Make Debating Great Again!

Advice on how to make debating with others more fun and constructive.

As we approach the holiday season after a contentious election year, many will feel themselves embroiled in dinnertime discussion with friends and family. There will no doubt be many fights that break out over champagne, apple pie and Christmas presents: brother against brother, father against child, daughter-in-law against wacky aunt. Those who seek to preserve a harmonious atmosphere will try to observe the conventional wisdom that it is rude to discuss religion and politics over supper but when the booze flows, the tension grows. Thus, the dreaded “holiday political debate.”

Debate can oftentimes generate more heat than light; rather than illuminate a particular issue, people get burned when others disagree with them. Debate serves a vital purpose, though: it allows a person to present their case before a skeptical audience and to thereby confront the premises that they may take for granted. Anyone interested in their own intellectual honesty should not be afraid to participate in a debate with honest opponents. Instead of avoiding debate, I propose people learn to engage in it constructively and get better at it.

I am interested in addressing three distinct questions when it comes to debates:

  1. What are the essential characteristics of a debate?
  2. How should one conduct oneself in a debate?
  3. What is an objective measure of success for participants in a debate?

Let’s answer the first question. A debate centers around a single issue and involves at least three distinct parties: two presenters and an audience. The presenters represent two opposing views on the issue in question and the audience represents those that are not fully committed to one of the two views. It is crucial that we have these three ingredients and if any one of them is missing, then the nature of the conversation changes and it is not longer a debate. If there is no audience and each person is giving their own take, then you have a discussion among equal participants and the necessary persuasion element is gone from the situation. If there is only one presenter, then you have a lecture where one person is educating or explaining a topic that they are knowledgeable about to an audience that is mostly listening and absorbing material.

Note that the size of the audience is irrelevant to the classification of something as a debate: so long as there is a third party to listen and be convinced, it does not matter whether the audience fills a stadium or a kitchen table. Note further that there may be more than two individuals serving as presenters per side, and there may in fact be hidden presenters lurking in the audience. What I mean here is that the moment a person advances an argument in favor of one side or another, they have moved from the audience to one of the presenters’ camps. This is typical of informal debates, when two people start the debate and bystanders start “ganging up” on one of the two presenters. In this instance, the presenters must honestly acknowledge that any person buttressing the arguments of one side at the expense of the other are no longer members of the impartial audience. In extreme examples, the “debate” may actually not be a true debate since there is no audience and everyone is already more or less dedicated to a particular position.

Shouldn’t we expect the audience to shrink as the debate progresses and people are convinced one way or another? I believe the answer to this question is no, because opinions on weighty issues are not formed overnight and people have varying degrees of certainty in their beliefs. When we take a particular issue, each audience member will likely be inclined to one side or another; this is to be expected. Audience members can have an opinion at the start of a debate and sympathize with one of the two sides. However, it takes a certain amount of conviction to be able to enunciate one’s position and advance arguments to support it in the face of a challenge.

There is a clear distinction to be drawn, in other words, between a person that simply agrees with a particular position and a person that agrees with a particular position and can rationally defend it in a debate. It is likely that the person who presents arguments to support a position has been in the dialogue and has at least a cursory understanding of the opposing position, whereas a person that merely agrees may be open to persuasion when they hear the other side. This is what distinguishes an audience member from a presenter: a presenter is confident enough in their belief to put forward an argument while an audience member is not.

Now, onto the second question: How should one proceed as a debate participant? As an audience member, it is important to raise questions and challenge those arguments that are unclear or seem incomplete. As a presenter, there are several guidelines that I think merit observation. Not only will these rules make a person a more respectable presenter, but it will also lead to fewer emotional outbursts and fights.

The first rule to observe when engaging in debate is the so-called “principle of charity” which states that one ought to interpret ambiguous arguments from opponents in as rational a manner as possible. That is, when a presenter in a debate makes an argument that could potentially have multiple meanings, we are to take the meaning that is most rational, consistent and free of falsehoods and fallacies. In this way, we avoid caricatures of the opponent and ensure that we are arguing against their actual position and not a straw man.

To consider an example of this principle, suppose Alice and Bob are arguing whether it is proper to use corporal punishment on children that misbehave. Alice may argue that it is immoral to hit children as a form of punishment and Bob may argue that spanking a child when they have done wrong on occasion is crucial to getting the child to respect authority. The principle of charity dictates that both Alice and Bob should assume that the other person has the best interests of the child in mind when they discuss whether corporal punishment is useful or not to raising children, unless there is clear evidence that this is not the case. The point in disciplining a child in the first place is to aid in his development, so the rational presenter would argue their case with this goal in mind.

The second guideline in debating properly is to recognize and respect the free will and intellect of your opposing presenters, and to let this shape your expectations. Individual presenters have a choice to participate in a debate or remain silent as members of the audience. Nobody can force a mind to operate; arguments can only be marshaled by a thinking consciousness, and people need some amount of courage to effectively present a position in front of an audience, no matter how small or familiar it is. When a person is willing to participate as a presenter, it is incumbent on their opponents to assume that they have at least some familiarity with the issue outside of their own position and that it is likely arguments will not convince them overnight.

