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Samizdata quote of the day

In another perilous time – 1918 – Lord Haig wrote of Lord Derby: “D is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him.” It’s subtler than that with Kerry: you don’t have to sit on him; just the slightest political breeze, and his pillow billows in the appropriate direction. His default position is the conventional wisdom of the Massachusetts Left: on foreign policy, foreigners know best; on trade, the labour unions know best; on government, bureaucrats know best; on defence, graying ponytailed nuclear-freeze reflex anti-militarists know best; on the wine list, he knows best.

-Mark Steyn, getting stuck in to the Democrats’ truly unimpressive presidential candidate. (This is worth reading, too).

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22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Certainly John Kerry is a crappy candidate who is pretty far from being a libertarian.

    There is another non-libertarian in the race, though. Why does Samzdata rarely publish comments attacking George W. Bush, who has supported protectionism for the steel and textile industries, increased government spending to record levels and far faster than the rate of inflation, who supported massive expansion of the medicare system, who proposes numerous intrusions into private life by the day?

    Bush is as far from being a libertarian as Kerry is. Each proposes re-arranging some of the deck-chairs on the titanic, but neither wishes to steer from the iceberg.

    Why, then, the lack of attacks on Mr. Bush?

  • Verity

    Perry Metzger – We have indeed indicted Mr Bush for protectionism on this site. But by and large, this is a British blog and we don’t take a huge interest in Mr Bush’s domestic policies. (If memory serves, some American commenters have written negatively about Mr Bush’s domestic policies.)

    A similar situation occurs in the US, where you slather yourselves all over the vile Tony Blair because you think he supported you in the war in Iraq (he was supporting his own agenda) and don’t care that he is trying to push through compulsory identity cards, “vaccinating” children against “undesirable” behaviour, like smoking and drinking, in adulthood, has taken a wrecking ball to our ancient constitution, has made a gift of our sovereignty to Brussels and rules (not governs) by the divide and conquer system, setting himself up as a saviour of special interests and special pleading. Most favoured race in Britain – Muslims.

    All you see is the illusion that he supported you in the war and that he speaks in a hissy, prissy, priggish voice that you imagine from the movies indicates ‘upper class’, but gives the British cold chills.

    We are similarly blinkered when it comes to George Bush. We like his attitude to terrorism. We don’t care passionately about his domestic policies.

    But American commenters do post negative comments about Bush every now and then. Stick around.

  • R C Dean

    Yo, Perry:

    I have put up a handful of posts decrying Bush’s statist tendencies. Unfortunately, on almost every single count, Kerry is worse. On domestic issues, we Americans are not faced with a choice between good and bad – we are faced with a choice between bad and worse.

  • OK, here goes. Bush supports the War On Some Drugs. Bush supports the ADA, Social Security, OSHA, the EPA and every other acronym that could be spelled “o-p-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n”, with just a couple of exceptions. I attack him for all these policies. But John Kerry not only supports all those acronyms, he wants to spend more money on them. And Kerry has no exceptions, and he wants to add gay marriage and unrestricted abortion and unlimited PC nanny-state supervision for everyone. So why attack Bush when it is more important to attack Kerry? When Bush has an opponent who has better policies than he does, I’ll attack Bush.

  • Sounds like a case of George Bush being the worst possible option (except for the other option).

  • Hmm. I was not actually trying to be partisan, so much as just to say what a dreadful candidate I think Kerry is. I must put up an anti-Bush quotation next week.

    Bush has dramatically increased federal spending, including doing things I intensely dislike like increasing the federal government role in healthcare and education. Bush does indeed do idiotic things like fight the war on drugs. Bush is far too close to the religious right for my liking. (I do not believe that state sanctioned marriage should exist, but if it exists at all I don’t see any reason why the institution should be denied to gay people). Bush’s record on free trade is rather dubious. (Personally, I doubt he grasps the fairly simple argument for free trade). I think he has relied too much on Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld (the latter of who is far too arrogant to see the big picture clearly, if you ask me), and as a consequence I think certain aspects of the war have been badly botched. In most ways I think he is a pretty terrible president.

    However, Mr Bush does understand that the world changed irrevocably on Semptember 11, 2001, and that we have to deal with that. I am not convinced that Mr Kerry does get this, and certainly most of his supporters don’t get this. (Mr Bush and Mr Clinton have one thing in common, which is that many of their opponents hate them so much that they can’t see straight. And the war on terrorism is far too important to hand America over to people who can’t see straight.

