Libertarianism, the Republican Party, and Paranoid Tendencies

Posted on September 24, 2010

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For almost 30 years, one of the primary inspirations of the American Right has been libertarianism, which has functioned as something of a semi-cohesive (but inaccurate) “theory of society” among self-described conservatives.  The ideology and politics of the American Right since the election of Ronald Reagan, has been based on three interacting and sometimes conflicting components:  libertarianism, support for an interventionist national security state, and support for traditional moral values as defined by the current generation of white conservative, religious fundamentalists.  Of these, libertarianism has become the body of thought and rhetoric that has had the most consistent and pervasive influence on the political strategy of the Right, perhaps because this ostensibly universal political philosophy appears to be the most inclusive of the three components.

Not only has libertarianism garnered support in the US and beyond but also has been effective in spreading doubt and fear in the nominally more centrist and leftward opposition to its anti-government policy proposals and rhetoric.  What has been called by some “neoliberalism”, which has been used to describe the political and economic strategies of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush, is premised on libertarian assumptions.  There is, in the highest levels of government in the US, currently no effective or large-scale political and philosophical opposition to libertarianism as an idea, and instead what we have are conflicts between various dilutions of libertarian ideology.  It can be argued that President Obama’s policy preferences to date have represented an amalgam or compromise between libertarianism and a more interventionist centrist or left-leaning Keynesian economic policy.  President Obama has evinced a fear of confronting libertarianism head-on despite its inadequacies as a theory of society and a governing philosophy, especially in a time of deep economic crisis.

Confusingly for outside observers, there are those who claim that the libertarianism of the Republican Party and the Right is not the “real deal”.  Ron Paul and his followers, for instance, are quick to disown any of the “impure” expressions of libertarian ideas in the far more powerful and popular precincts of the Republican Party and elsewhere.  There is, as well, a Libertarian Party that fields an occasional candidate including former Republican Congressman Bob Barr and in 1980, the billionaire David Koch. The influential novelist and popular political philosopher Ayn Rand contributed substantially to the popularity of what essentially were libertarian ideas even though she herself castigated and dissociated herself from those who during her day called themselves libertarians.  Rand’s “Objectivism” is almost identical to libertarianism with regard to the attitudes it promotes towards government.  These quibbles are interesting but ultimately do not account for the underlying, common worldview in both the pure version of libertarianism and the versions of it that commingle with other right-wing concerns and tendencies.

There is now in the United States and elsewhere, a segment of the press that campaigns vigorously for or shares the assumptions of libertarianism.  In the US, Fox News uses assumptions of libertarianism (that the government is an instrument that should be replaced for the most part by private enterprise) and the business press and media is filled with pundits and stock pickers who minimize or condemn the role of government in economy.  The libertarian-based “Tea Party” was sparked by the seemingly spontaneous outcry of a business press reporter Rick Santelli, who called for the formation of a new Chicago tea party, as a “protest” of Obama’s efforts to respond to the economic crisis he inherited.  The role of the multi-billionaire Koch brothers in funding explicitly and implicitly libertarian media-savvy political campaigns over the past 30 years has recently been brought to light.

Libertarianism Summarized

Libertarianism declares the primacy and priority of individual rights and, in particular individual property rights, over group rights that libertarianism believes are for the most part illegitimate.  Individual freedom with regard to property, as well as the freedom of private corporations, is the absolute and primary value as professed by libertarians but it is freedom defined as a negative:  freedom “from” coercion by government rather than freedom “to” have certain rights and privileges, with the exception of the freedom to own property.  The conservative political philosopher Isaiah Berlin called “freedom from” “negative liberty” while he called “freedom to” “positive liberty”.  In the wake of the war against fascism, styled as a purveyor of positive liberty, and during the reign of Stalin in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Berlin, like libertarians and other conservatives, warned against the dangers of positive liberty and felt that negative liberty was the most secure political foundation for government.

The libertarian ideal is one of individual self-sufficiency in a market-based society stripped almost entirely of civic involvement or participation in non-market institutions like government; some libertarians have been very active in civic life with the ideal of making that civic life largely obsolete.  Government is the target for most criticism as libertarians see it as the crutch for weak individuals and institutions and the oppressor of free individuals with property who are seeking to trade their labor, their ideas or their goods.  While some libertarians are anarcho-capitalists and a very few anarcho-socialists, believing in no government whatsoever, many libertarians make an exception for the military and police functions of government, especially when they involve protection of property, so-called “free” trade, or the market system.

