Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I support Gary Johnson for President

I have followed American presidential elections closely since 1988. I abstained in voting for a President in 1988 and 1992 because I wasn't a US citizen yet but I would have abstained even if I could vote. In 2000, I did think Al Gore deserved defeat and because I mistakenly trusted Bush on his no-nation building pledge, I voted for Bush in 2000. With considerably less excuse, but still thinking that Bush would do something further with respect to the radical Islamic threat, while Kerry would appease the world, I voted for Bush a second time. Bush, of course, ended up disappointing me.

During all these previous elections the Republican candidates were always religious or at least giving extensive lip-service to religion which at minimum means opposing the right to abortion and more recently opposing Gay marriage. All this, while at the same time not doing anything significant to cut the size of government. Yes, minor tax cuts were proposed and passed but all that meant was that we would have to borrow more to support an increasing government size with less government revenue. And George W. Bush was the worst in that respect, actually adding new departments of government and proposing major new government initiatives, while Republicans in Congress went on an unprecedented spending spree.

From a rational perspective what are the priorities of government that one would wish a candidate would stand for at this particular time? If people in society were already strongly supportive of Objectivist ideas then nothing less than a completely principled candidate would do and it would be wrong to vote for anything less. But while there have been some very encouraging intellectual trends in recent years, particularly in terms of the tea party movement but also in terms of a greater awareness of the threat of Islamic terrorism, we are still some decades or even generations from an society dominated by Objectivist ideas the way our current society is still dominated by so-called liberal ideas.

Over the last 10 years or so two issues should have dominated the political scene: The 9/11 and its aftermath in terms of foreign and defense policy (as well as affecting domestic policy if one takes into account the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA and the "Patriot" act). The financial crisis and its aftermath in terms of domestic policy.

While 9/11 was not the first Islamic terrorist attack on US soil, it was obviously the worst, with a death toll rivaling the Pearl Harbor. Thus it was no surprise that unlike previous attacks which were largely disregarded, this one resulted in two wars: Afghanistan and Iraq. In a way, what was a surprise is that no further mass casualty attack followed since that time (though of course numerous attempts were made and several smaller scale actions did result in deaths).

Both the Afghanistan and Iraq were initially presented as wars of self-defense, yet were fought in a manner and quickly became focused on altruistic purposes of our fighting for the sake of the Afghans or Iraqis and saving them from their oppressors. After a near-civil war, we managed to bribe enough people in Iraq to temporarily "stabilize" the situation, while in Afghanistan, due to the inadequacy of the initial war effort the Taliban simply relocated to Pakistan and continues to harass the weak Karzai government while US troops are still engaged in nation building efforts.

All this while the source and inspiration of the overall conflict between totalitarian Islam and Western Civilization in Iran and Saudi Arabia is largely ignored.

The financial crisis started with government housing and banking policies which led to a financial collapse. This resulted in the so-called "great recession" which we are still experiencing with official national unemployment still around 9% and unofficial "underemployment" at 18.2%. The response to the crisis was spending, spending, and more spending, as well as an easy money monetary policy. This substantially increased the deficit as well as the national debt which was already reaching records during the Bush administration. There has also been a growing awareness that with the growing debt and given the government obligations to pay for so-called "entitlement" programs (such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) there will come a point at which the United States will be literally bankrupt -- it simply won't be able to pay all its bills.

All these problems are a result of the fact we have moved far away from the proper role and functions of government, which should be limited to protecting individual rights.

Which brings me to Gary Johnson. I have spent the last few weeks investigating Johnson's positions on all the major and minor issues. Gary Johnson is clearly not beholden to the religious right. He supports a woman's right to an abortion (up to the point of viability), is in favor of civil unions for all couples, straight or gay, and wants the government to get out of the marriage business.

Johnson is in favor of marijuana legalization, arguing that " it is insane to arrest roughly 800,000 people a year for choosing to use a natural substance that is, by any reasonable objective standard, less harmful than alcohol, a drug that is advertised at every major sporting event."

Most importantly, Johnson is promising to submit a balanced budget in 2013. That would mean cutting 43 cents out of every dollar we are spending now. I know of no other candidate that is proposing this (with the possible exception of Ron Paul who has far greater negatives than Johnson). And he is proposing replacing the income tax (and thereby abolishing the IRS) with the fair tax.

He also supports open immigration, proposing to convert all current illegal immigrants to have a work visa so that they can work here legally. All people seeking to immigrate this country could do so after a simple background check.

