Archive for Government

Hollywood, Entertainment and Politics

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on November 17, 2012 by Legatus Libertatis

Where does conservatism fit in with celebrity pop culture?

Flipping through the channels today, I came upon the 1995 movie “Clueless” featuring the young actress Stacey Dash who made an appearance in the 2012 presidential election news cycle.  If you do not remember, Stacey Dash retweeted a Mitt Romney endorsement in early October, before the election, and incurred a backlash of criticisms from the African-American community and the liberal establishment in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

The Stacey Dash “controversy” was much ado about little, and she was defended by a diverse cross-section of the media and political spokespeople.  Her situation was unique in that it challenged two assumptions about the constituent demographics of the Democrat Party: blacks and Hollywood.  It’s the latter which I want to talk about today.

The leftist leanings of Hollywood have become something of a cliché, but not an inaccurate one.  The celebrity endorsements for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 often came in whole cavalcades, with music videos, commercials and comedy sketches bursting at the seams with attractive familiar faces from TV and film.  Mitt Romney’s highest-profile celebrity endorsement came courtesy of the angrily doddering Clint Eastwood.  The whole question of the effectiveness of endorsements in swaying voters will be forever unanswered, and the question of celebrity endorsements is even more difficult to measure.  Even if a celebrity endorsement does not move a person to the polls, the cumulative effect on informing the overall culture cannot be ignored, particularly now in an age when media and technology blend information and entertainment so thoroughly.  It will factor into decisions and opinions f the public is constantly inundated with left-leaning news when seeking information, and endorsements of Democrats and their policies from the stars of their music, film and television when seeking entertainment.  People look to pop-culture to gauge what is mainstream, and it will be a problem for the right so long as conservatives are seen as squares and puritans while liberals are savvy and compassionate.

Examples of actors and celebrities on the left side of the ideological spectrum are as innumerable as the stars in the sky.  From the stereotypical standbys like Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, to the extreme whackos like Rosie O’Donnell and the thoughtful moderates like Sam Waterston,  liberals reign supreme in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.  I don’t personally participate in boycotts against entertainers because of their political beliefs; I still love Steven Weber’s TV and movie appearances regardless of what he writes for the Huffington Post. And while liberal ideology is more prevalent in these circles, it is not a complete monopoly.  There are celebrity voices on the right, if one strains to hear them.

In the 2008 Republican Primaries, Chuck Norris emerged onto the political stage with an endorsement of Mike Huckabee.  In 2012, Vince Vaughn publically supported the candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul (a little more hip and relevant than Ron Silver and Dean Cameron).  Republicans include Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, John Voigt, Robert Duvall, Janine Turner, Victoria Jackson – the list of GOP celebrities does seem to be smaller, more dated and more obscure (though this list is by no means exhaustive).  In the wake of controversial movies like “Redacted” (Mark Cuban’s docudrama about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers), I recall hearing that Bruce Willis was seeking a film studio to produce his own war movie with a pro-America rightwing slant, but cold find no backers.  I do not for one moment suggest there should be some sort of affirmative action law to force studio executives to be “fair and balanced”; they are free to invest their money in what they believe in or what they think will bring in the most revenue, though there are people on the left who would like to use The Fairness Doctrine and Net Neutrality to correct the imbalance they claim exists in favor of conservatives on the radio and interwebs.

Years ago, before The Colbert Report, Comedy Central had a reasonably well-balanced political hour:  the left-leaning The Daily Show with Jon Stewart followed by the right-leaning Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.  We often think that there are simply no comparable funny voices on the right who can connect with the public as well as the likes of Jon Stewart.  I’ve often heard lamenting that no similar voice exists on the right, and talk of finding one reminds me of talk before a safari aimed at finding an albino gorilla.  After embarrassing-to-watch failures like Fox News’ The 1/2 Hour News Hour, I can see why the prospect of finding a “Daily Show for the Right” seems hopeless to many people.  The truth is that there are conservative entertainers and comedians like Dennis Miller and the aforementioned Colin Quinn who would be capable of sustaining a right-leaning television comedy/news show, but they would first have to be given the opportunity by network executives who seem to have made the advancement or nurturing of liberal ideology a part of their agenda.