Idealization of the Market

While holding up the ideal of independent individuals, the area of human interdependence that is “sanctioned” within libertarianism is that between participants on markets that trade their assets, wares and services with each other, supposedly freely and with transparent information about the costs and benefits of the transaction.  Markets then are the one social institution that within the core of libertarianism functions as a social “glue” between the self-sufficient individuals that are its fundamental “building blocks”.  Libertarian philosophers either idealize markets as being miraculous institutions or, more rarely, state that markets are inevitable “necessary evils” to which there is no alternative or of which there is no meaningful reform.

The idealized view of markets that libertarians and libertarianism-inspired politicians have promoted, from Reagan and Thatcher to the present, omits most real-world data how markets are actually formed, sustained and function.  Particularly damaging to the libertarian ideal of markets and omitted from their description of how markets work are

  1. the public and common goods that historically have been required for real markets to function adequately
  2. the not insubstantial “external costs” of market transactions.

“External costs” or “externalities” are terms in economics for the costs that are incurred which are not included in the transaction price.  External costs could be visited upon the buyer or the seller but most likely they are imposed upon those who stand outside the transaction, including the natural environment.  Pollution is a classic case of an external cost, which most often is not paid for by the buyer of the goods or services which generated the pollution.  Public and common goods are the provisions of society, most often by the government, or of nature which enable market transactions to take place.  Most libertarians will allow that the public good of a legal system is important for markets to function well, but other than this they tend to overlook the benefits of public infrastructure like roads, trains, sewer systems, and public education as well as the largely free “ecosystem services” of non-human nature.

The Black Hole at the Heart of Libertarianism

Because libertarians conveniently overlook these costs of and preconditions for markets, libertarianism tends to lead to an attitude of “assuming the benefits, disputing the costs”.   Any recognized good, either already consumed or ready for consumption, is assumed to be an attribute of an individual property holder or the “market” as an institution.  Alternatively the good is dismissed as a “non-good” or as a “bad” but no replacement for its benefits are suggested by libertarians; the publicly provided good is usually consumed anyway, whether or not is it recognized or legitimized.  Meanwhile the “costs” of having to negotiate taxes or other means to pay for that good are disputed by libertarians and their followers.  Because, in the mind of libertarians, government is a largely expendable institution, the goods provided by government, including the fair distribution of external costs of market activities and remediation of those costs, either do not exist or are, or should be, conveniently the property of individual property holders.

Libertarians treat the natural environment and the goods that it provides, similarly, as a costless benefit, the replacement costs of which cannot be fully recognized.  This in turn means that any environmental concern including climate change is, to libertarians, anathema.

Thus we have seen over the past 30 years, a stepwise undermining of the ethic of paying the cost of public goods, as the philosophy of libertarianism has grown in popularity largely, though not exclusively, through the work of the political Right.  A veritable political and fiscal “black hole” has emerged under the guise of defending “liberty” which assumes that costs are what other people pay and that one’s freedom is being imposed upon if taxes or other means to pay an (external) cost are suggested.  As you may know, black holes are collapsed stars which have such a strong gravitational pull that they pull all objects, including the photons that make up light into them; they appear to be “insatiable”.  Similarly, libertarianism justifies heedless consumption of benefits that are assumed to be present via natural provision, while additionally the ideology itself obscures how those benefits are produced.  Libertarianism, because it sees the infrastructure organized by or created by government as illegitimate, excuses its followers from paying attention to supplying those benefits other than in saying that the “(unregulated private) market will provide”.  The natural environment, similarly, is only interesting insofar as it can become a possession of an individual and become part of market transactions.

For instance, the great prosperity of the US that emerged in the latter half of the 20th Century is portrayed in many libertarian narratives as almost exclusively due to the activity of private companies or inspired individuals.  Ayn Rand’s hugely popular novels like Atlas Shrugged are the template for this anarcho-capitalist story, within which government only has a substractive role.  Nowhere in this now often-told story is the New Deal, the WWII mobilization, the role of labor unions in redistributing income, the GI Bill, the Interstate System, the Apollo Program, or government investment in scientific research.  Miraculously, demand for the produce of yeoman business owners appears, yet the conditions that enabled people to buy those goods (decent wages, etc.) are never accounted for.

