bin laden 'sightings'?

(eg just prior to 2004 election, up he pops wondering why americans continue to support Bush. I don't know how much bogeyman status Bin Laden actually has with you folks, but what do you think the likely knee jerk response is to any words of wisdom he might have? Do you not think he's asked the same question?)

Anonymous said...

@ primal

You are right - correlation is not causation. I think the issue is that there are so many missteps by the Administration that any time something causes an elevation in the threat alert it is likely to have been preceded by a misstep. Heck, any time anything happens it is likely to have been preceded by a political blunder from the White House.

That said, I do expect an increase in the number of talk shows, interviewees, editorials, etc. that will mention or focus on the threat of terrorism, and how we can't relax our vigilance just because there hasn't been an attack on us.

So, still slimy and manipulative, but I don't thing this particular correlation offers anything valuable.

Deep Thought said...

Just two things;
First, the Democratic party's history with civil rights is a lot more negative than you seem to think. The history of the Democratic Party and Jim Crow laws, segregation, and opposition to the Civil Rights act is pretty clear, especially to those of us who live in the South. Heck, its current history with racism isn't any better, in my opinion.

Second, you seem to be misrepresenting the First Crusade as some sort of xenophobic expedition launched just because there were 'others' somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Sounds to me like you're actually talking about the Libertarian Party rather than the Democratic Party. ;)

Still, I've never voted for a Republican, since I have yet to ever find one that agreed with most of my views AND that I felt I could even remotely trust to not be lying to me. Democrats at least have a slightly better record and I've tended to be more willing to vote Democratic. Still, these days, I just can't bring myself to support either of those parties. My consicense jsut won't let me do it. So either I don't vote at all, or I keep working at improving the Libertarian Party (whose views I do agree with at least 90% of the time... far more than either of the big two). Sure folks might claim I'm wasting my vote, but is it better to vote for the lesser of two evils, simply not vote for evil at all (by voting Libertarian) and at least register something for a vote, or to not vote at all? Seems to me that not voting at all isn't getting the message across so I only have one choice left.

Now if only we could get the LP to follow the advice you're giving the Democratic Party. ;) (They are getting better, though!!)

David Brin said...

Lenny thanks, but let's get something straight.

My criticism of the Dems-liberals is aimed at improving their tactical success. Because right now the Democratic Party is the only institution on this planet preventing the slide of our civilization into a feudal dictatorship.

They are filled with countless faults. But they are large, organized, largely honest and dedicated to the general notion of a modernist and egalitarian and open American state. If they win, secrecy will fall and institutions will do their jobs and elections will becomes honest again.

It would not be paradise! Libertarians and others will have countless POLICY complaints. But policy is not the issue right now. We are in a crisis of POWER and your worry has to be basic.

Can we maintain a society of freedom and accountability AT ALL?

It really is down to that. So stop calling them 'both the same." That my have been true to a libertarian during Clinton-Dole. It may be true again when honest conservatives reclaim the GOP... if that is even remotely possible now.

But not now. Right now we had better pray the Dems get their act together.

Anonymous said...

Ho David, do you have some sort of a problem with "meta" critiscism?

Quoting from Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century

People in the United States have a broadly similar attitude toward politics with people of the Soviet Union. In the U.S., this is often referred to as "voter apathy", but it might be more accurately described as non-voter indifference. The Soviet Union had a single, entrenched, systemically corrupt political party, which held a monopoly on power. The U.S. has two entrenched, systemically corrupt political parties, whose positions are often indistinguishable, and which together hold a monopoly on power. In either case, there is, or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it organized itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike.

In the U.S., there is an industry of political commentators and pundits which is devoted to inflaming political passions as much as possible, especially before elections. This is similar to what sports writers and commentators do to draw attention to their game. It seems that the main force behind political discourse in the U.S. is boredom: one can chat about the weather, one's job, one's mortgage and how it relates to current and projected property values, cars and the traffic situation, sports, and, far behind sports, politics. In an effort to make people pay attention, most of the issues trotted out before the electorate pertain to reproduction: abortion, birth control, stem cell research, and similar small bits of social policy are bandied about rather than settled, simply because they get good ratings. "Boring" but vitally important strategic issues such as sustainable development, environmental protection, and energy policy are studiously avoided.

Anonymous said...

First off, Dr. Brin, others are starting to use your Platonist critiques of Bush's out-of-touch reality. William Saletan over at Slate, for one.

And now, some random comments.

Ex Utero said:
"Why can't we build a viable three party system in this coutry?"

Because elections in the US are winner-take-all, with a simple majority. Which naturally falls out to two parties, because if you add a third, you split the vote on one side, so the "side" that got the least votes ends up with the most votes. For third parties to be viable, we'd need to change how our elections work.

deep thought said:
First, the Democratic party's history with civil rights is a lot more negative than you seem to think. The history of the Democratic Party and Jim Crow laws, segregation, and opposition to the Civil Rights act is pretty clear, especially to those of us who live in the South.

I imagine you're referring to the Dixiecrats. The racist southern wing of the party that all moved over to become Republicans since the 60s and the Civil Rights Movement. The guys who couldn't stand to be Republican because it was the Republican Lincoln who won the Civil War and ended slavery. So they joined the Democrats, who were a weird mix of Dixiecrats and mostly northern union/populist folks. And then Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy of pandering to white southern racists lured the Dixiecrats into the Republican fold.

Are those the Democrats you're talking about with a troubling stance on civil rights?

Brother Doug said:
The progresives have been too acomidating accepting millitant people like Ward Chuchal and certan violent anti-globalists as authenitc liberals when in fact they follow a deeply conservitive impluse to take back what used to be theirs.

Ward Churchill? The college professor nobody'd even heard of until Rove and his crew decided to start trumpeting him from the highest rooftops and talk shows as the example of how evil liberals are? While all the liberals were going "Who Churchill? Who are you people talking about?"