This point is so crucial it merits repeating: do not expect to convert opposing presenters with your arguments in the heat of a debate. For each argument that you offer, your opponents have either heard it or they have not heard it. If a given argument was known to your opponent before you advanced it, then it was not sufficient to convince them before and so there is little chance it will convince them now. If a given argument was not known to your opponent, then it will take some time for them to digest the argument and come to accept the full implications of it. Thoughtful people who care about ideas need to integrate new arguments and data with their previous understanding of the world, and this takes time and reflection. People are not often willing to engage in reflection in the presence of an audience that is judging their performance as a presenter.

This leads naturally to the third rule to follow as a presenter: aim for the undecided audience with your arguments. Treat the audience as though it were a group of students, hungry for your instruction on the subject at hand. Provide the clearest case for your position, and point out the holes in your opponents’ arguments. Furnish the audience with resources they can google if they wish to learn more, such as books or articles. One encouraging indication that you have performed well as a presenter is if you get questions from the audience, because asking questions is a sign of an active mind. You should answer audience questions to the best of your ability and admit when you are not sure what the answer may be, because people who are eager for the truth appreciate genuine effort that is free of pretense and arbitrary assertions.

Finally, when a debate is over how do you gauge your success or lack thereof? Objectively, we have established that it is unrealistic to convince opposing presenters during a debate. The audience should be your target, not the opposing presenters. To this end, compare the audience after the debate with the audience before the debate. How many people changed their minds? How many people started in agreement with your opponent, only to have one of your arguments plant a seed of doubt? How many people asked questions and were genuinely interested in the implications for accepting your position? These are all important questions to ask and are the proper way to objectively assess your performance in a debate as a presenter. If one considers a situation where you are the only advocate for your position and there is no audience, it makes sense to set your expectations for immediate converts low.

To summarize, one should not view debate as something unpleasant and aggravating. Instead, one should view it as an opportunity to learn something new or to further test your own understanding. Do not evaluate your performance in a debate by whether you persuaded your opponent to surrender, but rather on whether you were able to effectively articulate your case to those undecided people. Not only is this an objective way to assess your debate performance, but it is also takes the edge off of “winning” and respects the intellect and free will of your opponents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Should Not Expel the Electoral College

A defense of America’s method for electing the president.

It is periodically fashionable for some Americans to question the electoral college, the mechanism used to elect the commander-in-chief. These individuals couch their position in language that portrays the staid institution as primitive or outdated. A recent petition circulated by the “progressive” MoveOn.org characteristically tries to make the case that the electoral college “has outlived its usefulness” and that it, along with the Constitution itself, was “written when communication was by Pony Express.”

This is curious rhetoric. One would do well to point out that the Pony Express point is an intellectually lazy one because that system actually came into existence in the late 1850’s, more than half a century after the Constitution was penned. The larger point, though, is that when the electoral college was installed has little bearing on how valid it is as an election mechanism. The reason for this is that the problem of political order is as old as human society itself. While our technology and culture may change with time, the core issues at stake with how human society is organized are timeless. It is my contention that the electoral college is an effective, albeit imperfect method for electing the president of the United States and that it should be preserved. To fully appreciate the brilliance of the electoral college, one must understand not only the way that it operates but the history behind its inception.

The electoral college is a system whereby Americans indirectly elect the president. Each state receives one electoral vote for each representative it has in the House of Representatives, plus another electoral vote for each of its two senators. Currently, the states possess 435 representatives and 100 senators between them. Additionally, the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution provides Washington DC, the capital of the federal government, with three electoral votes. There are therefore 538 total electoral votes to allocate for president and a candidate must receive at least 270 to proclaim victory.

Though a state cannot unilaterally decide how many electoral votes it receives, it does have the ability to determine how to allocate the electoral votes that it possesses. On election day, voters cast their ballots in their home state. As the votes are tallied and the states determine the winning candidate in their jurisdiction, electoral votes are “called” for the candidates in the national election. Aside from Nebraska and Maine, all of the states employ a “winner-take-all” approach whereby the candidate that receives the most votes in the state receives all the electoral votes in that state. If there is a situation wherein no candidate for president receives at least 270 electoral votes, the president is elected by a vote in the House of Representatives while the vice president is elected by the Senate.

The individuals that cast the electoral votes in each state are known as “electors” and they take an oath to vote for the candidate that does the best in the state election that they serve. Curiously, there is a possibility that individual electors diverge from their state’s prescription; Such a person is known as a “faithless elector.” This has occurred in American history, but it is a rare phenomenon that is discouraged with state laws which levy a fine on such behavior. These laws have never been challenged in the courts, however, so there is some doubt as to whether such statutes are constitutional.

