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More Sarah Palin


I have written slightly over 100 articles on Typically, I will get, oh, 20—40 responses after publishing each of them. Virtually all are positive, very positive. I estimate that I only get 2—3% critical assessments (I’m not counting people pointing out factual, typographical errors, etc., in an attempt to help me). This isn’t really that much to my credit. After all, I am an Austro-libertarian, and many of the readers of share these beliefs.

But, a few days ago, on 9/7/08, I wrote an op-ed friendly to Sarah Palin. I received way more than the usual responses, I would estimate this number at about 200, as of this writing, 9/9/08, and the letters are still coming in, fast and furiously. That’s not remarkable, because every once in a while, in my experience, that occurs. What was different in this case was that most of the letters were critical, and substantively so. I would estimate that 65% of my respondents said something along the lines of "I almost always agree with what you say on, and you say it brilliantly, but this time you seem to have lost your mind. You don’t seem like a libertarian any more." Then, they would catalogue Sarah Palin’s many and serious deviations from basic libertarian principle.

In my replies to these notes, I found myself often saying things like this: "My support for Palin was a rather limited one." "As a libertarian, I like her as a political candidate better than Obama, McCain, Biden. You don’t?"1 But these replies of mine in many cases seemed, rather than to convince my correspondents that I still favor liberty, to further inflame them with vitriol. So, in an attempt to preclude the possibility of me being read out of the libertarian movement by a seeming majority of readers, a very libertarian group, I have decided to take another hack at this issue. I have been a staunch libertarian since 1963, and I’ve got to do something to rectify my tattered reputation in this regard (I’m kidding here; my reputation as a libertarian is still very intact.).

So, please consider the following remarks:

1. Deciding on which of the two major party candidates to vote for is not a matter of libertarian praxeology, or principle. Well-intended and fully committed libertarians can and do often disagree with each other on such matters. A decision of this sort, rather, depends upon prudential judgment, weighting of imponderable future scenarios, etc. Equally dedicated and logically consistent libertarians can easily disagree on such matters. Heck, we even disagree on matters of applying the non-aggression axiom to several important public policy issues: abortion, immigration, voluntary slavery contracts, etc. Why anyone should read anything important concerning principle, into strategy concerning elections, is beyond me.

2. In my previous article, I did not say that Sarah was a libertarian. Indeed, I explicitly denied this. Here is what I wrote:

"Yes, yes, she is no libertarian, certainly not of the purist variety. She is no Ron Paul. But, a little context here, please. Compared to McCain, Obama and Biden, she is a veritable Murray N. Rothbard. What about matching her up against all the other 49 governors? Well, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is not all bad as far as these things go, and there might be another half dozen of this breed, mainly in the poorly populated states west of the Mississippi, but surely Sarah Palin fits comfortably into this category."

Lookit, I can easily be interpreted, here, not as supporting her, but as "damning her with faint praise." It is not a very high barrier to be more of a libertarian than Messrs. McCain, Obama and Biden. And, none of the other 49 governors is exactly known as "Mr. Libertarian" either. Further, she did say some few nice things about Ron Paul (documented in my previous article). Contemplate that for a moment. Here is a governor of an actual state in the U.S. who actually complimented Ron Paul! I don’t know about you people, but, I take this personally. Ron has been castigated, scorned, demeaned, denigrated, ignored, avoided, maligned, by a whole host of politicians, media people, pundits, journalists, op ed writers, even, most disgracefully, by ostensible libertarian organizations located inside the beltway! And, here comes an actual mainstream politician who takes the opposite tack. Sue me, but I can’t help having a warm spot in my heart for such a person. At least in some sense, e.g., through the litmus test of who said and did not say what about Ron Paul, Sarah Palin is more of a libertarian than some of the members of several inside-the-beltway "libertarian" think tanks!

3. Before McBomber picked our girl to be his vice presidential candidate, here was my calculation of him vs. Obama.

~ McCain Obama multiplication factor McCain Obama Foreign policy —10 —4 4 —40 —16 Civil liberties —5 —5 2 —10 —10 Economics —5 —9 2 —10 —18 Longevity —1 —10 1 —1 —10 Total —61 —54

This, admittedly, was a back of the envelope calculation. Note, I give both candidates minus numbers; that seems fitting. Also, I weight foreign policy as twice as importantly as civil liberties and economics, and four times as strongly as the longevity factor.

On foreign policy, I vastly preferred Obama to McCain, simply because I thought the former would be closer to the Ron Paul-George Washington position of no foreign entanglements and against imperialistic adventures abroad. (I also thought that Obama was far less likely to drop a nuclear bomb on anyone. Call me a weirdo if you want to, but I think that dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people is very much incompatible with libertarianism.) However, the more Obama talked after he beat Hillary, the less of a non-foreign interventionist he seemed to become, in comparison to the mad bomber. Yes, Obama wants to pull out of Iraq before McCain’s "100 years," but he does not want to bring the troops home; instead, he wants to ship them off elsewhere. Where? I’m not sure: Iran? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Mars? China? It matters not. That is, Obama is coming more and more to resemble McCain on foreign policy. Initially, I would have given McCain a minus 10, the worst mark possible in my calculations, and Obama a minus 1. But as the latter moved toward the "center" his mark declined in my assessment. Now, I think it is fair to rate him a minus 4.

On Civil Liberties I see it as a tie between the two men. Yes, McCain is likely to be a harsher drug warrior, and more supportive of police misconduct than Obama, but the opposite is true with regard to affirmative action. So I called it a tie.

