Posted by on June 7, 2016

(To my regular readers, this is a deviation from my usual blog posts that you can safely skip unless you are interested in the Bolshevik-Menshevik disputes of the Libertarian Party.  However, if you don’t know the personalities and histories involved, you probably won’t understand the insults.)

Tom Woods is one of the most widely followed libertarian podcasters.  He has recently dedicated two of his episodes to the Libertarian Party 2016 convention, which nominated former Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld as the candidates for President and Vice President.  The first podcast was a broadcast of his speech to a lunch at the convention, a rousing call not to dilute at all the libertarian message in the interest of electability.  The second was a thorough venting of his spleen because, rightfully, the LP totally ignored him.

30% Different?

Woods’ central charge against Johnson/Weld is contained in the lead in to his second podcast: “We are not 30% different from Republicans and Democrats.”  I don’t know where Woods gets his math.

Let’s boil down the Johnson/Weld platform, as revealed in Johnson’s campaign website and the Executive Memorandum (“EM”) handed out by the Johnson team to the convention delegates.  Here are the key points:

Foreign and defence policies which are based on an “invincible” self-defence and which specifically disown foreign intervention.  In the words of the EM: “Our glory is not world domination featuring hundreds of military bases…and hundreds of thousands of soldiers deployed abroad on trillion dollar capers to make all nations bow to our command in a juvenile quest for a risk-free existence and the thrill of conquest and dominance.”  Among other things, Johnson and Weld recognize that there is no way for domestic liberty and foreign adventure to co-exist, with the EM citing James Madison’s warning that “if tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

A fiscal policy that is based on real balanced budgets and expenditure discipline.  This is a commonplace claim of Republican candidates, too, but the Republicans in practice have been every bit as willing to enslave future generations as the Democrats.  Unlike the airy pledges of Republican candidate Trump to cut “waste and inefficiency,” the traditional code words for doing nothing, Johnson and Weld pledge specific cuts, such as the elimination of the Departments of Education, Energy, Labor and Commerce.

More importantly, Johnson/Weld realize that there is no possible progress on domestic spending without cutting back on the military.  Unlike the Republican mainstream, Johnson/Weld know that it is not possible to be anti-government but pro-military.  They also recognize that the only way to curtail military expenditures is to reverse the mission creep that has occurred under “neo-con” Republicans and “responsibility to protect” Democrats.  They understand the words of David Stockman that “the iron law of Washington politics – demonstrated in spades during the Reagan era – is that entitlements and other domestic programs will never be cut or reformed so long as massive funding is being sluiced into the military-industry-security complex.”

Radical tax reform based on a shift to the taxation of consumption (the “Fair Tax”) instead of income, thereby eliminating the extraordinary complexity and opacity of the current tax code, creating tax neutrality and fairness, undercutting crony capitalism and the rule of DC lobbyists, greatly encouraging job creation through the elimination of corporate taxation, and allowing the abolition of the IRS.  As importantly as reforming the structure of taxation, Johnson/Weld realize that the only responsible way to reduce the burden of taxation is by greatly reducing government expenditure.

Tax reform is another area where Republican candidates have made numerous proposals, most of which have been fiscally irresponsible and politically infeasible since they have not been backed up with commensurate expenditure cuts – as they never will be so long as the Republican Party is wedded to its current foreign policy.  As for the Democrats, their only notion of tax reform is encapsulated in the famous quote of Colbert, finance minister of Louis XIV:  “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.”

The best summary of their jobs program is the quote on Johnson’s website that “(a)s Governor, I didn’t create a single job.”  Unlike Trump who claims that he will be “the greatest jobs President God ever created” or Clinton who famously said “don’t let anybody tell you [that] corporations and businesses create jobs,” Johnson/Weld recognize that the role of government in jobs and wealth creation is to get out of the way.  Specifically, through radically reducing government regulation and reforming and reducing taxes to allow work, saving, investment and entrepreneurship to flourish.

Radical reform of the criminal justice system to greatly reduce the disgraceful incarceration rate in the Land of the Free.  This will be done through eliminating victimless crimes and abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing rules.  Among other things, this will stop the life-long marginalization that comes with a criminal record and it will end the poisoned atmosphere that exists between the police and so many communities in America.

On immigration, Johnson’s program is based on his direct experience as the Governor of a border state.  Johnson knows that immigrants are not taking jobs that Americans want and that the vast majority of them are coming to America to better themselves and be productive.  He wants to create a liberal work visa program that would, after background checks and tax registration, allow productive immigrants to come legally and easily into America and free border control officials to focus their efforts on the limited number of bad actors and security threats.  The only wall that Johnson wants to build is around a greatly reduced welfare system to assure that immigrants do not benefit from a social safety net to which they have not yet contributed and to make sure that only the “cream of the crop” is incentivized to come to America.