This is what is meant when it is said that America is not a democracy, but a republic. By definition, a democracy is a system of government where the prevailing power is unlimited majority rule. A society that restricts voting to specific matters can be called democratic, but it is technically not a full-fledged democracy. In a pure democracy,  the people would be able to vote not just on taxes and parades, but also on whether it is valid to dispose the life or property of specific individuals. One need only recall the story of Socrates, who was sentenced to death for “corrupting the youth” by vote in Ancient Athens, to see the dark side of unrestricted democracy. The electoral college entrusts the electors to vote as representatives of the general population.

Why allow a select group to cast the final ballots for the president rather than open it up, Athenian style, to the general populace? It is no secret that the American founding fathers, contrary to what some may believe, were not huge fans of direct democracy. Former president James Madison argued extensively in Federalist 10 that, with regards to government, “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” Alexander Hamilton, the man who would go on to serve as the first Treasury Secretary and inspire a hit Broadway musical, was a monarchist sympathizer of the British system of government and sharply criticized the bloodshed in the French Revolution. Fans of the musical may be surprised that Hamilton believed that the greatest threat to American liberty, apart from the return of the British army to North America, was mob rule.  Ben Franklin, never at a loss for witty aphorisms, quipped that democracy is on a par with two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for dinner.

The founding fathers sought to limit the “tyranny of the majority” caused by a democratic system when they drafted the Constitution. The method that they elected to use in this mission was federalism, a system of government where power is divided between a large, central governing body and smaller, regional governments. The founding fathers understood that if the United States was overly centralized the government would lose touch with people on a local level because traditions and culture differ from state to state. On the other hand, if there were no centralization at all then the states would be less able to protect themselves from foreign aggression. The US Constitution also limits the extent to which democracy plays a role in American politics by restricting what we can and cannot vote for. America can this be said to be a democratic, or representative, republic.

Apart from granting several powers to the state governments, the American founding fathers also implemented a system of checks and balances between the branches of the federal government to make it more difficult for any one person or political party to fully control it. The Congress is tasked with legislating, the president is tasked with enforcing the legislation passed by Congress and the Supreme Court is tasked with ensuring that the actions of the prior two branches are in accordance with the Constitution. Madison succinctly encapsulated the benefits of federalism when he wrote in Federalist 47 that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Like all federalist devices, the electoral college represents an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of democracy while still allowing for the common man to have a say in who his ruler is.

There are persistent opponents of the electoral college to this day, despite the arguments of the founders. Traditionally, these opponents have been agents of the Democratic party dating back to its creation under President Andrew Jackson. The most common objection raised by Jacksonian Democrats applies to the most recent election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, wherein Clinton won the popular vote but Trump won the election with over 300 electoral votes. The basic idea is that because more individual people voted for Clinton than for Trump the electoral college failed to account for the true tastes of the voters. Critics contend that a direct, popular vote is a better approach to elect the president.

This argument overlooks the federalist character of the USA. The Constitution was originally ratified with the understanding that the federal government was created by the states, not the other way around. When the states ratified the Constitution they delegated some powers to the federal government and retained the remainder, as per the Tenth Amendment. The federal government, then, was created not by the act of a single, united American people but rather the various peoples of each individual state. As such, it is the states that select the president, not the populace at large. It is not the people of the US that elect the president but rather the people of each state that elect the president. If there were a direct election by popular vote, the largest and most populous cities would carry a disproportionate weight in the election. The states that have more populous cities, such as Texas and California, would overshadow the states with smaller cities such as Wyoming and Delaware. The result is a complete collapse of individual state sovereignty and representation.

Advocates for the popular vote may argue that the electoral system also disenfranchises states, it just does so for a different set of them. Under the electoral system, presidential candidates spend a majority of their time and ad money in the so-called “swing states” such as Iowa and Florida and less time in stronghold states such as Alabama and New York. This view is also misguided. The truth is that the median voters in any election decide the outcome because the voters at the extreme ends cancel each other out; this is a basic mathematical fact. In a direct popular vote, a simple majority would be able to elect the president without a need to appeal to the minority position at all. The electoral college shifts this “median voter effect” to the state level and makes it more difficult to overlook those with a minority position.

To see why this is, let’s look at a short example. Consider a minority group that numbers approximately half a percent of the total population; as of 2016, this is a group of about 1.5 million people overall. In a direct popular vote their voice is a drop in the bucket and no candidate worth their salt would appeal to such a small niche group. Now suppose a modest, politically conscious chunk of that minority group moved to a state with a smaller population, say Wyoming with a population of half a million. If even one tenth of our beleaguered minority group lived in Wyoming, then they would comprise nearly 30% of the total population of Wyoming, a sizable percentage. When it comes time to campaign, the candidate that seeks to gain the electoral votes in Wyoming would be unable to simply ignore the minority group and they would have a better chance of getting their voice heard in the national election. There is a useful side effect here that the state politics of Wyoming would be more conducive to the goals and interests of the minority group. Apart from casting ballots every four years, individuals vote with their feet all the time when they move to different states.