    And whereas (for instance) Bush seems indifferent to the case for free trade, Kerry (and the rest of the Democrats) seem actively hostile to it, or in the best case they are actively lying because this is what their suppoters want to hear. And as for personalities, whereas Mr Bush occasionally seems to give the impression that there is an unreformed frat-boy trying to get out (although he is on the whole reformed) Mr Kerry sometimes gives the impression that he has an inner Louis XIV trying to get out, and on that score I prefer Mr Bush.

  • Guy Herbert

    Robert Speirs: Bush seems to have done a pretty good job of spending more money on those things too. Do you imply Kerry wants to spend more money still? When did a Western country last cut public spending? I’m utterly clueless why opposition to gay marriage should be a touchstone, but then I’m English and secular to the core.

    The Democratic Party is pretty frightening, ’tis true, but Democratic Presidents have been a mixed bunch. Maybe I should feel sorry for Americans about their domestic policy, but as far as the rest of the world goes a break from the Bush regime might work to draw a line under the reconstruction coming unstuck in Iraq.

  • Verity

    Michael Jennings – “an inner Louis XIV” … ha ha ha!

  • Pete_London

    Guy – ” … as far as the rest of the world goes a break from the Bush regime might work to draw a line under the reconstruction coming unstuck in Iraq.”

    So you expect the terrorists in Iraq to pack their bags and go home in the event of a Kerry win?

    For an antidote to the doom mongers at al-BBC, al-reuters et al al al try http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com

  • Responding to responses to me…

    I think most U.S. libertarians think of Tony Blair in pretty bad terms — I wouldn’t worry on that score. (I am impressed that he’s capable of speaking coherently under questioning — we don’t get that from US politicians.)

    In any case, though, I live in New York, and terrorism isn’t a theoretical problem here. I lost a good friend on 9/11, and this is doubtless where the terrorists will next strike if they can. I don’t feel that George Bush’s policies have made me any safer.

    The execution of the various military operations seems to have proceeded as well as almost all government operations proceed — which is to say, about as poorly as one can imagine. The Taliban continue to terrorize the countryside in Afghanistan, threatening to disrupt upcoming elections. Osama bin Laden is still at large. Iraq seems to have turned into a carnival of carnage, with new Bin Laden recruits practicing their kidnapping and improvised explosive skills in comfort and security while the Iraqi intelligencia is systematically killed off.

    It shouldn’t be a shock to see that military campaigns are run as poorly as the postal service or veterans hospitals, but it is none the less breathtaking to see this much incompetence concentrated towards one goal with wasteful zeal.

    Lots of people re-discover this principle over the years, sadly. Government doesn’t give you what you ask for — it gives you what a messy public choice economic process is capable of delivering. It is laudible to want to end poverty, but just because the government says that is what they are doing doesn’t mean that is what is going on. It sounds wonderful when the government says they will improve health care, until you actually see the horror that the program produces. Why do we assume they will do any better at war?

    I am surprised at libertarians who believe that government can’t deliver decent and effective road repaving services, a pretty simple operation, but who believe that the bloated sclerotic bureaucracies can bring us a well planed and efficient war. The evidence I’ve seen says they can do nothing of the kind.

    Don’t speak to me of whether or not the idea of war in the abstract is a good one — show me the evidence that the people who take weeks to deliver a letter across Manhattan can hunt down and stop terrorists by military means.

  • Jacob

    The best description of Kerry: see this caricature by Cox & Forkum ( roll down to 4th one called “Detour of Duty”).

  • Verity

    Perry Metzger, You make some good points, although with regard to Tony Blair, if that is what you consider coherent speaking, the US is worse off than I thought. At least most American politicians use verbs.

    However, I’m interested in your point about the military, because is it truly the government who runs the military, or the military themselves? I’m honestly asking what is a very ignorant question, because I’m surprised to realise that I don’t know. On the other hand, the grim spectre of Geoff Hoon has just filtered into my brain. Yes. You make some unanswerable points.

  • Jacob

    “Don’t speak to me of whether or not the idea of war in the abstract is a good one — show me the evidence that the people who take weeks to deliver a letter across Manhattan can hunt down and stop terrorists by military means.”