On education, both Johnson and Weld, as Governors, have been on the forefront of school choice and the elimination of federal interference.  School choice is an absolutely crucial issue for the poor and minorities in America, with education representing their greatest hope for advancement and opportunity.  Yet it is an issue that Democrats, their alleged champions, will never address because of their unholy alliance with public sector unions for whom any form of competition is anathema.

On abortion and the right to choose, Johnson/Weld recognize a woman’s right to choose, but would also recognize that it is profoundly immoral and divisive for the government to use taxpayer dollars to promote or fund abortions.  They also recognize that this kind of governmental overreach is a key cause of the “culture wars” that are dividing and poisoning America.

Johnson and Weld would also undertake sweeping reform of the structure of government, in many cases to return the federal government to the original intent of the Constitution.  Among other things, this would involve:

  • Implementing term limits, to eliminate the professional political class, reduce the role of money in politics and promote legislative courage.
  • Restoring Congressional authority to declare war and consent to treaties.
  • Ending the delegation of regulatory authority by Congress, restoring accountability for the elected representatives of the people.
  • Subjecting the Federal Reserve to greater oversight and control, including through annual appropriations, thereby imposing the power of the purse on an organization that is currently almost completely unaccountable.
  • Most importantly, carrying out a radical decentralization of government power, expenditures and taxation to the states and local authorities.  As Governors, both Johnson and Weld know that devolution is the key to efficiency and accountability in government.  They recognize that, like any monopoly, the federal government overcharges and underserves.  Radical devolution would allow the American public to hold government accountable, both with their votes and, more importantly, with their feet.

Woods’ claim that this would represent only a 30% change from existing government policy is nonsense.  If these changes were implemented during the span of a two-term LP presidency, it would constitute the most radical change in American policy since at least the New Deal and almost certainly in the history of the country.  As a historian, Woods knows this very well; it just suits his polemical interests to pretend otherwise.

What is Woods’ Problem With Johnson/Weld?

Listen to Woods’ second podcast and he cites four specific problems with Johnson’s answers during the presidential debate at the convention.  These were Johnson’s stated willingness to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and his refusal to elaborate on his reasons why), his offering of no opinion on the US entry into WWI and WWII, his evasion of a question on withdrawal from the UN, the IMF and NATO, and his inability to find a problem with the fact that 83% of law school professors claim to be Democrats.

To Woods, nominating a candidate with these responses is an unacceptable lowering of the standards of the LP.  Yet only two of them (the question on the UN/IMF/NATO and the CRA of 1964) represent policy issues.

Although Johnson did not take a stand on withdrawal from these world organizations, he conversely – and far more importantly – has taken a very strong stand against the interventionist, “global cop” policies of both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Regarding the CRA of 1964, Woods is saying that Johnson is a coward and unworthy of libertarian support because he refuses to take on the social justice warriors (SJW) on the right of association, which is “embarrassing” for libertarians.  Yes, it is embarrassing for the LP.  But more than that, it is electoral poison since it would be handing our political opponents a rod with which to beat us, as Woods knows very well.  It is also, despite Woods’ attempt to invoke the slippery slope, a triviality compared to the changes that Johnson/Weld want to implement.

Look at the last two issues cited by Woods, and in fact listen to the entire podcast, and it becomes clear that Woods’ biggest complaint about Johnson is that…he isn’t more like Woods.   He’s a “lightweight.”  He isn’t better informed, more intellectually curious or better read – although, strangely, he has actually gotten to most of the right answers, despite falling short of Woods’ lofty intellectual standards.  Above all, he doesn’t see the value of being more pedagogical, to use opportunities like the question on WWI and WWII to lecture the American populace on historical scholarship…like Woods.

But Woods’ most fervent charge against Johnson is that he is “bbbooorrriiinnnggg.”  Once again, Johnson displays a deplorable tendency not to be Woods.  And Johnson is not the only one who commits this unpardonable sin.  Woods cites, at self-indulgent and boring length, a Twitter exchange with J.D. Tucille of Reason ending with these words:  “Woods rule of life: any candidate supported by DC think tankers is zzzzzzzzzzz.”

Which brings us to the next subject….

What is Woods’ Electoral Plan?

The real answer is, he has none.  Although to listen to his podcast, all we need to do is adhere to Rothbardian doctrine, educate the voters to overcome public school propaganda, and above all else not be boring.  And certainly do not use short-hand descriptions when speaking to non-libertarians like “we are fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” because although this might fit into their 15-second attention spans and might appeal to their basic understandings and sympathies, it is not strictly correct.

In other words, let’s continue to do what has been working so well for us thus far.

No need to worry about raising money.  In fact, we should join Woods in his disdain for the nomination of Bill Weld: “They brought him in to raise money.”  Well, yes, and your point is…?  What is Woods’ alternative strategy for doing this?  Offering discounts on the Ron Paul Curriculum for home schoolers?  Or maybe Woods thinks that raising money doesn’t matter, in which case what a bunch of dopes those Democrats and Republicans are!  They know nothing about getting elected.