On Economics, McCain is awful. He trusts the free enterprise system as far as I can throw an elephant. During the Republican debates, he would sneer at profits, not a good sign. Yes, his handlers have of late forced him to take a different tack on this matter, but that is all window dressing. But the real McCain is no friend of the marketplace. However, bad as he is on economic liberty, Obama is worse, far worse. In fact, I think it no exaggeration to say Obama is as bad as Hillary, and that is very, very bad.

On Longevity. Murray Rothbard’s axiom in matters of this sort was, other things equal, throw out the incumbents. Better to have a continual change in our masters. It would take them a bit of time to get to know the ropes, and during this transition period they wouldn’t be able to exploit us as much. (Thank God for Monica Lewinsky; she kept Bill too busy to do us as much harm as he otherwise would have done. The socialists once joked about installing a statue of Mises in their central planning hall; well, we Austro-libertarians ought to do so for Monica.) So, which "bum" is less likely to last out a full four-year term? Young pup Obama or old duffer McCain? Obviously. Hence my grading in this regard.

Note, that according to my calculations, McCain comes in at —61, while Obama racks up a —54. So, I preferred the latter. Not by much, but there was a clear preference. Now, however, the former picks Palin as Vice President. So, I want to recalculate matters with her versus Biden in the second slot, so as to better explain my previous column. Here is my new computation, incorporating these changes; all alterations take place on the Republican side of the ledger; I regard Biden as just more of the same of Obama on the first three criteria. The latter is irrelevant to the Democrats, since Obama is a relatively young man with a long life expectancy (I know, I know; I’m ignoring that; after all Hillary will not become his Vice President if he wins).

~ McCain Obama multiplication factor McCain Obama Foreign policy —9 —4 4 —36 —16 Civil liberties —4 —5 2 —8 —10 Economics —4 —9 2 —8 —18 Longevity +5 —10 1 +5 —10 Total —47 —54

Look at how conservative I am being here, at least in terms of Foreign Policy, Civil Liberties and Economics. I reduce the bad McCain grades by only one point in each category. Hey, I have to do this. We are stipulating, are we not, that as poor a libertarian as is Sarah, she is way better than any of the other three (which, again, I concede, is not saying all that much, so horrid are they). I am assuming a Palin Vice President will very marginally improve Mad Dog McCain in these three categories. And, there is a remarkable change in the last criterion. If McManiac kicks the bucket, we will get a real change, not merely a dime’s worth of difference. And, old and sick as he is, this is a real possibility. Okay, it is not likely that a President Palin will choose Ron Paul as her Vice President, but, remember, she did say some nice things about him. Does anyone think a President Biden would choose Ron? Or anyone else better than the selection that Palin would make?

As a result of these considerations, it is still a close call, but I slightly favor McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden. If that makes me a non-libertarian, so be it. However, this applies only if we are limited to choosing between the Demopublicans and the Republicocrats.

Of course, we are not. There are still the minor parties. If I were to judge solely on the substance, I would vote for Barr. He and his vice presidential pick, Wayne Allen Root (appropriately, W.A.R.) are marginally better libertarians that Sarah Palin. Let me repeat that: Barr-Root are more libertarian than Palin, but only slightly so. I don’t care how many deviations from libertarianism anyone can demonstrate for our girl Sarah. I’ll match, and sometimes even exceed, the departures from the non-aggression axiom of the two "Libertarian Party" candidates. Okay, okay, I might be exaggerating. This is a real close call. But, I have conceded, haven’t I, that Barr-Root are more libertarian than Sarah Palin? And, when you toss in McCain, Barr-Root are significantly more libertarian that McCain-Palin. (How I wish the Republican ticket was, instead, Palin-McCain, but such is not to be.) So, if these two pairs were both running on major party tickets, my sense of prudential judgment leans in the direction of the elephant over the porcupine.

But Barr-Root are not running for a major party. Instead, the disgrace of it, they are the candidates of the Libertarian Party. And, in my considered opinion, the proper function of our LP is not necessarily to win, but, rather, to serve as an outreach; it primarily has an educational purpose. Oh, I am not against the LP winning an election, any election. As long as we do it without compromising our primary goal of education, that is fine; that is more than fine, because winning focuses even more attention on libertarianism. Exceeding vote gap between the two majors is a big victory for us, and we have attained this on more than one occasion.

Thus, I apply very different criteria to Barr-Root than to McCain-Palin. I ask of the former, a very simple question: are they promoting liberty on net balance? (The question I ask of McCain-Palin, in contrast is, are they more compatible with liberty than Obama-Biden?) And, sadly, I answer in the negative. On U.S. imperialism, on the drug war, on other issues important to Ron Paul, do Barr-Root sound a clear clarion call? They do not. It does not harm our beloved philosophy one iota that Palin is not a libertarian. It is devastating to our cause that Barr and Root are not.

So, who do I favor over all? The candidates of the Boston Tea Party. They at least are as pure as can be reasonably expected of a true libertarian party. It is my hope that Barr and Root receive fewer votes than previous LP candidates, so that the Boston Tea party, those elements of the Constitution party who favor liberty, and the libertarians in the Libertarian Party can, at the next convention, retake our grand old LP party from those who have highjacked it to their own evil ends.

  1. I also say this to most of my correspondents, the ones who aren’t too wierd: "Will our paths cross at any of these upcoming Mises Institute events? I hope so.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable and the newly released Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective.

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