Friday, February 26, 2010

In which there are so many kinds of wrong I almost don't know where to start.

I could write an entire post about these two paragraphs:

So Glenn Beck, speaking recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, identified a great enemy of human freedom as . . . Teddy Roosevelt. Beck highlighted this damning Roosevelt quote: "We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used."

Ah, you don't discern the scandal in this statement? Look closer. "This is not our Founders' idea of America," explained Beck. "And this is the cancer that's eating at America. It is big government -- it's a socialist utopia." Evidently, real conservatives defend wealth that is dishonorably gained and then wasted.

But since everyone should know that, as always, I side with Beck, I won't. (But I will express my regret that Teddy would have a point, if such a fortune had ever existed.)

This bit, later in the piece, also deserves some comment:
Lincoln doesn't need defenders against accusations of tyranny -- the mere charge
is enough to diagnose some sad ideological disorder. But the Rough Rider also
does not deserve such roughing up.

No. Just no. No matter how you feel about whether the Civil War was necessary and appropriate, Lincoln's use of power was not what you'd call temperate. He suspended habeas corpus, which it was well-established only Congress could do; ignored the courts' rulings that he couldn't, citing that great abuser of presidential power, Andy Jackson; may have secretly ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice of the United States; and closed papers and arrested editors that criticized him.

But I think this is the most important part:
This I have against the Rough Rider: In the 1912 election, he betrayed his friend William H. Taft and his party by running as a third-party candidate. In his hubris, TR believed that neither party met his own exacting standards of purity. The attitude is familiar today.

What pisses me off here is the assumption that the default is picking one from the list. The expectation that you're going to vote for a major-party candidate has to be pretty strong in order for it to be considered a "betrayal" to refuse to do so.

It seems to me that granting someone presidential power is a gesture of extraordinary trust. Belief that someone is worthy of that degree of control over the lives of hundreds of millions of people (in 1912, roughly a hundred million) shouldn't be assumed. The default should be that we vote for no one -- unless someone makes a really compelling case that they deserve that kind of power. No major-party candidate has made such a case to me so far.

Think about the election of 2000. Liberals tend to think that Nader lost Gore the election, and that people who voted for Nader are responsible for Gore's loss. But this assumes Gore had a right to those votes in the first place -- that the default was them going to Gore, and Nader "took" what should have been Gore's.

Here's another way of thinking about this: presumably, some people who would have preferred Nader voted for Gore. Everyone seems to argue that the ones who voted Nader should feel stupid now. But both groups voted for a losing candidate -- at least the ones who voted for Nader voted for a losing candidate they believed in. Which of those losing votes should be considered stupid, irresponsible or morally suspect?

The only way a vote for Nader looks bad -- other than on the grounds that Nader would have been a bad President -- is if you assume a vote for Nader is taking away a vote that should have been Gore's. It seems just as reasonable -- probably more so -- to say that many of Gore's votes should have been Nader's.

This is also an argument for refusal to vote: the presidency carries the sort of powers I think no one should have (e.g., commanding armies). In order to convince me to vote for a presidential candidate, you have to convince me not only that ze's the best person for the job, but also that someone should have that job.

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