And oh no, those "violent anti-globalists" who carry giant puppets and launch teddy bears into G8 meetings. How could we have been so blind! Hang on. What violence have they been responsible for, exactly? Trashing a couple of Starbucks and McDonalds during the Seattle protests years ago? And getting into scuffles with cops at protests. And... I can't think of anything else. And meanwhile, the Republicans keep baiting racists, encouraging apocalyptic theocons, bashing gays, and formenting anti-immigrant feeling. The closest thing I can think of on the "left" side to an actual terrorist group is the Animal Liberation Front goofballs, who broke into labs and freed the animals. Are they even still around? In the meantime groups on the "right" have blown up federal buildings, targeted doctors for assassination, and imported mobs to intimidate vote-counters. Yet somehow, it's the "loony liberals" who're violent and dangerous. I call bullshit.

Mark: Andrew Sullivan is... odd. I mean, right after 9/11 and through the runup and beginning of the war in Iraq, he was calling liberals traitors, cowards, terrorist sympathizers, etc. I think it was the combination of the torture scandals in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere (which STILL haven't been prosecuted, or even stopped!) and the Republican party's systematic bashing of gay people going into the 2004 election that snapped him. And the utter disaster the war was becoming then. He supported Kerry, and even a couple of days ago admitted Kerry had the right plan on fighting terroism. But he still feels this need to reflexively bash liberals every so often. I'm not sure if it's to look like he's pretending to stay balanced, or if it's reflex, or if it's just because he's so internalized the Republican caricatures of the labels liberal and conservative that even now, he can't see aligning himself with the liberals. Even when he admits we're right, and Bush is disasterously wrong. I think part of it is trying to claim Bush isn't a "real conservative" to try and peel the label off him and save it before Bush goes down in exploding flames. So he doesn't take his whole party and ideology with him.

Which, I suppose, is part of what Dr. Brin's been getting at.

On the other hand, there's posts like Josh Marshall's and Kevin Drum's posts about many radicalized or partisanized moderates. To quote Josh: "In any case, this is all a way of saying that in this all-or-nothing crisis the country has been passing through, I think it's made sense to line up with those who say, No. I guess I'm one of those partisanized moderates Kevin Drum has spoken of (not sure that's precisely the phrase he used.) That leads to a certain loss of nuance sometimes in commentary and a loss in the variegation of our politics generally. As a writer, often it's less satisfying.

But I cannot see looking back on all this, the threat the country is under, and saying, I stood aloof. "

Rob Perkins said...

Except for these groups, none of the "conservatives" gathered under Rove's Big Tent are getting a damned thing they wanted.

Incorrect. Half the country (at least!) wanted tax cuts, and they got it. It bears repeating that since Bush took office my personal income taxes went from about $3000 a year to $-1800.

That's right: They rigged it so that the upper-middle-class-with-kids gets AN EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT.

We're in our bread-and-circuses stage, now, in my opinion. Why fiscal conservatives of any other strip aren't screaming in outrage that someone making $85k/year with four kids (not my circumstance, but a good example) and a mortgage is getting an EIC-like payment is fully beyond me.

(And let's not even begin to talk about the dodges wealthy and well-organized immigrant organizations (not Latino) around my hometown are using to live in 3000 sq ft homes with three nice cars, while also somehow qualifying to enroll their kids into Head Start and get free lunches, an EIC, and zero-interest loan programs.)


The figures you give support David's worse-monsters case, but a difference of 2% of spending increases isn't going to endear me to the Dems' spending policies.

PLUS, it's disingenuous for your number crunchers to lay it all at the feet of just the Executive Branch. And for most of that time, the party with final say over the budget has not been the Republican Party alone. Up until 2000 that was shared by two parties, which considering the behavior of the Congress since then, is possibly an explanation why you don't get traction for saying so, and why Democrats can't claim to be fiscal conservatives.

@Stefan Perhaps the demagoguery worked on McCain and Kerry because people vote mostly on their judgements of character?

Mostly, though, I get soooooo tired of the laying-at-feet-of-only-the-President attitude whenever something goes off course. Especially U.S. fiscal policy. Half of *that* is in the hands of the Congress. The other half in the Federal Reserve.

Seth said...


You make a good point. Essentially the distinction between "Those who are not for us are against us" and "Those who are not against us are for us".

The first emphasizes difference and narrows boundaries, the latter softens the focus on differences and widens boundaries.

I think this operates in the political realm a bit differently than you suggest. Certainly the Republicans are quick to denounce and demonize people based on a single difference of opinion, like abortion or gay marriage.

The core paradox of the ruling coalition today is its marriage of God & Mammon: God talk for the poor, truckloads of money for the rich. Why that formula binds the upper income and lower income wings of the Republican party so successfully is what we need to understand better.

Part of the answer is the success Rove & co have achieved in positioning the Dems as "elitist". This works because the Democrats do *not* have a functioning class-bargain to match "God & Mammon".

Unions have long played the grassroots mobilization role for the Dems that mega-churches and "god talk" hot button issues now play for the Reps. But unions are shrinking while churches are growing and the relationship between elite dems and unions is in bad repair.

The collapse of communism has turned all the old political language of the left into "bad words" that don't resonate with the public any longer.

This brings us back to your inclusion/exclusion concept. Right and Left used to balance somewhat because the Left was propped up by essentially "socialist" ideas. Once that whole frame of reference is delegitimated in the public mind, we're left with "capitalism" to work with -- and by capitalism I mean the language about markets which was built by the Right to suit themselves back when the Left was preoccupied with building socialism/communism.

The challenge now is to reassert populist themes which relate to the underlying core values of the Left shorn of the old capitalism/socialism terminology. Because now nobody wants to be a "socialist". That's the core reason the Rove tent is big enough to govern. People are fleeing outdated language which they associate with Democrats without yet really understanding the limitations of the right-wing frame of reference.

Xactiphyn said...

