A Few Political Predictions

I predicted that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 Presidential race, so let that be a warning to you.

1.  The 2014 and 2016 elections will not be good for Democrats.  I don’t say this in a juvenile spirit of “Oh yeah, well we’re going to beat you next time, so there!”  Rather, I say this because the sixth year of a Presidency is historically brutal on the sitting President’s party.  This is merely a function of our tendency as an electorate to blame the current government for everything we think is wrong with the country at the moment.  Of course, the current party in power managed just fine on November 6th, despite a general pessimism about the current state of the economy, but there were a number of anomalies in the 2012 election.  Barack Obama is a popular President with a loyal base.  This was not true of Jimmy Carter or George Bush Sr.  There were also a number of major stumbles on the Republican side, most prominently the rape comments of Todd Akin and Richard Murdock, that tipped several races to the Democrats.  Without the aid of a popular President at the top of the ticket, however, the down ticket races in 2014 will be far more vulnerable, especially if Republican candidates begin to restyle themselves in a Libertarian direction (more on that in a moment).

And consider this:  In 2004, even after the seemingly ubiquitous outrage over the “warmongering” of George W. Bush, his portrayal in the media as a buffoon and Texas oil man who acted solely in his own interests, etc, he still won reelection by a healthy margin, with more votes than he received in 2000.  This could easily have been taken as a sign that America was doubling down on conservative social values and foreign policy, and yet just two years later in 2006 the House and Senate swung over to the Democrats.

This first prediction is the most provisional.  I’m far from certain that it will come true.  I can just as easily see the Democrats holding on to the Senate and gaining a few more seats in the House, but all this depends on what sort of candidates the Republicans nominate, which brings me to my next few predictions.

2.  Republicans will begin to favor the legalization of marijuana.
3.  Republicans will distance themselves even more from gay marriage, or say that it should be a state issue.

Both of these issues fall generally under the umbrella of Libertarianism.  Much of the Libertarian platform is popular with young voters (especially marijuana, and the “war on drugs” in general).  During the Republican primaries, the Ron Paul folks were fond of sharing polls that showed Ron Paul beating Mitt Romney among young and Independent voters, despite the argument that Romney was the more “electable” candidate.  Since Romney lost the youth vote in a major way, you can bet people will turn to Libertarianism as an easy solution.  There are plenty of conservative pundits, like Hugh Hewitt, who will continue to argue that issues like gay marriage are important to our society and shouldn’t be abandoned, but I have a gut feeling that his is the losing voice.

My final two predictions are more questions than actual predictions, so I won’t number them.  They concern immigration and abortion.  There is an impulse within Libertarianism towards something like open boarders, but this is one Libertarian position I suspect will not gain much ground by 2016.  Boarder security and illegal immigration have more to do with Mexican drug cartels and Islamic terrorism than whether an undocumented high school student should be allowed to stay in America so she can attend college.  Thus, while I suspect that “amnesty” in one form or another will begin to gain popularity, I doubt that Republicans will start getting too “soft” on immigration.  I say this is a question and not a prediction, though, because I have no idea what form Republican immigration policy will actually take.  There must be a better way to frame the debate than simply “pro-immigration” vs. “anti-immigration”, but I don’t know what it is.

Lastly, I am equally agnostic about the future of the abortion issue.  The Akin and Murdock fiascos demonstrated what should have been obvious already, that we must speak knowledgeably and with clarity about this issue, and candidates who do not are doomed to die the death of a thousand sound bites.  I still believe that this issue is different from the gay marriage issue, however.  For one thing, while public opinion appears to be racing towards gay marriage, the indications are that support for abortion, especially unrestricted or “elective” abortion, is slowly receding.  Moreover, the same Libertarian impulses we have been discussing do not apply to abortion, as we now have another human being involved, and her freedom and right to life is (at least arguably) of equal value.

This will be (I hope) my last political post for a good long while.  It’s time to take a break from politics and start picking some theological fights instead.  I’m sure I will revisit these things in 2014.  If every single one of these predictions turns out to be wrong, I will get out of the game altogether.  If just one is right, however, I will do as the professionals do and act as though it proves my clairvoyant powers.

What do you think?  Any predictions of your own?  Do you think my predictions are completely off base?  Let me know in the comments.

