Gary Johnson offers an excellent analysis of the 2012 election results in this op-ed published in Huffington Post: Standing Still On A Down Escalator. He’s right that the Democrats don’t have any kind of mandate. His truly telling comments, however, concern the GOP’s defeat:

As for the Republicans, we are reading and hearing widespread shock that they couldn’t win an election after having systematically alienated virtually every voting group in the nation other than white men over the age of 40.

It was a great plan for the Republicans: Go to shameful lengths to tell Hispanics they aren’t welcome, even though they are the fastest growing demographic in the country. Tell women their bodies really aren’t their own to manage. Call themselves small government “conservatives” while espousing that government should tell us who we can marry and supporting laws like the Patriot Act, FISA and the NDAA that give government powers the Founders never dreamed of.

While doing and saying all this, on the key issues of the economy and war, the GOP managed to conduct an entire campaign without demonstrating enough difference with President Obama to compel anyone’s vote one way or the other. “Debating” which decade in which we might expect a balanced budget and simply putting a slightly different wrapper on the same foreign policies obviously didn’t cut it as real challenges to business-as-usual.

Combine this lack of differentiation on the budget and foreign policy with scary stances on the so-called social issues and immigration, and the result is the Republicans’ embarrassing failure to replace a president who is presiding over the worst economy and the most dangerous foreign policy in a generation.

Hear, hear!


Last week, I listened to Leonard Peikoff’s podcast question on the election results. Given my strong disagreements with his October statement on the election, I wasn’t too surprised to find that I disagreed with much that he said. However, I didn’t expect to disagree with almost his whole analysis.

Here, I want to focus on two points: (1) the reasons why people voted for Obama over Romney and (2) the “catastrophe” of these election results. However, before reading my comments below, please listen to Dr. Peikoff’s statement for yourself. It’s less than five minutes long.

First: The Voters

Peikoff claims that the election shows that some American sense of life is left, but less than he thought earlier. He claims that Obama effectively bought off the country, and that something like 47% or 50% of people are only concerned with handouts from the federal government. He claims that immigrants are coming to America en masse for the sake of the welfare state, lacking any American sense of life.

Such claims cannot be substantiated. The election concerned a wide range of topics, and people voted for one candidate over the other for a wide range of reasons. Yes, some Obama voters wanted their government handouts, but I know many people who voted for him for other, better reasons. Similarly, some Romney voters wanted to impose a social conservative agenda, but I know many people who voted for him for other, better reasons. Also, we should remember that most people just barely care about politics. As a result, they’re remarkably ignorant about even the basics of political events and elections.

As I explained in this blog post, this election was not any kind of referendum on fundamental values that could magically reveal America’s sense of life. Contrary to the claims of some Objectivist intellectuals of late, a culture’s sense of life is complex, multi-faceted, and far deeper than politics. It cannot be fairly judged by yet another election between two statist candidates of slightly different flavors. Judging America’s sense of life on the basis of this presidential election is about as reliable and fair as judging a person’s sense of life based on which of the two abysmal movies he chooses to see at his small-town duplex. (For a lengthy discussion of cultural sense of life, see Ayn Rand’s comments in “Don’t Let it Go” in Philosophy: Who Needs It.)

Much of the problem, of course is that Romney didn’t just run an “empty campaign,” as Peikoff claims. Romney wanted to initiate a trade war with China, crack down on illegal immigration, massively increase military spending (presumably for even more pointless and debasing wars abroad), force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, socialize medicine at the state level, and deny gays the right to marry and adopt children. Such positions are not “empty.” They are deeply wrong — and they clash with better elements of American culture, including its respect for individuals and their rights.

I do not blame ordinary voters for refusing to vote for Romney due to these abysmal positions of his. Even many Obama voters determined to preserve entitlements and subsidies were not motivated by personal greed for handouts, as Peikoff claims, but rather by a confused stew of semi-altruistic ideals. That’s bad, but it’s not the same as being bought off.

Undoubtedly, Obama will be worse than Romney would have been on many issues. Undoubtedly, Obama’s spending is dangerously out-of-control, and ObamaCare will be entrenched over the next four years. I fear another financial crisis. Yet the fact is that Romney didn’t even campaign for economic liberty. Instead, he consistently me-too’ed Obama on taxes and regulations, he supported state-level ObamaCare, and he planned to continue to spend like a drunken sailor. The result was that the two candidates didn’t look terribly different to voters, even on economics.

Second: The Catastrophe

Peikoff describes the election as a “catastrophe,” “the worst political event ever to ever occur in the history of this continent,” and even “worse than the Civil War.”

