Why did McCain pick the governor of Alaska instead of the governor of South Carolina? Sarah Palin may well be generating more instant buzz than Mark Sanford would have. But much of it is negative, as people discuss whether someone who has been governor of a very small state for less than two years is ready to be a heartbeat away from making national security decisions. Even the devout conservative Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review can’t avert his eyes from the problem: “Palin has been governor for about two minutes. Thanks to McCain’s decision, Palin could be commander-in-chief next year. That may strike people as a reckless choice; it strikes me that way. And McCain’s age raised the stakes on this issue.”
Mark Sanford was a congressman for six years, where he served on the International Relations Commitee as well as the Joint Economic Committee. Palin has been governor of 670,000 people for about 18 months, while Sanford has served for five and a half years as governor of a state with 4.3 million people. Like Palin, Sanford is a social and economic conservative. He has taken on the Republican establishment in his state government and has a strong record on both school choice and pork-barrel spending. He has four children and a modern political wife who worked on Wall Street for six years and has managed his campaigns.
So what advantage does Palin bring to the McCain campaign that Sanford wouldn’t? Well, she’s a woman. Pure identity politics, the sort of thing Republicans deplore but often practice.
Bill Kristol says that the difference between Palin and Obama is that the Democrats are running an inexperienced guy for president, while the inexperienced Republican would only be vice president. A fair point. But as McCain himself has said, his age guarantees greater scrutiny of whether his vice presidential candidate is, as the saying goes, “ready on day one to lead.” (When I Googled that phrase, Google asked me if I meant “ready one day one to lead.” Maybe she will be, one day.)
McCain likes to talk about his 95-year-old mother. But his father died at 70 and his grandfather at 61, so his age is a real concern.
Mark Sanford would have been an experienced executive who has already dealt with national and international issues and a great next leader of the Republican party. Sarah Palin? We’ll see.
Posted on August 31, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Sarah Palin may be the first woman to serve as vice president, and she would now have to be considered the most likely candidate to be America’s first woman president. But she won’t be the first woman to receive an electoral vote. That title goes to — anyone, anyone? That’s right — everyone knows that the first woman to receive an electoral vote was Geraldine Ferraro, running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984.
But no. Everyone is wrong. The actual first woman to receive an electoral vote was Tonie Nathan, the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 1976. Nathan was a radio/television producer in Eugene, Oregon, when she attended the first presidential nominating convention of the Libertarian Party in 1972. She was selected to run for vice president with presidential candidate John Hospers, chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California. Although the ticket received only 3,671 official votes, Virginia elector Roger L. MacBride chose to vote for Hospers and Nathan rather than Nixon and Agnew.
Find out more about Tonie Nathan — and the man she ran with and the man who cast his electoral vote for her — in the comprehensive new Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, which will be unveiled at Cato.org next week.
Posted on August 29, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that delegates listening to Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention “waived American flags.” No doubt many of them did, but on my television a lot of them were waving American flags.
Posted on August 29, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Buried in his profile of Barack Obama’s background, David Maraniss discusses one of his mother’s favorite classes at Mercer Island High School near Seattle in the late 1950s:
Their curiosity was encouraged by the teachers at Mercer Island High, especially Jim Wichterman and Val Foubert, who taught advanced humanities courses open to the top 25 students. The assigned reading included not only Plato and Aristotle, Kierkegaard and Sartre, but also late-1950s critiques of societal conventions, such as “The Organization Man” by William H. Whyte, “The Lonely Crowd” by David Riesman and “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard, as well as the political theories of Hegel and Mill and Marx. “The Communist Manifesto” was also on the reading list, and it drew protests from some parents.
Seriously? This was the reading list? Hegel and Marx, but no Locke and Smith, the thinkers who actually revolutionized the world we live in? “Late-1950s critiques of societal conventions” like The Lonely Crowd and The Hidden Persuaders, but not Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Chambers’s Witness, or Buckley’s God and Man at Yale? Weren’t those critiques of societal convention? (True, Plato and Aristotle weren’t leftists, and Mill was a classical liberal. But there are no conservatives, free-market advocates, or contemporary libertarians.)
It’s hard to imagine that parents objected to such a reading list….