Though libertarians often hold up the ideal of the lone businessman or a class of businesspeople that in an ingenious manner sustains society through their activity, the vast array of really occurring social costs and social benefits which are swept under the rug by this ideology actually supports the role of the US as a super-consumer.  Production of goods and services by corporations, especially on a large scale with long investment timeframes, requires an extensive network of cooperative enterprise that can rarely be organized and regulated exclusively by price mechanisms in markets, i.e. the libertarian ideal.  Government action creates an environment where it is at all possible to produce these goods and services, whether via provision of tax-funded services, basic research, an educated workforce, or by rule-making that promotes investment.  Meanwhile consumption decisions are most often the prerogative of individuals, so an emphasis on maximizing individual freedom as if it were the opposite of government action, in effect, has seemed to push Americans into a role as ever more the world’s consumers and not producers.

Splitting, Projection and Libertarianism

Among the psychological defense mechanisms that have been cataloged by psychologists and psychiatrists over the years, two are particularly relevant to help understand the psychological and social dynamics of a society that has in some significant sectors uncritically embraced libertarianism.

  • Splitting is a primitive defense mechanism originating in early childhood in which an exaggerated divide exists between “good” and “evil”, very similar to the world of fairy tales in which all-good heroes contend with despicable and frightening villains.  With this exaggerated divide between pure good and pure evil, small differences in perception can lead to people or institutions becoming branded as “good” or “evil” as there is, in splitting, no in-between (like “sort of good” “kind of bad” “OK”).
  • Projection is a more widely known defense, in which the attributes, thoughts, or actions of the self are attributed to others or the world outside usually because they cause discomfort.   Projection is ubiquitous in social and political life but is also a rather immature and potentially deadly form of psychological defense.

While other political ideologies also use splitting and projection especially in the heat of political battles, libertarianism cannot be sustained without a fundamental reliance on splitting and in practice relies heavily upon projection.  The libertarian narrative attributes all good to private actions and actors that appear to have no dependence on government, while attributes all evil to government and government action.  If “bads” arise from the private sector (pollution, social costs) which cannot be blamed on government regulation or the like, libertarians use various forms of denial or repression (motivated forgetting) to attempt to erase these from the discourse.  Fundamental distortions of reality are sanctioned by the ideology itself.

One instance of libertarianism-influenced splitting can be found in the current debate about whether the financial crisis was caused by government or by private business.  Libertarians or libertarian-influenced economists tend to emphasize the pro-homeownership policies of the US government as causative of the housing bubble and its collapse.  U. of Chicago economist Raghuram Rajan, not himself strictly a libertarian, has at length attempted to exonerate private business and point out the culpability of the government backed Fannie and Freddie Mac in spurring the rise of the housing collapse,  Paul Krugman has pointed out the anti-government prejudice in Rajan’s account.

On the other hand, libertarians are likely to defend the wealth accrued by various speculators during that bubble as being those investors’ and speculators’ rightful private property, even if, at the same time they condemn the support of the US government for the bubble that enabled that private wealth to be accumulated.  That this is entirely inconsistent does not seem to bother libertarians or those influenced by libertarian thinking, who either accept this splitting as a necessary conscious strategic maneuver, are too generally ill-informed and unself-conscious to notice,  or who are actually unconsciously using splitting as a personal psychological defense.  In this case, splitting serves narrow individual economic self interests as all the goods are delivered to select private individuals while government and society is burdened with both opprobrium and the costs.  Rarely is a psychological defense mechanism so financially profitable to a select few, as in the libertarian deployment of splitting.

While, it might be conceivable that an honest libertarian would recognize this type of splitting as childish irresponsibility, it is still less likely that libertarians could be come aware of their own use of projection.  As I reviewed above, libertarianism has a “black hole” at its heart that “eats” or assumes as a gift to them, laboriously constructed and maintained public amenities and provisions of nature; libertarianism assumes that all should be or already is private property or is therefore somehow bad and illegitimate.  Libertarianism sets itself up both as a champion of and a critic of self-interest and human appetites, in an often arbitrary manner.  Libertarianism gives its unreserved blessing to human appetites when expressed via market activities and private economic activity but condemns the same human appetites that do not conform to an idealized picture of markets or occur in non-market actors or those who do not own substantial economic means.  Those who are devoted to greed and who already have means are encouraged to be greedy while arbitrarily judgment is passed on others, who can “never win”.

Libertarianism which often tends to function as a justification for private acquisitiveness in the guise of promoting freedom, projects the appetite for possessions and power onto classes of “others” who are not business people and comfortable private property holders.  Any excesses in terms of impulses to get, have or control are ascribed to everybody else except a class of virtuous entrepreneurs, who are simultaneously self-interested but never greedy.  Government employees are considered the greediest people in the world in the libertarian cosmology, followed by companies that seem to use government to gain advantage, followed by poor people who receive or would like to receive government benefits. For some reason, the people who spend all day trying to get ahead financially or those who champion them, are never considered candidates for occasionally becoming overcome by their appetite for wealth or power.  This appears to be the work of misattribution or projection writ large.

