Saturday, February 9, 2008

Taking Libertarian candidates seriously (1)

If the Libertarian Party intends to become a true alternative to the Demopublicans, then the first thing we have to do is begin taking our national candidates seriously, and by that I mean holding them to the same standards of criticism and analysis we expect the more mainstream candidates to face.

That means that I expect a Libertarian candidate to actually speak of issues rather than ideology, and to exhibit some sort of understanding of the powers and limitations of the office of the Presidency in the modern world. In other words, if you want to be considered a serious candidate from a serious party, then you need to have some credibility.

I am, bluntly speaking, only willing to examine two current candidates for the Libertarian nomination: George Phillies and Christine Smith. Regular readers will recall my dismissive comments on the assorted Roots and Imperatos out there on the fringes of the fringe.

So what I thought I'd do is go to the candidates' Issues portions of their web pages and take a serious look.

For today, I'm going to look at just Health Care and Education. Phillies has specific segments on both Education and Health Care; Smith covers them as sub-sections of either Taxation or Family Values.

Here's Phillies on Health Care, specifically "Medical Care Expenses":

Why is health insurance so expensive? One large reason is cost transfers. Hospitals are required to give free medical care to large numbers of people who have no insurance. They pay for that care by charging it to the people who have insurance. Cost transfers should be made illegal: Your insurance should only pay for your care. If a hospital is required by law to provide free care, the legal requirement should come with the money to pay for that care. Also, all medical care costs should have the same tax basis: No matter whether your employer pays for your insurance, you pay for insurance, or you pay for medical costs, those payments should be excluded from your taxable income.

OK folks, as Dana Garrett will be happy to attest, I am no fan of single-payer health care or other government health care take-overs, but this ... this is a ridiculously simplistic, ideologically driven, and hopelessly superficial approach to a serious national issue. C'mon, George, at least nod vaguely in the direction of corporate profits or administrative inefficiency, and at least give me a hint of your position on the elderly and the uninsured. What you've just told the American public is that either (a) you don't know a damn thing about the health care system in this country; or (b) you're not interested in honestly addressing the issue of what to do with the elderly, the poor, or the uninsured beyond taking their health care costs off their tax returns.

And Christine Smith is even worse:

I support abolishment of government program after government program and that goes for many/most government agencies as matter what program or agency you consider (Where do I begin such a list? Be it for example Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Tax Withholding/IRS, DEA, DOE, FDA, ATF, The Federal Reserve, Subsidies/Corporate Welfare, to name just a few,) they are a waste of our money, fundamentally opposed to self-reliance, and take away our liberty. Let's cut off the excuses for the waste of the money, the oppression that results from them, and cut off big government's source of revenue.

OK Christine, I'm not exactly sure how you, as President, are going to be able to abolish all these organizations unless you are swept into office on a tide of Radical Libertarian Congressmen, but let's just assume for sake of argument that you can get your way. You want to immediately abolish Medicare and Medicaid because of "the waste of money" and "the oppression that results from them." I may not like Medicare as a model for the whole US health care system to follow, but please explain, Christine, what you plan to do to or for the 45 million seniors who are currently in retirement and many have no other health insurance because of the way Medicare has been enacted over the past few decades? Cut 'em off tomorrow and see how long Grandpa goes without his nitroglycerin? Just how many of these people do you expect to vote for you (and seniors do vote out of all proportion to their numbers)?

Both of you get an F for your position on Health Care, because neither of you have even proven a modicum of understanding of the situation. There IS a Libertarian argument to made about how you begin changing the system, but by God neither one of you is making it.

So maybe we do better on Education?

Start with Christine Smith this time:

I favor ending government involvement in education.

I am for independent free-market education/schooling where parents decide what type of education their children receive.

I believe you as parents, not the government, have the freedom to direct your children's education.

I will fight to repeal the income tax, giving you the money to raise and educate your children better.