An Appeal To The Christian Left

For a large number of conservatives who were expecting Mitt Romney to win the election last week, day one of the Romney Presidency was also going to be day one of a concerted loyal opposition effort.  A good deal of conservatives were unhappy with the Romney nomination.  Not just the Ron Paul people, but also the Santorum-or-Gingrinch-or-anyone-but-Romney contingent.  They feared that Romney was a big government moderate merely posing as a conservative.  That is the main reason that enthusiasm for Romney among the Republican base was so tepid until the last month of the campaign.  The conservative base, especially the “Tea Party” movement, was expecting Romney to go back on all of his major promises, such as lowering taxes across the board and repealing Obamacare.  They were especially worried that his most important goals, lowering the deficit and balancing the budget, would fail to be acheived if he allowed himself to get mired in business-as-usual in Washington rather than holding fast to principle.  As such, those who were willing to vote for him (more in opposition to Obama) were gearing up for a (loving) fight.

Before the election, and now in the days following, I have not seen this kind of principled committment coming in large measure from the Left.  President Obama is still “their guy”, and the vibe I get is that opposition to those dangerous, wild-eyed conservatives is so important that showing anything less than total confidence in the Democrats’ agenda would be too harmful.  One notable exception I’ve seen is this article in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf.  Friedersdorf is a liberal and makes no secret of his loathing for Republicans, but he essentially says that when it comes to foreign policy and the dangerous misuse of executive power, President Obama is far worse than any Republican (including Bush) and a principled liberal cannot enthusiastically endorse him.

The election is over and Mr. Obama is President once more, so this is no longer a question of support through voting.  Now the question is this:  Will those on the Left be willing to oppose the President when his agenda, either foreign or domestic, does not coincide with their own values and principles?  And more importantly, will liberals be willing to engage in the bipartisanship and compromise that they so often rail against the Right for failing to embrace?  My hope is that they will.

To be clear, I am not simply asking for liberals to become conservatives.  Those who believe in the necessary use of more government power, including increased taxes, for the common good of the people, especially the poor and disenfranchised, can still maintain that principle while refusing to accept as good every single use of that government power by those currently in office.  You can support Obamacare without supporting the attendant HHS regulations that would violate the religious liberty of Catholic institutions by forcing them to pay for birth control and abortions.  For that matter, you can fully support the availability and use of contraceptives without embracing wholesale the current narrative of the Left that any restrictions whatsoever on who has to provide and pay for them is a “war on women.”  In that sense, I simply call on my brothers and sisters on the Left to show discretion and wisdom, and not get caught up in the sound bite culture of political discourse.

If you’re wondering why the title of this post is aimed specifically at Christians, the answer is two-fold.  The first is abortion.  All Christians, Left or Right, must affirm the infinite worth of the human soul as well as a Christian sexual ethic (sex only within the bonds of marriage, generally, though not exclusively, for procreation).  There are still details that can be argued here.  Christians can disagree, in good faith, about whether the soul enters the child’s body at conception or at some later point, and also about what “personhood” means scientifically and philosophically, so I don’t want to get bogged down in those things here.  However, I believe that a general acceptance of the two things I just mentioned necessitate some form of pro-life view and a rejection of most of the assumptions of the pro-choice view.  At the very least, I see no reason why professing Christians on the Left should oppose something like a partial-birth abortion ban, or why they would whole-heartedly embrace the attitude that there is nothing wrong with “elective” abortion (that is, abortion for no other reason than the current material convenience of the parents), especially in the second half of pregnancy.

Perhaps even more interesting is the question of why the Democratic party has become the pro-choice party to begin with.  Democrats are (or claim to be) the party of the disenfranchised and those without a voice.  They value community over individualism, the good of others over the absolute rights of self.  Why on earth, when it comes to abortion, are they suddenly so radically individualistic (in the case of the mother) and absolutely uncaring toward the one party in the whole situation with no voice of her own?

In this light, abortion really ought to be the easiest point of agreement between Left and Right.  Why isn’t it?

Second, as those who share a transcendent faith in Christ, Christians on the Left and the Right ought to be able to come together and view their political differences in light of their religious commonalities.  In that sense, I actually think the church can set a good example for the rest of the country in how to engage in meaningful bipartisan cooperation.

My plea, then, is simple.  To my Christian brothers and sisters on the Left, do not merely celebrate the victory of “your guy” and avoid the difficult work of being a light in a dark world.  That darkness is present everywhere that Christ is not acknowledged as Lord, whether on the Right or the Left.  Please let wisdom and discernment win out over a party politics run almost exclusively by secular agendas.

If “my guy” had won, I would want the same admonition, and I genuinely I hope I would listen.

Mitt Romney: Lesser Of Two Evils?

