Or: How Michael Moore won four more years for George W. Bush.
by Ari Armstrong, November 3, 2004
All my candidates lost this year. Yet I'm fairly happy with the election results. The hysterical, vicious, conspiracy-nut left was crushed. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Moore -- though I realize that's a lot to ask. Yet the religious right was also rebuked in Colorado and California. While voters did not embrace free markets, neither did they buy into the far-reaching centralized planning advocated by the Kerry-led left. What emerges is a pro-national-defense, economically moderate yet fiscally conscientious majority with socially liberal or libertarian leanings.
Coloradans voted for mixed governance. Four of our Congressional seats remain Republican, with one shifting Democratic to give that smaller party three seats. We retain a Republican Senator and replace a centrist Republican with a centrist Democrat. (I got my election news from Fox, CNN, to a lesser extent other television stations, and reports from the AP, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Denver Post.)
The shocking news is that the Republicans lost both houses of the Colorado legislature (or so preliminary results appear to show), putting enormous pressure on Republican Governor Bill Owens to stand up for conservatives. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the governor's race in two years: Owens is out, but the Democrats spent their best candidate on the Senate. My guess is that Coloradans will select a Republican governor and return one of the legislative houses to the Republicans.
So much for Owens's Presidential aspirations. He hand-picked Pete Coors, who lost. He lost both houses of the legislature. He publicly opposed the FasTracks light-rail tax, which won decisively. Owens lost an initiative to reform the civil service system (something I didn't really care about). Election day was not kind to the governor.
The Republicans' loss of the legislature serves them right. Let's review. The Republicans obsessed about kids saying the phrase "under God" in school, a phrase coincidentally contained in the revised version of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Republicans constantly rumbled about limiting abortion. Some spent their efforts trashing gays. Some tried to legislate displays at bookstores.
One of Kerry's most sympathetic issues was his support of stem-cell research, and the Californians passed an initiative supportive of such research -- under socially moderate or even libertarian Arnold Schwartzeneger. (Several states also legalized medical marijuana.) It seems my fears of a takeover by the religious right may have been exaggerated. True enough, apparently 11 states passed anti-gay-marriage proposals -- which also likely increased voter turnout for Bush -- but these are a mixed bag. The state shouldn't be licensing any marriages, and using marriage to expand the welfare state, as the left wants to do, is hardly a pro-freedom move. So my read is that many people voted for the marriage restrictions for pretty good reasons, though of course I remain concerned about the gay-hating right.
So Colorado Republicans have a choice to make. They can continue to pander to the religious right -- and lose -- or they can run more socially moderate candidates. The problem is getting a good candidate past the primary vote who can win moderate votes in the general election against big-spending social liberals. (The AP reports four individuals spent heavily on Colorado politics: "state Board of Education chairman Jared Polis, philanthropist Pat Stryker of Fort Collins, Rutt Bridges, leader of the Bighhorn Center for Public Policy, and retired software engineer and Gill Foundation founder Tim Gill.") The abortion issue helped take down both Coors and Jessica Corry, a state-senate candidate. (My wife is registered unaffiliated, and she was barraged with pro-choice literature.) Coors lost, mostly, because he's an aloof rich guy up against a very strong Democrat, though the (unfair) Democratic attacks over the drinking age and guns also hurt Coors a bit.
Yet I fear a Democratic state legislature. The Democrats will certainly try to raise state spending and control our guns. The Republicans squandered all their political capital on stupid social-control legislation and thereby put at risk the economic and personal liberties of Coloradans.
Yet I must assume part of the blame as well. Until recently I participated with the Libertarian Party, and I sometimes fell into reactionary rhetoric about taxes. This is a pervasive flaw in the regular libertarian approach, and one that spills into the fiscally-conservative Republican camp. Voters, skeptical of the pseudo-moralism of the religious right, understandably see anti-government reactionism as another variant of the same pseudo-morality. Voters don't like the tax-and-spend alternatives of the left, which is why many Colorado Democrats are fiscal moderates, but neither are voters comfortable with those who seem to hate government for its own sake. Thus, most people end up as economic moderates, who want limits on spending but who support ad hoc proposals to fund specific, sympathetic causes.
