JoT Re Ryan Re JoT Re Ryan's Take on Bush


Thanks for another long post. It led me to finally finish a long-pondered rant (Were the Liberals Right?). Researching Ollie North (to respond to you) taught me that convicted Contragate conspirator Elliot Abrams is back in another Bush administration, once again supporting Latin American coups.


Electoral College, Plurality, Majority, and Runoffs

It would be unfair to take away a candidate's victory an account of their not winning a plurality, but it's certainly fair to gripe about a system that allowed the nation's number two choice to take office, and fair to remind people that this guy was the number two choice.

A presidential election by popular vote would lead to candidates campaigning disproportionately in some states, but that's already true with the electoral college. Candidates avoid states where the race isn't close because winning by a lot is no better than winning by a little, and losing by a lot is no worse than losing by a little. With a popular vote for the president, it would still make sense to campaign in states where the overall outcome is a done deal. Why is the way the electoral college skews campaigning any better than the way a popular vote would skew it?

'I don't think we need a "second choice" option. I think we need a runoff election. . . My opinion is that the people of the US would be a lot happier with a candidate who wins outright than with one who wins based on being enough people's "second choice."'

A runoff election does nothing but let people vote for their second choice. You and I both want runoff elections. I want them to be instant and virtual. You want them to be delayed and actual.


Anti-Humanist Democrats?

You articulate the same switcheroo that I first saw in Bush. A generation ago, conservatives mocked the liberals' ill-founded idealism. Conservatives said that capitalism was better than socialism because capitalism recognized that people are selfish while socialism dreamed that people would be willingly share. It's a sign of the times that this formula has been reversed, and now it's the conservatives who are (or claim to be) idealists, and it's the liberals who are evil for setting up a system that mandates sharing the wealth.

Whether the people of one party or the other see people as basically evil is far too sweeping and abstract a judgment to be of real interest to me. I'm a pragmatist. If ending Social Security and welfare would lead to people spontaneously taking care of the old, the disabled, the orphaned, and the poor better than they're taken care of now, I'm all for it. I'd just like to see some evidence of it first.

"[Democrats] assume that rich people will not help poor people, therefore rich people must be forced to give up money which will be reallocated by a bureaucracy to the benefit of the poor. They assume that young people will not help old people, therefore young people must be forced to give up money which will be reallocated by a bureaucracy to the benefit of the old. They assume that healthy people will not help sick people, etc. etc. etc."

First, these are apparently all assumptions that the Republicans share. The Republicans support progressive income taxes, welfare, and Social Security. (Or maybe they don't support these programs, and they're lying to get elected, but whether Republicans tolerate liars is an issue for later on.) The Republicans and Democrats differ on how progressive taxes should be, how generous welfare should be, whether Social Security funds should be invested in the stock market, and so on. But these are differences of degree, not of quality.

Second, passing laws to force people to act in concert with the common good goes way beyond welfare, health care, and unemployment insurance. We use laws to force people to pollute less, to cough up money for schools and roads, to tell the truth about the products they advertise, to hire people without regard to race, to pay women the same wage they pay men, not to murder, not to steal, and not to charge outrageous interest rates. If laws and social programs are a measure of whether a party sees people as inherently good or inherently evil, then the Republicans are in the same category as the Democrats. It's the Libertarians who have some right to point fingers.

It's true that the Democrats are more in favor of regulations and bureaucratic control than the Republicans. Liberal attempts to micromanage sometimes backfire. For example, paying schools extra cash to help them teach ESL students sounds like a fine idea except that it effectively bribes school districts to keep kids in ESL classes. Bureaucracies can go wrong, manipulating laws and public opinion to amass power for themselves. But then that's true whether the bureaucracies promote liberal or conservative agendas (as seen in the history of the various anti-drug bureaucracies).

As to whether the Democrats believe in redemption, it's the Democrats who are more likely to oppose the death penalty, oppose three-strikes sentencing, oppose preventative incarceration, and promote trying and sentencing minors as minors.


Liar-Intolerant Republicans?

Republicans don't abide liars? If that were true, then Ollie North would be a disgraced has-been instead of a patriot, a hero, and a darling of the lecture circuit. If it were true, maybe the two Reagan-appointed appellate-court judges that overturned North's multiple convictions wouldn't have done so. Maybe Elliot Abrams, also convicted of lying as part of Contragate, wouldn't even now [2002] be heading the National Security Council's office of democracy, human rights, and international operations (in which position he supported the recent coup in Venezuela). If it were true, maybe George H. W. Bush wouldn't have pardoned Abrams, along with Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, CIA counter-terrorism chief Duane Clarridge, chief of the CIA's Central American Task Force Alan Fiers, CIA Deputy Director for Operations Clair George, and Reagan's National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane. And maybe the first Bush wouldn't have said, "The common denominator of their motivation — whether their actions were right or wrong — was patriotism." [source] Maybe if the Republicans couldn't abide liars, they would have pressed the Contragate investigation up the chain of command instead of letting North take the fall.


The Future

You hope that the Republicans become more like Libertarians. So do I (and you can encourage them to do so by voting Libertarian). But I'm sure you can understand that I feel no need to defend the Democrats for something they haven't done (remain stuck in their ways in the coming years) or to laud the Republicans for something they haven't done (become more socially liberal).

November 2002


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