The current best hope for a conservative voice in pop-culture, someone to serve as a counterweight to Jon Stewart, would seem to be Greg Gutfeld of Fox News.  Where else but Fox News would such a new voice have even the chance to become established?  Gutfeld has been the longtime host of Fox News’ late night show Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.  More recently, he has become a stable in the ensemble show The Five which fills the daytime slot on Fox News which used to belong to Glenn Beck.  Even more recently, Gutfeld and Imus producer Bernard McGuirk have been appearing in a new regular segment on The O’Reilly Factor, and last night (16 Nov.) I saw Greg Gutfeld filling in for the first time as a guest host on O’Reilly.  These are all steps in the right direction, moving Gutfeld farther into the mainstream and out of late night obscurity.

I have to say it took me a while to warm up to Red Eye; for the first year or two it was on the air, it was something I bypassed while channel surfacing, dismissed as noise and smarmy talking-heads, but once I began watching and paying attention it grew on me.  Now, whenever I can stay awake late enough, I watch Red Eye every night before bed, to get a final take on the day’s news with an irreverent edge and no politically correct filter.    The show’s titular ombudsman, Andy Levy, provides a regular libertarian voice, but even more heartening is the show’s service as a forum for other libertarians (like guests Gary Johnson and Penn Gillett) and sane conservatives (like regular guest Congressman Thaddeus McCotter).

The ideological battle waged in the pop-culture theater is perhaps the most difficult for conservatives.  Editorial control and decisions about content and programming give the left a decided home-court advantage.  Fox News seems to be the only viable market for conservative alternatives, but the network already has a stigma that prevents many key demographics (like young people and minorities) from ever tuning in.  The Fox broadcast network airs many programs which take jabs at conservatives and it seems reluctant to try entertainment programming which deviates from the liberal narratives commonplace in the industry.  New Media and the internet is the next frontier, and perhaps the best forum in the future to keep liberty and founding principles relevant in pop culture.  Maybe a Legatus Libertatis Youtube channel should be my next endeavor.

-Legatus Libertatis

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*The Trouble with Government Solutions and Laws of Good Intention*

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by Legatus Libertatis

The Trouble with Government Solutions and Laws of Good Intention:  Why regulations and government programs are rarely the best options – and are often completely inappropriate options – for solving society’s problems.

Many people in this country follow a two-step process; they first identify a problem in society, and next ask the question, “How can government solve this problem? – or more specifically, “How can the federal government solve this problem?”  This process leaves out a very critical step that the Constitution and Federal system require.  Once a problem in society is identified and recognized by the public, the first question must necessarily be, “Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to address this problem?”  If the answer is “no”, then the issue should not be placed into the hands of the central government, no matter how good an argument can be made for an effective government solution.  If the answer to that critical question of Constitutional authority is “no”, the problem must be solved by other entities, be they state or local governments, volunteer organizations, non-profits, charities, Churches, corporations, clubs or any other group of people with a common cause.  Why can’t these groups address problems in society, as they have throughout human history?  I say they absolutely can.

Many Americans, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum, will seldom directly explain why their ideas for a government solution to a problem warrant violation of the 10th Amendment, which delegates to the people and the states those powers not expressly granted to the federal government by the Constitution.  They will not explain why the law of the land should be ignored in favor of their government solution because they are never asked to – because the assumption is already made that problems, once identified, should be addressed by the government.  These statists and leftists will go on to argue against the merits of alternative solutions.  They will claim that only the Federal government has the resources to tackle a given issue (in some cases this might be true, because the government has enforced its own monopoly).  They will claim that businesses are too corrupt and greedy to act in the public’s interest.  They ascribe angelic altruistic qualities to agents of the government,  believing them to be paragons of virtue and efficiency, even when evidence to the contrary is blatant and overwhelming.  Why do people on the left believe that one group of humans (bureaucrats and elected officials) can accomplish things that no other group of humans can?

Questioning the effectiveness or authority of government to solve a problem is not the same thing as saying the problem shouldn’t be solved.

