We the Feckless

by Brad Nelson   3/5/14

Michael Tanner over at National Review Online is once again showing the fecklessness of libertarianism in his article, Why the Tea Party’s Waning, Not Winning. He says the problem with the Tea Party is that they’re starting to focus on “social issues.”

It is certainly true that the Tea Party started out as a response to the bail-out, the debt, and the profligate spending (by both parties). But side from the corruption of crony capitalism (which is a big factor), the reason those costs are there in the first place are due to someone else’s “social issues.”

I think Tanner once again shows the fecklessness of libertarianism as a political or social force. So-called “social issues” are part and parcel of politics and especially in regards to what ails us at the moment. My precise encapsulation of the issue which I posted over there was:

Michael, everything on the Left is a “social issue.” To not respond in kind, if only to refute them, is to be politically impotent.

And a brilliant fellow named Mickey_Rat said:

There is not a clear divide between social issues and economic and big government issues.

As others have pointed out, immigration is an economic issue, and a rule of law one. Executive decisions made under the auspices of Obamacare are mandating people to be involved in issues surrounding abortion. Homosexual marriage supporters are now demanding the ability to micromanage businesses who would publicly not accept such ceremonies as something they would support.

The “libertarians” desire for a separation between economic and social issues comes from a lack of desire to actively go against the pro-abortion rights lobby and homosexual culture. They are fair-weather friends who will sell out liberty in general, for the sake of one or two social issues.

Or, as Publius Scipio put it:

A Cato shill denouncing the Tea Party as “not libertarian enough”. Surprise! I have yet to have gone to any tea party rally and hear any talk of the issues you mention. The ones you do mention are exceptions, and not the rule. Oh, and guess what genius: IMMIGRATION REFORM IS A FISCAL ISSUE!! You don’t think our expanded entitlement economy isn’t tied into “Taxed Enough Already”?? One wonders if Mr. Tanner has ever wandered out of his ivory tower to a Tea Party rally, or even spoken with any organizers.

Truth be told, the negative polling you see towards the Tea Party is due to a nearly five year campaign by our fifth estate (also known as the “lapdog media”) to smear them as racists (the phantom spitting of Emmanuel Cleaver), bigoted (yelling racial slurs at Congressmen), extremists, with a few unqualified ephithets thrown in “teahadist”, “tea-bagger”, etc.

It appears now the Cato institute is joining ranks with the mainstream media to continue the smear campaign.
Bon fait, Michael Tanner!

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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19 Responses to We the Feckless

  1. steve lancaster says:

    The TEA party was never a libertarian organization IMHO. It was and is more tuned to classic liberalism than libertarian philosophy with a strong Jewish/Christian basis. Are there libertarians in the tea party, of course there are. There are even libertarians in the Republican party, God knows why.

    The tea party allowed itself to be defined as libertarian by those in the media who disliked the “bitter clingers, hanging onto their guns and bibles”. Cato and other organized political think tanks sought to take advantage of the wave of resentment that the tea party symbolized, for financial support if nothing else and in the larger political area to elect more conservative candidates. The 2010 and 2012 elections established a level of support for laissez faire economics and smaller government and in spite of the pounding by the media, RINO’s, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and BHO there is still substantial support.

    Real libertarians support laissez faire economics, personal freedom and responsibility and as long as the tea party stays in that realm than they will support the tea party. However, do not confuse the real libertarians (few in number) with the phonies who only want permission to engage in libertine actives.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The TEA party was never a libertarian organization IMHO. It was and is more tuned to classic liberalism than libertarian philosophy with a strong Jewish/Christian basis.

      Steve, I can only speak about my local Tea Party group in Washington State. This is a very fine bunch of people. But they are probably too polite, too beholden to the Tanner model of simply seeing all things through a monetary rather than a moral lens.

      Of course, many of the Tea Party people who I know personally are as vibrantly conservative as I am when I talk with them in private conversations. But everyone tends to be a little shy to put it on display in a public forum — aside from my personal 2nd amendment hero (that is, “gun nut”), this web site’s benefactor, and good friend, pst4usa, who is not afraid of being a conservative in public.

      It sounds as if the Tea Party is a more vibrant group in Texas, for example. And I know someone who keeps me in touch of some of the Tea Party doings in New Hampshire. And that group sounds more vibrant than our local group. In fact, one of the leaders of the original Tea Party group in our area (which no longer exists) told us (in an executive committee meeting) that Obama should not be criticized. The existing group we have now is not so milquetoast, but that does give you some general background on the people in our area who are often too damn polite for their own good.

      The tea party allowed itself to be defined as libertarian by those in the media who disliked the “bitter clingers, hanging onto their guns and bibles”.