Nate points out Josh Marshall's and Kevin Drum's posts about many radicalized or partisanized moderates. I also suggest reading interesting follow-ups by Digby and Ezra.

On the subject of redistricting, the recent (and premier) issue of The Democratic Strategist is all over the subject, beginning with The Redistricting Myth and followed by several rebuttals and discussion.

Anonymous said...


While I would certainly prefer to see the Dems in power, I'm still not convinced that they really are that different any more. So many Dems have been voting right alongside the Reps lately for everything from the un-Patriot Act to support of the the war in Iraq (without ever declaring War, of course.) Frankly I'm not convinced today's Democratic Party in a post-Bush world would really do enough to turn the tide.

Maybe I'm pie-in-the-sky on it, but to me it's almost like trying to vote between the Fascist Party of America and the Communist Party of Amerika. Maybe I agree mroe often with one party over the other, maybe I'd prefer gridlock between the two, but as long as I'm always being scared into voting one or the other then I cannot see a way that we will ever break the political duopoly that only ever seems to continue growing and growing and constantly impinging on giving Americans the freedoms to allow us to be modernists.

I can certainly see the logic of trying to work from within that system, but I don't see that it has ever really worked so far (*sarcasm* those libertarians in the Republican Party sure are doing wonders, aren't they! */sarcasm*). Of course working outside the system has had minimal success so far but there have been some indicators that we might be able to make some inroads. So do I vote what I despise, what I despise less but that MIGHT have a chance of turning a tide because everyone else who bothers to vote seems too damned scared to bother voting outside of those line, or do I vote my conscience and be an activist (even by proxy ;)) trying to convince others to set aside their fears and work towards breaking the two-party stranglehold on our political and philosophical psyche?

I'm not saying you shouldn't do the great work you are doing here convincing Dems and independents and disillusioned Reps from considering the how the Democratic Party can improve its position over the kleocrats we currently toil under. Only that you have not convinced me that I shouldn't also convince those folks that maybe they should put their money where their real convinctions lay and vote for parties and candidates that actually agree with their viewpoints. Too many Dems have sold-out to the neo-con agenda, IMHO. To me there really is barely a whit of difference between the two anymore. Sorry, that's just how it's looking to me.

David Brin said...

Lenny, again, this is not about the Democratic Party vs the Republican Party.

It is about the fact that a CRIMINAL GVANG has taken over the executive branch of the United States. They are supported by a wave of ZEALOTS who have taken over the other two branches of govt.

I care about the zealots. But first priority has to go to the gang. They are not conservatives... though they use that word better than Hitler used rhetoric of racial identity. They are thieves, on a raid.

You cannot get away with "they are all the same". We will not let you get away with that self-hypnotic bullshit. This is a crisis, fully as if the communists had put a Manchurian Candidate in the White House. It is that bad.

If the Dems take one branch of Congress, committees will restart. The OTSA will be re-established. Subpoenas will go out, hearings will be held and whistleblowers protected. That is important. It is very very important. It is more important than anything else.

Seth said...


There's an enormous difference between the parties on substance. Unfortunately, the Democrats have been slow to coalesce around a good strategy for being "in opposition". In the absence of a strong cohesive front on core issues, many Dems have adopted a fearful, CYA tactical voting pattern.

For example, I'm convinced a great many Democrats who supported the Iraq War resolution did so somewhat cynically -- they knew they'd be clobbered even worse at the polls in 02 if they didn't give George his "splendid little war" on Saddam. So they figured, "let it be on his head".

So call a lot of Dems craven, if you like. But they're worlds apart from the Republicans in actual beliefs.

In fact Dem. politicians will get a stiffer spine when there is a popular movement to fill the vacuum left by the fading unions. They get the confidence to be outspoken in opposition when they know they've got the troops to do major GOTV. Most Dem campaigns just don't have the institutionalized popular base needed to be vocal in opposition. They raise money from rich donors and then "Go On TV" instead of getting out the mass vote.

They need our help as much as we need theirs!

Anonymous said...

I think I've realized what really bugs me about this essay.

The title is dead wrong.

The habit it describes may be real, but it isn't unique to liberals, and it isn't their worst habit.

Their worst habit is not having the balls to confront the GOP spin machine.

Liberals should be just as persistent, and just as ruthless, in pushing their issues -- universal health care, abortion rights, a fair taxation policy -- as Conservatives are on their pet issues. If they get smeared, or misrepresented, they should get up and strike back.

Maybe this is why Micheal Moore or or MediaMatters are so hated by the right. It isn't that they are especially far to the left, it is that they are pugnacious and tenacious and effective.

David Brin said...

Stefan, you may be right. The problem is that Moore et al ARE playing into Rove's hands.

When the center is yours to take, just BEGGING to be taken... we should move to the LEFT???????

Dig it. We can pluck up twenty million American voters by attacking HARD... just as you recommend... on issues like the destruction of the US Army. The war waged by ball-less draft-dodging psychopaths against the US officer Corps. The vast debt and the failure to catch one mutant-tall Saudi terror hysteric.

If we attacked HARD on these, we could also slip in health insurance for all kids, Real energy research and mileage standards without taking a single hit.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree on the competence angle-of-attack. But it would have to be really well planned. You'd need to find spokesmen (and women) whose voting records don't lend themselves to "counter programming." (Damn, I hate "rider politics!")

Rob Perkins said...

He's not perpetuating it. He's on record as condemning it as utterly useless.

Personally I prefer to talk about government in terms of its branches: the President vs. Congress, parties vs. one another in Congress or during Presidential elections. As little "left vs. right" as possible. Even so, sometimes it serves as very useful shorthand.

Anonymous said...

While better arguments might sway the 2% of Americans who watch Battlestar Galactica...I think the Demos would win more if they managed to recruit better candidates.

The choices Americans, Canadians, Brits, Israelis, etc. get seem to be getting worse with each election.

I think the scrutiny of the press has driven away from politics everyone but bland drones who have never done anything wrong and thugs who are willing to do whatever it takes to cover up past mistakes...