Who will keep poisons out of our food and prevent our automobiles from exploding on the road?  I point you towards organizations like Consumers Reports.  More importantly, I ask if it is in any company’s interest to sell products or services which injure or kill its customers?  Of course it isn’t; businesses want repeat customers, not corpses and litigation.  In the last year alone we have examples of voluntary recalls in the agricultural produce and automobile industries which precede orders from the overseeing federal agencies.  The free market drives quality and many industries can effectively regulate themselves.  Additionally, the vacuum created by a reduction in government oversight would invigorate a whole private sector industry focused on quality control and consumer protection.  Only the government can test substances or warn consumers about hazards and defects?  It is not as though scaling back the FDA would return us overnight to the dystopian jungle of Upton Sinclair.

Piles and piles of regulation are not the only thing standing between us and sausage made of human fingers.  This is an example of a problem which government DID step in and solve once upon a time, but the government is never willing to step back and say that its job has been done and the agency can be dissolved.  The unelected bureaucrats in these federal agencies will continue to write new regulations to keep themselves relevant and expand the scope of their power beyond their original mandates.  The FCC was born out of the Interstate Commerce Commission created to regulate railroad rates, and today they have reinvented themselves into the police agency of the internet rather than admit their own irrelevancy and go gracefully into the night.  When there is a place or need for government oversight, the government will never contain itself to that limited scope or voluntarily surrender power when it’s job is done.

Ultimately, whether it is a federal agency, a charity or a business, we are still merely talking about a group of people coming together with a common objective in mind and pooling resources to accomplish the objective.  I do not believe that people who join the payroll of the federal government are suddenly imbued with magic powers which allow them to see and predict more clearly or to operate more efficiently and magnanimously than any other man or woman.  Even when there is clear demonstrable evidence of government waste and inefficiency, programs are not scrapped and losses are not cut.  We continue to pour millions, billions, and in some cases trillions of dollars into bloated programs which long ago utterly failed in their mandates (which in many instances were unconstitutional to begin with).  There are numerous examples.

Amtrak and the United States Postal Service are excellent examples of failed government programs.  Only in the federal government could a department continually operate in the red, losing money every quarter, defaulting on payments and not be shut down.  If the USPS were a private business, it would have declared bankruptcy ages ago.  Today it even outsources deliveries to more efficient private enterprises like UPS and Federal Express, yet statists insist it must be preserved to provide services to Americans than no one else could or would.  Better examples still are our government’s Wars on Poverty and Drugs.  Trillions of dollars, decades of work, immense manpower, and libraries full of new regulations have failed in every measurable way to solve the problems they were launched to address.  To suggest ending such failed programs, however, is to invite accusations of heartlessness.  This brings us to the most dangerous and detrimental phenomena at play: Laws of Good Intention.

While both major political parties in the country fall into the trap of justifying government programs by their good intentions, rather than their results, it is an affliction most acutely associate with the Democrats and the left.  Having completely bypassed the critical question of whether or not the government is constitutionally authorized to address a problem, they design a solution with all of the best intentions in the world.  I do not doubt that the proponents of such government solutions genuinely believe their plan will alleviate suffering, elevate the downtrodden, rectify injustice or otherwise improve society.  The trouble is that this good intention is expected to then shield and insulate them from any criticism or challenge.  To oppose the government solution is seen as opposition to the very idea of solving the problem at hand.  Too often, I have been accused of cruelty or a lack of compassion merely because I suggest that a government program is failing, and that the private sector should be allowed to attempt its own solution.  These programs are never judged on the merits of their effectiveness, only the good intentions behind them.  If the intention is good enough, the program must continue.

That we continue failed programs which the nation cannot afford is as much a display of our values as a society as it is a meaningful step towards solving the problem, or so those on the left will say.   Following the recent presidential debate in which Mitt Romney said he would end funding to Public Television, LeVar Burton appeared with a counterpoint on the O’Reilly Factor.  Burton acknowledged that PBS and Sesame Street were financially successful, and would be able to survive on their own in the marketplace like any other network or show, and he acknowledged that the country was massively in debt, yet he asserted that we should continue to fund Sesame Street because it “sends the message” that we, as a people, value education.  Americans are unable to express their values without using the taxing and spending policy of the central government as their messenger?  When I ask people why they think NPR should receive federal funding, they respond by touting the excellent programs and music and news that can be found on NPR.  They do not realize that they are making an argument for why NPR should be able to exist and compete on its own in a marketplace that – with the introduction of satellite radio – is diverse enough that stations can exist dedicated to golf, horrorcore or chamber music.  And what does it do to the charitable nature of Americans when tax deductions for donations are reduced and government tax-collectors take your money with the threat of guns and jail, to give it to charities that the central planners have deemed worthy?