But Maraniss assures us that there was nothing leftist about it:
In tracking the Obama story this year, some conservative Web sites have seized on the high school curriculum of his mother as evidence of an early leftist indoctrination. [Her high school classmate Chip] Wall, who has spent his life challenging dogma from any ideology, and whose take on the world often veers from the politically correct, answered this interpretation with a two-word dismissal: “Oh, crap.”
Well, I wouldn’t hold Obama responsible for what his mother was taught in the Seattle suburbs before he was born. But it’s pretty clear that this high school course tilts far to the left. And of course such reading lists are even more common in college. Today the lists include more racial and gender diversity, though no more ideological diversity. And this list demonstrates that you can put together a plenty left-wing reading list composed entirely of Dead White European Men (some of whom weren’t even dead at the time).
Posted on August 28, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Is populism a good and noble cause that could never be associated with bigotry? NPR host Liane Hansen seems to think so. On NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” she interviewed Christopher Hedge, who composed the music for a PBS documentary on Andrew Jackson. When Hedge called Jackson a populist, Hansen objected. What about his treatment of slaves and Indians? she asked–that doesn’t sound very “populist.”
Oh, dear. What does Hansen think populism is? The term can have many meanings, but it certainly seems to mean the rallying of “us” against “them.” Sometimes that means “the masses” against “the elites”–whether political or economic. But frequently those elites include Jews or Americans or other groups perceived to be more economically successful than they deserve. Eastern Europe’s populist parties these days fulminate against free markets and against Jews, Gypsies, and other ethnic minorities. No one seems to have any doubt that that’s what populists do. A leading American Populist politician, Tom Watson, railed against Catholics, blacks, and Jews as well as against “the corporations” and sound money. So did Pitchfork Ben Tillman, who implemented Jim Crow in South Carolina. Not all American populists were racists; many wanted to organize poor blacks and poor whites to defeat corporate interests. But the combination was common.
As for Andrew Jackson, he was in many ways a great fighter for freedom and democracy. But NPR’s researchers need to do some research on the attitudes of Jackson’s white working-class supporters toward blacks and Indians. You can bet they didn’t think other races were part of “us.”
Posted on August 26, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Barack Obama and Joe Biden both get a perfect 100 from the big-government liberal Americans for Democratic Action, which probably tells you all you need to know. But I remember a dramatic moment back in 1991 when Biden made his commitment to unlimited government clear and dramatic. Clarence Thomas had been nominated for the Supreme Court, and Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was questioning him. Biden bore in on the possibility that Thomas might believe in “natural law,” the idea, as Tony Mauro of USA Today summarized it, that ”everyone is born with God-given rights - referred to in the Declaration of Independence as ‘inalienable rights’ to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ - apart from what any law or the Constitution grants.” Biden singled out Cato adjunct scholar Richard Epstein and Cato author Stephen Macedo and demanded to know if Thomas agreed with them that the Constitution protects property rights. Waving Epstein’s book Takings in the air like Joe McCarthy with a list of communists, Biden demanded to know, as we very loosely paraphrased it in Cato’s 25-year Annual Report (pdf; page 14), “Are you now or have you ever been a libertarian?” As most judicial nominees do when pursued by a senator roused to defend his power like a mama bear, Thomas assured Senator Biden that he wouldn’t take the Constitution too seriously. Here’s Biden on the warpath:
Was Biden right to worry? Well, as we said in the Annual Report, four years later Thomas joined the Court in declaring, “We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of limited powers.” But ten years later the Court finally considered whether the Constitution protects property rights and said, “Ehh, not so much.” Thomas protested, “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.” Biden was right to worry that Thomas’s understanding of individual rights and the Constitution just might put some limits on the power of government.
Posted on August 24, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Not long ago I heard Rush Limbaugh thundering that the venerable Associated Press had said that it would start putting opinion in its stories (referring to this story about the AP’s new Washington Bureau chief). Well, if that’s the case, I’m just glad that some of their stories reflect sensible opinion, like this dispatch today from Jeannine Aversa:
Two giant mortgage companies get into hot water over risky investments. The government steps in to throw them a lifeline should they need it.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans buy homes more expensive than they can afford. Congress approves a rescue package.
Troubles erupt at a Wall Street investment firm that made bad bets on mortgage investments. The Federal Reserve steps in and provides financial backing for the company’s takeover.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of people pay their mortgages on time, don’t max out their credit cards and put money into retirement funds. They may even save a little extra on the side.