Anonymous said...

I guess I can't seem to get my point across. I do understand the differences, but perhaps it is more a function of where I live that creates enough of a sameness factor for me that I still feel, at least here, that voting Dem (and let me reiterate that with no other choice I am far more likely to vote Dem... again I have NEVER voted Republican, I just don't trust them and this administration has proved to me why that is) will provide no true benefit when something like a true libertarian candidate is available.

I'm unwilling to be convinced that the ends (getting the Repugnicans out of power) will justify the means of prostituting my vote to a Democrat who will do just as much cronyism as the current thugs are doing. Then again, maybe its geography here since living in Louisiana the differences really are a lot, lot closer to being non-existent. We have no Ron Paul Republicans. We have no Feinstein Democrats. On so many levels party politics here are proving to be far too functionally similar.

When all is said and done I'm simply declaring that I'm still not convinced that the ends (getting the current thugs out of office) justify the means (convincing folks to vote Dem instead of convincing them to vote their consicence.)

By the way calling my statements bullshit does little towards persuading me of your point here. I'm telling you you haven't persuaded me yet, meaning I'm telling you I'm willing to accept a persuasive enough argument to convince me I'm wrong, so please go for it! Right now I'm saying that the fear of the current thugs won't persuade me to accept that acting on that fear alone is enough to make me do something contrary to my current inclination. (Just like adding more and more ridiculous security procedures at the airport is doing very little to prevent terrorism when compared to the invasion of personal rights that such measures instigate, IMHO.) Right now the cost:benefits ratio isn't to a point where you've convinced me I shoudl be working more within the Democratic Party as opposed to trying to make the Libertarian Party more viable.

Is that any clearer? Just trying a bit of CITOKATE of my own, here.

Anonymous said...

Doh! Feingold! I meant we have no Russ Feingold Dems here, not Feinstein. I don't know where my brain is today. ;/(For those not too familiar with either Ron Paul of Russ Feingold I tried to use examples of congressmen with strong libertarian leanings.)

Walid said...

Hi David and audience
I just wrote a piece on how the degree of accountability is key to distinguishing the Mr. Jeckyll view of Hezballah from the Mr. Hyde. IN case anyone is interested.

Ex Utero said...


I believe. I remember Perot and what he did to the system. So we can't have a three party system. It's either two or greater than three to be sustainable.

I agree strongly with Brin about the middle ground. Bush and the house are vulnerable on the military, they are vulnerable on foreign policy, they are vulnerable of fiscal policy, they are vulnerable on lobby reform, they are vulnerable on district gerrymandering, they are vulnerable on social security, they are vulnerable (in a big way) on health care, they are vulnerable on deficit spending and pork barrel projects, they are vulnerable on home land security (remember Katrina?). Dear God, is there any actually policy issue they got right?

Why in the world would the Democrats use the "A" word once in the next set of primaries? Stem cells are probably a winner. Integrity and Supreme court loading would be reasonable topics, but not abortion. It's only going to be a winner for Rove. If anything, liberals have lost voters on this issue because people are sick of it being used as a wedge issue, whereas conservatives go to their graves protesting about it.

Anonymous said...

A federal judge rules that Bush's warrantless wiretaps are unconstitutional, and in a very Brinnish turn of phrase announces:

"There Are No Hereditary Kings in America"

David Brin said...

Lenny, I do regret that I used “bullshit” but I won’t apologize, because there was nothing ad hominem about it. I was speaking to a general class of views that I believe are, in and of themselves, utter and complete donkey drek. If you choose to defend those views, be confident that I already know that YOU are not donkey drek! Just attending this blog is evidence that you are not.

Moreover, you CLAIM not to hold the very view that I called “bullshit”! So exactly what is my offense?

Nevertheless, I think you are the one who is just not listening. Take for example: “prostituting my vote to a Democrat who will do just as much cronyism as the current thugs are doing. “

Um.... exactly where - in what universe - is this true? Yes, I can well imagine that living in Louisiana can give one a jaundiced view and the LOCAL dems there may be corrupt. But, on the national scene, where is the evidence that democrats are EVEN ONE PERCENT as corrupt at the present clade of klepto neo feudalists who have seized control over Barry Goldwater’s party, quintupling both secrecy and the debt, replacing bid wars with no-bid contracts and making pork the law of the land?

Dig this (and WHY ARE NO DEMS SAYING THIS?) We were promised hundreds of INDICTMENTS of Clinton era officials, as soon as “honest Republicans” got control of Executive Branch filing cabinets. We were promised Clintonites hanging from every lamp post! Instead, the total number of indictments, for actual malfeasance in the performance of office, was the lowest in all of US history.

It was, in fact ZERO! That is none, nada, zip, nil. NONE!

And don’t think the bushites didn’t TRY. They spent billions trying to prove Cintonite malfeasance. Billions.


Have any of you ever seen such a number? Think about it. FBI guys, re-assigned from normal duties... during the run-up to 9/11?

Is there any conceivable more-smoking gun? Please ask around. Spread the word. Just that one factoid would be brutal.

So no, it just doesn’t work, Lenny. This era is NOT Clinton-Dole, when the disagreements were over policy. Or Clinton-Gingrich, when ideology played a role. This is not about policy or ideology or even POWER anymore.

It is about the very survival of democracy of freedom and of the Great Experiment. This is no matter of holding one’s nose and voting democrat.

It is a matter of vigorously and eagerly giving the democratic party every thing we can possibly give, praying that they at least retake Congress, so that we have a prayer of saving the United States of America.

And yes, that is exactly what’s before us right now. Absolutely not a scintilla less than that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am an exception, but I switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic party back in 2000 because I felt that they did have a 'bigger tent', and that I was essentially no longer welcome in the GOP as they were selling out the ideals I believed in: deficit reduction, counter terrorism (yes, people were aware of terrorism before 9/11. Some even remember the foiled millenium bomb plot thanks to adults like Clark and Beers who understand that simple quiet police work can often acompish far more than massive wars of choice. But I digress.), while playing up moralizing (hollow moralizing at that), and shallow appeals to greed. (tax cuts. Get your tax cuts.)