American federalism remains an innovative solution to the problem of political order. This is not the first time in history that aspersions were cast on the electoral college system and it will not be the last. We should be suspicious of those that seek to overturn it not by refuting the arguments that gave rise to it, but by portraying it as old and outdated. Tyrannical government, after all, is older than federalism; I leave it to you to decide which is the more primitive relic.

Election 2016: A Rebuke to Democrats

A wake-up call to the American left in the wake of a Trump victory.

The 2016 American presidential election was a landslide victory for Donald Trump as an individual and populism as an ideology. Americans in many states that were expected to vote Democrat instead rebelled against the elite voices in academia, Washington DC, the mainstream media, and Hollywood to vote instead for a foul-mouthed septuagenarian with a Twitter addiction and a reality television career.

This election was certainly what statistician Nassim Taleb would call a “black swan” event; that is, an outlier that one cannot foresee with considerable consequences. Few predicted that a man with no political experience, a large personal bankroll, and fiery rhetoric would defeat the Clintons, one of the strongest political machines in American history. Now that we are in the twilight of the Obama administration and the age of Trump looms ahead, I think it best for us to dissect the election results objectively and assess the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It has become fashionable in many quarters to blame the election results on a tide of racism and xenophobia. Many vocal Democrats in California, New York, Washington DC and Chicago have come to the conclusion that the majority of Trump supporters are bigots and that this is why Hillary Clinton lost in her bid for the presidency. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

It all began last fall, when Trump’s opponents in the media first revealed a strategy to assassinate Donald Trump’s character with early attempts to link Donald Trump to white nationalist David Duke, who had not even endorsed Trump at the time the media had demanded “accountability” from the Republican candidate. Trump took a strong position on illegal immigration and this was portrayed as an indictment of all Mexicans as rapists and criminals. Trump took a strong position on refusing refugees from a war-torn country with a known anti-American ideology and this was portrayed as “Islamophobia.” Trump took an aggressive approach to Megyn Kelly’s criticisms of the way he feuded with Rosie O’ Donnell in 2007 and this was portrayed as  “misogyny.” Trump called his opponent a “nasty woman” during one of the debates and Democratic women reappropriated the term as though it applied to all of them.

These arguments are all, in fact, common fallacies used in public discourse. The David Duke connection is a classic guilt by association play, since nobody can control who endorses them and why. Just because two individuals share a common position on a single issue, it does not mean that they therefore agree on every issue. Consider for instance that the Communist Party of the USA was excited for Hillary Clinton in this election cycle; we should not take that as license to believe Clinton wants to destroy the institution of private property. The Nation of Islam endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but that does mean Obama and Louis Farrakhan agree on everything under the sun. These allegations are good examples of composition fallacies intended to mobilize large segments of “victim groups” to view Trump’s election on a par with Kristallnacht and to therefore act appropriately. There is also the amusing fact that these charges ignore crucial facts about the subject that they intend to “explore.” Mexico is a nation state and Islam is a religion; neither is a race, so criticizing either one is not a racist action. The media attacked Donald Trump for his character and the average Democrat believed them, as did many moderates and some of the more Victorian conservatives.

Despite the fact that many Trump voters helped to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the media doubled-down on their allegations of racism. On election night, self-described communist Van Jones wen on to label the election a “whitelash against a changing country” on CNN. The same evening NPR’s Cokie Roberts stated that Americans voted against Clinton not  because they thought her untrustworthy, but because she was a woman. Not to be outdone in the niche market that have made them a household name, Vox cemented its role as a racial agitator a week after the election by putting out a story that claimed Trump won by tapping into racism, “the most powerful force in America.” Not content to let these media outlets speak for them, many on my own Facebook news feed parroted this message with startling comments, such as: “feeling stressed out by uneducated whites”, “America really let down women and minorities” and “So disappointed in America..We are far more racist, sexist and morally unjust than I thought we were…Not proud to be an American.” One person even went so far as to create a public Facebook thread as a “safe space for women and minorities” and explained that any comments posted by white males would be deleted. I didn’t ask her, but one wonders what her reaction would have been if I had decided to identify as a black woman on that particular evening and post something sympathetic on the thread; it sounds like she needs to check her privilege.

Herein lies my beef with the American left. For decades progressives have cried wolf on bigotry and labeled honest opponents as racist or misogynist with little evidence to back it up. In prior campaigns, the mainstream media succeeded in portraying George W Bush as a moron, John McCain as old and out of touch, and Mitt Romney as an elite financier with little connection to the common man. Alongside these particular critiques of the candidates, however, there was always an underlying message that Republicans are racist xenophobes who do not care for women and minorities.