What's missing, of course, is a spirited defense of economic liberty based on individual rights and a sound economic explanation of the benefits of free markets and economic voluntarism. Most people seem keen on the idea of individual liberty in the personal or social realm. They don't want political controls on abortion, speech, sex, and so forth. Yes, they run from the socialist left, but they also run from the reactionary right on economic matters. Both Republicans and Libertarians have obscured the deeply American case for economic liberty, or, to use the old term: liberalism. So the task of those who favor individual liberty across the board -- in both personal matters and economic matters -- is to dump the dogmatic baggage and make a moral and practical case that rings true with the public -- because it is true. The Republicans can hardly make a persuasive case for liberty when it comes to guns and funds when their central pseudo-moralistic arguments favor more political controls in other areas. People can smell hypocrisy.
Regrettably, while two of the offensive ballot proposals failed (34 and 36), the state was hit with a new tax and new energy controls, the metro region was hit with two tax hikes, and my county also passed new taxes, as I anticipated. So economic liberty has taken some mild hits. And now the Democrats will undoubtedly try to weaken or remove the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. So, Republicans, what's more important to you: economic liberty or social controls? You can't have both, and the attempt has cost you control of the state. In 2005, those who care about economic liberty and the right of self-defense have got to gear up, make sure Owens feels some pressure, and try to win over some conservative or moderate Democrats.
* * *
I voted for gridlock at the national level. My hope was that Kerry would lose the popular vote but win the electoral vote, thus depriving him of a mandate and giving me the opportunity to ride my leftist friends for the next four years about Kerry "stealing" the election. I think such an outcome would have permanently put to rest the left's criticism of the electoral college -- though Bush's decisive victory also puts that matter to bed. I hoped a Republican Congress would be able to stop Kerry from doing anything stupid.
Now, I fear Congress will enable Bush to do all sorts of stupid things. Let's hope the fiscal conservatives win out over the tax-cut-and-spend "compassionate conservatism" of Bush. Not only did the Republicans win the Presidential race decisively, they picked up seats in both houses of Congress.
In his victory speech, Bush said he wants to reform the tax code, which is good if Congress can actually achieve a simple code -- which I seriously doubt. Bush also wants to reform Social Security, a mixed proposal involving some elements of markets and some elements of centralized planning. My plan for Social Security is far superior. Further, Bush wants to support "faith and family." I.e., he wants to further the goals of the religious right. So the same tensions exist at the national scale, except the religious right seems to be a larger faction.
Meanwhile, we can all wonder what Bush will do, if anything, about Iran's nuclear program.
The thick silver lining to Bush's victory is that it thrashed the Michael Moore / MoveOn left. This element of the left boarders on nihilism, with its emotionalism, visceral hatred of Bush, anti-Americanism, and loony conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the partisan pretenders at CBS and the New York Times also took a hit. The nihilist left and the leftist media helped drive the large voter turnout for Bush.
So the nihilist left and the socialist left took big hits Tuesday. The religious right took a hit in Colorado and other states but probably gained nationally. Meanwhile, the secular liberals also made some important gains. The defenders of economic liberty held about even. We face modest losses in Colorado but, perhaps, modest gains nationally.
Both parties host uneasy coalitions. The Democratic Party consists of the nihilists, the socialists, and the secular supporters of civil rights. The Republican Party consists of the religious right and the economic libertarians. A new force is the religious left: a combination of welfare-state economics and social political controls. (Some Catholics seem to favor such an approach.) The Democrats will have to jettison the nihilists, or at least keep them caged. So will the Democrats turn to the religious left? If so, this could break apart the religious right as its members choose between social controls and economic liberty.
The two groups that may end up without a date to the ball are the secularist civil-rights left and the secularist economic-rights right. These groups don't much like each other right now. Both can be pompous and argumentative. Both have "a nice personality" but aren't that sexy. What I suggest is that they hang out for a while, share a few drinks (I suppose even Coors will do), maybe take a few dance lessons together, and see if those warts become not so noticeable, after all. If the marriage works out it will be a rocky one, but perhaps also one that can produce a new generation of Americans with Liberty coursing through their veins.