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Liberty & Power: Group Blog


Sam Koritz points out that nineteenth century classical liberals, like modern antiwar libertarians and conservatives, had intense debates about the comparative advantages of third party and major party strategies. This was certainly true in the 1900 when anti-imperialist gold democrats pondered whether to support William Jennings Bryan over McKinley.

Because of their hatred of Bryan’s views in 1896, many had bolted to the National Democrats, some had stayed home, and some had supported McKinley. Now, they were faced with an every greater dilemma. Their old nemesis, Bryan, had endorsed anti-imperialism but refused to tone his inflationist support for free silver, thus directly attacking the gold standard they had long championed. What would they do?

The gold democrats split into four camps. As Koritz notes, many held their noses and voted for Bryan. Others stayed home. A few backed McKinley because of his continuing defense of the gold standard. Some, including Oswald Garrison Villard, Senator Carl Schurz, and Moorfield Storey, made plans for a third ticket.

Villard even made a personal visit to Grover Cleveland to try to persuade him to run as a third party candidate in 1900, possibly under the National Democratic banner. Cleveland, believing that the voters had no interest in what he had to say anymore, politely turned down the offer. But Villard, Storey, and their allies were not quite ready to give up yet. They organized the National Party to run Senator Donelson Caffery, a pro-gold/anti-imperialist Democrat from Louisiana. The campaign collapsed, however, when Caffery (without explanation) pulled out of the race. McKinley went on to defeat Bryan yet again and a new classical liberal/anti-imperialist party was stillborn.

Koritz properly cites the parallels to 2004…but the differences are also significant. Many classical liberals had at least one good reason to vote for McKinley. For all his faults, he had upheld the gold standard. In 2004, by contrast, Bush does not offer any similar temptation. Because of his unrelenting big-government approach, most recently with the Medicare bill, he has not only abandoned free market conservatives and libertarians in domestic policy but thumbed his nose at them. Does this mean that libertarians and anti-war conservatives should consider voting for Dean much like their ideological ancestors who backed Bryan? I do not think so….but will save that for a later blog.

Posted by David T. Beito at 11: 00 a.m. EST


Over the last several years, I've had more than a few things to say about Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year, including these reflections on A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens classic. Whatever my"Randian" predilections, some of my favorite films have carried religious themes, including my Number 1 Favorite Film of All Time Ben-Hur—which opens with the birth of Jesus—though I do believe that this"Tale of the Christ" can be read more universally and symbolically as a story of personal integrity, struggle, and redemption.

Christmas brings forth some of the most creative impulses of the human spirit. That was one aspect of the holiday that wasn't lost even on ol' atheist Ayn Rand. One can see that impulse everywhere—from the joviality of Internet displays (see here, here, and here) to the holiday displays in department store windows to the extra care on display in the work of those who love their craft, of whatever degree of specialization.

That love of craft I witnessed just the other day when I was in a local chocolate specialty shop. We picked up a wicker basket of chocolates, and it was wrapped very nicely, I thought; but the sales woman insisted on adding to the basket a custom-made green bow. She must have been in her late 60s, and the way she tied that bow reflected a lifetime of pride in her work. Call me a sap, but I was actually emotionally moved by the masterful focus she brought to every twist of the ribbon in her skillful hands.

The fun of this holiday season includes the fun of gift-giving (and gift-receiving) and the fun of eating, especially those outrageously delicious foods shared with friends and family (which, dietary restrictions aside, includes pets). I know my dog Blondie approaches Christmas morning like an impatient kid, as she rips into her presents with singular purpose (see here, here, and here for some past Christmas doggie pictures, with her"eyes all aglow" indeed...).

Everything about this holiday is dripping in good sentiment: from the Christmas songs to the beauty of the lights that decorate the neighborhoods of my home-sweet-home in Brooklyn, New York.

Most of all, however, I find the message of peace, benevolence, and goodwill to be more intoxicating than any Christmas Egg Nog. It's the kind of message that has led some soldiers on opposite sides of a battle to lay down their arms, and nearly all soldiers so engaged to yearn for home.

When the song"I'll Be Home for Christmas" made its debut for the World War II generation, there was no way of knowing just how its themes would resonate with other generations of American soldiers. So, here's the lyrics to that song, in dedication to those men and women, whose"dreams" of home must become reality much sooner than later:

I'm dreamin' tonight of a place I love

Even more than I usually do

And although I know it's a long road back

I promise you

I'll be home for Christmas

You can count on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light beams

I'll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams

Posted by Chris Matthew Sciabarra at 8:30 a.m. EST


It occurs to me that I haven't yet stated (and I should) that: My views don't necessarily reflect those of Antiwar.com.