Let’s get some perspective. The secession of the southern states threatened the very existence of America, including the union of the northern states. The secession of the southern states, unless crushed, would have set a very dangerous precedent in which secession would become the solution to any political dispute. As James McPherson describes in his stellar history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, the secession of the southern states inspired northern states and cities to contemplate their own secession from the union. (Bye-bye, New York City!) The result of that would have been very bloody anarchy. Lincoln knew that, and that’s why preserving the union was his primary objective.

However, preserving the union was not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. The Confederacy might have won the war, particularly given the skill of Lee in comparison to the string of abysmal Union generals before Grant and Sherman emerged in the west. An independent Confederacy would not have been content to remain in its own territory: its longstanding agenda was to create an “empire of slavery.”

Also, the Civil War killed over over 600,000 Americans. Proportionately, that would equal about six million people today. That was truly catastrophic.

The secession and Civil War constituted a grave existential threat to the United States. To say, as Peikoff does, that it was known that “freedom and normalcy” would return at the end of the war is false. Americans didn’t know who would win the war. They didn’t know what kind of government or nation they would have after the war. And they didn’t know what freedoms would or would not be respected and upheld by the government after the war. Such is only known to us now, when the historical perspective smooths away the painfully rough edges and unknowns of the past.

Another four years of President Barack Obama will be damaging, undoubtedly. (Four years of Romney would have been damaging too, just in somewhat different ways.) Yet that cannot be fairly compared with the Civil War: they’re not even remotely in the same category.

In addition to the comparison to the Civil War, Peikoff said that Obama’s re-election means that “it’s going to be four years of a government single-mindedly out to destroy America at home and weaken it abroad.” Such a dire prediction is not supported by Obama’s record or by his plans. With the House controlled by the GOP, Obama will not even have the latitude that he did in his first two years in the White House, let alone any “single-minded” government at his disposal. Moreover, when is government ever “single-minded”?

Obama is not a defender of individual rights by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, as I explained in my own post-election podcast, his views are significantly better than the Republicans on some important issues. Hence, Obama’s second term offers hope for strengthening abortion rights, reforming our insane immigration laws, and repealing of the Defense of Marriage Act. Those would be positive developments not possible under Republicans.

Peikoff also indicated that totalitarian dictatorship was now perilously close, although “even after four years [of Obama], it is too early to achieve complete totalitarianism.”

Undoubtedly, America has its share of political problems. Many of those problems are quite serious, and most are unlikely to improve under Obama. Still, I simply cannot take secular apocalypticism seriously: the full context of facts paints a very different and far more hopeful picture of our future. Moreover, as I explained in this post, accurate political prediction are nearly impossible even for those immersed in the political news, and Peikoff’s 2004 prediction about the effects of a second Bush’s term is grounds for doubting his current prediction about the effects of a second Obama term.

In my view, the roots of American culture run deep — deeper than Peikoff and many other Objectivist intellectuals seem to think. On the whole, America respects the rule of law, free speech, and political dissent. It lauds achievement, technology, and hard work. It values honesty, integrity, and justice. These core values were not undone by this election, nor revealed to be illusory. They cannot and will not be undone by four more years of Obama in the White House.

America will survive Barack Obama — just as America survived George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and so on. America will survive Barack Obama — just as America would have survived Mitt Romney.

The Way Forward

Unfortunately, many Objectivists have been griping of late about how the election revealed the supposedly dismal state of the American culture. That’s unwarranted and unproductive in my view. You don’t win hard-working, responsible people over to your side by painting them as America-hating welfare queens.

American culture is far from perfect, but it’s improved tremendously in recent decades in many ways, as Dr. Eric Daniels explained in this interview on Progress in American History. Still, I recognize that free market ideas have taken a beating of late. The cause was not Obama: Obama just cashed in on the utter failure of the pragmatism and “compassionate conservatism” of George Bush and his fellow Republicans. Honestly, I’m slightly relieved that Mitt won’t be able to inflict further damage of that kind on America, as he surely would have done.

At this point, instead of bemoaning the abysmal state of American culture, advocates of free markets need to start asking themselves: “Why aren’t these ideas resonating with more Americans?” That’s a critical question to ask because many, many Americans are intelligent, thoughtful, hardworking, fair-minded, benevolent, and reasonable people, yet they don’t understand or support free markets.

I will not blame Americans for that disconnect. I want to strengthen and leverage the genuine values and virtues commonly found in Americans, whatever their political views at present. It’s my job as an intellectual to figure out how to do that well, not bemoan the supposed death of America.