Of course, I suppose it wasn't that big of a switch. I was part of a vanishing breed - loosely termed the "rockefeller republicans". Though not really a vanishing breed, as one which had gradually shifted over to the DLC wing of the Democratic party as the GOP shfted from the "pro-liberty/self reliance" meme to the "God and country" meme.

Perhaps there are others out there like me. A "silent majority" as Nixon would have put it, who go largely unnoticed as we tend more often to speak calmly and with those who wish to discuss things civilly rather than scream at the top of our lungs to anyone within earshot. The ones who rove targets not to get our votes, but to get our disgust in hope that we stay home on election day.

Or perhaps I am simply a strange exception, a quirk in the process. Time will tell.

And I will show up and vote.

reason said...

CITIZEN James...
good for you. And after the election please take what remains of the Republican Party back, even if you have to split it. Democracy needs at least two alternatives.

Anonymous said...


The Democratic Party can't claim to fully be fiscal conservatives (although they are good at balancing budgets - both Clinton and Carter improved the budget balance, and the worst Democratic presidents since WWII have done only as much harm to it as the best Republicans) because they aren't. However, they are better fiscal conservatives than the Republican party. And in terms of keeping budgets balanced (as opposed to being tight fisted) they are fiscal conservatives.

Brother Doug:
Ward Churchill is certainly someone I'd never heard of until he was eviscerated for plagiarism - but I had certainly heard of his equivalents on the right such as Coulter. And as for the violent, I'll match the anarchists who trash McDonalds and Starbucks against the abortion clinic bombers.

jomama said...

I don't know why I bother posting in this Tower of Babel. I just can't help myself.

Your heart's in the right place, David. So are many others but almost no one sees that there is no political solution and that includes, coups, revolutions, reforms and elections of whomever. The aggrandizement of the Religion of Politics has been going on since Lincoln and those practicing it in any form are wearing the frocks and talking the talk.

It's all moot anyway.

Anonymous said...

I definitely didn't take the "bullshit" comment as any kind of personal attack. I only meant to suggest it's use, while certainly showing your level of commitment and concern to your position, doesn't necessarily help to convince the person you are trying to persuade. (Then again, I'm probably not the type of person you are necessarily trying to persuade, anyway, since I'm not longer a registered Dem and therefore have no real ability to influence Democratic Party policy to help them ensure success in the coming election.) So no harm no foul here, just offering some, hopefully, constructive criticism should it be of any use to you.

As for examples of Democratic corruption, let's not be niave. It exists all over (William Jefferson as only the most recent example, from my ever-more-embarrasing state, but I still love it here anyway. ;)) Of course as a regular reader I am also very familiar with your arguments about the Clinton administration and the blatant disregards of the current administration. I'm down with it, really I am!

But do I vote Dem (which in some races I likely will, mind you) instead of, say, Libertarian as the best option to unseat the insane thieves currently in power? Is it better to vote Dem, so I don't "waste" my vote, when a Libertarian is running for the same seat or do I vote Libertarian to try and bolster a fairly new resurgence of interest in libertarian ideals in this region (especially since this will be the first time since 1912 that a label other than Republican or Democratic will show up after a name on a Louisiana ballot)? This is where I am not convinced that voting Dem will be the right thing for me to do (or to convince others to do) mainly because the utter dissatisfaction with the current thugs in power, the wrongs they continually commit and the general distrust of the Democratic Party helps play into the hands of may, just maybe, finally being able to start the ball rolling to getting enough momentum behind a truly viable third party option. I may be completely and utterly wrong about that, but I believe so firmly in more of the philosophy of Libertarian Party then I do with either of the two currently in power that I can't help but think that I need to try. If I don't (meaning, in effect, that if I and many others don't) make that effort, don't push for our beliefs and go back to either voting AGAINST someone (rather than for a candidate) or not voting at all, then maybe we will never, ever be given a real choice in this country.

Maybe the Dems will be able to finally take something back from the current cads if I help bolster their cause, but will I only be slowing the tide? Maybe we could stem the tide of being a fascist state, but at the price of becoming a socialist one? I'd rather be in a socialist state rater than fascist one, mind you, but I prefer freedom to make my own mistakes over either of those choices.

So is the short term gain of slowing these moves to totalitarianism worth possibly further crippling the ideological movement I do support?

I do see what you are saying, but I'm not sure I can phiolsophically subjugate tossing out the Great White Shark that is so immediate a threat for a seeming kitty cat that is downright tame by comparison, but could easily grow into a man-eating Tiger down the road. When all the while I'd rather get some rational, enlightened, human beings into office instead.

No matter, though. I'll keep reading so long as you keep posting (over 99% of which I very often agree with and find your reasoning and style to be quite compelling in presentation.) So as long as you keep blogging you may yet persuade me.

P.S. I personally love it when the political lamp is lit. ;)

Seth said...


Tactical voting for a 3d party in your home state is not inconsistent with helping to put the Democratic party back in a position to check the Republicans' power.

Send all the messages you like, but please remember that divided government will ultimately be less capable of ruining our Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Smith,

Libertarian because it sounds like you don't have a complete conception of libetrtarain philosophy. While there are some anarchists who proclaim libertarianism as their persumed political philosphy of choice, to paint libertariansm with an anarchist brush, or to paint all libertarians as FIBMers, is definitively wrong.

To remove profit from the equation does little to remove the motivation for profit from the individual. Instead regulation and oversight have a definitive place in providing whatever may be decided as appropriate for providing public services. That does NOT mean the government should necesarily provide all of those services for us (and to date there are many areas where the government has shown itself to be exceptionally inept anyway) just as it does not mean that a blind market should be some kind of deciding factor. A FREE market, watched over to ensure a fair marketplace (as has often been discussed in the same thread you reference) is something Libertarains around here, at least, can certainly support.