He supports stopping the nation building by withdrawing from both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, the latter bespeaks of his weakest position. He does not seem to recognize the continuing threat from Iran. While he supports the alliance with Israel, he argues that "there is no military threat from Iran. We should be vigilant to that military threat, but I don’t see it." This is strange understanding of "threat". He suggests that because we vastly outspend the rest of the world we have little to worry about from Iran and the main thing we can do to keep Iran in check is to support Israel.

While his support for Israel is laudatory, the fact is that the current regime in Iran has been attacking us beginning with the 1979 embassy taking, through the embassy and marine barracks bombings in Lebanon, the hostage takings in Lebanon, the Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and most recently its support for the attacks on US troops by the insurgents in Iraq as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Gary Johnson supported the war in Afghanistan, saying that "we were attacked, we attacked back" -- that suggest that he will do no worse than any other Republican candidate in protecting this country. Let's face it -- is there a Republican candidate out there who upon coming into office would list the facts about Iran's aggression and war making I listed above and declare war against Iran? Not even John Bolton would do this. Johnson is being honest here: He will defend us if we are attacked and he will support our allies in defending themselves as well as ourselves (presumably the way Israel did recently in attacking and destroying the Syrian nuclear plant). His position is not ideal but arguably not significantly worse than any other candidate.

Furthermore, while unlike Johnson I initially supported the Iraq war, I have very come to very much regret my support for this war because in the way it was handled and how played out it set back the cause of a self-interested, rational foreign policy for decades. Also, I think a significant reduction in our overseas military presence is long overdue. Yes, we are a global trading power and we should certainly ensure that our trade is not interfered with whether by pirates as near the coast of Somalia, or other threats. But our allies, who are far from poor, need to pick up much more of the cost, particularly in soldiers. Other than in exceptional cases, I would not expect the American military to fight to defend non-Americans.

It is clear that Johnson is the best Republican candidate out there particularly from a budget and tax perspective but also in terms of excellent positions on immigration, drug policy, and social issues. His foreign policy positions weaker, yet seem to be little worse than those of other major candidates. I will support him for the Republican nomination and if he achieves it will support him for US President.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Debate on Government (and the Nature of Man)

I very much enjoyed watching today's First Principles debate between Ayn Rand Institute President Yaron Brook and Demos President Miles Rapoport on "Government: What is its proper role?". The event was announced, advertised, and livestreamed on Facebook, yet another example of the many benefits of this at times maligned forum.

As an aside, it is interesting to recall that back in the 1980s John Ridpath, Harry Binswanger, and other Objectivists would participate in debates. However, the debates were between Objectivists and Marxists. Watching the debates back then (which were also quite good) I always thought that a much more relevant debate would be between an Objectivist and a welfare-statists, i.e., a liberal. Well, the views of Mr. Rapoport were indeed those of an run of the mill welfare-statist. We have come a long way from debating Marxists.

But something else struck me about this debate. Mr. Rapoport kept coming back to the issue of rich vs. poor. A free society (free of regulations) would allow only a few rich people to flourish. It seems clear that Mr. Rapoport thinks that the majority of individuals in society are helpless without the endless series of government programs and regulations that he supports and would either die or live out their miserable lives in severe poverty unable to rise above subsistence that the only rich might grant them. Yaron Brook had a far more optimistic view of human capabilities.

This contrast reminded me of Dennis Prager's oft repeated contention that one of the basic differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals think people are basically good, while conservatives are considerably less sanguine about the inherent nature of man. I have never quite accepted that that was in fact the basic difference between these two camps. It always seemed to me there were other, more important issues here. The contrasting views of Brook and Rapoport have given me a lead to what I think is a more basic issue, at least between liberals and Objectivists.

Liberals think man, the individual, is weak and helpless. Yes, there might be a few "supermen" out there who could flourish under any conditions but the vast majority of people cannot fend for themselves or stand up for their rights without the protection of a gang. That gang is government and if one takes altruism as one's basic moral code (as all good liberals do) then government must do everything it can to help the majority weak as against the minority strong. Thus force is necessary to fight off the strong who would otherwise walk all over the weak.

By contrast, Objectivists think that man, at his essence, is strong and capable. Yes, there might be a few men who cannot fend for themselves but they are easily taken care of through the generosity of the vast majority of strong, independent men. Most men will flourish by their own actions and via trade to mutual advantage with other men. The only issue that government must address is the banishment of force from human relations so that only free voluntary cooperation is allowed. The banishment of force, and thus, protection of individual rights, follows naturally from an egoistic ethics in which the moral purpose of each individual is the fulfillment of his life, and therefore the role of government is limited to the protection of the free action of each individual in pursuing of his own happiness.

It is heartening that the debate was well attended online there were upwards of 850 viewers of the live stream. I am very much looking forward to the next debate which will take place on April 7, 2011 and in which the topic will be "Freedom: For Whom and from What?".