Since the Republican Presidential primaries I have heard many conservatives threatening to withhold their vote from Mitt Romney in the November election, either because he is not conservative enough or simply because he is not Ron Paul.  Such sentiments are typically based upon principle alone, or else sending some sort of message to the “establishment.”  I fear that this sentiment is, as the wise man once said, allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Continue reading Mitt Romney: Lesser Of Two Evils?

An Affair to Remember in Words Soon Forgotten

An entire year of planning goes into the brief, televised announcement. A network of hundreds of experts vet every point. Presentation is everything.  The words, carefully chosen, have the power to define the successes of the last year and set expectations for the next. But after countless hours of wrangling decisions, the audience gathered, the cameras turned on, and the show began. At 5:30am Pacific time, Mo’Nique and Tom Sherak announced the nominees for the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

Oh, and another big event happened Tuesday, too: President Obama’s State of the Union Address. At first, I thought Tuesday was merely a serendipitous convergence of the outlying regions of my geekdom. A film snob policy wonk who dreams of running away to the White House anytime she watches the West Wing can’t ask for a better news day. But more than just the sheer fun of it, Tuesday taught me something about the two events. They are more similar than you’d think.

Both events began as relatively small affairs. Article II Section 3 of the Constitution mandates that the president

shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

George Washington delivered the first on January 8, 1790, though then it was called the President’s Annual Message to Congress. It was 1, 089 words long, delivered to 81 members of Congress in New York City. It probably took seven to ten minutes for him to read it. Until 1923 when Calvin Coolidge’s became the first address broadcast over the radio, the address was a low-key speech between the president and Congress that laid out the president’s legislative agenda for the coming year. As in so many things, the advent of telecommunications changed its nature entirely.

Likewise, the Oscars began as a modest brunch in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in 1929. Douglas Fairbanks and William C. deMille hosted the event. It was a private affair (tickets were $5 per person), and fifteen people were honored for their work from 1927 – 1928. Everyone knew who’d won because the winners had been announced three months earlier. For the next few years they withheld the names until the late edition newspaper the night before, and in 1941 they introduced the sealed envelope to increase suspense (and attendance).

Both events scarcely resemble their modest origins. I had the chance to attend the Oscars last year, and it’s a machine worthy of the most robust entertainment industry in the world. An Oscar nomination means millions in DVD sales, an Oscar win even more. The entire gathering is a showcase for studios, a runway for designers, fodder for the gossip mills, and the best networking opportunity of the year for filmmakers. Try as other awards might, they don’t compare to Hollywood’s big night.

Not that the Oscars mean much when it comes to the quality of the winning films. Though there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance about the value of the craft and prestige of the selection process, any organization that would nominate James Cameron’s Avatar for Best Picture has left artistry and cinematic excellence off its priority list. They may be bigger than ever, but the Oscars are just advertising with a black tie dress code.

The same could be said of the State of the Union Address. Every year since Woodrow Wilson set the precedent of delivering the address in person, presidents have had the annual chance to lend their voices and charisma to their legislative agenda, and for most of the 20th century it has been more for the benefit of the national audience than Congress. The event has become a campaign stop in our bloated campaign seasons that force politicians to start running for reelection before they’ve had a chance to move in to their offices. As such, it’s nearly impossible for the State of the Union to transcend mere branding of the party in power.

President Obama’s State of the Union was more of the same. I seriously considered running my review from last year’s address because so much of the speech was, point for point, repetition. That’s hardly the president’s fault: at best, a great State of the Union Address is a laundry list of policy achievements and goals sprinkled with sparkling rhetoric. It’s a pep rally for the presidency, and like the Oscars, has lost most of its true significance over the years. For the next few news cycles, pundits and politicians on the right will try to follow Representative Ryan’s example and paint the president as a leftist radical bent on the financial ruin of America, while in reality this speech was even more fiscally conservative than last year’s address (which didn’t seem possible). Left-leaning commentators will tout the bold proposals of a successful president and try to remind voters of Representative Bachmann’s nonsensical, bizarre response to downplay Ryan’s points. And so it goes.

But like the Oscars, the real story is much quieter. This was a good year for President Obama. He’s accomplished an extraordinary amount of items on his agenda, the Recovery Act and Affordable Care Act both seem to be helping Americans while both are still in need of some tweaking to increase their effectiveness. Despite some fairly paranoid focus on competing with China, the speech reminded its audience that America remains strong and is likely to continue to be despite doomsayers on both sides. But the best moment of the speech is from its beginning.

What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

If we can manage that in the midst of vigorous debate, we’ll be fine.

Well, that and if True Grit wins Best Picture.

