Thursday, June 23, 2011

The libertarian conundrum

By Bob Gaydos
One thing is certain about libertarians -- or Libertarians, for the politically serious -- at some time they will take a stand on an issue that is in perfect harmony with yours. And, just as inevitably, they will soon take another stand diametrically opposed to yours. It’s their hallmark and the overwhelming reason that a political party arguably more committed to a core philosophy than any other party has so much trouble expanding its base and, in America’s two-party system, finding a political partner with whom it can comfortably coexist.
Ron Paul
Think about it. How do you deal with a candidate who opposes the death penalty and abortion, is strongly opposed to a military draft, has
voted against an amendment to prohibit flag-burning but favors legalizing prostitution and medical marijuana and doing away with Social Security, the FBI and the IRS?
Well, if you are among the political activists who attended the recent gathering of the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, you make him the easy winner of a straw vote on potential Republican presidential candidates in 2012. In fact, Ron Paul, the man who won 39.7 percent of the votes in New Orleans, is an old hand at such victories having won a similar vote earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Not bad for a 75-year-old doctor who was the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2008. But Paul is a Republican congressman from Texas and, in fact, has always been a Republican, probably because he agrees with their no-tax-is-a-good-tax philosophy and their oft-repeated arguments against government involvement in people’s lives. But, see, Paul, who is a tea party guru, too, really believes that stuff, which means, while he’s against government regulations, he also opposes government snooping and denial of individual rights in the name of national security. And most conservative Republicans have a problem with that kind of, well, logical purity.
I think I’m like most Americans in that I don’t think much about libertarians most of the time. I tend to notice them when presidential politics resume and, honestly, most of the time it’s to wonder how the most ardent libertarians (or Libertarians) came to have such a negative view of the political system which has brought this country so far in a mere 235 years. Also, they have had some really strange leaders. What stirred this current interest is a public posting on Facebook by a former colleague of mine which suggests his dismay with the attitude of Republican conservatives to some of the statements of Paul.
My friend posted: “What divides libertarians from conservatives is the conservatives' failure to realize, or their unwillingness to concede, that toleration is not equivalent to endorsement. It should be obvious that to tolerate something is not the same thing as to approve of it. If toleration required approval, toleration would not be a virtue. What value is there is being prepared to tolerate only those things of which you approve?”
Now, that’s why I “friended” this guy. He understands that in a diverse, democratic society like ours, the only way to coexist with a semblance of serenity, if not dignity, is to tolerate differences of opinion. That would seem to be a basic requirement for any political group that preaches about moral values all the time. My friend also dismisses my suggestion that libertarians might be more comfortable with Democrats, who are clearly more tolerant of diverse views and groups, because, he says, both political parties think libertarians are “crazy.” Which is probably true.
Still, there’s Ron Paul atop the straw polls, speaking his mind more unabashedly than any other Republican candidate dares, arguing against the war in Afghanistan and the Federal Reserve, opposing U.S. involvement in Libya and introducing a bill with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to end the federal war on marijuana and let states legalize, regulate, tax, and control it without federal interference. Paul is against pre-emptive wars and being the world policeman. He opposed the Iraq war, wants all U.S. troops brought home, did not vote for George W. Bush, has opposed affirmative action for any group, thinks rights are individual, not collective, considers abortion to be murder, voted no on banning physician-assisted suicide and declaring gay-marriage unconstitutional, favors prayer in schools, opposes replacing oil and coal with alternative fuels, rejects letting illegal immigrants earn citizenship and strongly opposes free trade agreements. He’s all for owning guns, but thinks the Patriot Act has seriously harmed civil liberties.
It either makes no sense or is the most cohesive political philosophy around. Actually, it kind of reminds me of that beer commercial for “The most interesting man in the world.”
I wouldn’t vote for that guy either.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The incredible, shrinking man