    Whining about the incompetence of a government run military won’t do. Incompetent they might be, but what’s the alternative ? You prefer that nobody even tries to hunt down terrorists ?
    So the job’s being done poorly; what should be done ? Persuade the terrorists by peaceful means ? Send in the Peace Corps? Engaging the help of the French (government run) military forces ? Bring the boys home and do nothing (until the next atrocity) ?

    The Democrats are proposing all of the above and that’s just not serious.

  • Julian Morrison

    An article on the Kerry speech, by a self-described liberal. Read it. More amusing than it sounds.

  • Guy Herbert

    Pete_London: “So you expect the terrorists in Iraq to pack their bags and go home in the event of a Kerry win?”

    No. They aren’t the audience that matters for America’s worldwide image. My point was about international politics.

    A Kerry administration could, without huge change in substantive policies, imply (and I doubt it would be so unwise as to make the point expressly) that the excesses of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the way the total collapse of law and order in Iraq seemed to take the allies by surprise, and the US’s being successfully manipulated (like seemingly everyone else he deals with) by Ariel Sharon, were all errors by a callow, narrowly militaristic administration, and that therefore other countries should give the USA a break. It might even work. It might even be true.

  • Jacob

    Guy Herbert: ” It might even work.”

    What do you mean by this ?
    Do you hope that now, the French will fall in love with Kerry, and send their mighty divisions into Iraq, to kill all terrorists and install a stable and prosperous democracy, enabling Kerry to “bring the boys home” (by Christmas) ?.

  • Responding yet again to responses to me…

    First, as sad as it is, yes, Tony Blair is a brilliant public speaker and interview subject compared to our own politicians. Bush is especially inarticulate when he is forced off script. I will not claim that Blair is especially good in a U.K. context — I am simply comparing him to our own crop of imbeciles. I also make no claims for his being a good person, only a good speaker compared to U.S. politicians. And, yes, the state of politics in the U.S. is astoundingly bad.

    Second, in response to my note about the incompetence of government being no less likely to rear its head in military affairs than elsewhere, it is said: “Whining about the incompetence of a government run military won’t do. Incompetent they might be, but what’s the alternative?”

    The alternative is the private sector of course, where organizations that fail are punished with bankruptcy rather than rewarded with additional funds taken forcibly from the taxpayers. I would have thought that would be obvious to any libertarian. The “what’s the alternative” sort of comment is what I’d expect from a statist. I hear that sort of junk all the time. “Yes, X is horrible, but what’s the alternative?” I’m asked. Plug in whatever you like for X — schools, health care, public transit, roads, postal service, you name it. When I suggest that the state need not involve itself and that private enterprise is perfectly capable of providing any services one can name, I’m looked at like a three headed alien. I am used to that sort of thing from people who don’t understand economics, public choice theory, etc., but I would hope that individuals who had read enough Von Mises, Hayek, Friedman (both Milton and David), Rothbard, etc. would not be so blind as to the obvious alternatives.

    For those who will now (in the manner I expect of statists, not libertarians) bring up the public goods problem and claim that national defense is non-excludable and non-rivalrous, I point them at my recent blog entry on the topic of the public goods problem.

  • H.

    I agree that the presidential election is between a terrible candidate and a worse one. I’m just not convinced that the worse one and the one the least unappealing to libertarian concerns is Bush. First, Bush is beholden to Christian fundamentalists and is therefore socially conservative and interventionist. Kerry’s instincts are more socially liberal. He’s not proposing to amend the constitution to ensure that contractual rights deriving from marriage are only open to those of a particular sexual persuasion. Secondly, the odds are that Kerry will be far more fiscally responsible. Thirdly, the way the Bush administration has messed up the golden opportunity of post-war Iraq has essentially made the world a more dangerous place. Do not confuse macho rhetoric and a simplistic use of overwhelming military force with good strategy in the war against terrorists.

  • … I would hope that individuals who had read enough Von Mises, Hayek, Friedman (both Milton and David), Rothbard, etc. would not be so blind as to the obvious alternatives.

    For those who will now (in the manner I expect of statists, not libertarians) bring up the public goods problem and claim that national defense is non-excludable and non-rivalrous, I point them at my recent blog entry on the topic of the public goods problem.