The best thing we can do for family values is to ensure the good education of our children.

I will free you from government oppression which keeps you from raising your children as you desire.

You should be able to choose:

Schools--religious, private, academic--of your choice.

Whether you want prayer in the school or no prayer.

Sex education or no sex education.

The subjects and values taught your children will be under your control; you will be able afford for your children to be educated according to your educational and ethical values.

No group, no politician, no government bureaucrat will be able to impose their will upon your children.

Of course, when private schools don't want to set up in the barrios of south-central LA or the ghettos of Harlem, we'll just--what?--let all the inner city kids grow up without learning how to read and cipher as good as Jethro by the cement pond? And what will we do, Christine, with special needs children whose specialized educational needs commonly run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year? And how, pray tell, are you going to do this for me? You say, "I will free you from government oppression which keeps you from raising your children as you desire," which apparently means you are running for dictator rather than president.

Politics, dear woman, is supposed to be the art of the possible, and not the affairs of dreamers who just want to snap their fingers and "make it so."


Education - There is no more important investment in the future than the education of our children and grandchildren. When you invest wisely by paying to educate a child, whether your own child or the child of impoverished parents, you should receive a dollar for dollar Federal tax credit for your investment. By supporting investment in education, we will build a wealthier America that will be more comfortable with Libertarian platform proposals. By supporting investment in education, you reduce the money available for Republicans and Democrats to waste on Wars for Nothing and Bridges to Nowhere. By supporting investment in the education of individual children, you build competition in educational approaches that move education in libertarian directions.

No Child Left Behind - George Bush wants to rescue the education of our children, using all the wisdom and compassion he used to rescue New Orleans. The No Child Left Behind Act should be repealed. The Federal government should leave education to states, communities, and parents.

Sounds a lot better, I'll admit, although the actual semantic content of the first paragraph is rather low. The meat is in the very last sentence of the second paragraph: "The Federal government should leave education to states, communities, and parents."

In other words, abolish the Federal Department of Education. OK, that's a standard Libertarian and Social Conservative position that has about as much chance of happening as I do of landing a gig as back-up singer for Hannah Montana. Repeal NCLB--already on the agenda for mainstream Democrats, but does completely placing public education back into the hands of "states, communities, and parents" rise from the level of an ideological sound bite to the level of policy? No, because Phillies hasn't stopped to consider what that means, and again, he hasn't demonstrated even a basic knowledge of the complexity of the issue.

I argue a lot with Dave Burris over charter schools. He thinks they are the wave of the future being repressed by the teachers' unions. I think they are a limited option strategy good for some kids, and tending in an unregulated environment to lead to a separate and unequal system of American public education. But I'll take Dave in office over these clowns any day, because while I disagree with him, I know he's actually done some research and some policy-level thinking about his plan.

Not so George Phillies or Christine Smith. They get another F on Education, because saying "I'll get the Federal government out of education" isn't a policy unless you have the research to back you up on "what happens next will be better than what we have."

I know this rough treatment is going to upset some Libertarians, but people like Smith and Phillies who want to be my party's standard-bearer need to act like they believe they could win, and need to demonstrate a real understanding of the issues.

What really pisses me off is that (a) their positions are intellectually lazy; (b) they don't seem to understand the limitations of the office they purport to be running for; and (c) they ignore a significant amount of scholarship about various non-traditional (and Libertarian) strategies for dealing with health care and education.

If you want to be President--if you want my vote for President--then you're going to have to show me serious policy stances.

Otherwise, you're just doing stupid third-party politician tricks for the late-night crowd, and you're not contributing to the creation of a viable national alternative to our current system.


tom said...

Perhaps you could lead by example.

While I already have a pretty good idea of your positions on these and other issues, I'd like to see how you would distill them down to an A or B quality Presidential (or Delaware Gubernatorial) Platform sound byte.

Steve Newton said...

Fair enough.

I'll give it a try later this week.