In return, they get rates on their savings that don’t even keep up with inflation. They also are witnessing their nest eggs shrinking as the value of their homes plummets and the stock market tumbles.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C., seem more focused on rescuing those who behave badly by putting at risk taxpayers who’ve played by the rules and shunned the get-rich-quick schemes of Wall Street croupiers.
Posted on August 19, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
As the world media get ready to focus on China for two weeks, there’s lots of discussion of human rights. Will Beijing censor the media and the athletes? Should President Bush attend? Should he meet with Chinese dissidents? Should he raise human rights issues with Chinese leaders?
In all this discussion, we may forget how much progress China has made in the past generation. From 1949 to the death of Mao Tse-tung or the rise of Deng Xiao-ping, there was no discussion of “human rights in China.” China was a totalitarian state, Red China, or Communist China to the less polemical. Its citizens had no rights. And the Western media had very little access to the country, so they couldn’t report any stories about human rights abuses. Were 65 million people killed by Mao’s regime, or something more or less? Questions of “human rights” pale in such a system.
On the eve of the Olympics, it’s refreshing to read a very thorough article in the New York Times titled “Despite Flaws, Rights in China Have Expanded.” Howard W. French reports:
Political change, however gradual and inconsistent, has made China a significantly more open place for average people than it was a generation ago.
Much remains unfree here. The rights of public expression and assembly are sharply limited; minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang Province, are repressed; and the party exercises a nearly complete monopoly on political decision making.
But Chinese people also increasingly live where they want to live. They travel abroad in ever larger numbers. Property rights have found broader support in the courts. Within well-defined limits, people also enjoy the fruits of the technological revolution, from cellphones to the Internet, and can communicate or find information with an ease that has few parallels in authoritarian countries of the past.
It’s still difficult to challenge the party-state directly. Organizing even a study group, much less a tiny political party, can land you in jail.
On the other hand, the definition of what constitutes a political challenge has changed. Individuals are far less likely to run afoul of a system that no longer demands conformity in political views or personal lifestyles.
I’ve made the point in recent writings that wealth gives people a kind of freedom–more options for how to live their lives. French sees that dynamic at work in China:
The speeches of China’s leaders, with their gray imagery and paternalistic phrasings, have changed relatively little, emphasizing unity, harmony and economic growth under party rule. The reality on the ground, though, has been transformed, partly because a more dynamic economy necessitates a more dynamic society, partly because money gives people options they did not have when they were poor.
Way back in 1979, David Ramsay Steele of the Libertarian Alliance in Great Britain wrote about the changes beginning in China. He quoted authors in the official Beijing Review who were explaining that China would adopt the good aspects of the West–technology, innovation, entrepreneurship–without adopting its liberal values. “We should do better than the Japanese,” the authors wrote. “They have learnt from the United States not only computer science but also strip-tease. For us it is a matter of acquiring the best of the developed capitalist countries while rejecting their philosophy.” But, Steele replied, countries like China have a choice. “You play the game of catallaxy, or you do not play it. If you do not play it, you remain wretched. But if you play it, you must play it. You want computer science? Then you have to put up with striptease.”
I don’t know if China has striptease yet. But it has definitely discovered that Western habits accompany Western technology. After protests of a mysterious death in a rural county, the authorities tried to suppress news of the controversy. “But people wielding video cameras uploaded material to YouTube, and some Chinese journalists disputed official accounts that the riots had been put down peacefully.”
Traditionally, authoritarian regimes have been happy to distribute televisions widely, so that the state can disseminate its propaganda to every household. But with the loosening of controls in China and the increasing wealth, many citizens are buying satellite TVs, and that creates an entirely different dynamic:
For others, the impact of information about other countries has been just as great. He Weifang, a professor of law at Peking University, said that before the economic reform era began in 1979, the country was much like North Korea, where people were indoctrinated to believe that Chinese were the better off than people anywhere else.
“Today, even the farmers in remote areas have satellite TVs,” Mr. He said. “So whenever they see an election, such as the one held in Pakistan recently, they may wonder why, even though we have approximately the same economic conditions, they can elect their top leaders, and we can’t even vote for the leader of a small county. I think a consciousness of political rights has increased more than anything.”