Personally, my focus with Philosophy in Action Radio is finding effective ways to persuade people to embrace the principles required to live happy, healthy, and joyful lives. I want to strengthen people’s understanding and practice of justice, independence, responsibility, rationality, and other virtues in their relationships, careers, and parenting. Based on the growth of my audience (here too), I’m doing something right.

Basically, my goal is to foster people’s rationality and value-seeking — and thereby create a more rational, value-oriented culture. I don’t often gripe about the current state of politics. When I discuss politics, I much prefer to discuss the contours of a free society. I’d rather offer a positive vision of what the future can and ought to be, rather than bemoan the problems of the present.

Over the past few months, I’ve realized that promoting a free society requires more than just the usual “moral arguments for capitalism” typically offered by Objectivist intellectuals. For most people, such arguments are too far removed from their daily lives and values to even capture their attention, let alone resonate with them. That’s part of why the surge in interest in Ayn Rand hasn’t amounted to much cultural or political change, including in this election.

In my view, lasting advances in freedom require that people connect political liberty with their own deeply-held and actively-practiced positive values. First and foremost, people need to personally experience the benefits of pursuing their values on the basis of rational principles. Before they can understand and embrace rights as a principle, they need to live by reality, reason, and egoism as dominant themes in their lives. In essence, political activism can be worthwhile, but it cannot create cultural change by itself. Ultimately, I think, political change depends on cultural change, and cultural change depends on personal change.

Over the course of decades on the air, religious conservative advice talk show host Dr. Laura gradually drew that connection between practical ethics and politics for the religious right, and we’re reaping her bitter fruit today. We need to use that same method to create a culture that preaches and practices reason, egoism, and ultimately, rights.

I’m not belittling political activism. It matters, and if that’s what you want to do, that’s wonderful. My point is that lasting political change requires strengthening the basic philosophic values of the culture, at a deeper level than most Objectivists suppose.

America has time to do that, in my view. So as I work on it via Philosophy in Action Radio, I’m busy enjoying all that America has to offer, culturally and economically, thanks to the fact that we are still a fundamentally free society. That’s what I was most grateful for during this delightful Thanksgiving holiday.


From Facebook:

A notable Objectivist intellectual said the following about the election: “Tragically, the election revealed that we are no longer America. … The American sense of life does still exist, but it no longer is the majority attitude. The sense of life that used to be very widespread dwells now in only about half of us.”

That is, to put it gently, a gigantic non sequitur. It assumes that every Obama voter lacks an American sense of life, while every Romney voter has an American sense of life. That’s a ridiculous claim on its face. It also ignores the millions of Americans who didn’t vote for either Romney or Obama for president.

It’s not even plausible as a general claim, true of “most people.” Anyone who has ever lived in a very red state knows just how frighteningly theocratic most Republican residents and politicians are. Heck, even in the very purple Colorado, many GOP candidates are determined to govern based on their notion of biblical principles. That’s a large part of why Democrats won Colorado, yet again.

Are we supposed to consider the people who voted for Romney because they abhor gays, decry abortion as murder, demand that the borders be closed, and want creationism taught in schools as having “an American sense of life”? Because those people exist — and in large numbers too. Are we supposed to condemn the people who rejected that insular nuttiness as un-American? Really?!?

If y’all want to be doomy and gloomy about this election… well, go right ahead. It’s a free country: Obama hasn’t implemented his mind-control devices… yet. (No, really!) But pretty please with bacon on top, how about we keep a firm grip on the facts and make good use of the basic principles of logic?

A Quick Thought on the Election

 Posted by on 6 November 2012 at 10:05 pm  Barack Obama, Election, Mitt Romney
Nov 062012

Don’t despair that so many Americans voted for Obama. Many of them voted for him because of the issues on which he’s right (or better), such as abortion rights, gay marriage, and immigration. So how about insisting on changes for the better in the GOP, rather than cursing people for not wanting to live in an insular, homophobic, repressive theocracy?

Nov 052012

A while back, a friend of mine on Facebook re-posted some comments touting Mitt Romney’s past work in business as a reason to vote for him for President. I’ve seen that strain of argument quite frequently, particularly from conservatives. For example, I saw this in my feed just this morning:

These arguments confuse the fact of Romney being a capitalist with his being pro-capitalist. Obviously, a person can be the former without being the latter. That happens because Marx was wrong: ideology is not determined by a person’s role in the economy.

Here’s what I wrote in reply to my friend:

I wish that good businessmen made good politicians. But alas, it’s just not true — in theory or in practice.