Supporting Libertarians means I'm supporting folks who at least claim far more openly that they support moving our government to be much smaller then it currently is. That couldn't happen overnight anyway, but taking steps to get us there is far better, IMHO, then not moving there at all. Should those Libertarins then want to push at some later date for total anarchy, then at that point it will be time to me to vote for something else. Somehow I don't expect I'll have to worry about that in my lifetime.

Xactiphyn said...

If our political system were divided between Libertarians and Authoritarian Populists, I'd certainly be a Libertarian; at least I think I would depending on how the parties really shaped out. A moderate, 50% version of that party appeals to me.

But the real Libertarian party is mostly wackos and crazies. People talk of throwing away votes, but voting for someone you don't actually want to see in office, as any reasonable person would feel about an actual Libertarian candidate, is the hight of vote disposal. I guess a protest vote is better than no vote at all, but only in the margins.

Also, I agree with Andrew, "small government" is a red herring. The point is efficient government and maximizing the actual, real freedom of individuals.

On a related side note, whenever I try to determine what the best form of government should be based on first principles, I always end up at libertarianism. But I don't really believe in extreme libertarianism so I struggle to understand the disconnect. While I still don't have a great answer I think it ultimately boils down to one principle that in some ways directly contradicts pure libertarianism: we as a people have the right to determine our own destiny and what kind of society we want to live in. We don't have to leave it to the rich, or just the individual, we really do have the right to collectively choose a different path. The use of the word "right" might not make much sense to others, but for me it was really illuminating to think in those terms.

Anonymous said...

Libertarian because it sounds like you don't have a complete conception of libetrtarain philosophy. While there are some anarchists who proclaim libertarianism as their persumed political philosphy of choice, to paint libertariansm with an anarchist brush, or to paint all libertarians as FIBMers, is definitively wrong.

So you and David both claim. But I have yet to see an organised group of Liertarians who are anything other than extremists - and the difference between the moderate Libertarians I know of and those of my friends who identify as socialists is simply a matter of where you draw the line - or haggling over the price if you will. And the Libertarian party is definitely at the extreme end of Libertarianism.

It would be a cheap shot to quote Colbert's belief that if a government governs best when it governs least, contemporary Iraq has a superb government - but if we want economic freedom, the textbook example under the Transparency International rankings (and hence touted by both the Heritage Foundation and the Cato institute) is Hong Kong. Does this mean that due to massive economic freedom, Hong Kong is easy for businesses to operate in? Not a bit of it. It means that due to the massive economic freedom, the Hong Kong oligarchy can easily crush all competition - and people who are being crushed have no protection under the law.

As for the authoritarian and libertarian populists argument, if you were dealing with hard line examples of both, I would vote for George W Bush before I would vote for either group - and I would expect his administration to be more honest and more efficient. Which, given my opinions of the current American President is about as harsh as I can possibly be.

Libertarianism has two basic fallacies at the core of it - it assumes that everyone has good intentions, and it assumes that everyone has the strength and ability to take care of themselves (or persuade others to do so) on any playing field at all.

Anonymous said...

(Apologies to all others who may find all of this boring and off-topic and if you are not interested in libertarian philosophies and stuff, please skip on to the next posting.)


The national party platform for the LP is, especially right now, in heavy contention amongst Libertarians. The platform itself was heavily cut back on planks but, unfortunately, not a lot of wording was changed in the planks. If it were up to me the LP platform would probably consist of a statement of principles and leave all the rest to the candidates to work from. Dr. Brin has also been kind enough to link in previous postings here to the Libertarian Reform Caucus at for some other libertarian points of view and to show that there is a very real an growing movement within the LP to begin moving forward with a pragmatic, incremental approach to political action in a libertarian direction.

I agree the national platform is... somewhat odd, to say the least. Several of the state LP groups have a lot more consistent platforms. (I find the Louisiana one to be damned wordy, but pretty decent in all. I can only find a slightly older one online, though, at if anyone is interested.)

At any rate EVERY party has their extremists (the LP has just been small enough that ours sometimes show up a bit more glaringly). I would certainly encourage folks to do what many claim to do, which is to look at the individual candidates and see what their positions really are. Actual candidates tend to have a lot more consistent and moderate platforms then the national LP platform.

The concept of "small government", however, is really just a catchphrase, I believe. When we consider the legitimacy and role of government envisioned by enlightenment thinkers (the general model for out government which has proven to be quite successful when all is said and done) then government most likely would not play the role it currently does in so very many areas of our lives. Libertarian thought would generally accept the military, the judiciary and the police forces as an integral part of legitimate functions of government. Government as a protector of rights.

The welfare state, however, while I have no doubts was created as a function of concern and compassion for the well-being of our fellow citizens, is not necessarily something libertarians would consider and appropriate use of government. This is where the hard part for many folks comes in. That does NOT mean libertarians don't think we should not support our fellow man and our society, it only means they do not feel government (at least not NATIONAL government) should be involved in taking money away from any group of people and giving it to others in the name of charity. In all there are too many unintended consequences which begin to show up. The problem is it's not an easy "you're just being mean, we're being concerned and reasonable" kind of analogy. There is a lot more going on under there.

Certainly more then I can cover in a blog post like this and it's a bit off topic anyway. If I might suggest I greatly enjoy several blogs which often use language and rhetoric not too dissimilar to Dr. Brin's in getting many of these kinds of views across. I particularly like, and If you take some time and check out some of those posts and papers available at those sites it might give you a better idea of one of the more active currents in the libertarian movement (not to mention lots of smart folks explaining lots of those ideas a lot more in-depth.) If nothing else it's a different point of view to chew on and come up with better debating points against (and thereby lots of CITOKATE you can apply, or maybe be affected by from your own political philosophy).