By Bob Gaydos
There was a story in the papers Monday about the smallest man in the world. No, not Lebron James, although I can understand the confusion. The official smallest man, according to Guinness World Records, is Junrey Balawing, of the Phillippines. Junrey turned 18 Sunday, qualifying him for the title. He is listed as 23 1/2 inches tall and weighs 12 pounds. Or just about the size of one of Lebron’s thighs.
When Lebron was 18, he was 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about as much as a football linebacker. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was the Chosen One. King James. Savior of the Cleveland Cavaliers, first pick in the NBA draft and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan.
On Sunday, Lebron played basketball like he was the smallest man in the word. Indeed, as the National Basketball Association championship series marched on to its conclusion. Lebron shrank inch-by-inch with each defeat for his Miami Heat until he was virtually invisible at the end of each game and a mere bobble head of himself at the end of the series.
Indeed, his shrinkage was made even more pronounced by the growth with each passing game of Dallas’ seven-foot giant, Dirk Nowitzki. Mr. Softee became Mr. Clutch. James just became irrelevant.
This is not about basketball. If it were, I would say that the Dallas Mavericks, a very talented group of players, were simply better at playing as a team than were the Miami Heat, which is true and rather important in a team sport. But this is one of those sports-as-metaphor-for-life moments. An allegory for all times and my favorite kind, because it involves sports, which, at most, are a pleasant distraction from all the other stuff. No one gets seriously hurt when Lebron James comes up small in the biggest game(s) of his life except maybe for some degenerate gamblers who should have known better than to bet the ranch on a classic narcissist whose life has been a testament to hubris. (Gotta love those Greeks.)
Took a while to get there, but that’s the life lesson. If you are told from childhood that you are special, you are bigger, faster, stronger and far better than others, that you can do no wrong, that you are, indeed, the Chosen One, it can be extremely difficult when something goes wrong (say, the other team wins a game your team should have won) to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “It’s my fault. I didn’t play hard. I didn’t lead. I didn’t do all I could have to win that game.” After all, you can do no wrong.
But behind the arrogance and exaggerated sense of self-importance present in the narcissist, usually lies an insecure individual with low self-esteem who has trouble dealing with failure or criticism. Because he has never been wrong -- or so he was led to believe -- he doesn’t know how to react when blame (for his team’s loss, for example) is laid at his feet.
Someone with a more realistic self-image who also happens to be a superstar (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson) will take it upon himself to do try to do better the next time and, if he fails, well at least he gave it his best shot. But a narcissist -- say someone who starts each game with arms outstretched messiah-like in a cloud of white powder -- can’t deal with failure, so he’s likely to avoid taking risks that could result in defeat. An Average Joe might blow off a job interview. A basketball player might avoid demanding the ball and taking important shots late in a basketball game, even when his teammates are counting on him to do so. Let Dwyane do it.
Unfortunately, for Lebron and his teammates, Dwyane Wade couldn’t carry the team this time. He tried and failed, which is no shame. It still put him one significant step ahead of Lebron.
As I said, this is no-harm, no-foul for most of us. Fans move on. The players get paid well and will try again next year. Young hero-worshippers learn a valuable lesson about clay feet and hopefully file it away for later in life.
For Lebron James, though, it will linger, despite his day-after bravado about moving on with life. There is a lesson -- actually several lessons -- in this painful public humiliation for the young man who held a nationally televised announcement to reveal that he was leaving Cleveland, where he was the unchallenged King James, and “taking (his) talents to South Beach.” To wit: You are never as good as the people who surround you say you are. No one is perfect. The Chosen One has yet to arrive. Showing up is 90 percent of life. Losing is not a disgrace; not doing your best because you’re afraid to be blamed for the loss, is. Humility is a virtue. And, not for nothing, hubris was considered a crime in Ancient Greece.
* * *
P.S.: Junrey Balawing got no cash from Guinness for his smallness, but he showed up for the ceremony, smiled a lot, got a plaque and a birthday cake and gifts from around the world. He seemed certain that no one, not even a star basketball player from America, would claim his crown.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sarah vs. Michele: Let 'em rumble