I'm pleased to see Chris Sciabarra's link from this blog to"The Saudi Connection: How Billions in Oil Money Spawned a Global Terror Network," by David E. Kaplan, with Monica Ekman and Aamir Latif, featured in the December 15 U.S. News and World Report. This article, based on five months of research,"a review of thousands of pages of court records, U.S. and foreign intelligence reports, and other documents," and in-depth interviews with"more than three dozen current and former counterterrorism officers, as well as government officials and outside experts in Riyadh," provides compelling evidence that the Saudi state continued to support al Qaeda after the alleged cutoff date of 1989 - right up to the Sept 11, 2001 (at least) - and that bipartisan US government support for jihad, particularly Saudi-led jihad, obstructed investigation and apprehension of anti-American Teflon terrorists in the United States. Even an unethical, interventionist, Machiavellian approach to foreign policy, if rational, would have required the abandonment of US support for jihad after the dissolution of the Soviet Union but, unfortunately, government programs are easier to start than to end. Corrupt alliances offer tangible benefits to a few insiders, while the costs are paid by many outsiders: taxpayers, innocent bystanders, and soldiers.

US News is a respected mainstream source, and this article demonstrates the costs of interventionism, yet the vast majority of antiwar and (real, as opposed to liberventionist) libertarian sites have ignored it (check it on google). I suspect that the left and liberal antiwar sites are ignoring the story because much of the damage occurred during the Clinton administration. But why have non-leftists opponents of war and empire ignored it? Why this insistence on portraying the terror-promoting theocratic Saudi monarcho-kleptocracy as a maligned republic of Ewoks? One of the reasons seems to be dualistic thinking, the idea that if members of the pro-war lunatic fringe criticize Saudi Arabia while advocating war then any criticism of Saudi Arabia must be pro-war. Highly illogical: our adversaries may be wrong in all their conclusions but that doesn't mean that their every statement is a lie - they'd be much less effective if so; actually, they mix truth, falsehood, exaggeration, logic, bias, and faulty reasoning. It's absurd to insist that the world conform to the opposite of anyone's opinions.

If anti-interventionists ignore the mountain of evidence indicating Saudi government support for al Qaeda, it's likely to lead to a loss in credibility; it could also actually encourage intervention in Saudi Arabia. Considering the many business and personal ties between the Bush administration and Saudi royalty, not to mention the lack of a pro-US alternative, intervention by the US in explicit opposition to the monarchy is unlikely. More likely is intervention in defense of the monarchy, or certain factions thereof, and/or the Saudi state. That being the case, it's likely that the greater the degree of (misplaced) trust in the quasi-ally, the greater the support for intervention.

More speculatively, I think there's a tendency among non-leftist anti-interventionists to blame US interventionism on alien and ideological fringe influences. This seems to be our equivalent of the old Russian peasant expression:"If the czar only knew…!" Today, some wish to believe that Bush II is a reasonable, ethical, non-interventionist Forrest Gump who's merely being misled by his weirdo ministers. This assumption is apparently based on some comments made during the presidential campaign, as if campaign promises have predictive value.

Another issue involving words vs. deeds is this supposed US-backed democratic revolution targeting Muslim and Arab nations. Is there a single Arab or Muslim nation allied with the United States that could credibly be called a democracy? If not, where's the revolution?

Even the existence of a war against anti-US terrorism is questionable. In defense of the idea we can cite the fact that some terror-funding organizations have been shut down and some terrorists and supporters have been arrested and some killed, and the overthrow of the Taliban may have weakened al Qaeda. On the other, the prominent jihadiphilic US government officials that allowed and encouraged terrorists to infiltrate the America have not been removed or punished - on the contrary, they've been rewarded for with increased funding and power. It's also not clear if the Saudi and Pakistani governments, their intelligence agencies in particular, have stopped aiding al Qaeda. Karzai's Afghan government accuses Pakistani intelligence of shielding the Taliban and al Qaeda:

"In Pakistan, meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf has twice asked Riyadh to curtail the millions of Saudi dollars that pour into local Islamic political parties, jihad groups, and religious schools. Again, the Saudis have promised change, but Pakistani officials are skeptical. They point to the visit to Mecca last month by the chief of the Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam, one of Pakistan's top Islamic parties. The JUI shares power in Pakistan's Northwest Territory, where it provides sanctuary for Taliban members staging attacks in Afghanistan. Why was JUI's boss in Mecca? For fundraising, JUI sources told U.S. News."

Posted by Sam Koritz at 12:01 a.m. EST


In Monday’s Washington Times there are two excellent columns concerning the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. In the first one Nat Hentoff, quite possibly America’s staunchest defender of the First Amendment, highlights some of the arguments made by the dissenting judges. Their points are so valid that they leave one with a sense of wonderment as to how the other justices could have voted to sustain a law so clearly injurious to our right to free speech.

