Conor Friedersdorf, writing for Newsweek, has a great article on the media mocking libertarians and other outside the mainstream for their ideas being crazy, when the truth is, their ideas are not that far fetched.
Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.
These are contentious judgments. I hardly expect the news media to denigrate the policies I’ve named, nor do I expect their Republican and Democratic supporters to be labeled crazy, kooky, or extreme. These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.
And it’s true, Paul has plenty of beliefs that I regard as wacky, such as his naive, now withdrawn, assumption that markets would have obviated the need for certain provisions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Or his desire to return America to the gold standard.
If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroadwhom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants? In domestic politics, policy experts scoff at ethanol subsidies, the home-mortgage-interest tax deduction, and rent control, but the mainstream politicians who advocate those policies are treated as perfectly serious people.
Call them crazy, but Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, a likely 2012 presidential candidate, oppose those policies, which puts them at odds with an establishment whose consensus shouldn’t determine whether we grapple with or dismiss an idea. As the most egregious excesses of the war on terror so clearly demonstrate, libertarian ideology doesn’t always lead its adherents to lunacy, and being “in the mainstream” isn’t always a self-evidently desirable characteristic, nor has it ever been in the long history of American politics.
The beliefs of libertarians and other candidates on our political fringes should not escape media scrutiny, nor should the media start making reflexive judgments about the wisdom of nonlibertarian Democratic and Republican policies, treating them with the open mockery and barely concealed disdain that Rand Paul and his father have received. But the policies and ideology of libertarian politicians should be treated as seriously and equitably as those of Lindsey Graham or Joe Lieberman, especially given the balance of political power in this country. It’s a de facto two-party system. And crazy, kooky, extreme actions are perpetrated by establishment centrists far more often than by marginalized libertarians.