Time and again, we’ve seen businessmen fail miserably as politicians. (Bloomberg, anyone?) The problem is that earning profits within a given political system is very, very different from managing that political system. The purpose of the state is to protect rights, not earn profits, and a businessman is no more likely to understand and respect rights than any other random joe on the street.

Hence, “turning a business around” is a wholly different kind of activity than “turning the country around.” A person’s success in business doesn’t suggest in any way, shape, or form that they’ll do good in politics — as Romney’s record as governor shows in spades, particularly in health care. The man is the proud grandfather of ObamaCare.

It’s a bit odd to me that the argument persists, given that we’ve already got so many counter-examples. It’s completely bizarre to use it with a statist like Romney.

If you want to vote for Mittens, by all means, go forth and vote for Mittens. However, I’d recommend doing so based on his track record in politics, not in business.


Recently, Leonard Peikoff posted some comments urging people to vote for Mitt Romney. I’d recommend that you read it for yourself before continuing with this blog post.

I’m not insensitive to his argument: I agree with many of his observations on Obama and Romney.

For example, I am worried by the concentration of power in the executive branch under Obama. Yet such concentration of power seems to happen just as much under Republicans as Democrats: George W. Bush was hardly a paragon of restraint, and Obama has merely taken up where Bush left off. We have every reason to expect that Romney would do the same, albeit perhaps at a slightly slower rate than Obama. But maybe not… perhaps Romney would only differ from Obama by the areas in which he usurps even more executive power.

Also, I’m not remotely upset about the particular case that Peikoff cites of “Obama’s practice of ruling by executive order” … (e.g., his latest edict on immigration).” In fact, Obama’s policy change is really excellent, and it’s hardly clear that Obama overstepped his authority. In general, our immigration laws are a disgraceful mess of unpardonable rights violations, not to mention a major drag on the economy. They should be liberalized, with or without welfare reform. However, Peikoff has expressed strong support for heavy restrictions on immigration given our current welfare state in his podcast, so that might explain why he cited that example.

Also, I disagree with Peikoff’s approval of Paul Ryan. Ryan is only a fiscal moderate, not a fiscal conservative. Even if he were to become president, the deficit would continue to expand under his watch. Plus, Ryan is far more theocratic than Mitt, as can be seen from his support for “personhood” for zygotes.

Those are minor quibbles. My major disagreement with Peikoff concerns voting strategy. As I’ve argued in this blog post and this podcast segment, fiscal conservatives need to stop trying to “buy time,” as Peikoff advocates. (As Paul said about the second presidential debate: “We’re now seeing just how little time Romney would buy us.”) Instead, we must demand that the GOP earn our vote by refusing to vote for GOP candidates who are not true fiscal conservatives. That means accepting some pain in this election for the sake of major gains in future elections.

America has time for that, in my view: we’re facing slow and steady decline over the course of decades, not a sudden crash into dictatorship. Hence, for reasons explained in this podcast segment, I reject Peikoff’s apocalypticism: Obama will do significant damage in a second term, but likely far, far less than opening the door to totalitarian dictatorship, as Peikoff suggests.

Recall that Peikoff predicted sweeping repression and theocracy if George W. Bush were elected to a second term in 2004. Nothing remotely that bad came to pass. Instead, major damage was done on other fronts, particularly thanks to Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” in foreign policy and his explicit repudiation of capitalism in his response to the financial crisis.

So Peikoff was wrong in his predictions in 2004, but that’s hardly surprising. Accurate political predictions are nearly impossible, even for professionals immersed in the political news. (That’s not Peikoff, by his own admission.) Such predictions depend too much on unforeseeable events, including the free choices of many, many people. Hence, I just don’t place much stock in anyone’s political predictions over the next four years, except to say that that apocalyptic predictions will very likely be very wrong. (Again, my reasons why can be found in this podcast segment.)

Mostly though, Objectivists need to understand that we might as well vote for the Man on the Moon as Mittens. We are a completely insignificant voting block. Our votes just don’t matter. So for Objectivists to make asses of themselves based on the pretense that a person’s vote reveals his deepest character is pointless and destructive. (Just to be clear: Although I’ll be voting for Gary Johnson, I don’t fault anyone for voting for Mittens based on their own personal judgments, so long as they’re based on fact.)

That doesn’t seem to be happening so much in this election, and I’m pleased about that. Or maybe I’ve just unfriended most of the asses. Either way, here’s to another crappy four years of American politics!

