Monday, January 12, 2009

Jim Scarantino/Post-Partisanship

For those outside of Albuquerque, you have almost certainly not heard of Jim Scarantino. He
presents himself as a brainy and moderate -- if somewhat pompous -- independent "libertarian."
according to Democracy for New Mexico. They have a fantastic piece up as a takedown of Scarantino's latest column about pending Domestic Partnership legislation. My favorite part of the piece, besides the fact-checking (which is always awesome in the blogosphere) is that they don't attack Scarantino so much for his stated partisan allegiance, but that they expose him for misrepresenting a bill in a wretchedly partisan way. It's a 'gotcha', but it's a really good gotcha, and it is exactly what the blogosphere can do best.

Scarantino, presenting himself as rational if disagreeable, attempts to make a broad appeal to the evangelical base of conservative movements, directly borrowing a line touted in defense of Proposition 8. He does this despite claiming that he's "on record supporting this concept", and he then goes on to say that "Every major religion continues to reject homosexual unions." I can't imagine any clear objective in his mind - do religions that support homosexual unions count as minor? Does he, the free and rational thinker he claims to be, think that the silent majority is justified in their fears, especially given that those fears have no real basis in the law? And, most importantly of all, is Jim's column anything more than masturbatory leftist-blaming?

What's a leftist, a moderate, or a genuine libertarian to do in the face of this? Tom Tomorrow of "This Modern World" suggests that we are now in an era of turning a blind eye to such deeds, in the spirit of post-partisanship. It's implied that because the left has been proven right on behalf of our electoral success that we forgive and forget the grievances placed upon us in the past. But post-partisanship isn't about forgetting - the left won with popular support, so it's not like we're forgetting the things we got right. And just because Obama has made a call for national unity and moving beyond party divisions (that'd be the forgiving) doesn't mean that we can't call someone out on blatant, civil-discourse-destroying partisan mud-slinging. Jim Scarantino here has nothing constructive to bring to the table - by advocating an opinion he disagrees with, whose basis in the law is non-existent, he has more or less decided that rather than engaging in a discussion about the boundary between church and state, he will instead claim rightness and hurl vitriol at those he disagrees with. (Really, Jim, fascist as a meaningful insult? This isn't 7th grade, and you are this close to breaking Godwin's Law).

Being post-partisan doesn't mean letting him say whatever he wants in the spirit of discourse (freedom of speech covers that). Being post-partisan means that when someone shows up to the discourse with a pile of unsubstantiated lies and the Cliff's Notes to 1984, we are allowed to ignore them and talk to the actual libertarians in the room. Because at least they are taking the discussion seriously. Because their intent is finding that line between church and state, instead of asserting their line is absolutely and infallibly correct. Because governments and political parties don't deal in infallibility, Jim - that's the realm of the Church.


Mike Blessing said...

Actual libertarians don't swallow, hook, line and sinker, God-Emperor Barack's call for everyone to fall in behind him.

Actual libertarians read the platforms that Obama and McCain ran on, and most likely didn't vote for either of these two imperialists.

And why should libertarians be the slightest bit upset about "leftist" blaming? After all, the oft-invoked German Chancellor came in THIRD in the mass-murder body count behind Stalin (America's convenient "ally" at the time), and Mao Zedong. Mao was the worst of all, in terms of sheer body count, yet the "left" has never really disavowed him. As for per capita body count, the "honor" goes to Pol Pot (another "leftist"), who killed 1.5 million Cambodians who disagreed with him.

So any self-professed "libertarian" who allies with the statist "left" isn't a libertarian at all, if there's any sort of actual principle behind the label.

If you're happy and you know it
Shake your chains
If you're happy and you know it
Shake your chains
If you're happy and you know it
And you really wanna show it
If you're happy and you know it
Shake your chains

Kelsey Atherton said...

@Mike Blessing

I think we are at the point where we can safely say that governments of the Left in the capitalist west (Which includes most of Europe and includes the democrats in the United States all the way back to FDR) is nothing like the totalitarian left that was exploited by Stalin and Mao. The populists in the US came closer to fitting that bill than anyone, and they weren't a significant presence in US politics for a long time.

So, accepting that the current left is a left that embraces capitalism, we should also be aware that it's one which is rather keen on elections, civil rights, and personal freedoms. Yes, there are occasional nanny-state impulses (more typical of Hillary than Barack, though), but the left in the US does not aim at being a totalitarian state controlled by the proletariat. Appeals in US politics to any class except the middle class fail and often spell the end of the career of the politician making the appeal.

So, libertarians are justified in fearing Stalin and Mao as much as Hitler coming to power in their own country, and for as much is made out of how bad Hitler is, the trio of totalitarians are the ones we should be made about. But really, we should be especially made about the totalitarianism, and not so much about the political ideology behind it. Totalitarian/communist left and totalitarian/fascist right both exclude any dissenting points of view and treat dissent as thoughtcrime. That's wrong, and I'm certainly not advocating a similar doctrinaire approach for the administration of our next President.

But crying 'fascist' when one has no evidence of such action, when one can clearly see that the legislation in question expands rights for some without diminishing the rights of any, and when one is personally supportive of the expanded rights strikes me as both intellectually dishonest and really just kind of useless. Yes, fascists bad. Yes, totalitarians bad. And yes, it is a really, really good idea to closely examine legislation that can take away fundamental freedoms. And again yes, this country should have doing better about that for the past decade - where were the fact-checkers for the PATRIOT Act? (I'll excuse myself - I was 13 at the time). But just because someone went through the effort to check the bill for fear of totalitarianism doesn't mean that totalitarianism is there no matter what.

The bill doesn't contain anything that would justify the fears of libertarians about the statist left. The bill expands the rights of some without taking away the rights of any.

Any libertarian who can look at that bill and claim it is part of a plot by the left to create a totalitarian regime isn't a libertarian worth their ideology. And any libertarian who chooses too abstain from all interactions with government because they feel government is an inherent evil, rather than actively engaging government in the interest of protecting freedoms and removing unnecessary state apparatus, is a libertarian whose ideology may be strong but whose ideological strength is rather worthless.

Engaging with government, especially engaging with the government as the opposition, is in no way allying with the dominant party. Instead, it's looking out for the constituents the dominant party doesn't represent, and doing ones best to prevent the erosion of freedoms in the name of the greater good.