And finally, French notes, even the legal system is groping toward the rule of law, including the enforcement of property and contract:
Even China’s party-run legal system is a fulcrum for experimentation, though in an ambiguous way that highlights the uncertainties in the country’s transition.
Judges do not have the power to rule independently in China. Yet the country now has 165,000 registered lawyers, a five-fold increase since 1990, and average people have hired them to press for enforcement of rights inscribed in the Chinese Constitution. The courts today sometimes defend property rights and business contracts even when powerful state interests are on the other side.
The changes in China over the past generation are the greatest story in the world–more than a billion people brought from totalitarianism to a largely capitalist economic system that is eroding the continuing authoritarianism of the political system.
When I read a much less insightful view of China’s development in the Washington Post Sports section–”The largest nation on earth has unexpectedly evolved to the point where it is capitalist in every practical sense, including an entrenched elite every bit as ruthless as America’s robber barons.”–I deeply regret that Howard W. French has just left the New York Times to take up a position teaching journalism. But you can still find his writings on his website, such as this recognition that, as libertarians often say, “capitalism is what happens when you let people alone”: “China’s example shows what kinds of remarkable results can follow when governments stop committing colossal blunders and grossly shackling or preying upon their own people. . . . This government has stopped making the massive, brutal blunders it committed in the 20th century, which killed or stunted the lives of huge numbers of its citizens. What it needs most now is to get out of the way of ideas and enterprise, and to learn, bit by bit, the virtues of trust.”
For another thoughtful view of China’s evolution, see this week’s Economist.
Posted on August 5, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
The Wall Street Journal reports on the Chinese government’s energetic effort to improve the quality of its citizens:
Beijing officials have distributed 4.3 million copies of an etiquette book outlining rules on good manners and foreign customs, including rules about what not to wear. The guide is part of an effort by various departments within China’s government to clean the city up in preparation for the at least 400,000 foreign visitors who are expected to descend on its capital for the Olympic Games, which start Aug. 8.
Among the no-no’s: more than three color shades in an outfit, white socks with black shoes, and pajamas and slippers in public.
“No matter what, never wear too many colors…especially during formal occasions,” the book said. “When you wear [formal shoes], be sure to wear socks in good condition…socks should be a dark color — never match black leather shoes with white socks.”
“Older women should choose shoes with heels that aren’t too high,” it said.
The book, published by the Beijing Municipal Government’s Capital Ethics Development Office, is part of the department’s effort to make Beijing more “civilized,” officials said.
Along the same lines, Beijing authorities announced earlier this year that they would step up efforts to fine people who spit in public as much as 50 yuan ($7.33).
Other guidelines range from the obvious to overly specific. Public displays of affection aren’t acceptable, for example. In a section about escalators and elevators, the book said people should place their hands on escalator railings to avoid falling. It then addresses a pet peeve of many in Beijing: “When entering an elevator…let people walk out before you enter,” it said. It goes on to say riders should look only straight ahead and never stare at other passengers.
It also warns readers of the “Eight Things Not to Ask” foreigners, including their age, marital status, income or religious and political beliefs.
It sounds like the woman who wants to create government programs to help people “quit smoking, to get more exercise, to eat right, to take their vitamins” has found her niche.
Posted on August 4, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the heroes of the long struggle against Soviet communism, has died at 89. As the New York Times says, he “outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.”
After he came to the United States in 1974 and was free to express himself, we discovered that he was a scathing critic not just of communism but also of capitalism, consumerism, America, modernity, and liberalism. Nevertheless, he is a hero of freedom. After spending more than a decade in the gulag and internal exile, he wrote The Gulag Archipelago and smuggled it out of the Soviet Union so it could be published in the West. He could have been sent back to prison or even executed. What an act of courage and resistance. As it turned out, the Soviet czars didn’t dare to kill or imprison him. They “only” deported him. To some of us, being deported from the Soviet Union might seem like a reward. To Solzhenitsyn, it was not. Just four years earlier, he had declined to travel to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, lest he not be allowed back into his beloved Russia.
NPR declared this morning that Solzhenitsyn was “in some way as dictatorial as the regime that he criticized.” Really. The rest of us will remember him as an irascible intellectual who for decades told the truth about the totalitarian state that had seized his country.
Posted on August 4, 2008 Posted to Cato@Liberty