      “Allowed to be defined” probably doesn’t capture the actuality of it. The Tea Party (as Publius Scipio noted above) has been the subject of a nearly five year campaign by our fifth estate (also known as the “lapdog media”) to smear them as racists (the phantom spitting of Emmanuel Cleaver), bigoted (yelling racial slurs at Congressmen), extremists, with a few unqualified ephithets thrown in “teahadist”, “tea-bagger”, etc.

      And it’s news to me that anyone has tried to define the Tea Party as libertarian as a pejorative.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Yes, I just read it and made much the same comment about the smear campaign. What I found interesting was that all Tanner had to show their waning was a poll (as I also noted).

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          After all the posts on it, I read Tanner’s article and found it to be rather plebeian and not very convincing.

          He imparts such gems as “And, while its favored candidates have suffered some high-profile defeats, it has also won important victories.” In other words, “ya win some and lose some”. Profound. And just think, we had to read an article by Michael Tanner to encounter such wisdom.

          He further enlightens us to the “unsettling fact that “72% of Americans feels that big government is the greatest threat to the future of the country” while only 30% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party.” My question is “what is your point?” It’s not like polls can’t be interpreted by different people to mean different things. Over the past years haven’t there been several polls in which most respondents favored Obama and said he was doing a good job, yet when asked questions about his economic policies without mentioning his name disagreed with the policies?

          His penultimate paragraph is classic Libertarian rhetoric. In it he laments that fact that all the problems which he claims first sparked the Tea Party are still with us and need to be addressed. And he strongly insists the need of a strong voice in opposition to Big Government. You know, we’ve got to work together.

          But as his whole article makes explicit, it is more important for the 30% of those who claim to be or agree with the Tea Party to bend to the will of the miniscule number of Libertarians, than for the Libertarians to work with social conservatives.

          I think this shows what is really important to Libertarians and sums up their position nicely. As much as they try to hide it, they are not conservative in any area. They are simply Leftists in Drag.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Tanner, like too many people at NRO (especially on social issues), wants to stand athwart history and say, “Be my guest!”

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Excellent!!! I had a good belly laugh at reading this. Hits the nail on the head and does it with wit. An unbeatable combination.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Tanner, like so many northeastern megalopolitans, clearly dislikes the Tea Party and was looking for an excuse to bash it. (I looked at NRO but haven’t yet read any of their articles today. Looks like I can save my trouble on that one.) No one expected Stockman or Pierson to go anywhere today, so their failure to do so is meaningless. We shall see what happens in more competitive races, such as the Senate primary in Mississippi. One state proves nothing, and even an idiot like Tanner probably knows that.

    Meanwhile, Wendy Davis lost a dozen counties (all or most in Hispanic South Texas) to a pro-life Democrat who reported no contributions as of the beginning of the year, and I notice no article in NRO on that interesting embarrassment (which you’ll never see in the synoptic media, of course.)

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    There are traits or “centers of gravity” that belong to the various ideologies. I would describe them thusly:

    + conservatives: believe the universe is bigger than they are and that they are part of some overall paradigm that they must mold themselves to
    + libertarians: “reason” is their God
    + Leftists: their genitalia and their grievance is their God

    That is a rough mix, and obviously there is some overlap and there are other traits as well that describe these groups, in general (quite aside from their self-flattering conceits, whether it is about “saving the planet” or “liberty”).

    But if we take a look at the libertarian point of view, which wishes to concentrate on economic issues only, we might find that, beyond the typically simplistic thinking of libertarians, we can find something to agree about.

    Thomas Sowell (sometimes described as a libertarian, but I’d be hard-pressed to put a precise label on him) is very good at intersecting economics with social policy. That is, he is very good as casting the choices we make in terms of economics. And economics, as defined properly, is inherently the study of trade-offs and making choices (the very heart of the word, “economize”).

    And although libertarians, via ignorance or sleight-of-hand, often try to take morality (aka “social issues”) out of the equation, that is impossible. There is no free lunch. If you don’t want to pay the cost on the front end (that is, make moral choices regarding “social issues”), you’ll surely pay those costs on the back end.

    And for those who think they are avoiding the harshness of making “coercive” moral choices, they are simply fooling themselves. They’ve simply moved the costs downstream where the rest of us are forced (usually by government) to pay the costs. And, in real terms, these costs are socialized. This is surely one reason that Mr. Kung calls libertarians the “Bolsheviks of the Right.” At the end of the day, the results they achieve are often the same.

