Am I disappointed that Anthony Scaramucci is not letting us know anything at all, in his first White House briefing, about what stocks to buy. Sad, and low energy. President Trump, on the other hand, is getting brighter, cleaner, and more articulate every week. His interpretation of the Napoleonic wars, for example. Long story short, “Napoleon ended up a little bit bad,” or words to that effect, per his New York Times interview this week. Trump is way too articulate, bright, and clean to end up like Napoleon. No freezing Russian tundra for him, no way. Trump will never end up stuck to the seat of a frozen Siberian toilet. Believe me. The system works. Only the very shiniest golden toilet.
And I thought they were sorta special and maybe even unique. But now it seems that forty-odd years after President Richard Nixon said “we are all Keynesians now,” we are all becoming paranoid libertarians. Cass Sunstein’s column last week in Bloomberg View (glossing on a piece by Sean Wilentz in The New Republic) tells us “How to Spot a Paranoid Libertarian.” Sunstein used to be a well-respected U. of Chicago professor researching nudges, that is, behavioral economics and law . Then he became President Obama’s chief regulatory officer during the first term–so from the paranoid libertarian (henceforth PL, whenever I feel like abbreviating) point of view you could call him the principal deputy antichrist (especially if you were Thomas Perkins in San Francisco and were trying to follow up on your tantrum about a “progressive Kristallnacht”). Sunstein’s top tips on PL-spotting: look for presumption of bad faith on the part of government officials, a love of slippery-slope arguments, a sense of victimization, and indifference to trade-offs between liberty and any other values.
Sunstein seems dismissive of anyone more paranoid about government intrusions than he is (which in 2014 is most people, I think), and says Wilentz has performed a “valuable public service by pointing to the libertarian manifestation of Hofstadter’s “paranoid style in American politics.” Sunstein does not specifically endorse Wilentz’s insinuation that the views of Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange are unsavory. But frankly, it is not and never has been all about Snowden. I could care less whether he was freaked out by how many Muslims there are in London (or whether Greenwald could be kinder and gentler). The issue is about 300 million Americans and even more people worldwide whose lives are likely to be affected by out-of-control surveillance regimes–not the personal weaknesses of the leakers.
Libertarianism, both economic and social, is in a waxing phase, to the point where we might even get a quasi-libertarian president next time–by “quasi” I mean legal pot yes, legal heroin no. PL seems to many to be the last refuge of political sincerity in an era of self-conscious frivolousness. And “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” often derided as know-nothingism, could be seen as just a reflection of the sea in which we swim–a turbulent mixture of (at least half-hearted) Keynesian policy and dog-whistle-enabled paranoid libertarianism.
As I said, some of my best friends are, or were, paranoid libertarians. I kind of like them better when they stick with their flamboyant “out” (so to speak) selves, and don’t try too hard for respectability. It is a little dismaying, for example, to see a column by ultimate libertarian Richard Epstein of NYU Law School (not actually someone I have met, though I knew some of his U. Chicago colleagues) on “My Rand Paul Problem,” distancing himself from “hard-line libertarianism.” Epstein always seemed to me a pretty extreme exemplar of anti-government theory, and why he would claim to have stopped drooling and foaming at the mouth against statism now, at his advanced age, is beyond me. Speaking of staying true to one’s flamboyant self, watch out for Joe Biden trying out paranoid libertarianism on Democratic primary voters next time! He might take PL out for a spin in New Hampshire and Iowa–watch out Hillary!
What is the hold up? Let’s get on with the gay wedding right in St Peter’s Square already! Francis, you have been Head Man in Rome for at least six months now. You said, Who am I to judge, didn’t you? And did you not say your favorite painting in Rome is Caravaggio’s “Calling of St. Matthew“? How much gayer (and Baroquely so) than Caravaggio can you get? “St. Matthew” in the painting isn’t even dead, he is alive and living in Provincetown right now–unless he’s gone back to Chelsea for the winter already.
We don’t need to hear any more noise about “discernment,” by the way. Discernment takes time, you say. Uh-huh. The wedding planners have discerned plenty already. The gowns, dresses, tuxes, trains–they are ready and waiting, my man!
You hesitate. I understand. You are not a right-winger, but you don’t want to be doing stuff “willy-nilly,” as our President Obama says. No problem. We got a guy we are gonna send over to tell your people what he has no problem with, so as to nudge you along the path of righteousness. Name of Biden. There are no limits to God’s mercy, as you say. And you will be judged with mercy after you do the right thing.
- Catholics React to Pope Remarks on Gays, Abortion (abcnews.go.com)
- Pope Francis’s New Tone Suggests an Age of Change Ahead – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Pope: Church can’t ‘interfere’ with gays (kvue.com)
President Obama, you said last week that you have “no patience” for countries that make life hard for gays and lesbians. Great. I am glad Joe Biden had even less patience than you did during your reelection campaign. He got over his skis, it was all a little willy-nilly, but you were fairly good-humored in public about the disorderliness of Biden–maybe because what choice did you have? And real change is sometimes a little disorderly, you know that.
I must say, though, you lost me when you also said that “the main thing I want to emphasize is, I don’t have an interest and the people of the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that…we can prevent a terrorist attack…that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that.” I have no patience for ridiculousness like that. How did that kind of banal self-serving propaganda get into your head? From your mother? Maybe she was idealistic and naive in some ways, according to your own memoir, but that naive? It is hardly believable. From your grandparents? Not likely. From your professors or colleagues? Maybe. Not from Reverend Wright or any preacher with any sense. And you are not running for reelection, as you have pointed out more than once, so maybe you actually are so deep “inside the government,” as you say, that Keith Alexander has hypnotized you. I am not quite sure how you got to the point where you could say the silly things you did. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic debunks your “no interest” claim: “(President Obama) has all sorts of interests besides preventing terrorist attacks–political interests, ideological interests, legacy interests, ego interests. The folks at the NSA want to stop terrorist attacks. But they have other interests too….they want to perpetuate and expand their agency…and some, like Snowden, have totally unexpected interests, like transparency. It caused him to flee with all sorts of sensitive information. Am I to believe that no employee or contractor would possibly abscond for less noble reasons?”
I am not expecting or asking you to become a radical leftist or even reliably progressive, or to let go of your petulance over Snowden’s role. But could we just get real about how government works and could you get enough outsider perspective to imagine that people who are angry and upset are not necessarily infantile, naive, or misguided. That too much to ask? One press conference that was the intellectual version of Mission Accomplished was enough, can we agree? You might take a look, or another look, at the works of the late great interdisclipinary social scientist Albert O. Hirschman–recently eulogized in the New York Review of Books by Cass Sunstein, your former Head Man in Charge of the Hermeneutics of Regulation (and that’s a good thing to have). Hirschman’s The Passions And The Interests is a study of 18th-century ideas and a plea for a richer conception of “interests” than we now possess; and his The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy is a wonderfully acidic takedown of a mindset you have had to confront again and again to the point of understandable exasperation.
The Insider Threat story published by McClatchy this week might be be more disturbing than any of the Guardian/Washington Post/Snowden stories. Check out mcclatchydc.com for the full Stepford/Stasi details. If Edward Snowden were spotted driving around McLean, Virginia in a white Bronco I would be no more shocked and speechless.
- White House ‘Insider Threat’ program reportedly equates whistleblowing with spying (theverge.com)
- WIRE: Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers…. (mcclatchydc.com)