So many of these arguments and debates going on in America’s political discourse, about the effectiveness of a given government program, the efficiency of a given government agency, the good intentions or societal values reflected, or the exclusive ability of government to do what no other entity can, are predicated on willfully ignoring the question of Constitutional authority, and should be moot.  Even in those rare instances when it can be shown that a federal program can effectively address a problem, that program should not see the light of day if it falls outside the scope of Constitutional authority.  We should have faith in ourselves to group together and solve problems on our own, as individuals, groups of neighbors, corporations, charities, city councils, and every other variety of organization that is not the federal government.  At the end of the day, the problems will be solved by people sharing ideas and working together.  In some cases, those people will be part of a government agency, but they absolutely do not HAVE TO BE part of a government agency to be capable of improving society.

I do not believe that the federal government knows how to spend your money more wisely than you do; it is plagued by waste and excess.  I do not believe that people should be forced to spend money on programs they find morally objectionable; the left would have us believe that without federal funding, the alternative is for stem-cell research to be outlawed, and they never talk about the billions of dollars invested into the research by the private sector.  I do not believe that the Constitutional restrictions on federal authority should be ignored and disregarded because someone has an idea that is “so good” or “so well-intentioned” that it deserves implementation regardless.  I do not believe that it means I do not care about children if I question the effectiveness of public schools and the Department of Education.  I do not believe that it means I want the elderly to suffer and die in the streets because I point out that Social Security is insolvent.  I do not believe that people in the government are inherently better at doing things than any other people in the country.

We the People are responsible for creating society’s ill and for solving them.  We created the federal government to address specific issues, enumerated in the Constitution, and we retained for ourselves the powers and rights to solve all other problems by different means.  I have faith in those other means, and more importantly, the Constitution REQUIRES us to rely on them, regardless of how certain the statists in Washington are that they know better than we do.

-Legatus Libertatis

Obama’s victory is better for the Liberty Movement than a Romney victory would have been

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on November 7, 2012 by Legatus Libertatis

There is a silver lining to the 2012 election for libertarian-minded Americans.

On this day chock-full of post-election analysis and “Monday morning quarterbacking” I am sure I am not the only one making the argument that the libertarian movement is better off with a Romney loss than we would have been had he won.  I’ll attempt to explain the reasons behind this conclusion.  And no, this is not simply a case of someone trying to make lemonade out of lemons; I had decided before the election that an Obama victory would be slightly more preferable than a Romney victory (of course a Gary Johnson victory would have been ideal).

It was an odd experience for me watching the election results come in on the evening of 6 November.  If you read my last blog post, you know that while I have always subscribed to the libertarian philosophy, this was the first presidential election in which I did not vote for the Republican candidate.  Watching the election results was odd because I had to fight against my natural instinct to root for Mitt Romney, particularly in the battle-ground states.  On the one hand, a part of me still wanted to see Romney win, because that would have been evidence that more of the American public was rejecting the left’s Big Government agenda.  However, on the other hand I knew that a Romney administration would also have advanced a Big Government agenda, and – most damningly – would have done so in the name of conservatism.

With Romney’s defeat, the Libertarian movement can continue the fight to reform the Republican party from within.  It is true that Romney was slightly better than Obama on issues of economic and commercial freedoms, but he remained atrocious on issues of personal liberty and military interventionism.   Slightly better was not good enough for Libertarians in this election, but that is precisely the message that the Republican establishment would have taken away from a Romney victory.  The Republican establishment would have received the signal that, at most, they need only pay lip-service to issues important to the libertarian wing; they would have concluded that the libertarian vote was something they could afford to take for granted or dismiss entirely.  If a Republican candidate had won the presidency this year against the opposition of the libertarian right, the Ron Paul types in the party would have been further marginalized and ostracized; instead, they now have a chance and voice in reshaping the party moving forward.