BTW, the "real Libertarian" candidates being suggested as just whack-jobs may be true in some circumstance (and the same can be said for some candidates in ALL the parties out there) but I would certainly urge folks to really get to know a candidate and their positions, and more importantly the WHYs of their positions. Something that may sound a little oddball right up front (legalizing drugs?) may have a whole lot more meat to it once you dig in and find out the facts beyond the propaganda we have so often been fed. There are a LOT better Libertarian candidates out there these days. (Bill Pierce running for governor of Ohio, for example, or Bob Smither running for Congress to take Tom Delay's seat.)

Again, there are plenty of us who don't agree with those who do put their libertarian beliefs behind FIBM ideology. But even with many of those type I tend to agree with 80% or more of there overall philosophy, yet find myself only agreeing with 60% of the Democratic agenda and only 30% (or less) of the neocon Republican BS. So even if I think 20% of some libertarian's positions are junk I still end up agreeing with far more of their position then with the other guys. So why would I, in good conscience, vote for any of the other guys?

Anonymous said...


Sorry, but I consider myself a libertarian and I just don't agree with your assessement at all. (The LRC linked in my last post is an example of the non-extremist postion, for example). While anarchist and minarchist versions of libertarianism may well insist on belief of the basic good of man, libertarian philosophy in general actually acknowledges the opposite. That government, as Jefferson said, is a necessary evil. An entity required to ensure that those who would interfere with our rights are held accountable. Somebody's gotta keep the thugs and con-artists in line and libertarianism accepts government in that role. I guess you and I aren't talking to the same libertarians. (Although if you say Dr. Brin and myself both make the same claim about how libertariansim should work, when done in a pragmatic fashion, doesn't that mean you already know at least two folks who are at least libertarian leaning that don't agree with your assessment of libertarianism? I suggest we are not an anomoly. Follow some of the links above with an open mind and debate THOSE libertarians, give them some CITOKATE and see if you can fix their errors.)

Anonymous said...

I think this will be the last I post on it, since it's broken down really to my opinion and is more a conversation between me and Andrew now and I'm starting to feel like I've hijacked the thread.

Andrew said: "I just can't take seriously any party that would, in one fell swoop, get rid of the EPA, SEC, Dept of Education, FDIC, FDA, etc.

Can You? Does it disturb you that your party is represented as wanting this?"

Doesn't distrub me at all. Can you concieve of resons why some, even most, of those departments, being run by government, have failed to provide a greater public good? Do we need our government, as opposed to some other entity, to do all of those things? Certainly there are some functions provided within each of those agencies that falls into what I might consider a legitimate function of government, such as regulatory oversight to ensure a fair, free market and to protect against those folks who might infringe upon our rights. What I question more is why folks like yourself do NOT question the functions of those agencies. Are they efficiently providing the services needed? Are they doing so in a manner that warrants taking money away from everyone to ensure all of our rights are protected, or are they taking it from the many to give to the few? Do you belive that those agencies, simply by virtue of being government agencies (and presumably not motivated by monetary gain, which is quite a debatable point on its own) always act int he best interests of everyone? That none in the agency are corrupt or would use their positions for their own gain?

Frankly I know of quite a few other ways the majority of services by virtually all of those agencies can be provided more efficently at a lower cost, but those agencies would all need to be trimmed down greatly or even eliminated. Yes I KNOW how crazy that may sound to some folks, but it seems to me it only sounds crazy because some are unwilling to look into and consider that there really are alternatives out there.

As a final note I would always ask that when all is said and done we give government one ultimate power that we (except in a few specific circumstances) do not allow ourselves. We have given government the right to use lethal force against us where deemed necessary. (Hopefully we keep the use of that right very tightly controlled, but it doesn;t always happen.) What that means is that when all is said and done every law we pass, every regulation we ask government to enforce, every cent the government collects to provide us services (especially services unrelated to the protection of our rights) are all enforced at the end of the barrel of a gun. Admittedly MOST crimes will only net a fine, or community service or even jail time, but every arrest has the potential for deadly force linked to it. Is it worth holding a gun to someones head to make them pay for a stamp on food that the FDA says is or is not "safe" for our consuption? Is it right to have a government oversight board that tells us what we can and cannot put into our own bodies, all at the point of a gun, in ultimate terms? It's one thing to prevent, for example, a canned peach company from selling poisoned peaches as it they were the best thing in the world for you, but that same agency delays life-saving medicines from getting to people who are willing to take the possible risks involved with those medicines. As long as the consumer is informed of the risks, then I feel it's up to the consumer to decide what does and does not constitute acceptable risks for what goes into their bodies.

Every agency you list has alternatives. Is it so impossible to concieve that those alternatives can work outside of being governmental agencies?

Anonymous said...

Let me add one thing. I don't think the instant abolishment of those agencies would necessarily be appropriate or even a good thing, which is unfortunately how those planks seem to all come off. Instead I think it more appropriate to begin scaling them back and taking efforts to increase transparency and accountability in those agencies. IN the long term we may well be better off without those agencies, but peraonally I'd prefer to take steps towards that direction rather then simply removing them altogether, and that's where I think a lot of folks can;t concieve of hte LP paltoform. They see it as a call for "anarchy next wednesday" and don't bother to find out the reasoning behind those planks rather then viewing them as a likely ultimate goal that would require a time and effort to move towards those ideals at an appropriate pace. (Don't get me wrong, some would prefer instant dismantling of those agencies, but I'm not sure I would say that a majority of libertarians would expect that to be an appropriate action.)

Woozle said...

For Dr. Brin, on the subject of gerrymandering – thought you might like this:

The Vanishing Voter: long article in The Independent about gerrymandering and other systematic political corruption in North Carolina government. "The real scandal ... is the way our legislators have systematically removed voters from the legislative elections process while giving themselves completely safe districts to run in." Maybe folks are catching on? (Or maybe Geary reads Brin... he certainly seems a progressive sort, anyway; he has also written extensively about the BS we've been running into around here trying to get commuter rail started before they finally pave over the last stand of trees with McMansions and multilane highways.)