    Real men make choices and uphold reasonable and wise standards. And thus, if you can just cold-bloodedly take a look at this from the Left’s point of view, the first thing on your agenda if you are them is to create emasculated and irresponsible men (men generally being the traditional lawgivers and upholder of standards if only because they tend to be anchored in something other than emotion). And they have done that in spades. Libertarians such as Tanner should make note of this and not be so quick to demonize “social issues” because of the generally weak soup of libertarian soft illusions.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One problem with libertarianism (and one way to differentiate between real libertarians and those overly afflicted with libertinism) is that the amoralists seek to impose approval of their amorality on everyone else. Whether it’s the “discrimination” charges against small businesses such as Elane Photography or restrictions on First Amendment rights such as the Massachusetts law specifically targeting pro-lifers at dark, satanic abortion mills, libertinists seek to restrict the liberty of those who retain traditional moral codes. Libertarians, even those who agree with the libertinists in terms of tolerating amoral behavior, should strenuously oppose such restrictions.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That and the libertarian philosophy (whether libertine or not) contains within it ill-considered contradictions.

        If I vote to make pot illegal, I’m imposing my morality on you. If you vote pot to make legal, you’re imposing your morality on me. The difference is, as a conservative, I’m honest about that. And I’ll explain why I think the trade-off is a good one. But I don’t suppose for a moment that I’m advocating any kind of utopian solution.

        Libertarians, on the other hand, tend to cloud their minds (and the issue) by stating their principle of “non-coercion.” But it is a silly principle. The question is always how much, and for what purpose, not if. You couldn’t have a functioning highway system, for example, without coercing speed limits, which lane you must drive in, etc.

        In many ways, libertarianism shares the simplistic mindset of the Left which sees simple and easy solutions based upon feel-good (but erroneous) principles.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    HotAir just put out an article by a former Tea Partier responding to Tanner’s idiocy. It turns out Tanner is from Cato, which is hardly surprising. The article pointed out some tactical mistakes made over the past year or so on fiscal issues. One involves the “fiscal cliff”, in which too many fiscal conservatives couldn’t get past the fact that any deal involved raising taxes to notice that without a deal taxes would be raised FAR more. Another involved voting down the farm bill in June 2013 without having a good alternative available. And finally there came the partial shutdown, which is what really hurt the Tea Party movement most.

    One mistake in the article is that there was in fact a proposal to delay the individual mandate (along with giving the delay in the employer mandate legality, which the Fascist Messiah rejected because he prefers to act despotically and illegally). The real error was a failure to make their case, either by the fiscal conservatives who pushed the issue or by the party leadership which went along. (Of course, if defeating the Tea Party was more important to Boehner than protecting the GOP’s image, this would explain his failure to articulate his message. In fairness, he really does seem to be incapable of such articulate leadership.)

    But these errors gave the power-greedy GOP leadership the excuse to join in the liberal smears of the Tea Party — and if this disunifies the party and weakens them for the 2014 elections, that doesn’t matter much to House leaders who’re convinced that they’ll maintain their majority no matter what.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Oh, I’d make a very bad Republican then because I would take a hatchet to the budget like I was the Texas chainsaw killer. I’d starve out (that is, shut down) Obamacare, and a few other things as well, like I was Matthew McCanaughey auditioning for a homosexual movie. And I’d make a clear case for it. I’d explain that we can’t run this country like Thelma and Louise.

      What are commonly called “mistakes,” I call “virtues.” Right now the political world is upside down. Corruption reins, including the corruption of the voters.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, the problem isn’t so much what we would like to do (unlike the Beltway Bandits, we want lots and lots of spending cuts), but what is currently feasible. That’s where some Tea Partiers fell down and made their movement vulnerable to the smears of the Democratic Party, the synoptic media (which is generally an arm of the Democratic Party), and the GOP Hunkers. I favored a tax policy similar to what we ended up with during the “fiscal cliff” mess because that was the best we could get, and I complained repeatedly about the failure to make their case during the shutdown.


    Tanner is a Libertarian, and his criticism of the Tea Party is that it isn’t Libertarian enough. Well, surprise, surprise! This is the same old tired refrain we’ve heard over and over again: “You [hard-core, extreme, Social] Conservatives need to give up on the social issues, and then you’ll appeal to more people (translation: people who think as I do)”. This from the guys who are something like 1/2600th the size of the Conservative movement (as I pointed out in a lengthy article here on ST). We hear this from Libertarians and Establishment GOPers all the time, especially that mythical beast, the fiscal conservative/social liberal, who somehow is never really with us on even fiscal issues, and whom one suspects is really a big spender/social liberal in disguise.