Some, more “worldly” libertarians turn a blind eye to business as usual in markets that involve forms of government aid and cooperation that is advantageous to business and the wealthy, directing most of their criticism at government itself but happy to, in practice, allow businesses to pocket the benefits of government help.  Others, perhaps the more idealistic variety, decry monopoly and government aid to business with almost the vehemence that they direct at government per se. I recently had an interaction over Facebook with a self-identified libertarian who seemed to think greed only enters into business when there is government involvement in biasing market outcomes.  Strangely, to this naïve man of over 50 years, greed is simply a function of government regulation or favoritism and nothing else.  Again, the generally acknowledged role of greed, self-interest and ambition in business is purified by splitting off any unwanted associations and projected onto scapegoats, in this case government.

Projection and splitting are primitive defense mechanisms typical of early childhood, which in adults tend to distort their ability to perceive reality.  In George Vaillant’s catalog of defense mechanisms splitting is allocated to the most troubling “pathological” category, and projection is either in the “pathological” or the second lowest “immature” category depending on the degree of projection.  Preferable to “pathological” and “immature” are “neurotic” and “mature” defenses.  The more an individual relies on defenses in the lower categories, the more distorted his or her perception is of reality.

Libertarianism is such a self-serving ideology that reality and the perception of reality is almost a non-value;  the more sophisticated libertarians must know somewhere that they are creating a collective political fantasy world and shy away from scrupulous truth-telling, focusing instead on having an effect with their words and presentations.  Relying on both splitting and projection, libertarians, at least in the public realm and in their political lives, are already distorting so much their perceptions or those of their listeners that they can in an unreliable manner misread or even make up facts and events to suit their own cosmology.  While privately and in business some may be competent and even friendly people, in the political realm they are pretty much beyond reason and argument.

Libertarianism and Paranoia

The rebirth of open and sometimes bizarre political paranoia has become a fact of life in 2009 and 2010 in the United States.  While Glenn Beck’s on-air screeds and fanciful versions of history and political philosophy are the most obvious examples, a whole array of figures are claiming that Barack Obama or the government more generally is the root of all evil.  “Birtherism” and contentions that Obama is a Muslim are examples of crackpot or paranoid theories that are now given a more respected place in the public sphere than is warranted by their basis in reality and relevance to the real issues of the day.  Public figures seem to feel no shame as they entertain bizarre chains of thought that attempt to substantiate outrageous and false claims.  The current political climate is a version, perhaps intensified, of previous episodes in American history in which paranoid leaders and ideas bloomed.

Paranoia is a misplaced or exaggerated fear of other people or social institutions, accompanied by distortions of fact that serve the vision of evils being perpetrated upon the paranoid individual, who remains, in his or her own mind, a largely passive victim.  Both splitting and projection are fundamental to paranoia:  the paranoid person maintains that they are “all good” and that evil is befalling them exclusively from the outside. The evil that he or she believes is coming from without is in a high majority of cases conjured up entirely from within, i.e. a hallucination or complete delusion, or, in less disturbed people, is a distortion of a real-life situation into a menacing plot.  The paranoid thinks of him or herself as wavering between victimhood and heroism, as the forces arrayed against him or her are always overwhelming.  The paranoid never feels him or herself responsible for his or her own actions because they were “forced on them” as a form of self-defense.  Paranoia provides a complete self-justification for aggression:  some of the most aggressive acts by governments or individuals have been justified using paranoid tales of persecution.

In addition to political or cultural paranoia as a social environment as I am describing here, psychological paranoia as an individual symptom is a dangerous condition for both the sufferer and those around him or her because of the danger that the paranoid will strike out to defend against imagined attacks.  Additionally paranoia is a symptom that accompanies certain types of schizophrenia, other severe mental illnesses, as well as various dementias, within which there may be other perceptual and cognitive distortions beyond paranoia.  Social paranoia might inspire individual paranoia and become paranoia-genic though severe mental disorders are in most cases another category entirely.  Paranoia is by definition a disturbance of perception but popularly the word is used to describe simple anxiety as well as justified fear of attack in dangerous situations.  While there is no hard and fast line, hypervigilance. vigilance and wariness are not the same things as “paranoia”.