I'll try to repost this the next time it's relevant, since it's not strictly on-topic this time and is also at the end of a long string of comments.

Anonymous said...

Ok, one last comment, then. You assume GOVERNMENT is the one that must provide those services. I didn't say those services were not needed, only that government is not the only answer to provide them.

Anonymous said...


Can you name a single society that didn't form a government that provided services?

I think if the libertarians want to prove their system works...they're gonna have to all pitch in and buy an island somewhere...and live in government-free bliss.

I see a kind of Lord of the Flies society coming from the great libertarian experiment...but you guys could prove me wrong!

Here's a little help:

Anonymous said...

Monkeyboy, you're making the same mistake many other have done so far, that I have tried to explain but appear to be failing to do so. Libertarianism is NOT anarchy. It accepts government as a necessary evil that MUST exist to provide some services. SOME libertarians are anarchists, but MOST are definitively not. And when all is said and done I'm talking about pragamatic, incremental libertarianism anyway (the scaling back of services to see which one we really do or do not need our government to provide.) Personally I prefer cutting welfare from the top down (a reduction in corporate welfare/subsidies before we ever think about affecting welfare for the poor) and providing tax relief from the bottom up. I don't see either party talking about anything like that, only from Libertarians.

(Drat, you got me posting again! Grrr... At least the main blog topic has changed.)

Anonymous said...

I didn't say I hadn't met any Libertarians who think as you do - I said that I hadn't met any organised group of Libertarians who think as you do. There is a huge difference.

The FDA, EPA, SEC, and other regulatory bodies need to remain under government rather than corporate control - their first and foremost responsibility must be towards protection of the public rather than making an profit - and by the very nature of such bodies, they are monopolies - and a corporate monopoly is a very scary thing. (Even as government entities, the FDA and others are hardly independent of corporate influence - and the FDA probably does more harm by legalising drugs that don't work than by being slow at evaluation). And all such regulatory bodies need the power to enforce their regulations - and I'd rather have that in government than private hands. (I can definitely see the case for the FDIC being privatised if you don;t want it to be comprehensive).

Private only education has been tried. It doesn't work well. Private healthcare is quite simply less efficient and less cost-effective than state provided healthcare (to the point that you guys pay more in taxes towards healthcare than we do). Doubts about this almost invariably come from the Cato institute or other such bodies being their efficiently corporate funded selves.

It is not that government is the only entity that can provide services to the entire population - but for anything that looks remotely like a monopoly, the government is the only entity that is not certain to exploit and screw those it is providing the service to. Charities don't work comprehensively and businesses are in business to make a profit - and that means that if you hand them a monopoly, they are going to squeeze - and if you hand them regulatory and enforcement powers, they are going to effectively run a protection racket.

It's not that I can't see the Libertarian ideas working. It;s that with my knowledge of history, I have seen most of them played out in the real world - and there's a damn good reason we moved away from them.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

- just one example of what happens when you don't have a lot of government mandated laws to protect workers rather than simply letting "agreements" sort out wages.

David Brin said...

You are all being very bright.

I'd form a moderate-modernism party if I thought there to be a chance. Maybe later.

Right now, we need to save the Enlightenment. Only one institution on Earth can (and will) do that. The Democratic Party.

Period. Stop waffling. If one House starts up committees again, we might be saved. How else do you plan to do that?

as for the libertarians and "pragmatic-incrementalism" See my four parter about THIS VERY SUBJECT at

Anonymous said...

Show where that Gulag that Karl Rove built is situated.

Guantanamo Bay?

Anonymous said...

Undisclosed Locations in Europe, Pakistan, and elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I'll be happy to comment further on practical libertarianism for those interested in continuing the discussion via email (including a few of the misnomers that keep persisting here.)

Anonymous said...

Whew! 78 comments???? I hereby swear I have done my best not to tell you something you’ve already heard! I am in agreement with Mark who points out how much harder to herd liberals are and how meaningless the word conservative has become.

But here is my main point: am I not ultimately responsible for my own beliefs and opinions?

Are you honestly claiming that the Democrats and Liberals have been too strident? That we have not been welcoming enough? How have we become so weak that we don’t claim our right to free association? I have needed no one’s permission to be a liberal or a democrat EVER. It is not something I determine by friendships, nor have I ever needed anyone to tell me what my beliefs are, nor validate them for me. And here is the real sin of our nation, we have forgotten how to be discerning with our opinions. We are lazy, ignorant, apathetic and anxious to blame everyone but ourselves for our problems. But this is one that you’re not pinning on me. My personal theory is that this is due to our cultural mores on discussing religion and politics.

You said:
“Despite all of the relentless evidence that we are being ruled by kleptocrats, hypocrites, neo-feudalists and outright morons, millions of decent Americans have nevertheless clustered inside a big tent that stinks to high heaven! A tent they despise. But where they sit in misery, because they are offered nowhere else to go!”

Well, why don’t they leave? The helplessness and misery you describe they are manufacturing for themselves. You may have described something that happens, and it may be what is losing elections. But this tent building has made the Conservatives monstrous, and I think the Liberals are not immune to becoming monstrous if they also lower the bar for what it means to be Liberal. And those souls feeling stuck in the Conservative tent because some Liberal was snotty about their opinions I feel sorry for, because they will just wander into the first tent with an empty seat. Pandering is just as destructive as mean-minded dogmatism. I’m an agnostic… but I am not going to start claiming I see Jesus just so Christians will talk to me. Karl Rove is just our era’s P.T. Barnum- he’s getting butts in the pews, but the butts he gets there I’m not sure I want in my tent. Even now, the Neo Cons are imploding because they require more than faith in the party… now they require a studious ignorance of the poor results of their choices.

The meme I think we want is American. I am an American, and these things I hold dear I don’t label Liberal or Conservative… Americans need no kings and we can handle the unvarnished truth.