What's Happened to Thomas Sowell?

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Let’s get this
out in the open from the start: I in no way deserve to be mentioned
in the same breath as Thomas
Sowell
. He’s an economist; I am not. He’s written dozens
of books
and hundreds more articles and essays; I’ve written
a cookbook
and consider myself lucky whenever my writing runs in a national
online or print publication. In no uncertain terms, whether we’re
talking politics or academia, Dr. Sowell plays master to my pupil,
and this would be no less true even if I didn’t have a history of
virtually adoring the man.

So it seems
rather questionable for someone like me to criticize a man like
Dr. Sowell. As a libertarian-conservative, he is unquestionably
one of the foremost free market economists of the past few decades
and someone from whom I’ve learned much in the way of economics
and political ideology. However, his recent article
in the online counterpart of National Review simply leaves
me shaking my head in disbelief that such an astute political observer
would claim that none of the presidential candidates in either
major party looks “truly inspiring” as yet.

Such a comment
would certainly make sense were Ron Paul not running for president,
but it’s hard for me to understand how someone like Sowell – who
as a syndicated columnist has made a career of championing limited
government, personal liberty, and low taxes – could not only fail
to find inspiration in Paul’s revolutionary candidacy but, unbelievably,
also fail even to mention it in his latest op-ed.

Clearly no
candidate is entitled to his or her support, and I suppose the Ph.D.
may oppose the M.D. for any number of reasons, political or personal.
I just can’t seem to figure out what they might be. Sure, Drs. Sowell
and Paul differ when it comes to the Iraq war. But unless Sowell
is so ardently in favor of the indiscriminate killing that’s taken
place at the hands of the U.S. government for no good reason during
the past four-plus years, I can’t believe the many issues on which
both men theoretically agree (constitutional originalism, partial
birth abortion, the minimum wage, socialized health care, affirmative
action) wouldn’t be more than enough to win Sowell’s admiration,
much less acknowledgment.

If Sowell were
writing this piece exclusively for the neocons at NRO, most of whom
despise the anti-establishment Paul, I could understand his couching
the article within the limits of the magazine’s editorial views.
After all, this is a practice with which many libertarians are undoubtedly
(and, yes, unfortunately) familiar. Given that most newspapers across
the country fall into either the liberal or conservative editorial
camps – most libertarian writers possess political views that are
considered at least somewhat more “radical” than the platforms of
both – we libertarians understand that sticking to the issues with
which editors agree and getting published is often much more
productive than expressing contrary opinions and getting canned.
In short, libertarian ideas are better advanced through sound bites
if the alternative is complete silence.

But, realistically,
this can’t be the case here. Not only has NRO columnist John Derbyshire
already endorsed
Ron Paul on his employer’s pages, but Dr. Sowell pens his views
in his syndicated column, which runs in major newspapers throughout
the country; NRO merely picks his up. In fact, NRO editor Jonah
Goldberg has written,
if not altogether favorably, not unfavorably, of Ron Paul in his
own syndicated column, implicitly recognizing that all this chatter
about Dr. Paul has to be coming from somewhere. Even if it could
be argued that Sowell secretly supports Ron Paul but refrained from
writing approvingly of him for fear of alienating his neoconservative
readers, one would imagine he simply would have refrained from writing
such a depressing
piece
entirely.

Instead, what
we get is a (dare I say?) banal, almost amateurish attempt at analysis
from an exquisitely intelligent academic and writer from whom this
reader has been conditioned over the years to expect much, much
more. Yes, Dr. Sowell is correct to note that Mitt Romney “looks
presidential” and that Mike Huckabee should be disqualified (in
theory, anyhow) for making religion an issue and breaking campaign
pledges as governor or Arkansas. But what of his assertion that
Fred Thompson “seems to have the best policy positions and the best
political track record among the Republican candidates”? This from
an economist who has traditionally considered himself more libertarian
than conservative? From someone who could, if nothing else, have
his assistants pull Ron Paul’s congressional track record rather
easily?

Dr. Sowell
closes his column by wondering why anyone would take the candidates
in both parties seriously at a time when our country allegedly faces
“huge dangers” from terrorists and nuclear weapons. To a significant
extent, he’s right about the candidates, save the one he neglects
to mention.

Which leads
me to wonder: How is one man so personally responsible for convincing
me of the libertarian ideals that have led me to support Ron Paul's
candidacy so incapable of seeing the virtues of this candidate with
his very own eyes?

December
28, 2007

Trevor Bothwell
[send him mail] maintains
the web log, Who's
Your Nanny?

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