What is most curious, though, is that many on the left do not seem to notice that in framing Republicans as bigoted they are in fact engaged in the same sort of collectivism that they are supposedly calling out. After Trump won, the usual divisive barrage ensued as nearly every media outlet explained that it was shocking that Trump had won more black votes than Romney and McCain. Embarrassed pollsters who called the election for Clinton sought to repair the damage done to their reputations by slicing and dicing the election statistics in order to install awe in people who could never imagine a single Hispanic person voting for Trump. Prominent “progressives” like Ana Kasparian of the Young Turks put William Shakespeare to shame when she poetically explained that white women who voted for Trump were “fucking stupid”. Inherent in all of these reactions is the premise that the left have figured out what is in the interest of all members of the supposed “victim groups” that they champion. A person that holds this premise will think people foolish or naive when they diverge from what is prescribed to them, but the basic fallacy that they commit in thinking this way is that the groups are somehow more real than the individuals that comprise them. What needs to be said is that it is individuals and not classes that have interests, and not all people who receive government benefits and favors want to keep them. This is why Clinton lost: people vote as individuals and this time, they were not buying what ol’ Hilldabeast was selling.

The resentment generated by the left’s race-baiting has not stopped with mere words. Rioters in Oregon set fire to property amid assault against alleged Trump supporters. Individuals in California and New York City blocked traffic, preventing commuters from returning home from work and obstructing emergency vehicles. In New York City, marchers convened on Trump Tower chanting “rape Melania”, a slogan that garnered a Twitter following of nearly 350,000 before eventually subsiding. There is footage of a Trump voter in Chicago being beaten to within an inch of his life by several black youths. Actor Michael Shannon, the man cast to play General Zod in the Superman movies, came out recently with the statement that “if you voted for Trump, it is time for the urn”, and no, he was not in character when he did it. On a less violent note, there are lesbians and gays who fear that Trump will overturn their marriages within his first 100 days in office. I have even heard it said that Trump plans to grant federal funding to the Ku Klux Klan.

Where to begin with this disgraceful turn of events? One could start with the observation that the protesters are doing this in overwhelmingly Democratic states which voted Hillary, and that they are only hurting their political allies. One could elaborate that this country has a separation of powers and that the power of the president to do many of these fantastic acts is strictly limited. One could recount that prior to the election many in the media demonized Trump supporters as violent and chastised Trump for not vowing to accept the election results, only to prove themselves hypocrites when the election was over.

I am not a racist, misogynist, or a xenophobe; I believe in limited government and individual rights. Trump does not represent my values and neither did Hillary Clinton, but in my estimation he was the lesser evil compared to Clinton. To see why I think Clinton was an opportunistic influence peddler and a proven incompetent, see my essay here. Trump, on the other hand, has some short term policy proposals that I see as tactical victories.

On the issues, here is what I considered. I think the US needs a more conservative Supreme Court that will not overturn Citizens United in an attempt to punish corporate America at the expense of the First Amendment. I think healthcare is not a right and to treat it as such is a political, economic and moral disaster. Clinton made overtures that she would continue many of Obama’s policies and this was a deal-breaker for me on several counts. I am opposed to Obama’s behavior overseas when it comes to decrying American exceptionalism and claiming, as he did to people in South America, that there is “no difference between socialism and capitalism.” Obama’s failure to stick up for America as a unique nation with a secular Constitution and a respect for individual rights is shameful and his abdication of responsibility for American national security to the United Nations, a corrupt body that treats China, Russia and the United States as moral equals on the world stage, is feckless and uninspiring. I think climate change alarmism is a solution without a problem, and that the supposedly harmful effects of global warming are exaggerated by the environmentalist left to enable government more control over scientific research and ultimately, to roll back the achievements of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, I am also for lower taxes and enforcement of current immigration law.

A Trump presidency has considerable potential for negative long-term consequences as well as short-term positive ones. Trump is an untested and inexperienced world leader, and there is some doubt that he will be able to do the job effectively. Trump has praised dictators like Vladimir Putin and made it clear that he believes the market is “win / lose” rather than “win / win”. Trump is a protectionist who may do severe damage to American trade with foreign nations. The Donald has engaged in petty Twitter wars over personal sleights, and has changed his position on many key issues since the start of the campaign in order to garner his populist support.

I want to end this with an olive branch to those on the left: we need you in the coming years, and we need you to be sane. Save your ammo for the real fights and turn away from the regressive ideology that has animated you for the last decade.

The Egalitarian In Chief

All about the philosophy that informs the Obama administration.

As the end of Barack Obama’s administration approaches, we ought to discuss the overall impact that it has had on the United States. While no president is perfect, I believe the overall legacy is a negative one; allow me to defend this position with a discussion of the philosophy of the Obama administration.

When discussing Obama, I am often reminded of the 1972 election when Richard Nixon won in a landslide against George McGovern. At the time, McGovern was the candidate of the far left, which had come to prominence in the wake of the Vietnam War. Nixon positioned himself as the experienced, establishment candidate against a pacifist who would have surrendered America to the Soviet Union. To many voters, Nixon was the man who would prevent the hippies from taking political control. Though we later learned that Nixon had serious ethical and political issues of his own, voters at the time awarded Nixon every state except for Massachusetts. The resulting landslide meant that the radical left was exiled from American politics for two full generations.