Hentoff also reminds us that the law in effect curtails the ability of individuals of modest means to speak politically during the crucial period before an election by denying them the right to pool their resources, while it leaves the First Amendment rights of billionaires such as George Soros and Bill Gates intact. At the end of his piece he quotes a letter writer to the New York Times, Edward Wronk, who says, “The powerful have only gotten more powerful.”

In the second column John R. Lott Jr., perhaps America’s staunchest Defender of the Second Amendment, discusses a recent announcement by the National Rifle Association (NRA) that it is considering buying a television or radio station. Just as Hentoff shows that the law fosters inequality among individuals Lott demonstrates that the law creates inequality among institutions. He asks,

“But what really distinguishes General Electric’s versus General Motors’ ability to influence elections? Is it really simply ownership of television networks? Can unions buy radio stations? Can anyone possibly rationalize such distinctions?"
Apparently McCain, Feingold, and Sandra Day O’Connor can but I can’t.

Posted by Keith Halderman at 2:30a.m. EST


Lately, the Bush administration and its neo-conservative supporters have been crowing about how President Bush's hard-line foreign policy caused Muammar Qaddafi to end his unconventional (biological, chemical and nuclear) weapons programs and open them to international inspections. They have also been implying that the tough U.S. policy will continue to make bad regimes capitulate. But the gains from Qaddafi's abandonment of such programs are mostly symbolic. In contrast, the president's aggressive foreign policy has made the danger of a terrorist attack greater than at any time since the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Much has been made of the timing of Qaddafi's first overture to negotiate an end to his unconventional weapons programs--in March of this year, shortly before the United States invaded Iraq. Although the imminent U.S. invasion may have prompted Qaddafi's feelers to bargain away his weapons efforts, Qaddafi has been trying to mend fences with the United States and the West for a decade. Five years ago, he turned over two Libyans for trial in the terrorist bombing of flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988; recently, he agreed to pay reparations for the incident. British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that Qaddafi's disarmament initiative arose from the success of those negotiations. Also, for several years Libya has eschewed terrorist attacks. And it is probably no coincidence that negotiations to end Libyan unconventional weapons programs accelerated only after the United States agreed to allow the United Nations to end economic sanctions against Libya. Qaddafi most likely wanted to see some gains from his years of efforts to reconcile with the West before he made any more concessions.

Moreover, Qaddafi has watched as the Bush administration was accused of hyping evidence about the threat of Iraqi unconventional weapons to justify the war and became bogged down in a Middle Eastern guerrilla quagmire--both of which make the probability of a U.S. invasion of Libya over its weapons programs much less likely. Also, Qaddafi has seen the Bush administration's initial tough line toward the North Korean nuclear program melt into a much milder policy than that of the Clinton administration. In 1994, President Clinton had threatened war unless the North Korean regime froze its nuclear program. In the wake of North Korea's subsequent admission of cheating on the nuclear freeze agreement and withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Bush administration is now making noises about negotiating an end to North Korea's nuclear program in return for a normalization of relations with that nation-the right policy but hardly a hard-line policy that would send shivers down Qaddafi's spine.

What did Qaddafi concede? He apparently had stockpiles of crude chemical weapons, a primitive biological weapons program and a fledgling nuclear program. Although Qaddafi's renunciation of such weapons is a positive development, Libya's ability to produce any of them has been undermined by the sanctions and Qaddafi's purges of scientists. Thus, Qaddafi probably concluded that the minimal losses from giving up his crude weapons efforts would be more than offset by the economic rewards of playing"reformed dictator" poster boy in the Bush administration's public relations efforts to defend hard-line policies in the Middle East, which lately have been under fire. So vanquishing the overrated"Libyan threat" is less of an accomplishment than meets the eye.

Meanwhile those truculent Bush administration policies are likely to pose the very real danger of"blowback" to Americans everywhere from an enraged Islamic world. Tom Ridge, the president's own secretary of homeland security, raised the U.S. alert level and announced that the danger of a terrorist attack, possibly in the United States, is"perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11, 2001." Despite the firestorm in even the mainstream media when Howard Dean perceptively noted that the capture of Saddam Hussein had not made the United States any safer, the administration now seems to be confirming that fact. And, when polled, 60 percent of Americans also agreed with Dean's view. Thus, the hard-line Bush administration foreign policy toward the Middle East likely will reap only symbolic gain but very real pain.

Posted by Ivan Eland at 12:50 a.m. EST


David and Linda Beito's article"Gold Democrats and the Decline of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1900" (mentioned below in"