Libertarianism creates a “pre-paranoid” model of society and social interaction.  The ascription of most or all evil to the government, which in various ways appears as an evil octopus, conforms to the view of paranoids that they are victims of a conspiracy or of a massive entity that threatens them. In libertarianism, government is necessarily a malignant encrustation upon a pre-existing society, in this case a society of yeoman small property holders and virtuous corporations.

Explicitly paranoid is the libertarian focus on “coercion” and the notion that government or other people will “coerce” them to do things.  The focus on the paying of taxes, for instance, as a form of coercion, overlooks the other functions of taxation, including the provision of various services.  The view of interactions between people in civic life or between citizens and social institutions, like government, through the paradigm of coercion or non-coercion recalls the fantasies of actual paranoid psychotic people who obsess over being forced by the government or space aliens to do horrible acts against their will.  While government has a coercive element to it, paranoid people and libertarians alike are unstintingly focused on it to the exclusion of almost every other aspect.

Thus the “springtime” of paranoia that we are currently experiencing has been fed by at least 30 years of government and media-sanctioned rhetoric that sanctions the libertarian view of society and markets.

Libertarianism, Paranoid Politics, and Racism

While in theory, libertarianism is non-racist, in practice, libertarian views have become a “politically correct” substitute or cover for openly racist sentiment in the US.  The various institutions and force of the federal government have been absolutely critical in the historical process by which black slaves were freed, and where those who have  descended from them have achieved some measure of equality in the US against racial prejudice.  While there are a few well-known African-Americans that profess a devotion to libertarian ideas (Alan Keyes is one), most African-Americans are aware of the importance of the federal government in continuing to guarantee their and other minorities’ hard-won rights.

Libertarianism in the US, that directs most of its venom at the federal government has become an intellectual cover for “states’ rights” ideology, which was supported most vigorously by racial segregationists in the South throughout the Jim Crow period following the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870’s.   The “coercion” by the government which libertarians protest against can sometimes be recast as those with racial prejudice being forced to heed laws against discrimination based on race or other factors.  If they acknowledge at all that racial discrimination is an evil, they are so possessed with what for them is the “ultimate evil” of government interference that they will risk the lesser evil.  Jim Crow is far enough away in historical memory for a new generation of libertarians to feel that their ideology is non-racist, even though much of the practical support for the ideology comes from those who are angered by what they perceive to be preferential treatment by government for racial minorities, if they have any justification at all for their racial views.

The upwelling of paranoia combined with libertarian-inspired rhetoric since Obama became President is a re-invigoration of efforts to de-legitimate the US federal government on racialist grounds.  The slander that is applied to both Obama and the federal government is puzzling only if one tries to take libertarianism’s professed non-racial character at face value; in practice it has gained support as an ideology because it enables many of its supporters to express their racial prejudice in a form that is socially sanctioned.  Under the guise of defending “liberty” as an absolute, the freedom to act upon racial prejudice is a liberty that ranks fairly highly for real-world libertarians in practice.

There are many areas in which racialist and paranoid thinking overlap, both occupying a common “bed” of primitive thinking that is based on assumptions and hunches rather than on experience, data, and rationality.  Both are “lazy” forms of thinking in which an “a priori” assumption is garnished with new “evidence” that is either made up or surgically extracted from a more diverse and complex reality.  Additionally both rely heavily on the primitive defense of splitting, which in the case of racism, assigns the “good” to one ethnic or racial group and the “bad” to a different ethnic or racial group.  Racial thinking and racism might be considered a special sub-set of splitting.    Projection also plays an important role in racism, where one racial group becomes the “scapegoat” or dumping ground for negative attributes or taboos of the other racial or ethnic group.

Libertarianism, Paranoia-genic Politics, and the Disintegration of the American Social Fabric

As should be obvious, paranoia undermines trust; the paranoid are continually looking for hidden meanings and bad intentions and create an atmosphere within which the formation of trusting relationships is nearly impossible.  We have established that libertarianism encourages paranoia about government as well as presents a view of society as, either actually or ideally, a series of self-sufficient individuals.  Libertarianism, especially with the backing of wealthy libertarians, then initiates or at least speeds the process by which a society and political processes can disintegrate by undermining or justifying the on-going splintering of relationships between people and between people and government.