The only popular Democratic presidency after the ’72 election was the Clinton administration. Carter, the only other Democrat to be president during this era, was largely seen as weak and ineffectual, as well as economically destructive. The headlines of Carter’s reign spoke of “the misery index”. Economists were baffled when high unemployment appeared at the same time as high inflation, which was considered impossible under the standard Keynesian economic model. Despite the personal scandals, Clinton’s approach was animated by a moderate, “third way” philosophy that had earned respect from many of his political opponents, particularly in the economic realm with the passage of welfare reform. The  ideological left made a return to mainstream American politics with the election of Obama in 2008, who was the first “New Left” American president.

Conservatives took pains to portray Obama as a Marxist in the 2008 presidential campaign, but the truth is that he only appropriates the ideology and rhetoric of class warfare when it suits him in his true agenda, which is more aptly described as egalitarian and not Marxist. Egalitarianism is the view that equality is the most important standard by which we ought to evaluate justice and morality. For egalitarians, equality is a higher value than standard of living or individual achievement. As a self-styled “community organizer” Barack Obama is a philosophical poster boy for Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ theory of “justice as fairness”. Let’s examine some of the specific instances where Obama’s policies have supported his egalitarian philosophy.

To begin, Obama has ratcheted up the traditional Democratic rhetoric against Wall Street and the banks. Along with Senators Sanders and Warren, Obama has called for higher taxes on the wealthy so that everyone is paying their “fair share” though there is little explanation for what is truly “fair” in this context. The president has done his part to convince Americans that the financial sector is parasitical, taking care to ignore the crucial role that the financial sector plays in allocating capital throughout the economy where it is most profitable and therefore most valued. When asked by the New York Times whether he would raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” even if it would result in less overall revenue, Obama responded that he would do so, stating that its not a matter of revenue, but “fairness”. Obama truly seems to believe that if a person possesses considerable wealth, irrespective of how they achieved it, then the government is justified in taking the “excess” and redistributing it to those “in need”. If one could custom the presidential seal for each person who holds the office, Obama’s would likely read “you didn’t build that”.

Obama’s administration is also responsible for raising government spending on “clean energy” and seeks to further restrict America’s consumption of electricity and fossil fuels. The truth is that energy is the lifeblood of an industrial, capitalist society and without it, America cannot effectively produce the goods and services that make innovations in every other field possible. At this stage, so-called clean energy is not only “clean”, but overly expensive and ineffective in generating what our economy needs to grow and expand. Any cost-conscious entrepreneur would recognize the value of efficient, renewable energy and invest in it if they thought that there was a chance for profits. Some, like Elon Musk, do this now (albeit with government subsidies). On the other hand, the Obama administration is engaged in a sort of wishful thinking: even if clean energy can’t compete with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency or yield, we still ought to invest in it at the expense of established, proven energy sources because it is “the right thing”.

The question to ask is: right for whom? Eschewing cheap, abundant energy for clean, expensive and rationed energy is not “right” for humans that seek to travel the world, mass produce medicines, generate high crop yields, and expand the reach of telecommunications. The administration’s attitude seems to be that human welfare needs to take a back seat when compared with the environment, the climate, and the mating habits of any and all non-human species on the planet which have an intrinsic value simply because they exist and therefore belong on an equal footing with humans. In other words, energy is great and all, but if it comes down to humans or polar bears, we will just have to go without and sacrifice for the sake of the polar bears. Ayn Rand put it best when she described the American left as seeking “an anti-Industrial Revolution”. To this I would add that the Obamas of the world seek an egalitarian energy policy where the welfare of humans is considered on a par with the welfare of lakes, ferrets, and redwoods.

On the international scene, the Obama administration has consistently acted to diminish America’s stature by denying American exceptionalism. The president applies his egalitarianism consistently to nations of the world as well as individual humans only to conclude that each and every country should be treated the same as every other, irrespective of its actual values and customs. Rather than serve as an eloquent spokesman for the peculiar and unique American tradition of individual rights, separation of powers, free elections, and limited government, Obama has told young people in Argentina that “there is no essential difference between socialism and capitalism” and that they should choose “whatever works”. Rather than stick up for American interests, Obama is willing to subvert American interests to those of the United Nations, an egalitarian body that gives equal representation to all nations, whether they are authoritarian or free.

Mr. Obama has also enthusiastically breathed new life into the tyrannical Cuban regime by pushing the end of the US embargo. This act does a remarkable disservice to Cubans that fled the country and further damages the cause of Cubans that remain on their home island, trying to resist the communist dictatorship. For generations, Cuban refugees have orally transmitted the horrors of communism to their children and grandchildren; they explain that it was the United States that gave them hope and allowed them to prosper after painfully leaving their homeland. The message to young Americans is clear: if Mr. Obama thinks that the Castro family is kosher, perhaps Fidel and Raul are not all that bad after all.