By Bob Gaydos
There’s a movement afoot, apparently started by conscientious, well-meaning citizens of the liberal political persuasion to convince the mainstream media to stop covering Sarah Palin as if she is a serious political candidate. They want people to write to major network news shows to stop their “wall-to-wall coverage” of Palin and “report on issues that actually effect(sic) us.”*
Sorry friends, I couldn’t disagree more. Ignoring Palin in favor of reporting on the debt ceiling and the relative merits of Tim Pawlenty and that guy who used to be ambassador to China would not only put America to sleep, it would deprive Americans of what promises to be the top reality TV show of the summer: Female Mud Wrestling, starring the two divas of the Tea Party/Republican Party, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. This hope alone makes the whole GOP primary mess worthwhile.
Some people would pay big money to see and hear these darlings of conservative ideology (sorry Mr. Will and Mr. Krauthammer, but I didn’t pick them) go mujer a mujer in a series of debates on “the issues.” But if they’re both candidates, we won’t have to pay a dime. It will be free and in living color, with great hair and enough great quotes to spawn a hundred more web sites.
And on a practical note, as long as Palin and Bachmann are treated as serious candidates, by the media as well as followers within the Republican Party, they will generate headlines and TV coverage and make it harder for any other Republican candidate to get his views more widely known. All of which will make it more difficult for Republicans to continue to blame President Obama for the Bush recession and the two Bush wars and easier for Obama to organize his re-election campaign under the “I Got Osama” banners. And isn’t re-electing Obama what the “serious issues” people really want?
Bottom line here is that the Republicans either hate the few serious candidates they have or won’t let them venture anywhere near the truth on the budget, health care, taxes, etc. That leaves Michele and Sarah as easily the best show in town. Even Republican commentators are speculating on the showdown. Who will prevail?
Will it be the Iowa congresswoman who proclaimed that the shot heard ‘round the world was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, not Concord, Massachusetts? Or will it be the half-term Alaska governor who volunteered that Paul Revere went riding through Boston firing warning shots and ringin’ bells, warning the British that the Americans were not about to give up their guns?
Folks, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Palin, 47, and Bachmann, 55, are both attractive, family values, Christian conservatives, whose free-wheeling verbal styles resonate with Tea Party faithful. Of course, there have already been the usual charges of sexism for anyone even suggesting a GOP catfight and denials among aides in both women’s camps that there is any rivalry here. The web site Politico reported that “Publicly, Palin, Bachmann, and their top staffers have nothing but praise for one another. Palin campaigned for Bachmann last spring in Minnesota, where Palin said the women were “buddies” and Bachmann called Palin “so much one of us” and “absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.”
But this is politics, after all, and Bachmann can’t be happy that Palin launched a bus tour on the eve of Bachmann’s anticipated entrance into the campaign. And “friendship” notwithstanding, Bachmann has told an interviewer she is reading the political gossip book, “Game Change,” an insider’s look at the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign.
“Game Change' is a book that is very difficult to put down,” Bachmann said. “At least I found it difficult to put down, and it gives a person pause. But the other thing that it does, I think, is it informed me of what I don’t want to do.”
In case you’re curious, “Game Change,” which relied heavily on interviews with McCain’s campaign manager, portrayed Palin as ignorant of world events, including World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the history of Iraq and Saddam Hussein and prone to wild mood swings.
It was so friendly of Bachmann to point out that she doesn’t want to follow in those Palin footsteps. And so nice of her supporters to note that Bachman is a three-term member of Congress, former Minnesota state legislator, a trained tax law attorney and foster mother to 23 children, and Palin is not.
What Palin is is a savvy self-promoter and fund-raiser, who will have a say in Republican politics, as a candidate or not, as long as other, more knowledgeable, more qualified potential candidates allow her to parade around as if she speaks for them or their party. And so long as she does that, Bachmann, her semi-clone, will also be afforded the same, undeserved status. You want to talk abut issues? Ask them about issues. After all, their party says they are serious candidates. Or at least it doesn’t say they aren’t serious candidates. Same difference in politics.
Which is why I’m salivating at the thought of a Palin/Bachmann mud-wrestling match. Will we get more of the quotable Bachmann:
  • ''I think there is a point where you say enough is enough to government intrusion. … Does the federal government really need to know our phone numbers?''
  • “I don't know where they're going to get all this money because we're running out of rich people in this country.''
  • “There is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact ... hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design."
Or more of the incomparable Sarah:
  • "Well, let's see. There's of course in the great history of America there have been rulings that there's never going to be absolute consensus by every American, and there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So, you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but ?" -- Sarah Palin, unable to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with other than Roe vs. Wade, interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • “I haven't heard the president state that we're at war. That's why I too am not knowing -- do we use the term intervention? Do we use war? Do we use squirmish? What is it?" -- On the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, March 29, 2011.
  • “It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: 'Sit down and shut up,' but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out." -- Announcing her resignation as governor, July 3, 2009, midway through her term.
I strongly suspect that none of the people who want the press to ignore Sarah Palin as a serious candidate, has much respect for the opinions of other Republican candidates on “serious” issues either. And network news executives gave up covering news in favor of entertainment years ago. Better to use your energy listening to Obama and trying to influence his opinions, if you wish, and praying like the dickens that Sarah and Michele wind up on the same stage in the same debate over and over again.
Which one do you think looks better in red?

(* OK, major gripe: If you want to rally smart liberals to your cause, use the right words. It should be issues that “affect” us, not “effect.” Look it up. Even network news execs might catch the error.)