The Disaster of Mittens

 Posted by on 26 September 2012 at 10:00 am  Election, Mitt Romney, Religious Right
Sep 262012

As folks know, I’m very ho-hum about this election for reasons that I explained in this radio segment. I despise OBummer and Mittens. In fact, the only thing that irritates me more than those statist jackasses are the blowhards who toss off moral condemnations based on nothing more than a person’s planned vote for president. (Undoubtedly, that is the least significant political action that a person can take all year. No wait, posting rants to Facebook is even less significant.)

Nonetheless, I loosely follow the election news, and I was interested to read this analysis by the insightful Doug Mataconis about the flailing of Mittens’ campaign. After talking about how Ann Romney is upset that conservatives are criticizing the campaign, he writes:

The Romney campaign has been blundering its way through the General Election in a manner that seems rather bizarre given the manner in which they operated during the Republican primaries. Granted, running against Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is in no way like running against a professional campaign organization like Obama For America, but at least in those days people supportive of Romney’s candidacy could point to a campaign that seemed to be operating the way a campaign that wants to win an election operates. Then, something happened after Romney won the election and, for some reason, the Romney campaign seemed wholly unable to either respond to the Obama campaign’s attacks against it and now seems as gaffe prone [as] Rick Perry was a [year] ago.

Is it really any wonder that some of Romney’s fellow Republicans aren’t very happy with the situation right now? While some of them are no doubt acting out of self-interest (and what’s wrong with that?), there are others who are just clearly frustrated by watching yet another Republican campaign blunder its way through an election.

Since the very outset, this election has been the Republican’s to lose. That’s what they seem to be doing — in their usual style. That doesn’t make me happy. I don’t look forward to another four years of Obama. Even worse, I suspect that the GOP will run an even worse crop of candidates in 2016 — meaning, more theocratic and more statist. That seems impossible, I know, but Republicans are capable of amazing feats of idiocy.

Jan 102012

PJMedia has published my latest piece, “The Truth About RomneyCare“.

Here is the opening:

Now that Mitt Romney has shown himself politically vulnerable after Iowa, more people are taking a closer look at his claims about the “RomneyCare” health care plan he helped create as Massachusetts governor. In this interview from April 2010 which recently recirculated last month, Romney attempts to draw some distinctions (as well as acknowledge similarities) between his RomneyCare plan and the national ObamaCare plan.

One of the alleged virtues of RomneyCare over ObamaCare is that Romney’s plan does not contain “price controls,” whereas ObamaCare does. But how does this stack up against reality?

I then discuss several forms of price controls that have already been (or will soon be) implemented in Massachusetts, and their consequences.

(Read the full text of “The Truth About RomneyCare“.)


In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I took an early look at the 2012 election, then surveyed four GOP candidates — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson. I’ve posted all five questions as videos, and so here they are!

The first question was:

What’s your view of the upcoming 2012 election? By what standards do you judge the presidential candidates?

My answer, in brief:

In a presidential candidate, I’m not looking for either John Galt or “Anyone But Obama.” I’m looking for someone who will do more good than harm to the cause of liberty in America.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

The second question was:

Should I support Mitt Romney for US President? What’s the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Romney deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?

My answer, in brief:

Mitt Romney is a smooth talker, but his proposal reveal that he has no understanding of individual rights or the economic problems facing America. He’s no better than Obama – and likely worse, because the opposition will vanish. I cannot recommend voting for him in the primary or the general election.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

The third question was:

Should I support Newt Gingrinch for US President? What’s the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Gingrinch deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?

My answer, in brief:

Newt Gingrich is explicitly theocratic, and a major threat to the separation of church and state. He advocates and practices “active governance,” meaning right-wing social engineering, not liberty. Like Obama, he is enamored of bold transformative ideas, which could be okay or horrible for liberty. I cannot recommend voting for him in the primary or the general election.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

The fourth question was:

Should I support Ron Paul for US President? What’s the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Paul deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?

My answer, in brief:

Ron Paul is not even libertarian, but a neo-confederate conservative Christian, albeit with some grasp of basic economics. He’s a rationalist, driven by ideology, and not open to facts. He would be very dangerous to elect as president, not just for actual policies, but as a supposed advocate of liberty. I cannot recommend voting for him in the primary or the general election.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

The fifth question was:

Should I support Gary Johnson for US President? What’s the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Johnson deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election? Also, should supporters of Gary Johnson vote for him on a Libertarian Party ticket?

My answer, in brief:

Gary Johnson is not John Galt. However, he’s fundamentally oriented toward facts, plus he has good basic principles about liberty. Alas, he was shut out from the race by the media and the establishment GOP. I recommend voting for him in the primary, as well as in the general election, if he runs as the Libertarian Party candidate. I still reject the Libertarian Party, but a protest vote can be delimited to endorse him and not the party.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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