Media coverage?  I guess that this is another thing that doesn’t really count, although it is a little unclear how we are going to get the libertarian message out to the thirsting masses without money or media coverage.  The Tom Woods Show is free and is up to episode 675 now.  There are a fair number of factual errors and a lamentable tendency not to probe guests who spout that old-time religion, but I am an avid listener and I have to admit that it is not boring.  How many other listeners does Woods have?  And how many of them vote?  Judging from the comments, most seem to think that this would just make them complicit with statist aggression.  Or they support Trump, since Woods has done such a great job educating them on libertarian principles.

Maybe Woods thinks that having two former governors on the ticket is not a factor in getting unheard of amounts of media coverage for a fringe party.  Maybe the LP should have nominated McAfee, whose oft-stated media plan was to walk naked in the streets with signs bearing libertarian slogans.  This surely would have gotten the LP at least as much media coverage, and as favorable, as the hand-size exchange between Rubio and Trump in one of the Republican debates.

And then there is the pesky problem that most voters have never voted for the LP in the past.  Here’s a little secret: people are resistant to change.  They might even welcome a little “boring” when contemplating it.  They may even take comfort from the fact that Governors Johnson and Weld led two different states for a cumulative 14 years and neither one became a smouldering pile of rubble.  Potential donors might also want to know that their investment in good governance has actually produced something in the past.

It is also a lot harder to ignore the LP in the polls, and ultimately in the debates, when it has nominated two candidates with more executive experience and better track records than either the Democrats or –  and the comparison is laughable – the Republicans.  Johnson was met with calls of “defeatist” when he pointed out these truisms during the debate.  Yet, Woods only takes Johnson’s supporters to task their “self-induced blindness.”

Two Cheers For Johnson/Weld!

Are Johnson and Weld my perfect candidates?  No.  Johnson is manifestly a decent individual, which should count for something against his detestable electoral opponents, and his “personal narrative” – a term we should all hate, but which is nonetheless relevant – is strong.  But a great communicator he is not and I also agree with him on policy a mere 90% of the time.  Despite his sporting accomplishments and successful business career, I also wonder if he is fundamentally tough enough.  Having personally climbed mountains and built a business, I can tell you that both require steely determination, but he doesn’t exactly project it.

Weld is even more compromised.  But Woods should note that he isn’t getting top billing.  And Jeff Deist’s “Notes on the Libertarian Convention,” an article cited positively by Woods, is just plain silly.  Deist states that “the establishment want to (sic) their man [Weld] to oversee things and temper the LP’s excesses.”  Sorry, Jeff, but I don’t think that the LP has the Washington establishment reaching for the Ambien yet.

Leviathan took centuries to construct.  It will take at least decades to tear it down.  And we can’t even start so long as no one has heard of the LP, no one wants to donate money to it and no one wants to pull the LP electoral lever.  We also have to recognize that, as shown in the famous posters about “Keep the Government Out of My Medicare,” it will require many years of successfully grinding down the state and a lot of (school choice) education before there is voter interest in a radical libertarian agenda.  Deist said that “what none of the candidates did, however, was offer up a real alternative to government as we know it…a society that is not organized around politics or Washington DC, but around property, markets, and civil society.”  I thought that libertarians were supposed to know something about economics.  There is no offer where there is no demand.

Near the end of his screed, Woods has these words:

I don’t think you (ie., Johnson/Weld supporters) should be intolerant towards people who think that the Libertarian Party ought to be nominating people who are going to spread the libertarian message clearly

Wow.  Listening to the podcasts, and following Woods’ subsequent Twitter battles, it is clear that he has some serious problems with directions if he thinks that he has been on the receiving end of intolerance.  But then maybe Woods has picked up a few of the bad habits of the SJW he (rightfully) loves to denounce.

Although it might be bbbooorrriiinnnggg of me to point this out.

 

 

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Comments

  1. tara
    October 27, 2016

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    It’s interesting to me that your main attack of Woods’ argument is that he refuses to stoop any lower than his nearly un-achievable standard, and won’t accept anything beyond the standard of his own interest, intellect and so forth. Would you prefer him to perhaps offer an intellectual critique, while at the same time accepting your positions on the necessity of Johnson. You yourself offer a bit of critique, despite your broader acceptance and support for the LP candidates.

    And now I get to irony: the very title of your piece takes the same approach as Woods. “Dead wrong” you say. So you wouldn’t accept ANY part of his critique? Not a bit? Hmm. That’s funny. Don’t give him an inch. Isn’t that what you’re accusing him of doing? Not giving an inch.

    Your approach, perhaps more than his, is no different: isolate your target and rally your readers. But then, what fun would there be in a courteous critique? Gotta go for readership.

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