    I’ve had a look your blog entry and you give pretty much the same answer I would have given to the public goods problem.

    There is one problem that you don’t address however and that is the possibility that the some public goods would not merely be underfunded by the market, but would be catastrophically underfunded. It is conceivable that defence is such an example, depending on the technology available (such as nuclear bombs) and the existence of aggressive enemies (like Nazi Germany or the USSR).

    Since you refer to David Friedman, I expect you already know that in The Machinery of Freedom he calls defence “the hard problem”, doesn’t find a satisfactory market solution to it, and concludes that it might be prudent to wait for the collapse of the Soviet Union before we abolish government in its entirety.

  • Jacob

    This idea of contracting out defense to private contractors, is nice in theory to debate.
    But this wasn’t the topic of the current thread. Neither Bush nor Kerry are going to abolish the US Army and contract defense to private enterpreneurs.
    The alternative now, in this election, is between one who fights islamist terrorists (however imperfectly) and one who would do nothing.

  • Julian Morrison

    An important thing to note about a Kerry win is that it would result in a Clinton-style impasse between congress and the president. That could be a very good thing for libertarians. Neither side would get to implement their dafter ideas. They’d probably be “bipartisan” about the terrorism stuff, but big-spender Bush would be out, and big-spender Kerry would be balked.

  • Shawn

    Perry wrote:

    “It shouldn’t be a shock to see that military campaigns are run as poorly as the postal service or veterans hospitals, but it is none the less breathtaking to see this much incompetence concentrated towards one goal with wasteful zeal.”

    Actually I dispute this.

    Regarding the Afghan campaign, doomsayers claimed that we would never be able to get the Taliban from power in the first place. We did, with very little troop loss, and for that matter very little troops, and in what amounted to a matter of weeks. The Taliban were never just going to go away, but they have been removed from power. By any reasonable standards, the Afghan campaign was a major success.

    The same with Iraq. Using a fairly small force by US standards, we were able to remove Saddam and the Baathist regime from power in short order. The drive to Baghdad over an immense distance and against bad weather is one of the greatest military operations in modern times. The US and Britain took an entire country, and its major cities, in less than four months. The tactics used by both the US and British military planners werew nothing short of brilliant.

    The only real mistake was poor planning for the post invasion period.

    Perry’s claim that the US military has been incompetent is a caricature of the truth.

    “It shouldn’t be a shock to see that military campaigns are run as poorly as the postal service or veterans hospitals”

    Except they are not.

    I would like to see REAL evidence, not just theory, that any private mercenary outfit could have done as well. There is none. Anarcho-capitalism (which I take to mean privatising ALL gov functions including the military), like both leftist anarchism and Marxism, is theory divorced from reality. Having no reality to base the theory on, its proponents are forced into laughable comparisons such as

    “See, postal bad, therefore military bad because job not done perfectly in 3 weeks”.

    Such comparisons are why the Libertarian Party in the US gets less votes than a nutbar like Ralph Nader.

    Of course exactly the same thing could have been said about the Allies in 1941. But by 1945 Hitler was dead and the Nazis gone.

    In less than three years the US military, its allies, and other gov agencies have removed two terrorist supporting totalitarian regimes from power, caught or killed more than half the top tier leadership of al-Qaeda, and, as we have recently seen in New York, stopped any further attacks on US soil by aggressive police work.

    That to me is success.

    Perry’s claim that he does not “feel” any safer, despite the fact that there have been no further attacks, and despite the recent Fed success in breaking up another Islamist cell, seems a little conveniant. “I feel unsafe therefore the gov is failing me and thefore my theories concerning the military are right”.

    That the job is incomplete and ongoing is hardly surprising considering the extremely difficult nature of fighting a loose network of small cells using assymetric warfare. But ongoing and incomplete does not mean failure. And using the fact that it is ongoing and that it is messy, as all wars are and will be, to bash and dishonor the US military, strikes me as low, not to mention dishonest and factual, provably false. It is also the reason why so many Americans do not take libertarians seriously.

    When a group of Free Staters in New Hampshire called some conservative military veterans socialists because they disputed some issue American libertarianism was shown at its most petulant and whiney, and sadly petulant and whiney is how many libertarians come across. This is especially true of those members of the von Mises anarchist cult.