Virtue Ethics & Broken Windows:
Why I am not a Libertarian (Redux)

[Note: Because of the emphasis on the upcoming election, I haven’t taken the opportunity to explore a political issue that has always intrigued me — Christian libertarianism. The main complaint I have with most libertarians is that they often work backwards from a grievance to the development of their core beliefs. Christians, on the other hand, must start with Biblical principles and work their way to a coherent political philosophy. A number of my bloggers whose intellect and opinions I respect (particularly John Coleman, Josh Claybourn, and Vox Day) subscribe to some version of Christian libertarianism. In the hopes that they (and others) will join me in exploring the foundational issues in more detail, I’m reposting an article I wrote last December explaining why I do not think libertarianism is tenable. I’m open to changing my opinion, though, so I’m interested in hearing critiques of my position and a defense of why libertarianism is compatible with a Biblical worldview.]

Continue reading Virtue Ethics & Broken Windows:
Why I am not a Libertarian (Redux)

The Youngest Workers in the Oldest Profession:
Is Teen Prostitution a “Victimless Crime“?

Authorities in Brockton, MA are probing an alleged junior high prostitution racket run by a 13-year-old girl. The accused teen is even suspected of pressuring her mentally impaired friend into turning tricks for as little as $5. According to sources quoted in the Boston Herald, the trysts had been going on for weeks and involve as many as 20 boys from the local junior high and high school. The case came to the attention of the authorities when two girls told school officials they were solicited by the accused junior high madame to join the upstart sex ring. A third girl also came forward later to corroborate the claim.
Many people will read this story and assume it is further evidence that the our sex-soaked culture is trickling down and infecting our youth. While there is a great deal of merit in that view, I think that we shouldn’t read too much into this one incident. Teen prostitution has been around as long as their have been teens and prostitutes. That is to say, for as long as mankind has been on the earth.
The only reason I mention the story is that it provides a prime opportunity to explore the differences between libertarian and conservative political philosophies. The two are so often lumped together that we often need remind ourselves just how distinct, and often incompatible, the ideologies truly are. By focusing on this nexus of teen sex and prostitution, I think we have a clear dividing line to help sharpen our focus.

Continue reading The Youngest Workers in the Oldest Profession:
Is Teen Prostitution a “Victimless Crime“?

Legalize Prescription Drugs!:
A Libertarian Party Policy Solution

Last week, the Libertarian Party announced that Michael Badnarik, a computer programmer from Texas, will be their 2004 Presidential candidate. “If I can win the nomination, there’s no reason I can’t win this election,” said Badnarkik, obviously unaware of the LP’s track record in Presidential races.
While I personally admire Badnarik’s clueless optimism, other bloggers aren’t as impressed. Jon Henke from QandO is particularly disappointed with the choice (“Badnarik is exactly the sort of person that gives Libertarians a reputation as fringe-dwelling nuts.”) and Captain Ed argues that the LP has proven that it won’t be posing a threat to the two-party system anytime soon.
While I respect their opinions, I think they’re being too harsh. The LP has some well argued policy positions that are worthy of a closer look. Take, for example, Badnarik position on the “War on Drugs”:

Continue reading

Legalize Prescription Drugs!:
A Libertarian Party Policy Solution

Consenting Adults and False Dilemmas:
Libertarian Arguments and the ‘War on Porn”

I’ve always been impressed by the uncanny ability many libertarians have in spotting flaws in logic and reasoning. Whether the arguments come from the Right or the Left, the libertarian critique is often intriguingly rational, even if not always convincing. Unfortunately, they often fail to use this particular gift when evaluating their own ideological conclusions.
Take, for example, the latest uproar over the Justice department’s ‘war on porn.” There is something about regulating pornography that causes even the most prurient libertarian to become apoplectic. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and reasonably logical fellow, though certainly no prude, rants, ‘And if the Administration thinks that this is a good use of their “computer forensics” experts, then they must have decided that terrorists aren’t a threat any more.” Reynolds analysis of other people’s statements is typically rather sharp. So why does he stumble into such an obviously false dilemma?
As Justin Katz notes,

Six “specialists” are working on something other than terrorism, and that’s a signal that the War on Terror has been abandoned? Ms. Sullivan doesn’t give us more of an idea of the cost than “millions,” which is a pretty broad range, but how many millions not devoted to the multibillion-dollar effort of national defense indicate unduly skewed priorities? [emphasis in original]

Reynolds, though, isn’t the only one that falls for this line of reasoning. Alphecca, another skilled debater and critical thinker, adds:

Continue reading

Consenting Adults and False Dilemmas:
Libertarian Arguments and the ‘War on Porn”