Obama also lacks the moral courage to openly identify radical Islam as a threat to the United States. Like his predecessor, George W Bush, Obama refuses to recognize that what motivates ISIS is not anti-imperialism gone amok but ideas, specifically religious ideas. It is not true that all religions are equal in the effects of their dogma; to see this, note that we are not discussing the threat posed by radical Jainism. Many on the left will argue that Christianity is just as bad as Islam when it comes to fundamentalism, but this is an ahistorical claim. The fact is that Christianity and Judaism have been severely weakened politically in the West after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution relegated them to superstition among the intellectual and business class. The Middle East, on the other hand, is rife with countries stuck in the Middle Ages culturally.

Obama saw the so-called “Arab Spring” through the rose-colored glasses of his egalitarianism and mistook the political machinations of committed Islamists as the rumblings of a native people rising up against their government for an equal voice in a democratic system. The two biggest exponents of Islamism are Saudi Arabia and Iran, a nation that has been in a de facto state of war against the United States since they took hostages from our embassy in 1979. Instead, the president has opted to appease Iranian posturing by kicking the can down the road with regards to their nuclear weapons program.

What about health care, which has been the flagship of Obama’s political legacy? President Obama led the charge to institute his health care scheme as a means of correcting supposed market deficiencies in allocating health care. From the beginning, the left has sought to use health care as a means of undermining confidence in the market by driving up costs and lowering quality. In reality, the health care “market” was heavily regulated and distorted by government intervention prior to the Affordable Care Act. It started with Social Security, a program borrowed from Bismarck’s Germany to placate the middle class at the behest of socialist agitators. It continued with more guarantees in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Occupational licensing laws were put forth to regulate “legitimate” medical care and outlaw “illegitimate” medical care, making it difficult and expensive for new doctors to enter the market. Finally, it was under Ronald Reagan that federal law required all visitors to emergency rooms to be subsidized by the taxpayers if they could not pay their own bills. The “market deficiencies” that Obama sought to “fix” with his health care bill were a result of government action, not the free market.

Obama’s solution for health care was naturally derived by applying his egalitarianism to health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act put into effect an individual mandate that requires all citizens have health care coverage irrespective of their health and ability to pay. Furthermore, Obamacare decrees that the services rendered by all plans need to be identical, even if particular aspects of the plan are nonsensical or uneconomical. For instance, thanks to Obama, a young man in his 30’s can now have his pregnancy covered by his insurance plan, and anyone diagnosed with a preexisting condition will be covered even though there is a near certain chance that the health care firm will need to pay out heavily for treatment. If we compare auto insurance to health care insurance, the mandate states that one can demand an insurer cover them after they have totaled their vehicle. Rather than treat health care as a service provided by the market, with a variety of products and pricing commensurate with consumer needs, Obama has made it clear that it would be unfair that some go without health care coverage, and that this is prima facie unacceptable.

Finally, there is the deterioration of race relations and the proliferation of identity politics that have occurred under the Obama administration. Despite the fact that Americans voted in a black president, there is a widespread belief that the majority of white Americans are racists. Opponents of the Obama administration that have legitimate criticism are lumped together with white nationalists as racist by the mainstream media and various academics. It is often taken as axiomatic by educated Americans that Caucasians benefit from “white privilege” and there is need to address “institutional racism”. The police have been slandered by Black Lives Matter activists, who claim that there is a preference for jailing black Americans over all others. If someone points out that the incarceration rate of blacks is commensurate with the rate at which they actually commit crimes, they are also conveniently labeled as racists and apologists for oppression.

While Obama has not done much to stoke these flames, he has not done a thing to refute them, even though he can easily do so. Instead, he opts to take the approach that because all people are equal, it must be the case that all cultures are equal as well, and that it would be unfitting for anyone to point out differences, let alone claim that one is better than the other with regard to a given activity or problem.

Obama is the first president to take egalitarianism seriously. Apart from the 2016 election, the Democrats lost seats in Congress in 2010, 2012 and 2014 despite Obama getting two terms as president. Obama has stepped into the fray consistently with the message that even when he is personally not on the ballot, his policies are. Americans heard that message and voted accordingly to reject Obama and his egalitarianism. Though many Americans are not philosophical in their orientation, they are discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful when they are implemented.

The Deplorable Hillary Clinton

Why Hillary was a bad choice for president.

If we cared to vote on such things, “deplorable” would probably win an election on this year’s favorite adjective. For Republicans, it is an example of reappropriation that demonstrates their opposition to the Hillary Clinton campaign. For Democrats, the word conjures images of a cartoon frog. Today, I plan to use it in its original sense to describe the political career of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.

In the 90’s, it was mostly Republicans and fiscal conservatives who disliked Hillary Clinton when she took a lead during her husband’s administration to overhaul the health care system. As her career moved forward, Hillary changed positions on issues rapidly and sought to amass power for herself and for her husband with no need for principles. Even committed leftists such as my personal hero, Christopher Hitchens, saw her as a dangerous political opportunist and published a whole book critical of Hillary Clinton. Hillary started out as an opponent of gay marriage in 1996 when her husband signed DOMA into law, only to change her opinion in 2004 when the political winds changed. She went on record in the mid 90’s as an opponent of “violent video games” and harsher penalties for recreational drug users, only to see the error of her ways in the 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. Clinton has also tried to backpedal from her hawkish support of the Iraq War during the Bush administration after it became politically important for politicians interested in getting reelected to do so.