During the primary season, the idea was floated that a Rick Santorum nomination (and subsequent loss in the general election) would have been the best outcome for the libertarian movement.  If the GOP had fully embraced social conservatism, the religious right, and supported a candidate who was blatantly opposed to liberty and in favor of using the power of the federal government to enforce morality, the impact of Obama’s re-election would have carved even greater inroads for the libertarian movement in the Republican party.  It would have served as proof that the antiquated intolerance and rigidity of social conservatism was not a recipe for electoral success.  The message sent by the defeat of a more moderate flip-flopper like Mitt Romney is not quite as potent, but it does still provide a silver lining.

Our case would be even stronger if the margin by which Mitt Romney lost the election was the same as the number of votes received by Gary Johnson.  I could drill down to a wonky degree into the numbers in individual states and precincts to try to make the argument that Johnson did indeed sway the election, but I’ve never been a fan of manipulating statistics like that (it’s like some of the stats in major league baseball which seem designed to give make any player a leader in one category or another.  Coming to the plate next is Eugene Crenshaw, who leads the national league in earning walks from left handed pitchers when runners are in scoring position during late innings in games which are the second part of a double-header).  The fact is that Gary Johnson garnered about 1% of the vote.  Libertarians in Congressional, state and local elections performed better.

A Romney victory in the 2012 election would have left the Libertarians fighting an ideological war from the outside against both the Republican and Democrat parties.  A President Romney would have continued to usurp power from Congress by use of executive orders and the powers of Commander-in-Chief to circumvent the legislative process and conduct unauthorized military action overseas.  Under his administration, the national deficits and debt would continue to increase (albeit at a negligibly slower pace).  The Democrats and the mainstream media would have made token gestures of protest, but the obvious hypocrisy of their arguments in the face of Obama’s record would have hamstrung the opposition.  By contrast, we can now use the rabid partisan atmosphere to our advantage.  It will be much easier to rally a wider coalition of Republicans against the statist agenda that is sure to define Barack Obama’s second term.  Republicans love to criticize and oppose Democrats.

Today the Republican Party and Democrat Party are far more alike than they are different.  The public is not being given a true choice between Big Government and freedom.

If we are shackled to a two-party system in this country then we should have only one party which champions increased federal spending, tax policy and regulations which are prohibitive to business, an ever-expanding bureaucracy that encroaches on the rights of states and individuals, unconstitutional military action abroad and police action at home, and another party which opposes it.

Whether the strangle-hold by the two parties is broken by a third, or one party is drastically reformed, our challenge is provide this alternative vision.

The history of American politics shows us that such sea changes are not impossible.  The Progressive Party of the early 20th century was eventually absorbed into the Democrat party, which to this day remains true to the progressive movement .  Perhaps the Libertarian Party and movement will accomplish a similar reform of the Republican Party, or perhaps the GOP will simply have to go the way of the Whigs and be replaced.

The mainstream media continues to propagate the myth that the two choices we had in yesterday’s election were the only two and were fundamentally different; clearly, we cannot count on the media to fight this battle for us.  Luckily there are voices inside the Republican party and out which now have a chance to be heard.  We must work to strengthen the Libertarian Party as well as support those freedom fighters in Congress and the Senate attempting to reform Republican Party from the inside.

If you haven’t seen the interview from ReasonTV with Jim Demint on why the Republicans need to embrace the libertarian movement, I highly recommend it (http://youtu.be/89kx4hBrBrE/).

I do not regret my vote for Gary Johnson, even though a Johnson presidency was something of a pipe dream this year.  I voted my conscience, and I voted for dialogue.  Many Americans have good instincts and are opposed to the use of drones to police our skies at home and assassinate Americans around the world, understand the basic principle of not spending more than you take in, see the Constitution as a limit on federal power to be respected, believe that free people should be able to make their own decisions about their lives, and that a bloated, corrupt and inefficient central government doesn’t know how to spend your money better than you do.  (Here is another great video of man-on-the-street interviews showing that Obama supporters oppose his policies when they think they were proposed by the right –http://youtu.be/Skw-0jv9kts).  The problem is that many Americans do not realize that their government is conducting itself in this manner, and others do not realize that they have a choice in the matter.  We have four years to gain inroads, build momentum, spread the message and educate the public before the next presidential election.

Check back regularly for new posts, and subscribe to my Facebook feed for updates and links.

-Legatus Libertatis

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