I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means….

Rand Paul has assumed the mantle of libertarianism from his father Ron, and in all fairness, espouses some positions that are consistent with libertarian philosophy. But he’s anything but a genuine libertarian.

Peacock Panache recently reported on a Paul presentation at a private prayer breakfast sponsored by Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network:

Paul told those in attendance at the breakfast he supports an intertwining of religion in government. “The First Amendment says keep government out of religion,” he said. “It doesn’t say keep religion out of government.”

Tell that to any Constitutional scholar who has done even a little research into the workings of the Establishment Clause and see how it goes over.

Continuing his pseudo-sermon Paul continued, “In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country, there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage, there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage.” He continued, “We’re the most disconnected city on the planet from the people. So don’t have a lot of faith in what’s going on up here.”

Paul has the solution though. “We need a revival in the country,” Paul told an attentive audience that agreed with his every word. “We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform.”

There are two ways to interpret this nod to religious hegemony. It may be that Paul really has no idea what authentic libertarianism is, or it may be that he is intellectually dishonest and willing to pander to the prejudices of his audience. (The two interpretations, of course, aren’t mutually exclusive.) Either way, he’s disqualified from holding a government position. (Not that disqualification matters much these days–if we held lawmakers to an intellectual honesty standard, most of Congress would be gone.)

Paul also opposes reproductive rights and  same-sex marriage, for example–positions at odds with libertarian philosophy but virtual litmus tests for the GOP’s Evangelical base.

Just for the record, Rand, the libertarian principle that emerged from the Enlightenment (and upon which this country was largely founded) celebrated individual autonomy: the right of each individual to establish and pursue his own life goals, free of interference by government or popular majorities, unless and until that individual harms the person or property of a non-consenting other–and so long as he is willing to respect the equal right of others to do the same.

Now, I realize we can all debate what constitutes harm, but when you aren’t even willing to respect the right of other people to live in accordance with beliefs contrary to yours, you’re an authoritarian, not a libertarian.

Google it.


Ideology and Evidence Redux

Many years ago, when I first starting taking policy arguments seriously, I was persuaded by the logic of tax relief for the wealthy. That argument had two parts: first, if tax rates are confiscatory, people will have less incentive to work and invest; second, if the rich have “extra” money, they will invest it, and those investments will be used by entrepreneurs to create jobs.

I still oppose confiscatory taxes, but it has been a very long time since the days of the 90% marginal rate. And–although the argument about lower taxes generating job creation made sense–all available evidence suggests it doesn’t work that way in the real world.

As one pundit recently noted, “The Mad Men who once ran campaigns featuring doctors extolling the health benefits of smoking are now busy marketing the dogma that tax cuts mean broad prosperity, no matter what the facts show.”

What happens when a firmly-held belief hits evidence contradicting it?

What should happen, I submit, is that–after careful consideration of the credibility of the evidence and a determination that it is sound–we relinquish the unsupported belief. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. It’s hard, for one thing. Most of us resist admitting that we have been wrong about something, and the more devoutly we believed (in religion, ideology, our own righteousness), the more difficult it is to change. So many of us go looking for alternative evidence to support our original ideology. In a recent column, David Cay Johnson lists 9 “facts” about taxes that are widely believed, but demonstrably untrue, from “poor Americans don’t pay taxes” to “the wealthy are carrying the burden” to “corporate tax breaks create jobs.”

There’s a lot of hand-wringing and bemoaning about the loss of bipartisanship in our politics. But bipartisanship requires that people on both sides of the aisle go into political life determined to respect evidence. Such a determination won’t turn free-market capitalists into socialists, or vice-versa, and it won’t eliminate good-faith arguments over what the evidence shows. But we would be spared the spectacle of watching 36 GOP members of the House Energy Committee vote that global warming doesn’t exist, among other things.

I don’t know whether Representatives like Mike Pence and Michelle Bachmann are “true believers” or simply pandering to the true believers in their base, and at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. When you elevate religious and ideological fervor over reason and evidence, you end up with the Dark Ages.