    I really wonder how many more years (decades?) it will be before Libertarians like Tanner realize Libertarianism is a dead-end and not the wave of the future.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      To be fair, social liberals (or at least moderates) from relatively conservative states can be fiscally conservative, as demonstrated during the 1990s by Paul Coverdell and Hank Brown (Republican senators from Georgia and Colorado). Northeasterners of that sort (such as William Weld and George Pataki) may start out as relatively fiscally conservative, but they don’t stay there for very long.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well said, Nik.

      With the passing of religion as a guiding influence for many, one of the dogmas that has arisen is The Temple of the Self. At this Temple of the Self is the Altar of Reason on which any Higher external authority is sacrificed. Tradition, religion, the wisdom of the ages — all have to justify themselves to the Temple of the Self or they will be sacrificed.

      In many ways, libertarianism and Leftism are mirror images of each other. The latter wants the bully of the secular state (guided by the conceit of know-better-than-thou). The former is guided by the individualist bully of man’s inflated ego (guided by the conceit of more-rational-than-thou).

      Let me repeat LibertyMark’s words again from this thread:

      Libertarianism is a form of Utopianism, just as Marxism is. It is a fantasy, because it is the carousel of seeking the brass ring. “If only we could eliminate laws of personal behavior” (couched as “victimless crimes”) “then we would have the perfectly balanced society.” The Marxist says, “if only we could manage all personal behavior” (for the good of society) “then we would have a perfectly balanced society.”

      That’s pretty much it. Another name for that is “There is no free lunch.” Everything is a matter of making choices and trade-offs. But assuming anyone these days actually remembers this principle, also inherent to this fact-of-life is that the trade-offs and choices will always be guided by a general moral conception of life. Thus any “value-free” libertarian viewpoint where everything just works itself out (analogous to how things do, more or less, work themselves out regarding products and services in the free market) is erroneous and in denial of reality. Libertarians pretend that their shtick is value-free because it doesn’t (to their mind) coerce anything. It’s all supposedly “live and let live.”

      But anarchy never will, and never can be, an organizing principle for a good society. We can pretend that any doctrine is viable by mistaking the short-term for the long-term as we are doing now in regards to Leftism. But the illusion that makes Leftism seem sustainable is that we are quite literally eating our seed corn in order to prop up these delusions. We are going deeply into debt and are disingenuously (at the back end) socializing the costs for all the stupid liberal stuff being instigated at the front end. But that bubble will burst.

      And as Dennis Prager notes, many of these “secular” people of today are living on Cutflower Ethics. They just assume that the basis for their “reason” came out of their own heads. But Western Civilization has long been Christendom as well. So like Madge said to one of her customers, “You’re soaking in it.” Even if one doesn’t realize one’s moral heritage, most of the things that libertarians say are based on mere “reason” are, in fact, legacies of our Judeo-Christian heritage, for “reason” could (as it has in the past) order things quite differently (and quite horribly).

      And we can thus pretend this isn’t so and glide along (for a while) pretending that our “reason” is our guiding influence. But that is the nature of Cutflower Ethics. The flowers will stay pretty for a while in their vase of water. But removed from the soil from which they sprouted, they will soon whither.

      I’m seriously beginning to doubt whether libertarians such as Tanner are actually friends of conservatives. We’ve seen some really dumb stuff come out of the mouths lately of NRO’s libertarian clique.

  6. LibertyMark says:

    Libertarianism is a form of Utopianism, just as Marxism is. It is a fantasy, because it is the carousel of seeking the brass ring. “If only we could eliminate laws of personal behavior” (couched as “victimless crimes”) “then we would have the perfectly balanced society.” The Marxist says, “if only we could manage all personal behavior” (for the good of society) “then we would have a perfectly balanced society.” How are these different?

    Society is about managing man’s lesser nature, and government is established as the Sergeant at Arms. But since government has it’s own evils (inherited from those same “lesser natures” of man), we establish the Sergeant at Arms at the lowest level possible (in order to control THAT malaise).

    It is just that simple.

    Why is this so hard to understand? Is it because of man’s “lesser nature” is to build a Tower of Babel? One that makes Man an equal to God and to deny Man’s nature?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Avram Davidson pointed out the utopian (and thus fundamentally leftist) nature of libertarianism at a panel on libertarianism at an SF convention, though he saw them as favoring government as the X whose removal would make the world a perfect place.

      As James Madison observed, we have to give the government the power to exercise necessary control over the public (e.g., banning murder) while also somehow arranging for it to control itself.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


      You have distilled the essence of Libertarianism and its lack of grounding in reality. I really think you should write an article on this. Nahalkides did an excellent job last November, but I have found that truths must be constantly repeated and reinforced, if they are to stick with people. The Left and Libertarians have discovered the same principle as regards falsehoods which they constantly hammer away at.

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