Aside from actual voting policies, the public has from time to time gotten a taste of her penchant for telling inspirational white lies which are calculated to make her appear likable, brave, and principled. She claimed in 1995 to be named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mount Everest; regrettably, Hillary was born several years prior to this event. In the 2008 campaign Hillary falsely claimed that she arrived in Bosnia under sniper fire; in reality, she landed in one of the safest parts of Bosnia with not even spitballs being fired at her. The Wikileaks emails have also recently exposed that Clinton gleefully admits to being disingenuous with voters, admitting that she has “both a public and a private position” on several issues, such as the common Democratic staple of “Wall Street reform”.

What about Clinton’s experience? She was Secretary of State under President Obama, said many of her erstwhile supporters willing to excuse her mendacious nature. Perhaps the country can endure an opportunist, so long as that opportunist is competent. In answer to this, I would argue that there is substantial evidence that Clinton is an incompetent administrator because of her inability to focus on details. There was the recent email issue, where Clinton maintained several private email servers in violation of US security protocol; her actions put American national security interests at risk. There was the 2012 attack on America’s embassy in Benghazi, where Clinton downplayed the possibility of an attack; her actions led to the deaths of several American servicemen. Additionally, Clinton is too eager to intervene in foreign affairs with scant American interests present while ignoring legitimate threats to America from international bad actors. Clinton championed the interventions in both Libya and Syria, where tyrannical dictators were pitted against “freedom fighters,” many of whom are sympathizers to radical Islam. In cases such as these, America ought not choose a side since both parties are anathema to American values. On the other hand Clinton was happy to take money from Saudi Arabia via the Clinton Foundation, even after that regime had worked hard to spread radical Wahhabi ideology hostile to the American Constitution.

Finally, there is the rank corruption that has become synonymous with the Clinton name. There is evidence that Hillary colluded with the DNC to stack the deck against her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic primaries; when this became known to the public, Hillary hired Debbie Wasserman Schultz to join her campaign. Hillary took part in the perpetual war that the Democrats are wont to wage against Wall Street, only to accept thousands of dollars for political speeches given to various financial institutions behind closed doors. Wikileaks further illuminated the fact that mainstream media outlets were in the tank for Hillary. One example was CNN’s Donna Brazile, who furnished Clinton with debate questions in advance. Another is the New York Times’ John Harwood, who cozied up to John Podesta and sought what questions to ask Jeb Bush prior to an interview that he was scheduled to conduct.

Reviewing the full Clinton record is as daunting to write as it is to read. In hindsight, I think that this election was lost for the Democrats as soon as Hillary was selected as the nominee. How could things have been different? For one thing, the DNC could have acted sooner to get a younger, fresher face with less baggage involved in the process to oppose Hillary. There are many Democrats in the House and in the Senate that may have stepped forward if only the powers that be encouraged them to act. The only serious challenger that Hillary faced during the primaries was Senator Sanders, who was not even a Democrat but rather an independent that classified himself as a socialist. Rather than stand up to the Clinton political machine, the DNC and the plurality of Democratic voters decided it was best to cash in on Clinton’s brand name recognition in order to gain power. There was plenty of evidence during the primary process that Hillary had ethical problems, and yet many Democrats enthusiastically signed on to support her campaign despite this news.

Once she had secured the nomination, Democrats enjoyed the biased coverage of the mainstream media. Many newspapers, academic journals and research outlets burned the bridge of objectivity to endorse Hillary, even the conservative National Review. Polls consistently showed a pro-Hillary turnout, and Newsweek put out a cover that read “Madame President” nearly two weeks prior to the actual election. In the final days of the campaign, Trump spent hours a day giving speeches across the country to get his message out, while Hillary all but vanished from the public eye. She avoided giving interviews, mostly because it was known that she would need to confront the more unsavory news that surrounded her and her husband. Enthusiastic Clinton supporters I am familiar with here in New York City even passed around a GIF of Hillary performing what appears to be a “victory shimmy” after out-talking Donald Trump during one of the presidential debates. Fed by the echo chambers of social media, Clinton supporters thought that the election was a mere formality and that their girl had it in the bag. Even Clinton rival Bernie Sanders betrayed his constituency and drank the kool-aid when it came time to line up between Clinton. After the election, Sanders has little to show for his endorsement and has lost his integrity, which he had for decades in Congress.

Summarizing, Hillary was an ineffective candidate to run for president. The Democrats could have done better and really should have, if they cared about the future of their party. The majority of Democrats with rare exceptions decided arrogantly that the election was over and that they could pull out an easy win by going with a familiar brand without asking the right questions. The result is that the “I’m With Her” hashtags tweeted out were not successful product slogans, but inscriptions for an unsightly political tombstone.