Libertarianism suggests, in a truncated version of Adam Smith’s philosophy, that people should largely care about themselves and those people with whom they directly “trade” with. Any perspective that looks upon the world beyond the circle of acquaintances and business partners is viewed with suspicion.  In some way, libertarianism is a slight alteration of the perspective of a traditional tribalist or villager, where the outside world and abstractions from the outside are viewed with suspicion and distrust.  While libertarianism alone is not responsible for the retreat from the notion that people ought to have a national or global perspective, it has formed a very well-organized, very well-funded right-wing pole to the political spectrum that fights “one-world-ism” and justifies a small-world mentality in Americans.

Politicians in Washington and elsewhere have not conclusively answered Ronald Reagan’s libertarian-influenced charge that blamed government for most of society’s ills.  The Republican Party has continued to develop into an ever more extreme version of Reagan’s view of how society should work, while the Democratic Party has remained unable to stand up for government in a way that effectively counters this view.  The strategy of the Clinton Administration was to, in part, agree with the Reagan view of a smothering, inefficient or out of control government. The Obama Administration has started out with a similar attitude of compromise with Republicans who claim to see no good in the role of government.

To date, no integrating or uniting institution has been found that rivals the scope and ability of government to bring people together around common, practical tasks.  The insistence of libertarians that the use of government be avoided at all costs, has not been supplemented with a positive program by them that effectively supplies a substitute for the role of government.  They just continue to attack those who wish to build or maintain a commonwealth that includes government as one of the important integrating institutions.  As noted above, the idealized market that libertarians insist is the basis for a true society does not encompass the reality of markets, which, furthermore, could not deliver all the services and functions of government anyway, even if they were tasked to do so.

The Choice in November 2010:  Politics of Cohesion vs. the Politics of Disintegration

If you remember high school physics, centrifugal force appears to pull objects away from an orbit while centripetal force pulls them towards the center of the orbit.  There are now “centrifugal” forces within or near government that are actively working to undermine the cohesiveness of the current Administration and by extension the efforts of the government to address some of the most intractable challenges the US has ever faced.  Currently the Republican Party has no qualms in acting as a saboteur of the Obama Administration’s efforts to deal with the worst recession since the 1930’s, changes in the climate, energy demand, the rise of China as a economic superpower, two legacy wars, and exploding healthcare costs.  The Tea Party’s brew of libertarian inspired rhetoric is just a rougher more “populist” seeming version of the Republican Party’s own anti-government program thatrelies almost exclusively on the discredited notion that unregulated markets will cure all problems.

While libertarians and Republicans might lament some of the signs of social disintegration, like crime and moral decay, they have helped spur broader social decay over the past 30 years by lobbying and politicking vigorously for the ideal of a society that functions well without government.  As it turns out this was a pipe-dream that serves the interests of a few restricted groups that are not happy with government regulation or government as a delivery mechanism for social goods and services.  The ideal, wrapped in the cherished dream of freedom, attracted many adherents who don’t now or never will benefit from reduced government involvement in society.  These recruits to libertarian ideology are acting against their own medium and long-term interests even as they express real feelings of disenfranchisement and fear for the future.

President Obama and many Democrats have stumbled in their efforts to help the economy and resolve some of the issues that confront most Americans.  President Obama has turned out to be a leader who adheres very closely to the views of Washington insiders and attempts to position himself somewhere within the political center.  The Administration does not seem to see itself as a force out to change the world but seems instead to want to “go with the flow”, including kowtowing to libertarian nonsense.  In the area of climate and energy, which has been my primary area of concern and work over past several years, the Administration has made some tentative moves that are progress in contrast to the previous Administration but lack boldness and vision to carry the electorate with them towards the energy future.

That being said, Obama and most Congressional Democrats are at least attempting to grapple with real issues.  Meanwhile their Republican opposition is, for the most part, working actively to continue the trend of the past 30 years to weaken public institutions and continue the disintegration of the American commons.

The choice in November is for most Congressional races is then very clear:  voting for Democrats is, despite their many flaws, a vote for trying to re-connect Americans with each other in order that we address our huge common challenges.  A vote for Republicans is, in almost all cases, a vote for a continued splintering of America as a political and economic force.  I would wish for a more dynamic, smarter, more courageous, and more principled Democratic Party and I hope that, if for some reason Democrats hold on to their seats, that the public will make their lives difficult until they decide to work for the American people rather than for lobbyists and the most short-sighted sectors of corporate America.  But the Republican Party is, with a few notable exceptions on its (leftward) fringes, increasingly an assortment of scoundrels and malefactors, equally or more beholden to paymasters from myopic right-wing interest groups, who will do damage to American society and the real freedoms we enjoy in the name of a spectral freedom.

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